BEHIND THE SCENES
TELL ME HOW IT FELT
FOURTH IN THE SERIES BY KATHY DE
Catherine came in to work early again. She and Joe were finishing up on the Randall case and she had last minute files to complete for today’s hearing.
Rita came over and laid some files on her desk. “Good morning, Cathy. Here’s that information you said you needed first thing this morning.”
Catherine took it from her outstretched hand. “Thanks, Rita. I owe you one.” She looked up tentatively. “How long did it take?”
Rita shrugged. “A few extra hours last night, I finished up this morning.”
Knowing she herself had gotten to the office extra early, Catherine checked her watch, it read 8:05 a.m. “Rita, what time did you come in?”
Rita blushed. “6:30 ... it’s no big deal, really. The important thing is it got done.”
Catherine sighed. “Yes, but you must have gotten very little sleep. Didn’t you work last night at the crisis center?”
“Yeah, I did. I have to work tonight again too.”
Catherine nodded with understanding. “I told Sheila I’d work an extra shift on Thursday. They seem to be short-handed this time of the year.”
Rita sighed. “Yes, and with the holidays coming there are so many more calls. Did you know that the holidays have the highest rate of suicides?”
“Yeah, if people would just take a minute to count their blessings instead of searching frantically for the Norman Rockwell Christmas displayed on cards they might find peace and happiness within themselves.”
“Escobar, Chandler ...” Joe walked up to Catherine’s desk with a grin. “... are you two ladies chit-chatting when we’ve got a major case going to court in a few hours?”
Rita blushed at the reprimand while Catherine rolled her eyes. She looked over at Rita and shook her head. “Don’t let the slave driver get to you, you’ve already worked your hours this week.”
A shout came from Kenny from across the office. “Escobar ... it’s for you ... they said it was an emergency!”
Just then Catherine’s phone rang and Rita picked it up quickly. “Hello.”
She listened to the other person for a few seconds then finally responded. “I’m on my way. Yes, its fine ... I’m sure my boss will understand ... No, really ... I’m leaving right now.”
Rita hung up then turned to Joe, who scowled. “This better be good Escobar!”
Rita had tears in her eyes as she pleaded to be able to leave. “That was my sister. My parents were in a car accident this morning. They’re both headed to surgery. Joe, I’ve got to go!”
Joe took her hand and squeezed it lightly. “Go, I’ll get one of the interns to cover for you.”
Catherine came over and hugged her. “Let us know if there’s anything we can do ... ”
Rita backed away and smiled weakly as she nodded. “I will.” She took a few steps and turned back to Catherine. “Oh, no! The crisis center! Could you call Sheila for me, maybe she can find someone to cover for me?”
Catherine shook her head. “Nope, I’ll cover for you myself. What time is your shift?”
“7:00 to 10:00 ... ”
“Okay, I’ve got it covered.”
“Thanks, Cathy!” Rita said as she hurried away.
Joe looked at Catherine quizzically. “Crisis center? Don’t tell me you leave here and volunteer at a hotline place?”
“Okay, I won’t tell you…”
“Are you bucking for an award from Mother Teresa?”
Catherine blushed. “No!”
Joe’s hands landed on his hips as he smirked at her. “Living in your penthouse apartment, how the hell did you find out about the Crisis Center?”
“You know, just because I’m well off doesn’t mean I live in a bubble!” She watched him look away, clearly embarrassed about teasing her. She sighed as she continued explaining, “A few months ago, I overheard Rita talking about it in the break room one day. I asked her about getting involved. After a few weeks of training, I started volunteering a few days a week ... ”
Joe shook his head in amazement at her kindness. “Chandler ... you’re all right, you know that!”
She smirked. “High praise coming from you!”
“No, I mean it ... you’re a good person ... inside and out.”
She shrugged it off. “I was given a second chance, Joe. I just want to try to offer that to someone else.”
Joe nodded as he took back two of the files he handed her earlier. “I’ll handle these so you can finish up here early and cover for Rita.”
“I’m a sucker,” he mumbled as he walked away.
Catherine teased. “No, you’re not. You’re one of the good guys!”
Joe walked into his office and closed the door as Catherine got back to work.
Late that afternoon, Catherine walked into Joe’s office. “I finished these files for you. I’m heading out so I can grab something to eat before work.”
Joe nodded distractedly from his files, then suddenly looked up. “Oh, Rita called about 10 minutes ago. Her father’s out of surgery and both parents are being put into the same room.” He looked for a small sheet of paper and finally found it. “Room 318.”
“Thanks, Joe. Maybe I can send a card tomorrow morning ... ”
Joe dug into his pocket and handed her $40 dollars. “Everyone pitched in; could you do me a favor and see that some flowers are sent?”
Catherine took the money. “Sure, I’d be happy to ... I’ll stop by the florist first thing in the morning. Night, Joe.”
She turned to leave and Joe made a split second decision and called her back. “Chandler?!” Catherine turned around and looked at him expectantly. “Can I offer some advice?”
She shrugged. “Sure.”
He nodded at the door. “Will you close the door please?”
Catherine’s eyebrows rose in surprise but she closed the door and then walked to stand in front of him. “What is it?”
Joe cleared his throat and looked at her uneasily. It had taken him a second to decide to say something and now he was unsure how to proceed. “It’s about something you said earlier ... about working at the Crisis Center ... ”
Catherine frowned in confusion, wondering what she had said. “Yes ... ”
“Well ... you ... ” Joe sighed. “You said you were given a second chance at life and that you wanted to offer that same chance to someone else ... ”
Catherine nodded. “Yes, that’s what I said.”
“Cathy, you do know that the first rule over there is no personal involvement?”
She shrugged indifferently. “Yeah, I know the rules, Joe. Why are you pointing them out to me?”
Joe came around and leaned against his desk as he crossed his arms in front of him. “Because I know you ... You’re too kind hearted not to get personally involved in those cases.”
“I’ve been working there two months and I haven’t gotten involved with one yet.”
Joe frowned as he shook his head. “Then the right one just hasn’t come through yet. Mark my words though, one of the cases will stick out in your mind and you’ll get involved.”
Joe took her hand in his. “I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
Catherine squeezed his hand in reassurance and then let it drop. “I won’t.”
“Cath, you can’t save them all ... ”
Catherine frowned as she turned to walk out the door. “I know.”
Five hours later, Joe’s prediction came true. Catherine picked up the phone and the woman on the other end sounded desperate. As she talked, Catherine could hear the despair in her voice. She sighed with relief when the caller finally agreed to meet her at a nearby diner for soup.
The woman glanced around the empty diner then headed towards Catherine’s booth and stood silently at the edge.
“Hi.” Catherine greeted.
“Hi,” the woman finally replied.
She glanced nervously at the door and Catherine wondered if she was planning on walking out.
“Have a seat…please…” Catherine begged.
The woman slipped into the booth but wouldn’t make eye contact with her. Catherine tried to stay positive and smiled warmly.
“I’m glad you came.”
“Free cup of soup, right?”
Catherine’s calm demeanor worked at putting the woman at ease. She learned that Lena was due to have her first child any day and she started to open up about the hardships in her life.
As Lena told Catherine about her life, she could literally see her wilting in front of her eyes. Lena’s spirit had been broken and she was giving up on life. Catherine listened to her and felt that there was a chance to save Lena and her baby and find them a place they could belong.
The hour grew late and Lena struggled to her feet. “I need to get home.”
Catherine decided to talk to Vincent about her and see if there was a way she could be allowed to bring Lena Below. “Lena, can you meet me here tomorrow morning? We could talk some more ... ” Lena looked at her undecidedly and Catherine added. “ ... Maybe have a nice breakfast ... ”
Lena had been unable to work and was living on handouts from her friends. Because of the free meal, she decided to take Catherine up on her offer. “Okay, I’ll be here 9:00?”
Catherine smiled. “That would be perfect.”
Lena waddled out of the restaurant while Catherine settled the bill.
In the taxi on the way home, Catherine frowned when she realized that Joe had been right. Lena was the one case she couldn’t turn her back on. She had broken all the rules and had gotten personally involved. What Joe didn’t know was that Catherine had a world of people she could depend on for help.
She let herself into her apartment and headed immediately to the phone. She placed phone call after phone call to various shelters and group homes and one person after another gave her much of the same information. She sighed and headed to the bedroom with the intention of changing clothes and heading Below to talk to Vincent. She was only a little surprised to see him waiting for her on the balcony. She hurried out the sliding doors of her dining room.
“Good evening, Catherine.”
“Have you been out here long?”
He shrugged. “You were on the phone; I didn’t want to disturb you. I was just enjoying your decorations; they’re very beautiful. They make the balcony, seem warm and inviting.”
She smiled. “I’m glad you like them. I’ve never had a reason to decorate the balcony before and now that it’s the holidays ... I wanted to make it festive for us out here as well as inside.”
Vincent nodded shyly then cocked his head inquiringly at her. “Yet, you don’t feel very festive on the inside.”
With the reminder of Lena brought to the surface, Catherine’s smile faded. “No, I don’t. In fact, I was just coming to see you.”
He smiled knowingly. “I thought perhaps you might ... I could feel your turmoil ... ”
She reached out and squeezed his arm and nodded. “So naturally you came to see me first.”
He blushed. “I wanted see if I could help.”
“I could sure use some.”
“What is it, Catherine?”
Catherine began to pace as she related her story. “You already know that I’ve been working at the crisis center ... ” He nodded and she continued. “I received a call tonight from a woman, well, a young girl actually. This time, it was different somehow from all the other calls I’ve ever received. I could actually hear the desperation in her voice reaching to me across the line. My shift was ending and I begged her to meet me. I couldn’t take a chance and leave her alone.”
Vincent blinked in surprise at her blatant disregard of the rules. Catherine frowned then looked into his eyes and shrugged. He knew her so well he expected her to say something like this. He took her hand and caressed it as he smiled. “And you couldn’t stop yourself from becoming personally involved.”
Catherine nodded. “Her name is Lena. She told me she was sexually abused as a child by her step father. One night, when she was fourteen, he got violent with her. She went to her mother, who accused her of seducing him. Knowing that her mother was a full blown drug addict, she realized the abuse would continue so she ran away. She’s been trying to make a living selling herself on the streets ever since it happened.”
“How could a mother turn her back on her own child ... her own flesh and blood?”
Catherine heard something in his voice that made her look up at him. She wondered if he was talking about his own experience in life. “Vincent, sometimes circumstances make people do desperate things ... later, when things turn towards the positive, they’re filled with regret and have to live with their decisions for the rest of their lives.”
Vincent shook himself from his reverie. “What else did Lena tell you?”
“She said she was tired of standing alone and looking at the world from the outside in ... there was something in her voice ... I don’t know ... a calling out to be a part of something ... to belong .... She’s really just a girl ... alone ... in a dangerous city ... and it’s Christmas!”
“So many have come into your life Catherine ... this girl must have truly touched you.”
“She’s dying, Vincent! The streets are killing her and she’s fighting to hold onto her spirit.” She stepped closer to him. “And she’s carrying a child! She told me that she would rather see the baby die then bring another life into this world!”
“How can it be that this world could have no more to offer her?”
“I’ve talked to a dozen shelters and a dozen social workers but I don’t think ... I know…she won’t respond. She doesn’t have the strength anymore or the hope.”
“Then she has lost her way.”
“I’m afraid to think of what may happen to her, Vincent, if she’s left alone. She’s so far away from herself. I broke every rule by going to see her ... ”
Vincent interrupted her. “Perhaps Father can break a few rules of his own.”
Catherine looked relieved. “I was hoping we could talk to him, present Lena’s case!”
“I’ll go speak to Father; you stay here and try to get some sleep. It’ll be quite late but I’ll try to return with an answer tonight ... .”
Catherine nodded. “I’m supposed to meet with Lena in the morning. If I can bring her good news .... Vincent no matter what time, I’ll be here waiting.”
Father looked up in confusion as Vincent entered the library. “Vincent! I thought you were going Above to visit Catherine ... ”
Vincent nodded. “I did. Father there is something I must talk to you about, it’s a request that Catherine had made.”
Father grimaced. “Hmmm, I can only imagine from the look on your face that this isn’t about a picnic or an extra special dinner.”
“Well, this doesn’t sound good.”
Vincent smiled at his wariness then looked down at his hands, becoming serious again he looked up. “Catherine met a young woman today who she felt was crying out for help. Help that Catherine thinks our world could provide.”
“So, she’s asking if she may bring someone to live Below?”
Father shook his head. “Vincent, you know we have a process that we normally follow and…”
“And we’re asking you Father to make an exception.”
Father nodded and sighed. “How did Catherine come to meet this woman?”
Vincent looked up at him. “Do you remember that I told you Catherine volunteers at a Crisis Center a few nights a week?”
Father’s frown deepened. “Don’t tell me this woman was someone who called in to the center? Vincent! Catherine has broken a very important rule. Most of the shelters warn against getting personally involved!”
“Father, how could she help herself? She said the woman’s voice was filled with desperation.”
“She was suicidal?”
Vincent shook his head. “I ... don’t know ... she gave Catherine the sense that she had lost all hope.”
Father shook his head. “Vincent, I’m not sure that we’re capable of dealing with someone who is ... ”
Vincent interrupted him again. “Father, she is carrying a child as well.”
Father sat back heavily in his seat to give his mind time to grasp the entire situation. Suddenly his eyes narrowed and he asked. “What about the girl’s family?”
“Her mother is an addict, for years she’s allowed her new husband to molest her daughter. Lena left when he started to get violent.”
Father thought for a few more seconds. “The baby’s father?”
Vincent looked up to gauge his father’s reaction. “To survive, Lena chose to sell herself on the streets ... ”
Father grimaced again. “So she has no idea who ... ” He shook his head clearing his thoughts. “Do you know how far along she is in her pregnancy.”
Vincent shrugged, so Father continued, “No matter, I’ll take it to the other council members, but I’m sure that they will agree to meet with this young girl.”
“Catherine’s to meet with her tomorrow morning at 9:00 for breakfast.”
“Thanks for giving me so much time,” Father answered sarcastically.
Vincent smiled; he knew his Father had been swayed. “Can I tell her to arrange a meeting?”
Father nodded as he rolled his eyes. “Yes, I’ll walk to the threshold of Catherine’s apartment building myself. I’ll speak to Lena then and determine if she is a candidate to come live Below.”
“Perhaps I can stay in the shadows, and if I feel something is amiss I can warn you.”
“That’s a good idea; you do have good sense when it comes to reading people.”
Vincent stood. “I’ll tell Catherine the good news. Thank you, Father.”
“Um ... Vincent. Until we know more about Lena, perhaps it would be a good idea if you stayed ... ” Father grimaced as he stopped and looked away.
Vincent followed his train of thought. “Hidden?”
“I’ll do that, Father.”
Father rushed to explain. “It’s just that ... ”
Vincent held up his hand to stop him. “I know; we don’t want to frighten her.”
Vincent left quickly as Father tried to still the ache in his heart. He hated reminding Vincent of his differences and when things like this happened it was always hard to ask Vincent to hide himself away in his own home.
Catherine came out of her bathroom and was surprised to see a shadow out on her balcony. Vincent’s face appeared as he tapped on her window.
Catherine rushed outside. “That was quick! I didn’t expect you back so soon.”
Vincent took her hands in his and Catherine jumped to the wrong conclusion. “He said no!” She dropped his hands and started to pace furiously. “She’ll die out there, Vincent! I’m not sure how more she can take! She ... ”
Vincent grabbed Catherine’s arm and stopped her as she walked by. “He did not say no.”
Catherine blinked with confusion. “He didn’t?”
“Father has agreed to meet Lena at your threshold tomorrow morning right after your breakfast.”
Catherine leapt up and threw her arms around Vincent’s neck. “Oh, thank you! Thank you for convincing Father.”
Vincent smiled warmly and tightened his embrace. “You’re welcome, Catherine, but to Father’s credit, it was the mention of the unborn child that swayed him.”
“It doesn’t matter how he was swayed only that he was. I can’t wait to tell Lena about the world Below.”
“Perhaps Father will spend time tomorrow on their walk back explaining about our world.”
Catherine’s brow furrowed in confusion. “You won’t be there?”
“No, we thought it would be best for Lena to get settled first. Father is worried about what her medical care has been up to this point and he wants to observe her for a few days.”
“I won’t be able to come Below with them either, I have to get back to the office after I drop Lena off.”
“That’s all right, Catherine. She’ll be safe with us.”
Catherine nodded, then sighed. “It seems like we keep meeting each other in passing. Maybe you can come over tomorrow night?”
Vincent shook his head. “I have sentry duty to cover.”
Catherine frowned. “The next night I have to work at the crisis center again.”
It was Vincent’s turn to sigh. “Perhaps the following night ... ”
Catherine nodded and placed her head against his chest. “I’ll miss you.”
Vincent tightened his embrace and a few seconds later, Catherine’s phone rang and interrupted.
He backed away slowly. “Be well.”
“You too, Vincent.”
She ran for the phone as she watched him leave.
Catherine picked up the phone on the third ring. “Hello.”
“Jenny! My God, I haven’t heard from you in forever!”
“I know, I know ... I got your messages but every time I returned them you weren’t home.” Catherine chuckled as Jenny pretended to be angry. “So who in the hell have you been spending your nights with? Someone who’s tall, dark, and handsome?”
Catherine blushed as she thought to herself. ‘Vincent’s not really dark so I guess two out of three are correct.’ Instead she nervously giggled into the phone. “Actually, I’ve been volunteering at the crisis center a few nights a week.”
“Wow! Now I feel bad. Here I am poking fun at you and you’re out doing good deeds.”
Catherine giggled again. “Well, you can make it up to me when are you free for lunch?”
Catherine frowned. She knew that by the time she got Lena settled she would arrive at work too late to be spending time over a leisurely lunch. “No, I can’t do tomorrow. What about Thursday?”
Jenny flipped the page in her appointment book. “Nope, what about Friday?”
Catherine sighed. “Court. Monday?”
They were used to the game of trying to find an agreeable date in both their busy schedules and fell easily into synch with one another.
“Book signing ... Tuesday I have to take my mom to therapy.”
Catherine flipped the pages in her calendar. “How’s your mom doing, Jen?”
“Good, her knee is coming right along.”
“Great ... .um ... .Wednesday I have court.”
“Thursday?” Jenny asked hopefully.
Catherine looked at the date. “I’m open!”
“What, did you say ... you’re open?”
“Yep, I’m free that day!”
“Me, too! But not anymore. Start writing ... lunch Jenny 12:00 ... . how does Abuelos sound?”
“Mexican sounds good to me!”
“Meet you there?”
“Yeah, Jen! I can’t wait!”
“Take care, Cathy.”
“You too, bye Jen!”
Catherine hung up and smiled as she got herself ready for bed. She missed talking to Jenny and she was glad they came up with an open date.
Her thoughts turned to Lena and she sat back anxiously. She couldn’t wait to deliver the good news to her in the morning. She chewed her lip nervously as she realized for the first time that Lena might not show up. Catherine could have kicked herself for not pressing for more information on where Lena lived.
She sighed as she settled down into the pillows. “She’ll be there!” she thought quietly to herself. “Think positive!”
The next morning, Catherine woke early and got herself ready. She couldn’t wait to get to the restaurant. She had decided to go early and get a secluded table for her and Lena to sit at. The restaurant was busy and Catherine gave the waiter a huge tip to leave the booth next to them empty.
There was still a half hour before Lena was scheduled to arrive, so Catherine opened her briefcase and brought out some case files. She hoped to get some work done while she waited.
At 9:15, the waiter came to refill Catherine’s coffee cup. She frowned when she saw the time on the big clock on the wall. “She’s not coming!” was her first thought.
Through the window, Catherine saw Lena waddling her way through the crowds. She fell back against her seat in relief and quickly put her files away.
She watched as Lena hovered indecisively at the front of the door. Finally she took a deep breath and walked in.
Catherine stood and motioned for her. “Lena!”
Lena smiled timidly and headed towards Catherine. Catherine motioned for her to sit down.
Once she was settled, Catherine initiated the conversation. “I wasn’t sure you were coming ... ”
Lena sighed. “I didn’t sleep very well last night. Then when I finally did fall asleep I guess I was just so exhausted I overslept. I’m sorry.”
Catherine patted her hand. “Don’t be sorry. I’m glad you came.”
The waiter came and the two ordered breakfast. They made small talk about the weather and the headlines until their meals came.
Lena looked at her ruefully. “I never know where my next meal is coming from. Thanks for this and for last night.”
Catherine nodded and set down her fork. “Lena, what would you say if I told you that you would never have to worry again about where the next meal for you or your baby comes from?”
“I’d say I must be in heaven!”
“I know of a special place, a secret place, where people live and take care of each other. They work together to live and make their place a comfortable home.”
Lena smiled. “That sounds nice.”
“Would you like to go to this place and meet its people? You could decide then if you would like to be a part of it.”
“Is it in New York?”
Catherine thought about how to answer that question. “Technically, yes.”
Lena looked puzzled at her strange answer. “How do I get there?”
Catherine leaned forward. “I’ll take you there. You’ll need to meet the leader of the community first. He’s a man everyone calls Father ... ”
Lena looked frightened again. “It’s a cult!”
Catherine reached for her hands. “No ... no .... Look, I’m sorry ... I know this sounds odd but I need you to trust me. If you don’t like this place we’ll leave together.”
Lena rubbed her hand protectively over her stomach as she pondered. “There’s always food there?”
Catherine watched the loving gesture and was flooded with desire. She blinked with surprised that in that instant she thought of what it would be like to be carrying Vincent’s child. She quickly shook her head to clear the image. “Yes, there’s always delicious food available. William, the head cook sees to that.”
Lena became suspicious. “Will I have to ... um ... ” She stopped, unable to finish her thought.
Catherine wondered what she had wanted to ask. “What Lena? What is it?”
Lena sighed. “Will I have to ... work? You mentioned a few men…will I be expected to ... you know ... ”
Catherine was horrified. “My God! Lena, no! No one would expect you to sleep with them in return for food and shelter.”
Lena shrugged, clearly embarrassed. “I ... didn’t know ... ”
“Lena, don’t get me wrong. Once you have the baby and are feeling better, you will have to contribute to the community. But I’d guess you’ll either have to work in the nursery or the kitchen, maybe the laundry.”
She smiled widely. “I can handle that stuff.”
“Good.” Catherine left money on the table for the check. “Come on, Father’s waiting to meet you.”
Catherine flagged a taxi and had the man drop them off in front of her building.
Lena looked up in surprise. “Where are we?”
“At my apartment building.”
Lena gasped as she looked at the building. “You live here?”
Catherine blushed. “Yes, my Dad bought this apartment for me after I got out of college.”
“Wow! Is this Father guy waiting for us inside?”
“Sort of ... um ... let’s just get you there.”
Catherine and Lena walked inside and entered the elevator. Lena watched as Catherine hit the B button.
“You live in a basement apartment?”
Catherine shook her head. “No, I live on the 18th floor.”
“Is Father in the basement?”
Catherine sighed. “Sort of ... Lena, I know you’re scared, but I promise all of your questions will be answered soon enough.”
Catherine led her to the storage area and locked the door behind them. She moved the boxes blocking the doorway and looked at Lena.
“I’m sorry but at this time of day this is the safest route. There’s a ladder we have to climb down. I’ll go first and you can follow. I want you to go nice and slow. Don’t rush anything, we can’t risk you falling.”
Catherine climbed down and looked up to watch Lena descend. Vincent silently appeared out of the shadows to help in case anything went wrong. He squeezed Catherine’s hand when he saw that Lena was still limber enough to handle the climb.
When she was almost to ground level, he slipped back into the shadows. He planned on listening in while Father talked with Lena.
Lena turned to Catherine, who smiled and led her around the corner. Father stood there waiting for them.
Catherine prompted Lena to stand in front of him. “Lena, this is Father. Father, Lena.”
Father watched as Lena’s coat fell open. He gasped in shock to see how far along she was in her pregnancy. “My God, child! You must be due to deliver any day!”
Lena looked at Catherine then nodded nervously. “Yes.”
Father grimaced. “Hmmh ... well, Lena, what can you tell me about yourself?”
“What do you want to know?”
He could see that she was afraid of giving a wrong answer for fear that she would be rejected entrance into the community. He could hear the desperation in her voice each time she spoke. He had already made his decision to help her when he saw the hurt, haunted look in her eye. He knew that look all too well and he knew that in time, Lena would learn to trust again.
He still wanted to clarify answers. “You have no family who would help you?”
Lena shrugged. “My father died when I was young. My mom’s an addict and kicked me out at 14. She didn’t love me, I guess.”
“Well, that’s conducive with the story I’ve already heard. How have you supported yourself all of this time?”
Her chin came up in defiance. “I worked the corners.”
Although he knew the answer, Father wanted her to admit to it. He knew that if she came to terms with her past, she would be able to change her future. “You were a prostitute? Was there nothing else for you to do?”
Catherine cringed at the harshness of his words as Lena looked at him with eyes that were dead of emotion and remained silent.
Father explained to Lena that there is normally a process to go through but in her case they were making a special exception. He asked her why their community should take a chance and reach out and trust her and consider allowing her to live Below.
Lena convinced him of his decision when she said. “It’s not fair that this baby should have to suffer just ‘cause it’s unlucky enough to get stuck inside of me instead of someone else. You give my baby a chance for something better and I won’t mess it up.”
Vincent smiled to himself in the shadows. He knew that Lena said the right words to convince Father to accept her.
Father came forward but stopped when he saw the fear cross Lena’s eyes and she flinched. “Don’t be afraid. You spoke your heart. I want to welcome you.”
Relief flooded through Lena as she let him lead her Below. Catherine watched as they left and promised to visit soon.
Once Father and Lena were out of sight, Vincent stepped out in front of Catherine.
Catherine smiled at him. “You stayed?”
Vincent nodded. “I was to signal Father if I felt like something wasn’t right.”
Catherine shook her head sadly. “Well, it’s just like I said, isn’t it? She has so much healing to do.”
“We’ll help. Don’t worry yourself.”
Catherine nodded and they hugged goodbye briefly before she headed up the ladder.
Vincent quickly caught up to Father and Lena who were walking quite slowly. He stayed in the shadows behind them and was able to overhear their conversation.
“Lena, I don’t want you to worry. Before I came to live in the world Below I was a Doctor ... a surgeon actually. Now, what kind of care have you been given so far?”
“I didn’t have money for that.”
Father stopped in his tracks. “You haven’t seen a doctor?” She nodded and Father started to rant, “Lena, you should have been taking vitamins and ... ”
Lena interrupted. “I took vitamins, everyday I took a multi-vitamin with iron. I watched what I ate. I didn’t even show until two months ago, that’s when I had to quit working. But my friends have been helping me out. I’ve been eating pretty good.”
Father nodded as he continued walking. “At least you’ve done something I guess.”
They were coming around the corner when Lena collapsed against the wall with stomach pains. Father quickly examined her and then helped her to her feet. He motioned behind her back and Vincent took off along another passageway that was harder to walk through but would get him home quickly.
Vincent knew Father wanted him to get Mary so that they could do a complete examination of Lena.
He ran into the nursery at such a speed he scared Mary.
“For Pete’s sake, Vincent! Stop racing around these tunnels like a ten year old!”
“Mary, Father has allowed Lena to come Below. She is due to deliver any day. I think he wants you both to examine her as soon as possible.”
“Well, go find Sara and have her cover for me in the nursery. I’ll get to Father’s chamber immediately, then we’ll set her up in the guest chamber next to mine.”
Vincent left to find Sara while Mary went to prepare the guest chamber. She happily buzzed around the room anxious to once again be put into service delivering a little one. As she put new sheets on the bed, she realized that the last delivery she made was Luke, who was already about eight months old.
Sara stepped in. “I’m here, Mary. You can go.”
“Yes, yes, thank you, Sara. I want to greet our new arrival.”
Mary rushed off to meet Father and Lena in the tunnels. Father was almost to his chamber when Mary approached them.
“Good morning, Father. Lena, it’s very nice to meet you. My name is Mary. And I know you’re probably frightened, but we’re going to take good care of you and your baby. Let’s just get you into the hospital chamber so we can figure out what the best way is to do that.”
Father pushed past to go inside his chamber and get ready to exam Lena.
Lena smiled at Mary. “You’re Father’s nurse.”
“Yes, and I am also a mid-wife. Judging by the fact that your baby seems to have dropped considerably, I would say that you’re due any day now.”
“I’m having contractions. Father said he thinks they’re ... I don’t know he called them some kind of hicks.”
“Braxton Hicks, it's false labor, but you can never be sure. They sure feel like the real thing sometimes.”
Lena came in and settled down in a chair.
“Okay, Father,” Mary called out.
He came from his private chamber. “Good, now let’s just take a look at our two patients here.”
Lena remained quiet as Father listened to her chest and lungs. He recorded his findings on a sheet of paper attached to a clip board. “Lena, I was wondering, do you know how much weight you’ve gained with your pregnancy?”
She shrugged. “Not much, until about 2 months ago, then I ballooned quickly. I weighed myself at the grocery store one time a few weeks ago. I think I was about 20 pounds over. Is that bad?”
He shrugged. “That’s not bad, and you say it was a few weeks ago?”
“Uh huh. But I know I gained even more cause a coat that I had doesn’t fit anymore and I had to borrow that one.”
Father placed the stethoscope onto her stomach. He listened as well as he could to the baby’s heartbeat and was satisfied that all sounded well. “It was a false alarm. Rest assured, your baby’s heart is strong and regular.”
Mary took Lena to the guest room and got her settled. Lena was exhausted and fell asleep immediately.
Vincent slipped into the library to see Father. “How did it go with Lena?”
Father looked up. “She seems to be doing well, all things considered. Thank you for getting Mary so quickly.”
“When I saw Lena stumble, I thought she may have gone into labor.”
“No, it was only false labor. It won’t be long though. Oh, did Samantha find you? She had a gift to present to you that she was most proud of.”
Vincent chuckled. “Yes, she caught up to me in my chamber. I was able to hide the pencil holder I received from Michael three years ago and the one from Zack from last year.”
Father joined in his laughter. “Hers was the most unusual color though! Well, in a few short hours the children will be in here practicing their songs for Winterfest. I had better get some work done before that happens.”
Vincent cocked his head thoughtfully. “Is there something I can help you with?”
“Grading essays about Shakespeare ... ”
Vincent laughed aloud. “I shouldn’t have asked. Where are they? Together we can get them done in half the time.”
An hour and a half later, the two men finished grading only half the essays.
Father looked up at the time and grimaced. “Vincent, the children will be coming soon, perhaps you should go before you’re stuck here.”
He nodded. “Yes, Lena was taking a nap as well. I need to be in the back tunnels if I have any hopes of avoiding her.”
Father frowned. “I’m truly sorry, Vincent. Perhaps when she settles in more ... tomorrow or maybe the next day ... ”
Vincent kissed his father’s forehead. “It’s all right, Father. I can spend time with Mouse and Cullen. Kanin and I will have some extra time to work on Olivia’s surprise.”
Children’s voices could be heard coming down the corridor. Vincent’s eyebrows shot up as he ran from the room before he was spotted.
Father chuckled as the
children entered the room.
“Yes, I sent him on an important delivery.”
Her face fell. “Oh, I was hoping he would be able to sing with us.”
The rest of the children showed up and they began their practice session.
Lena woke up from her nap to hear beautiful voices singing Christmas carols. She followed the voices and peeked and saw a group of children gathered around singing with Father. She sat down on the hard rock and listened to them.
The children finished practicing and she listened to them beg Father to tell them the story of how Vincent came to live Below.
She overheard the entire story of Vincent’s unusual entrance into this world and didn’t know if it was real or a story told to entertain the children. She could tell by their questions that Vincent existed and that he was well loved. She began to wonder if this man that was so different would be someone that could accept her.
Mary came through the tunnels and found her sitting on the cold floor. She hustled Lena back to her room and tucked her back into bed. She had a feeling Lena was going to have the baby tonight or tomorrow and she wanted the poor girl to get as much rest as possible.
Lena looked at Mary tentatively and asked her about Vincent. Mary gave her small bits of information.
Lena wondered aloud. “Will I ever get to meet him?”
Mary smiled. “You’ll meet him. Sleep now.”
She tucked Lena in, who went right to sleep.
Over the course of the next few days, Lena had a chance to meet everyone Below. It was mostly during meal times when everyone was gathered and Lena overheard many conversations regarding Vincent.
Lena had just woken up when Mary came into the room.
“Mary, I’m thirsty. Is there somewhere I can get some water to drink?”
Mary shook her head, clearly exasperated. “I am so sorry, dear. I’ll get you some right now.”
Mary headed out with a pitcher and quickly returned with it filled. She poured Lena a small glass. “If you need any more, go out your door and turn right at the first tunnel. Follow it to the first doorway on the left and there is a small alcove where the water runs through the rocks. It’s the cleanest, tastiest water down here. And Lena, if you ever get lost here…find a rock and tap on the nearest pipe continually. Someone will find you.”
Mary took Lena to the dining chamber where they enjoyed breakfast with the rest of the community. Lena spent some time with Olivia who was happy to talk with Lena about Luke’s delivery.
In the early afternoon, Lena went back to her chamber and lay back on her bed. She couldn’t understand how she could be so tired as her eyes drifted closed.
Later that afternoon, Mary came and woke her. “Lena, dear, wake up.”
“What is it?”
“You’ve been sleeping for a few hours now; I thought that you may want to wake up so that you will be able to sleep tonight.”
Lena offered a weak smile. “I could probably sleep until tomorrow. I’ve been so tired lately.”
Mary helped her put a robe on. “That’s normal. It happens to everyone. Now, would you like me to bring a tray of food here or would you rather eat in the dining hall with everyone else?”
Lena thought it would be a good chance to meet Vincent. “I’d like to go to the dining hall if it’s okay?”
“Certainly, come with me. I’m heading there myself.”
Mary led her and Lena gasped at the amount of people in the room. Everyone seemed especially friendly and offered smiles as she passed by them. Mary sat her down next to Father, who began to slowly point out people close to Lena’s age. He made a point of pointing out Olivia and little Luke and Karen and little Joshua. He knew that their children would grow up together and he wanted Lena to be able to go to them if she needed assistance.
Around the room, Lena could hear people talking about Vincent and her ears tuned into their conversations. She was anxious to find out what she could about him.
She turned to Father. “Is Vincent here tonight?”
Father looked away evasively. “Um ... no ... I believe he made a tray up earlier and headed to his chamber to eat.”
Lena nodded. “Where’s his chamber located? Maybe he would like some company? I’d like to meet him ... ”
Father gasped at her boldness and Mary rushed to help. “I believe that Vincent was going up to spend time with Catherine tonight. He probably won’t be back until very late.”
Feeling rejected, Lena looked down at her plate. “Oh ... um ... I’m kind of tired. Would it be okay if I went back to my chamber?”
“Of course, dear, I’ll take you now.”
Mary stood and helped Lena to her feet. She showed Lena where to take her tray for clean-up then walked her towards her chamber.
When the way became familiar Lena turned to her. “I know where I’m at. It’s just up ahead, right?”
“I can find it by myself.”
Mary looked at her tentatively. “Are you sure?”
Lena smiled. “Yes. Goodnight, Mary.”
“Goodnight, Lena. Remember, if you need me for any reason I’m just down the hall.”
Lena walked into her room to find that she had flipped her covers as she slept and knocked over the pitcher of water. She grabbed it and carefully followed Mary’s directions for getting more.
A man was sitting on the edge of the wall when Lena came in. She was surprised to see him pull a hood over his head upon her arrival.
Somehow she guessed correctly that this was the mysterious Vincent she had heard so much about. “You’re Vincent?”
Lena’s stomach quivered at his soft gravely voice. Feeling like an intruder she rushed to explain why she was here. “Mary said this was the best water.” She filled her glass then held it out to him. “Want some?”
Vincent was touched by her kindness. “No, thank you.”
She stepped closer and he got to his feet then turned away. Lena thought he seemed afraid. “Don’t turn away. What’s wrong?”
Vincent lowered his face and hid beneath his hood. “You don’t understand.”
Lena rushed to comfort him. “I’ve been hearing about you. It’s almost like you don’t exist. You’re never around ... ”
“There are reasons.”
“We didn’t want to frighten you.”
Lena came around to the front of him and tried to look at the shadow on his face created by his hood. “I want to see you.”
She reached up to remove his hood but he gently grabbed her wrists to stop her. She startled only for the briefest of seconds to marvel at his hands before she looked back at him.
“Lena,” he warned.
The hood fell back and she looked at his unusual face. He wouldn’t meet her eyes as he begged her. “Don’t be afraid.”
Lena didn’t hesitate. “I’m not afraid!”
He tentatively looked up and with much relief, saw the acceptance in her eyes.
She smiled. “Hi, it’s nice to finally meet you.”
He cocked his head shyly. “And you as well.”
She looked at the place he vacated. “Am I disturbing you?”
Vincent shook his head. “No, I ... sometimes come here just to sit. It’s peaceful.”
Lena looked at the waterfall in the distance. “It is peaceful. Can I sit with you?”
Vincent motioned to the ground. “Of course.”
Lena struggled to sit down and Vincent supported her from behind while she lowered herself to the ground.
“This is a nice place.”
Vincent nodded. “Yes, I like to come here to clear my head; be alone with my thoughts.”
Lena nodded in understanding. “I know what it’s like to be alone.”
Vincent looked over at her. “Do you?”
“I’ve been alone my whole life.”
Vincent sat forward and looked at her curiously. “You were an orphan?”
Lena chuckled ruefully. “I may as well have been. My father was a truck driver. The last time I saw him he told me he had no room in his life for a girl. He wanted a son who he could take out on the road with him. He was killed on a snowy interstate.”
“What about you mother?” Vincent gently asked.
Lena frowned as she looked away. “She was even worse. She pretended to care so she could get checks from the government. She would spend the whole thing within a week on all kinds of drugs. I would have to listen to her at night in her bedroom doing ... favors ... for money.”
Vincent closed his eyes in disbelief and ached for the lost little girl she had been.
Lena nodded at his knowing look. “We at least had food then. It wasn’t long before she found another guy to marry her. He decided to pretend that I was his wife. One day when he was…you know ... ” She couldn’t say it but Vincent knew what she meant. “I looked over into my mom’s eyes and there was nothing in them ... no emotion whatsoever. When he started to beat me, she sided with him and I knew it was over and ran away.”
“I’m sorry, Lena. Sorry for the life you lived.”
“My own mother didn’t love me enough to keep me! Do you know how that feels, Vincent?”
He looked at the ground as tears formed in his eyes. “Yes.”
“All my life I just wanted a place where I could belong, where people could love me just because of who I am.”
“Lena, you can have that now … here. There’s no reason to feel like you’re on the outside.”
“I tried, Vincent! Last night at dinner … everyone was so nice but I still felt like I was not a part of it. What is wrong with me?”
“Nothing is wrong with you …. Don’t punish yourself for feeling alone, Lena.”
“I’m trying not to feel that way anymore.”
“It’s hard. It’s all I’m used to, but I never would have dreamed that there was a place like this or anyone like you.
Vincent could tell her mood had lightened. “Sometimes if you let your mind go you can accept things you wouldn’t believe possible.”
Lena nodded as she thought of all the men she had ‘entertained’ over the years. “Yeah, I got real good at letting my mind go.”
“Where has it taken you?”
She looked at him tentatively. “Promise you won’t laugh?” He nodded, so she went on. “The mountains ... everyday I used to pass this travel agent. I could see a poster through the window ... the deep green mountains ... that’s where I went ... ” She sighed. Don’t you sometimes feel like your life could be different?”
“It can be.”
“Vincent? Have you ever been to the mountains?”
He wondered briefly how she could look at him and ask this question. He marveled at her ability to overlook his differences. “No.”
Lena felt a sharp pain across her abdomen. Vincent flew to his feet and picked her up and quickly carried her to her chamber then set her on the bed.
He turned to leave when she grabbed his arm. “Don’t leave me!”
“I won’t, but I need to call for Mary and Father. I’ll be right back.”
Father and Mary came in at the same time.
Father looked at Vincent with surprise. “Vincent, what are you doing in here?”
“Lena and I met when she went to get water. We spent the afternoon together talking. She started having pains so I brought her here.”
Father assessed Lena’s condition and confirmed that she was in labor.
He turned to face Vincent. “You may go now, Vincent.”
Lena called out through her pain. “Can you stay, please?”
Father shrugged as Vincent walked to Lena’s side. “If you wish.”
For the next few hours, Lena struggled through the pain. Mary had her walking through her chamber and then tried various tricks to relieve Lena’s pain.
Finally, after another few hours had passed, Lena was ready to deliver. Mary stood between her legs and coached her while Lena writhed in pain on the bed. She reached for Vincent’s hand for support and he held it as he offered her encouragement.
Father noticed and looked up at Vincent who seemed unaware of the unusual gesture. Lena screamed in pain as her baby came into the world.
Vincent carefully placed a pillow under Lena’s head for comfort and then mopped the sweat from her forehead with a cool cloth. Lena reached for his hand and squeezed it as she looked up at him lovingly.
Father frowned at the gesture but ignored it, then quickly assured Lena that her daughter was in good health.
Once the afterbirth was delivered, Mary shooed Father and Vincent from the room. “Go, now. I want to get her cleaned-up. I need to teach her to nurse as well.”
Father nodded. “We’ll be in the library if you need me.”
Father sat down and watched as Vincent poured them both some tea. They each sifted through the tray of food that William had sent earlier and made sandwiches to eat.
Father cleared his throat as he thought of how to broach the subject. “I was surprised to see that you and Lena had met.”
Vincent shrugged. “I was lost in thought and didn’t hear her approach. She came in for water and caught me by surprise.”
“Hmmm ... What was her reaction?” Father asked tentatively.
“Amazing! She accepted me immediately. I never saw anything in her eyes to indicate otherwise.”
Father smiled then looked down at his tea. “Did you say you spent time talking with her.”
“Yes, several hours. She told me about her childhood.” He grimaced. “And her life since she left her mother’s home.”
“She has had a lot to overcome. Well, she has friends here now and soon we’ll become like family.”
Vincent nodded as he finished his sandwich. “I think I’ll head to bed now, goodnight, Father.”
“See you in the morning, Vincent.”
The next day Catherine left work early and made her way through the tunnels. She rounded the last corner before Vincent’s chamber when Jamie stepped out.
“Did you come to see Lena’s baby?”
Catherine smiled excitedly. “She had the baby?”
“Yes, yesterday. She has been resting since then, but she allowed people to visit today. Her daughter’s beautiful! She has this cute little nose and the tiniest of hands.”
Catherine’s eyes softened. “Oh, I was going to see Vincent, but I’m going to go to Lena’s chamber instead. I hope she’s not too tired.”
Catherine walked tentatively into Lena’s chamber. “Hello.”
Lena beamed with pride. “Catherine! Come on in.”
“Are you sure? You’re not too tired?”
Lena felt a flash of jealousy that Vincent had made a point to see Catherine to tell her of the birth, she tried to school the odd look on her face. “Who told you?”
Since she was looking at the baby, Catherine didn’t notice the odd look. “Jamie, I saw her in the tunnel way and she thought I already knew.”
Lena looked relieved and moved the blanket so Catherine could see her daughter’s face.
“Oh, Lena! Jamie’s right ... she is beautiful.”
The two women sat and visited and were soon interrupted by Father and Vincent when they came in arguing about possibilities of the name of Lena’s daughter.
Vincent was further surprised when Lena insisted he hold her baby. The bond was flooded with emotions as Vincent felt himself overwhelmed with feelings as he looked down at the tiny features of the little girl.
Catherine’s heart skipped a beat when she saw Vincent’s demeanor soften as he delicately took hold of the baby in his arms. Her dream of one day presenting him with his own child once again played out in her mind and she looked up at him lovingly. For a second, she looked over at Lena and was startled to see the same expression mirrored in her eyes.
She cocked her head thoughtfully as she realized that Lena was falling in love with Vincent. She frowned for a second when she realized that Lena was just going through a difficult time and that Vincent’s kindness had probably drawn her to him.
She stood and looked down at Lena. “I could only take a short break from work, but I had promised to come and see you. I’m glad things are going so well for you. Congratulations, again.”
She bent over and offered Lena a hug, then turned to face Father and Vincent. “I’ll see you two later.”
“I’ll walk you out,” Vincent offered as he quickly handed the baby back to Lena.
He and Catherine left and Father noticed the hurt look that flittered across Lena’s face. He immediately tried to get her mind back to her baby. “Well, let’s just take a look at the little one again and see how she’s doing today ... .”
Catherine was fighting her feelings of jealousy, then realized that Vincent seemed oblivious to Lena’s feelings.
She reached over and took his hand. “I’m glad you got to meet Lena.”
“Yes, she seems like a nice girl.”
“She has so much to look forward to with the baby.”
He grinned. “Yes, sleepless nights, dirty diapers ... ”
Catherine dropped his hand and pretended to punch him in the arm. “And endless hugs and kisses ... ”
He laughed and took her hand again. As they continued to walk, he caught her up on the latest happenings in the tunnels and soon enough they were at her threshold.
He smiled warmly at her. “I’m glad you could stop by today.”
“I wish it could be for longer, but I have to get back to work and then I volunteer again tonight.”
“Yes, and I have to cover sentry duty again.”
She sighed. “It’s hard, isn’t it?”
“Our time together is always so short.”
A sadness came over her as she looked at him, something had been on her mind since they left Lena’s and she finally decided to ask him. “Tell me something, Vincent, before I have to go?”
“What should I tell you?”
“Tell me how it felt ... to hold a baby in your arms?”
He looked at her in awe. “There are no words.”
Catherine’s eyes shone with love for him. “Try?”
He sighed as he searched for the words. “Remarkable. I’ve ... never held a baby that was so young before.”
She reached out and held his hand. “You did it so naturally. You’ll make a wonderful father one day.”
Vincent gasped and stepped back. “I ... ” He stopped, unable to say anymore.
Catherine grimaced knowing she had pushed too far. She knew she wanted to be with him and maybe one day have a family with him but she decided to give him time to think about the idea before she brought it up again. She reached up and hugged him then walked away without a backward glance.
Vincent stood still for what seemed like an eternity before he could make himself walk back to the home tunnels.
Over the next few weeks, Lena grew stronger and continually sought Vincent out to spend time with him. They spent many pleasant afternoons talking and sharing different part of their lives.
Late one afternoon, Lena came to his chamber to visit with him. She had borrowed a book and came to talk to him about it and then they walked and had dinner in the dining hall.
The next day, she came back to visit him once again. She told Vincent that she cared for him and that she wanted to be with him. He gently broke the news to her that he was in love with Catherine. Lena pointed out that Catherine wasn’t around. She left him and convinced herself that he was thinking about the possibility of being with her.
Vincent was troubled by her behavior and decided to talk to Father about it. He walked into the library and waited for Mouse and Kanin to leave before he brought it up.
Father knew that look on his son’s face and he watched the two men leave then turned to his son. “Tell me!”
Vincent chuckled that he knew him so well. “Am I that easy to read?”
Father smirked. “Only when you’re troubled. Is it Catherine?”
Vincent shook his head. “No, Lena.”
Father’s eyebrows rose. “Lena?”
“Yes, she came to see me a while ago. She ... ” Vincent sighed. “ ... said that she wanted to be with me ... ”
“With you for what?”
“With me…Father…I think she meant as a couple.”
“What! She said that!” Vincent looked at him in exasperation and nodded.
Father’s tone showed his worry. “Clearly she has misplaced her feelings, projecting them onto you.”
“It’s more than that Father. There is something true between us.”
“Then you believe her love for you is real?”
Vincent was quick to defend her. “Lena believes ... to deny that would be unfair.”
“Perhaps Catherine could speak with her ... help her understand.”
He had thought of that himself but couldn’t see involving Catherine. He was afraid it would only embarrass Lena even further. “No, Father. Not now ... not yet ... Lena’s still too fragile.”
“Vincent, you must be very careful. Allow time to come between yourself and Lena, and hope in the meanwhile she gains some perspective.”
“All her life she has known nothing but rejection and now ... when she’s come so far ... ”
Father sputtered. “You cannot encourage her, Vincent!”
Father bent over to reassure his son. “Lena will not be alone in this, that I promise you. I’ll have a word with Mary, and I’ll be there for Lena myself.”
Vincent lowered his head shamefully as he told his Father the truth. “Father, when Lena came to me ... there was a moment ... a pull ... beyond thought ... when I felt what it might be like to be ... someone else’s possibility. But it was just a moment.”
Father looked at him with mixed emotions. He wanted to speak to him further but knew Lena needed him more right now so he headed to go see her instead.
Later that night, Vincent was asleep in bed when he suddenly felt that someone was in his chamber. He awoke to find Lena at his bedside. Uninvited, she sat down on his bed and offered herself to him.
Vincent tried as gently as he could to send her from his room. As she walked out dejectedly, he felt the full force his refusal caused and tears fell from his eyes.
He lay back down but never fell back asleep. Three hours later, he was surprised again when Mary and Father came into his chamber.
He sat up quickly. “What is it?”
Mary came forward. “Lena’s missing. The baby’s cries woke me about an hour ago; she had been placed outside my chamber door. When I went in to Lena’s chamber, she was gone.”
Vincent looked down shamefully and Father stepped forward. “What is it? What happened?”
Vincent grimaced. “She came to me ... I ... had to send her away.”
Mary gasped. “But it’s only been a few weeks since she gave birth!”
Vincent shot to his feet and began to pace. “This is my fault!”
Father shook his head. “No, Vincent. You couldn’t have known.”
Mary agreed. “Vincent, we must find her quickly. If she ... does ... anything ... I mean ... she’s not even healed from the birth yet!”
Father sighed. “Perhaps Catherine could be of help now.”
Vincent walked to his closet. “I’ll go see her.”
Mary reached for his arm and held it. “Both Lena and Catherine deserve to know why Lena left. Be honest with her Vincent.”
Vincent nodded and Father and Mary left while he dressed and headed Above.
Catherine was reading in bed when she heard a thud out on her balcony. She looked at the time then raised her brows in surprise while she reached for a robe and headed outside.
She turned to the corner where he stood. “I know why are you here so late? Is something wrong?”
Vincent stepped forward from the shadows. “I need your help.”
Catherine reached for his arm. “What is it?”
He looked out into the city. “It’s Lena.”
“Yes,” she prompted.
He was clearly upset. “I offered her all the support I could. I tried to be there for her and yet ... ”
He stopped and Catherine prompted him again. “What?”
“She’s gone. She fled in the night. Her child ... she left her child behind. Mary is watching over her.”
“You couldn’t have done anything, Vincent. Lena wasn’t ready. It’s my fault for not seeing that.”
“No, Catherine! It is I who didn’t see or didn’t want to see.”
“That she would leave?”
He sighed. “That she would fall in love. She was so vulnerable and so frightened and yet I saw a part of myself in her and I thought if I just reached out to her she would accept my friendship.”
Catherine’s suspicions were true yet she ached for the pain Lena must be going through. “Her need was too great.”
Vincent looked at her, grateful that she easily understood the problem. “Perhaps I should have come to you sooner.”
She nodded. “I understand why you didn’t.”
“There was no gently way to refuse her love.”
Catherine hugged him. “I’m sorry, Vincent. I’m sorry for what’s happened.”
He returned her embrace, grateful for her support. “I fear for what is still happening for Lena.”
“I know ... I’ll try to find her.”
“Perhaps her daughter and I should be there to welcome her home?”
Catherine smiled then went to get changed.
Two hours of searching finally produced an address where Lena could be found. Catherine went there and Lena was dressing, ready to go back to ‘work’ on the streets.
Lena turned cold, dead eyes on Catherine and refused to go back with her. Catherine offered her support to her, whenever she decided she needed it then quickly turned to leave.
In desperation, Lena quietly called her back. Catherine walked over and hugged her as she broke down and cried and admitted she loved Vincent. Catherine sympathized with her and thought of her own frustration with the slow path their relationship was taking.
Lena sat back as Catherine wiped the glossy make-up from her lips. When she was finished, Lena started to remove her eye makeup then looked over at Catherine uncertainly.
“Cathy, can I ask you something?”
“If you love Vincent, why do you still live Above?”
“It’s complicated…” Catherine said as she sat on the nearby bed. Lena looked at her to explain further and Catherine shrugged as she pretended to look at her nails. “I have a life Above … work, friends …”
“And they’re more important then Vincent?”
“No.” Catherine frowned as she realized for the first time how their relationship might appear to her family Below.
Lena sighed. “I don’t know how you can leave him every morning. If he loved me I’d be with him all the time.”
“I … would too.” Catherine whispered as tears filled her eyes and she looked away.
Lena realized that it might not be Catherine’s choice that she lived apart from Vincent. She wondered if Vincent hadn’t asked Catherine to live with him. For the briefest second, she allowed herself to indulge in the fantasy that she still had a chance with Vincent, then she remembered the look in his eyes when he spoke about Catherine and knew she’d never come between them.
Lena agreed to go back with Catherine and let herself be brought Below through Catherine’s apartment building entrance.
Catherine tapped a message to Vincent to let him know they were coming. Vincent quickly ran to get the baby from Mary and then waited at the end of a tunnel for them to meet him.
Lena’s breath caught in her throat at the sight of Vincent. Catherine took her hand and squeezed it. “He does that to me too.”
Lena looked over at her gratefully. She realized that Catherine was a very good friend to be able to forgive her so easily. Catherine smile warmly and the two continued to walk.
They stopped in front of Vincent, who smiled. “Welcome home, Lena.”
He handed Lena the baby and she gratefully took her back in her arms.
Catherine caught Vincent’s gaze and smiled warmly. She nodded in a silent gesture that told him everything was going to be all right. “I’ll leave you two here, goodnight.”
Lena grabbed for Catherine’s hand. “Thank you.”
Catherine smiled at Lena
and hugged her. “You’re welcome.”
She looked at Vincent, whose eyes were filled with love for her. “Be well, Catherine.”
She felt desire flair in her then quickly suppressed it. “Another time,” she thought to herself.
She turned and headed for home.
Two weeks later, Vincent stood on Catherine’s balcony. “I have an invitation for you.”
Catherine smiled. “You do? For what?”
“Lena’s daughter’s naming ceremony is to be Sunday at noon.”
“Oh! I thought I’d missed it. I’ll be there, of course.” Catherine looked at him tentatively. “Does Lena know I’ll be coming?”
He cocked his head. “Lena insisted that the ceremony be on a Sunday because she knew you would be available that day. She asked me to extend the invitation myself.”
Catherine nodded knowingly. “How are ... um ... things between you and her?”
He shrugged. “Better. I think she has accepted my offer of friendship.”
“Good. I’ll stop at the store and pick up a gift from the both of us. Do you have any ideas?”
Vincent’s eyes grew round. “I ... have no idea!”
Catherine giggled. “I’ll find something. Shall I meet you about 11:30?”
Vincent nodded shyly. “Unless you’d rather come at 11:00 ... we could spend some time together ... ”
Catherine hugged him. “Sounds good. Goodnight.”
Catherine picked up a gift at a department store and headed Below. Vincent was waiting and they strolled leisurely through the tunnels talking about the things that had happened recently.
There was already a crowd in the library when they came in and Catherine made her way around the room visiting with everyone.
The ceremony finally took place and Catherine was truly touched when Lena announced she named her daughter Catherine.
The couple stepped forward to welcome the new arrival and soon everyone crowded around the baby.
The celebration was winding down when Lena came over to Catherine. “Hi.”
“Hi, Lena. You look tired.”
“I am. This is the most I’ve done in a while.”
Catherine patted the seat next to her. “Sit, tell me how things are going ... ”
Lena sat and looked at her tentatively. “I hope you’re not upset I named Cathy after you.”
Catherine’s hand flew to rest on Lena’s. “Lena, I’m honored you chose to name her after me. I was just sitting here thinking of a way to tell you that.”
Lena held out the baby. “Would you like to hold her?”
Catherine smiled and took the baby and brought her to her chest. Tears formed in her eyes as she looked down into the cherub face of the baby. “She’s so beautiful.”
Lena nodded. “Thank you. You look beautiful holding her. Maybe you and Vincent will have kids of your own someday.”
Catherine looked at Lena but saw no maliciousness in her eyes. She softened immediately. “I would love to have a baby.”
Lena touched Catherine’s arm. “You and Vincent have taught me that anything is possible.”
Across the room, Vincent stared at Catherine. He couldn’t believe how beautiful and how natural she looked with a baby in her arms. Father saw him looking and stepped over to his side.
“Vincent, I wish it could be, but there is no sense dreaming for what you know you can’t have.”
Vincent sighed then looked away. “I know. But every once in awhile I let myself think of all the possibilities.”