BETWEEN THE LINES
HE’LL KEEP THE SECRET
On the way out her front door for her evening run, Catherine glanced at the clock. “6:10 ... I’m early tonight ... maybe I can get an extra mile in ... ” she thought as she headed to the elevator.
She glanced up at the elevator display and saw it stopping on the 14th floor. She sighed and stepped back to allow room for whoever was waiting to get in. The doors opened and she smiled at the blond teenager standing in front of her.
“Hi, Miss Chandler.”
She shook her head in disbelief and smiled warmly. “Wow, I can’t believe how tall you are! You look great.”
Brian blushed. “You do, too!” He winced and looked down as he realized how stupid his comment must have sounded.
Catherine looked at her old faded t-shirt and sweatpants that had paint stains on them and wrinkled her nose. Knowing he was already embarrassed, she smiled sweetly. “Thanks, Brian, you’re a real charmer. That was sweet of you not to notice how awful I look.”
Brian smiled at her praise, then shrugged his shoulders. “Well, you were probably going out for your nightly jog.”
“Yeah, I am!” She replied automatically until his words registered and she looked at him suspiciously. “How’d you know?”
Brian’s face paled as he looked away again. Suspecting for some time that he had an adolescent crush on her, Catherine flinched when she realized she had embarrassed him further. She quickly tried to cover it up. “I’m sorry that was a pretty stupid question. Anyone could tell I was on my way for a jog.”
They both sighed with relief when the elevator doors finally opened. Brian motioned for her to walk ahead of him. With a glance over her shoulder, she smiled at him. “See ya later!”
“Bye, Miss Chandler!” Brian called out as Catherine headed out the door and started her jog.
Catherine skirted around pedestrians as she headed to the park. She relaxed into a comfortable stride as she let her mind wander.
Catherine had taken the day off from her father’s law firm. She spent the morning at a charity breakfast with some of his top clients, then headed to the stores to check out the latest fashions.
It was almost dinner hour when she walked into her apartment building and saw a young boy sitting on the floor in the corner of the lobby. He had books and papers sprawled out all around him as he concentrated on his paper. It was clear he was doing his homework.
She turned and looked at the doorman. “Roger,” she pointed. “Who’s this?”
Roger stepped inside. “Brian Cooper, 16A, forgot his key.”
Catherine smiled knowingly. “So he’s waiting for his mom or dad to come home?”
Roger frowned. “He’s got a long wait if he thinks his mom’s going to show. He lives with his Dad. The guy doesn’t usually get home until after 8:00.”
Catherine glanced at her watch. “Roger! It’s quarter to 5:00!”
“Yeah, I know.”
“He can’t sit here three more hours!”
Roger shrugged his shoulders. “The dad changed the locks last week and didn’t give an extra key to the building supervisor yet ... there’s not much we can do ... ”
Catherine frowned and looked at the boy and then back at Roger. “Tell the dad when he gets home that he’s with me.”
Roger looked at her with surprise. “You sure, Miss Chandler?”
Catherine nodded. “Yeah, why not?”
“That sure is nice of you ... ”
Catherine shrugged and then turned and walked over to the boy. “Hi, Brian.” The boy looked up as Catherine extended her hand. “I’m Catherine Chandler.”
He shook her hand tentatively. “Hi.”
“Brian, I live in the building here and Ralph just told me about your forgotten key.”
Brian grumbled as he lowered his head. “I left it on my nightstand.”
Catherine bent over and caught his eye. “I’ve done that myself. It’s an easy mistake.”
Brian was relieved that she wasn’t going to reprimand him and he looked at her with renewed interest. “Really?”
“Really ... I was a little older than you last time I forgot it. Luckily, Maria, our maid, finally let me in.”
Brian rolled his eyes as he frowned. “It’s our maid’s day off.”
“Wouldn’t you just know it?! A kid can never catch a break.”
Brian smiled at her. She really did understand what it was to be a kid.
Catherine leaned against the wall. “You want me to call your dad for you?”
“No! He’d kill me if he knew I left my key! I’ll just wait here until he comes home.”
“What time does he usually get home?”
“All different times, mostly around 8:00.”
Catherine shook her head. “Brian that’s 3 hours from now. You’re not planning on sitting here until then, are you?”
He shrugged. “Sure, why not?”
Catherine frowned. “Well, for one thing ... it’s cold ... two ... you can’t do a very good job with your homework writing on the floor like that and three ... I’ll bet you’re probably starving.”
Brian looked up at the last comment and nodded. “I am. I forgot my lunch money by my keys.”
Catherine pushed off from the wall. “That settles it! You’re coming upstairs with me.”
Brian shook his head. “I can’t do that!”
Catherine pinned him with a look. “Why not? Roger will vouch for me. I’m only a few floors away from yours and besides ... I’m gonna order an extra large pizza and I don’t have anyone to share it with me.”
Brian groaned and rubbed his stomach. “Pizza sounds good ... but ... I better not.”
Roger, seeing the boy refusing Catherine, stepped over to help. “Hey, Brian, she’s all right, kid. You’ll be fine.”
“Pepperoni ... extra cheese ... ” Catherine smiled as she enticed him further.
Brian shot to his feet as his stomach cramped at the thought of food. “Okay, I’ll come.”
Catherine helped him gather his books and then they made their way up to her apartment.
Catherine opened the door and turned on the lights. She pointed at the table in the alcove. “You can sit there and finish up your homework. I’m going to go change and I’ll be right out, okay?”
Brian nodded as he made his way to the table and spread out his books.
Catherine quickly changed and headed to see her guest. “Okay, Brian. What toppings do you want on your pizza?”
Brian shrugged. “My dad always gets sausage.”
Catherine wondered at the tone in his voice and decided to take a chance. “Well, your dad’s not eating here ... what kind do you like?”
“I like pepperoni.”
Catherine grabbed the phone. “Pepperoni it is!”
She dialed the phone number and placed the order, then headed into the kitchen. “You want something to drink?” she called out.
Catherine frowned and grabbed a bottle of pop for him and a bag of chips and then walked over to him. “I’ve got some coke. You can have this now and maybe some milk later on with your pizza.”
Brian smiled. “Thanks.” He opened the bottle and drank almost half of it.
Catherine opened the bag of chips, took one out, then handed the bag to him. “I don’t suppose you want a salad first, do you?”
He made a face and shook his head. “No, thank you.”
“Okay, why don’t you finish up your homework; the guy said it would take about 45 minutes for the pizza.”
Brian nodded as he opened up his math book. Ten minutes later he was done and put it away, only to open up another book.
Catherine was opening her mail and paying bills when she noticed he kept glancing up and looking around the room. He obviously was having a hard time staying focused on the book he was reading.
“Tough book, Brian?”
He rolled his eyes. “It’s boring.”
Catherine glanced at the title. “Little Women? That was a great book!”
“It’s about dumb girls doing dumb things.”
Catherine laughed and then turned as the doorbell rang. “The bathroom is right through those doors. Go wash up!”
She walked over, answered the door and paid for the pizza. When she turned around, Brian was already coming back into the room. “Let’s eat!”
Brian sat down as Catherine opened the box. “Dig in ... I’ll get us something to drink.”
Catherine was surprised when she came back with glasses of milk and there were four pieces gone already. “Here you go ... something to wash it down.”
Brian drank almost the whole glass of milk and then reached for another piece of pizza.
Catherine smiled and sat, grabbing a few slices for herself. “Mmmm, it’s good.”
“Sure is, Miss Chandler.” Brian said with a mouthful of pizza.
Soon enough they were both filled. Brian dutifully picked up the dirty plates while Catherine followed behind with the unfinished pizza.
“Just set them in the sink, Brian. I’ll do them later.”
Catherine watched him as she set the pizza on the counter. “Would you like to watch TV until your dad gets home?”
Catherine turned the TV on to a popular sitcom. The normally funny show was dealing with the real life death of the main character. The creators of the show had decided to have the story mimic real life and had the mother’s character die on the show as well.
Brian sighed when the commercial came on. “I heard that lady had died. I guess I never thought about what would happen on the show. It’s kinda hard to make something like that funny.”
Catherine nodded. “Let me tell you from experience, there’s nothing funny about a mother’s death.”
Brian looked at her quizzically. “Your mom died?”
“Yeah, when I was ten. How about your mom? When did she die?”
Brian shook his head. “My mom’s not dead.”
Catherine blinked in confusion. “Oh, Roger said you lived alone with your father. I just assumed ... ”
Brian snorted in disgust. “No. My mom left. She found someone else to love and left me behind.”
As she wondered what kind of a woman walked out and left her child behind, Catherine blew out her breath. “That’s tough, Brian. I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
He shrugged. “It’s okay.”
Catherine could tell he was still hurting, so she tried to get him to talk about it. “How long ago did it happen?”
“Almost a year ago. My dad came home late as usual and my mom told him she was moving to Chicago. She took all the money from the bank account and told him to sell the house for his share of the money.”
“Oh, Brian! You shouldn’t have overheard any of that.”
“I was supposed to be asleep in my room. My mom came in, kissed my cheek, then left before I woke up for school. My dad put the house up for sale and now ... we live here.”
The intercom buzzer rang and Catherine went to answer it. “Yeah, Roger?”
“Miss Chandler, Brian’s father just came home from work.”
“Okay, thanks, I’ll send Brian home.”
She turned around and walked over to Brian, who was packing up his backpack. “Brian, if you need to talk some more, you’re welcome to stay longer, or you can come back another time. I’m a really good listener.”
Brian shook his head. “No thanks, Miss Chandler. I better get going. Thanks for the pizza.”
Catherine ran to get the leftovers. “Take the rest. I’ll never eat it!”
Smiling, Brian grabbed the box. “Thanks!”
Catherine walked to the front door and let him out and then watched him get on the elevator.
Now, a few years later, Catherine realized that she had only seen Brian a few times, but they never regained that initial closeness. She wondered if he adjusted to all of the craziness in his life. She knew all too well what it was like to be raised by an overworked father. Even with as much love and attention her father always tried to show her, it still hurt to remember how alone she felt growing up.
Her thoughts quickly changed when a woman jogger she often saw in the park came up beside her. The two struck up a conversation as they made their way through the park.
Brian sat in his room and stared at the wall. His best friends, Stevie and Derek, had just left and he was once again alone. He shook his head in disgust, wondering why his father was late again tonight.
Just then a door slammed and a voice reverberated through the apartment. “Brian!”
Brian rolled his eyes. “Great, he’s finally home and what a surprise ... he’s angry!”
Brian got to his feet and walked to the living room to see his him. “Sir.”
His father slammed down his briefcase and waved an envelope angrily in the air. “Guess what this is?”
Brian knew it was probably his grades from school and he looked guiltily at the floor. “I don’t know.”
His father handed him the sheet of paper inside. “It’s your report card. Two Cs and four Ds? What the hell are you thinking?”
“I don’t know.”
“Brian, you’re in high school now! These grades are unacceptable!”
Brian shrugged. “I got two Cs.”
His father glanced at the card again and answered sarcastically. “Yeah, I see! Except the two Cs are in gym and medieval history! Not exactly the core classes needed for a secure future. How do you plan on getting into a good college with grades like this? Huh, tell me!”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know! That’s just great! You ... don’t ... know ... ”
Brian tried to reach out for the attention he so desperately craved. “Maybe, if you helped me with my homework ... ”
His father jumped in and interrupted him as he headed to grab a phone book. “A tutor! Now you’re thinking. Maybe I could hire somebody to come in right after school and ... ”
His father walked away as he talked to himself about the possibilities of employing someone to help his son.
Brian shook his head and sighed as he turned and walked back to his room. “Or you could come home and sit with me yourself.”
He closed the door to his bedroom and lay on his bed, trying to get rid of the image of his father actually spending time with him. “I should have known he wouldn’t do it,” he mumbled to himself. He decided there was no use pretending that he couldn’t do the work, he may as well quit playing the game and bring up his grades since he really didn’t want to spend time with a tutor.
He thought about getting up and getting on his pajama bottoms, but instead he kicked off his shoes and rolled over and then cried himself to sleep.
The next morning, Brian came to the breakfast table and his dad was gulping down his coffee.
“Good morning, Brian. I found a good source for tutoring last night ... ”
Brian shrugged indifferently. “Don’t hire anyone. I’ll do better, I promise.”
His father frowned at his looked at his son. Brian had never had a problem with schoolwork in the past and he had suspected that he was just slacking off. “All right, I’ll give you two weeks. You’re grounded until I hear otherwise. Ask your teachers to write me a note every Friday telling me of the improvement.” He turned and grabbed his suit coat. “Have a good day.”
“Yeah, you, too.” As his dad walked towards the door, Brian followed behind him. “Hey, Dad? There’s a new movie opening tonight. Maybe we could go?”
“I just said you were grounded!”
“I know, but I didn’t think that meant that you and I couldn’t do something together.”
His dad shook his head in disbelief. “Brian, I’m an accountant and it’s April ... ”
Brian felt the pain of rejection deep in his heart but hurriedly covered it up as he shrugged. “Oh, yeah. Maybe next time.”
“Yeah, maybe,” his father said as he rolled his eyes and left for the day.
That afternoon Stevie and Derek came over after school. The three boys were walking through the lobby as Catherine was coming off the elevator.
She smiled at Brian. “Hi, Brian.”
Brian’s heart leapt in his chest as he saw Catherine. “Hi, Miss Chandler.”
“Hi, Brian’s friends…” Catherine smiled and nodded at the other two boys and then walked out the door.
All three boys had become very aware of girls in the past year and they simultaneously turned and watched Catherine leave.
“She’s awesome!” Stevie whispered.
Derek nodded in agreement. “Isn’t she the one who’s in the papers sometimes? She’s like a celebrity or something!”
Brian nonchalantly shrugged as he tried to still his fast beating heart. “I guess.”
The boys entered the elevator and Derek slapped Brian in the arm. “That is so cool she knows your name.”
Brian shrugged. “She’s always been nice to me.”
Brian smiled. “She had me over for dinner one night a few years ago.”
Derek laughed. “No way! That was a dream!”
Brian grew serious. “No, it wasn’t! I forgot my key and I was sitting in the lobby doing my homework. She came over and took me to her apartment and we ordered a pizza.”
Stevie looked at him suspiciously. “Why don’t I believe you?”
Brian shrugged. “Ask Roger if you don’t believe me!”
Stevie and Derek looked at one another. Neither of them had believed Brian until he said he had a witness who would vouch for him. Brian would never have said to ask Roger if it wasn’t true.
Stevie smiled. “Wow, that is so cool!”
Derek grew jealous. “Whatever. You said it was a few years ago ... it’s almost like she was your babysitter ... ”
Brian frowned and looked down at his shoes. The doors of the elevator opened and the three headed into Brian’s apartment.
Stevie held up his game board. “We need to start a new game.”
Derek nodded as Brian smiled. “Okay, let’s go in my room.”
Derek and Stevie headed into his room while Brian went to grab some cokes from the refrigerator. He met up with them and passed them their cans. “Anyone up for a pizza?”
Both boys shook their heads.
“My mom’s making a roast tonight, parsley potatoes, green beans, biscuits ... the whole works!” Derek said.
“My mom’s frying chicken. She’ll probably have mashed potatoes and corn on the cob.” Stevie added.
Brian hid the pain he felt from his mother’s absence. “Oh, yeah. I guess I wasn’t thinking.”
The boys outlined their characters for the next game.
Brian held up a figurine. “This is Lady Catherine, the one who must be cherished and protected.”
Stevie cocked his head quizzically. “Catherine? Like Catherine Howard the senior cheerleader?”
Brian blanched. “No ... ”
Derek narrowed his eyes in thought. “Catherine ... isn’t that Miss Chandler’s first name?”
Stevie’s eyes grew round. “Oh, yeah! I remember seeing it in the papers when she went out with that guy that builds stuff.”
They both turned to look at Brian, who blushed and looked away. Stevie shot Derek a look and shook his head imperceptibly. Instead of teasing Brian, they let the matter drop and started the game.
The game went on for two hours, until Brian’s dad could be heard calling him for dinner.
Derek and Stevie left and Brian went and sat with his father. The meal was strained and Brian asked to be excused. As he got up to leave, his father broke the news that his mother wanted him to visit at Easter. Brian knew he wouldn’t get away with refusing to go so he pretended to agree and then went to his room.
Sitting in his room stewing over having to go to Chicago, he glanced at his watch. If he hurried, he could possibly run into Catherine. He grabbed the nightly newspaper and rushed to the lobby of the building.
Catherine came back from her nightly run. She knew Brian had a crush on her and these “chance” encounters always brought a smile to her face. He hid behind the newspaper but Catherine knew it was him. “Hi, Brian!”
“Hi, Miss Chandler.”
The doors of the elevator closed and Brian lowered the paper realizing he had been caught. “Idiot!” he mocked himself. “Hi, Miss Chandler ... ”
As Catherine let herself into her apartment, she wiped the sweat from her face and then sat on the bed to listen to her messages. Vincent appeared at her balcony doors. She raced out to see him and was happy to discover he was there on behalf of the some of the children. They had pleaded with him to ask her to come Below and listen to a recital.
Catherine agreed immediately and Vincent left with the promise to meet her Below in a little while. She hurried through a shower and dressed as quickly as she could so she could spend some extra time on her hair and make-up.
“I can’t believe he just saw me in stringy, sweaty hair and no make-up,” she grumbled as she styled her hair differently. “Maybe this will erase from his memory what he saw earlier ... ” she chuckled as she headed out the door to the basement of her building.
After their ruined dinner, Brian knew his father would be in his bedroom, so he snuck out to get something to eat from the kitchen. He made a quick sandwich and washed it down with some milk.
On his way back to his room, he stopped in the darkened hallway when he overheard his father arguing on the phone. A feeling of dread washed over him when he heard his father shouting about what joint custody meant before he insisted she take Brian for the Easter holiday. Brian knew his father was talking to his mother and his stomach clenched in disgust. “Great! They’re not fighting over me; they’re fighting over who gets stuck with me!”
Wanting to hide from the pain he felt, he grabbed his coat and raced out the front door. He ran down the staircase and slammed to a stop when he saw Catherine walk by. He discreetly followed her through the building, into the basement, and down into the tunnels.
“I wonder where she’s going?” he thought.
Catherine was gone before he could safely climb down the ladder at the threshold. He took a few steps in and gazed in wonder at the amazing world that was hidden below his building.
Wanting to find her and excited about exploring this new world, Brian headed back to his room for “supplies.”
He picked up the phone and called Derek. “Derek, it’s me. You gotta come over here right now! I’ve got something really cool to show you.”
Derek rolled his eyes. “It’s 7:30.”
“So what, tell your mom you forgot your math book over here. She’ll let you come.”
“Hey, call Stevie and have come with you.”
“Okay, but this had better be good.”
Brian hung up and dumped the contents of his school backpack on his bed. He threw kite sting and a flashlight in it, then raced to the kitchen for some snack bars. He snuck out and headed to the lobby.
Derek and Stevie showed up ten minutes later and the boys headed to the basement
and then eventually to the threshold Below.
Luckily Brian had stopped following her when he did. Catherine had rounded a corner not too far from the threshold and was surprised to see Vincent was coming to greet her.
Catherine smiled and took his hand. “You came for me.”
“I thought you might be too busy helping the children get ready for tonight.”
“No, they insisted on handling everything themselves.”
“Good for them. I wish I could have gotten here sooner. I had to take a shower. I was kind of a mess earlier.”
Vincent shook his head and smiled. “You looked beautiful.”
Catherine chuckled and squeezed his hand. “You’re good for my ego!”
“No ... Your face had a healthy glow and your eyes were dancing happily.”
“That’s because I’d been thinking of you.”
Vincent blushed and looked away. He had been growing used to her compliments, but even though he was secretly pleased by them, he still had a hard time accepting them.
Catherine leaned in and placed her head against his shoulder as they walked towards the home tunnels. She sighed contentedly. She was happy that they were able to spend more and more time together.
They got to the concert recital just as it was starting and had to stand up in the balcony area.
Catherine marveled that the children were doing so well. They listened for over a half an hour before the next group was to take over.
A message came over the pipes and Father glanced up with alarm at Vincent. Vincent nodded to him
and then turned to Catherine. “I’m sorry, I need to check on something for Father.”
Meanwhile, Brian was getting extremely worried. He never found Catherine, and when he tried to follow his kite string back towards home, he discovered it had worked itself against the rock and severed apart, and he had unknowingly pulled it along behind him.
He fumbled around for another half hour until Mouse saw him in the tunnel way and chased after him. Brian ran aimlessly through the tunnels and ended up in one of Mouse’s traps. Mouse set him free from the trap and tried to restrain his hands, but Brian bit him and stomped on his foot, then ran full speed through the tunnels.
Brian came across a well-lit room that had music coming from within. From a spot high above everyone, he peered inside. Brian saw Catherine sitting on pillows in the center of a room full of people, enjoying the music produced by young children. She reached up and gently caressed the shoulders of a young boy who smiled up to her and then leaned back against her.
For a second, Brian allowed himself to dream of switching places with the boy. He imagined what it would feel like to have Catherine caressing him.
Those thoughts flew from his mind when a noise from the corridor had him running again. As he looked behind him to see if he was being pursued, he ran straight into Vincent.
Vincent was surprised but managed to grab the boy and steady him before he fell. Brian’s eyes grew round as he took in Vincent’s appearance.
Used to people’s reaction, Vincent saw the shock register on Brian’s face, then saw the fear settle in. He rushed to reassure the boy. “Don’t be afraid. Who are you?”
Father walked up and looked angrily at the boy. “How did you get in here?”
Brian backed away at his angry tone. “In a tunnel.”
William scowled. “What do you want?” At the same moment Vincent asked. “Are you alone?”
Closest to Vincent, Brian looked at him first. “Yes,” he answered and then looked over at William. “Nothing,” he replied to the question.
Catherine gasped in surprise and pushed her way through the men. “Brian?!”
Brian sagged with relief when he saw her familiar face. “Oh, Miss Chandler!”
Father looked at her quizzically. “Catherine, you know this boy?”
She nodded. “Yes, he lives in my building.”
Vincent was angry with Brian that he had followed Catherine and wondered at the boy’s intentions. Brian must have been able to see the look on Vincent’s face because he rushed to explain himself. “I just followed her, that’s it!”
Catherine was furious as she whirled back to face him. “You followed me!”
Brian blushed. “Sort of.”
Father narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean ... sort of ... ”
“I followed her into the tunnels. I came back later to see where she went but I got lost. I’m sorry!”
Catherine looked at everyone apologetically. “I don’t know how I could have been so careless.”
Father knew it had been an accident and was more worried about what to do with the boy. “This boy must be secluded ... Vincent, Catherine ... ” he prompted them to go with the boy as he turned with the rest of the council and headed towards the library.
Vincent stepped forward and grabbed Brian’s arm. “Come with me.”
Brian became very frightened. “Where are you taking me?”
Vincent heard the fear in his voice. “No one will harm you.”
Catherine tried to reassure him as she patted Brian’s arm. “I’ll stay with you.”
Brian looked at her fearfully but only nodded.
Vincent opened a room to a small but comfortable looking chamber. “Wait inside, Brian.”
Catherine made to follow Brian inside when Vincent touched her arm. She looked up and nodded with understanding and peeked in on Brian. “Give me just a couple of minutes, okay?”
“Okay,” Brian said worriedly.
Vincent closed the door and secured it shut with a piece of wood. Catherine raised her brows, surprised that Brian was being locked in.
Vincent sighed and turned from her. “The problem is a grave one.”
Catherine grimaced. “I know, and it’s all my fault.”
Vincent sighed as he caressed her hand gently. “We all get careless, Catherine. Have you asked yourself why the sentrys didn’t catch a young boy wandering these tunnels until he made it all the way inside our perimeters?”
Catherine shook her head. “I didn’t think of it.”
“We all share the blame in this. I need to go to Father’s chamber. We’ll have to have an emergency council meeting to decide on the best course of action.”
“I’ll stay with Brian.”
Vincent squeezed her hand to reassure her. “It’ll be all right. Don’t worry yourself.”
He left and Catherine turned to go sit with Brian.
What was only a few minutes seemed like hours to Brian. He looked on with relief as Catherine came into the room. “I didn’t mean to do anything bad.”
Catherine knew he hadn’t meant for any of this to happen. “I’m sure you didn’t.”
“What’s gonna happen to me. What are they gonna do?”
She answered him honestly. “I don’t know, Brian.”
“Who are they?”
Trying to stay evasive, she shrugged. “Friends.”
“Then make them let me go.”
“I wish it were that simple.”
“I just wanted to see what was in the tunnels. I wanna go home .... Please!”
Catherine sat down next to him. “Try not to worry, Brian. I’m sure you’ll be home soon.”
Brian sat quietly with tears flowing freely down his face. He wiped his tears with his sleeve and turned to her. “I’m scared, Miss Chandler.”
Catherine sighed and put her arm around Brian’s shoulders. “I’ll be here with you. I won’t let you face this alone. I promise.”
Catherine absently ran her hand up and down Brian’s back while he cried. Finally he sniffled and sat back. “What’s taking them so long?”
Catherine stood up. “If you want, I’ll go check for you.”
“Don’t leave me!”
“Brian, the room they’re meeting in is just around the corner from here. I’ll be right back. I promise.”
Brian nodded. “How long will you be gone?”
Catherine bent and gave his hand a reassuring squeeze. “Not long ... ten minutes ... I want to see if they’ve come up with a solution yet.”
Brian looked up hopefully. “Put in a good word for me?”
Catherine ruffled his hair. “You got it.”
She left the room and was surprised to see Mouse standing there.
“Guard,” he stated simply.
“Mouse, will you sit with him until I get back?” Mouse looked uncertain, so Catherine prompted him further. “He’s just a boy Mouse, I’m sure he’s harmless.”
Mouse shook his head. “Bites hard … stay right here … on this side of door.”
Catherine nodded and headed towards the Library.
Catherine walked into the council meeting. She listened as each of the members gave an opinion on how to handle the problem.
Father looked around the room. “Let’s vote .... All those in favor of telling the boy our personal stories in hopes that he’ll realize the importance of keeping our secret raise your hand.”
Hands reluctantly went up in the air. Father nodded, knowing that it wasn’t the choice they would have liked to make, but it was the best choice under the circumstances.
“All right, we’ll set the boy up in here. Anyone wishing to tell his or her story may stand in line outside. To respect their privacy, they will come in individually. Since the boy knows Catherine, she may remain with him unless the person asks her to leave.” He looked up for confirmation from Catherine, who nodded her acceptance. “Okay, Pascal, send a message over the pipes for anyone who wishes to share their story. William, could you bring some refreshments for the boy?” The men left to follow out their instructions. “Vincent, bring young Brian in and we’ll start the stories.”
Catherine led the way and opened the door to see a nervous Brian staring back at her. “Brian, come on. We’re going to go to another room. My friends are going to explain to you all about this world and the importance of keeping its secret.”
Catherine led the way, followed by Brian, who was consequently followed by Vincent.
Brian was comfortably seated in a chair and given some iced tea. Cookies sat on a tray near him but they remained untouched.
The first person to come in was Eric. “Hi.”
Brian smiled at the young boy. “Hi.”
Eric stood in front of him instead of sitting. “My mom and dad were killed a year or so ago. My sister Ellie and I were put in a foster home. Then some bad guy from the foster home sold Ellie to a guy out on the streets who bought kids and taught them how to steal. If it wasn’t for Catherine and Vincent, Ellie would still be stuck with that guy.”
“So Ellie’s down here too?”
“She got sick and went away like my mom and dad. But instead of being alone, I have a nice home to live in down here. People love me and take care of me and I help out too. I wash dishes and deliver messages.” He made a face. “Well, when they don’t make me go to school. Anyway, I just wanted you to know why I’m here.”
Brian cocked his head to the side. “Why didn’t you go live with your grandparents or an aunt or uncle?”
Eric shook his head. “I don’t have any family left. I’m all alone now ... I mean except for my family here.”
Brian nodded as Eric left the room.
Carl, one of the oldest residents, came in and told Brian that he lived in the world Above until he realized that he was no longer wanted there. That world didn’t need a reminder of what their future held. He told Brian how lucky he was to have found the world Below where he was appreciated.
Carl stood to leave and Brian stood up respectfully. “Sir, I just wanted you to know not everyone feels that way. My grandpa was old, but I thought he was one of the wisest men I knew.”
Catherine looked over at Vincent, who sighed in relief. Brian had already begun to show that he had a good heart. Vincent felt more confident that he had pushed the council into making the correct decision.
Mary came in next and Catherine inwardly cried as Mary told the story about losing her child. Catherine hadn’t known about Mary’s tragedy, but it certainly made sense as to why she became the “tunnel mom” to almost everyone who came Below.
Pascal came in and shared what it was like to grow up in the tunnels. Brian marveled at his story and wondered that this world had existed this long with no one knowing about it.
William told about how his life had been in a shambles and that now he took great enjoyment in preparing meals for the whole community. He knew how much he was appreciated.
Person after person came in and the hour grew late.
Catherine stood in front of Brian. “I think you’ve heard enough, haven’t you?”
Brian nodded as he sighed. “Yeah. Will I be allowed to go home now?”
Vincent stepped forward. “We’ll guide you back.”
Brian stood and put on his coat. He grabbed a few cookies and followed behind Vincent and Catherine. The three were strangely quiet, each lost in thought.
Brian broke the silence first. “There are a lot of good people down here.”
Vincent agreed. “Yes.”
They walked further and Brian once again broke the silence. “It’s a good thing to have a place like this.”
Catherine smiled at him. “Yes, it is.”
Brian let all that happened wash over him as he walked the rest of the way in silence
Vincent stopped suddenly. “I’ll stop here. Goodnight, Brian. I wish the circumstances had been different, but it was nice to meet you.”
Brian extended his hand. “You too, Vincent.”
Vincent blinked in surprise but shook his hand and then Catherine and Brian continued the short distance without him.
Catherine showed the way and explained again how important it was to keep their secret. Brian agreed and then went Above.
Catherine turned around and walked back to where she knew Vincent would be waiting. “Now comes the hardest part.”
Catherine tried to stay positive. “He really is a good kid. I think it’ll work out.”
Vincent sighed and leaned back against the wall. “All we can have now is faith .... We have to trust that a troubled young man will be able to keep his word and not tell our secret.”
Catherine began to pace. “I see so much of myself at that age in Brian. My father was always so busy. I know he loved me and he told me often enough, and every second he could spare he spent with me, but when a young girl starts to come of age she needs her mom. Brian needs his dad right now. I can’t believe his father can’t see that!”
Vincent watched her pace. “Perhaps he does see it but is unable to reach out to Brian in the way they both need.”
Catherine stopped pacing and snorted in disgust. “Or unwilling! Is Brian just another inconvenience on his way to the top of the corporate ladder? Brian’s mom left them. His dad needed to step up to the plate and do his job! If Brian’s mom was unwilling to do the job, someone needed to do it. He’s just a kid for Pete’s sake.”
Vincent sighed. “Let’s see what the next few days bring. Perhaps when things quiet down, we can talk to Brian again ... help them both get through this ... ”
Catherine frowned as, worriedly, she stepped closer to him. “Will I ever be forgiven for putting your world in jeopardy?”
Vincent looked up and saw the uncertainty in her eyes. “There’s nothing to forgive.”
Exhaustion took over and Catherine allowed the tears to fall from her eyes. “I am so, so sorry. I can’t believe I was so careless.”
“Catherine.” Vincent opened his arms and she fell against his chest. Her tears fell freely as she buried her face against him. He held her close and gently tried to comfort her.
She cried for a few minutes, then sniffled and stepped back from him. “It’s late and I’m keeping you awake.”
Vincent pushed off from the wall and looked down into her eyes. He reached up with a finger and dried the lone tear still on her cheek. After the intimacy of the gesture, Catherine held her breath in anticipation. She had thought that Vincent was going to kiss her.
Vincent, however, after looking at her lips in such close proximity to his own, looked up into her eyes and stepped away. “Goodnight, Catherine.”
Catherine sighed. “Goodnight, Vincent.”
She turned and headed Above while he walked towards the home tunnels.
Brian’s father, Paul, was angrily stomping through their apartment. “I can’t believe this! He’s been ungrounded for what ... a week? Now he’s breaking curfew ... what is going on in his head!”
He shook his head and headed for the phone and angrily punched in numbers.
“Hello,” a male voice answered.
“Keith, this is Paul Andrews.”
“Yeah, Paul, what’s up?”
“Hey, I’m sorry to be calling so late but I was wondering if Brian was at your house?”
“No .... Stevie and I were at the mall shopping for his mom’s birthday. Stevie’s sleeping, but I don’t think he’s heard from him.”
“Oh ... well ... um ... sorry to bother you.”
“Hey ... maybe he’s with Derek…” Keith offered helpfully.
Paul sighed. “Yeah, I’ll call over there. Thanks, Keith.”
Paul held the receiver as the line went dead. He looked down and dialed Derek’s number.
Paul grimaced at the sound of Derek’s older brother’s voice. “Dennis, this is Paul Andrews. Is Brian or Derek there?”
“Oh. Are your parents there?”
“Nope. They took Derek to some exhibit he needed to see for class.”
Paul wondered if Brian was supposed to see the same exhibit. He frowned when he thought of trying to fit that into his schedule. “Dennis, do you have any idea if Brian was with them?”
“He wasn’t. I saw them before they left.” Dennis was able to hear the worry in Paul’s voice and finally he tried to help. “You can’t find Brian, sir?”
Paul was surprised at the boy’s insight. “Um ... no.”
“I’m sure he’ll be home real soon, Mr. Andrews.”
Yeah, me, too. Thanks, Dennis. Good night.”
Paul paced through his house for the next four hours.
Brian finally came home and he and his father got into a fight the second he walked in the door. It ended with Paul telling him, once again, that he didn’t have time for this. He walked away and Brian, overcome with despair, made a decision and headed out the door and back Below.
The next morning, when he wasn’t in his room, his father began to call around to his friends’ houses once again.
“This is Paul, Brian’s father.”
“Derek, is Brian with you?”
“Do you know where he may have gone?”
“No, sir. You can check Stevie’s ... ”
“I will, thank you, Derek.”
Brian’s father hung up and dialed Stevie’s number.
A woman’s voice came over the line. “Hello.”
“Helen, this is Paul, Brian’s father.”
“Hi, Paul, how are you?”
“I’ll be honest, I’ve been better. I can’t find Brian. Is he with Stevie?”
“No, I just woke Stevie up about ten minutes ago. Maybe he’s with Derek?”
“No, I already called there before I called you.”
“Oh, well no one was in Stevie’s room and he’s in the shower right now. As soon as he gets out, I’ll have him call you.”
Paul hung up and 45 minutes later the doorbell rang. He shot to his feet to open it. “Brian?!”
In the doorway stood Derek and Stevie, Paul sighed and moved out of the way. “Boys, come in.”
Paul closed the door and turned to them. “Brian wasn’t with either one of you?” The boys shook their heads. “Do either of you know where he could be?”
Stevie looked at Derek, who nodded, and then he looked back at Paul. “Maybe. Brian showed us some tunnels that are below your apartment building. He wanted to go explore them but we both said no. We told him that it looked too dangerous. I think he was going to look around anyway.”
Derek nodded. “Yeah, I think he could be lost down there.”
Paul rubbed his hand over his face. “Are you boys telling me the truth?”
The realization that Brian could be in real trouble floored Paul and he called the police. The dispatcher promised to send a squad over. “I’ve got to cancel my 8:00 meeting,” he said aloud to himself as he punched out the numbers into the phone.
Within five minutes there was an officer at the door. He questioned Derek and Stevie, and the boys led him downstairs and showed him the entrance Brian had shown them.
The officer in charge called the police department and several other units to start a full search of the tunnels.
That morning, Catherine was running late. She made it down to the lobby only to be bombarded with a flurry of activity from the police and fire departments.
Worriedly, she followed a fireman to the basement and found out from an officer she knew that a boy was missing and was believed to be in the tunnels.
She ran to the Central Park tunnel entrance and tapped frantically on the pipes. Vincent woke when he heard the message and raced to see her. Catherine told him Brian was missing and they were sending a group to search the tunnels for him.
Vincent left her and headed to deal with the newest problem that had suddenly come up.
Catherine headed back to her apartment building and stood off in a corner of the basement. She watched as the young boys recounted what they knew of the tunnels Below. Thankfully, they hadn’t walked very far when they turned around.
The two of them approached Brian’s father.
Stevie grimaced. “We told them what we know, sir.”
Derek nodded. “They suggested we go on and go to school.”
Paul nodded angrily. “No sense in everyone having their day messed up. I’ll tell you boys ... Brian really screwed up this time!”
Derek looked at Stevie and then back to Paul. “I’m sure he didn’t mean to.”
Paul’s mouth formed a thin line. “Battling dragons and demons is my guess. You boys live in a dream world of fantasy!”
Derek looked down with shame. “Can someone let us know when they find him?”
Paul softened when he saw their concern. “Yeah, I’ll have Brian call you. Thanks boys.”
The two nodded and left for school.
Catherine couldn’t take it any longer and she walked over to him.
“Paul?” Brian's father looked up curiously. “I’m Catherine Chandler.”
She extended her hand and Paul took it and nodded. “Nice to meet you, Miss Chandler. Brian talks an awful lot about you.”
Catherine smiled. “I like Brian. He’s a wonderful boy.”
Paul grimaced and looked away. “He was at one time ... now .... Well, I guess the teenage years are getting off to a fine start.”
Catherine crossed her arms angrily in front of her. “I work with the District Attorney’s Office so I know first-hand how easy it is for a child’s life to take a wrong turn. Usually the ones who can’t straighten out are the ones with absent parents.”
Paul nodded in understanding. “Yeah, well his mother took off a while ago with a new boyfriend and hasn’t looked back since. Is that absent enough for you?”
Catherine felt her blood start to boil as looked at him angrily. “He still has a father!”
Paul’s shoulders fell in defeat. “I can’t do it all alone.” Catherine frowned at his excuse but stopped her angry retort at the look of defeat on his face as he went on to tell his story. “When his mother left, she ruined me financially. I didn’t want Brian to lose his mom and have to transfer schools so I’ve been working my butt off trying to keep a roof over our heads. I have to think about the cost of his college too; it’s only a few short years away.”
Catherine felt horrible. This man was doing all he could to hold it together for his family and unfortunately Brian was paying the price.
“Now today, I had to cancel the most important meeting of my career because Brian decides to wander off on some imaginary adventure.” Paul anxiously looked again at the hidden entrance that firemen and policemen kept coming and going through. “I’ll tell you I’m furious with him right now! When he comes back ... I swear ... ”
Catherine saw the worry and guessed he was covering up his true feelings. “Maybe the question you should be asking yourself is what you’re planning on doing if he doesn’t come back?”
Paul sank back against the wall and looked at her uncertainly. Catherine knew he hadn’t let himself think of that possibility.
“He has to come back ... he’s all I’ve got left in this world!”
Catherine touched his arm compassionately. “Maybe when you see him you should tell him that. It may mean more to him than any punishment you could offer.”
Paul frowned and looked away as Catherine walked away and let her words sink in. She stayed in a far corner and watched as Paul stared at the floor for a full ten minutes before he began to pace again.
A fireman came over to stand in front of him. “Still no word, sir, but there are three teams looking.”
Paul stopped pacing and looked up fearfully. “How many tunnels exist down there? How can it be so hard to find a 14 year old boy?”
The fireman took off his helmet and sighed. “I have to be honest with you ... no one knows. There are hundreds of tunnels down there and only some of them are mapped out in city records. We did find some signs of activity though and the teams were going to follow up on them.”
Paul’s face fell at the news. He hadn’t realized it was such a huge undertaking to find Brian. The fireman nodded and walked away, leaving him alone to his thoughts.
Below, Vincent had tapped out a frantic message and Jamie, Mouse, Kanin, Cullen, Matthew, and Jack all met him on the way toward the tunnels below Catherine’s threshold.
Vincent walked quickly as they kept step behind him. “Brian may be lost in the tunnels. I want search parties looking for him. Catherine said the police are searching Below. Let’s split into groups and seal up the entrances near Catherine’s building, erect false walls wherever we can.”
“Jamie will you go back and have Olivia go to the nursery?” Kanin asked. “She can cover for Rebecca, Sara, and Brooke, and they can come and help search.”
Mouse nodded. “Make grid ... have more people look for Brian.”
“Good idea, Mouse,” Jamie praised as she left the group and headed back towards the home tunnels.
The men split up and within no time had false walls erected at every possible entrance.
They were heading back when a message came over the pipes announcing that Brian had been found. Vincent sighed with relief that they got to Brian before he was hurt. He tapped out a message on the pipes asking that Brian be taken to his chamber.
Vincent made his way back towards his chamber. Jamie caught up with him when he was near.
He turned at her voice. “Yes, Jamie?”
She walked up but looked down uncertainly. “Um ... Mouse and I thought ... well ... we ... ”
She frowned and blurted it out. “Mouse found Brian on the bridge in the Whispering Gallery. He was crying and upset. We thought you should know before you talk to him. I … could tell Father …”
Jamie was relieved that he wasn’t mad. “Thanks, Vincent.”
Vincent walked in to his chamber to find Brian sitting on a chair. Mouse was pacing worriedly.
“Brian, I’m glad you were found unharmed.” He looked over at Mouse. “I’ll handle this from here, Mouse. I believe Jamie is waiting for you in the tunnel way.”
“Okay ... good.” With a quick look at Brian, Mouse left.
Vincent stood in front of Brian. “Tell me, Brian. What happened to bring you back Below so soon?”
Brian started to cry again. “My dad. He started yelling at me the second I came in the door.”
Vincent frowned. “It was quite late. I’m sure he was just worried.”
Brian chuckled. “He wasn’t worried. He hasn’t worried about anything since my mom walked out. She finds someone else to love and walks out on us and I get stuck with the broken life! ”
Vincent cocked his head thoughtfully. “He’s your father, Brian. Trust me when I say that he was worried.”
Brian ignored him. “No, all he’s worried about is that my mom won’t take me at Easter to give him a break. I heard them arguing on the phone earlier about who gets stuck with me.”
“Perhaps you misunderstood him.”
Brian shook his head. “His exact words were ... ‘I need a break ... what the hell do you think joint custody is all about!’ Does that sound like something I misunderstood?”
Vincent lowered his head as he wondered why people weren’t more careful about the things they said aloud. “It seems like you’ve overheard a conversation that wasn’t meant for you to hear. You told me yourself that you have strayed off the right path lately and caused your father some unexpected heartache.”
“Yeah, well I have heartache, too! They think that I’m just this kid who’s started to get into trouble.”
“Inside, they know that you’re a good person.”
“They don’t know me. My father doesn’t care about me; neither does my mother.”
“I don’t believe that’s true.”
Brian shook his head and tried to make Vincent understand. “Everything is different now! He hardly talks to me except when he’s yelling.”
Vincent sympathized with both the man who had his whole world turned upside down when his wife left and left him to raise a young boy and with the young boy who craved the normalcy of his old family life. “His life must be in great turmoil.”
“And so is mine,” Brian countered.
Searching for the right words, Vincent came and sat on the bed. “Do you remember a time when all was right with your family and you could feel their love for each other and for you?”
Brian thought back to a happier time. “Yes.”
“Try to imagine the sadness and the terror your father must be feeling having lost that.”
Feeling helpless, Brian shrugged. “There’s nothing I can do about that.”
“There is .... Understand him ... forgive him ... love him. There’s great strength in that. But to do those things, you have to be braver than you’ve ever been before.”
“I know. Part of me just wishes I could stay here.”
Vincent shook his head. “This is not a place to hide. This is a place to gain strength. You carry that now ... within you, hold it ... close ... deep inside yourself.”
Brian knew he had to return Above and face his father. “I’ll miss everybody ... especially you.”
Vincent stood and walked over to his chess set. He grabbed a piece and handed it to Brian so he would have something to remember them by. “You have friends Below, always.”
Brian took the piece from Vincent. “Thank you.”
“Your heart led you here. Let it show you the way when you go home.”
“Come on, I’ll guide you home.”
Brian swiped at his eyes. “Wait! Isn’t there another way out? What if they find us?”
Vincent smiled that Brian was already showing protectiveness about their secret. “I’ll show you a different way. It will be better if you came out the way you came in. They’ll think the normal tunnels are a dead end and perhaps they’ll stop searching.”
They began to walk and Brian turned to Vincent. “I’m sorry if I got Miss Chandler into trouble by following her Below. You won’t banish her or anything, will you?”
Vincent chuckled and shook his head. “Catherine will always be welcome Below.”
“Good. I think it’s good she has a place like this to go to. She used to have that one guy come over all the time but he was a jerk.” Vincent tried not to show interest, but he must not have been unsuccessful, because Brian continued talking. “I think his name was Tom ... they were always in the newspapers together smiling for pictures, but he was mean to her. I don’t think she really liked him.”
Vincent sighed that Catherine had gone through the heartache of a failed relationship, but some small part of him was relieved that she had been unhappy enough to finally leave the fledgling relationship. If it hadn’t failed, she might not be a part of his life today.
Suddenly voices could be heard from up ahead. Vincent stopped and looked at Brian. “Up ahead there’s a fork in the passageway. Take the tunnel to the left and you should be seen by your rescuers.”
Brian nodded. “Thank you, Vincent.”
He held out his hand in an adult gesture and Vincent stepped forward gave him a hug. “Draw the strength you need from within, Brian. Trust that it will all work out.”
Vincent faded into the shadows and waited for Brian to walk ahead. He turned and left when he heard the cheers from the rescue party.
Catherine watched as the rescue party brought Brian up the ladder. His father ran to him and embraced him warmly. Brian clung to him, grateful for the love he was offering. They embraced again and Brian stepped back and nodded to Catherine. She smiled with understanding and turned to leave.
The police detective in charge stepped forward. “Brian, I need to ask you some questions.”
Catherine stopped and leaned against the wall to hear his answers.
“Brian, how did you find out about the tunnels below the city?”
“In the library ... I was studying something for history class and I saw a picture and a description.”
The detective nodded. “So you went down there to see if what you read was true?”
Brian shrugged. “I guess.”
“What did you see down there, Brian?”
Brian shook his head. “Nothing, it’s just a bunch of rocks. Oh, I saw a rat!”
The detective chuckled. “Yeah, I bet. Are you feeling okay or would you like to go to the hospital?”
Brian looked at his father worriedly. “I’m fine. I don’t need to go anywhere, do I?”
His father came up and put his arm around him. “No, Brian.” He looked at the detective. “If Brian’s not feeling well in the morning, I’ll take him to my personal physician.”
The detective nodded and turned around. “Wrap it up, boys!”
Everyone cleared out and Catherine, satisfied with Brian’s answers, left as well.
Brian went to bed for a few hours and then woke up and was surprised to find his alarm hadn’t gone off. He groaned as he realized he would get into trouble for missing school and he raced to get dressed and head out.
He heard noise in his dad’s office and worriedly knocked on the door. “I know it sounds like an excuse, but I was sure I set my alarm last night. I don’t know how I overslept.”
Paul glanced up and shook his head. “I turned off your alarm this morning. I figured you could use the sleep.”
Brian nodded. “What are you still doing home?”
His father finally closed his briefcase and looked up. “Well, I wasn’t going to leave you home alone after your ordeal.”
Ashamed, Brian looked at the floor. “Sorry I made you miss your meeting.”
Paul raised a hand to object. “No big deal, son. I rescheduled for next week.”
Brian nodded. “I guess I should probably get my suitcase and get ready to go to Chicago, huh?”
Paul shrugged. “If you really don’t want to go, you don’t have to .... We could hang out together here ... ”
“I thought you had plans?”
“I could cancel them ... ”
Brian smiled hopefully. “Then I don’t really want to go to Chicago. I’d rather stay here with you.”
Paul smiled. “Maybe we can go see that movie you were talking about the other day ... ”
Paul walked over to his son and hugged him. “I’m glad you’re all right, Brian. You really scared me. I don’t know what I would do without you.”
Brian hugged him back. “Me, either. You won’t have to find out, though. I’m not going anywhere.”
Paul smiled. “Let me go hop in the shower and change clothes.
Brian nodded and walked towards his room. “I need to call Derek and Stevie.”
Later that day, Brian and Paul went to a matinee show and had a wonderful time. Derek and Stevie came over after dinner and the boys settled down to continue their game.
They begged Brian to tell them what was down below but Brian nonchalantly informed them that there was nothing to see.
Catherine had thought about going to work, then decided against it. She went upstairs and called Joe and then went back out to the park to the tunnel entrance.
Vincent was getting ready to play a game of chess with Father when he looked up suddenly.
Father groaned. “Now what?”
“Catherine’s on her way here.” He got to his feet and looked surprised. “Through the park.”
Father sighed. “Well, go see what it is!”
Vincent quickly met up with Catherine as she walked through the tunnels by the park entrance.
“Catherine, you’re here.”
“Yes, I wanted to tell you how well the reunion went between Brian and his dad.”
Vincent smiled and cocked his head. “Maybe there was a reason this all happened. Perhaps it was destiny that brought you into their lives so you could help them find their way back to one another.”
Catherine smiled. “I think they took a step in the right direction this morning.”
“I talked to Brian. I think he understands his father’s side a little better now.”
She nodded. “And I mentioned a few things to Paul, Brian’s dad, about dealing with Brian.”
“Now we just have to wait to see what Brian says about us.”
Catherine sighed. “Well, he told the police officer in charge that all he saw was a rat and a bunch of rocks. I don’t think we have to worry .... He’ll keep the secret.”
“There may be times when his strength is tested.”
“Some secrets give us strength.”
“Yes ... and comfort.”
Catherine stepped forward towards him. “I know what Brian was looking for when he followed me down. It was the same thing that I looked for, for so many years.”
Vincent wondered what Catherine could have possibly needed in her life that she didn’t already have. “What, Catherine?”
Vincent’s heart softened that she considered everyone Below family. “You find family wherever people love each other.”
Catherine started to walk with him towards the home chambers. “After all the excitement this morning, I took the day off. The work day’s almost over anyway.”
Vincent smiled and squeezed her hand. “How were you planning on spending your time off?”
“I’d love to spend it visiting with my tunnel family ... ” she hinted.
Vincent smiled warmly. “I was just sitting down with Father to play a game of chess but ... ”
Unwilling to make him change his plans, Catherine interrupted him. “Well, I’d love to watch you two masterminds at battle.”
Vincent shook his head. “Catherine, I’ll tell Father we can play some other time. It would be quite boring for you ... ”
“Boring! I would consider it quite exciting to see the intense concentration on each of your faces as you contemplate the other’s move. Besides, I can visit with Father at the same time.”
Vincent laughed at her willingness to be a part of even his mundane activities.
They walked into the library and Father looked up warmly. “Cathy, once again I have to thank you for your quick thinking and for averting a tragedy this morning. Without your advanced warning, we could be in a serious situation right now.”
Catherine came over and sat down near him. “It’s my fault that this all happened, remember?”
“Nonsense, everything worked out fine. Just try to remain more diligent.” Father waved his hand dismissively at her while Vincent sat in the chair across from him and set up his chess pieces. He looked at Vincent curiously. “I’m sure the two of you have things you’d rather do than spend an afternoon with me.”
Vincent nodded towards Catherine. “Catherine tells me that she is anxious to see us do battle on the chess board.”
Father, unsure about losing in front of witnesses, protested. “Are you certain? Vincent and I can surely put off this game until a more convenient time.”
Catherine shook her head. “No, really ... Vincent told me he was about to play you when I interrupted. I don’t want you to have to change your plans. Maybe we can visit in between moves.”
Vincent lowered his head to hide his smirk and Father looked over at her, clearly horrified. Vincent was such a quick thinker it was impossible to do anything but devote all your energy to watching the moves he made.
Both men ignored her as their game got under way. Catherine shrugged and poured herself a cup of tea, then moved her chair closer before she sat down to watch.
Again, both men were seemingly oblivious to her being there. Instead of being angry, Catherine found the whole thing amusing. She watched as Father continued to lose piece after piece to Vincent.
Taking pity on Father, Catherine sat and contemplated ways to distract Vincent. With a grin that she quickly hid, she leaned forward, knowing the collar of her shirt was lower today and she was showing a small amount of cleavage.
She thought her plan wasn’t working until Father laughed gleefully and captured Vincent’s bishop. Vincent looked at Father with surprise and then, in disbelief, quickly back at the board.
Father frowned thoughtfully and glanced at Catherine who sat back innocently and adjusted her shirt. He knew what had happened and inwardly cringed. He would have to put a stop to this dangerous game Catherine was unaware she was playing. He knew that Catherine loved Vincent enough to have an intimate relationship. With the progress of their ever growing relationship, he was going to have to remind Vincent again of the dangers. With a sigh, he looked back at the board.
Vincent recovered and captured Father’s knight and rook. Catherine turned slightly in her chair and lifted her pant leg up over her knee to reveal her shapely leg. She was seemingly ignoring them as she lightly rubbed her hands up and down her calf muscles.
Two moves later, Father captured Vincent’s queen. Vincent groaned and looked down at the board once again as he realized what happened.
Father’s eyes widened as Catherine winked conspiratorially at him. He knew now she had done all of this on purpose and he quickly hid his grin from Vincent. Father now had the distinct upper edge and it wasn’t long before he could claim victory. He hated the means that made it happen but he still basked in the glory.
Vincent, who hadn’t lost a game in over two years, groaned aloud. He looked at Catherine. “He’ll be impossible to live with now.”
Father was gleefully rubbing his hands together. “Perhaps your good luck has run out.”
Vincent rolled his eyes as he pretended to concede. “Yes, perhaps it has.”
Father glanced at his watch. “It’s almost dinner time. Catherine, would you like to join us?”
He stood and offered her his arm, and together they walked in front of a disbelieving Vincent. Father leaned in and whispered. “Thanks for your help.”
Catherine blinked innocently. “Excuse me?”
Father grinned wider as she blatantly pretended ignorance. “Never mind!”
The three made their way into the dining hall early. As they made their way to Father’s table, Catherine stopped and visited with her friends. She was warmed by the feel of Vincent’s hand on the small of her back. Their progress was slow and Vincent increased pressure on his hand, urging her through the now crowded room.
He whispered in her ear. “Catherine, we should get our trays before the food gets cold.”
“They’ll keep it out for a while longer ... everyone will have had a chance to eat by then.”
Vincent’s stomach rumbled and Catherine giggled. “You forgot to mention you were hungry.”
He blushed and looked down. “In the excitement this morning, I missed lunch.”
They made their trays and sat at Father’s table. Father waited for a few minutes, then stood and quieted the room with his raised hand. “Just a few announcements .... The boy from Catherine’s apartment building has been found and after a brief talk with Vincent, sent back Above where Catherine reports a happy reunion was made between father and son. I do believe our secret is safe but for the time being, I want everyone to be extra cautious entering and leaving the tunnels.”
Nods of agreement could be seen as well as warnings from adults to some of the younger children. Father grinned devilishly. “Oh ... and I can claim a resounding victory over Vincent this afternoon in a chess game.”
Gasps of surprise and some chuckling could be heard over Vincent’s groan of embarrassment.
“How’d you win, Father?” Pascal asked.
He looked pointedly at Catherine, who blushed and looked away, but not before most caught the look.
Vincent sighed and took the ribbing from everyone.
Feeling remorseful for being the cause of his loss, Catherine reached over and squeezed his hand. “Feel up to taking a walk?”
“Yes,” he said with relief.
They visited on the way out and after an hour finally made it through the dining hall.
Catherine wrinkled her nose. “That took longer than I expected.”
Vincent chuckled. “I think that is because you managed to visit with every single person in the community.”
“I shouldn’t have. I didn’t leave much time to spend with you.”
Vincent shrugged. “I have sentry duty in an hour. Our time would have been limited anyway.”
Catherine looked up hopefully. “Walk me home?”
Vincent turned and headed toward her threshold. Catherine reached over and grabbed his arm and then placed her head against his shoulder. They walked slowly and talked about all of the things going on in the lives of their family Below. Catherine loved feeling like a part of his family.
Vincent showed Catherine the temporary way she would need to use to get to the home tunnels. It was surprisingly easy and Catherine was confident she would still be able to find her way.
Vincent leaned against the rock wall at her threshold. “Be extra careful when you go Above. There may be some curiosity from all the excitement this morning.”
“I will, Vincent.”
Catherine smiled and went to leave when Vincent reached out for her hand. She smiled and squeezed his hand, wondering why he had suddenly stopped her. “Be well, Catherine.”
“You too, Vincent.” Catherine walked into his arms for a brief hug before she walked away.