By Joan Stephens
At one time, she would have considered herself fortunate to have located an apartment where the balcony opened onto Central Park. Of course, this was before her life had been turned upside down and all her dreams reduced to dust. Now, to stand by the railing and gaze at the green parkland that stretched out before her only brought back to her the bitterness of her homecoming and the loss of everything that she held dear. She was alone among a city of eight million lonely souls and even more alone when she was with her friends. They had families and loved ones.
Four years of fear, isolation, betrayal, and loss had finally coalesced, with the added knowledge of the unthinkable betrayal by the man she loved, into a downward spiral leading to a state of hopeless depression. Her empty days pressed in on her, and the bitter nights crushed her with the return of the dreams that she had had during her long imprisonment at the hands of Gabriel and then her so-called rescuers. Sometimes she wondered if her mind had become unhinged from all the assaults it had suffered.
Her thoughts settled on the one that she felt had betrayed her. It wasn’t fair. He had everything and she had nothing. The pain she felt at his turning from her to another woman colored her thoughts and feelings. She felt as if she was drowning in a sea of despair, and her mind fastened on the one person in her life that belonged with her. But he was living with the author of all her unhappiness. Basically, she wasn’t a vindictive person, and what she decided to do was not for revenge but to put some meaning into her dreary, solitary life.
She charged into his chamber startling him so that he dropped the book he was
reading as he bolted out of his chair. “C - Catherine!” he croaked as if he was
unused to saying her name. He had never thought to see her again even as he
desired that above all else.
She was relieved to find him alone; she didn’t want to face both him and Diana, and she didn’t want Jacob to witness what she knew could become a nasty struggle.
Without a preamble, she boldly demanded, “I want Jacob!”
“W-What?” Vincent stammered, recoiling from the cold intensity of her words. Who was this virago who glared at him spitefully? This was not his Catherine. No, he thought. She could never be his again. He had forfeited that right.
“You heard me; I want Jacob to live with me.”
“But he’s the only thing I have left of you,” he protested.
“No, this is,” she hissed as she threw the crystal pendant that she held in her hand at him. It struck him in the chest, and he automatically grabbed it to keep it from falling to the floor and breaking. He gawked at the crystal dangling from his hand then raised stunned eyes to her icy, emerald ones.
“Give it to Diana or throw it into the Abyss. I don’t care; I never want to see it again.” She watched him fumble it into a pocket of his vest then returned to the reason that she was in his chamber. “I want my son to live with me,” she reiterated.
Wildly he shook his head. “I can’t give him up. I love him.” He couldn’t believe that she would ask this of him. She knew what his son meant to him.
“You can’t give him up, but you gave me up easily enough,” she retorted bitterly.
“I never gave you up. I thought you were dead,” he replied, spreading his hands pleadingly. Blindly he blundered into a trap of his own making.
With a shrewd gleam in her eye, she asked, “Tell me, how old is Rachel?”
He looked at her queerly as if she had suddenly lost her mind. “She’s twenty-one months old.”
“And how long was Diana pregnant?”
“Hmm. Eight and twenty-one make twenty-nine, right?” she asked, meticulously adding the numbers on her fingers.
He nodded slowly as a faint glimmer of what she was driving at began to surface.
“How long is it since my supposed death?” she pressed on as if she was questioning a trial witness.
“Three years, three months, and two days.”
The precise dating caused her to pause for a second, but in her pain and humiliation, she plunged on. “Not even a year, Vincent,” she countered. “You couldn’t wait a year to get another woman into your bed and pregnant. How long had you been sleeping with her?” She shivered as the pain burst anew, raw and bruising, as she remembered the moment her dreams had turned to dust. She was in Peter’s car, being driven home from the safe house she had been kept in until Gabriel’s empire had been destroyed. She was excitedly asking about Vincent and wondering at Peter’s odd reticence. At last exasperated at his grunts and uh huhs, she had asked him what was wrong and he had told her, sparing no details. And what he had told her made a mockery of her struggle to stay alive and return to the man she loved. She remembered that she hadn’t believed him until she saw the pain in his eyes. There had been no easy way to tell her, and it had genuinely hurt him to tell her. With the realization that she had lost everything, she had slid down in the seat and curled into a ball, weeping soundlessly as the miles flowed by under the singing tires, carrying her ever closer to the bleak future awaiting her.
Her thoughts propelled her back into the present, and she gazed at this man she loved and had lost and her anger resurfaced. “You couldn’t even wait a decent interval? How could you?” she raged, stalking back and forth to give vent to her anger. And she wished that she had died, that she didn’t have to suffer the pain of realizing that he loved another.
Her accusations shocked him into silence. When he finally found the words to answer her, she cut him off with, “Tell me, is she better in bed than I was?” She feigned confusion. “Oh, that’s right, I forgot; you wouldn’t remember. You claim that you can’t recall the night we conceived our son. The one you can’t bear to part with.”
“I can’t remember,” he shouted back at her. “Catherine, you go too far. It hurts.”
“Does it really?” she said with satisfaction. “How sad for you. Now you know how I have felt since that night in the cave.” She had never meant to release all the hurt that she had suffered but couldn’t seem to stop. He needed to know and she needed to tell him. “I have been forgotten, stolen, lost, almost killed, set aside, and replaced. But that’s what really hurts. That someone has replaced me in your heart. And now when I want to put some semblance of joy back into my life, you would deny me. Well, I guess I shouldn’t have expected anything else.”
“If I’m reluctant to let him go, it’s because I have already lost that that was most precious to me.”
She snorted disdainfully as he continued, “I can’t lose him too.”
“You’ve changed, Vincent, you’ve become selfish.”
He raised his head and returned her defiant glare. “You’ve changed also. You’ve become hard and unfeeling. This is not like you, Catherine.”
“Can you blame me? I suppose we’ve all changed,” she sighed. “I know I’m not as naive and trusting as I once was.” She continued, her voice gaining strength, “I’ve learned how precious and short life can be. I’ve learned that what seems to be as eternal as the stars is as impermanent as the flames of a fire that burns brightly and then is gone, leaving nothing but ashes. I’ve learned that you can count on no one but yourself and sometimes not even then. If I can’t have what I once thought was mine then I want what is mine.”
He flinched and turned away from her. Have I done this to you, Catherine? Have I destroyed your faith in love? Vincent thought, hearing for the first time what devastation had been wrought in her life. He knew now how much he had hurt her, and he cursed himself again for losing the bond. Attempting to justify himself in his own eyes, he used the old stale, worn-out arguments he had used so many times before. “You have your friends and a life Above, freedom to do and go where you please.”
She shook her head in weary despair. “You’ve never really understood, have you? It’s all meaningless, worthless without y . . .” She flung a hand out. “But that’s water under the bridge. It doesn’t matter anymore.”
“It matters to me,” he said softly, not daring to look at her.
Her head snapped up and she stared at him, unbelieving. “Easy for you to say. You have everything you’ve always wanted: a woman to love, a child, a family.”
“Yes,” he agreed then continued under his breath, “But not with the woman I want.” He pleaded, “Will you allow me to explain?”
With a curt nod, she agreed.
“You were dead, Catherine,” he growled. “I thought I would go mad with grief. Diana was there and comforted me.”
“Some comfort,” she huffed. She took a deep, calming breath, and seemed to wilt, to close in on herself as she confessed, “I guess I thought you would always love me. I never thought your love was so easily given and just as easily taken back.”
“That’s unfair, Catherine. I still love you.”
“Oh yeah, prove it. No, don’t you dare touch me.” She stopped him as he took a step toward her.
“Then how can I prove it? You either know it or you don’t. You trust . . .”
“Trust,” she laughed coldly. “I can never trust you again.”
“You’re being unreasonable, Catherine,” he stated, stalking angrily away from her. She was being deliberately unreasonable.
“I feel unreasonable. I’m off balance. I’m lonely, alone. I have no one and you have Diana, Rachel, and my son. It’s not fair. I want my son; I need him. For the few short years that are left to me, I want to spend them with my son.”
Her words pierced the pall of misery and anger that surrounded him, and frightened, he spun around to face her. “Few short years? What do you mean?”
“This ordeal has taken its toll of me. I feel as if I’m slowly, inexorably fading away. I don’t think I was meant to survive it, and I have nothing to tie me here. I have to have a reason to go on living, and he is the only reason I have.”
He ached to take her in his arms and love all her troubles away, but he dared not touch her. Still, he asked, “What about me?”
Shocked, she looked at him in amazement. “You!? How can I live for another woman’s man? I won’t be the other woman, Vincent.”
“I didn’t mean that,” he protested.
“You’d leave Diana and Rachel. Somehow I don’t think you could do that.” She was fast losing what little strength she possessed, and she sagged against the edge of his writing table.
With a heavy sigh, he agreed, “No, I suppose not.”
“I want my son, Vincent,” she said again, both physically and mentally spent. “Please! Give me a reason to keep on living. Please!’
“But he’s never been away from me. He’ll be afraid. He really doesn’t know you.”
“Then let him get to know me here and Above,” she begged. “Let him find out how much I love him. I won’t rush it. Let me come Below and get to know him.”
“You have never been barred from here,” he demurred.
She laughed brittlely, “Yes, but I’ve never been exactly welcomed, either. It wasn’t my fault that I was kidnapped and almost killed, yet I feel as if I’m being punished for all that has happened.”
“No, oh no, Catherine,” he said brokenly, and with a few short steps, he was beside her. Then she was in his arms, sobbing as if her heart was broken as indeed it was. He had wounded her deeply by his rush into another relationship. It had shattered her belief in their love and reduced her dreams to ashes. She was floundering in a sea of uncertainty with no steady rock to rely on and no foundation for her dreams.
Murmuring, “Forgive me. Forgive me,” he held her tightly, realizing for the first time since her return just how empty his arms had been as his hands roamed over her.
Suddenly she stiffened and pushed him away.
“Catherine?” he questioned, stunned to find himself standing alone. She had quickly put the length of the table between them.
“No, Vincent. You’re not going to change my mind that way.”
“But I wasn’t tr . . . ,” he protested as he took a hesitant step toward her.
Holding her hands up to ward him off, she backed away from him. He gasped as she retreated, pain lancing through his heart.
“Just stay away from me. Don’t touch me. Unfortunately, I’m not like you: I still love you even if I hate you sometimes.”
“You hate me?” His sudden joy at her confession of love withered as she continued.
“Yes. Whenever I think of all that has happened and the choices you have made, I hate you for what you have done.”
He turned away from her as his shoulders slumped in defeat. He could not keep Jacob from her. She needed the child more than he did. “Will I be able to see Jacob?” he asked, dreading the answer. By all rights, she could keep his son from him. He had, unwittingly it is true, done the same to her, even if she had agreed to it. They had taken advantage of her weakened condition and spirit.
A burst of joy jolted her when she realized that he had acquiesced to her demand. “Of course, I would never keep him from you. He needs both of us.” She took a deep cleansing breath of release and added, “I’ll leave now. When can I come down to see him?”
“Whenever you wish. Tap a signal on the pipes and I’ll bring him to you. You can take him to the Chamber of the Falls or to the Park. It would be better that way.”
She nodded in agreement; she certainly didn’t want to have Diana or Father hovering over her shoulder as she got to know her son. Not knowing what else to do, she waited uncertainly. When he said nothing more, she sighed unsteadily. “Ok. Goodbye, Vincent,” she said to his broad, bowed back and hastened out of his chamber.
Hearing the silence, he spun around, but she was gone. Wishing he had said more to explain his actions and to comfort her, he slowly sank onto the edge of his bed and lowered his head into his hands. He’d had no idea that she was as unhappy as she was. Against his better judgment, he had let Father and Diana convince him that she would become accustomed to being without Jacob and that she would find someone else to love. After all, she had friends and relatives Above who could care for her. He should never have listened to them for he had known deep inside his heart that it was wrong. But at the time, he was in a state of shock at her sudden reappearance. It was no excuse, only an explanation. He wondered now if their arguments had been for their benefit alone.
When he told them of his decision, he felt as if the roof had caved in on him. They were adamantly opposed.
Father exploded, throwing his hands around in agitation, “How could you do such a thing without consulting me?”
“I have a lot of time and love invested in that child, and I should have been included in the decision making,” Diana tossed in.
“It will only confuse the child,” Father added.
“You’ll be splitting him in two.”
“What if he accidentally tells someone about us?” Father asked horrified.
It went on like this until Vincent could take no more. “Enough!” he roared. “This is between Catherine and me. Jacob is our son. We will decide.” He literally ran from the library.
Father lapsed into sputtering silence. There must be some way he could derail this project; Jacob must remain Below with his father. He was yet to discover that Vincent was doing exactly what Jacob wanted.
With troubled eyes, Diana’s gaze followed the man she considered her husband as he ran from the chamber. Her fears were for Rachel and herself. She feared, and rightly so, that Vincent’s old feelings for Catherine would flare into life again. She couldn’t know that they had never died. Since Catherine’s return three months ago, he had scarcely touched her. Often he would not even come to their bed, and she couldn’t recall the last time they had made love. Her fears stalked her day and night.
Catherine came Below as often as she could and from the start Jacob loved her as only he could. He had always been aware of her and loved her. Their bond had begun long before the one he had with his father and was deeper and stronger but not yet fully understood by him. It had begun during her imprisonment when she had no one but the child nestled snugly beneath her heart. He had suffered with her all the feelings of isolation and dread that she had lived with for six long months. And he was far older and wiser than his three and a half years indicated. He had known of her unhappiness and had tried to tell the others, but they paid scant attention to him. Their reasoning was that he was only three, after all, and was only now realizing that he had a mother who had left him behind. They misconstrued what he was saying about her, thinking he meant himself. But now at last, he had what he wanted.
A month later, watching Jacob playing in the sand beside the Mirror Pool, Vincent was seated cross-legged beside Catherine who had drifted into an easy slumber just a few minutes ago. It wasn’t long after Catherine began to come Below to spend time with Jacob that Vincent had found an excuse to join them. The excuse that Jacob needed to see that they were still friendly was specious but Catherine never commented on it.
Jacob crawled into his father’s lap and settled down on his stomach on his daddy’s strong, sturdy knee. Reaching over, he patted his mother’s cheek. She smiled in her sleep. “Mama’s sad,” he lisped.
“Yes, she is,” his father agreed.
“Why?” the child asked.
“Daddy hurt her,” he confessed.
Quickly Jacob rolled over on his back to see Vincent’s face. “How?”
Vincent wondered how he could explain something that he didn’t understand himself: how he had drifted–yes, that was the word–drifted into a relationship that had him trapped and kept away from the woman he really loved and unable to tell her so. He decided to be as truthful as possible and tell his son what he thought he could understand. “By living with Diana.”
Jacob stared at him with big, green eyes for a few seconds then said, “And giving Rachel to Diana.”
Vincent gasped. What kind of child had they brought into the world, he wondered and nodded.
“I want to live with Mama,” Jacob stated.
“W-What?” Vincent stammered, caught off-guard by the sudden change in the direction of the conversation.
“I want to live with Mama,” he patiently reiterated.
“But . . .” Vincent had hoped that this moment would never arrive, no matter what he had openly said.
“Mama needs me. She’s alone. You have Rachel and Diana.”
Vincent swooped his son into his arms and held him tightly. “Yes,” he said through his tears, “I have Rachel and Diana.” But not those I really love, Jacob felt through the bond.
Vincent held the child away from him and looked deeply into his eyes. “You’re sure?”
The little boy nodded solemnly then threw his arms around his father’s neck. “Love you, Daddy.”
“And I love you, my son. This is a great sacrifice that you make, and you are asking me to give up much. I am proud of you, Jacob.”
“You love Mama.” Vincent nodded. “I love Mama.” The simplicity of the child’s logic convinced him. Together they would do what they could to ease Catherine’s life until he found a way out of this morass that he found himself in.
“Wake Mama, Jacob, and tell her the good news, “ he said around the lump in his throat.
Jacob crawled over to his mother and sitting on his knees gazed devotedly at her. Before he woke her, he informed his father very seriously, “Mama is so pretty.”
“Yes, she is, Jacob. Both inside and out.” Vincent smiled as Catherine’s son gently woke her.
She grinned up at the serious young face hovering over her. “Hello, Jakie.” The sight of his young face never failed to thrill her. He was such a special, loving child with talents they were only beginning to discover. Right now, there was a most thoughtful expression on his cherubic face, then he smiled as a question came into her eyes.
“Mama, when can I come to live with you?”
Everything went still around her. Even the falls seemed to halt in their noisy cascade. Then she crushed him to her, rocking back and forth. Looking at Vincent through tear-dimmed eyes, she saw him nod slowly. “Are you sure?” she asked them both. She felt Jacob’s nod as he nestled into her shoulder and heard Vincent’s whispered, “Yes.”
“Oh thank you, thank you,” she babbled deliriously, tears streaming down her face. Without thinking, she rose to her knees and hugged Vincent. Startled, he returned her hug hesitantly, and then overcome by his love for her, he kissed her long and passionately. She responded with all the passion for this man that she had held in check. She had needed this for a long, long time. Jacob squeezed out from between them and laid back with his hands laced together under his head, watching something that he knew was right and should be.
A shadow detached itself from the arched entrance and stumbled blindly through the corridors to her chamber. Her fears weren’t groundless. He still loved the mother of his son. As Diana’s face hardened, she resolved that she wouldn’t lose him.
Picking Jacob up, Vincent raised Catherine to her feet. Embarrassed, they couldn’t look at each other. Side by side, yearning to touch but studiously avoiding any contact, they walked to the entrance to the brownstone that she had recently purchased in preparation for the time that Jacob would come to live with her. During the short walk to the threshold, they worked out an agreement for visitations and time to be spent Below. So intent were they on being seen as reasonable that they were at their most sensible. Their goodbyes were stilted and formal, and with a kiss for Jacob, she left them, promising to return in a week to take Jacob to his new home. “I love you very much,” she told him.
“I know; I’ve known for a long time,” he replied then he took his father’s hand and, looking up at him saw the yearning look that Vincent quickly hid when he noticed Jacob looking at him. Vincent glanced around for her but she was gone, and he was left with a burning hollow in the pit of his stomach.
“Well, shall we tell Father about this?” Jacob grinned happily at the thought of the bombshell he was going to drop on his grandfather. Vincent dreaded this confrontation, but with Jacob at his side, maybe Father would be more levelheaded and keep his reservations to himself.
“Grampa will be mad,” the child said, feeling his father’s trepidation.
“Yes, he will be, but we can’t let that stop us, can we?” he asked his son.
“No, Mama needs me, and I will tell Grampa that.” Jacob’s tiny hand squeezed Vincent’s reassuringly as they entered the library.
“Well, where have you two been?” Father asked as he lifted Jacob onto his lap. “Diana’s been looking for you. It seems a certain someone forgot to make up his bed this morning.”
“That was me, Grampa. Mama was waiting for me and I just forgot.”
At the mention of Catherine, Father stiffened and glared at his son, gruffly saying, “Still meeting with her? When will it stop?”
“Today was the last,” Vincent said.
“Good! Now maybe things can get back to normal.”
“I’m going to live with my Mama,” Jacob stated proudly.
“No!” Father shouted, almost dropping Jacob on the floor in his agitation.
Jacob snaked his arms around his grandfather’s neck and hugged him hard, trying to soothe him. “Don’t worry, Grampa. Everything will be all right. I can come Below anytime I want. Mama will let me.”
“Oh, she will; will she? How generous of her,” he said with heavy sarcasm.
“Father,” Vincent said patiently, “it was Jacob’s choice.”
The tunnel patriarch fixed him with a jaundiced eye. “Since when do we allow three-year-old children to make such a decision? You condone this?”
“I was going to suggest it myself only not so soon,” he informed the older man.
“My god, Vincent, I thought we had decided that it was best for him to remain here.”
“I’m afraid that you assumed something I never fully agreed to. When I saw them together, I knew that they belonged with each other.”
“That’s nonsense, Vincent.” Diana stepped into the entryway clutching Rachel in her arms. “Ah Diana, maybe you can help me with these two recalcitrant truants. Jacob wants to go live with Catherine.”
Diana’s eyes swung from Jacob’s innocent countenance to his father’s stubbornly set visage. She knew neither one of them would change. “You’re determined to do this,” she stated. Two heads nodded as one. She turned resigned eyes to Father whose eyes widened when he saw the truth in hers. There was nothing either one of them could do to stop what was happening. This was the future ordained, inexorably unfolding minute by minute, and though they may hate it and want it to stop, it could not be halted, only slowed as they had tried to do, but once set in motion it would grind on until it reached the final maturity of those events that had been set in motion. Father suddenly looked old and defeated. He had fought against fate, destiny, or whatever, forgetting that fate always won. No one could circumvent or subvert future.
“Don’t worry, Grampa. Everything is as it should be,” Jacob reassured him. “It will all work out in the end.” Father gazed at his grandson in amazement. When had the child grown from a toddler into this mature youngster? Clearly he was a child apart: a once in a generation combination of genes that produced the likes of Einstein and others. He had the feeling that Jacob would be more in the mold of Joseph Campbell: a wise and benevolent teacher. He smiled tightly at his grandson, capitulating completely. “If you say so, Jacob.”
Jumping down from his grandfather’s comfortable lap, Jacob went to Diana who had settled into a nearby chair. Gravely, he took her hand. “Don’t be afraid, Diana. Daddy won’t leave you. Mama won’t let him.” Diana and Vincent both gasped but for different reasons. Jacob turned to his father and was once again the little boy they all knew. “Daddy, can I have some ice cream?”
Benumbed, Vincent nodded and, taking the child’s hand, led him from the library.
Father called after them, “Vincent, when will Jacob go to his mother’s?”
“In a week, Father.”
“We have time then,” the older man murmured.
In a daze Diana got to her feet and wandered back to Vincent’s chamber, mulling over Jacob’s words. Catherine would make Vincent stay with her? She wasn’t at all sure that she wanted to be beholden to the other woman. She didn’t want him to stay with her out of pity or because he couldn’t be with the woman he really loved. This new information needed some serious consideration. She would find out for herself if Vincent wanted her or Catherine. Too tired to think any longer, she put Rachel to bed and crawled under the covers, instantly asleep.
On the day Jacob was to go with his mother, members of the community kept
dropping in to say goodbye. They acted as if he was never coming back, and poor
Mouse needed continuous reassurance that they would still be able to go on their
rambles. At last only Diana and Father were left with the excited child.
“Jacob,” Father asked, “Have you thought of what this might do to your father?”
The wise young child looked back at him. “He’ll be fine. He can visit me whenever he wants. Mama won’t keep me away from him as I was kept away from her.”
“Jacob, what a thing to say. Your mother agreed to leave you here with your father.”
“I know that, but she didn’t want to do it. She wasn’t strong enough then to fight all of you.”
“We only did what we thought was best for you,” Diana used the old platitudes to explain something that she knew intrinsically was wrong.
“I know,” Jacob said with childish forbearance. “You believe that, but it still hurt her deeply, and I’m going to make it up to her. I love her more than anyone in the world.”
“More than your father?” Father asked aghast at the child’s statement, but he was unable to get the explanation he wanted as Catherine came in.
“I should have known that you would try something like this,” Catherine’s biting words caught them off guard. They had meant to have this conversation concluded by the time she arrived. “What are you doing, badgering him to get him to change his mind?”
“No, of course not, just making sure that he understands what he’s doing.”
“He’s only a little boy, for goodness sakes. Leave him alone.” She hunkered down and held her arms out to her son. He ran to her and flung himself into her embrace. She looked at Diana, “You, I can understand. You’re afraid you’re going to lose the man you love. I know that fear. That is something between you and Vincent. I make no claim whatsoever.” Then she swung her gaze to the old man. “But you, Father. At one time I thought that you had grown to like me. I doubt if you can ever bring yourself to love me, but at least credit me with some intelligence and love for my son that I would never do anything to harm him. This world is important to Jacob. That is why I bought a house with easy access to the tunnels. But he will learn to live in my world. What he chooses when he is older is up to him, but I will never be cut out of my son’s life again.” She glared at the old man, “Do I make myself clear, Jacob?”
He winched at the disdain in her voice as she named him Jacob, never to be Father to her again. He gathered his ragged dignity around him and said, “I can see that I have grossly misjudged you, Catherine. You are a worthy foe. I hope what you are doing will not come back and haunt you someday.”
“It won’t; you have never understood the bond that existed between Vincent and me or the even stronger bond that exists between my son and me. He has only recently let me feel the full power of his mind. And through him I can sense Vincent’s feelings as he once sensed mine. As Jacob has said so many times, ‘Everything will be all right.’ I believe him.” She picked her son up and turned to the door. “Oh, if you ever want to see him when he’s with me, feel free to visit,” she tossed over her shoulder as she marched with determination out of Vincent’s chamber.
In the week that followed, Vincent tried to convince everyone, including
himself, that Jacob’s absence didn’t affect him. He went about his usual duties
as he had always done: teaching, patrolling the perimeter, chiseling new
chambers. And he never neglected baby Rachel. She was the one, pure light in his
otherwise dark world. When Father braced him one day, he knew he had failed.
Sternly, Father lectured him as if he was only sixteen-years-old, “I told you
this wouldn’t work. You’re not doing your share of the work, your teaching is
not up to your usual standard, and you have made Diana very unhappy.”
“She’s come to you with our problems? She has no right,” he protested.
“She couldn’t go to you. You’re never around,” Father retorted.
Vincent bowed his head, “You are right, but it is my problem and it is up to me to solve it. I’ll admit it; I miss Jacob. He misses me but is happy to be with his mother. He will come down this weekend.” He couldn’t confess which person it was that he missed the most. He had become accustomed to Catherine’s presence, and to his utter consternation, he discovered that he missed her more than Jacob. Jacob, he knew, was only loaned to him for a short time. He would eventually be his own man, but Catherine, even if they were never to be together, was part of him forever.
“One of his infrequent visits that she will allow,” Father griped bitterly.
Vincent rounded on him. “Don’t ever speak of her in that way again. Not in my hearing. You do her a great injustice with your hostility and misjudgment. She knows how much I need to see Jacob, and she even knows how much you need to be with him.”
“Humph!” the tunnel patriarch grunted and changed the subject. “Have you seen Mouse’s new plans for an escalator between the second and first levels? Quite ingenious. Uses water power. But it can’t possibly work, can it?” He queried in disbelief and shoved the plans into Vincent’s hands.
With a relieved sigh, Vincent spread open the plans on Father’s desk and bent to examine them.
After the excitement of going Above and decorating his room to his
satisfaction–much like his chamber Below–Catherine would catch Jacob staring
wistfully at the door to the tunnels. “Are you sorry you came to live with me?”
she asked one night, suddenly afraid that he wanted to return to the tunnels.
“Oh no, Mama, I just miss saying goodnight to Daddy,” he assured her, sensing her fear.
“Well,” she said, loving this little boy even more than she did yesterday and tousling his unruly golden hair, “I think we can fix that.”
“Really, Mama, how?” he asked excitedly.
Taking his hand, she led him to the secret door. “Come with me,” she laughed, “And I’ll show you.”
Jacob skipped beside her, happily on his way to see his father. With his connection to her, his mother could keep nothing from him, but he would never ruin the joy she felt in doing this one thing for him. He kept his knowledge to himself. Catherine tapped a message on the pipes, but Jacob had already sent a call to his father. Catherine never remarked on his sudden appearance but explained that Jacob wished to say good night to him.
Jacob’s father sat on the tunnel floor and pulled his son into his lap. The child nestled comfortingly into his father’s arms and asked about everyone in the tunnels. Catherine leaned quietly against the corridor wall, watching the exchange of information between them. At last, father and son hugged tightly and Vincent rose to his feet before setting Jacob down. “Thank you, Catherine,” he said, trying to hide his love and yearning from her.
“You’re welcome but I was only satisfying a wish of Jacob’s.”
“Nevertheless, it was gracious of you.”
“Mama, can we do this again?” Jacob asked.
“If it is acceptable with your father, I don’t see why not,” she replied.
Vincent was stunned. He had thought that this was a once only event, and he stammered his acceptance. “But I may not be able to be here every night,” he cautioned the child, “I have duties.”
“I know. Others need you, too.” Jacob went to his mother, and turning back to his father, he said, “Good night, Daddy.”
“Good night, my son. I love you. Good night, Catherine.”
“Good night, Vincent,” she said, thinking I love you.
Jacob glanced up at his mother, sensing what she was thinking as he felt the same response from his father. He wondered if they would ever be together.
Jacob met his father every night he could, and on one such night, he
innocently--or so it seemed to his parents--asked if his father could tuck him
in. Catherine stared into space for a minute or two as Jacob and Vincent
impatiently waited. At last, her gaze cleared and she nodded abruptly. With a
whoop of happiness from Jacob, Vincent swept him up and hurried to the hidden
door with Catherine trotting behind.
Situated in the middle of his bed, a very satisfied Jacob smiled happily at his parents, Catherine seated on one side of him and Vincent, who was fussing with blankets and smoothing them over the small form of his son, on the other.
“Tell me a story, Daddy.” Jacob was using any ruse he could to keep his broken family together a little longer.
“A short one,” his father agreed. When he finished, he rose, kissed Jacob, and saying good night to both, he returned Below.
This became a ritual that happened quite often to Jacob’s great joy. He watched the gradual thaw in his parent’s relationship, they even went so far as to initiate several chaste embraces when they met or parted, each not acting on their love and desire. Jacob’s happiness would be completed only when his parents were truly together forever. But they seemed to be content with affairs as they were, not wishing to upset the delicate balance they had achieved in their partnership.
But in the world Below, two people were very unhappy with matters as they stood. Father felt that Vincent was disregarding his duties Below and was spending far too much time at Catherine’s. He had a family here and was neglecting them terribly. And that neglect was making Diana very unhappy. She had become shrewish and difficult to live with. Her tongue had become as sharp as a viper’s and she spared no one. Instead of garnering supporters, she was driving away even those who thought that Vincent was in the wrong. With Vincent, she acted the dutiful and loving, albeit unhappily wronged wife, but in his longing and confusion, he didn’t seem to notice. He still lived with her in his chamber but hadn’t touched her since Catherine had returned.
As he was about to go Above to say good night to Jacob, Diana stopped him. “Vincent, we need to talk.”
Instantly tense, he agreed. “Yes, we do.”
“Now is a good time,” she said. “All is quiet.”
“Yes.” He turned back from the entryway and settled slowly into his large reading chair.
Twisting her hands into a tight ball, she faced him and forthrightly asked, “Do you love me?”
He stared at his hands for so long that she feared that he would never answer. At last, he raised calm eyes to her. “Yes, I love you,” he replied.
She waited for his avowal of deep, abiding love, but it never came. She realized then that his everlasting love had been given to another woman and had always been. He loved her, Diana, but it was a stolid, unsentimental love, bordering on friendship and unfulfilling for him even as it had become the center of her life. Realizing how much of her life was built on a shaky foundation, she sank with despondency onto the edge of the bed. “What now?” she asked, slumping forward to rest her elbows on her knees.
“I don’t know,” he answered. “I only know that this can’t go on.” He thought back to two nights ago, when he and Catherine were parting. Soberly he had gazed at her, drinking in her beauty and the question just naturally came out. “Is there any chance for us?” His audacity shocked him and he couldn’t look at her.
“No,” Catherine whispered, shattering his heart into a thousand pieces that he thought he would never put back together, “too much has happened. The river that separates us has become a raging torrent. I doubt if we can cross it. Go back to the woman who waits for you. Be her husband as you were before I returned.” Those were the hardest words she had ever uttered, completely opposite of what she wanted to say. She was certain that he could sense the pain she felt, but he would never let her know that he did.
“Then you are no longer mine,” he asked, his heart becoming nothing more than a muscle whose rhythmic beating kept him alive.
Tilting her head, she stared into space just above his head, sighing, “I am yours. Forever and always, you have my heart.”
“Catherine,” he breathed and took a step toward her.
Retreating, she said, “I meant what I said, Vincent. There are too many obstacles between us. Go back to Diana.”
“But you once said that together we could overcome any obstacle.”
“Yes, but these obstacles are alive and can be deeply hurt. I will not build a life on the broken dreams of another. We would never be happy, Vincent. Let’s be loving friends and parents to our extraordinary son.”
He had bowed to her unwavering logic and determination and had returned to his chamber. A chamber darkened by her absence.
Standing over Rachel’s cradle, he had thought, Poor child, what kind of life have I brought you into. I hope you can forgive me someday.
Bringing his thoughts back to the present, he gazed at the woman who shared his chamber, realizing anew what a mess he had made of his life and hers. “We can’t continue this way.”
“No, we can’t, Vincent, and it is up to you to do something about it.” She stared defiantly at him, daring him to come up with a solution.
“Forgive me, Diana. I have been unfair to you and our child but that will change. I will be a much better friend than I have been. That I promise.”
“Friend, Vincent?” Slowly she got to her feet and sauntered over to him, never taking her eyes from his. She stopped behind him and he wondered what she was going to do. His answer came as she wound her arms around his neck. Bending down, she sought and found his ear, nibbling on the lobe and blowing gently into it. Vincent shivered with remembrances. This was her way of initiating their lovemaking. He grasped her wandering hands and twisted out of her embrace. He couldn’t; he just couldn’t.
With a look of wounded love in her eyes, she stared at him. Then her eyes narrowed and she whispered seductively, “Can you do it? Live with me as a friend. Can you forget all the wonderful times we spent together in this bed? The wild passion that coursed through our veins? The wonderful serene, satiated way we felt after our soaring release? Can you forget all that?” she asked with the knowledge that he never could. It was the one way she could be close to him, and in the two and a half years they were together, she had become very adept at pleasing him.
“No, I can’t forget, and if you can truly say that it would not bother you to know that each time I make love to you, I will see Catherine beneath me then we can continue on as we have,” he replied, being brutally honest with her to make her understand that their relationship could never be the same as it was.
She shrank back from him and stared at him horrified. “Are you telling me that all these years it was she that you were loving?”
He returned her stare as he nodded his head, hating what he was doing to her but knowing it was necessary to keep her from dreaming impossible dreams.
Her expression hardened into a mask of distaste as she said, “Then I don’t want you back. I want the man whom I thought was my lover and my husband not some sterile friendship.”
“I’m sorry, Diana, but I had to force you to see that it is impossible for us. Forgive me if I’ve hurt you with my words. I will move to a guest chamber. Tell anyone what you please about why we have separated.” He gathered as much of his clothing as he could carry and headed toward the entrance.
“Vincent,” she called after him, “will she be coming down here to live? I won’t live in the same world with her.”
“No,” he said sadly, “I don’t believe she will. This place has brought her too much pain for her to want to live here. She has her house and Jacob. She is content.”
“Poor Vincent,” Diana crooned gleefully, “you’ve lost all around, haven’t you? Rachel, me, Jacob, and your precious Catherine. I feel sorry for you.” She turned her back on him and began to pack Rachel’s clothing into a basket. “Don’t move out. I don’t want to spend another night in this chamber. It was never our chamber; it was always yours.” She threw some of her clothing on top of the baby’s things and marched past him into the corridor.
He watched as she stalked stiffly away from him. He had handled that badly, not with his usual finesse, and he had driven a wedge between the two of them. But he didn’t truly know what else he could have done. She had to be made to see the truth of the matter and not her unrealistic dreams of what could never be. Catherine’s return had not only taken his son away from him but also his daughter. It would be many months before he could heal the breach with Diana. But he loved his daughter as much as he loved Jacob, and he would do what was necessary to win back Diana’s friendship. Maybe, after she had time to think it over, she would see that it was, after all, the best solution. Now she had a chance at a life with someone who could truly love her for herself and not as a substitute for another woman. He wondered about Catherine as he returned his clothing to their proper places. All unwittingly, he had hurt the two women in his life that he valued the most. Where had all his logic and deductive reasoning gone? Why couldn’t he have seen the possibilities for tragedy when he let Diana into his life? He had known deep in his heart that no woman, no matter how wonderful, could ever replace Catherine. Why hadn’t he listened to his heart? Was he so inept at handling the pain of the loss of the woman that he loved more than his life that he had searched for any balm that he could find to heal his broken heart? Surely he was stronger than that. He knew without a doubt that if it had been Catherine, she would never have looked for another to replace him. Her faith and belief in their dream had been much stronger than his. Was he only trying to prove to himself how unworthy he was of any woman’s love? Sinking into his chair, he cradled his head in his hands as these thoughts and so many others crowded through his mind. He had fooled himself into believing that Catherine had made him into a man with her kisses and love and the miracle of Jacob. But what kind of a man was he? In his own mind, he had failed the test of manhood. It was up to him, not Catherine or Diana, to make him a man worthy of Catherine’s love and Diana’s friendship. Mending fences was his first priority but where to begin was the problem facing him. Diana. He would begin with her. He knew that he had Catherine’s love and always would, but Diana’s friendship had been ruined by his harsh words, even if they were said with the best of intentions. But he wouldn’t go to her now. The pain of his confession was too new and raw. She needed time to sort out all her feelings. He would give her that time.
Father stomped in, and pointing his cane at his son, he asked truculently, “What have you done now, Vincent? Mary said that Diana had passed her in the corridor to the guest chambers and her face was as dark as a thundercloud. Have you had another of your arguments?”
“No, Father, we haven’t had an argument.” Vincent raised his eyes to his father. As agitated as the man was, he didn’t know what would happen when he told him that Diana had moved out. After a tense pause, he blurted out, “Diana has moved to one of the guest chambers,” and braced for a storm.
“What! How could you be so stupid?” Father raged. “You have actually driven away the one woman who loves you completely?”
Rising to his feet, Vincent paced away from his angry father. “As compared to whom?” he growled as he turned back to the irate man. “Catherine? You never once believed that she could love me, have you? You have never given her the benefit of the doubt. Never really looked at her. Never got to know the real woman beneath the social polish of her position. Was your loss of Margaret so devastating that you have classified all women of her social class as unworthy and undependable?” As Father opened his mouth to angrily deny the accusations, Vincent waved the older man silent and plunged on. “You have consistently misjudged everything that Catherine has tried to do. She has done everything in her power to gain your confidence, but you stubbornly refuse to give an inch. I tell you now, Father, that you have missed a great opportunity to know a wonderful and caring woman. It is your loss, and through you, the community’s loss as well. She would have helped us much more if she knew that you would have allowed it.”
“She is not for you, Vincent. I don’t care if she has given you a child or not. So has Diana, and she is much more appropriate as a mate than Catherine will ever be.” Father glared at him over the top of his glasses.
“Oh, I see. I’m not worthy of Catherine’s love, is that it? Are you telling me again that I’m only half a man, that Diana is all right as the mate of a half man but not Catherine?”
“You’re twisting my words,” the old man shouted.
“No, I’m not. That is exactly what you are implying.” The younger man raised his hands and, appealing to the tunnel patriarchs noted sense of fairness, said, “Father, do you have any idea of how that belittles Diana? Just because she is from a working class family, she is worthy to be the mate of the beast. And Catherine is too good because she comes from a higher social class. Your logic escapes me, Father. I never knew you were so prejudiced.”
“It’s not prejudice; it’s common sense. Catherine never loved you as much as Diana does,” Father retorted.
“She willingly died to protect me,” Vincent insisted.
“No, she died to protect a book.”
“How can you say that?” The younger man stared at his father in amazement.
“Because it’s the truth,” Father shouted. “Catherine’s life Above was more important to her than her love for you.”
“No,” Vincent thundered, “I wouldn’t let her come Below. She begged me to let her come Below, but I always found a reason for her to stay Above. Usually they were your reasons.”
“And I was right, too. Don’t you know how much Diana loves you; can’t you feel how much you’ve hurt her?”
“No, Father, I can’t. I’m not connected to her as I was to Catherine. Diana is a closed book to me while Catherine was as open to me as a rose in full bloom. Even if we have lost the bond, she is still the other half of my soul, and she will live in my heart forever. I can see that I’ve hurt Diana, but feel it? No.”
“I just don’t understand you,” Father said with a shake of his head.
Vincent shook his head, saddened and disconcerted, “I don’t understand you. Father, what has happened to your compassion, your sense of fairness? What you are saying is diametrically opposed to all you have taught me through the years. You sound more like Paracelsus every day.”
“Well, maybe he was right,” the old man muttered.
With a sharply indrawn breath, Vincent stepped back on hearing these words. “You’ll excuse me if I end this discussion; it is becoming unbearable,” were his parting words as he hastened from his chamber. He needed time, and he needed to get away from Father’s biased opinions.
“No, Vincent, you’re just being obstinate,” he called after his retreating son who was literally sprinting as fast as he could to get away from the man whom he had always thought of as the fairest man he had ever known. My god, when had he developed this hatred for Catherine? At one time, Vincent thought that he was honestly fond of Catherine, but that seemed to have changed with her supposed death and subsequent return. He had actively encouraged Vincent to become close with Diana as if he was trying to obliterate all thoughts of her from his son’s heart. It had been a futile attempt.
Vincent found himself at the hidden door to Catherine’s brownstone. The door was flung open and Jacob rushed into his father’s arms. “Oh Daddy, how could Grampa be so mean?” he cried. He had been inundated with his father’s incredulity and resentment at Father’s words.
“I don’t know, son. It’s as if he is a different person. If Paracelsus wasn’t dead, I would think it was another of his attempts to hurt me and discredit Father. I am at a loss to explain his actions.”
“Is there anything wrong, Vincent?” Catherine’s soft, well-modulated voice came from the doorway to her home. She had felt her son’s agitation earlier in the afternoon and had questioned him. But all he could tell her was that his daddy had been in a dizzying state of rampant emotions. Vincent looked up to see her framed in the lighted entrance like the angel of all his dreams. “I know it’s not Jacob’s bedtime yet, but would you care to come in for a cup of coffee?” she asked.
Gratitude for her compassion flooded through him. How like her to offer a port in the storm for someone cut adrift from the safe harbor of the principles his life had been guided by. “Yes, thank you.” Swinging Jacob up on his shoulders, he ducked through the door, careful not to bump his son’s head. With Jacob seated on his lap, Vincent settled into a chair that Catherine pulled away from the kitchen table. The silence in the kitchen was taut with unanswered questions as they waited for the coffee to perk, and after awhile, they made aimless inconsequential small talk until at last they sat opposite each other with a steaming cup on the table in front of them.
“Would you care to talk about what’s troubling you?” She reached across the table and touched his hand, releasing a torrent of feelings that he struggled to hide.
He told her of his confrontation with Father. Then he said, “I don’t understand him anymore. He’s become a different man: distrustful, argumentative.” Ruefully he added, “Although he has always loved a good argument. But lately it’s become nasty and mean. I don’t know him anymore. I don’t know what to do.”
“Is he ill?”
“I don’t think so.” He gave a frustrated sigh. “But I don’t know; he won’t go Above, even to see Peter. I’ve suggested it once, but he went into a tirade about people who tried to run his life.”
“Could Peter examine him Below?”
“If he will allow it.”
Catherine bowed her head as her shoulders slumped with dejection. “I’m sorry, Vincent. Since I came back, everyone has been unhappy. Perhaps it would have been better if I had stayed away.”
“Not everyone is unhappy, Catherine.” He glanced down at the child asleep in his lap, then at her, his heart in his eyes. “Not everyone.”
She gave him a brilliant smile as she took his words for the message that they meant. “What are you going to do?”
He shook his head several times. “There is nothing I can do but watch him.”
Feeling the pain he felt at the distance that had developed with Father, she asked him, “Would you like to stay for supper? It’s just spaghetti and meatballs, but I have enough for all of us.”
“If it’s not too much bother, I would appreciate it.” He just couldn’t face the prospect of eating dinner with Father after their nasty confrontation. He hadn’t told her about his clash with Diana and that he was alone once again. And he wondered how she would react when he told her what had transpired between them, of his harsh but necessary words, and Diana’s reaction. She would probably feel that he deserved what had happened. He certainly felt that he did.
Jacob woke at this time and smiled to see that his father was still sitting at the table with his mother. He loved to see them together; he hoped it would eventually come to be. “Ah Jacob,” his father whispered as he ruffled the child’s yellow hair, “did you sleep well?” Smiling, he sat the child in his own chair. “It’s almost time for dinner.”
“Yes, little sleepyhead, go and wash up, and I’ll have it on the table when you get back.” With a beaming smile, Catherine watched her son and his father head for the bathroom, hand in hand. True to her word, the noodles, sauce, and garlic toast were sitting there waiting for them to dig in. Vincent tied a napkin around Jacob’s neck, feeling a sudden pang at the domesticity that this implied and his deep regret that it didn’t happen every day. Glancing out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that Catherine had an expression on her face that showed that she was feeling the same pang. She slipped into her place and lifted her fork, nodding for them to begin. After a most enjoyable dinner, simple as it was, he helped Catherine with the dishes, washing them and letting her dry as she knew where everything went. When that little chore was done, they went into the living room, and Vincent read to Jacob while Catherine continued with the afghan she was making, teaching herself how to knit. She laughed self-consciously when Vincent complimented her on the design and showed him how crooked it was.
“A valiant effort, Catherine. You will improve with practice; I’m sure.”
“I certainly hope so,” she said, thinking, How nice it was that they could be together like this as good friends, laughing and joking about common, everyday things.
Jacob’s head began to wobble and she said, “It looks like Jacob won’t need a bedtime story tonight.”
Vincent glanced down at the half-asleep child. “No,” he agreed, “not tonight.”
“Would you like to put him to bed?”
“Oh yes,” he answered gratefully as he slipped an arm under Jacob’s legs and, rising, carried him into his bedroom. Stripping the lax body of its day clothes, he slipped the flaccid arms into the sleeves of the pajama top and pulled the bottoms on. Pulling the covers up, he called out to Catherine, “He’s ready.”
Smoothing his unruly hair back from his forehead, she kissed her son on the cheek, “Pleasant dreams, honey.”
“Yes, sleep well, my son,” Vincent said as he kissed Jacob on the opposite cheek.
At the door they turned to look at their sleeping son. Unconsciously, Vincent slid an arm around her shoulders and Catherine laid her head on his shoulder. They rested there complacently and at ease, when with a start, she realized what she was doing, and she practically leapt from his arms. “He’s a beautiful child, so smart and lovable,” she babbled as they returned to the living room. He had caught her off-guard, and she had melted into his embrace as she always had. Mortified, she wondered what he was thinking.
He was berating himself for taking advantage of her concern for him. How could he have been so crass but how to explain her reaction? She had actually leaned into him. He didn’t know what to think. All he knew was that he loved her so much. How could he live the rest of his life without her friendship and love? Making some kind of excuse–he didn’t remember what he said–he returned hastily to the tunnels much to Catherine’s relief as well as his own. What in the world could they have talked about after THAT? .
Father was waiting for him when he entered his chamber. A scowl of anger and
annoyance covered the older man’s normally pensive face, something that seemed
to occur more and more lately. He lit into Vincent with a vengeance. Berating
him for even thinking of going to Catherine with his problems, he demanded that
he bring Jacob home, seal the tunnel to Catherine’s home, and never see her
again. The fact that Jacob would never see his mother again didn’t seem to occur
Holding his tongue, Vincent had silently listened to the tirade and, when the overly emotional man was through, asked him if he knew what he was doing. “You know what it did to me to live without the love of a mother.”
“Oh, so my love wasn’t enough for you, is that it?” Father snarled.
“That’s not what I’m saying, and you know it. Father, you are blowing this matter between me and Catherine and Diana all out of proportion. You are making something your problem that is ours. We, not you, will work it out. Where is your equanimity and your compassion? You seem to have lost them somewhere.”
“There’s nothing wrong with me. Are you implying that I’m ill or something? Because I’m not.” Father’s voice rose in intensity until he was almost shouting at Vincent.
“Father, calm down.”
“Don’t tell me to calm down, young man. Go to your room.” The older man vigorously rubbed a shaking hand over his forehead, and then grabbing his head in both hands, he bent over. Almost falling, he snatched at the chair nearby and steadied himself.
“I am in my room,” Vincent answered softly as he hastily kept Father from falling.
The tunnel patriarch raised his head. “Oh, so you are. When is Devin expected back?” Suddenly he was the father that Vincent remembered, but he seemed dazed, disoriented, somewhere in the past.
“Father, Devin hasn’t lived in the tunnels for twenty years.”
Thoroughly confused, the old man looked around the room. “There should be two beds in here. What have you done with Devin’s bed?” he asked frantically.
Realizing that something was dreadfully wrong with his parent, Vincent urged him to lie down and, hurrying into the corridor, corralled Kipper who was racing by. “Bring Mary. Something is wrong with Father.”
A look of worry passed over the young face as he took a quick peek into the chamber. Seeing Father lying on Vincent’s bed, he took off at a fast clip.
Vincent cast a worried look at his sleeping father, noticing, not for the first time, the lines of pain that creased his forehead and deepened around his mouth. It was as he feared; Father was ill. When Kipper returned with Mary, he had a note written to Pascal that he gave to the young boy with the admonition that he get it to the pipemaster as soon as possible.
The troubled child raced all the way and shoved the note into Pascal’s hands, telling him it was urgent. He waited there to bring a message back to Vincent.
“I’ve sent for Peter. There is something definitely wrong with Father,” Vincent said to the woman he considered his mother.
“I know. I’ve felt that he was ill for a long time, but he wouldn’t listen to me or let me tell you about it,” the older woman agreed.
“He’s asleep now and I don’t know what he will be like when he wakes up. These past two months have been horrible. He’s been so hard and uncompromising. I blame myself for not noticing this sooner. My problems got in the way. Then just now he was living twenty years on the past. I’m afraid to think of what could be wrong with him.”
“He’s a stubborn old coot, that’s for sure,” Mary said, eliciting a rueful smile from Vincent. “But the community will just have to insist that he allow Peter to examine him. I’ve suggested it a few times, but he always brushed me off. Well, he won’t this time.”
Nervously, Vincent paced in the corridor waiting for Peter to finish his
examination of Father. He halted abruptly when Peter appeared in the doorway
with Mary at his side.
“Well?” the anxious young man asked in a whisper.
“Not here. Let’s go to the library,” Peter said softly.
Standing in the middle of the chamber, Peter looked up into the worried eyes of the tall, leonine young man whom he had known all his life. “I can’t be sure; I’m not a neurologist, but from what you’ve told me, it sounds like a growth of some kind pressing on his brain.”
“No,” Vincent breathed in horror, “Could it be cancer?”
Marry gasped, although the doctor’s words only confirmed her suspicions.
“I don’t know; we need to get him Above and examined by a neurologist. I know an excellent one at Columbia Presbyterian.”
Jacob hurtled into the room, startling his father and the others as he flung his arms around Vincent’s legs. “What’s wrong with Grampa?” he asked, a worried frown on his young face.
“Catherine,” Peter’s voice reflected the joy he felt in seeing his goddaughter enter.
“Hello, Peter,” she said as she reached up to give him a quick kiss on the cheek. “How are you, Mary?”
“Worried,” the older woman answered.
“I know. So am I.” Catherine directed her next words to Vincent. “Jacob was almost frantic with worry. He felt your fear and distress. I had to bring him Below to calm him down.”
Vincent went to his knees to be at eye level with his son. “Grampa is very ill, Jacob. We need to get him to a doctor Above. He needs to be tested, but we don’t have the means to do that here.”
“Oh, but he will get better, won’t he?”
“We’ll do all we can, son,” Vincent said, giving his son a reassuring hug.
After thinking it over, Peter told them what he planned to do. “Keep him sedated until I can talk with my friend. Then we’ll bring him to my office. I’ll have the necessary testing equipment there. If he needs surgery, we’ll have it done as soon as possible. The only problem I see is where he can stay while he’s recuperating?”
“Why, here of course,” Mary said.
Peter shook his head. “That won’t do. He has to be where the neurologist can keep an eye on him.”
“He can stay at our house,” Jacob piped up.
An uneasy silence ensued. Catherine cleared her throat. “Ah, if you think he’ll allow it, it’s all right with me.”
“Since I’m not home very much, that’s probably the best place for him,” Peter commented.
“All right, it’s decided. I’ll bring him to his own bed. He’ll be more comfortable there.” Vincent hurried to his chamber.
Father was still asleep when Vincent settled him into his bed. The old man’s appearance shocked Catherine. In her anger and resentment at his treatment of her, she had not noticed the lines and creases of pain on his face. His puzzling attitude toward her could finally be explained. It made her sad to think of him so ill and in such pain, but she was also very relieved to realize that it was his illness that made him so difficult to deal with. Peter explained that the symptoms of a brain tumor differed according to the part of the brain it grew in, and Father’s possible tumor affected his personality.
After the examination and on the recommendation of the neurologist, Peter had Father admitted to Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center the very next day with Catherine acting as his next of kin.
Catherine went Below immediately after Peter told her that Father was fine and that the tumor had been successfully excised. All of the community was crowded into the library and waiting impatiently for her when she arrived. Questions bombarded her before she could even draw a decent breath. Finally, Vincent shouted for them to give her a chance to tell them about Father. She smiled at him and turned to address the crowd, noting Diana’s unhappy face in the back of the gathering. “Father came through the surgery just fine. I was there when he woke up, and he seemed like his old self. Peter assured me that Father will be completely cured. No more pain, no more headaches.” And laughing a little, she added, “And he assured me that his prickly personality will be fully restored, and he will be the same Father that we have all come to know and love.”
“Was it cancer, Catherine?” Vincent asked quietly, voicing the community’s greatest fear.
“No, it was benign and completely encapsulated.”
“When can he come home?” Mary asked over the babble of the crowd.
“I don’t know for sure; I’ll let you know as soon as I know.”
Jacob, sitting with his father, asked. “Can I see Grampa, Mama? Can I, please?”
Over the hubbub of the crowd, she said, “I’ll talk to Peter and see what can be arranged.” She glanced at Vincent as he approached her, Jacob in his arms. “I wish you could see him, Vincent.”
“To know that he is well and will be home with us soon is enough for me. Thank you, Catherine, for all you have done.”
“I haven’t done anything. Just visited an old and dear friend.”
“I can visit, Grampa,” Jacob piped up, assuming that his mother could do anything.
“Yes, I know,” his father agreed.
The happy group began to disperse to their various chambers. Details would come later. Right now they were happy and relieved that Father was going to be all right. With a last, withering look, Diana left, cradling Rachel on her shoulder. Soon there were only Catherine, Vincent, and Jacob remaining in the library. Vincent questioned her deeply and was satisfied at last. Going over to the large antique desk that Father had sat behind for as long as he could remember, Vincent took a piece of vellum stationery and after writing a short note, folded it, and handed it to Catherine. “Please give this to Father the next time you visit him.”
“He will be so glad to get this,” she said, placing the note in her purse.
“I have no words to thank you, Catherine. After all the pain and heartache he has caused you, you are amazingly forgiving. And I’m sure he will realize it when he is well again.”
“How can I harbor any resentment against an ill man? When he smiled at me and whispered, ‘Dear Catherine,’ I almost cried. He went to sleep with that smile on his face. I looked up at Peter who gave a deep sigh and put his arm around me. He was elated to have his old friend back.”
“I don’t know what we would have done without him. Thank god, he persisted in his friendship in face of Father’s nasty and mean temperament.” Vincent leaned against the desk, gazing raptly at the woman he loved. His steady gaze was disconcerting, and flustered, she picked Jacob up, saying she needed to return to her home.
“Of course,” he sighed sadly and walked them back to the hidden door.
Sending Jacob into the house, she turned to his father and said, “Thank you, Vincent. I’ll keep you informed on Father’s recuperation, and when he comes to stay with me, you can come and visit him, all the community can.”
Vincent nodded. “Tonight, Catherine?”
“Tonight?” she asked blankly.
“Yes, may I see Jacob tonight?”
“Oh, of course, anytime. Just knock on the door and come in.”
He could hardly believe what he heard. She was actually telling him he was free to enter her home at any time. Maybe, just maybe, her heart was softening toward him. He fervently hoped so. “Really, Catherine?”
“Vincent, you’re his father and my friend. You are welcome to visit at any time.”
Her friendly, if not loving, smile sent him on his way with a spring in his steps that hadn’t been there for a long time.
Father’s recuperation was steady if somewhat prolonged. Chafing to leave the
hospital as soon as possible, he wasn’t the easiest patient to care for, proving
again that doctors made the worse patients. Peter admonished him time and again
to be gentle with the nurses. Grumbling, he tried but the boredom of lying in
bed would eventually get to him, and he would revert to ordering the nurses
around. Several times, when she visited him, he had tried to speak with
Catherine about his actions during the last three years. But she always put him
off, saying that they would talk about that later when he was better, to just
concentrate on getting well so he could go home and leave the poor nurses alone.
He would glower at her, and then they both would break into laughter. Catherine
never ceased to amaze him with her understanding and compassion, and he meant to
make up for every hard and bitter word and thought he had ever had about her.
On the day that he was feeling his most cantankerous, Catherine brought him a surprise. Jacob came bouncing into the room and crawled up on his grandfather’s bed to give him a big, sloppy kiss. He looked up at his mother, saying, “Look, Mama, Grampa is smiling. He looks happy. I never saw him look so happy.”
“Yes, he does look happy, doesn’t he? I think you’re a good tonic for him,” she said.
Father pulled him into a fierce hug. “Oh, Jacob, I’m so sorry. I wish you hadn’t seen me that way.”
“That’s ok, Grampa, I know you were sick and hurting. Mama splained it to me.”
Father looked up at the young woman he had tried so hard to erase from his son’s life and, with a watery grin, whispered, “Thank you.” She smiled and shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “It was nothing.”
They spent a pleasant afternoon with Father telling Jacob about some of the scrapes his father and Uncle Devin got into. Catherine learned more about Vincent’s childhood than she had in all the time she had known him. At last, it was time to leave, and with the promise to come back tomorrow, Jacob blew his grandfather a kiss and skipped out of the room, holding his mother’s hand. Father lay back on his pillow, more content than he had been before Jacob’s visit. Even the nurses noted his relaxed and cheerful manner that night as they readied him for sleep.
Finally, to the nurse’s great relief, he was released into Catherine’s care. Ensconced in the guest bedroom, there was a steady stream of community members that came to keep him company. Catherine got out her father’s chess set, and Father resumed his fruitless quest for an opponent that he could consistently defeat. Vincent was there every moment of the day that he didn’t have some duty to perform. Even Diana had come to visit with Father, bringing Rachel with her. The two women were brittlely polite with each other, as if, should they let their guard down, there would be a nasty scene. So, Catherine made herself scarce while Diana was with Father.
Father had decided that today was the day. Catherine would not put him off
any longer. He needed to clear his conscience and gain her forgiveness. Vincent
stuck his head around the doorway and said, “Catherine, Father wants to speak
Heaving a deep sigh, she nodded. Settling into a chair beside his bed, she waited for Father to begin. First, he asked his son, the man he knew still loved Catherine, to leave them alone for a while. Giving her an encouraging smile, the man quickly left.
“This is very difficult for me, Catherine. I know that I have treated you shabbily since your return. My only excuse is my illness. I’m truly sorry.”
“It’s all right, Jacob, I understand. I hold nothing against you.”
“Thank you, my dear, but I must explain something to you about Diana.” She stiffened. Continuing, he said, “I imagine it is hard for you to understand my encouragement of the relationship between Vincent and Diana.”
She nodded abruptly.
“He was so lost without you, so miserable and unhappy that I thought, when I observed that she loved him, she could help him to get through his pain at losing you. Initially, I never meant for him to forget you or to erase you from his life, but at some point, I don’t know when, all my rage at the misery your death caused him became focused on you. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I hated you for what you had done to him, and it only reinforced my opinion that you would bring him nothing but pain. I focused on your similarity to my Margaret, and when you returned, I knew that you would only bring him more pain and unhappiness. All I did was make everything more difficult for all of you. My dear, I am truly sorry for any heartache that I’ve caused you. It’s hard for me to understand how I could do that.”
“Maybe in some perverse way your fierce love for Vincent turned you against me.”
“Maybe,” he murmured. “I deeply regret pushing Vincent into a relationship with Diana.”
“I doubt if you could have pushed him if he wasn’t willing,” she muttered, wryly.
“Not true, my dear. You weren’t here and never saw what a wreck he was. He loves–yes, I say loves–you very much. I blame myself for the rift that’s developed between you.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself. Vincent made his choices,” she commented, her voice flat and unemotional.
“Yes. And you are making yours. Don’t compound my mistakes, please.” He caught her eyes with his pleading glance. “After all this, can you still forgive this silly old man, who truly loves you and wishes he could undo all the harm he has done? Can we begin again?”
He was once again the man she had called Father, and she gladly returned to using that title. “Oh yes, Father. And I’m sorry for all the mean things I’ve thought about you.” She chuckled with chagrin as he held his open arms out to her, and she gratefully entered into his heartfelt embrace.
For his part, he recalled the day she named him Jacob and then used that appellation until his illness. And now, here she was calling him Father again. It was a sign of her forgiveness.
“All is forgiven,” he chuckled in return. “On both sides.”
“If I haven’t told you before this, it’s so good to see you your old self again. I’ve missed you, Father. I didn’t know that other man.”
“Truthfully, I don’t know him myself.” He shook his head, thinking how many people he had to reconcile with.
Vincent was standing in the doorway, watching the interplay between his father and the woman he hoped would soon let him return to her heart. Thank goodness, peace had returned to the tunnels and to his family. Now, to put his own house in order.
Several months later a ruptured appendix was instrumental in removing the
last barrier that kept Vincent and Catherine apart. Jacob had learned how to
suppress his feelings, and the sudden burst of pain that assaulted his parents
was the first indication that anything was wrong. They met over his writhing
body as he moaned and cried for his mama.
“I’m here, baby. Where does it hurt?” she asked as she felt his burning forehead. “My god, Vincent,” she gasped, “He’s burning up.”
The child whimpered and cried out when his father picked him up. “Send a message to father to meet us in the hospital chamber,” he said as he sped away with his precious cargo. After tapping out the message, she hurried after them.
Laying his son on the hospital gurney, he heard Father’s cane tapping a staccato counterpoint to the drumming of Catherine’s heels.
“What is it?” the aged physician asked, then he saw Jacob curled into a fetal ball. “My god, Jacob!”
Catherine charged in behind him and raced to her son’s side. He looked so small, and she wished it was she lying there, not him. She searched for a cloth, found and wet it, then gently wiped her son’s flushed face. She had to do something.
“He has an extremely high temperature and pain in the abdominal area,” Vincent informed his father.
Examining the moaning child, he elicited a groan of pain when he gently pressed the right abdominal area. “It could be his appendix. We need Peter.”
“I’ll send a message right away.” Vincent almost collided with Mary as she hurried into the chamber.
She took at a glance the state of the child on the gurney and immediately began her preparations for the surgery that she expected to follow. Her practiced eye noted the sweaty face and the tightly held body with the drawn up knees, indicative of stomach pain.
“What can I do, Father?” Catherine begged, unable to stand around, doing nothing.
“Get me a syringe from that drawer over there.” With a nod of the head, Father indicated the white hospital cabinet. “A high white cell count will tell us if it is appendicitis.” After taking the sample and preparing the slide, he placed it on the microscope stage. His shoulders slumped when he looked through the eyepiece. “The white count is very high, my dear. Everything indicates appendicitis.”
Once again Vincent found himself pacing in a corridor. Only this time he was
more afraid than he had ever been. Their child’s life hung in the balance, and
he knew if they lost Jacob, he would lose Catherine. He glanced over at her,
huddled in the corner in a ball of misery, rocking back and forth in time with
his pacing. He stopped in front of her, and she raised a tear-streaked face to
him. She knew how serious this operation could be, and he sensed that she blamed
herself for not knowing that Jacob was ill.
“Oh god, Vincent,” she sobbed, “if he should die . . .” She couldn’t go on and reached out blindly for him. He snatched her into a fierce embrace, holding her shaking body tightly against his, trying to be strong for her but failing miserably.
The operation had gone smoothly, but Peter and Father were horrified to discover that the appendix had ruptured several days ago and that gangrene had developed. They cleaned the child’s belly of all the gangrene that they could see and left the gauze-packed wound open to heal from the inside. After transferring Jacob to the recovery chamber, they reluctantly approached Catherine and Vincent with the bad news. They found the distraught parents clutched in each other’s arms, her head resting on his chest.
Holding on to Catherine for moral support, Vincent asked, “How is he?”
“He’s asleep. If it had been much longer, he would have gone into shock, and we would have lost him,” Peter told them.
“Evidently, the appendix had ruptured a few days ago and developed gangrene,” Father added, consoling Catherine with a hand to the shoulder.
“Gangrene!” she gasped. “Then he’s still in terrible danger?”
Both doctors nodded. Peter answered, “Yes, we won’t know for sure for a few days yet.”
“I don’t understand how this could have happened? Wouldn’t it have caused him terrible pain?” Jacob’s worried mother asked.
“One would think so,” Father said as Peter nodded in agreement.
“He never once seemed to be in pain; he was a little quieter than usual but that was all,” she said.
“Catherine, please don’t blame yourself,” Vincent said. “He is my son and seems to have inherited my high tolerance for pain.”
“I’m sure that explains it,” Father said soothingly. “We’ll just have to keep a good eye on him.”
“Can we see him?” Jacob’s father asked.
“Of course, you should be there when he wakens.” Father transferred his hand from Catherine’s shoulder to that of his son.
The young mother straightened with determination. “We won’t let him die, will we, Vincent?” He shook his head. “Thank you, Peter . . . Father,” she said as she took Vincent’s hand. Together, strong in their togetherness, they went to battle for their son’s life.
It was a full day before Jacob woke up to find his parent’s relieved but
worried faces hovering over him. Feeling their fear for him, he mustered a weak
grin as he whispered, “I’ll be ok.”
“Oh baby,” Catherine cried, “why didn’t you tell us?” as she carefully hugged him.
Gently stroking his son’s unruly hair, Vincent smiled encouragingly into his son’s blue-green eyes. “Son, you must always tell us when you are hurting, no matter how slight the pain.”
“Why? You don’t,” he replied.
“I am an adult, Jacob, and I know what should hurt and what shouldn’t. You have yet to learn that.”
“Ok, I will. I’m sleepy, Mama. Would you sing to me?”
Laying her head on the pillow next to her son’s, she began to sing her mother’s lullaby. Jacob closed his eyes and was soon fast asleep.
Smiling, Catherine looked up at Vincent. “I think he’s going to be ok.”
Coming around the bed, he raised her to her feet. As if it was the most natural thing in the world and not something he had waited and prayed for, ever since her return, she moved into his arms and sighing contentedly, wrapped her arms around his waist. Of their own volition, his arms rose and flowed around her. They stayed that way for several minutes until she raised her face to his, “What if we had lost him, Vincent? How could we have gone on?”
“I don’t know.”
She stepped back a little way from him, leaving his arms empty and lonely. “We can’t continue in this manner. We’ve got to think about Jacob. He needs a complete family.”
“What are you saying, Catherine?”
“I’m saying that Jacob’s illness has made me take a good, hard look at my life, and I’m not happy with what I see. When you held me in your arms while we were waiting, it felt so right and good, and I knew that I didn’t want to live without that feeling anymore. Can we . . . Is it possible for us to be a family? Can you forgive me for the way I’ve acted?”
“If you can forgive me for hurting you.”
She nodded, tears threatening to fall from her swimming eyes.
With his heart beating a tattoo of ‘thank yous,’ he said, “Then, I say yes, we can be a family. Oh Catherine, I love you so much.” With a clawed finger, he gently raised her lips to his and kissed her long and tenderly. “Can you find it in your heart to love me just a little?”
“I told you once that I still loved you and I still do. That will never end.”
With a laugh of pure joy, he crushed her to him and spun around in a circle. “Vincent,” she squealed, “put me down. We’re in a hospital room.”
Hearing Catherine’s squeal, Father and Peter raced in to find the two of them a whirling dervish in the middle of the room.
“What in the world is going on here?” Father demanded.
“Catherine has agreed that we will be a family. Isn’t that wonderful?” the leonine man shouted as he set her on her feet.
“Vincent! Jacob is sleeping. You mustn’t disturb him.” They all turned to the child only to find him with a huge smile on his face, still sound asleep.
“He knows, Father. He knows, and that’s the best medicine that he can have.”
“I do believe you’re right, my son. But can we find it in ourselves to be a little more quiet?”
Abashed, Vincent tilted his head and said, “I’ll try. I’ll try really hard.”
Jacob’s parents settled into two chairs beside his bed and waved the doctors out of the room.
Not only did Jacob inherit his father’s high tolerance for pain,
but also his ability to heal rapidly. In a matter of days, the incision was
healing nicely, and the child was allowed to return to his own bed. The steady
stream of visitors he’d had in the hospital chamber continued unabated in his
own room. Mouse kept asking his when he was going to be well enough to go with
him on one of their rambles. The answer of a few weeks didn’t satisfy him at
Diana brought Rachel down to see her brother. A few months ago, she had decided to return Above and pick up her life from where she had left it when she moved Below. Asking Catherine if she would watch the child, Diana invited Vincent to accompany her to the Chamber of the Falls. With a reassuring smile for Catherine, he followed the other woman. Diana seemed strangely calm and reserved when she began to talk. “Vincent, I wanted to tell you that I have met a man, and I think I’m in love with him.” Settling onto the stone bench that had been carved from the wall, she patted the seat beside her.
“I’m happy for you, Diana,” he said as he dropped onto the bench beside her.
“You really are, aren’t you?”
He nodded seeing the glow of happiness on her face.
“I thought I would never get over you but he is very much like you. Tall, blond, blue-eyed, and he positively adores Rachel.” Vincent felt a funny sort of jealousy when he heard that another man could love his daughter. She continued, “And the strangest thing of all is that you know him, he’s the son of Edgar Jankowski, a helper. He’s a policeman like his father. His name is Tom, and I don’t have to keep anything from him because he knows all about the tunnels. So Rachel can be raised in both this world and the one Above.”
“It sounds as if you have finally found your way. I’m glad for you. I hope you know how much I deeply regret causing you any pain. It seems Father’s illness caused more hurt than we knew.”
“I know, and I’m sorry for any trouble I’ve put you through. But we can at least be friends from now on.”
“Yes, friends. You have no idea how good that makes me feel.”
“I think I do. I feel the same way. Well, I’ve got to get back; Tom’s shift is about over, and I want to be waiting for him.”
“The glow I see in your eyes warms my heart, Diana. Be happy.”
“Oh, I will be, don’t worry. Is it all right if I still keep bringing Rachel Below while I work? I could take her to a child care center near my loft.”
“She is my daughter, and I want to care for her whenever I can.” But Vincent soon discovered the painful lesson that many men and women learn: it is not necessarily you that raise the child you conceived. He cared for Rachel when Diana was working, but all other times the child spent her with her mother and soon to be stepfather.
Rising, he reached down and helped Diana to her feet.
On their way back to his chamber, she asked, “What about Catherine? Do you think she will mind?”
“No, not at all. We have decided to become the family we were meant to be. I will be staying with her most of the time unless I am needed here.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful, Vincent.”
“Jacob’s close call was the wake-up call that we needed. Catherine was the one that proposed it.”
Diana gave him an impish smile. “And of course, you couldn’t refuse.”
“Never,” he replied.
Diana and Vincent stopped in the doorway, watching Catherine roll around on the floor, playing with the two children. They were shrieking and pummeling her as if she was a pillow.
“Ow,” she yelled as her elbow impacted with the stone floor as she tried unsuccessfully to roll away from the giggling children. “That’s enough, kids, let’s read a book, shall we?”
Disconcerted, when she heard Vincent speak her name, she rolled to a sitting position and noticed Diana standing beside him with a huge, delighted grin on her face. Ducking her head to let her hair fall forward to cover her dismay, she stammered, “The . . . kids wanted to . . . uh . . . wrestle. I guess things got a little out of hand.”
“Oh, that’s all right; they seemed to enjoy using you as a punching bag,” Diana commented with a snicker. She never thought she would ever see the impeccable and unflappable Catherine Chandler in such a state of disarray.
“Yes, my love, and you seemed to be enjoying yourself most of all.”
Catherine’s head snapped up at his use of an endearment in front of Diana to find her gazing at her with equanimity.
“May I, Diana?” Vincent queried. She nodded. “Diana came Below to tell me that she has met a man whom she has come to love. And that there will be no problems as he is the son of a helper. Tom Jankowski.”
Catherine rose gracefully to her feet with a little assistance from Vincent. “I know that name. He’s a detective with the 33rd.” Her relief was so intense that she could hardly breathe. At the same time, the two women approached with held out hands. “Can we be . . . ?” Catherine asked.
“Friends?” Diana finished. “Yes, I would like that. I’m sorry for all the pain I caused you.”
“And I’m sorry for disrupting your life,” Catherine offered. “But that is all in the past. There’s only the future now.”
“And a better future than I ever envisioned,” Diana said as they shook hands self-consciously. With a small chuckle, she picked up her daughter, and saying that she would drop her off at the usual time, she returned Above to her new life.
Jacob sat on his father’s bed, an avid spectator to the final resolution to everyone’s problems, feeling the happiness of the three adults.
“Well, that solves my biggest problem,” Vincent declared with a gusty sigh. “And I really didn’t do anything. Diana did it all. I have tried to repair the breach in our friendship, but she would have none of it until lately. She undertook to change her life and in the process has simplified ours.”
“Isn’t it wonderful how love can soften a hardened heart?” Catherine walked into his open arms with a sense of completion and fulfillment. Father was his old irascible self, Diana was well on her way to a satisfying life Above, and she and Vincent had the family that they had yearned for. The only thing needed to complete their happiness was another child, and she looked forward to the joy of creating a new baby.