WFOL 2017 Fanfiction

Lena's Apology

by ChicagoTunnelKid

 

They stood on the balcony, a light snow falling around them. Catherine was wrapped in Vincent’s arms and cloak; both looked at the city lights that beckoned beyond them. The city was settling into winter, and the holidays injected excitement into the air as the populace hustled beneath them. Were they shopping for presents? Catherine liked to think so.

She sighed. She loved being held by Vincent. It was almost as if they communicated by proximity. The closer together, the more their Bond sang. It was a song she never tired hearing. Every so often, usually late at night when alone, she might wonder what song she would hear if they were to be truly together.  The thought would not linger long, for it would serve no point.

Vincent loved these evenings, when weather drove Catherine into his arms, or, at least, he told himself it was the weather. The night was clear; the lights shone brighter. He felt as if – well, as if the world lay at his and Catherine’s feet, and possibilities were woven in the stars above. Without thought, his arms tightened in a hug, and he felt her pleasure in it.

They lost track of time, and neither had spoken for long enough to not know how long it was. Such was their joy in being wrapped in each other. But Vincent had remembered he had a message to deliver.

“Catherine?” he inquired, mostly to rouse her.

“Umm.”

“I was asked to deliver a message, which I must do before I forget, and you make forgetting so enjoyable.” He nuzzled the top of her head. She tightened her arms around his back.

“From the children?”

“No. From Lena.”

That got her attention. She pulled out of his arms enough to tilt her head back from him, and asked, “Lena?”

It had been nearly a year since the naming ceremony for Katie, Lena’s daughter she had named Catherine in honor of Catherine’s help in getting them both a new life. Catherine had seen little of Lena in that year, mostly because Lena was busy with the baby and settling into tunnel life and routine, Catherine assumed.

“Yes, Lena would like you to join her and Katie for a luncheon in her chamber.”

“This is rather out of the blue.” She turned fully to face him, still in his looser embrace. “I haven’t seen Lena other than to wave in quite a while.” She looked puzzled. “The few times I tried to meet with her to check on her progress, she was always ‘busy’ doing something.” She sighed. “I don’t think she wanted to see me. I’m not sure why, though.”

“It has taken some time for her to feel comfortable with us. You know how fast her life changed, and even if for the better, she was a new mother, a young single mother, and had to find her place within our ways.”

“I knew there would be adjustments, Vincent.” She pulled away to walk over to the far end of the balcony, and to return, as if that short of a walk would bring clarity to her qualms. She was beginning to feel the cold now that she was outside the circle of his arms. Her winter coat was warm, but it wasn’t the same. She stepped back into his arms, and laid her head on his shoulder. “I thought I was her friend.”

He gave her a hug, and tightened his hold.

“You are her friend. She knows that. I think ...” He hesitated going further with his thought.

“You think what? Tell me, Vincent, please.”

“I think she might feel you are uncomfortable with her, either angry or unhappy with her.”

“What?” she asked, rearing back from his shoulder. “Why on earth would I be uncomfortable with her, or angry? Everything was fine at the naming ceremony. I can’t think of a thing I did that would upset her.”

“Because of me.” He looked down, not meeting her eyes.  

She studied him a moment. She knew he would never do anything to dishonor her. So what could he mean? It was then that the memory flashed through her mind, of Lena admitting she loved Vincent, and Vincent telling her about Lena’s late night visit to him.

“Has she ever said or done anything since then to indicate her feelings about you?”

He shook his head.  He raised his eyes to hers. “She feels guilty, I think, that she knew about us, our relationship, and still tried to come between us.” He looked up and gazed out over the city. “In her world, she would have been angry if someone had done that to her.”

Catherine looked at his face, thinking that perhaps he shared some of that guilt for the way he handled things.

“Vincent, she was more child than woman then. She didn’t know any better, no one was there for her to learn how relationships work, or how to respect boundaries of others’ relationships. I don’t blame her. Or you.”

He brought his head down to look at her, marveling how she knew him so well.

“Thank you.” His smile slightly bent the corners of his mouth. “Father had said I should have brought you in sooner to help deal with the problem.”

“Lena is not a problem to be dealt with, or handled.” She smiled up at him. “She has never known a love like ours, Vincent, either for herself or from watching someone else. We trust each other. There was no danger to our relationship from her loving you, if you could even call it love.”

‘You’re right. And wise, I might add.” He stood a moment basking in the love he felt for her, and that she felt for him. “Will you go tomorrow?”

“I’d love to.”

***

Shortly before lunch, Catherine wended her way down to the basement, into the tunnels, and to Lena’s chamber. Given her conversation with Vincent the night before, she wondered how awkward this luncheon might be. She hoped she could dispel any discomfort Lena felt, and she was genuinely looking forward to seeing her namesake.

“Lena?” she called just outside her chamber entrance.

“Come in, Catherine.”  Lena stood with Katie perched on one hip, clutching a stuffed rabbit that looked well-loved. On its way to becoming real. Catherine smiled.

She saw a small table set with tableware, and a highchair set up nearby. “I was so pleased to get your invitation, Lena. It’s been way too long since we’ve really had a good talk, and I’ve seen Katie. May I?” She held out her arms to Katie.

Lena nodded, but Katie was eyeing Catherine. Growing up in the tunnels, children quickly learned that many people interacted with children, so babies were rarely clingy too long. But Catherine wasn’t as familiar to her. But after side-eyeing her, Katie leaned into Catherine’s outspread hands.

It was a silly thing, but it pleased Catherine to have Katie’s trust. Lena took advantage and set out the lunch that William had sent her for today. Giving the table one last look, she thought it fitting. She knew Catherine was used to finer things, and while she couldn’t compete with wealth, she could do the best she could.

Catherine glanced over. “Everything looks lovely, Lena. I see William has out-done himself again.”

Lena smiled. She held out her arms to Katie, but she would have none of it. She liked the adoration she was getting from Catherine. Lena asked, “Would you mind seating her in the highchair? She’s taken quite a shine to you.”

Catherine set a slightly squirming Katie into her highchair, strapped her in, and gave her a kiss on the top of her head. She sat down where Lena indicated and watched Lena ladle William’s delicious stew into her bowl. She reached for a slice of the fresh bread and laid it on her plate. Lena finished serving herself and set the tureen on her dresser.

Lena put out some mashed potatoes, and small chunks of meatloaf on Katie’s highchair tray, along with her spoon. Katie dug in. They ate, and talked, mostly about how Lena was finding life living Below. They were finishing with fruit, and Katie began to nod.

“Looks like someone is ready for her nap.” Lena stood up. She wiped off Katie’s hands and face, scooped her up and went to place her in her bed. She tucked her in with a kiss and came back to the table.

She poured a cup of tea for each of them and sat down.  She stared at her cup for a moment. Catherine waited, knowing that the time had come for the reason she was invited.

“Catherine ... I’ve been meanin’ to talk to you for quite a while. I just couldn’t get up my nerve.” Lena looked a little sad and scared.

Catherine sought to put her at ease. “You can always talk to me, Lena. You know that.”

Lena was shaking her head “no.”

“Lena, have I done something to ...” Catherine began.

“No! Not you. It’s me.” Small tears pooled on her lower eyelids, until finally splashing down her cheek. She looked down at her hands, now in her lap, shredding her napkin.

“If it wasn’t for you, I don’t know what would have happened to me. And Katie – she’d be just another foster kid in the system.” She sniffed. “And how did I repay you? I betrayed you.”

“Betrayed me? How?”

“I tried to take Vincent away from you.” She sighed. “He’s like no one I’ve ever met before. Those eyes. A girl could drown in those blue pools.” She smiled wanly. “I made a play for him not once, but twice, even after he told me that you and him were a couple.” She looked down. “I sorta already figured that out. But I didn’t believe it, or want to, anyway. I know he felt somethin’ for me, I saw it in his eyes, just a fleeting look.”

She grew silent. Catherine was thoughtful given her last remark, but knew that Lena had more to say.

“Besides, on the street, any john is fair game, so we girls all go after the good ones, even if the john has a favorite. And you weren’t down here, with him, so I thought, why not me? I’m here, I could give him what he needs. Someone to love.”

“I never had a man refuse me before. What I was offerin.” She looked up, a bit red-faced. “And with Vincent, I meant it different, like a gift, and when he sent me off, I figured I’d really blown it, that he, and everyone else, wouldn’t want me around. That I just proved what I was – a prostitute.”

Lena stood and went to check on Katie. She didn’t need checking, but it gave Lena a chance to collect her nerve and finish what she started. She returned, but rather than sit, she stood near the dresser, idly stirring the remaining stew in the tureen.

“So I ran. And when you run, you go back to what you know, what’s familiar.” She looked at Catherine.

“And then you came and found me. Brought me back, wouldn’t let me quit on Katie, on myself. And I thought about how good a friend you’d been to me, and how bad a friend I’d been to you.”

She sat down, hoping her knees would quit shaking.

“I named Katie after you because I could think of no woman in my life I admire more than you, who would be someone I want Katie to grow up like. And I was being selfish again, but thinking, maybe, it made up for what I did to you.

“Except, maybe you didn’t know what I did, other than admitting to you that I loved Vincent when you found me. Which is bad enough. But then I figured Vincent would tell you because, well, you guys share everything.

“After that, I couldn’t be around you, I felt so bad. But you were always nice to me – you’d wave at me, and I’d duck away. I know you asked folks down here about me. If someone had done that to me,” She shook her head in disbelief.

“Why now?” Catherine asked.

“I’ve got to set a better example for Katie. Heck, these people down here are so nice, and play straight with you.” She looked down, considering whether to go on. Taking a deep breath, she continued. “Besides, I really would like to be friends with you. And that couldn’t happen ‘til I made it right.”

Catherine smiled. “I’d like us to be friends, too. I appreciate your apology, Lena, but I wasn’t missing it. I look at how far you’ve come in such a short time, and I’m so proud that I took that chance last Christmas Eve and asked you to meet me. And you had enough trust in me, when your experience with people taught you to be suspicious.

“You weren’t very familiar with kindness and love. What you felt for Vincent was only a small portion of what love really is, and I hope some day you’ll find love for yourself. But you didn’t betray me as much as you betrayed yourself.”

“Myself?” Lena listened intently.

“After your first visit to Vincent, you knew he and I were in a relationship, correct?” Lena nodded. “So I think you knew what would happen the second time. I think a part of you wanted to sabotage this opportunity at a new life. So when Vincent turned you away, you used that as the excuse to go back to your old life.”

“I could hardly believe my good luck when you brought me down here.” Lena admitted. She sat thoughtfully. “I never had a break before. Growing up, well, it wasn’t pretty. Hitting the streets, life was a constant challenge. Never knew when I’d be beat up, and if it wasn’t by a john, it was my pimp. When I called that suicide number, I just wanted it to be over. I was so tired of fighting. I just didn’t know what to do about the baby.”

Catherine reached out her hand across the table, and Lena extended hers.

“I don’t know who to thank that it was you on the other end. You sounded so nice. I thought, ‘Why not have a nice conversation with a woman who wasn’t competing with me?’ before I leave everything behind.”

Catherine shuddered inside. She had no idea it was that close with Lena when she met her in the diner.

“So when I told you about a place you could go where people cared about each other, took care of each other, it must have seemed like ...” Catherine grappled for the right analogy.

“Like some song and dance to get something from me,” Lena finished for her. “In my world, my old world,” she corrected, “nobody did nothin’ for free.”

Lena gave Catherine’s hand a gentle squeeze. “So, yeah, I guess you are probably right. I was looking for a way out, because it couldn’t be real. And Vincent gave me that excuse.”

Both women sat back, and Lena reached for the teapot and refilled her cup and was poised to do the same for Catherine’s, but she shook her head.

“I still can’t believe it.” Lena stated it plainly. “I’m not even sure I deserved it, but Katie does.” She smiled. “So every day, I try to be a better person, someone Katie can respect.” She glanced down. “Someone like you.”

Catherine was touched. “Lena, don’t make me into some paragon. Vincent and the others Below are a large part of the reason I am what I am now. You couldn’t be in a better place to learn how to be a better person.”

“They are something else, aren’t they?” Lena agreed.

“I hope after today we won’t be strangers. I’d like to see more of you and Katie, help you celebrate your successes.” Catherine stood and Lena followed her lead.

“I’d like that, too. I think you’ve won over Katie!”

The two women hugged.

“Thank you for lunch.” Catherine smiled, turned, and went out of the chamber. As she walked through the tunnels on her way back to Vincent’s chamber, she walked lighter. She didn’t realize she had worried as much as she had about why the young woman kept her distance. Her apology was heart-felt and sweet, but Catherine had no qualms about Vincent.

She suspected, based on what Lena told her, that Vincent hadn’t quite told her the whole story. She felt a low hum of anxiety as she walked closer to Vincent’s chamber. He must be wondering what she told me, Catherine thought.

She entered his chamber to find him seated at his table. He rose as she entered.

“Catherine, how was your luncheon?”

She smiled broadly. “Everything is fine. She felt she owed me an apology.”

“Apology?” Vincent’s head tilted in question. “For what?”

“Well, as we say above, she was trying to ‘steal my guy’ and thought I might have been upset with her.”

She walked up to Vincent and hugged him. With her eyes twinkling, she pulled back to ask, “You are my guy, right?”

He smiled, if possible, with a mixture of pride and embarrassment. “Yes.”

“Good to know!” She stepped back and took the chair opposite the one he was using. He sat to hear her recount.

“She was particularly worried because she went after you not once, but twice, with the second time clearly knowing that you had told her we were together.

“But as she explained, in her previous world, everything was competitive, and no one had claims on anyone.” Catherine stopped, working out how to broach the piece of information that Lena had told her about Vincent’s feelings for her.

“She was confused because she genuinely felt she saw something returned, a look in your eyes, that gave her encouragement.” She looked at Vincent. “Did you have feelings for her, Vincent?”

His head shook “no,” immediately. “There was a moment, I told Father about it, when I felt a pull towards Lena, a thought about being someone else’s possibility.” He stopped, looking at his hands, thinking how to best reassure Catherine. While he didn’t sense worry from her, he did feel a puzzled aspect.

“Catherine, before you, ... I define my life in two stages now. Before Catherine, and After Catherine. I never expected to be anybody’s possibility, had resolved myself to it. Trying to overcome my envy as I watched others Below form attachments, become couples.” He sat silently, remembering those times.

Catherine looked at him with such sadness, to have endured things others never thought about. She reached out and took his hand in encouragement and support.

He spared a moment to look at their hands entwined. “No one had ever accepted me as me, all parts of me, as fully as you did, and looked at me with love as you did. I scarcely believe it, even now.” He looked up to meet her eyes, shining with tears and love, even as he looked at her with such adoration and love.

“With Lena, it was such easy acceptance. She looked at herself similarly to me – outsiders surviving by whatever means they had. She saw a kinship. She saw me look at her with a grateful heart that she could see more to me than just an oddity.”

“You’re not an oddity here Below, Vincent,” Catherine quickly defended him.

“Ever my champion.” He smiled. “Yes, Catherine, I am an oddity, at least. As I thought about it later, I was so different from other men to Lena, someone interested in her, not just in her body. Of course, she would see love when she had seen so little of it in her life.”

He looked squarely at Catherine. “But there was no such feeling on my part. I told her my heart was given to another. It is yours, Catherine, and always will be.”

He stood, and walked around the table to pull her into his arms.

“I never questioned your love, Vincent. But I was curious why you would not tell me of this ‘pull’ you felt before. It’s only natural to find other people attractive.”

“After Lena came back, and we had the naming ceremony, it didn’t occur to me to tell you. I had spoken to Father – it wasn’t something I kept to myself. And, how was I to bring it up, without it sounding ... self-absorbed? It might have caused you hurt for no good reason, so I put it out of my mind.”

Catherine hugged Vincent to her. “Let’s both put it out of our minds. Lena and I are friends again, and she’s over her crush on you.” She looked at Vincent with a saucy smile. “While I will never be over my crush on you. And if, by chance, you think you need to make any amends, perhaps you could repeat that part in the middle?”

“Which part is that?” he asked, one eyebrow cocked up.

“The part where you gave your heart to me.”

He leaned down, touching her mouth with his as he whispered, “Forever.”

 

 

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