BETWEEN THE LINES

THE WALLS GROW THIN
SEVENTH IN THE SERIES BY KATHY DE

 

It was a Sunday night, two weeks after Mitch Denton’s gunshot wound to her back. Catherine felt she had healed enough to be able to go back to work. She and Joe had argued about it for the past three days, and Catherine had finally won when she agreed to desk duty for another few weeks.

Vincent stopped by that night, and Catherine hurried outside to see him. “Hello, Vincent.”

“Good evening, Catherine. You’re much better tonight?”

She smiled. “Yes I am. Back to the grindstone tomorrow.”

“So soon!”

“Yes, I can’t stand sitting here alone in this apartment anymore. I’m going stir crazy!”

“It’s late. I was at a helper’s delivering a warm meal or I would’ve been here sooner. Perhaps, I should visit another time so you can rest for work.”

Catherine leaned back and looked at the clock on her bedside table. “It’s not too late, will you stay?”

“Yes.”

She leaned against the wall, and he did the same as they both looked out over the city.

He was the first to break through the silence. “Are you sure it’s not too soon to go back to work? It’s only been two weeks.”

“My doctor says my prognosis is good and he sees no reason why I shouldn’t go back.”

Vincent sighed and looked at her worriedly. “Will you be in any danger?”

Catherine chuckled as she reached out and touched his hand. “Only from paper cuts. Joe’s putting me on desk duty for a few weeks.”

“He’s worried about your health.”

Catherine nodded. “Yes, he is, but he’s going overboard. I’m fine.”

“Perhaps you’re trying to do too much too soon.” He cocked his head and offered a half smile. “You look sore right now.”

Catherine shrugged. “I was doing loads of laundry and washing dishes. I probably over did it.” She blushed as she realized what she said and smiled at him ruefully. “Point taken.”

Vincent smiled as he looked back out into the city. His mood grew somber as he realized she would be going back to the world he was not a part of.

His sadness showed on his face and Catherine cocked her head curiously when she noticed. “What is it, Vincent?”

“Tomorrow you go back to your own world again. I feel almost like I did when you left Below the first time.”

“After my attack?”

“Yes.”

Catherine nodded knowingly. “Those days spent Below with you .…” She shrugged as she tried to find the right words. “It’s a time in my life I’ll never forget. It was a wonderful ten days.”

“You were healing from a traumatic experience. It couldn’t have been too wonderful.”

“No … but I met my best friend during that time.”

Vincent looked down shyly. “Our friendship is something I treasure deeply as well. These past few weeks it’s been nice knowing that I could come here every night and you would be waiting,”

“I’ve enjoyed your being here. There’s no reason we can’t keep doing it.”

Vincent sighed and turned away. “Do you remember when you were in the hospital … you woke and told me about your dream?”

Catherine’s brow furrowed as she tried to remember that foggy time after surgery. “Um … I’m not sure ….”

“You had just come out of surgery. I came to see you and you said you dreamed we were walking on a crowded street.”

Her faced brightened at the memory. “Yes … it’s seems kind of blurry now … but I remember it was daytime.”

He looked back at her pointedly. “Yes … you … said no one noticed us .…”

Catherine smiled warmly as she remembered more. “That’s right, and then you bought me ice cream!” 

“Yes.”

Her smiled faded when Vincent looked away sadly. “What is it, Vincent?”

“It could never happen.”

“What?”

“Any of it, Catherine. I could never walk next to you in the daytime … I could never walk anywhere Above and not be noticed, and I certainly couldn’t buy you an ice cream.”

Trying to lighten the mood, Catherine touched his arm. “Well, then I’ll buy the ice cream.”

Vincent offered a small half smile then looked back at the city.

“It was only a dream, Vincent.”

“One that I can never make come true.”

Catherine sighed. “Then I’ll have to just keep dreaming it until one day when you can.”

She leaned her head against his shoulder and Vincent slowly put his arm around her then pushed off from the wall, not wanting to take too much more of her time. “Sleep well, Catherine.”

“Goodnight, Vincent. See you soon?”

He turned back to her and shyly smiled. “Yes.”

Catherine nodded and smiled as he left.

*****

Later that week, Catherine was at work when she absentmindedly picked up her phone. “Catherine Chandler.”

“Hi, Honey.”

“Hi, Dad. You don’t normally call me at work, is everything all right?”

“Yes, I’m shopping.”

“On a work day?!” Catherine teased.

Charles chuckled into the phone. “It couldn’t be helped. Kay’s helping me order these costumes for the ball. We’re still going, right?”

“Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. What’s Kay picking out for us?”

“I’m going to be a southern gentleman and you’re going to be a southern belle.”

Catherine laughed aloud. “Sounds fun.”

“What’s Jenny wearing?”

Catherine sighed. “I’m not sure, Dad. I haven’t talked to her. She’s been so busy helping get Brigit here and get settled, we haven’t had time to talk.”

“Maybe you should tell her what we’re wearing and she could match us if she’d like.”

Catherine smiled into the phone. Her dad had always treated Jenny like a second daughter. “I will, Dad. What’s Kay wearing?”

“Kay’s not going to be able to come. She’s going out of town to see her son.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Tell her I’ll miss her and thank her for helping with the costumes. I’m swamped, and don’t know when I would find the time.”

Charles chuckled. “You could pretend you’re working for me and do it during the work day.”

Catherine she knew he was joking and rolled her eyes. “Dad!”

“Honey, Kay’s calling me over to pay. Love you ... bye.”

“Love you too. Bye, Dad.”

Catherine looked back into her file and once again began furiously writing notes.

A few hours later, Edie came over to her desk. “Hey, girlfriend. You wanna do lunch?”

Catherine wrinkled her nose. “I’m swamped, Edie.”

“That’s okay we can do it tomorrow. I just wanted to tell you about a party my neighbors are having on Halloween. I thought you might like to come with me.”

Catherine smiled disappointedly. “I can’t. I made plans with my Dad to go to a masquerade ball honoring an author. I’m sorry.”

“Hey, my neighbor has parties at least twice a month. Maybe next time. I guess I’m heading to the cafeteria for some soup.”

Catherine’s stomach grumbled loudly. “Oooh, that sounds good. Hang on. I’m getting a bowl with you.”

Catherine grabbed her purse as Edie smiled. “I knew you couldn’t resist soup!”

Catherine rolled her eyes as she grinned and the two friends made their way to the cafeteria.

*****

Edie and Catherine sat down and were quickly joined by fellow workers.

Catherine blew on her soup and ate it cautiously as she listened to the lively banter. It seemed like everyone was going to some type of Halloween party.

Kelly, a woman who worked computer research with Edie addressed the group. “I almost had tickets to go to a masquerade ball honoring a famous writer. I hear it’s going to be quite the event. Tickets were astronomically expensive.”

“That’s probably the one Cathy’s going to.” Edie smiled eagerly then realized what she said and looked guiltily at Catherine.

Catherine grimaced and Edie looked away guiltily. She knew Catherine hated to flaunt her wealth. Most of the group had changed their initial opinion of Catherine. Her hard work and outgoing personality had them won over in no time and they no longer looked at her like a rich debutante.

Kelly smiled at Catherine. “Lucky you! How’d you get tickets?”

Catherine shrugged. “Actually my father got them. I’m going with him. But one of my best friends was instrumental in bringing the author here. I can see if she has access to tickets for you.”

Kelly shook her head. “No, it would be too late to get a babysitter now. I bet your friend’s met Brigit then?”

“I haven’t talked to her, but I know she was helping Brigit settle in.”

“Catherine, can I ask a huge favor? If you meet Brigit could you get her autograph?”

“I can try Kelly. They’ve sold so many tickets, I don’t even know if I’ll get near her.”

“It would be enough for me to just see her. She’s amazing.”

Jill had been listening and looked over at them. “Who are you guys talking about?”

Kelly turned to Jill. “Brigit O’Donnell. She wrote a book called 300 Days. It’s the best book I’ve read in a long time.”

Catherine smiled. “I agree.”

Jill nodded. “Really? I’ll have to try to get a copy. I love to read, especially in bed at night. It helps me unwind. My husband and I cuddle up and read until it’s time to fall asleep.”

Edie grimaced. “If I was married, I wouldn’t be reading in bed.”

Jill laughed. “With three kids, during the week, you would. Now on weekends,” She raised her eyebrows up and down suggestively. “We don’t get much reading done.”

Catherine giggled as Kelly rolled her eyes. Edie turned to Catherine. “You read a lot too, don’t you?”

Catherine shrugged. “Yes, I do.”

Jill leaned forward. “I like mysteries. What kind of books do you like?”

Catherine stared off and thought to herself, “Anything Vincent will read aloud.” She turned back to the group and laughed. “Poetry, classic literature ...”

Kelly groaned. “Ugh, I don’t want to think that much. Smutty romances are the way to go!”

Edie smiled. “I agree. Only I like my romances to be on the TV in black and white.”

All of the girls had a good laugh and continued to enjoy their soup or salad. Eventually, everyone hurried back to work.

*****

A few days later, Father and Vincent were sitting quietly in the library, enjoying their morning tea and reading over week old newspapers a helper had sent down.

“Vincent.” Father peered at his son, waiting for him to look up. “Here’s a news item you may be interested in.”

Father leaned over and handed the section he had been reading to Vincent.
Vincent cast a quizzical glance and smiled at his father as he reached out to take the paper.  He quickly found the article indicated by his father.

The headline “Masked Ball to Fete Irish Peace Activist Brigit O’Donnell” caught his eye immediately. “Tomorrow night,” he thought. He read the article then reread it hoping he had not missed any details.

Vincent looked up and smiled. “Father, thank you for showing me this, it’s wonderful news.”

“Yes, it’s great that she’s being honored for her work. She must be very good. You’ll have to lend me your copy of her book one day so that I can see what has you so enthralled with her.”

“She is … amazing, Father, I can’t wait to meet her.”

“What?!”

“I said I can’t wait to meet her.”

Father looked at him incredulously “I know what you said! I’m wondering what madness has prompted you to say it! Vincent, you can’t go and meet her!”

Vincent shrugged his shoulders in indifference. “Father, she’ll be greeting guests at a masquerade ball. I will be perfectly safe; no one will even notice me ....”

“No! Can’t you ask a helper to get you an autograph? What if you wrote to her instead and had someone hand-deliver the letter?” Father grasped for ways for Vincent to obtain her autograph.

Vincent shook his head. “No! I must meet her Father!”

“Is there no way I can convince you not to go Above and try to see her?”

“Father, please don’t worry yourself so. I will be careful.”

“Not two months ago you barely made it home alive. You’d been burned and beaten. Your arm had been broken, you had several broken ribs, and you had a severe concussion that led to vision and hearing problems. Were you careful that night?”

Vincent sighed as he realized his father was right. “It was a different situation, Father. I’m going to an exclusive party in an expensive hotel. I’m just going to slip into a masquerade ball and speak to the author for just the briefest of moments, then I’ll return Below.”

“Humph.” Father grumbled. He knew from past experience it would do no good to argue with Vincent. He would approach him later and try to dissuade him once again.

*****

Vincent went back to his chamber. It had been awhile since he had read Brigit’s book, and he wanted to reacquaint himself with it. He reached for his copy of 300 Days and settled back into his oversized chair.

He read the beautifully written tale chronicling the life of two young lovers. It was a story of an impossible love. A love that encompassed a man and woman, each coming from a world drastically different from their own, a world in which both sides had such opposing views that they could not see the other’s point of view, a world in which neither side would accept an intrusion from the other side.

Still their love ran deep and true, despite the fact that Brigit’s father wouldn’t accept Ian, and Ian’s family wouldn’t accept Brigit. Neither family would dispel the age old war to even meet with their respective child’s choice for a mate. With no support from either family, the young lovers endured and married anyway. They loved deeply, but life was hard. Struggling daily, they managed to live happily until tragedy struck.

Three hundred days of wedded bliss ended abruptly when Ian was killed in an uprising. All Brigit had, all she loved, was ripped away from her in a single moment.

Vincent closed the book and laid his head back, his eyes closed. The hardships the lovers endured spoke to him as if they were his own. He understood everything they went through. His love for Catherine ran so parallel to Brigit and Ian’s. He had to meet Brigit. He had to tell her how much he related to her.

“Tomorrow can’t come soon enough,” he thought as he rose and prepared himself for bed.

*****

Catherine came home from work and ran through her apartment to pick up the ringing telephone. “Hello.”

“Catherine.”

Her dad’s voice floated over the line, and Catherine smiled warmly. “Hi, Dad!”

“Are we set for tomorrow night?”

“Yeah, I just picked up my costume. It’s beautiful, thanks for ordering it.”

“Well I know how busy you’ve been, make sure it fits. I’ll pick you about seven tomorrow night.”

“That sounds great, Dad. I’m so excited, I can’t wait!”

He chuckled. “I know! I know how much you enjoyed Brigit’s owl story. I was surprised myself how good it was when I read it to Marilyn’s granddaughter.”

“Marilyn’s granddaughter?”

“Yes, Karen brought her to work one day to see Marilyn and little Robin came wandering into my office with a book in her hand. She looked at me with such hopeful eyes, I couldn’t resist. It reminded me of those days when I had to bring you into work with me.”

Catherine chuckled. “I bet Robin was better behaved than I was, huh?”

Charles diplomatically answered her. “Well ... I don’t like to compare.”

Catherine laughed harder. “I was the worst kid in the world at that age!”

“You weren’t so bad. I bet Brigit’s owl book could get even you to sit quiet for a while. I sure wish she had written it years ago.”

“If you think that’s good you should read her book 300 Days. It’s a little more compelling.”

“That’s what everyone says! I’ll try to get a copy. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay? Goodnight, Sweetheart.”

“Goodnight, Daddy.”

Catherine hung up the phone and dialed Jenny’s number.

“Hello, this is Jenny.”

“Hey, you! Are we set for tomorrow?”

Jenny sighed. “I can’t go!”

Catherine gasped. “Jen! You helped orchestrate Brigit coming here, what do you mean you can’t go?”

“My dad’s coming home from the hospital tomorrow; and my mom’s been so sick, so she won’t be able to take care of him. The doctor even recommended that she stay in another room, away from him. My brother’s out of town and his wife has the kids. I can’t ask her to give up Halloween with the kids. It wouldn’t be fair.”

Catherine didn’t push. She knew Jenny had to help her family. “How is your dad, Jen?”

“Better, thanks. His pneumonia’s gone. He just has to fight the rest of the cold now. Mom never got as bad as him but ....”

Catherine interrupted. “But ... she’s bad enough not to be able to take care of him. Aww, Jen. I’m sorry. Can I get her to sign a book for you?”

Jenny smiled into the phone. “Sure, if she’s signing books, get me one. Can you believe I’m a publisher and I still can’t get her book? Every time I have one set aside someone sells it out from under me!”

Catherine tapped her finger on her cheek. “Well, maybe you can borrow mine. Let’s see that’s after my Dad and Kay and Marilyn and ....”

“Forget it! I’ve got a better chance of finding it on my own. Have fun tomorrow. I wish I could go. I know how much you’ve always enjoyed Halloween.”

Catherine gushed, “It’s just so magical. You can be anyone you want to be for a whole night, and no one will ever know the difference.”

“Hey, Cath, that’s my other line. Have fun! Tell me all about it!”

“Will do. Bye, Jen.”

Catherine hung up the phone and tried on her costume. It fit perfectly. She played with her hair and decided what style she would put it in tomorrow night.

She tried to take off her costume, and as she struggled with the bodice, her hair flew in all directions. There was a tap at her window and she quickly threw on a nightgown and robe which messed up her hair even more.

She smiled and ran out to the balcony. “Hi, Vincent!”

He nodded and looked with surprise at her disheveled appearance. “You look ....”

Catherine laughed and smoothed down her hair. “Messy? Is that the word you’re looking for?” Vincent smiled shyly and nodded as she pretended offense. “Thanks a lot. Here I thought I’d try out my new hairdo on you and you don’t like it.”

Vincent thought he may have offended her. “No, Catherine. I didn’t mean to say I didn’t like it. It’s ....”

Catherine took his arms and wrapped them around her waist. “Vincent, I’m joking. I was just changing clothes when you came. I couldn’t very well walk out here with nothing on, could I?”

Vincent gasped and dragged his arms back. He turned and looked out over the city. Catherine looked at him curiously. Most guys would have made some type of off color remark, but Vincent seemed ... offended … no … that wasn’t right … he seemed more ... nervous.

Catherine was uncertain what happened, so she changed the subject. “Halloween’s tomorrow. It’s always been my favorite holiday. Do the children Below go trick-or-treating?”

He nodded, grateful for the safer topic. “Sometimes, if the weather cooperates, someone will take the older ones out. The younger ones who cannot be expected to keep our world a secret are given a chance to trick-or-treat from chamber to chamber. Father often tells them ghost tales, and William always makes some cider and popcorn balls. They also bob for apples and carve jack-o-lanterns.”

Catherine smiled. “All the same traditions as Above. I remember planning for weeks what costume I would wear. Did you ever dress up?”

Vincent chuckled. “Yes, I was a cowboy one year and a pirate the next year. As I got older I became historical characters, Huck Finn and Shakespeare, Cyrano ....”

Catherine grimaced. “Now my costumes sound boring. I was mostly some form of a princess.”

“I’ll bet you were beautiful. Your mother must have had a wonderful time dressing you.”

Catherine sighed, and a feeling of great sadness came over the bond.

Vincent looked at her curiously, wondering what he had said. “Catherine?”

“My mother passed away when I was only ten. My dad always helped me with my costumes.”  She chuckled fondly. “Well, what he could help me with.”

“It must’ve been hard to lose your mother at such a young age.”

“It was. When I was little, I had the hardest time understanding why; but now I know that in some ways I was blessed, that at least I got to know her for a little while. I have some wonderful memories of her.”

Vincent nodded sadly as his thoughts went to his own lack of a mother. “Yes, but it seems like your father readily stepped forward and handled the difficult job of raising a child alone.”

Catherine laughed again. “Yes, he did. In his day, he could make a mean pony tail, but he never quite mastered braids. I was left to do my own hair … a lot. I remember Halloween was always especially fun. He let me do whatever I wanted.”

Vincent laughed. “That could be disastrous.”

“I did get a little daring with glitter make-up and hair dye as I got older. One year my hair stayed blue for a whole week until my Dad finally broke down and took me to a salon.”

Vincent chuckled knowingly. “I had five stitches the year I was a cowboy ... the Indian chief shot an arrow that grazed my forehead. Father put us both on kitchen duty for a week.”

“I broke an arm tripping up the steps in the new high heels that I insistently told my Dad all princesses could walk in.”

Vincent tried to mimic a pirate voice. “I broke me leg, falling over me sword as I was trying to save me ship in a duel to the death with a rival pirate.”

It was so unlike Vincent, Catherine giggled hysterically. “Okay, you win!”

Catherine and Vincent laughed together as they related mishaps from their youth. Catherine suddenly grew animated and turned to him. “Vincent? How many children live Below?”

He shrugged. “The number changes constantly, Catherine.”

“I mean now, like right now. How many children are living Below.”

Vincent thought for a minute. “I believe there are thirty eight.”

Catherine gasped. “That many?”

He nodded. “Several children have come to us this fall and many of the older children are choosing to stay instead of moving on. Why do you ask?”

Catherine shrugged. “If I could, I was planning on sending down Halloween treats for the children. I wondered how many there were. What are the ages of most of the children?”

Vincent chuckled. “You’re testing me tonight.…” His mind automatically grouped the children by school age. “Let’s see ....there are 7 teenagers in high school, so they’d be between the ages of 13 and 18; and there are 16 kids in the lower grades of school, so they’d be between the ages of 6 and 13.  There are 11 children in preschool, so they’d be between the ages of 3 and 6. That leaves 4 babies under the age of 2. Yes, that’s right.”

“Wow, how did you remember all of that?”

Vincent bowed his head shyly. “Part of my job is teaching. I have the middle school children all morning and the high school children all afternoon. Once in a while, I sit in for reading to the preschool class; and the babies are usually pretty vocal at meals, so it’s easy to remember them.”

Catherine smiled as a thought struck her and she looked up at him. “Vincent, may I send things for the children Below, or does it have to be approved by someone?”

Vincent smiled at her. “Catherine, generosity is always gratefully accepted, although treats should be limited, and the only treat that is frowned upon by Father is gum.”

Catherine raised her brows in curiosity. “Gum?”

Vincent rolled his eyes. “Growing up, you quickly learn how painful gum removal is from children’s hair and Father once got a wad stuck on the bottom of his cane. He had strands of it all over the library.”

Catherine giggled. “I promise I won’t send gum. When it comes Below, do you distribute it or do I need to put individual names on things?”

“Both ways are acceptable. There’s a grocery store not far from here ... Stan’s Market.”

“I go to Stan’s all the time. He’s a wonderful man.”

“Stan grew up in the tunnels. He and his wife have been helpers from as far back as I can remember.”

Catherine rubbed her hands together excitedly. “So if I go there, Stan can help me?”

“Yes.” Vincent nodded again. “Thank you, Catherine. Your generosity is most appreciated. If you wanted, you could come Below on Halloween … join the festivities.”

“I wish I could, but I’m going out with my Dad that night,” Catherine said dejectedly.

Vincent shrugged. “Of course you have other plans. I just thought .…”

Catherine touched his arm. “And it was a wonderful thought. If I hadn’t already promised my Dad, I would be there.”

Vincent smiled shyly. “I should go. You’re tired, and I only came by to say hello.”

Catherine moved closer to him and put her arms around his waist to give him a hug. “Hello, Vincent.”

He gently tightened his arms around her. “Hello, Catherine.”

Catherine stood in the comfort of his arms for a few minutes. She felt Vincent’s hold relax, so she pulled away slightly. “I’ll see you soon?”

He nodded and left.

*****

Catherine set her alarm for earlier than normal. She wanted to get to Stan’s and search out good things for the children Below. She remembered back to the excitement she always felt when Halloween time came around.

The next morning she headed to Stan’s and walked into an almost empty store. “Good morning, Stan.”

Stan rushed forward. “Cathy, what brings you here so early in the morning?”

Catherine looked around to see if anyone was nearby. Seeing that the only other person in the store was way in back by the freezers, she thought it was safe to tell Stan. She leaned forward conspiratorially. “Vincent said you could help me. I want to send some Halloween items Below.”

“Vincent?” Stan gasped. “You?! I would’ve never guessed. How long?”

Catherine smiled. “Stan, Vincent was the one who saved my life. Remember my stitches? Father was the one who performed the surgery.”

Stan thought back to the first time he saw Catherine with her face all stitched up. It was a horrible tragedy. He flung his arms around her shoulders. “You’re Vincent’s Catherine! Of course, I never put two and two together. Imagine! My little Cathy is the same person as Vincent’s Catherine!”

A man came from the back and purchased a gallon of milk, leaving Stan and Catherine alone in the store. Stan turned to Catherine. “Well, how much do you wish to spend?”

Catherine shrugged. “I don’t care what it costs. I just want every child to get something.”

Stan frowned in thought. “Well, the babies are the hardest to shop for but let me see ....”

Catherine picked up some Halloween cookies from the front counter. “How about these butter cookies? Toddlers can normally eat these, right?”

“Yes, that’s a good start, and William normally doesn’t make cookies like those.”

Catherine nodded. “Stan, where are your treat bags so we can see how much we need to fill them.”

“Treat bags?”

Catherine turned around. “Yeah, you know. A treat bag, like a lunch bag that’s decorated for Halloween.”

“Oh, they’re over here.”

Stan went to a section and grabbed the smaller of two kinds of bags. Catherine came up behind him and shook her head in disgust. “Stan! That bag won’t hold anything! Get the bigger ones!”

Catherine grabbed four packages of the bigger bags. Stan shook his head. “Father won’t like them to have too much candy.”

“Well, we’ll have to fill them with things other than candy then, won’t we?”

Stan’s wife Maria came in the store. Stan looked up and smiled. “Maria, come quick. Our Cathy is Vincent’s Catherine! Can you believe it?”

Maria smiled brightly and came over and hugged Catherine. “Oh, such a sad story you had but with such a good ending.” She looked at the things in Catherine’s hands. “What’s this you’re doing?”

Stan jumped to explain. “Cathy wants to send treat bags to the children Below. I’ve tried to explain that Father won’t want so much candy sent but ....”

Maria waved her hands earnestly. “Phhhttt, Father is a crabby old man. Let the children have a really good Halloween.” Maria emphasized the word “good” then turned to face Catherine. “How much you want to spend?”

Catherine shrugged and giggled. “Since, I’m going to incur his wrath anyway, how much does it cost for a really “great” Halloween?”

Maria laughed, and she and Catherine headed through the store as Stan looked on worriedly. The two women soon had a cart piled with items. There were fancy light up pens and pencils and writing pads, teen magazines, puzzle books filled with brain teasers, all types of hair accessories, there were crayons and coloring books, jump ropes, jacks, magnifying glasses, rubber bugs and decks of cards. Catherine kept the candy to a minimum and told Stan to give each child a dollar bill. Maria filled the bags with an apple for everyone.

Catherine went back and picked up more candy. “Can this go into a community bowl for everyone to share?”

Stan nodded. “Yes, while the children take turns carving the jack-o-lanterns, everyone in the community gathers around and watches them. It could be shared then.”

Catherine frowned. “What do you mean the children take turns carving? They don’t have enough room to have everyone do it at the same time?”

Maria shook her head sadly. “No, Catherine, what he means is that the children have to share pumpkins, and they take turns carving them.”

Catherine looked on in horror. “I remember carving several pumpkins myself every year. One would be funny, one would be scary and one would be beautiful. Well, as beautiful as a pumpkin could be. Maria, why don’t they each have their own pumpkin?”

Stan looked embarrassed. “The helpers give as much as we can, Catherine. It’s more important that we give food. Toys and treats are not often given Below, and pumpkins for carving would be a luxury.”

Catherine nodded at the practicality of what he said. She refused to let Halloween be practical if she had the power to change it. “Stan, can you make sure that each child has their own pumpkin to carve this year?”

He sighed. “Catherine, Father’s not going to like this!”

Catherine shrugged nonchalantly. “He can only get mad about it once. If I’m going to be yelled at it may as well be worth it!”

Maria giggled at Catherine’s lack of fear. “Maybe Vincent will settle Father’s anger when he sees all the chocolate bars in the community bowl.”

Stan laughed. “If Vincent decides to share with anyone you mean.”

Catherine chuckled amusedly. “So, Vincent likes chocolate?”

Maria shook her head. “No, Vincent loves chocolate. I’ll tell you a secret. Father likes the marshmallow chicks.”

Catherine ran to the candy aisle and quickly grabbed, for Father, a few packages of various colors of the sugar coated treats. Stan rang up everything and looked worriedly at Maria when the total came up.

Catherine handed him the money without a second thought. She glanced at her watch and realized she was going to be late for work.

“I’m really running late. Maria, Stan, can you please do me a huge favor and split up the items into age appropriate bags and send it all Below?”

Maria kissed her cheek. “Of course, dear. You run to work; the bags will be sent Below before 11:00.”

Catherine ran out the door and then ran back in. “Oh, if they look kind of chintzy, like there’s not enough stuff in them, will you find something to fill them in with and I’ll be by later and pay you for whatever you spent?”

The couple nodded, so she let the door close behind her as she hopped into a nearby taxi.

*****

Catherine showed up at the office a half an hour late. Joe peeked around the corner as she rushed to her desk. “You know Halloween is the worst night of the year for us, right?”

Catherine shrugged. “Yeah, so. That’s tonight. Won’t that make us busy tomorrow?”

Joe grinned. “I just thought if you were gonna make a habit of coming in late, I’d warn you about the extra work load.”

She’d never been late before, and Catherine rolled her eyes because she knew he was teasing her. Joe knew she put in more hours that anyone here. “Oh, by the way, I have to leave early, too.”

“Got a hot date?”

Catherine nodded. “Yep, he’s taking me to a costume party. I need time to get ready.”

“Costume party? Sounds like fun.”   

Catherine looked at him and smiled. “Yeah, it should be.”

Joe pretended to be angry. “Well, I’m gonna have to dock your pay, Radcliffe. I hope he’s worth it.”

Catherine laughed. “Are you kidding me? He’s definitely worth it! He’s older, very distinguished looking. He’s tall and a good dresser. Oh and he’s filthy rich! But the best part of it all is he loves me more than life itself.”

Joe narrowed his eyes curiously at her. “Not another big time developer guy?”

Catherine shook her head. “No, this one’s a corporate lawyer. He’s a partner in a firm uptown.”

Joe nodded. “Oh, yeah. What’s his name?”

“Charles.”

“Charles, that’s his first name right?”

“Uh, huh.”

Joe tried to pry further. “Does this Charles have a last name?”

“Yep ... Chandler!” Catherine giggled.

Joe rolled his eyes and groaned. “Go … have fun!”

He walked away disgustedly. Inside, he was thinking how relieved he was that she didn’t have a real date. “Maybe there’s still a chance,” he thought. He turned and glanced back but she was busy scribbling notes on a pad of paper. Disappointedly, he shook his head. “Nah!”

*****

As promised Stan and Maria had the bags sent Below before 11:00. Mouse and Jamie carried in two huge boxes filled with the individual bags into the library. The pumpkins had already been sent to the kitchen, since the children would be carving them in the dining chamber.

Father, Vincent, Mary, Winslow, John, Rebecca and Pascal were in a council meeting when the delivery interrupted them.

Father stood up. “What’s all this, Mouse?”

Mouse shook his head. “Don’t know. Just deliver … don’t ask.”

Jamie looked up at Father. “It came from Stan and Maria’s. There’s also a pumpkin for each of the children. They’ve already been sent to the kitchen.”

Mary stood up and started to peek in the bags. “Oh, Father, who could have done such a wonderful thing?”

Jamie looked over at Vincent, who guessed who it was from and nodded his consent. She turned and timidly addressed Father. “Stan said it was from Catherine.”

Father whipped around and looked at Vincent. “Did you know about this?”

Vincent had stood and started walking over towards the bags. “She mentioned sending down a few things for the children ....”

Father sputtered in anger. “This is hardly a few things! I don’t like the children to have so much candy. You know that!”

Pascal, who had been peeking into the bags with everyone else, turned to Father. “Actually, Father. There is very little candy in here. It’s mostly pens and pencils or crayons and then a few children’s toys. Oooh, and bubbles! They’re my favorite!”

Winslow turned to Vincent. “That was extremely generous of her, Vincent. This stuff must’ve sent her back a couple hundred bucks!”

Inside Father was seething. “If that woman thinks she can buy her way into our world, she is sadly mistaken!”

Mary looked at him in shock. “Father, I don’t believe she thinks that at all! Catherine is just a very generous woman. The children will love these things. Halloween will be extra special this year!”

Father was still angry. “They’ll come to expect this all the time! What happens at the next holiday when they don’t get as much?”

Winslow spoke up. “We’ll remind them, like we always do, that we should be grateful when good things happen but not to expect it each time.”

Mouse piped up. “Good thing … right?”

Jamie smiled. “Each child has never had their own pumpkin. I really think that’s cool!”

Father grumbled. “It is not cool! They will expect it every year!”

Pascal nodded. “I don’t think it will hurt that, for one year, they get their own pumpkins to carve.”

Father turned to Vincent. “I suppose it would be a waste of time to ask how you feel about this.”

Vincent put his arm around his father’s shoulders. “Father, Catherine asked if she could do something for the children. I warned her about gum, and she has steered clear of too many sweets. Her generosity should be thanked not questioned.”

Father felt foolish when everyone else seemed to agree. “Fine, we’ll let the children come for their bags after lunch. Now let’s get back to the meeting.”

Jamie and Mouse made a quick exit while everyone else settled back down to get the meeting back on track.

 

*****

 

Joe poked his head around the corner. “Hey, Radcliffe! Your dad called. He said you’re going to be late if you don’t get outta here soon!”

Catherine jumped in surprise and looked at the clock. She was a little later than she wanted to be, but not so late she would ruin the evening. “Did he, really?!”

“No, I just knew you were gonna be late.”

She looked gratefully at him as she shoved papers into files and closed up open case files. “Thanks, Joe! Oh, I’ve got to get moving!”

Joe shrugged. “It’s going to cost you a couple bucks more but I called and there’s a taxi waiting for you out in front.”

Catherine smiled. Joe was an awesome friend. She ran past him but stopped briefly to touch his arm. “Really, Joe. Thank you! I was envisioning not being able to get a taxi at this time of the day.”

“Get outta here, have fun, Chandler!”

She called out as she waved her arm. “I will!”

Catherine ran inside her apartment. As soon as the door closed, she started stripping off her clothes making her way to the bathroom. She took one of the quickest showers in her life. The doorbell rang and she answered the door wrapped in a towel, another towel around her head. She handed out treats to the trick-or-treaters as her father walked up. She made her apologies and ran off to get dressed, promising it wouldn’t take longer than fifteen minutes.

Twenty five minutes later, Catherine entered the room, twirling in her costume, showing it off to her father.

Charles looked up and smiled.  “Hardly fifteen minutes but well worth the wait.”

Catherine gushed as she walked towards him. “Isn’t it wonderful?”

“You don’t know how happy I am that you let me talk you into this. Since you left the firm, I hardly ever get to see you.”

She looked at him guiltily. “Well, they keep me pretty busy. But I miss you too.”

“Now, don’t be shy about leaving me to fend for myself. I’m not so old that I don’t remember how romantic these affairs can be. Lots of your old friends will be there tonight.”

Catherine walked to get her purse, rolling her eyes at his words. “Well I’m going to this party to be with you.”

Charles wasn’t fooled. “You’re going to this party to meet Brigit O’Donnell like everybody else.”

She chucked. “That too.”

Catherine came and stood in front of her father and he smiled at her warmly. “Have I told you how beautiful you look? Sometimes you remind me so much of your mother.”

She smiled at him. “I miss her too.”

“Someday you’ll find someone you can love as much as I loved your mother. We were some of the lucky ones. I have my memories … and I have you.”

“You sure do,” she assured him.

They turned and made their way to the door. Luckily, they caught a taxi quickly and were on their way to the ball. 

In the taxi, Charles turned to Catherine. “Honey I was serious about you leaving me alone tonight. You should catch up with your old friends, and maybe you’ll meet someone special.”

She rolled her eyes. “Dad ….”  She was still smarting a little from Elliot’s betrayal, and of course, she had Vincent … well, whatever she had with Vincent.

“I know, I know. I just want you to be happy.”

She moved to change the subject. “I’ll be happy meeting Brigit.”

“I knew you would. You’ll have to lend me your copy of her book. It’s so hard to find; it keeps selling out the second they get it in stock.”

She nodded and laughed. “After tonight, it will be even harder to get.”

“Yes, I would imagine it will be. Maybe Jenny can get me a copy?”

Catherine shook her head. “Don’t bet on it! When she called me to tell me she couldn’t make it she admitted even she’s had a hard time securing a copy.”

“It’s a shame she couldn’t make it tonight. Tell her I hope her father gets better soon.”

Catherine smiled and nodded. “I will, Dad.”

“So, what’s all the fuss? What’s this book about anyway?”

Catherine sighed. “It’s a love story about an impossible relationship between a man and a woman. They live in different worlds, and neither world will accept them.”

“Sounds like your mother and me, well not the different world but the impossible love part.”

Catherine curiously turned to face him. “What do you mean?”

“I’ve never told you much about when your mother and I first got together, have I?”

Catherine shook her head. “I never wanted to bring it up. I guess I thought it was just too hard for you to talk about.”

“Well, it is painful; but some of it is rather funny. You see your mother hated me when she first met me. She said I was rich and pompous and unreliable and ....”

Catherine’s jaw dropped open in shock. “Dad! I can’t believe Mom said that stuff about you!”

Charles nodded. “She did! Until she met me face to face and realized I was the wrong Charles. She was thinking of Charles Ball, and he was all those things and then some. We had such a good laugh over it she finally agreed to go out with me.”

“So you fell madly in love?”

“I was already madly in love with her. My parents were ecstatic that I finally met someone. Her father, however, hated me!”

Catherine shook her head. “Grandpa didn’t hate you!”

“He did back then! He tried a million times to convince your mother I wasn’t good enough for her. Thank God, she never listened to him.”

Catherine smiled. “And the rest is history?”

Charles kissed her nose. “Yes, with a surprise twist when we were blessed with a beautiful little girl.”

Catherine giggled. “Thanks, Daddy.”

Charles continued to tell her more stories as they made their way across town.

 

*****

After lunch, the children Below had gathered around the tables. William had big trays brought in from the kitchen. The children screamed with delight when they realized they would each have their own pumpkin this year.

Samantha jumped up and down. “This is the best year ever!”

Zach and Kipper sat down on either side of her.

Zach pulled on Samantha’s shirt. “Betcha my pumpkin turns out better than yours!”

Kipper shook his head. “In your dreams, Zach!”

Samantha settled down, and the older children came to help the younger ones. Soon there was a big pile of pumpkin seeds in the middle of the table ready to be taken to William for baking.

Several of the women started cleaning children up as they finished carving their jack-o-lanterns. Rebecca luckily had made extra candles so each child would have one for their own pumpkin.

The adults oohed and aahed over each child’s creation. Several times, hands could be seen dipping into the community candy bowl that Catherine had generously supplied.

Father shook his head as Vincent went for yet another piece of chocolate, and he shot him a disapproving look. He quickly gave up when he saw Pascal was eating sweet tarts and Winslow had a big cupcake in the shape of a ghost. Mary walked up with a sucker in her mouth and handed him the marshmallow treats.  Father smiled then turned to address the community. “Everyone, Vincent’s friend, Catherine, is responsible for the lovely gifts we received here today. I think it would be nice if the children made her a card and thanked her for her generosity.”

The adults all nodded, and Father knew someone would take over and make sure the children did as requested.

The children finished with their individual pumpkins, and they were herded to the library so Father could start telling them ghost stories. They were gathered around him, in their costumes, enraptured by the scary tales being told to them. When he was finished, they begged for more; but Father had received word that another helper had sent down several more pumpkins and the children could share in carving these. He sent them off to help Mary carve even more jack-o-lanterns. Vincent and Father reminisced about how things never change. Father teased Vincent about how it wasn’t so long ago that Vincent sat here, asking for the same stories over and over.

Vincent reached for his copy of “300 Days”.

Father watched him wearily “You’re still determined to go, are you? I wish you’d reconsider.”

“Father, surely on this night of all nights I can walk among them in safety?”

“Safety? Vincent there is no safety up there for you or anyone else.”

“Well sometimes we must leave our safe places, Father, and walk empty-handed among our enemies.”

Father looked at him disgustedly “Those are Brigit O’Donnell’s words.”

“Those are true words. Words that have opened doors for me, let some light in on the dark places. You know what she’s meant to me Father.”

Father offered his advice. “I do, and I also know there’s a danger in confusing the magic with the magician. Sometimes the person is smaller than the work, weaker, more frightened, more human. And I don’t want to see you hurt, disappointed.”

“She will not disappoint me. Our lives are very different, and yet I’m sure we’ll understand each other. I will not lose this opportunity. I must see her, talk to her,” Vincent stated emphatically.

“Vincent, it was only a few weeks ago when you experienced first-hand what can happen Above. How would you be treated if you’re caught again?”

“Father, I’m going to a party at the most expensive hotel in the city ....”

“Well, go on then if you’re so set on it. Obviously there’s nothing I can do to stop you, but Vincent, be careful.”

“Don’t worry.” Vincent kissed his father’s head and turned to walk out.

*****

Catherine and Charles entered the ball fashionably late. They grabbed champagne and made small talk with old friends. It was a wonderful party. There were many people they both knew, and they soon split up to go with their own friends.

Catherine walked up to a couple standing off to the side. “Gloria, Steve, it’s good to see you again.”

Steve looked at Catherine. “It’s good to see you too, Cathy. We haven’t seen you since ... oh what was it?”

Gloria smiled. “The night of Elliot Burch’s art donation.”

“Oh yeah.” Steve nodded.

Gloria leaned into Catherine and teased her. “You and Elliot got close that night.”

“Yes ....” Catherine wistfully looked away.

Gloria realized the gossip columns must have been right, and she felt bad she had brought it up. She could tell it upset Catherine. “Well maybe next time.”

Steven tried to lighten the mood. “Hey, Jack’s here tonight.”

Catherine smiled as she looked around. “Really, I’ll have to find him and say hello.”

“Cathy?” a woman’s voice called out from behind her.

Catherine turned towards the familiar voice and smiled. “Will you excuse me?” she asked Gloria and Steve.

She turned back to the woman who had called her and smiled. “Hi Marie, you look wonderful.”

“You do too.”

Marie’s husband walked up, and Catherine greeted him. “Hi Jeff.”

“Hi Cath.”

She visited with her friends. Conversation flowed easily around them despite the fact that they hadn’t seen each other in a while.

Charles walked up and was standing near Catherine when Mr. Brennan, a friend of his, came over and looked at Catherine. “I was going to introduce your father to Brigit care to come along?”

Catherine jumped at the chance. “I’d love to.”

Mr. Brennan brought them over to Brigit’s bodyguard. He inspected Charles costume sword apologizing for the inconvenience, explaining that there were threats against Brigit’s life.

Charles and Catherine were immediately concerned. Brigit chose that moment to enter into the conversation. Ever gracious, she diffused their concerns. Charles was called away, and Catherine was left alone with Brigit.

Brigit smiled. “I like your mask. I wrote a story about an owl woman once, just a little fable for children.”

Catherine nodded. “Well…children of all ages. I read it just last year and I loved it.”

Brigit looked at her in disbelief. “Did you now? It’s not easy to find that one.”

Catherine rushed to explain. “It was given to me by a friend. A very special friend. You have a real gift … I only wish you wrote more children’s stories.”

“I wish I could, but there are darker things than ghosts in Ireland now, and you can’t hear the fairy music through the gun fire.”

Catherine smiled weakly at her and tried to change the subject. “It’s a lovely party. What a magical night this is.”

Brigit nodded. “Saowen. The night when the walls between the worlds grow thin and the spirits of the underworld walk the earth.”

“What a wonderful description of this day.Halloween was always one of my favorite holidays. It’s a chance to pretend … to escape the realities and dream of another life.”

“Aye … it was my husband Ian’s favorite day as well. I almost made them reschedule this party when I found out the theme but then … I remembered how much Ian would have wanted to be here … he would have loved it. ‘Tis a bittersweet day for me.”

“I understand ... I recently read 300 Days.  It was beautiful.”

Brigit nodded. “Aye ... but sad.”

“Sad, yes, but it touched a deep part in me. I love your work. For the first time in my life I feel ....”

She stopped abruptly in shock. She had glanced up and Vincent was walking in the patio doors. “Oh my God it’s Vincent! What’s he doing here?” she wondered. Just then a couple danced in front of her, blocking her view; when they passed she looked again, but he was gone.

Brigit saw Catherine’s shocked glance and asked curiously. “Catherine, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing, I just thought I saw someone I knew. Would you excuse me?” 

Catherine put down her champagne flute and hurried off. She scanned the room for Vincent as she made her way to the balcony. Not seeing him she went out the door she saw him enter. She knew she was not mistaken! She had seen him here! “What is he doing here?” she wondered. She was also concerned for his safety. It dawned on her that no one would think to question him because everyone had a mask on tonight. Still she worried that a problem might arise, and she wanted to be near him if it did. She walked around the balcony looking for him and quietly calling his name.

Unbeknownst to her, Vincent had entered the party. He was walking around slowly absorbing his surroundings. This party was amazing. No expense was spared, no detail overlooked. The decorations were spectacular, the costumes elaborate. A waiter offered Vincent champagne, which he refused. Another waiter came up right behind him and offered him Beluga caviar. Vincent was astounded. “Caviar,” he thought, “Beluga Caviar all the way from Russia?!”

Vincent made his way around the room. He finally spotted someone whom he suspected must be Brigit. She was dancing, and he continued to watch her, hoping to catch her eye.

Brigit was enjoying her dance, although she had the oddest sensation someone was watching her. She looked around and saw Vincent staring intently.

As the song ended she walked over to Vincent. “Intriguing!” she thought. As she approached him she realized that the face she looked at was not a mask. These features belonged to this man and they fit him perfectly. “He is fascinating,” she thought, “and beautiful.”  She wondered briefly why she had no fear of him, only curiosity.

“Brigit O’Donnell?”

“Herself,” Brigit supplied.

Vincent apologized. “I didn’t mean to interrupt your dancing.”

“An act of mercy, Thomas is a good friend and a brave man, but a dancer he’s not!” Brigit chuckled. “Extraordinary! You look as though you might have ridden with Cuchulainn, or sailed with Theseus.”

Vincent shrugged. “Only in my dreams, and sometimes in books like yours. Your writing has helped me through dark times. You’ve touched me, made me think. I just wanted … to tell you ... to thank you.”

“Come. Thank me outside.”

Vincent was surprised and pleased by her request and led her outside.

As Vincent and Brigit walked out, Catherine was back inside and scanning the room. She spotted them leaving out the balcony doors. “It was him! What is going on?” she wondered.

As she started to follow them, she was stopped by a pirate asking for a dance. She wanted to decline but then was struck with the thought that Vincent had a chance to meet Brigit, and she didn’t want to deny him his time with her. She accepted the invitation and let the man lead her to the dance floor.

*****

Brigit and Vincent walked on the balcony. “Shall I guess at your name or will you be telling me it?”

Vincent looked at the ground embarrassed he had forgotten to introduce himself. “Vincent.”

Brigit raised her eyebrows. “The Conqueror?”  Vincent shrugged and they continued to walk. “The night has a special logic to it, don’t ya think? This night especially.”

Vincent nodded. “Halloween.”

“In the old religion they called it Saowen. It’s the night when the walls between the worlds grow thin and the spirits of the underworld walk the earth, a night of masks and bale fires, when anything is possible and nothing is quite as it seems. Your city has its own magic as well. The lights, towers, listen to it!” She paused and proceeded slowly. “In Derry, the night has a darker music, bombs, gunfire, the screams of dying men.”

“Yet you always return.”

Brigit nodded. “Oh I’ve thought of leaving; but Derry’s my home, and whatever else I might be, I’m still a bog side girl, me father’s daughter, and me husband Ian’s widow.”

“When you wrote of Ian in 300 Days, I almost felt as if I knew him. You made him live again with your words.”

“It’s been two years since he got into that car, and not an hour has passed that I have not spoken of him, written of him, thought of him.”

“I don’t want to awaken painful memories.” Vincent offered apologetically.

“Oh it hurts ... it hurts ... but it’s such a sweet pain. Ian and I were born six straits apart and yet in different worlds. A stiff necked orange man and a croppy girl from bog side we were. Daft enough to fall in love but not so big a pair of fools that we thought he could live in my world or me in his. So we tried to create a new world that we could share together. Well you know how that ended. It could’ve been me you know ... there are times … when I wish it had been.”

“Ian truly loved you. He wouldn’t have wanted it to be you. Besides, you must have been meant to accomplish other things, dream other dreams.”

As they walked, Brigit talked of her father. She told of the promises he had made to her to show her the city of New York.  Promises he never kept. She talked of how she disappointed him falling in love with Ian. How he cast her out, disowning her. She shivered in the darkness.

Vincent noticed her shiver. “You’re cold?”

“Cold? No! Why it’s not but a brisk fall evening. But I’d borrow your cloak if you’re willing to lend it?

Vincent startled for a second. “My cloak?”

“Thomas and the others … they’d give their lives for me, and I love them for it; but sometimes I want nothing more than to just get away them for a few hours.”

“They’re only trying to keep you safe.

“Ohhh … I’m sick of the death of safety. I look at the city, and I want to touch it, to walk its streets, meet its people, and listen to its music. I want to see all the things my father told me of, but I can’t. Can you imagine how that feels?!”

“Yes.” He knew exactly how she felt. How trapped a person could feel.
Vincent hesitated, unsure about giving up his cloak, the only weapon he had to hide his features. “Did she know what she asked?” he wondered. He looked over at Brigit again, he couldn’t deny her. With a sigh, he removed his cloak and wrapped it around her shoulders.

“If you wish, meet me in front of the building, I would be honored to show you the city.”

“Aye, I should want for nothing more. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

*****

Catherine had a pleasant dance with Donald Pratt, the man who had approached her as she started after Vincent and Brigit. He told her he had mistaken her for Brigit. He explained how he had bribed the butler who told him Brigit wore an owl mask. They laughed about the incident.

“So what do you do when you’re not a pirate?” Catherine asked.

Donald chuckled. “I’m still a pirate. I’m a lawyer in a firm.” Catherine giggled at his joke. “And you?” Donald asked.

“I am also a lawyer.”

Donald was impressed. “Oh! Beauty and brains, that’s a lethal combination.”

She looked down and blushed at his remark. Just as she looked up again, someone ran past her wearing what looked like Vincent’s cloak. She spun as his unique scent assailed her senses. It was definitely Vincent’s cloak. “Who is wearing it? What is going on?” she thought. “This is the strangest night!”

Making her excuses to Donald, she turned and followed the person in the cloak. Donald could tell something odd was going on and followed Catherine.

They caught up with the person wearing the cloak. Brigit waved as the elevator doors closed on her. “Where is she going?!”  Catherine wondered. She wanted to find Vincent and Brigit, she tried to leave Donald behind but he wouldn’t hear of it. He grabbed her arm and steered her towards the steps planning on going with her.  

*****

Vincent had come down on the fire escape and came around the side of the building to meet up with Brigit in the front of the hotel. He escorted her into the park.

Brigit turned to him as they walked. “I’m beholden to you Vincent. You cannot know what this means to me ... or ... perhaps you can at that. Will you be telling me of her then?”

Vincent looked baffled. “Of whom?”    

“Your lady, the one who’s breaking your heart.”

Vincent looked at her in surprise. He knew at the party that she had realized that he was not wearing a costume and that his unusual features were his own. She had overlooked his appearance and come with him anyway. Did she honestly believe someone like him had a woman in his life?

Brigit tried to draw him out. “Aye, you didn’t come to me just to say you liked me books. Something about Ian and me struck close to home.”

Vincent relented; it would be good to have someone else to discuss Catherine with. But he hesitated; he had never discussed his feelings about Catherine with anyone. He wondered why he felt so comfortable discussing them with Brigit.

“She brings me … such joy and such pain … as I have never known. I have no place in her world, and she has none in mine. Our bond endangers ... everything! People I love, secrets I’ve sworn to keep, beliefs I’ve lived by.”

Brigit nodded. “Aye, that sounds like Ian and me, sure enough. They don’t understand do they? Father raged .…”

Vincent clearly understood how that felt, and he wondered how she found the strength to ignore parental pressure. “Yet you went on in spite of everything?”

“Oh, yes. We went on until he died for it. Are you asking me for counsel then? Forget you ever knew her and you’ll both be happier.”

Vincent shook his head. “You wrote that the price of your love had been high, but that you would pay it willingly until the end of your days. That you would change nothing. Regret nothing .…”

“That’s damned unfair of you, you know, quoting my own words back at me again, after I gave you all that good advice. The brain tells you all the sensible things to do; but the heart knows nothing about sense, and the heart is as stubborn as the Irish.”

“She is everything to me, but she comes from a different world. She is beautiful, elegant, and wealthy, and she knows me and cares for me despite it all. She has everything I need, and I ... I have nothing to offer her.”

“Aye … but she has your love then?”

Vincent had never said those words about anyone other than his family. He was surprised that he was so sure about his feelings. “Always.”

Brigit shook her head. “Why then do you feel that ‘tis not enough? Has she asked for something more?”

“She’s asked for nothing. I’m not even sure how she feels about me. I don’t dare dream for anything more than the friendship I already have.”

Brigit touched his arm. “Vincent, If she can see past all that you are and still welcome your friendship, her feelings are strong ... she may not even be aware of them yet. Maybe she doesn’t realize that she loves you already.”

Vincent shrugged then snapped to attention when he heard the breaking of twigs from within the tree line. Someone was out in the darkness, stealthily coming closer. He placed Brigit safely behind a tree while he circled back behind the intruder. With a low growl, he knocked to unconsciousness a man in a clown costume who was sneaking up on them. He ran to Brigit’s side to see if she was okay.

*****

Not far behind them, Catherine and Donald had exited the building. The doorman informed them Brigit went into the park with a man in a cat mask. He told them a man in a clown costume followed them as well. Catherine tried to leave Donald behind again, and again he refused to let her go on alone. As they walked in the park, they heard a roar come through the trees.

They hurried and came across the man dressed as a clown lying on the ground. Donald bent to feel for the man’s pulse while Vincent and Brigit stood down the pathway watching. Catherine and Vincent’s eyes met and she smiled, relieved he was okay. Vincent knew she would call the police so he turned and left to go home. Brigit noticed the exchange between them. “In their eyes is the same look Ian and I once had,” she thought.

Donald walked up to Brigit. “Brigit O’Donnell, I presume. What happened to the other guy?”

She smiled knowingly at Catherine. “He had promises to keep. But I’m thinking he’d rather have stayed.”

“Brigit is very observant,” Catherine thought as she nodded imperceptibly then smiled back.

Donald told the ladies he was with Interpol. They knew about the threat against Brigit and he was sent to protect her. He would handle the arrest of the clown. Catherine surprised him yet again when she told him she worked for the DA’s office.

“Damn, this complicates things,” Donald thought as he brought his car around and they loaded up the man. Brigit knew the man in the clown suit well, his name was Michael McVey, and he was a friend of her father’s.

While Donald drove the car, Michael slowly woke up. He argued with Brigit about her father. He said he was sent to get her and bring her to Sean. “He’s dying,” he informed Brigit.
Shocked at the news, Brigit sat worrying.

Catherine glanced up and realized they were going in the wrong direction. She questioned Donald who sent the car into a tailspin and entered into a parking garage. At gunpoint, he ordered everyone out of the car. He ordered Michael to empty his pockets, and as he did, a hotel key landed on the ground.

“My name is Jamie Harland. William Harland was my brother. Three people executed him. I killed one of them a year ago. Brigit was to lead me to Sean O’Donnell. You, Michael McVey are a bonus.”

He shot Michael down in cold blood.  Brigit screamed in despair as Catherine hugged her to her chest to comfort her. Michael turned and ordered Catherine to drive them to Sean’s hotel room.

*****

Upon entering the hotel room, Brigit ran to her father’s bedside. Jamie pointed a gun at Sean saying he came to kill him, to avenge his brother’s death.

Sean laughed and shrugged indifferently. “I’m dying anyway.”

Jamie sneered and told Sean he would see his daughter die first. Catherine watched intently and knew this was going to turn out badly. Jamie would not leave witnesses.

As he traded insults with Sean, Catherine moved within striking distance. She threw alcohol in Jamie’s face, stunning him long enough so she could grab his arm. They struggled and she managed to get him to drop the gun on the bed.

Sean grabbed it immediately and pointed it at Jamie. Brigit stepped in front of Jamie hollering at him, demanding that the killings stop. Brigit told her father to shoot her too. Sean knew he could never shoot her, defeated; he dropped his arm back down.

Jamie drew a knife and grabbed Brigit, holding her like a shield in front of him. When they reached the hallway, Vincent who had been drawn by Catherine’s fear, grabbed Jamie, tore the knife from his hand and threw him against the wall before he fled out the window.

After her call, the police came quickly, and Catherine immediately approached the lead officer. “I’m Catherine Chandler. I’m with the DA’s office.”

“Evening Miss Chandler, I’m Officer Doug O’Neil, 2nd District.”

Catherine smiled ruefully at her costume. “I don’t have my ID with me …”

Doug chuckled. “That’s okay, I’ve heard some stories about you …”

“About me?”

“My cousin is one of the union workers on the docks …” 

Catherine nodded as she thought of her most recent case. “Doug, this man’s name is Jamie Harland. He tried to kill us tonight. He did kill a man earlier in the parking garage at the corner of Monroe and 8th. Mrs. O’Donnell and I were witnesses to it.”

Doug jotted down notes while his partner took care of Jamie. “Okay … are both of you all right?”

“Yes.”

An ambulance had been called, and they needed to load Sean onto a gurney.

“Will you both wait downstairs for us?”

“Of course,” Catherine said as she prompted Brigit to walk into the hallway.

Neil, the second officer stepped up to her. “Jamie Harland, do you know what happened to him? He claims someone attacked him from behind and threw him to the floor?”

Catherine shrugged and shook her head. “I was inside the room. I’m sorry. I didn’t see anyone.”

Neil looked at Brigit. Knowing she had seen Vincent attack Jamie, Catherine looked at her worriedly.

Brigit looked up at the officer. “Aye, I was in the doorway, but I didn’t see anyone either.”

Catherine walked over and squeezed Brigit’s hand in thanks. They walked outside and Catherine glanced up to the rooftops, hoping to see Vincent. She saw him and smiled up to let him know they were all right.

The officer left with Jamie in custody, and the ambulance took Sean to the hospital.

Catherine looked at Brigit with sympathy. “I can arrange it so you can be by your father’s side.”

Brigit agreed, and Catherine explained to her how Sean would be arrested for the charges from his past crimes. Brigit explained that she knew, but she looked forward to the small amount of time they had left together.

Catherine led Brigit to Doug’s side. “Doug, can I ask a favor?”

“Sure, what can I do for you?”

“Can you give Brigit a ride to the hospital?”

“Yeah, I’m on my way there now to question her father.”

Brigit smiled and turned to Catherine. “Thank you, and thank Vincent for me too; I’m sure he’s still close by…waiting for you.” Brigit smiled knowingly. “Please tell him I enjoyed our evening.”

Brigit went to leave then turned back to Catherine. “Vincent and yourself remind me a lot of Ian and me. It’s going to be a rough road, but then love always is, isn’t it?”

Catherine smiled knowingly and watched as Brigit left.

*****

Catherine turned and looked up towards the rooftops but couldn’t see Vincent any longer. Sadly, she looked back down and smiled to find he was standing in front of her.

She assured him everything would work out for Brigit. He nodded with relief then turned to leave but Catherine held him back.

“Don’t leave! Brigit told me this is a special night, Saowen. When the walls ....”

“When the walls between the worlds grow thin and the spirits of the underworld walk the earth,” he interrupted her smiling

She smiled back warmly. “Vincent, we can’t waste it!”

He agreed and turned as she grabbed a hold of his arm. She held it tightly while they began to walk.

“Vincent, I was so surprised to see you there tonight.”

“I ... wanted to tell Brigit how much her writing meant to me.”

“She’s wonderful isn’t she? You’ve read 300 Days then?”

“Yes, It ... spoke to me.”

“I know what you mean. What they endured ....”

Vincent finished her thought. “Took great strength.”

“Yes, and a great love.”

Vincent hurriedly changed the subject. “I was surprised to see you in the park. I was so wrapped up in meeting Brigit that I didn’t know you were at same the party. Later, I ... sensed your presence, but with the masks and your long hair I guess I missed you; and by then Brigit had asked me to take her out to see New York.”

Catherine felt uncertainty come crashing down around her. “So if it wasn’t Jamie trying to kidnap her, you would be spending your night with Brigit instead of me.”

He sighed aloud and reached for her hand. “I would have enjoyed spending time with Brigit but this night … this time with you … is a dream come true.”

Catherine smiled and held tightly to his arm as they walked the streets, acting like tourists.

An older couple slowly walked by, and as they passed they talked quite loudly.

The old woman’s wobbly voice carried through the air. “I remember when we used to look at one another like that.”

The old man laughed. “Whatta ya mean?! We still look at one another like that!”

The woman giggled. “You old fool!”

Catherine smiled as Vincent blushed. Her hands were cold so she put them inside the sleeve of his cloak.

Soon enough, they came to stand in front of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

Catherine stared in wonder. “It’s beautiful, Vincent. The architecture is amazing. It always astounds me that these buildings lasted so long. I wish I could remember when they said it was built? I think it’s just over a hundred years old.”

Vincent looked at her. “James Renwick laid the first brick in 1858. It opened its doors in 1879. It’s an example of the gothic ecclesiastical architecture that was popular in Europe in the 1300’s.”

Catherine smiled up at him with surprise. “Really?”

Vincent shyly nodded. They stared at the beautiful building for a while longer, then Catherine held his arm and they continued walking.

They walked and came upon a street vendor selling warmed almonds and cashews.

“Ooh ... would you like some?”

“I’ve never .…”

Catherine dug through her small purse and grabbed money. “It’s not ice cream, but it’s a good substitute.”

Catherine had referred to the dream she had shared with Vincent not so long ago.

He smiled and looked down. “I wish I had the money to make your dream come true .…”

Catherine slipped him the bill and smiled. “It doesn’t matter where it came from, only that you buy it for me.”

Vincent bought two packages, and they ate and walked further through the city.  They came to stand by the gilded statue of Prometheus in front of Rockefeller Center.

Catherine shook her head ruefully. “I’ve forgotten so much of what I learned in mythology. I only remember Prometheus as the one who was tied to the rocks, and there was something about an eagle that came every day and ate his liver.” Catherine made a face of disgust. “I can’t believe they made a statue for that. Do you remember who Prometheus was?”

“Prometheus was called the benefactor of mankind. He was a Titan who fooled Zeus. Because of this, Zeus was furious and punished all of mankind and took away the gift of fire. In defiance of Zeus, Prometheus stole the fire and brought it back to the people.”  

“Oh yeah, now I remember.” She nodded then thought to herself, “He’s a wonderful tour guide; he knows more about the city than I do, and I live in it!”

Vincent continued to explain things to her and told her stories she had never heard before.

They walked towards the park and Catherine looked up and pointed excitedly. “Oh, Vincent. Look! Will you take me for a carriage ride?”

Vincent looked away, ashamed once again. “Catherine ... I have no way to pay for such an extravagance.”

Catherine was horrified that she blurted it out without thinking first. “Vincent, I’m sorry. I never dreamed of asking you to pay. I certainly never meant to embarrass you. I only thought about how nice it would be to share a ride with you.”

Vincent could see that she seemed truly disappointed. “Catherine, if you wish to go, I would gladly share a ride with you.”

Catherine led them towards an open black carriage with a big bay gelding. When they stopped in front of the horse, the driver hopped down and approached Vincent. “Awesome mask, Mister. You taking the little lady for a ride tonight?”

Vincent nodded shyly. “Yes.”

The guy pointed to a sign advertising his rates. Catherine glanced at them then back to Vincent. “I’d like to go for the full hour wouldn’t you?”

Vincent seemed astonished at the prices and didn’t answer.

The driver answered for him. “An hour it is then!” He held out his hand to Vincent expecting to be paid.

Catherine came forward and smiled ruefully. “I have his money, tonight. No pockets!”

The driver nodded in understanding. “No one ever thinks about that when they’re choosing costumes.”

She reached into her purse and dug out the cash then handed it to the driver. Vincent gratefully took her hand and led her to the carriage then helped her inside.

The driver took off, and as they rode, they took in all the sights of the city. Vincent impressed her further with more knowledge of the buildings they saw.

Halfway into the ride they turned towards Central Park. Catherine shivered in the night air and Vincent noticed a blanket and tucked it around her while the driver offered them a mug of hot chocolate before he set out into the park.

Vincent put his arm around Catherine as she snuggled under the blanket and scooted herself closer to his side. As the bay gelding pulled the carriage through the park, they enjoyed the moonlit night.

While in the park, Catherine thought of the world Below. “Vincent, did the children like their treats?”

Vincent nodded. “You were extremely generous, Catherine. They all wanted to thank you.”

She shrugged. “I used to trick-or-treat for hours. My dad would hide my candy so I wouldn’t eat it all at once.” Suddenly a thought crossed her mind. “Was Father pleased that I sent more toys than candy?”

Vincent’s face took on a pained expression that he immediately tried to cover. Catherine however saw it and chewed her lip worriedly. “Please tell me what he said, Vincent.”

Vincent sighed, unwilling to hurt her. “He thought you spent too much money. But I know he was happy about the usefulness of some of the things. The adults liked the candy you provided for them. I ate three pieces of chocolate. The ones with the milky center are really good.”

Catherine looked at him and giggled. “I never thought about you liking chocolate. Most guys don’t eat sweets.”

Vincent looked shyly at the seat. “Sweets are not often available. I can’t help myself when they’re offered. Father also appreciated the marshmallow ghosts. ”

Catherine nodded and took a sip of her hot chocolate. Vincent smiled at the taste of his own hot chocolate, it was a luxury not often afforded below.

Catherine buried her hands inside Vincent’s cloak and tried to find comfort in his warmth.

The driver went by the bandstand area and there was a concert going on. Catherine asked him to stop with a promise to pay him for the extra time. They snuggled down and listened to a rendition of the Grieg’s Piano concerto.

The concert ended and the driver took off again, the ride ended too soon and they went back and walked the streets once again. Vincent showed her the art museum and the government buildings.

The night air grew colder, and Vincent felt Catherine shiver. He knew she was trying to hide the fact that she was cold and he quickly wrapped his cloak around her. It was still warm from his body heat, as she gathered it closer letting his scent envelop her. She smiled up at him and they continued walking.

Eventually, they ended their walk back in the park.

Catherine turned to him. “Vincent, this night has been one of the best nights of my life. I can’t thank you enough for spending it with me.”

“Catherine, it is I who should thank you. To spend any time with you means so much to me. Now it’s dawn, and the magic will end soon.”

“Time to go back to our worlds.”

They walked and sat on a bench by a bridge. Catherine reached over and held his hand as they watched the sunrise come up over the water.

Vincent turned and looked into Catherine’s eyes. “I’ve lived here all my life, and yet it’s as though I’ve never seen the city ... until tonight.”

“You’ve seen so much of the violence and hatred of my world. I wanted you to know that there is beauty as well.”

“Oh, I know that, ever since the night I found you, Catherine.”

They leaned towards each other, neither knowing quite what they were doing, just wanting to be closer.

A jogger came by and interrupted the mood.  “What the?? You gave me a real scare. Hey, man, Halloween was yesterday.” With a chuckle, he left to continue his run.

Vincent stood up and pulled his hood over his head. He turned to Catherine and shrugged. “Goodbye.”

With a resigned smile, he turned and walked away.

Catherine turned and watched him leave. She smiled as he walked away, then she sat back and let her thoughts wash over her.

She had a wonderful time tonight. Vincent was an incredible date. What did she feel for him? What did he feel for her? Were they more than friends? What did she have to offer him? When he leaned into her just now was he going to kiss her? Did she want him to kiss her? Where would that lead? Would it ruin their friendship?

She couldn’t stand the thought of losing his friendship. Maybe she should stop her mind from wandering past the idea of them being more than friends.

With a sigh, she got up and walked home.

*****

Two weeks later, Catherine stood in line waiting to pay her respects at the funeral of Brigit’s father. It was her turn in line and Brigit opened her arms as Catherine offered her a hug.

“Brigit, I’m so sorry to hear about your father’s death.”

“Aye, I’ll miss him greatly. But at least he won’t be standing trial for his crimes. He can rest in peace and meet up with me dear mother.”

Catherine nodded. “That’s a beautiful way to look at it.”

“He’s been missing her for years now. They’ll finally reunite again. But enough sadness. How was your magical night?”

Catherine blushed.  “It ended all too soon, but it was truly enchanting.”

Brigit looked around and leaned forward careful not to be overheard. “And Vincent enjoyed it as well?”

Catherine smiled. “Yes, I’d like to think so. It was the first time we ever spent time together Above, where we were free to enjoy each other’s company.”

“Then it truly was a magical night.”

“I received the shipment of books you sent me. It was kind of you to autograph them all.”

“Aye, it was the least I could do for all you did getting permission for me dad and I to spend time together. These last few weeks were the best I can remember since I was a little girl.”

Catherine reached out and touched her hand. “I’m so happy for you, Brigit.”

Brigit smiled conspiratorially. “Will you be making sure that me special friend gets his as well?”

“Of course. I’m supposed to see him tonight. I planned on giving him a copy then.”

Brigit shook her head. “I wish I could see him one last time but my flight home leaves at eight. Too early for the likes of him I dare say. Tell him I said goodbye.”

Catherine nodded. “I will.”

*****

Later that night, Vincent stopped by Catherine’s apartment. She met him on the balcony with a wrapped package.

“Vincent, this is for you.”

Greatly surprised, he took it from her. “For me?”

He opened the package and smiled. He turned the first page to Brigit’s inscription.

To Vincent,

May the walls between the worlds grow thin more than once a year.

Love, Brigit

Vincent was truly touched. Catherine noticed his mood change and looked at him inquisitively. “May I look?”

Vincent handed her the book shyly and Catherine read the inscription. Catherine chuckled and handed him back the book.

“We can only dream for that to happen.”

Vincent nodded. “Yes.”

 

THE END