BEHIND THE SCENES
IN THE SERIES BY KATHY DE
It was Sunday and Catherine was making her usual trip Below. On the last rung of the ladder leading to the threshold, she felt Vincent step up behind her.
With a smile, she turned and threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. “Vincent, I’ve missed you so much.”
He chuckled as he buried his face into her hair, inhaling her unique scent. “I missed you as well, Catherine ... but I wonder how you knew it was me behind you. It could have been anyone that you were greeting so exuberantly.”
She tightened her embrace. “I felt your excitement as you came nearer.”
Vincent shyly blushed. “It’s been a long two weeks.”
“It sure has.” Catherine stepped away from him. “Were you and the other men able to fix the problems in the lower chambers?”
Vincent took her hand and turned towards his home as he nodded. “It took several days to get the equipment to fix the main water line. Then we had to deal with the water and the mud. The walls, of course, were saturated and we had to reinforce some of them. We had just finished when the same thing happened again on another level and we had to start all over.”
Catherine squeezed his hand. “You’re probably exhausted. Maybe I shouldn’t have come down today.”
“Catherine, I’ve been so tired and muddy each night that I’ve gone to sleep the second I come back. That’s one of the reasons why I haven’t been to see you.”
“I know. I was worried and came down one day to check on you. Father explained what was going on and I knew you were just too busy.”
He smiled. “Yes, but it’s been quiet since yesterday morning, and I slept well last night, so we have all of today.”
Catherine giggled delightfully. “Let’s not waste it. What shall we do? Read in the Chamber of the Falls? Visit with everyone?”
Vincent hung his head as he looked at her hopefully. “I hoped you wouldn’t mind going to the library and listening to the older children read. Michael took over most of my classes the past two weeks and the children are excited about sharing the play they’ve learned.”
“Vincent, I don’t care where we go or what we do as long as we’re together. Listening to the children reading aloud sounds fine to me.”
He cocked his head curiously. “You’re sure?”
She smiled and her eyes danced happily. “I’m positive!”
They walked hand in hand into the library. Many people were already there waiting to listen to the children read. Vincent and Catherine visited with everyone as they made their way to the front by Father.
After ten minutes they finally made it up front.
Father smiled warmly. “Catherine, it’s good to see you.”
She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Hello, Father. You look well.”
“As do you, my dear.” He turned as the children made their way center stage. “I believe they’re ready to start. Perhaps we should find seats.”
A bench that the children had vacated sat empty in front of them. Catherine waved her hand at it. “You two sit...”
She searched and found an unused floor pillow and bent to pick it up, then turned back to them. Surprised to see them still standing, she looked at them, clearly confused. “What?”
Vincent cocked his head to the side. “Catherine, where will you sit?”
She patted the pillow in her arms. “On the floor in front of you.”
Father looked appalled. “You can’t do that!”
Catherine made a face. “Why not?” She started to chuckle. “And they said chivalry is dead!” She turned to Father. “I’m certainly not going to ask you to sit on the floor.” She turned to face Vincent. “And you...still look tired. Now, unless you’d like me to go and find another place to sit...”
Vincent knew she would do it and didn’t relish standing through the whole reading. He shook his head reluctantly. “No, we’ll sit.”
She smiled sweetly. “Good.”
The two men sat and Catherine plopped her pillow next to Vincent’s feet then sat down. As the children began to read, an entranced Catherine slowly leaned against Vincent’s legs. She reached up to where his hand rested on his knee and wriggled her hand under his.
Father glanced at Vincent and wondered at the look of shock that flittered across his face and the tenseness in his son’s body. Vincent soon became comfortable again and turned his attention back to the reading, unconsciously caressing Catherine’s hand with his thumb.
Two hours later, the reading was complete. The room slowly emptied out as people made their way to the dining hall. Catherine and Vincent followed and they had an early dinner with their friends.
After everyone had eaten and visited for quite a long time, Mouse came running into the room towards Vincent. “Pipe leaking again, need help...break soon.”
Vincent sighed and turned to look for Kanin, Matthew, and Cullen. Each man caught his eye from across the room and knew immediately that there was trouble. They each stood and headed his way.
He turned to Catherine. “I hope I won’t be long.”
Catherine was soon entertained as the woman enlisted her help asking advice on the current fashions. She laughed and marveled that they did their best to help the kids ‘fit in’ when they went Above.
It was nearing the time for her to leave when a freshly washed Vincent finally showed up. He apologetically looked at her. “Catherine, I’m sorry. It took longer than I expected.”
She nodded. “Did you get it fixed?”
She took his hand and squeezed it. “Then that’s all that matters.” She sighed aloud. “But unfortunately I have to head back. I have an early deposition tomorrow.”
“I’ll lead you home.”
They began to walk and Vincent looked down dejectedly. “Once again our time has been limited.”
She smiled. “There’s always next week.”
“Perhaps I shouldn’t have asked that we spend our time listening to the children...”
Catherine stopped. “No, Vincent. They were wonderful. I really enjoyed it.”
He frowned and looked away and she rushed to make him understand. “It’s amazing to me that the kids Below are so much more advanced than the kids Above. Your world had managed to instill in them a desire to learn, to reach new heights. It’s a beautiful thing to see them achieve.”
As they continued to walk, Vincent swelled with pride. He knew as their teacher that he had done his best and to be acknowledged for that felt wonderful.
Vincent looked at her sadly. “It’s sad that we’re only able teach through the high school level of achievement. Michael will never be able to attain a higher level of education.”
Catherine frowned with confusion. “Why not?”
“Catherine, many of the children Below have no birth records, or school records for that matter, not to mention the lack of funding...”
Vincent was curious about her questions. “No, he was much older, almost a teen.”
“Do you know his last name?”
“Richmond, Michael Richmond.”
“Does Michael want to further his studies?”
“I’m sure he does, Catherine. He’s always had a thirst for knowledge, has always wanted to learn as much as he could.”
She nodded. “Good. I’ll see what I can do for him. He will of course have to take the SAT so we can get his score but once we have that grade we...”
Vincent squeezed her hand lightly, effectively quieting her. “SAT?”
She chuckled. “Sorry, once I get going...the SAT is short for the Scholastic Aptitude Test. It’s a test of general knowledge to see how much a person knows. I’ll look up the next test date...if I sign him up, do you think you could get Michael to go?”
Vincent started to get excited. “Yes, I’ll see that he gets there.”
They had reached her threshold. “Okay, I’ll send the information as soon as I get it.”
Vincent stepped forward and hugged her. “Thank you, Catherine.”
Catherine was surprised that he took the initiative but she realized it was because he was grateful. She quickly shook off the disquieting feeling and sighed as she snuggled into his embrace.
He stepped back and smiled down at her. “Be well.”
“And you, Vincent.”
The next morning, Catherine was able to track down Michael’s birth certificate. She gasped in surprise when she also found out that Michael had a substantial amount of money in a bank account.
She frowned and got up and walked over to Rita’s desk. “I need a personal favor?”
Rita smiled up at her. “For you ... anything.”
Catherine smiled as she handed over the information. “Can you find out about this savings account? Who’s using it...both deposits and withdrawals?”
“Great, I’ve got to go out for a bit to help this friend. I’ll be back after that.”
Catherine headed over to the local college to sign Michael up for the SATs.
The clerk looked up the future dates. “There’s a test next Saturday. It’s been filled for months but we have some last minute cancellations. It will cost more...”
Catherine shook her head. “That’s fine, I’ll pay whatever. Can you sign Michael up for it?”
The clerk handed her an application and Catherine began to fill it out. She frowned and used her home address and phone number as the residence. With a smile, she paid the fee and then headed back to the office.
She jotted a letter to Vincent and gave him all of the specifics of the test. She even sent down a package for Michael complete with several #2 pencils and a new scientific calculator.
On the way to her desk, she stopped back at Rita’s desk. “Find out anything?”
Rita shook her head. “The account was established about 18 years ago. Two names are on it...a mother and son...Michael Richmond, a minor at the time, and Rose Richmond as a secondary. Rose has been dead for several years and there are no records on Michael after her death.”
Catherine nodded. “Any activity to the account?”
Catherine frowned as she turned away. “Thanks, Rita.”
She walked back to her desk and sat down. She wondered briefly if Michael had been too young to comprehend what he’d done and he wasn’t aware of the money. She knew she didn’t have the right to ask him about it but if she was able to question in a roundabout way, maybe he would remember something.
Vincent was in his chamber when a small package was delivered. He opened it and read the letter and chuckled that once again Catherine had accomplished what seemed an insurmountable task.
He looked down at the pencils and the calculator, then stood and walked out to tap a message on the pipes.
Michael came in a short time later and hovered in Vincent’s doorway. “Vincent, you wanted to see me?”
Vincent motioned for him to come in. “Yes, please. Come in Michael.”
Michael entered the room and Vincent pointed at his desk indicating he should sit. The two men each took chairs across from one another.
Michael chuckled nervously. “Should I be worried about something?”
Vincent smiled at him. “No, I have good news for you.”
“What is it?”
“Michael, my friend Catherine was impressed by your performance the other day. She mentioned it to me and we talked about you furthering your education.”
Michael gasped in surprise. “Really?”
“Yes, but to be admitted to college, you have to take an aptitude test...”
Michael nodded. “Yeah, I know…up top they call it the SATs.”
“Yes, Catherine has arranged for you to take the test.”
Vincent handed him the package and Michael eyed the pencils then marveled at the new calculator. “Vincent! This is a scientific calculator. Do you know how expensive these are?” Vincent shrugged as Michael mentioned the amount. Vincent shook his head in disbelief that something so small could cost so much.
“Well, Michael, you’ll have to be careful with the calculator, don’t leave it lying around...”
Michael rolled his eyes. “I know...Vincent, when’s the test?”
Vincent handed him the letter from Catherine. “Next Saturday, here’s the address and the time.”
Michael played with the new calculator. “That doesn’t give me much time to figure out all of the functions of this thing!”
“You’ll go to the test then?”
“Of course! I won’t let you down. I’ll do my best, I promise!”
Vincent smiled as he grabbed Michael’s shoulder. “That’s all any of us can ever do!” He looked over the calculator, then flipped through the directions book. He marveled at all the functions the tiny machine could perform. “Perhaps we can spend some time together figuring it all out.”
“I’d like that.”
Vincent and Michael spent every available minute together and studied for the big test.
The day finally arrived and Vincent walked Michael to the park entrance and then paced the tunnels the rest of the day.
Immediately upon his arrival, Michael returned and searched for him. He found him in the library with Father.
Vincent stood up as he entered. “Well?”
Michael nonchalantly sat down and pretended to be confused. “What?”
Father rolled his eyes as Vincent looked amused. “Michael, you may want to tell Vincent how your test was today. He’s been unbearable since you left this morning.”
“Oh, yeah ... the test. It was all right, I guess!”
Vincent groaned. “Michael!”
“I don’t know...there was so much Shakespeare and poetry! I mean, who reads that stuff anyway!”
Vincent sat back and sighed with relief while Father proudly pounded Michael on the back. “Good job, son.”
“I’m going to go to tell the others how the test was, okay?”
Father waved his hand. “Yes, yes. Go!”
Michael jogged from the room and Father put his hand on Vincent’s shoulder. “All that worrying for nothing.” He stood and looked into the air. “I meant to ask Michael how long before we get the results.”
“Catherine said it can take several weeks.”
“That long!” Father sat and groaned. “I’ll never make it!”
Vincent chuckled. “She said she would try to pull a few strings to see if she could get an answer sooner.”
Father nodded. “Oh, thank God!”
The two men laughed for quite awhile.
Unknown to them, Catherine had paid extra money to get Michael’s grades rushed through. She saw how high he scored and smiled, knowing that Michael stood a good chance of getting into the college.
She filled out his application and included a copy of his SAT score, then personally took it to Brayfield College. When the woman in admissions declined it, she headed upstairs to an old friend of her father’s.
She knocked on his door and waited.
She peered around the door to see a very distinguished older gentlemen sitting behind a huge desk. He was one of her father’s oldest friends and Catherine had spent a lot of time with his family while she was growing up. “Uncle Mason?”
The man smiled with recognition and stood as she stepped forward. “Cathy! Darling, how are you?”
“I’m doing well, Uncle Mason, how are you?”
The man smiled as he came around his desk and hugged her. “Fine, fine.” He stepped back and stared at her. “Let me take a look at you...my God young lady, you’re the spitting image of your mother!”
Catherine smiled. “That’s what my dad says, too.”
Mason motioned for her to sit. “How is your dad?”
Catherine sat where he pointed and watched while he walked and took a seat. “He’s doing well. I’ll tell him I saw you.”
Mason smiled at her knowing it was unlike her to visit. “Well as good as it is to see you I’m curious as to why you’re here.”
Catherine took out an application. “Uncle Mason, I was wondering if you could get this into the right hands for me. This young man is a friend of mine and I’m trying to get him into school here.”
Mason took the application from her and glanced through it. He looked at the SAT scores then reread all of the information. “Hmmm...He’s missing his high school transcripts.”
Catherine shrugged. “I know. The lady in admissions wouldn’t even look at the application without them.”
Mason nodded with agreement. “That’s standard policy.”
Catherine scooted forward in her seat. “Uncle Mason, you can see by his SAT score that he knows the material. Can you at least give him a try?”
Mason glanced at the test score again. “You’ll personally vouch for the boy?”
Catherine smiled. “Yes, he’s a wonderful kid from a very loving family.” Catherine wanted to set his mind at ease further. “Uncle Peter would vouch for him too.”
He raised his brows. “Alcott?” Catherine nodded and Mason reached in his desk. He stamped an approval sign on the paper and handed it back to Catherine. “Hand this to Patti in registration. I’m assuming the boy can pay for all this?”
Catherine blushed. “Well...he’ll need to get assistance.”
Mason frowned. “That’s going to be hard to do without a proper application.”
“Okay, well then what if I paid for his first semester...if he proves himself, then we can work on getting him financial aid.”
Mason sat back and looked at her. A slow smile gradually crept onto his face as he shook his head in amusement. “I was wrapped around your mother’s finger too!” He pointed a finger at her and shook it as he warned her. “He has to do his part!”
Catherine stood and hugged him. “He will.”
Mason laughed. “He can start in three weeks when everyone comes back. He’ll get an acceptance letter in a few days.”
Catherine kissed his cheek. “You’re the best!”
Mason smiled. “You owe me now! You get over to see your Aunt Gladys soon!”
Catherine laughed. “I’ll do better than that. I’ll take you and Aunt Gladys out for dinner this week. I’ll even call dad to see if he can come.”
“Good girl, we’ll wait to hear from you.”
“Goodbye, Uncle Mason.”
Catherine dropped off the approved application at Patti’s desk and smiled when she realized how surprised they would be Below when the news came.
With regret, she looked towards Central Park and the entrance that would take her Below. She glanced at her watch and sighed, knowing she needed to get back to the office.
Once she was at her desk, she wrote a note to Vincent and called for Benny to make the delivery.
Vincent was grading papers with Father when a message came for him. He read it quickly and then sat back with a huge smile on his face.
Father smirked at him. “I would venture to say you’ve received good news.”
Vincent handed him the letter. “Better than good news!”
Father took the letter, read it, and broke out in a grin. “We should tell him now.”
Vincent hesitated. “He’s in class.”
Father stood. “Yes, and what a fine example he will be when everyone hears his news.”
They stood and walked to Vincent’s chamber where Michael was conducting a class. Father informed everyone that because of Michael’s high score on the SAT the university had waived the usual requirements and admitted him for the coming term.
The room exploded in
congratulations and Michael was secretly feeling quite nervous but he
reveled in being the tunnels’ newest star. After the din had died down,
he went and sat alone by the
Vincent came and talked to him, and Michael admitted he was nervous about returning Above. Vincent helped him to realize that he needed to go back Above and face the world he once knew.
Vincent could tell Michael was struggling with his emotions so he left him alone with his thoughts and headed to see Catherine.
It was earlier than usual when Catherine heard a familiar thud on her balcony. She turned and headed out her doors. “Vincent.”
He smiled as she came over and hugged him. He was always surprised that she seemed genuinely pleased to see him each time he showed up.
“Is everything all right?” she wondered.
“I didn’t want to wait until Sunday to see you,” Vincent admitted.
Catherine could tell that he was very happy. “You received my note? Wasn’t it wonderful news?”
Vincent nodded. “We were shocked to have an answer so quickly...” He looked at her quizzically. “...It makes me wonder if you were able to work some of your magic?”
Catherine blushed and looked away. “Maybe just a little.... One of my Dad’s best friends sits on the Board of Directors at the college. I just asked for a favor.”
Vincent frowned when he realized that she must have paid for Michael’s admission and he lowered his head shamefully. “Catherine, how much did this favor cost you?”
Catherine realized where his mind had taken him and reached out to squeeze his hand affectionately. “I have to go to dinner with him and my Aunt Gladys. I promised I would invite my Dad as well, so if you must know, the price was an enjoyable dinner with old friends.”
Vincent could tell by her light-hearted mood that she was happy to spend time doing this and he smiled. “I’m glad. I would never ask you to support my world financially.”
Catherine settled down on a seat next to the wall. “I know that, and anything I may give, I give freely.”
“Your generosity is amazing.”
She blushed in embarrassment and tried to change the subject. “Was Michael excited?”
Vincent sighed and looked out into the city. “He’s struggling to come to terms with all of it.”
Catherine frowned thoughtfully. “That’s unexpected!”
Vincent shrugged. “Perhaps I’ve done him a disservice...”
“By encouraging him to embrace his future?”
“By assuming it was what he wanted.”
“Vincent, he’s come this far because of his desire and because you believed in him.”
“I always believed Michael would want this opportunity.”
Catherine knew it was what Vincent would have wanted for himself at that age. “You dreamed he could have what you couldn’t have.” He looked over at her, surprised that she knew him so well. She smiled at him. “It’s a little frightening when our dreams begin to come true.”
Vincent explained to Catherine that Michael came Below after the death of his mother and the rejection of his father. He thought about Michael’s oath to never return Above again and told Catherine it was because Michael blamed his father and the world Above for leaving him alone in his grief.
Catherine told Vincent that either way it was important that Michael return Above and make his peace with the world. Vincent agreed and Catherine reminded him that because Michael had the faith and love of the community Below behind him, he would have the strength to face whatever came his way.
Vincent took her hands in his. “I wish Michael had your outlook on life. I think it’ll be hard for him the first few days.”
Catherine shrugged. “I could help. Michael’s welcome to stay with me for a while until he settles in.” Vincent looked at her then looked away. Catherine knew he wanted to say something but couldn’t find the words. “What, Vincent? What is it?”
“I...” Vincent struggled to speak then finally sighed. “We needed to find a place for Michael to stay. I would never have asked and I’m not even sure...”
Catherine squeezed his hands. “Vincent, I’m not even home half the time. Michael could come and go as he pleases...besides, he’s already registered at school with my address.”
Vincent nodded. “Catherine, your generosity knows no bounds. Thank you.”
Catherine smiled and hugged him. “You’re welcome.”
They hugged and as he backed away, Catherine looked up at him. “Why don’t we meet at the threshold on Wednesday? There are a ton of things for Michael to do and not a lot of time left before school starts.”
“What sort of things?”
“For one, he has financial aid to apply for, I’m sure he’ll have orientation at some point and the hardest of all, he needs to choose his classes.”
Vincent nodded. “He needs to choose wisely. Perhaps you could help? Maybe guide him towards the classes you took your freshman year.”
“Michael loves history!”
Catherine blushed. “Well...it wasn’t a standard history class...”
“What was it?”
“Well, if this is any indication of my early college years...my history paper was about the effects fashion trends had on the outcome of wars!”
Vincent couldn’t suppress his laughter and became immediately contrite. “I’m sorry, Catherine.”
“I’ll have you know, I received an A in that class!” She tried to be indignant but ended up laughing with him.
Vincent laughed quietly then looked at her. “We’ll meet you about 7:00?”
Catherine thought for a second. “Make it 7:30, in case I’m running late.”
Vincent nodded and felt an odd twinge in the pit of his stomach and wondered briefly about it. He turned his attention back to Catherine. “I’ll speak to Michael right away, if there are any problems, I’ll send word.”
Catherine dropped his hands and let her hands slide around his waist. “Goodnight, Vincent.”
Vincent gathered her close but his embrace wasn’t as close as it normally was. Catherine pretended not to notice and smiled as he left.
When he was gone, she frowned about his strange reaction, then shook it off and walked inside to see about items she needed to get for a house guest.
Vincent headed Below and once again sought out Michael. He was sitting with a group of other children who were playing a board game.
The kids all looked up when Vincent walked in. Vincent smiled and looked to Michael. “Do you have some time?”
Michael shot to his feet. “Sure.”
The two men walked into the tunnel way. Vincent turned to Michael. “I’ve just left Catherine’s. She has offered to act as your liaison in getting you acclimated to the school.”
Michael frowned with confusion. “That means she’s going to help me right?”
Vincent sighed. “Yes, she has offered you a chance to stay with her until something else comes up.”
Vincent nodded. “It’s a very generous offer; would you like to accept it?”
“I’d be crazy not to...”
“We meet tomorrow at . I’ll guide you to Catherine’s place and wait for her to come get you.”
Michael nodded. “I’ve got to spend some time with Mary tomorrow packing. They’re trying to get me some new outfits.”
Vincent smiled. “Good. It will be a fresh start for you, Michael.”
Michael looked down worriedly. “I guess.”
Vincent clasped his shoulder and then turned and left.
The next day, Michael was busy with the women. They were sewing and altering all kinds of clothes for him. The day flew by and it was time for him to head to Catherine’s.
“Ready?” Vincent said as he
came into the room.
Michael looked around the chamber he had lived in since he came here as a young boy. He sighed and turned to Vincent. “Yeah, let’s go.”
Both men were strangely silent as they made their way to the threshold. Vincent wondered about these odd feelings he was having. He assumed they were because Michael, like Laura not too long ago, was choosing a path in the world Above.
Catherine came down and met them. She pointed towards her ladder to indicate Michael should go first and she cast a backward glance at Vincent who was staring at her, an unreadable expression on his face. She smiled and then showed Michael the way to her apartment.
He dropped off his bag and they decided to head out to a restaurant. Michael watched as a homeless man dug through a garbage can searching for something to eat. Suddenly Michael picked up his plate and fork and shot from his seat. He ended up going outside and feeding his meal to the man. Catherine marveled at the level of compassion he was showing another human being. She quickly walked out of the restaurant when the angry owner accused Michael of embarrassing his customers.
They walked the streets laughing about the incident and Catherine stopped to buy them a hot dog from a corner stand. Michael stared at yet another homeless man and Catherine had to warn him not to give away another meal.
Back at her apartment, they sat down with some hot chocolate.
Catherine blew on hers and took a tentative sip as she looked over at him. “Michael, tomorrow after breakfast you can head over to the university. There’s a welcome pack waiting there for you. In it will be the information you need to get your school ID as well as the list of classes available, possibly a map of the campus.” Catherine jotted down her address. “Here’s my address at work, when you’re done, come up and we can go have lunch together.”
Michael had set his cup down and nodded. “Okay. Wow, I’m starting to get really excited.”
Catherine smiled and leaned back. “I loved going to college. I missed my dad but it was nice to go into a class and be considered an adult and know that anything I achieved was a result of my own accomplishments.”
“Catherine, would you help me pick my classes? I don’t want to be overwhelmed my first semester.”
Catherine laughed then pretended to be indignant. “Have you been talking to Vincent?”
He looked at her innocently but laughed. “Well, only about history.”
Catherine groaned in embarrassment and threw a pillow at Michael. She knew Vincent had told him about her fashion history class and Michael was teasing her. He laughed and caught it easily and set it to his side. The two joked and laughed for the rest of the night.
Far Below, Vincent lay in bed with his arm flung across his eyes. He felt emotions flooding through the bond and with a sigh he rolled over and closed his eyes.
The next day, a soaking wet Michael greeted Catherine at work. They went out to lunch and the playfulness that was present the night before continued through lunch.
Catherine paid the tab and looked over at him. “I’ll get home as soon as I can tonight. I’ll bring home some dinner and we can start on your classes.” Michael nodded and Catherine kept talking. “Did you find out when orientation is?”
“The day after tomorrow.”
Catherine nodded. “Okay, I’ll make a point to get home early.”
“You don’t have to go with me...”
“Michael, I want to!”
He shrugged. “Oh, then it’s a date.”
Catherine grinned, stood, and kissed his cheek. “Okay, I’ve got to go. I’ll see you later.”
Catherine hurried from the restaurant and headed back to work. Michael walked the streets for the entire afternoon and impulsively stopped in an antique book store where he promptly bought a book for Catherine written by William Blake.
That night they ate Chinese takeout and poured over the list of available classes. They laughed over all of the outrageous choices and again had a wonderful evening together.
After Catherine decided they had a good base of classes picked out for him, they retired to her living room. Michael presented her with his gift and watched her read aloud a favorite poem.
He looked at her with eyes that spoke of someone who was falling in love. Catherine finished reading one of the poems and suddenly felt awkward. She quickly came up with the excuse of an early meeting and headed off to bed.
Michael spent another night on her sofa and dreamt of her coming to him, leading him to her bed and making love with him. He started to moan when he realized Vincent had discovered them. He crashed through the balcony doors and was now intent on killing him. After he felt Vincent’s final blow to his chest, he awoke from his dream panting heavily.
He sat there feeling guilty that he was having feeling towards Catherine and he couldn’t get back to sleep. The next morning, he headed out before she could see him.
Catherine woke to find Michael gone and wondered briefly where he went before she shrugged it off and headed to work.
Michael was flooded with feelings of love and guilt and he felt disloyal and confused about everything. He headed to the only home he’d ever known, searching for comfort.
He went in search of the other kids and ended up finding them in Vincent’s chamber.
Vincent was having a hard time dealing with his own feelings, but he could tell Michael was troubled. He turned and addressed his class. “Children, Michael and I would like to be alone to talk for awhile, perhaps when we’re finished he’ll come find you again.”
The children obediently left and Vincent motioned for Michael to sit. “I’m surprised to see you so soon. How have things been going Above?”
Michael shrugged. “Good.”
“Have you picked your classes?”
“Catherine mentioned something about an orientation?”
“Yes, it’s um...tomorrow.”
“Are you nervous about going alone?”
“Catherine’s…um…going to go with me.”
Vincent felt his heart constrict at the news but he tried to lighten the mood. “It was good of you to come back...the children miss their teacher.”
“I needed to get something from my chamber I forgot.”
“So how are you finding it so far? You...aren’t unhappy are you?”
Vincent wondered why Michael was having such a hard time looking at him. “Has Catherine been helpful?”
“She’s a rare person...you couldn’t find a better guide.”
Michael nodded. “That’s true.”
Vincent finally gave up and was straightforward. “Michael, what’s troubling you?”
“Nothing...just school...I guess...you know...all the decisions, courses, people...”
Vincent tried to find satisfaction in his answer but he knew Michael too well and that there was more bothering him. “It’s a lot to think about. To leave a safe place and find your way among strangers is a difficult passage for anyone.”
“Yes, I know that!”
Vincent cocked his head to the side and again tried to prompt Michael to admit his feelings. “Is it the past?”
Michael shook his head. “No...” He shrugged. “...I don’t know.”
“Michael, fear makes our enemies loom larger and larger. Go back Above...find your way...trust yourself.”
Vincent swallowed the lump in his throat and continued. “Catherine will help you in any way that she can. Reach out to her, let her help guide the way for you.”
Michael flinched guiltily, then sighed in resignation and headed Above to face the world.
Catherine came home late from work that night and was surprised Michael was sitting there. He informed her he wasn’t going to orientation. She reminded him they had a date to go and she insisted they keep it. She quickly changed and they headed out.
In the taxi on the ride over, Catherine turned to him. “Michael, orientation is so important. It’s a chance to meet your professors and fellow students.”
He shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. I’m okay now. I’m sure it’ll be fun.”
Catherine reached over and patted his thigh. “I’m glad.”
They walked into the room and made the rounds. Catherine introduced him to an endless amount of professors and Michael respectfully answered their questions then ventured out on his own to the food table.
He had girls approaching him every time he was alone and was reaching for a finger sandwich when a small blonde came over. “Hey, I’m Shannon.”
Michael shook her hand. “Michael.”
Shannon held his hand a second longer than needed and she smiled as she released it. “Who’s the chick?” Michael looked over at Catherine while Shannon plodded on. “She’s too young to be your mom and too old to be your girlfriend...she your sister?”
Michael shook his head and Shannon paled as her eyes widened. “Oh, man! She is your old lady!”
Michael laughed. “No, she’s not. She’s a friend of the family.”
Shannon changed immediately into a sweet girl. “I’m such an idiot! Look, I bet my friends over there that I could get you to talk to me in less than two minutes. They both said you were too hot to give me the time of day. I came over here pretending to be some tough biker chick so if you blew me off I could cover it up under a cool exterior.”
Michael smiled. “Well, I would never blow you off. It’s nice to meet you. Tell your friends I said hi.”
For good measure, Michael waved at the girls who looked the other way. Shannon rolled her eyes. “I’ll get $50 if you kiss my cheek. You’ll be in for half if you do it...”
Michael made sure her friends were looking before he bent over and kissed her cheek. “Keep my half...it was worth it.”
Shannon threw her arms around his neck and kissed him fully on the lips. “I owe you one!” she slipped her number into his hand as she walked away.”
Catherine was talking to an old friend across the room and had observed the whole thing. She smiled at Michael and gave him a thumbs-up then returned to her conversation.
Michael met more and more people as he walked around the room. He suddenly stopped in shock when he looked across the room at the man that was his father. With Catherine’s encouragement, he walked across the room and confronted him.
His father coldly rejected him. An anguished Michael felt reality crash down on him once again and he raced from the room. Catherine startled at his unusual behavior and followed closely behind him.
Michael cried as he realized that he had spent his whole life lying to himself. He knew that his mother was actually his father’s cleaning lady. His father had paid her off at Michael’s birth to keep quiet about his part in Michael’s birth. When his mother was dying, his father stepped forward and gave Michael more money to stay out of his life.
Catherine caught up to him where he poured out the truth to her. In his grief, he turned to her. Catherine held him tightly and offered him comfort as he cried. Michael backed away from her and gazed into her eyes. He saw them filled with compassion for him and he leaned in and held her face as he kissed her.
Catherine was shocked and her mind raced with ways to stop him without hurting him. When Michael went to deepen the kiss, Catherine struggled to free herself. Michael looked at her with horror as it dawned on him what he had done.
Catherine tried to tell him it was okay but Michael ran from her and headed to the tunnels.
Vincent was walking though the tunnels when he felt Catherine experience a whirlwind of emotions. He knew she was with Michael and it hurt him to know that they were experiencing things he could only dream of. He berated himself for feeling this way and headed towards his chamber.
Catherine came home and looked for Michael but he wasn’t there. Worried about him, she dropped her purse and headed Below.
At the threshold, she was surprised that, knowing she was so upset, Vincent wasn’t here waiting for her. She knew he must be feeling the turmoil within her. She made her way through the tunnels and to his chamber and frowned when she saw him sitting and looking into the flame of a candle.
He turned at her voice but wouldn’t look her in the eyes; instead he looked back at the candle in front of him. “Catherine.”
She walked in and wondered about his strange behavior. “Um, Michael and I attended his orientation tonight. It was going well, until he saw his real father.”
Vincent was shocked by the news and glanced at her worriedly. She smiled weakly. “You would have been so proud of him, Vincent. He showed no sign of fear and walked right up to the man.”
Vincent was proud that Michael had shown such courage but he quickly looked away. “Was he excited to see Michael after all this time?”
Catherine frowned and sat on the edge of his bed. “No, in fact I...I think his father may have rejected him again. I was watching from across the room and Michael turned to me with a look of such anguish...then he ran out. I chased after him and finally caught up to him. He told me that he had been fooling himself all these years. He wanted so much to believe that he had meant something to his father, that he created a world where his father would accept him. It was heart-wrenching to see him so hurt by his father’s actions.”
Vincent ached for Michael but a dull pain had settled into his own chest and he hung his head. “I’m glad you were there to offer him comfort.”
Catherine wondered about the strange tone in his voice. “I...held him while he cried.” She wondered if Vincent had somehow known that Michael kissed her. “He was so distraught he...um...got confused.” She sighed. “He ran from me. I went to my apartment hoping he went there but it was empty. Vincent, do you know if he came Below?”
“He’s here. I saw him in the tunnel way.”
Catherine was relieved. “Thank God! Were you able to speak with him?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “He wouldn’t...” He stopped then sighed, clearly distressed. “He saw me and ran from me. I called to him but...he looked at me with...eyes filled with...remorse about what happened...”
Catherine knew Michael was hurting. Vincent was his teacher, his mentor. If Michael needed anyone right now, it was Vincent. She frowned that Vincent seemed unable to see that and wondered what he was thinking. “Go to him, Vincent. He needs you.”
Catherine was incredulous. “What do you think happened?”
Vincent hated himself for thinking poorly of Michael and he knew he trusted Catherine, so he answered truthfully. “Nothing...happened. I know that.”
He was overwhelmed by his feelings and couldn’t talk about this right now. “You must leave!”
Catherine knew they needed to get this out in the open and discuss it or the problem would always be between them so she quickly refused to stop talking to him. “No!”
She jumped when he slammed his hand against the table effectively knocking a candle over. She watched as he began to pace.
She was confused by his behavior and pleaded with him. “Why do you want me to leave?”
“Because what I’m feeling...my thoughts...shame me,” he said disgustedly.
She walked over to him. “Tell me, tell me what you feel.”
Putting much needed distance between them, he turned and walked away from her. “You mustn’t see me like this.”
“Please don’t send me away!” she pleaded.
“My thoughts are poisonous!”
Vincent was angry with himself and Catherine was getting frustrated with him. “Tell me these thoughts.”
Vincent stopped as tears sprang to his eyes and he struggled to be truthful with her. “What you shared...I envy.”
Catherine sighed in compassion. “Vincent...”
“I betrayed Michael, I betrayed you, everything I hold dear...”
Catherine’s brow furrowed with confusion. “How did you betray us?”
He finally looked her in the eye, admitting his mistake. “I know what it is to love you, Catherine. I love Michael like a brother, like a son, but his life has been such a struggle...he needed to be healed by your tenderness and yet I was unwilling to share your love with anyone.”
Catherine’s heart had soared when he finally admitted aloud that he loved her but it came crashing down when he said he wanted her to be with Michael. She closed her eyes as the full impact of what he said washed over her. Then she realized he admitted he was jealous of Michael. She approached him cautiously and tenderly touched his arm. “Don’t be ashamed of those feelings!”
Vincent was disgusted with himself. “It violates everything I believe...”
Catherine was determined to show him that she had times she felt like that too. “Don’t you think I have those feelings too? Sometimes, I envy Father and others in your life who receive your love and care every day. I know those feelings, they are ugly...but all of those feelings come from love. They’re the other side of it...to turn away from them is to forget where they came from.”
Vincent’s hands flew to his heart. “Catherine, the better part of me would rejoice to see you find love with someone as fine and good as Michael. You have so much love to give...”
Catherine couldn’t believe he thought her love could easily be transferred to someone else. “Because of you!”
Vincent kept trying to push her away. “What we share must always be so measured...so limited.”
“We don’t know what the limits are!”
“You deserve a life without limits.”
Catherine exploded angrily. “There is no life without limits!” She walked over to where he stood, knowing she had to convince him of her love. “Vincent, if this is my fate I accept it...gratefully! You must believe that!” He hung his head and began to cry as Catherine drew closer. “Don’t be afraid to want it, even if it’s only for yourself. Don’t be afraid to deserve it. You deserve everything!”
As Vincent cried against her, he held her tighter, reveling in the comfort she offered. Catherine rocked him gently and she turned her face towards his to lightly kiss his temple.
She waited and hoped he would turn to face her. She longed to offer herself to him, heal his pain with her love, but Vincent’s face remained hidden, and she turned her head back against his shoulder and held him tighter.
Minutes passed before Vincent’s brain registered the fact that she had just kissed him. He breathed deeply then finally leaned away from her.
Catherine looked up and could see he was about to apologize. She reached for his cheek and wiped away an errant tear. “I love you, Vincent.” He lifted his head and looked into her eyes and then sighed as he began to shake his head once again. She knew that he would try again to change her mind and she continued on. “You are entitled to love and be loved. That’s our destiny. If you would just accept my love instead of fighting it...” She smiled and shrugged. “Who knows where it could lead us? It’s all up to you, Vincent. I’m here for you, whenever you’re ready to accept it.”
She saw the look of hope in his face and knew he needed time to come to terms with everything she had just told him. She grabbed his hand and held it tightly as she reminded him of his other duties. “You need to find Michael. He needs you, he needs your guidance…he is so lost...”
Vincent sighed and nodded and she caught his eye. “I’m going home; it’ll give you a chance to find Michael and talk to him.”
She began to walk away when Vincent reached for her arm and held it gently, caressing it with his thumb. “Catherine…I...”
She knew he couldn’t voice his feelings and nodded at what was left unspoken. “You’re welcome,” she said as she leaned in and lightly kissed his cheek.
Vincent searched everywhere for Michael and finally found him standing on the Whispering Bridge.
Remembering his dream, Michael assumed Catherine had told Vincent what had happened and Vincent was here to punish him. Michael backed away from him uncertainly, begging him to leave him alone.
Vincent hesitated for a moment, he could feel Michael’s desperation and he refused to leave him alone with it. He walked towards Michael, who told him he had betrayed him and pleaded with him to leave him alone. Vincent got close enough and grabbed Michael and pulled him into an embrace.
He held Michael tightly and offered him the same words of understanding he had just heard from Catherine. “What you felt was true. You’re entitled to love and to be loved, that’s part of your destiny as well...”
Michael cried with relief that Vincent was not mad at him and he took the comfort his mentor offered. “Vincent.”
“And besides, how could anyone...not love her?”
Michael sobbed against him and when his tears were spent he finally pulled away. “Vincent, I’m...sorry.”
Vincent knew he meant more than what had happened with Catherine and he turned and sat down on the bridge then looked up at Michael. “Come, tell me.”
Michael nodded and came and sat beside him. “Everything you said about Catherine was true. She’s great; she took me to dinner and helped me pick my classes. She even made me attend my orientation tonight.”
Vincent prompted him. “Go on.”
“I saw my father there tonight. With Catherine near, I found the courage to approach him. He reminded me that he wanted to have nothing to do with me and that he had already paid me well to stay out of his life.”
Vincent sighed as he remembered the young boy that Michael had been when he first came to them. He remembered that Michael proclaimed he was unloved and that he would never go back to the world Above.
In his misery, Michael didn’t notice Vincent’s silence and continued on. “I was so upset, I ran from the building. I couldn’t deal with any more rejection. Catherine followed me and held me as I cried...”
Vincent looked down. “And you kissed her.”
Michael looked up incredulously. “You knew!”
Vincent nodded. “I felt her overwhelming compassion, then her surprise, and...”
Michael rushed on with his explanation. “The thing is I don’t even know why or even how it happened. One minute I was crying and she was holding me and the next minute I was kissing her. She ended it and apologized and I was so shocked it happened I ran. I ran all the way home and then I saw you and I knew I couldn’t face you. Vincent, I am so sorry!”
Vincent reached out a hand and squeezed Michael’s shoulder. “You were feeling vulnerable and...”
Michael nodded. “And she was there. She’s been there all week to help me and I...guess I just turned to her.”
“Michael, it’s okay, part of this is my fault. I knew Catherine would be there for you if you needed her.”
“Catherine will hate me.”
Vincent dispensed with his worries. “Catherine holds no such feelings. She was worried about you and came down to see me.”
Michael smiled. “She’s a very special woman, Vincent. You’re lucky she loves you so much.”
Vincent looked down as he let the full effects of Michael’s words register. It seemed like everyone Below knew Catherine loved him yet a part of him was still unable to accept her love. He sighed. “Yes.”
Michael shook his head. “And now I’ve ruined everything. I’ve ruined my friendship with Catherine and my chance to further my education in the world Above.”
Vincent looked at him sitting in misery and rushed to comfort him. “Michael, you’ve done no such thing. You can still attend college Above.”
Michael looked up with alarm. “I can’t face Catherine. I certainly can’t live with her!”
Vincent smiled. “Catherine is very understanding and if you’d rather, we can always find another helper to take you in.”
“That might be best.”
“I’ll have Father speak to some of the other helpers, perhaps a man this time…”
Michael nodded at his light joke and smiled for the first time, hoping there was still a way. “Maybe...it will be okay...”
Vincent threw his arm over Michael’s shoulders. “We’ll make it so.”
Michael sighed and looked up at him. “Will you explain things to Catherine for me?”
Vincent looked away as thoughts of seeing Catherine assailed him. He had to find the courage within himself to go see her. “Yes.”
Michael shot to his feet. “Thanks, Vincent. I’ll apologize myself but if you smoothed the way it would sure help.”
Vincent smiled at Michael’s enthusiasm and nodded. Michael took off and went back to his old room to be with the others.
Vincent sat alone and stared at nothing. He relived the whole conversation he had with Catherine. In his own way, he had told her that he loved her. He hoped that she knew that was what he meant. He shook his head in disbelief that she had certainly not had the same problem and in no uncertain terms had said she loved him. He even remembered the softness of her lips against his temple when she kissed him.
She had left it up to him to come to her and he knew he would have to find the courage to do so.
He made his way to his chamber to grab his cloak and head Above.
Vincent was throwing his cloak around his shoulders when Father walked in.
“You’re going out?”
Vincent turned at his Father’s voice. “Yes. I need to see Catherine.”
Father’s brow furrowed. “Is everything all right? I heard a message that Michael was here?”
Vincent nodded. “Um...yes...or rather it will be.”
Father wondered at his cryptic answer and at his strange behavior. “Son, is it anything I can help you with?”
Vincent gave him a half-smile. “No, Father. I can handle it but...thank you for offering.”
Father smiled and clasped Vincent’s shoulder. “Okay, you’re not going to tell me, but you know where I am if you need some advice.”
Vincent chuckled at him. “Where you always are...Father, don’t worry, you’ve taught me well and I’m sure I can get everyone through this.”
Father nodded. “Be safe.”
Catherine had left the world Below and headed back to orientation and looked around the room. She saw Michael’s father across the room and made her way towards him. On her way over, she was stopped a few times by different girls and assured each of them that Michael was fine and would be in school when it started.
She walked up to Michael’s father and smiled as she noticed he was standing with a familiar face. “Uncle Mason!”
“Cathy! Aunt Gladys and I had a wonderful time the other night at dinner.”
“Cathy, I want you to meet one of our chief alumni contributors. Frank Van Buren, meet Catherine Chandler.”
Frank extended his hand and smiled. “Nice to meet you Miss Chandler...any relation to Charles?”
Catherine smiled sweetly. “He’s my father.”
Frank nodded. “He’s a good man. An excellent lawyer.”
Catherine waited for a second and Uncle Mason didn’t let her down. He clapped Frank on the back. “Yes, involved in that boring corporate law. This little filly here...” He said pointing at Catherine. “...is in criminal law.”
Frank looked impressed. “Really. What part?”
Catherine nonchalantly handed him her card. “I work for the District Attorney’s office specializing mostly in the investigation of dead beat dads.”
Catherine shrugged off the fact that she had stretched her job description to suit her need.
Frank blinked but gave no indication of any discomfort. “Interesting....”
Mason looked around the room. “I suppose you’re here with that young man you had me approve.”
Catherine nodded. “He had to leave unexpectedly but I certainly know how to get a hold of him.”
Uncle Mason looked at Frank. “You know, Cathy here brought in a young fellow that scored quite high on his SATs. He could be a candidate for one of your scholarships.”
Frank looked interested. “Really, does he have great financial need?”
Catherine nodded. “Yes, his mother died when he was quite young. His real father gave the boy a small amount of money to get rid of him. Of course, to a young boy and his dying mother it must’ve seemed like millions but it was quite insubstantial. I’ve since found out that the father was in a much better position financially and had so much more to give. I plan on asking him to do the right thing by his son.”
“Good for you!” Mason shook his head.
Frank nodded. “I agree.”
Mason turned to Catherine. ‘What was that boy’s name?”
Catherine looked directly at Frank. “Michael, Michael Richmond. Perhaps you’ve heard of him?”
The color drained from Frank’s face as he looked at her worriedly. He wondered how much Catherine knew about his past.
Catherine saw the sweat form on his brow and her eyebrows rose as she continued. “His mother Rose died when he was quite young. Like I said I’m hoping to secure a better settlement from the absent father. I hope he complies; I hate it when messy family business goes public. But if he doesn’t, Michael may need to take you up on that special financing.”
Catherine watched as Frank’s shoulders fell in resignation. He nodded imperceptibly and put her card in his suit pocket. He cleared his throat. “I’m certain I’ll be able to secure complete financing for Michael’s education. I’ll be in touch as soon as I can.”
Mason smiled, seemingly oblivious to all that had just transpired. “That’s good news! Don’t you think, sweetie?”
Catherine sent a cold stare at Frank then smiled sweetly at Mason. “As long as it happens...it will be wonderful news.”
Frank started to leave. “I’ll follow through on it myself. It was nice to meet you Miss Chandler.”
Catherine watched as he hurriedly left the room. Uncle Mason took her hand in his. “Don’t tell me that idiot finally got caught with his pants down!”
Catherine turned to him in shock. “You knew?”
He shook his head. “Only that he uses his position to sleep with every employee he’s ever had. His wife is absolutely adorable too! I don’t get it.”
Catherine sighed. “Uncle Mason is that why you let Michael in?”
“No, I just figured it out now when I saw Frank react to your comments. No, rest assured I let Michael in because he did so well. Better than some of the other morons we let through here.” Catherine gasped as he continued. “Frank’s son was the worst. Poor boy’s as dumb as a box of rocks.”
“Pfffft! It’s true! Barely got though his pre-classes which are all basic high school review!” He waved his hand dismissively. “Nail that bastard, Cath! He’s got more money than he needs!”
Catherine sighed. “I’ll see what he comes up with. Do you think he’ll call?”
“Ha! I bet you will have a message waiting before you get into work in the morning!”
Catherine came home and ran a bath and then sat and soaked in the warm water. She put her head back and closed her eyes and let her mind drift back to all that had happened tonight.
She smiled when she thought of Vincent telling her he loved her. Well, he hadn’t quite said those exact words but for Vincent it was more than expected. Her heart ached for him when she realized he felt unworthy of her love. She knew she would have a long haul trying to convince him her love was real but she had just gotten an idea of how hard it was actually going to be. She made a decision sitting there that she would slowly push forward in their relationship and wait for him to give her a sign he was ready for the next step.
She got out of the cooling water in the tub, combed through her hair, and put on a warm gown and robe. She knew it was a slim chance that he would come to see her tonight but she held out hope that it would happen.
She was about to sit on her bed when she heard him tapping on the window. She walked out to the balcony and smiled up at him. “I was hoping you would come tonight.”
Vincent was suddenly overcome with shyness and he walked to the wall of the balcony. “I spoke to Michael. He sends his apologies.”
Catherine shrugged her shoulders. “He didn’t need to, it’s already in the past and time to move forward. I’m glad he’s doing better.”
Vincent nodded. “Yes, he said he would still like to attend college but he thinks he would be more comfortable staying with another helper.”
Catherine smiled. “I thought the same thing. I knew it would be awkward for Michael to stay here so I talked to Peter. He said he has more than enough room and Michael is welcome to stay with him.”
That part of the conversation over, they fell into an awkward silence and looked out over the city. Vincent was unsure how to proceed further and Catherine tried to stay strong in her resolve to wait for him.
They stood quietly for an inordinately long time and Catherine finally broke the silence. “The lights are so beautiful tonight.”
She looked at him with all of the love for him clearly showing on her face. When he made no move towards her, she looked back out at the city.
Vincent looked back at the city as well and found the courage to reach for her. Catherine’s heart skipped a beat as he wrapped his arm around her and drew her to his side.
She leaned her head over and laid it against his shoulder and sighed. They stayed that way for several minutes until Catherine turned towards him and encircled his waist with her arms. She felt him turn and his arms come around her as she kissed his chest then leaned her cheek to rest against him. She snuggled closer and buried her face against the side of his neck. Vincent could feel her warm breath against his neck and he flinched only slightly when he felt her lips press against him. He nuzzled his face against her hair and wondered what she would think if he kissed the top of her head.
Catherine was stunned and held her breath in anticipation while he was waiting to see if she would back away.
Catherine slowly caressed his back with her hand and Vincent visibly relaxed. He knew she accepted his display of affection and was encouraged by her reaction.
Catherine slowly backed away from him and looked up and smiled. She reached for a wayward strand of hair and pushed it from his eyes.
Vincent saw the desire in her eyes and briefly panicked. “It’s late.”
Catherine knew he needed time alone and sighed and thought to herself. “One step forward, two steps back.”
She nodded. “Yes, I have to get up early again tomorrow. Is it okay if I stop by after work? I’d like to speak to Michael and I was wondering if you and Father could be there as well...”
Vincent was curious but only nodded. “I’ll inform both of them.”
“It’ll be around 7:00?”
Vincent cocked his head at her. “I could have dinner for you waiting in my chamber? You could get something to eat first and then have your meeting...”
Catherine nodded. “Will you eat with me?”
Vincent smiled. “If you wish...”
Catherine giggled and hugged him again. “If you get hungry go ahead and eat. You usually help me eat my meal anyway.”
Vincent chuckled as he returned her hug. “That’s because you don’t finish what’s on your plate.”
She laughed aloud. “Because William feeds me like I’m a lumberjack working in the dense forest!”
She backed away again; grateful things were back to normal. “Until tomorrow...”
Uncle Mason was right and Michael’s father did in fact leave a message for her. Catherine called him back and the two arranged for Michael to receive a settlement for what he had truly been entitled to all of these years. Michael’s education would also be completely paid for.
Catherine put in a full day at work and then headed Below. She and Vincent enjoyed a quiet meal in his chamber, then headed towards the library.
Michael and Father were sitting there already, waiting for them.
Father smiled. “Catherine, did you enjoy your dinner?”
She nodded. “Very much so.” She patted her stomach. “Although I feel stuffed to the gills.”
Father motioned for her to sit. “Well, would you like some tea?”
Catherine moaned. “Oh, no thank you.”
She and Vincent sat and Catherine looked at a still silent Michael and tried to sound as normal as possible. “Hi, Michael.”
He wouldn’t look up as he responded. “Hi, Catherine.”
Father frowned at his apparent rudeness but Vincent knew Michael was struggling to overcome his embarrassment. “Catherine has some news to share with us.”
Catherine looked at Father and addressed him. “I’m not sure you know what happened but we had a pretty unfortunate occurrence.”
Michael’s head snapped up in shock that she would tell Father what he did. He looked at Vincent worriedly and Vincent patted his back comfortingly, knowing that Catherine would never speak of the incident.
Father looked curiously at everyone. “No, no one tells me anything around here!”
Catherine hid her smile and continued. “At Michael’s orientation last night, he ran into his father.”
Father gasped as he looked with concern at Michael then back at Catherine. “He did!”
Michael cleared his throat. “Yes, he told me he had already given me money to stay out of his life and he wondered why I was approaching him again. He said he thought I understood that there would only be a one-time payment.”
Catherine’s anger showed in her voice. “Michael was distraught and ran back Below. I came and told Vincent what happened so he could help Michael then I went back to orientation.”
Vincent and Michael both looked up curiously. Catherine had managed to glaze over the significant event and they both wondered what happened when she left.
Catherine ignored their looks and continued. “I approached Michael’s father, Frank. He was standing with my Uncle Mason, who serves on the Board. He and Frank were discussing scholarship candidates. Once I explained to Frank about how I worked for the DA’s office and my job was investigating men who didn’t support their children, he was quite helpful in securing Michael’s full tuition for the next four years.”
Catherine reached for Michael’s hand and held it. “Michael, I consider you a friend and readily admit I overstepped my bounds but I was also able to procure all of the money that should have been yours had your father been paying the proper child support payments that he would have been assigned according to his income.”
Father’s eyebrows shot up at her courage and he wondered what Michael’s father thought when he tangled with her.
Michael shook his head. “He gave my mother and I money before she died. I never spent a dime of it. I think it’s in an account somewhere.”
Catherine reached in her purse for a current statement. “I know. I found out about it when I searched for your birth certificate. Your father is a very wealthy man and you were entitled to much more than what you received. I know your mother’s position as a housekeeper made his offer seem very generous but, quite honestly, it was insulting. After we spoke last night, your father came to that same realization himself and this afternoon he sent me this check.”
Catherine pushed a check across the table towards him.
Michael looked at her and then opened the envelope. “Oh, my God!”
Catherine shrugged indifferently then angrily drove home her point. “Michael! That is not a gift, by law you were entitled to that money! No one can take it from you. Now, if you’d like, I’ll take you to the bank and we’ll reestablish your account. You can be in full charge of the money. If you want any advice I’ll be happy to provide it.”
Michael was shocked into speechlessness that she could be so forgiving of his mistakes. Vincent touched his arm. “Michael, it’s a generous offer, perhaps you should take Catherine up on it.”
Michael nodded his head. “Yes, yes...of course...Catherine, I don’t know how to thank you.”
She stood and walked over to him, thankful that everything was back on track. “You just did!”
She bent over and hugged him then turned and sat on the arm of Vincent’s chair. His arm came around her waist as Father sputtered. “Michael, this is a large amount of money and you need to show extreme responsibility with how you use it.”
Vincent stood, knowing Father would lecture Michael for hours. He patted Michael on the back as he leaned in to whisper into his ears. “I need to walk Catherine home, good luck.”
Michael looked at him desperately but they walked out of the library. Michael grinned and turned back to listen to Father’s speech.
Catherine reached for Vincent’s hand in the tunnel way and laughed. “Michael will be there for hours.”
Catherine laughed harder. “You should rescue Michael when you return.”
Vincent chuckled and then grew serious. “You’ve helped Michael tremendously. He’ll have a fine chance at a new life.”
Catherine shrugged. “He deserves it.”
They walked in silence the rest of the way and Catherine moved in closer to his side as they went. Vincent put his arm around her and she leaned into him. At the threshold, they pulled apart.
“Thanks for dinner, Vincent.”
“You’re welcome, Catherine.”
She stood and waited. Vincent stepped forward and pulled her into his embrace. His arms surrounded her as she returned his embrace.
She backed away slowly. “See you soon?”
He nodded. “Soon.”