A House in the Country

Janet Rivenbark

Charles looked up as his secretary opened the office door and ushered in Dr. Peter Alcott.

He came out from behind his desk and shook hands with Peter.

"Itís good to see you, Peter," he said, "although Iíll have to admit that when you called and said that it was important that you see me as soon as possible, I was a little worried. I was afraid that you might have bad news about Caroline or the baby." He waved Peter to a sofa against the far wall and he took the easy chair at right angles to it.

"Iím sorry about that Charles. I should have asked your secretary to make sure to tell you that it was my personal emergency, not a medical one."

"Iím glad you did. So, how can I help you? I hope you arenít in need of legal counsel."

"Not me, but a friend. It is a small matter, actually, but helping this one man will also go a long way toward helping a whole group of people."

Charles frowned at that cryptic remark, highly unusual in his usually forthright and non-secretive friend.

"Care to explain that, Pete?"

"My friendís name is William Allen. He is in his late 20ís; he just got out of the Army, where he was a cook. He thought it wouldnít be difficult to find a job, he loves to cook and is good very good at it, but that hasnít been the case. He has been looking for work for several months. He was in a diner where he had just talked to the owner when a customer started bothering one of the waitresses. William stepped in to tell the customer to back off; the customer took a swing at him, he ducked, but then one thing led to another, and they wound up fighting. Heís never been in trouble before and he is a veteran. They might be willing to make a deal to keep William out of jail, but he is going to need a good lawyer. If you could come in as his lawyer, Iím sure it would all work out."

"If I do this, youíre sure that this William isnít a threat; he wonít be in trouble again?"

"Absolutely. I talked to him when he was in the emergency room and we were patching him up. He was upset that heíd succumbed to his temper. We got to talking and he told me his story. I can make arrangements and heíll have a place to go. I know some people who need a cook."

"Theyíll hire him," asked Charles.

"No, not exactly. It is more of a communal living situation. Another friend, a doctor, is member of that community of people who all live together and help each other. They need a cook. Weíve talked to William and heís willing to give it a try."

"What is the DA saying?"

"If he has a good lawyer and I vouch for him, heíll probably get probation, about a year and he and the other guy involved in the fight will make restitution to the business owner for the damage they did to his restaurant. Otherwise he could get as much as a year in prison."

"He has the money for the restitution?"

"Some of it, I will help him out with the rest and he will pay me back."

"So whatís the catch? Iím sensing that there is something more here," said Charles with a smile.

"Well, once this is done, if you are willing, I would like you to be available to this community in the future for legal assistance if they ever need it."

"Pro bono?" asked Charles.

Peter nodded. "Pro bono, but you wonít be able to write it off. In fact, you wonít be able to tell anyone about it or anything about the community."

"Care to explain?"

Thus began Charles Chandlerís career as a Helper for the community of people who lived secretly in the tunnels below Manhattan. That very afternoon he made his first trip Below to meet the man who was the leader of that community, Dr. Jacob Wells.

Charles was amazed at the comfort that this small group of people was managing to introduce into the maze of natural and manmade caves and tunnels where they chose to make their home. Over the next thirty years, he was only called on a hand full of times to represent someone from Below in court, but in each instance was able to help conclude it happily. Over the years, he also helped in other ways.

Charles found out that Peter and his wife Janine had been Helpers for about three years. A short time after his wife, Caroline, gave birth to their daughter Catherine he and Peter introduced Caroline to the world below Manhattan. After that many of the Chandlerís old clothes and belongings found their way Below.

Both Charles and Caroline were quite taken with one of the younger inhabitants of the tunnels. He was a foundling by the name of Vincent who Jacob was raising as his adopted son. When Charles first met Vincent, he was all of about three years old. He was sitting on the floor playing with a boy named Devin who was about six or seven. Vincent was advanced for his age and talking almost non-stop; Charles felt that he resembled a cross between an ordinary toddler and a lion cub. When Charles asked Peter about it, Peter was unable to supply any information other than the child, as a newborn, had been found near the trash outside St. Vincentís Hospital one cold January night, he was highly intelligent, appeared to be at least part human, but the other part and how he got the way he was, was anyoneís guess.

The first time Caroline went Below, Cathy was about four months old and she went along in her motherís arms. Vincent had been fascinated by the baby, he was the youngest Below at the time, and had never seen a baby before. Father was a bit nervous about Vincent being around a child that young, seems heíd had a few mishaps with his claws with some of the other children, but he was extremely gentle and careful with Cathy. Cathy didnít go Below again for a few years.

When Cathy and Peterís daughter Susan were old enough to understand the concept of keeping a secret they were both introduced to the tunnels and the children there. Susan spent more time Below than Cathy did, in fact Cathy was Below probably less than a dozen times and then only when she was sleeping over at Susanís. At first she didnít even seem to notice that Vincent was different, but as she got older she bombarded Peter with questions; he was never able to tell her anything more than he had told her father. The last time Cathy went Below was when she was twelve.

Charles never ceased to be a Helper, he just wasnít a hands on kind of helper after Cathyís mother died. He and Cathy moved out of their house and into an apartment, and they both began to focus more on each other.

Cathy grew up and went to college, law school then went to work for her father and she all but forgot about the people living in the tunnels under the city; she seldom thought of the tall, quiet, somewhat hairy teenager by the name of Vincent.

* * * * * * * * * *

Catherine Chandler, dressed in the latest style from some of the best designers, slid out of the backseat of a cab and hurried across the plaza toward the office building where the law firm she worked for, her fatherís law firm, was located. She was late, again, but she wasnít worried. Her father would forgive her, and she didnít really have anything pressing on her schedule anyway.

She hurried into the building to the elevators and pressed the call button. The doors opened and she entered the elevator, riding it up to her floor, checking her watch as she went.

She stepped off the elevator into the offices of Chandler and Coolidge, moving through the reception area like a princess calling greetings as she went.

"Morning!" she called to the receptionist as she passed.

"Not anymore," the receptionist responded with a shake of her head.

"Picky, picky," said Cathy with a laugh as she walked confidently down the hall.

"Great look," called one of the other female attorneys, referring to the new outfit Cathy was wearing.

"Thanks," Cathy called back as she passed.

A male attorney stepped out into the hall as she passed. "Cathy, please don't forget the settlement conference at three," he reminded her.

"Iíll be there," she responded with a smile.

She headed straight for her fatherís office.

"Hi Joan," she called as she breezed through the outer office and into her fatherís office without waiting to be announced.

"Hi," Joan managed to get out before the door closed behind Cathy.

Charles Chandler was on the phone as she entered, and he waved her in and greeted her.

"CatherineÖ"

"Hi Dad."

Charles went back to his call, "Hal, let me call you back." He hung up and turned to Cathy. "Hal Sherwoodís coming up from Atlanta tonight. Will you have dinner with us?"

"I can't," she said with a shake of her head. "Tomís having a party for the architects of the new project; another excuse to wine and dine the planning commission."

"I used to be invited to these functions," he said with a smile. "I shouldíve thought twice before I handed you over to our best client."

"You make it sound like a horse trade."

"UhhhhÖyou could do a lot worse than Tom Gunther."

"And have," she added and they both laughed.

"Well, how about dinner tomorrow night?" he asked.

"Let me get to my desk, check my calendar," she said before dropping a kiss on the top of his head.

"You just getting in?" he asked.

"Had a late night, and some errands to run today," she said with an apologetic shrug. "Sue me."

"It's a little late for that. I shouldíve sued you when you were five." He looked closer at her. "Whatís up with you? You don't enjoy the work? You donít find it stimulating?" he asked with concern.

Cathy gave her father an indulgent smile. "When I think of corporate law, Ďstimulatingí is not a word that immediately pops into mind."

"But when you put your mind to it, youíre a fine corporate lawyer."

"No Dad," she pointed out in an ironic tone, "Iím the daughter of a fine corporate lawyer."

She smiled and headed off to her office to start her day.

 

Later, after the reception, she remembered her fatherís words as Tom presented her with a dark blue velvet box and asked, "Marry me, Cathy?"

Cathy didnít say anything right away, and Tom interpreted her hesitation to suit himself. "I wonít try to change you, Cathy. I know you love working with your father, I donít expect you to give up the career you love, at least not until we decide to have children."

Cathyís hesitation hadnít been for that reason; sheíd actually been recalling what her father had said just that morning: "You could do a lot worse than Tom Gunther." He was certainly right about that, she had dated quite a few men who were only interested in her money. Sheíd kissed her share of frogs. Tom had plenty of money of his own; he didnít need hers. It would be a good alliance, if not a soul mate match. She liked Tom, she respected him, for the most part, and she didnít expect to have the kind of marriage that her parents had had. In fact, she wasnít sure that she wanted it, not after seeing how badly her father hurt after her mother died, or Peterís pain after his wifeís death a few years after her own mother. Maybe not marrying for love would be a good thing. So what if Tom wasnít Prince Charming.

In the end, she accepted Tomís proposal, and they were married two months later. A short engagement in her circle, but since neither of them wanted a big wedding, just immediate family and a few close friends it was long enough.

Cathy put her apartment overlooking Central Park on the market shortly after they were married in June. They spent two weeks in the Caribbean on their honeymoon and by September Cathy was beginning to wonder if she might have made a mistake. Wondering enough that she took her apartment off the market, thinking that she might need it again.

Almost as soon as they got back from the honeymoon, Tom started talking about babies. That was actually the first real argument they had. Tom wanted to start their family right away, and she wanted to wait at least a year, but she allowed herself be talked into it. She got pregnant quickly but miscarried in December. Peter was her doctor and he advised that they wait at least three or four months before they tried to conceive again and Cathy started taking birth control pills again. She continued to take them secretly even after the four months; she hated lying to Tom, but she just didnít want to go through that again. It was just too heartbreaking; she needed more time to recover.

She took time off work after her miscarriage and just never got around to going back. She had started writing as a hobby, a way to pass time. Tom insisted that Cathy move to his house in the country after Christmas; he said that the quiet would do her good. Peter agreed, so Cathy moved to Tomís estate in the country, not far from Stamford, Connecticut.

She still drove into the city a couple times a month and Jenny made the trip up to see her almost as often.

On one of those visits, Jenny was waiting for Cathy to finish dressing for their lunch date when she glanced at the stack of paper in the tray on Cathyís desk. Jenny was surprised to find that what she was reading appeared to be a childrenís story. She was holding the papers and reading them when Cathy entered the library a short time later.

"Cathy, did you write this?" she asked without raising eyes from the page.

"Yes, I did, I know it isnít any good. It wasnít meant to be read, I was just killing time."

"Donít run yourself down like that. Itís not only good, itís damn good!" exclaimed Jenny to Cathyís surprise. "Do you have the rest of the story?"

"In my head," said Cathy with a laugh.

"Well, get it out of your head and onto paper and send it to me! Iím not in the childrenís books division, but Iíve sent a few authors to them before. I would like them to read this. I think itís publishable." Jenny snapped the pages with her fingers and then put them back on the desk, then she grinned. "By the way, Iím sorry for reading your private stuff, but my intuition told me to read more than the first paragraph."

Cathy went over and linked her arm with Jennyís, "So, my psychic friend, do you see a best seller in my future?"

"Finish that," she nodded toward the papers on the desk, "and let the experts read it and Iíll let you know."

Cathy expected to be bored living in the country, but was surprised when she wasnít. She had plenty to keep her busy. She wrote, and planned dinner parties for Tom. She made trips to New York to visit her father and Jenny. She became the good little wife, but the longer she was married, the more she began to think that sheíd made the biggest mistake of her life.

About a week after her first wedding anniversary, Cathy found out that Tom was having an affair.

She had gone into the city in the middle of the week to take Jenny out to lunch for her birthday. They had a great time and took their time over lunch. Afterward when they were leaving the restaurant she heard a familiar voice and looked in that direction to see her husband holding hands with a gorgeous brunette at a secluded table. She didnít say anything then, but when he came home that weekend, she confronted him. He denied it, swore it was a business lunch with a client, but he certainly looked a lot more cozy with that client than he had ever looked with any other. He never admitted guilt, but apologized about allowing it to look like something was going on and he swore that he would be discrete in the future. He said he didnít want to embarrass her and have her friends think that he was cheating on her.

The next few months were quiet. They had a few dinners at the house and not one argument, and Tom was a lot more attentive even if he hadnít been spending more time with her; he was still staying in town or traveling on business Sunday through Thursday or Friday night. He started calling her three or four times a week. Sometimes the only night he was home was Saturday and sometimes he didnít even want sex, which was OK with her. Sex had become a chore, instead of the labor of love it should have been. In spite of that and all his time away, or maybe because of it, she was actually starting to think that maybe things might work. Then she started finding hints that he was involved with another woman again. She finally asked him about it and this time he admitted it. However, he blew it off telling her that it didnít mean anything it was just stress relief.

"Stress relief," she said in a low controlled voice. "In my book stress relief is working out at the gym, maybe a massage and half an hour in the steam room, not taking some woman you picked up at a bar to bed."

"Well, maybe you should try rewriting your book," he said sarcastically. "What I canít get at home, Iíll get where I can."

"What you canít get at home?" she exclaimed. "If you ever came home you might get what you need here!" she was trying to keep her voice down because the housekeeperís rooms were right below their bedroom and it was late. "Damn it, Tom. Donít blame me for this. Iíve done everything you asked of me from the day you asked me to marry you, and this is how you repay me." She was on her feet standing at the window with her back to him.

"You havenít done everything I asked," he said in a quiet voice.

"What havenít I done?" She spun around and looked at him.

"You havenít given me a son."

"Tom! I tried. Itís not my fault I miscarried. And weíve tried; I just havenít gotten pregnant again." She bit the inside of her lip and turned her back to him again, afraid that her face would give away the truth, although she doubted that he was that perceptive. "And donít try to change the subject; this is about your infidelity not my failure to conceive."

"I wonít apologize," he stated flatly.

"Will you at least tell me it wonít happen again?" she wasnít prepared to give him an ultimatum, not just yet.

"I canít guarantee that, Cathy. I work hard, and I deserve some recreation."

She turned around again and looked him in the eye. "Then join a gym!" she spat and stalked out of the room.

Ten minutes later she heard the front door slam then the sound of tires crunching on gravel as Tom sped off in his sports car. She didnít see him again for a week. When he came home the following weekend he acted as if the conversation the previous week had never even happened.

First thing Monday morning Cathy called her father and asked for the name of a good divorce lawyer. She also called to arrange to have her apartment cleaned and made ready for her to move back.

She did move back into it a week later, but not for the reasons she had originally intended. She got a call on Thursday morning from her fatherís doctor telling her heíd had a stroke and was in the ICU in a coma. He lingered for five days before he died. Cathy stayed at her apartment instead of with Tom at the penthouse. She told him that it was because it was so much closer to the hospital. The whole time she was with her father or at her apartment, she didnít hear from Tom once. The first time she talked to him was when she called him to tell him that her father had died. He didnít even volunteer to help her with the arrangements.

She stayed in town for nearly a month afterward, settling her fatherís estate. Tom went with her when she went to the lawyerís office get a copy of his will and have everything explained. She found out that Charles had stipulated in his will that all his property, except for antiques and personal things were to be liquidated and the funds placed in a trust fund. That trust fund was to disburse a specific dollar amount to Cathy every six months but never to exceed the amount of the interest that had accrued in that six months. The date on the will was the day after sheíd called him for the name of a divorce lawyer.

"Youíre a good lawyer; you can break that trust, Cathy," Tom pointed out.

"Why would I want to do that?" she asked. "Between that and the disbursement from my other trust fund, I have a pretty tidy income. More than I made when I was working for Daddyís firm."

She could see white lines forming around Tomís mouth and nose, a sure sign that he was angry.

"What if you want to invest the money in something differentÖsay in my business, for example," he suggested.

"Iím not a financial wizard, Tom, but even I know that investing in a company like yours is considered a high risk investment. There is a potential for huge gain, but there is also the potential to lose it all. If I were to want to invest in it, I surely wouldnít want to put all of it there. Iím quite happy to leave it where it is, and maybe make a smaller investment in your company later. Let me talk to my financial advisor."

Tom had a hard time containing his anger at her answer and within minutes, he made an excuse to leave. She didnít see him again for almost a week.

While she as in town she went to see Peter for a checkup. She told him that she was having trouble sleeping so he wrote her a prescription for sleeping pills and a mild anti-depressant; a few months later she started taking anti-anxiety medication as well.

She had decided in January to divorce Tom but now, in March, she just couldnít seem to get up the nerve to follow through. She still had the name of the lawyer her father had given her.

She missed a couple of deadlines for the book she was currently working on. Her editor put everything on hold indefinitely, trying to be understanding.

Tom and Cathyís second anniversary was on a weekday. He called, but didnít even come home until that weekend. That finally pushed Cathy to make a decision. When Tom came home the next weekend; the first weekend in July, she told him that she needed to talk to him about something important.

"What did you want to talk to me about?" asked Tom, as he entered the library where Cathy was staring at the computer screen but not doing any real writing. "Iím supposed to meet Harry at the club for cards, so I hope this doesnít take long." He went over to the small cabinet in the corner and poured some scotch into the glass heíd carried in with him.

"Donít worry," said Cathy as she stood up from the desk. "What I have to say wonít take long." She hesitated, looking for words.

"Then spit it out!"

"Tom," she drew in a deep breath. "Iím really sorry that I havenít been the kind of wife that you expected, but then, you havenít exactly been the kind of husband I expected. So, Iíve made a decision that I think will be the best for both of us."

Tom, who had been standing at the window looking out, turned to look at her.

"Iím not making this decision lightly," she continued. "Iíve decided that Iím going to move out next week. Iím going back to the city and once I get settled Iím going to see a lawyer about a divorce."

"I divorce?" Tom exclaimed, almost choking on his drink. "You canít divorce me!"

"Oh, I can and I will," she told him quietly. "You donít have to worry, I donít want anything from you," she pulled off the diamond engagement and wedding ring set and held it out to him, still speaking quietly. "I even intend to give you back all the jewelry that youíve given me."

"Ha!" Tom nearly shouted as he poured more scotch into his glass and then drained it in one gulp. "Youíll do more than give me back what Iíve given you. When my lawyer gets done with you, youíll be on the streets and eating at soup kitchens!" He quickly poured and gulped down another drink and then stalked out of the room. "Iím going back to the penthouse; Iíll be back on Wednesday. I donít expect to find you here when I return."

Cathy had the impression that he hadnít been very surprised; he hadnít even tried to talk her out of it, had just countered with threats. It didnít worry her; she knew that the trust her father had set up was tight; even with both her trust funds, Tomís income was still larger of the two, she doubted that he would be able to touch anything of hers.

She had just finished getting ready for bed when the housekeeper came up to her room and told her that two Connecticut StateTroopers were waiting for her in the living room. She put on her robe and went down stairs. She figured that Tom had been stopped for speeding and was probably in jail facing a DUI and wanted her to come bail him out. She was tempted to let him cool his heels over night.

Both the troopers looked like they would rather be anywhere but where they were. One of them held an object out to her.

"Mrs. Gunther?" he asked. "Mrs. Tom Gunther?"

She took the card and glanced down at it. It was Tomís driversí license.

"Yes," she answered. "Is there something wrong?"

"Maybe youíd like to sit down?" the older trooper suggested.

Cathy moved over to the chair and waved the two to the sofa. They both sat, but didnít relax.

"Mrs. Gunther, we have bad news," the older man started. "There has been an accident. Mr. Gunther was involved; he lost control of his car when it hit a section of wet pavement. He spun into a bridge abutment. The car was demolished and he was killed. The EMTís who responded to the scene said that he probably died instantly."

Cathy was stunned. She took a deep breath, trying to absorb the news. "Was anyone else hurt?" she asked.

"No, Mrs. Gunther," responded the younger man. "He was alone in the car and it was the only vehicle involved.

"Is there anyone we can call for you, Mrs. Gunther?" asked the older man.

She looked up and managed a weak smile. "No thank you, gentlemen. Itís very kind of you to offer." She took a deep breath and almost shook herself. "What do I need to do?" she asked.

The older trooper handed her a business card. "You can have your funeral home make arrangements to pick up your husbandís body. Just have them call this number."

Cathy thanked them again, and the troopers saw themselves out.

Cathy was stunned. She was a widow. She called Peter, who offered to help; she said she would call him back. Then she called Jenny. All of Tomís friends and business contacts were in town, so she called the same funeral home that had handled her fatherís funeral. They told her that they would take care of it, and they asked her to come anytime the next day to finalize the plans. She drove in the next day and again stayed at her apartment until it was all over.

The day after the funeral, she was sitting on the sofa in her apartment sharing a bottle of wine with Jenny.

"It was just so strange," she was telling Jenny. "My initial reaction to hearing that Tom was dead was disbelief. I had just had an argument with him a couple of hours earlier. I had told him that I was leaving and that I was going to file for divorce." She shook her head. "Then, after the troopers left and after I called Peter and you, I suddenly had this overwhelming feeling of relief. That lasted all of about a minute and a half, and I started to feel guilty about feeling relieved. Am I a terrible person, Jenn?"

"Good God no, Cath. After the last couple of years, I can understand why you would be relieved. If only because you were no longer going to have to fight with him."

"But that is just it. We didnít fight all that much. He wasnít around enough to really fight with. I mean he had promised me a fight in court when it came to the divorce, but that was all. He didnít want to try to stop it; he just promised that he was going to impoverish me, thatís all. I knew it wouldnít happen."

"I donít know, Cath," said Jenny thoughtfully. "Youíve been different since you married Tom; kind of apathetic, especially since you miscarried. Itís as if youíve been walking on eggshells for the last two years. You are reacting like an abused wife. You werenít, were you?"

Cathy shook her head with a sad smile. "Not physically, or overtly in any way, but if you can consider not having your husbandís basic respect, abusive, then I guess you could say I was. I had to come to terms with that before I could make the decision that I was justified in divorcing him." She swirled the wine in her glass then took a sip. "Tom didnít love me; I could accept that, but he didnít have the least bit of respect for me; that was harder to take. I donít think he had respect for any women. He wanted me for only two things: my money and my blue Chandler blood so he could make an heir. If Iíd given him the son he wanted, I might have been treated with a little more respect, but I doubt it."

"Maybe itís good that you didnít have a baby," said Jenny.

"I made sure of that. Iíve been on the pill since right after the miscarriage."

"He didnít know?"

"Iím pretty sure he didnít. Iím sure I would have heard about it if heíd found out."

"So what do you plan to do now?"

"I was going to move back to the city, but I think Iíll stay at the house for now. I need to think and decide what I want to do. After Dad died, I kept my options to go back to Chandler and Coolidge open. That was what I planned to do after the divorce, but now I think I want to take more time to think about it. I may just want to do the writing thing full time, what do you think?"

Jenny grinned. "I know a lot of little kids out there who have been wondering about what happened to the characters in that last book. You could at least finish that series while you are deciding."

Cathy went back to the house in the country mostly because she craved the peace and quiet. Even though she wasnít exactly the bereaved widow that everyone treated her as, she did go into hibernation for a few weeks. She finally came out of her fog and started putting herself and her life back together in September. One of the first things she did was let everyone on the household staff go. She gave everyone generous severances and thanked them, but told them she no longer needed them. She hired a local landscape company to keep the yard groomed and called a cleaning service to come in once a week to take care of the major cleaning. She did everything else herself.

She started to get back into a schedule; she was tired of drifting; she needed a focus. She finished the book and sent it off to the publisher.

She became quite productive over the next months. She remained somewhat of a recluse while at home, but she started making trips into the city to see friends and was making plans to sell the country house and move back to her apartment. She still had her Dadís place at the lake and felt that it would fulfill her craving for country living without all the bad memories.

* * * * * * * * * *

Peter entered Fatherís study just in time to witness the end of a very heated conversation.

"Why canít I stay?" a stranger was demanding of Father. "You were ready enough to take me off my dadís hands twenty years ago when he dumped me here. Why not now?"

"Mitch, we have rules, and one of the foremost is that we allow no one to take refuge Below who is fleeing the authorities Above. It jeopardizes the whole community. We must keep our secret, and if you were to be followed here we could lose everything." Father looked up, saw Peter, and motioned for him to come in.

"Not to mention you have to protect your precious Vincent. Is the freak still around?"

"I am," came the answer from a side entrance to the room.

Mitch turned to face Vincent.

"What father says is right, Mitch," Vincent continued quietly. "The safety and wellbeing of the entire community depends on us being careful about who we allow to stay. You were never happy here, so why do you want to come back to us now?"

"I need a place to lay low for a while. If they catch me, they will put me away for a long time this time. Theyíre saying that I helped kill a man."

"Did you?" asked Vincent.

"What if he needed killiní?" came the belligerent question. "He was a threat to me and my business."

"What kind of business, Mitch?" asked Vincent again in the same quiet voice.

"Just business and itís none of yours. So, youíre not going to let me stay?" he asked again.

"We cannot keep you from staying Below," said Vincent, "but we wonít allow you to stay within the community, and wherever you go you will be watched and the ways will be blocked between where you choose to stay and us. It is the only way we can protect our own."

"Mitch," said Father, "I suggest that you leave. The sentry said that you came in through the threshold in the basement of the Beaumont. Vincent call a sentry to escort him out by a different route."

"Iíll take him, Father."

"Good, and see that someone seals the door at the Beaumont so it canít be used again."

Vincent had started to usher Mitch out of the chamber when Mitch turned and leveled a poisonous look at Father.

"If they catch me, the first thing Iím gonna do is tell them is about this place. Iím gonna tell them how you keep kids, living in a hole in the ground, a sewer, how you steal electricity and gas from the city and how you got a big freak living down here. This whole place is just one big freak show! You wonít hide me; Iíll make sure that you donít have no place to hide if they catch me."

Vincent grabbed his arm and hauled him off toward the side exit. Mitch jerked away. "Get your hands offa me, you freak!"

Peter and Father watched as Mitch left the chamber with Vincent close behind.

"What was that all about?" asked Peter as he took the chair across from Father.

"That was Mitch Denton. His father is a Helper. Mitch was one of our children for a time. Sam, his father, was sick and had to be hospitalized for a time, so rather than let his eleven year old son run wild, he sent him to us. Mitch wasnít accustomed to discipline and he balked at what he saw as restrictions we put on him. Mitch was with us for nearly a year, but we were never able to instill a sense of responsibility in him. I guess what they say about a childís personality being set by the time they are five is right. Mitch was arrested the first time when he was sixteen. Since he turned twenty-one, he has spent more time in prison than he has out. From what Sam said the first offence was assault, the second was racketeering, now it sounds as if he has killed someone. I wouldnít have known, and might have allowed him to stay, except that I was just up to see Sam last week, he is ill. He told me that the police were looking for Mitch again."

Father and Peter went on to speak of other things and then set up the chessboard for a game.

"Do you think Denton is serious with his threats?" asked Peter as he made his first move.

"Very serious," said Vincent as he walked back into the chamber. "He repeated them very adamantly as I was closing the door to the culvert threshold in the park. It might be a good idea if I left for a while, and if there is a way, we might try disbursing the rest of the community. At least send the children Above to stay with Helpers."

"The idea about sending the children Above is a good one," agreed Father, "But where will you go?"

"Further down. It is a labyrinth down there; no one would ever find me. I can stay until you decide it was safe for me to return."

"But it wouldnít be comfortable," said Peter, "and you would be way below the pipes. How would they ever get an all clear message to you?"

"They could send Mouse, or leave word with Narcissa." Vincent didnít sound very concerned at the thought.

"But it isnít safe down there," said Father. "If you were hurt or became ill, we wouldnít know that you needed help. It would be terribly uncomfortable."

"But Father, what must be, must be. The safety of everyone here is more important than my comfort." He turned to leave, "Iím going to my chamber to pack what I need. I think it would be prudent for me to leave as soon as possible."

"Not until after a council meeting, Vincent. Send a message that we will have an emergency meeting just as soon as everyone can get here."

Peter heard Vincent tapping the message out on the pipes and he stayed for the meeting where nothing was really decided, except that the children should be sent Above and that maybe Vincent was right about leaving for a while. No one really sounded like they wanted to uproot themselves and they wanted to wait and see what happened. Theyíd watch the papers and have their Helpers in the NYPD and other city offices keep their eyes and ears open; if they heard that Mitch had been arrested then they would move.

The conversation was still going on when Peter followed Vincent out and down the corridor to his chamber.

"It does get tiresome, doesnít it?" he asked as he watched Vincent roll up an old army blanket and strap it to the bottom of his pack.

"They arenít used to being threatened," said Vincent. "I know of a couple places I can stay, where Iíll still be able to hear the pipes; Iíll be available if anyone needs help."

"Vincent, I have an idea," said Peter as he sat in a chair at Vincentís table.

"What Peter?"

"Well, Fatherís concerns are legitimate, you could be hurt and be a long way from home, and no one would know. I was thinking it might be better if you left the tunnels completely. Went and spent some time Above."

"At your house, or with another Helper?"

"Not exactly. To my thinking, if the security down here is breached, then any threshold will be at risk, so any place that has a threshold might not be secure either; but I have a friend who has a place in the country; up in Connecticut, about an hour from here. She might let you stay there."

"But that might not be safe either. What if someone was to see me?"

"That is just it, her husband was very security minded. The estate is very secluded, there isnít a neighbor for miles, and it has a security system."

"But Peter, would I be there alone? Surely someone would begin to wonder if traffic to the house suddenly increased. Someone would have to bring me supplies." Vincent looked as if he thought Peter had taken leave of his senses.

"No Vincent. Let me start at the beginning. I havenít thought it through, but Iím sure she would agree. The woman is my goddaughter Cathy Chandler; well itís Cathy Gunther now. Her father, Charles, was a Helper."

"Charles Chandler? Didnít he die about a year ago?"

"Yes, a little more, actually. You remember Cathy donít you?"

Vincent closed his eyes for a moment, then a small smile came to his lips. "Yes. Yes, I do. A pretty child, with light brown hair and big green eyes. She and Susan were friends."

"Thatís Cathy. She has a place in the country, two actually, but the one she is living in right now is the one Iím referring to. She would be there with you and no one would be the wiser that she has a guest."

"What about her husband?" asked Vincent.

"She is a widow. Tom died a year ago last July."

"Iím sorry to hear that," said Vincent. "To lose both her father and her husband so close together."

"Well, that is a story, but, as I was saying, she lives alone, she doesnít even have a staff at the house. There is plenty of room, and Iím sure she would welcome you for as long as you would need to stay."

"I can see the sense of it, but Iím not sure that we would get Father to agree. From the way he tells it, the whole world Above is full of evil ogres." Both Peter and Vincent smiled at the thought.

"Donít worry. Just donít take off yet. Iíll go Above and call Cathy and if she agrees I can take you there this evening after it gets dark. Once we know if you are going, we will tell JacobÖnot ask. Just remember that; we are telling him."

Peter hurried out and back to his home where he called Cathy.

It was only a little after 10AM and she had just refilled her coffee cup and was back at her desk proofing a book she was getting ready to send to the publisher when the phone rang.

"Hello?" she answered absent-mindedly.

"Cathy. This is Peter. How are you?"

She perked up as soon as she heard him. "Peter, itís great to hear your voice. Iím fine; Iím working again, so Iím much better than I was. How are you?"

"Good too. I think I should get right to the point. Iím calling to ask a favor."

"Sure Peter, ask away."

"I have a friend who needs a place to stay for a while, and I was wondering if he could stay with you."

"A Ďheí?" she asked. "I donít know PeterÖ"

"Well, itís a very special Ďheí," he said. "You know him, or at least you did; when you were a child you met him a few times. As I remember you had a lot of questions about him."

Cathy thought back, trying to remember. "Who, Peter?" she asked sounding puzzled.

"Vincent."

"Vincent?" she questioned, then it dawned on her. "Vincent, from Below?"

"Yes, that Vincent."

"What has happened? I thought that was why he lives where he does, because itís the only safe place for him."

"Normally it is, but a former resident is threatening to expose the whole place, and everyone thinks that their primary concern should be to get Vincent somewhere safe and to temporarily move the children in with Helpers. Then if this guy actually does talk, they can disburse the rest of the community more quickly."

"Why would someone do that?" she asked.

"I donít know if you would remember the guy. He was the son of a Helper; he spent some time Below because he father was ill. His name is Mitch Denton."

"Eew!" He could hear the cringe in her voice. "I remember Mitch. He was always trying to feel up the girls. Susan hauled off and belted him one time."

"Why thatÖ Why didnít you say something?"

"We took care of it. Susan emptied her ant farm in his bed," Catherine snickered evilly. "That was why she insisted that she had to have red ants in her ant farm."

"You girls always were innovative. Iím glad you got him back. But it seems he is still an unsavory character."

"Why would he want to expose them?" she asked.

"Spite, mostly. He asked Jacob if he could stay Below for a while and Jacob told him that he couldnít. Heíd just heard last week from Mitchís father that he is in trouble again; murder this time. He wanted to hide from the police. When he was told to leave, he threatened to expose everything if he is caught. They thought it was a good idea to get Vincent and the children out of harmís way."

"Certainly Vincent can stay here. Iím sure he will be bored out of his mind, but maybe he can find something of interest in the library; itís a good one. And there is a decent collection of classic movies he might be interested in. When will he be here?"

"Iíll bring him up after dark tonight. We will probably be there between midnight and 1AM."

"Good that will give me some time to make a grocery run and do a few thingsÖUm, Peter. Is Vincent as tall as he looked like he was going to be when he was a teenager?"

"Yes, Iíd say at least 6í2" or 6í3"; itís been a while since I last measured him, and quite strong; he weighs a lot more than it looks like he does."

"OK, then I guess I will see the both of you tonight sometime. Drive carefully."

When she hung up Cathy made the quick decision to compete her move from the upstairs master suite to the housekeeperís suite on the first floor. Sheíd been using the office that was part of the suite since the housekeeper left, but she had taken her time in redecorating the rest of it so she could move in. Sheíd moved in the last piece of furniture earlier in the week; now was as good a time as any to move. She was sure that Vincent would be much more comfortable in the king size bed in the master suite than he would be in either of the queens in the other two guest rooms. The master suite was also furnished in the same heavy masculine furniture that had been there before she and Tom had married.

It only took an hour to move the rest of her things, and about another hour to clean the room thoroughly and make it ready for a guest. Then she drove into town to restock her pantry and freezer. She wasnít sure what Vincent liked to eat, but she seemed to remember a lot of good solid cooking Below, soups and stews, fresh bread and some of the best oatmeal raisin cookies sheíd ever eaten.

By dinnertime, she was ready for her guest, and she finished proofing the manuscript then, before it got dark, she went to her new bathroom to shower and get ready for bed. She usually wore old T-shirts or knit yoga pants and tank tops to bed. She had to hunt for a bathrobe; she hardly ever wore one since sheíd dismissed the staff. She finally found a blue satin nightgown with a matching robe and put it on. It reminded her of her single days when she always wore nice nightgowns to bed. She still had them, but they were all folded neatly away into a large box that sheíd put on the shelf in the closet.

She was in the living room curled up with a book when she saw the headlights coming up the drive. She was at the door to greet them when the dark van with the tinted windows pulled up in front of the door. Peter got out and came around to hug her, she returned his hug and then she caught sight of Vincent as he got out of the van. He had a back pack slung over one shoulder and was carrying an old, battered, leather duffel in the other hand. He was dressed much as she remembered, except for the addition of a dark cape with a hood that he had pulled up. As he came up the walk toward the house, he tipped his head back to look up and the hood fell back. She nearly gasped; he was magnificent! Absolutely beautiful!

"Wow! Did he ever grow up good!" was her first thought. Then she stuck her right hand out.

"Welcome, Vincent. Itís great to see you; I hope you are comfortable while you are here," she said with a smile.

He dropped the duffel and took her hand in his. "Thank you, Catherine. Iím very grateful for your help."

They both noticed an odd tingle and dropped their hands to rub their palms on their clothing. Vincent bent and picked up his bag.

She turned to lead the way inside. "Come in and Iíll show you where you will be staying." She called back over her shoulder, "Peter, you are planning to stay until morning arenít you?"

"Yes, Cathy. Itís been a long day, and I think it would be a good idea to wait until morning to go back. Besides, it will look more natural if I leave tomorrow."

She led them up the stairs. "Peter, you are in the room in the front where you usually stay," she said. "Vincent, Iíve given you the suite on the back of the house. It is two rooms and a bath.

"I donít need that much room, Catherine," he started to protest.

She waved him quiet. "It is the only guest room I have that has a king size bed. Actually, it is what is called a California King, so it is extra wide and extra long. Peter told me that you were tall and I thought you would be more comfortable in the larger bed. I have a suite downstairs that is almost as large; youíll be surprised at how quickly youíll get used to it."

She opened the door to a room and he followed her through. The room contained a small sofa, a chair, a desk with a chair, an armoire with a TV in it and assorted tables and lamps. She led him through the door into the bedroom where she pointed out the door to a large closet. "The bathroom is through there, itís a closet-dressing room combo. She looked at his bags, "But I doubt that you will need much of the space."

"Iíll give you a little while to get settled and I will have stuff for sandwiches down in the kitchen in a few minutes if you are hungry."

"Thank you, Catherine," she heard him say as she left the room. He heard her tell Peter about sandwiches before he heard her go down the stairs.

He stood in the middle of the room feeling very much like a fish out of water. First of all, it was the biggest bed he had ever seen in his life. It was almost twice the size of the one back in his chamber. The furniture itself was all heavy and dark and it all matched, which in itself, was a novelty. He carried his bags into the room that Catherine had pointed out as the closet-dressing room. He groped around a bit then found the light switch. When the lights came on he could see that two of the walls were solid mirror. He quickly averted his gaze so he didnít have to look at himself. Then he noticed that the two walls were actually mirrored closet walls. He quickly opened the one next to the door to the bedroom and found rods with hangers and some open shelves. He made quick work of unpacking, then leaving the doors open he carried his few toiletries into the bathroom where he got another shock.

The bathroom was nearly as big as his bed chamber at home. It had a large tub, a vanity with two sinks and a shower big enough for four people; it even had a bench in the shower. Again, the wall over the sinks was one solid mirror. He hadnít had this good a look at himself since he was a child and had stood in front of the cheval mirror in Maryís chamber and studied his differences. He quickly put away his toiletries and headed downstairs to find the kitchen.

Finding the kitchen wasnít hard, he just followed his nose. Catherine had put on a pot of coffee, which she was assuring Peter was decaf, and she also had what smelled like a pot of herbal tea.

She looked up and smiled as he entered the kitchen. "Help yourself, Vincent," she said. "This is going to be your home for a while, so please make yourself comfortable and feel free to help yourself anytime to anything. Iíll show you where everything is tomorrow."

Catherine and Peter were seated at a table that was situated at the end of the kitchen. On it was an assortment of bread, cold cuts, cheese and condiments.

"Would you rather have soda, coffee, water or herbal tea?" she asked him as he pulled out a chair and joined them.

"The tea smells wonderful," he said, and she poured him a cup. She didnít eat but sat sipping her tea as the two men built sandwiches and ate.

"How is your father, Vincent?" asked Catherine, trying to make conversation.

"Heís very well. I was sorry to hear of the death of your father and your husband," he said as he put the piece of bread on top of his sandwich. "How are you doing?"

"Thank you, Vincent. Iím much better than I was. Iím working again and feeling better than I have in a couple of years." She turned to Peter, "Peter, I donít think Iím going to need those sleeping pills any longer," she said, referring to the prescription that heíd written her. "Iíll keep a few on hand in case I need them, but I havenít taken them on a regular basis for the last couple of months and Iíve been sleeping very well."

"Thatís great to hear," said Peter after as swallow of coffee. "But I wouldnít stop the other meds cold turkey. If you stop an anti-depressant you can just go into a tail spin, and with the anti-anxiety medication you are taking there is always a possibility of seizure if you stop it cold turkey."

Vincent looked from one to another, alarmed at what he was hearing. "Is everything all right?" he asked.

"Donít worry, Vincent," Catherine assured him, "Iím on very low doses of both, and anticipated Peterís words of caution. Iíve cut the anti-depressant by about a quarter."

"Just donít try to stop them at the same time, and continue to wean yourself. I never thought that you were chronically depressed; you just needed something to get you over the rough spot. Continue what you are doing with the anti-depressant, and donít start cutting back the anti-anxiety med until youíve been off the anti-depressant for at least a month."

Catherine nodded, "Iíll call you if I have any questions or problems," she promised. The conversation moved on to more pleasant things, but Vincent didnít contribute much. He was still somewhat in shock from his quick transition from the tunnels. "I guess you could call this Ďculture shockí," he thought as he finished his sandwich and poured another cup of tea.

Finally, the midnight kaffe klatch wound down and Peter and Vincent went back to their rooms to bed as Catherine cleaned up and put everything away, then went to bed.

* * * * * * * * * *

Catherine was the first up the next morning and it was the smell of bacon and coffee that woke Vincent. He quickly showered, dressed and made his way back down to the kitchen where he found Catherine, her hair pulled back in a ponytail, as he remembered it from her childhood, wearing the same blue gown and robe ensemble sheíd had on the night before.

"What would you like Vincent?" she asked, waving a spatula at him. "I have eggs, bacon, toast, and juice."

"Yes," he said with a smile.

She returned the smile, "how do you like your eggs?"

"Scrambled. Thank you, Catherine."

She pointed at the counter with the spatula. "That little spigot next to the faucet is a hot water dispenser. It is the perfect temperature for tea. The loose tea is already in the pot, all you have to do is add the water."

Vincent followed her directions then carried the pot over and set it on the table they had used the night before. It was in front of French doors with windows on each side. The sun was shining through them onto the table. It made Vincent squint.

Catherine noticed the squint. "If the sun is too bright, you can close the blinds," she suggested.

"No, Catherine, it is wonderful. Iíll get used to it," he assured her.

"Iíll show you around after breakfast. We are very secluded here, even the mail and packages are left at the gate at the end of the drive, so if you can go outside any time you like. I have someone who comes once a week to do the yard maintenance. They always call before they come, and they always come on the same day every week. Iíve temporarily postponed the housecleaning service. The gate at the end of the drive is always closed and locked, unless Iím expecting someone like when you and Peter showed up last night."

Peter walked into the room. "Did I hear my name mentioned?" He picked up a mug and helped himself to coffee before he joined Vincent at the table.

Cathy walked over and put a plate in front of Vincent and kissed Peterís cheek. "How do you want your eggs, Peter?" she asked.

The conversation was pleasant through breakfast then Vincent helped Catherine clean up, and she showed him how to load the dishwasher.

She left them to enjoy their coffee and tea while she went to dress.

Peter left around noon, leaving Vincent and Catherine to get reacquainted after a twenty year break.

To break the ice after Peter left, Catherine offered to show Vincent around the house and yard; show him where everything was and how to operate anything that he wasnít familiar with.

He was enthralled with the extensive library when they got to it. She made a mental note that she would see to it that most of the books made it Below when she put the house on the market. He was also fascinated with all the movies that she had on VHS tape. She had integrated her library with Toms when they married so there was everything from old black and white silent movies to classics to musicals.

"I had an obsessive-compulsive weekend a few months ago and I organized the whole video library," she said with a chuckle. She opened the large cabinets on both sides of the cabinet that held the TV, VCR and stereo. She pointed at the far left and worked her way to the right. "All these are silent movies. These are talkies but all are black and white, then I started breaking it down. There are war movies, sports movies, movies made from classic books, movies made from other books, romantic comedies, dramas, and finally, musicals." She gave him a quick run through on how to operate the VCR.

"That is a lot of movies," commented Vincent. "If I want to sample them, I should probably choose judiciously; I wonít be here long enough to see them all."

"Iíll tell you what," she offered. "I plan to move back to the city sometime after the first of the year. Iím going to have way more TVís and VCRís than I will ever need in my little apartment. Iíll see to it that one or two of the larger ones are sent Below and you can borrow movies any time. There are even video rentals Above and you can get a Helper to rent you one anytime. It isnít expensive."

"It would be fun to finally see all the movies that I missed as a child when everyone else went Above to the theater and I had to stay home."

"Got any youíd like especially to see?" She asked. "If it isnít here, I can pick them up at the video rental in town next time I go."

Vincent closed his eyes and recited as if reading from a list: "Ben-Hur, Doctor Zhivago, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Birds, Born Free, The Magnificent Seven, Close Encounters, Star Wars, any musicals or anything made from a classic novel or Shakespeare."

As he was speaking Catherine was pulling tapes off the shelves and when he finished she handed him as stack of about a dozen. "There are TVís with VCRís in here, in the living room, and in the armoire in your room. You can watch these wherever you are most comfortable.

Vincentís eyes lit up like a little boy, "Thank you Catherine, these should keep me occupied for quite some time." He set the stack on the coffee table. "Iíll pick them up when Iíve decided where I want to watch them."

She led the way back to the kitchen. "Is there anything in particular that you donít like to eat?" she asked.

"Not really. When you live as we do, you take what you can get and are just glad to have it. William has to cook for a lot of people and he canít cater to likes and dislikes."

"Well, I can, so maybe I should ask if you have any special favorites, instead."

"You donít have to cater to me, Catherine."

"I know, but I want to. Iíve found over the last year, that I actually like to cook, but it isnít any fun cooking for just myself. With you here, I will have someone to practice on," she said with an impish grin. "In fact, I have a roast in the crock pot right now for dinner tonight."

"It smells delicious," he said then changed the subject. "What about laundry, Catherine?"

"Just put the stuff you want washed in the hamper in your bathroom and Iíll do all the laundry at the same time about once a week."

"You donít have to do my laundry, Catherine," he said even more adamantly than he had before.

"But I do my own, it wonít add to the work."

"But I may not have enough clothes to last an entire week; I packed light. I might need to wash things in between."

"Note to self," Catherine said mentally. "Find out what Vincent has brought with him and go through the stuff in the attic to fill in the gaps. Heís used to hand-me-downs. He shouldnít mind that they were Tomís or Daddyís."

"Weíll work it out," she said aloud. "I do laundry on Monday, so Iíll take care of it then and show you how to operate the washer and dryer."

* * * * * * * * * *

They spent a quiet weekend. Catherine finished up the manuscript she was working on and got it ready to mail on Monday, and Vincent spent a lot of time either reading or watching movies.

At one point late on Sunday afternoon she found him in front of the screen in the French door in the kitchen looking out.

"You know, Vincent. It is safe for you to go outside just about any time while youíre here. The whole property is fenced and posted, and no one gets in that isnít invited and expected. The gate is locked and can only be opened from here or with a special code at the gate. And you can use the pool any time."

"I have to admit that I am a little restless, but the idea of being outside in the sunshine is a little disconcerting. A whole lifetime of conditioning is hard to overcome."

Catherine, who had been outside earlier, pruning the rose bushes was wearing a pale green sundress and sandals. Vincent had quickly learned that he was going to have to shed several layers of clothing had started wearing jeans and chambray shirts, heíd gone as far as rolling his sleeves up to just below his elbows. The picture he presented was impressive, and Catherine knew that it would be even more so in the sunshine. She grabbed his hand and tugged him toward the door.

"Come on, no time like the present. The sun is getting low, so the sunlight isnít as bright. That might take some getting used to; Iíll have to see if there are any of Tomís sunglasses in the house."

He allowed himself to be led outside where she gave him a quick tour of the grounds. "The whole place is about four acres, and there is an eight foot high chain link fence around the whole four acres. The house is pretty much in the middle and the area around it that is cleared and landscaped is about two acres. The only other area that is landscaped is along the drive, which is half a mile long. You canít see the house from the road because of the trees and the curve in the drive a few hundred feet this side of the gate. Tom was a little paranoid; some of his projects hadnít been well received in some circles, and heíd had some threats, so he made sure that this house and his penthouse in the city were very secure. Peter knew about all this and that was why he knew you would be safe here. Landscapers come every Friday, they are here from around 1PM to 4PM. They ring at the gate, I open it from here and they come up and do what they need to do. As long as you are inside the house at that time, everything will be fine."

"Perhaps I could do some yard work?" he suggested.

"There isnít much to do. Iím thinking about putting in some more shrubs around the deck. Maybe you and I can do that instead of getting the landscapers to do it."

He nodded. "And the pool?"

She looked at him, "The pool?"

"Yes. Does it require maintenance?"

"I usually skim the leaves out of it before I swim in the morning and test then add chemicals once a week. I check the filters and skimmers every few days to make sure nothing is clogged."

"If you will show me how, I can take care of the pool while Iím here. Iím used to being busy, Catherine." He added before she could protest, "At home I teach classes in the morning, work on other more physically demanding things in the afternoon and then sometimes stand sentry duty or do patrols in the evening."

"I was just going to suggest that you treat this stay like a vacation of sorts. Relax and enjoy yourself."

"But I would enjoy it. The chance to get outside in the sunlight will be a novelty in itself."

They continued their discussion on and off through the rest of the evening and finally came to an agreement of sorts: Vincent would take care of the pool and help Catherine plant the shrubs if he was still there when she decided to do it. She would do the cooking and laundry and they would collaborate on the other housework.

On Monday, when she did the laundry, Catherine discovered just how little was in Vincentís wardrobe. At least that which heíd brought that was wearable Above in late August. After a little questioning, she got out of him that he had three pair of briefs, three pair of socks, one pair of jeans, two chambray shirts and two t-shirts. There was more, but it was heavier stuff that was too warm. Cathy headed for the attic where she had stored the clothes that Tom had kept at the house. She descended a little while later carrying six brand new pairs of briefs, still in their wrapping, a brand new bag of white athletic socks, three pairs of jeans, ranging from well worn to almost new, several long sleeved chambray work shirts (Tom often wore them on work sites), a couple pairs of pajamas, a robe, a bathing suit and a pair of cut off jean shorts. Tom had only been a little shorter than Vincent, and in the last couple years he had started working out at the gym and had become a little more muscular.

She knocked on the door to Vincentís sitting room and he was stunned to see her standing there with her arms full when he opened it.

"Catherine, what is all this?"

"Some of Tomís old stuff. I was going to send it all off to the Goodwill, but never got around to it. Now Iím glad I didnít," she walked past him, through the room and into the bedroom where she dumped it all on the bed. "From the size tags in your things, you wear the same size. You are a little taller, but I think it is because you have a longer torso than Tom did."

She started sorting though the stuff, folding it and stacking it neatly on the bed.

She was retrieving hangers to hang the shirts when Vincent recovered enough to protest.

"But Catherine, I canít take all this."

"Yes you can," she insisted. "In fact, when you go back I think Iíll just send all the rest of the stuff with you too. I have several boxes of my old stuff and all Dadís and Tomís clothes, stored in the attic. Iím sure that you can use it Below. As I remember, Mom always used to send all our old stuff down to Mary."

All Vincent could do was shake his head. "Thank you Catherine, you are very generous, but wonít it bother you to see someone else wearing your husbandís clothing?"

She just flipped her hand at him and then tossed the bag of socks at him. "Here open these and fold them. As far as it bothering me, I didnít see Tom in most of these things. I donít know if Peter told you, but Tom and I were separating. I had just told him that I was going to move back to my old apartment in the city and would be filing for divorce. He was angry and had been drinking, that is was a contributing factor in the accident. I am sorry that heís dead, but even if heíd lived, we wouldnít be together right now. And you and I would probably be at my Dadís place in Connecticut instead of here." She held up pair of baggy red and white swim shorts. She looked from them to Vincent and then back at them. "I donít think so," she commented. She picked up the pair of cut off jean shorts. "I imagine these would probably be more to your liking for swimming."

"But I still sense a sadness from you when you speak of him," said Vincent as he rolled socks.

"I am sad. It was sad that he died. He was only 37. Even though it wasnít his primary reason for doing the work; he was doing a lot of good. As his last project was for the city, he developed a low income housing project that was virtually indestructible and easy to maintain, but still comfortable, and attractive," she stopped and closed her eyes for a moment. "Iím sad for what we didnít have. I know I went into the marriage realizing that I didnít love him as much as I probably should have, but I thought we would grow into it. Iím sad for the baby I lostÖ" she sighed as Vincentís head came up at the mention of losing a child. "It was just a sad situation all around, but itís over now, and Iím ready to move on." She smiled at him weakly and went back to folding.

"I didnít know you lost a child, Catherine." It was Vincentís turn to stop what he was doing and gather himself. "I can only imagine what that would be like."

"I was barely three months pregnant. It was a miscarriage, but every May, that is when the baby would have been born, I canít help but think about it. It, I donít even know if it was a girl or a boy, would have been two years old this past May."

They worked together for a few minutes; Catherine had just come back after hanging the shirts in the closet. Vincent was standing at the foot of the bed holding a package of briefs; he had a strange look on his face.

She went to his side and laid her hand on his arm just below where he had his sleeve rolled up.

"Is something wrong, Vincent?" she asked.

He looked up at her, gave her a slight smile then turned a definite shade of pink. "Iíve never had brand new underwear before," he admitted.

His comment surely lightened the mood. She smiled and it was all she could do to keep from hugging him. She squeezed his arm, causing a strange tingle to run all the way up his arm; it felt like it went straight into his heart causing a warm sensation to radiate out. He was distracted by this sensation and had to force his attention back to her. She was asking how they managed to keep everyoneís clothing straight Below, since she knew that there was a communal laundry.

"Clothing is marked with initials, and baskets are marked with the same initials. On laundry day everyone carries their own basket to the laundry then the people who have that detail wash everything, and then when it is dry they fold it and put it in the basket with the matching initials, and at the end of the day, we each go and pick up our basket and take it back to our chambers and put it all away. Communal items like towels and bedding are washed then placed in the various bathing chambers or stacked in a cabinet in the laundry chamber. Father and I have a private bathing chamber that we share, so we pick up towels when we pick up our laundry and replenish our own. The childrenís clothing is handed down so much that Mary puts iron on tapes in them and when a child outgrows something their tapes are taken off and the tapes of the next one are put in."

"A lot of thought and planning has been put into it all," she said. "When I close this place and put it on the market, I will be getting rid of a lot of stuff, linens, rugs, drapes, even furniture. I wonít need any of it. Iíll have many things I can send Below. Is there a special place I can send it?"

"There is a storage warehouse on 63rd, Brightonís. Call Joshua and tell him that you have things to go Below and he will arrange to receive them and will see to it that we get them. He has a freight elevator that goes many feet down below his building." He looked at her. "Thank you Catherine."

"You are welcome, Vincent. I think it is time I got back to being an active Helper. I will once I get back to the city." She patted his arm again, the hair was surprisingly soft, she noted. "You finish up here and I will go get dinner started.

When Catherine had left the room and closed the door behind her, Vincent dropped into a chair and took a deep breath. Heíd noticed a strange tingle a few times before when she had touched him, but none like what he had just experienced. It was almost as if her small hand had reached into his soul and caressed it, instead of just touching his arm. He could still feel the warmth that had rolled up his arm and straight into his heart. He closed his eyes to focus on it. When he did, he noticed that he could almost hear a second heartbeat beating slightly out of rhythm with his. As he focused harder on it, it seemed as if his own heartbeat synchronized with the other. There was a connection of some sort. Almost like a fine silver cord that ran from his center outward, to where, he wasnít sure. The feeling didnít dissipate as he finished putting away the clothing. It was almost tangible, as if he could reach out and tug it and pull whatever was attached to the other end to him. Absently he left his room and followed the connection until it led him to the kitchen and to Catherine.

He stood in the door, staring at her. He could almost see the cord running from his heart to hers, she nearly glowed. She looked up and smiled. "Dinner is almost ready," she said. "If you like you can set the table."

Without thought, he followed her direction and set the table.

He was distracted though dinner and right after he finished helping her clean up, he excused himself and told her he thought he might retire early.

Vincent was unusually quiet the next couple of days and he spent a lot of time by himself; she really only saw him at meals. When she left on Wednesday morning to go do her regular shopping in the nearest town, she promised herself that if he was still that quiet after dinner that night she would talk to him and try to find out if something was wrong.

After lunch, Vincent watched Catherine drive away and he almost breathed a sigh of relief. Over the previous few days heíd become very aware of the connection that had developed between the two of them. Heíd been aware of empathic connections to people before, but he usually had to be in direct physical contact with them. This thing, this Bond with Catherine didnít even require that they be in the same room, and he had a feeling that distance wouldnít diminish it either. Her shopping trip this afternoon would test that theory.

He was restless and wandered around the house for a while and then decided that it would be a good time to try the pool. Maybe he could swim off some restless energy. He alternately swam laps and floated for a while. He settled on one of the lounges beside the pool and dozed off.

He hadnít heard Catherine drive up and didnít realize that she was there until he heard the back door to the garage open and close. He looked up to see Catherine heading for the storage building containing the pool equipment behind the pool. She had her arms full with new filters and pool chemicals and didnít even see him until he jumped up.

The sight that met her eyes when Vincent jumped up from the lounge chair was stunning. "God, heís gorgeous!" she thought as her footsteps faltered and her eyes went from his bare toes all the way up to the top of his head. He had less body hair than sheíd expected, and what there was looked as soft as a kitten. Her fingers positively itched with the urge to touch. His jean shorts were wet, so she knew heíd been swimming. Then she caught herself and mentally berated herself for staring. She knew how conscious Vincent was of his differences, she shouldnít call attention to them by staring, even if she was staring because she thought he was the most attractive man sheíd seen in years.

She nodded in what she hoped was a nonchalant way, "I see you tried the pool. I just might too, after I get all this stuff put away."

"Let me change and Iíll help you," he called as he almost ran into the house.

Catherine shook her head and continued to the pool shed were she put away her purchases and headed back to the garage.

Vincent had just made the door of his bathroom when he felt a sharp pain in his right side and then the sense of not being able to breathe. All of this was accompanied by an acute sense of panic. None of the sensations were his own, he knew they were coming from Catherine. He turned and ran back downstairs and out onto the deck. For a moment, he didnít see her, but then he saw she was in the pool, fighting her way back to the surface. He was in the pool and had her out in seconds. He carried her to the lounge heíd been using earlier. He sat, keeping her securely in his arms. She was coughing, sputtering and gasping. He wrapped the towel heíd left on the lounge around her and rubbed her back until she finally caught her breath.

"Are you hurt, Catherine?" he asked with concern.

"Only my pride," she leaned against him as she worked to calm her heart and her breathing.

She glanced over her shoulder at the pool where her shoes were floating. "I wore those darned, hard soled slip-ons. They arenít good around the pool. I slipped on a wet tile. When I hit the ground it knocked the breath out of me and I swear I bounced into the pool and then I sunk like a rock."She sat up and looked up at him, "Thank you for fishing me out. I didnít know youíd come back down."

"I came back for the towel," he lied, indicating the one that heíd wrapped around her. He stood and set her back on her feet. He stepped back and looked closely at her. "Did you hit anything? Your head?"

"No, I landed pretty much flat on my back, but I must have been holding my head up because I didnít hit it." She rubbed her right side. "I did hit the ladder rail. I think that is what knocked the breath out of me."

Vincent reached out and his hand went directly to the spot sheíd hit; he probed gently. "It doesnít feel like you broke any ribs, but you will probably be sore and have a big bruise. Why donít you go change and we will finish putting everything away when we are dry."

He watched her go into the house before he followed and went upstairs. He had spent the most of the time sheíd been gone analyzing the Bond. He had been right when he had assumed that distance didnít diminish it. He had monitored it closely while sheíd been running errands. Heíd also learned that he could damp it down so that it wasnít so overwhelming, but even so, he was surprised that he hadnít noticed that she was home. He must have fallen asleep.

The feeling that heíd had when she had fallen had been totally different from what he normally felt. He had worked on keeping his feelings separate from hers. He could tell what was coming from her and what was his, but when she had fallen, momentarily, it was as if they were one. Heíd felt the sharp pain in his side when sheíd hit the pool ladder rail, then the sense of panic when she couldnít breathe. He couldnít breathe for a moment.

When Catherine entered the kitchen about half an hour later, she found a fully clothed Vincent at the kitchen sink, washing produce. All the groceries had been put away.

Vincent put the vegetables in a colander and set them aside to drain, then he picked up a dish towel and dried his hands as he turned around.

Catherine walked straight across the room to him, put her arms around him and hugged him.

"Thank you, Vincent," she said with quiet intensity, her voice muffled a little from where she pressed her cheek against his chest.

He didnít seem to know what to do with his arms and he held them slightly out and away from her body.

"Putting away the groceries hardly seems to rate such a heartfelt Ďthank youí, Catherine," he said in a slightly strained voice.

"Not for putting away the groceries," she leaned back and looked up at him without loosening her hold. "For quite possibly saving my life! If you hadnít been here, I might not have made it out of that pool." She nestled comfortably back into his chest.

He finally gave in to the pull from the Bond. He dropped the dishtowel, put his arms around her and rested his cheek on the top of her head. "You are welcome, Catherine, but Iím sure you would have been all right."

"Iím not so sure about that. I was starting to lose consciousness before you pulled me out. I donít remember anything from the time I hit the water until I opened my eyes and you were holding me on the lounge chair." She didnít seem inclined to separate herself from him and if anyone had asked him at that moment, neither was he. Finally, she did and he was surprised at how empty his arms felt. "Itís probably about time to start dinner," she observed as she stooped to pick up the towel heíd dropped.

She turned her back to him so that he couldnít see how the embrace had affected her. Sheíd intended it to be a friendly hug and a thank you, but once heíd put his arms around her, she hadnít wanted to move. She folded the towel and hung it over the oven door handle before she went to the pantry.

She didnít know that Vincent knew what she was feeling. Heíd turned around and was staring out the window over the sink as he tuned into what she was feeling. What surprised him most was that they were a mirror image of his feelings.

"How about Italian for dinner tonight?" she called from the pantry. "Iíve got everything we need for baked ziti with Italian sausage."

"That sounds delicious, Catherine," said Vincent as he turned away from the window and back to the room. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

They prepared the meal together, only breaking the companionable silence occasionally.

For the first time since his arrival, Catherine put a bottle of wine on the table for dinner. It was Italian and the label was entirely in Italian. Vincent was trying to read it as Catherine served dinner.

"Itís a semi-dry table wine that goes great with pasta," she explained as she sat down. Dad sent several cases back from Italy last time he went. Do you drink wine?" she asked.

"Occasionally," was his reply.

She poured him a glass then filled her own before she passed him the salad and pasta bowls.

The wine did relax Vincent, probably for the first time since heíd started making discoveries about the Bond. She was happy to see him actually sit back in his chair and not look like he was ready to jump up and run out at the slightest provocation. She was contemplating asking if there was a problem when he asked if there was any dessert.

"As a matter of fact, I picked up some cannoli or if you would rather have something else thereís ice cream," she said as she started clearing the table.

"Cannoli! We have a Helper who owns and Italian bakery and he sends us all his day old goods. We get a lot of bread, but we seldom get any pastries,"

"Then cannoli it is." She took the teapot to the counter, added loose tea, filled it from the hot water dispenser, then she went to the refrigerator and took out the pastries.

"Iíve been eating so well since youíve been here that Iím probably going to get fat," she commented as she and Vincent cleared up and loaded the dishwasher.

"I doubt that," he disagreed. "You are always busy. I donít think you sit still from the time you wake in the morning until you go to bed at night."

"Well, I intend to be still tonight. I was thinking about watching a movie. Would you care to join me?"

"Thank you, Catherine. What did you have in mind?"

She stopped and leaned on the counter. "Iím not sure. There is Romeo and Juliet that was made in 1968, the musical version of Oliver Twist also made in 1968 or the classic Guys and Dolls from 1955. Iím just warning you, if we watch one of the musicals, Iíll probably sing."

Vincent closed the door to the dishwasher and turned to face her. "I think Iíll take a chance on that. Why donít we watch Guys and Dolls; I think Iím in the mood for something a little less tragic than Romeo and Juliet."

"Do you want to watch it in the living room or the library?" she asked.

"I canít make all the decisions, Catherine. Where would you be more comfortable?"

"The living room has a bigger TV but the sofa in the library is more comfortable. Itís closer to the TV so itís almost the same."

They spent the next two and a half hours shoulder to shoulder on the sofa in the library with their feet on the coffee table watching the movie. Catherine restrained herself and managed not to sing, but she did hum a little in spots.

The next few weeks were idyllic in Catherineís opinion. She knew that Vincent missed his home and his family, but she also knew that he was enjoying his stay with her. They each developed their own routines that intertwined several times a day.

Catherine would be up early, swim her laps in the pool, and on her way in she would turn on the coffee pot and start a pot of tea before she went to shower and dress. Vincent would join her in the kitchen for breakfast, and they would spend most mornings sharing the household chores. After lunch Catherine would retreat to her office to write for a few hours while Vincent took his turn in the pool. They would usually fix dinner together and then spend most of their evenings together, either in the library or on the deck. They would read, read to each other, watch movies, or just talk. They became good friends and Catherine was beginning to feel like she wanted more than just friendship from Vincent, but every time she got anywhere near the subject or tried to get too cozy he would either find a way to change the subject or he would decide it was time for him to go to bed.

August was almost over, Vincent had been there about a month, when they finally got around to planting the shrubs at the end of the deck.

They were putting the finishing touches on the job when Catherine straightened up and mopped her forehead with her sleeve.

"I think we picked the hottest day of the year to do this," she commented.

Both of them had sweat through their shirts. She knew that if Vincent had been anyone else he would have shed his shirt long ago.

Vincent leaned on the shovel and smiled at her. "At least it is done. We will probably have a storm, there is no breeze at all, and the humidity is very high. That should cool things off."

They put away their tools and headed into the house; even with all the windows open it was hot inside, especially upstairs. "I think tonight might be a good night to have salad and some of that leftover chicken for dinner," suggested Vincent.

"And that gazpacho I picked up at the supermarket the other day. Cold soup, salad and iced tea sound wonderful."

After showers they enjoyed a leisurely dinner on the shady end of the deck, and they lingered there, talking until it was dark. Vincent helped Catherine clear up and then they headed back outside where they stayed until late.

"It is probably hot in the house, but I think Iím sleepy enough to be able to sleep in spite of it," said Catherine, standing and stretching. She patted Vincentís arm as she passed. "Good night Vincent."

"Good night, Catherine. I wonít be out here long. Iíll lock up before I go to bed.

Back in her room Catherine made sure all her windows were open, hoping to catch a stray breeze, but there didnít seem to be any. After washing her face and brushing her teeth she pulled on the lightest cotton nightgown she had and crawled into the bed.

It was nearing midnight and she still wasnít asleep. Maybe a dip in the pool would help. Catherine felt like she really needed it, she was sweating and all she was doing was lying in bed. It was stifling inside. Tom had never installed air conditioning; heíd hated it, and for the three or four times a year it was really needed it wasnít worth the trouble; it was one of the few things theyíd agreed on, but on days like today she was willing to reconsider.

She went to the chest of drawers and pulled out the white two piece she usually wore, but then a glance out the window at the pool, sparkling invitingly in the yard, changed her mind. She dropped the suit back in the drawer. She pulled off her nightgown and pulled on her robe instead. She gathered her hair up into a ponytail in hopes of not getting it wet this time. She had taken care of the pool maintenance earlier in the day and the chemicals in the pool was still pretty strong; it was hard on her hair. A few tendrils brushed against her neck as she tied the belt of the robe a little tighter.

She stood in front of the mirror for a few seconds, looking at herself. The bedroom window was open and the slight breeze blowing in was a little cooler than it had been a little while ago; it had shifted and was coming out of the north. Maybe Vincent was right and they would have a storm that could cool things down. The breeze made goose-bumps rise on her skin.

Biting her lip softly she stifled a giggle, she hadnít gone skinny dipping since Vincentís arrival, but there was little chance that heíd be hitting the pool this late in the evening so she figured she was safe from discovery. She grabbed towel from the linen closet behind the bathroom door and quietly slipped out of her room, through the kitchen and out the back door.

A blast of humidity hit her in the face, but it did feel cooler than it had only an hour ago. She walked to the pool and dropped her towel and robe on a lounge before she dove into the sparkling water with barely a splash.

"Darn," she thought as she surfaced. "So much for not getting my hair wet."

The water was lukewarm, but still refreshing.

Soon the only sounds were the crickets and the faint splashes of her arms cutting through the water. She usually swam laps in the morning for exercise, so now, after swimming from one end of the pool to the other and back again only once she stopped in the middle; almost in the the deepest part. She floated, treading water, enjoying the quiet and the water.

There was thunder in the distance, but the sky overhead was still clear. Her senses were alert, had she heard something? It had sounded like the snick of the door latch. Was it Vincent? Would he join her in the pool? Hope and a little concern swelled in her breast, her heart beat a little faster.

He didnít know she was in the pool until he was outside and halfway across the deck. Then he saw her glide across the water toward the far end.

"Are you going to join me?" she called before he could retreat.

"Um, I donít want to disturb you. It was stuffy in the house. I thought I would get some fresh air" he called back, his voice seemed muffled in the darkness; maybe it was the humidity hanging in the air.

The moon was shining high overhead. High and full. If only he would step out of the shadow she would be able to see his face.

"In your shorts?" she asked, referring to the jean shorts she had given him to swim in.

He chuckled from deep in his chest. "You do have your suit on," he said, not asking.

"I think that you already know the answer to that," she hedged and started to swim again, staying still in the water was making her shiver; it was cooling off quickly.

"All right, I'll join you." He gave in rather easily. "On one condition." He took a step closer, into the light, but hesitated as if not quite sure.

She was treading water again, he could hear her breathing.

"What condition?" she asked, itching with curiosity. He was teasing her; not something Vincent did often.

"I'll swim with you if you'll stay on your side of the pool," he finally said with a slight smile.

She mulled this over for a few seconds. He must know she was skinny dipping to make that condition.

"Deal!" she said. She backed over to the opposite side of the pool, into the shadow and let herself sink a little lower into the water.

Sheíd seen him in the pool a couple of times since that first time sheíd surprised him, heíd become a little less embarrassed about showing his body, but he still wasnít completely at ease.

She closed her eyes and let her mind drift. She would love to undress him; run her fingers down his chest, taste his skin. To move her mouth up his neck and over his lips, teasing a little.

"Catherine?" the rough sound of his voice brought her back to reality.

She pushed the fantasy away. Where had that come from? It was as if he could read her mind sometimes; she started swimming again.

He dove in and was gliding deeper into the shadowy depths until she couldn't see him. All was quiet. She held her breath, waiting for him to come up for air; he could stay under water longer than anyone sheíd ever known.

A sharp tug on her ankle, almost pulling her under, made her gasp in surprise. Her pulse rate increased accordingly.

He came up in front of her looking distressed and almost immediately turned away.

"Iím sorry Catherine, I was only jokingÖI didnít realize that you werenít wearing a bathing suit." He was clearly embarrassed and started to push away from her.

"Iím sorry, I didnít expect company. I just wanted to cool off. Iíve accomplished that mission, I can leave and you can have the pool to yourself," she could tell he was upset.

She stroked for the side of the pool but before she could pull herself out, he was floating behind her. One slight move and she could be pressed against him. She was sorely tempted.

"Catherine, I am sorry for invading your privacy," he said softly, then moved past her and started up the stairs out of the pool. "Iíve cooled off now, Iíll go back inside." She watched as he picked up the towel heíd dropped and walked across the deck to the back door. From the way his wet shorts fit, she could tell that heíd lied when heíd said heíd "cooled off."

Catherine floated placidly in the pool, looking at the moon and contemplating the enigma that was Vincent. That he had reached his mid 30ís and remained such an innocent was amazing in this day and age, but then again, maybe not so, considering where heíd been raised and by whom.

She floated a while longer. The thunder was getting louder, the storm must be closer; time to go inside. Tomorrow would be cooler, at least the weather would be, she mused as she stepped out of the pool, picked up her towel and robe and headed back inside.

Catherineís sleep was not very restful that night. Her dreams were full of Vincent and possibilities. The storm finally struck almost two hours after sheíd gone back to bed, and she rushed around the house checking to make sure that it wasnít raining in any of the open windows. She heard Vincent upstairs doing the same. The storm was short, but violent, but when it ended less than half an hour later, there was a lovely breeze and the house cooled off quickly.

The next morning at breakfast, Vincent could hardly look Catherine in the eye. He sat in a chair at the table and stared out the window. After she put his plate in front of him, she slipped her arms around him from behind and gave him a quick hug.

"Iím sorry I embarrassed you last night, Vincent," she said as she sat down at her place.

"No, Catherine, I shouldnít have barged in on your privacy," he finally looked at her.

"And I should have told you right up front that I wasnít wearing a suit. I donít often skinny dip, and I promise I wonít do it again while you are here. I wasnít thinking, I think the heat cooked my brain," she tried to inject some humor into the situation.

Vincent sighed deeply as he picked up his fork and shoved the scrambled eggs around on his plate. "It isnít you, Catherine, itís me. You shouldnít have to change the way you do things just because Iím here. I will refrain from midnight swims for the rest of the time Iím here."

"Youíve done it before?" she asked as she buttered a piece of toast.

"Several times. Iím used to a lot more physical labor than Iíve been doing here. Sometimes Iíve had to tire myself out so I could sleep." He didnít mention that sometimes he had to work off the remnants of dreams. Last night had been one of those nights. Heíd gone to bed and gone right to sleep, in spite of the heat, but had woke an hour later from a very explicit dream of Catherine. Going down to the pool and seeing her had startled him; finding that she was swimming naked had completely unnerved him.

"Vincent, you know that I trust you implicitly donít you?" Her hand covered his on the table and he jumped, but he didnít withdraw it.

"Thank you, Catherine," was all he could manage.

"If you want to get right down to it, Iíve known you nearly all my life. Peter always loved to tell me about the first time you ever saw me,"

Vincent was intrigued, he hadnít heard the story. "He does? Heís never told me," he said.

"Yes, he used to tell it all the time. He hasnít in years. He said that I was only a few months old the first time I visited Fatherís study. It was Momís first visit too. You were about three. Youíd had a few accidents with the other children; you hadnít learned to be careful with your claws yet." She rubbed his fingers. "He said that Father didnít want you to get anywhere near me, but youíd never seen a baby before, you were the youngest Below at the time, and you were fascinated. Mom didnít see any harm in it so she turned me so that you could see me. It was warm in Fatherís study, so sheíd unwrapped the blanket I was in. You came over and at first you just looked. Peter said that we stared as if we were memorizing each otherís faces. Then you reached out to touch me, and even without being told, you only touched with the backs of your fingers and you kept your claws turned away from me; at least until I grabbed your hand and stuck one of your fingers in my mouth. Peter said Father had a fit, but Mom said that it was OK; you still gently removed your hand and then we did the staring thing again for a while."

"I remember a lot from my early childhood, but not that. I think my first real memory was of Winterfest when I was about four." She noticed that he seemed to be relaxing so she removed her hand and started eating her breakfast.

"I do remember what I thought was the first time I met you; I guess it was actually the second time. I think you must have been about six. Peter had been down to discuss with Father the possibility of him bringing his daughter Susan and you Below for a visit. He assured Father that you both understood the need for secrecy and that heíd prepared you to meet me. Susan had nearly grown up with me around; she hadnít been Below, but Iíd been up to their house many times." He smiled as he reminisced. "I heard you and Susan before I saw you. I heard you saying to Susan that youíd heard so much about me that you couldnít wait until you met me. When you did the first thing you said was: ĎIím so glad to finally meet you, Vincent. You are even more handsome than Susan said.í I was about nine and just old enough to blush at that."

Catherine laughed. "I remember that. I was going through my very outspoken, independent stage at six. I donít care what I was thinking, it would just fall out of my mouth." She tilted her head to one side and studied him in the morning sunlight. "But I was right, you were handsome then and even more so now."

She laughed as he blushed as red as he had the first time sheíd said it.

"Catherine!" he admonished.

"Well, itís true. I think you are the most physically attractive man Iíve ever met, but as my mother used to say, Ďpretty is as pretty doesí, and you are even more beautiful inside. You are the whole package, Vincent, tied up with a lovely bow."

She smiled into his eyes and he could feel the waves of sincerity and even love flowing to him through the Bond.

"What would she think of the Bond?" he wondered.

He quickly lowered his eyes and started to eat. "You flatter me, Catherine," he said.

"It isnít flattery if itís true." She got up and went to get the teapot. She refilled his cup and then set it down and went back for the coffeepot. She refilled her cup and sat back in her chair. They finished their meal in silence.

As they were putting the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, Catherine looked at Vincent and asked, "Did I embarrass you again, Vincent?"

"A little. Why did you say that?"

She was surprised at the question. "Because it is true, Vincent. You are wonderful the way you are. I wouldnít want you to be any different, except maybe to be able to accept that people might find you attractive; that women might find you attractive. Havenít any of the women Below ever said anything to that affect?"

"There was a girl once, Lisa," he said as he leaned on the counter and crossed his arms across his chest. "I dared to dream, dreams that included her. I thought she returned my feelings, but I found out that I was wrong. We both suffered for it."

"What happened?" Catherine closed the dishwasher and settled back into her chair.

"She was a talented dancer. She took lessons from a helper who taught ballet. Her teacher thought she had potential so she arranged an audition for her with a great teacher at a prestigious school Above. Lisa practiced and rehearsed her audition dance for months. She wanted to have every step perfect. I was happy for her, but sad that if she did well, she would move Above and live either at the Helperís house or at the school. She felt she was finally able to show me what she planned to do for her audition, so we went to the Great Hall so she could dance for me. She said that she needed a boy to stand in the middle of the room; that the dance was from a well known ballet that had a male dancer in it too. Up to then sheíd only used a chair. She wanted me to stand in the middle of the room. I did and as she danced, I became aroused." He dropped his eyes as if ashamed. "One time when she came close I reached for her and tried to take her in my arms, but she pulled away." He was holding his hands in front of him looking at them as if he loathed them. "I didnít let go; these," he closed his hands into fists, "wouldnít let go. It frightened her and she tried to pull away and I hurt her, Catherine. Long, deep scratches on her flawless shoulder."

Catherine stood and rushed over to him. Taking both his fists in her hands she kissed the back of each, as he gasped at her action.

"How old were you?" she asked.

"Sixteen, nearly seventeen."

"Vincent, that could have happened to anyone. Teenagers are notoriously clumsy."

She dropped his hands and turned so he could see the underside of her right upper arm. "See this?"

He looked closer at a three inch long scar that didnít normally show.

"How did you get that?" he asked.

"From a boyfriend, while I was in high school. In a situation very like what you just described. We were on our Junior Class trip. Weíd spent the day at the beach and I had been teasing that poor boy unmercifully all day. Girls do that. They like to try out their powers and the poor teenage boys donít have a chance. He did exactly what you did. He grabbed my arm, and I did exactly what Lisa did; I pulled away, and I got scratched for it. It frightened us both. He apologized all the way home on the bus, and I learned not to tease boys."

She decided to press her luck a little further and she stepped in and hugged Vincent tightly, she was surprised when she felt his arms come around her and he returned the hug. "We learn from those experiences." She stepped back and looked up at him. "Now, what do you say that we ditch the work plans today and do something fun?"

"What did you have in mind?"

"How about a walk in the woods? There are trails and it is usually very nice. I should have suggested it weeks ago."

The spent the morning walking, bird watching, laughing at the squirrels, picking wild flowers and talking; and then they spent the afternoon splashing in the pool.

That evening as they were preparing dinner the phone rang and Catherine answered it.

"Hello?"

"Cathy. Itís Peter. How are you two doing?"

"Great, Peter. We were just fixing dinner."

"Then I will make this short. Denton was arrested a few days ago. He didnít talk, and while he was in jail he got into a fight, was knifed and died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. It is safe for Vincent to go home."

Vincent had been watching Catherineís face since he heard Peterís name. He saw her expression change from all smiles to abject sadness, and he felt her sadness through the Bond.

"Thanks, Peter, Iíll tell him. When will you be up?"

"Iíll drive up Friday afternoon. We can drive back as soon as it gets dark," he said cheerfully, unaware of the black cloud that had just settled over Catherineís life. "Iíll let you get back to fixing dinner and Iíll see you Friday."

"Good, Peter," she turned her back to the room and Vincent and stared out the window. "We will see you then." She dropped the phone into the cradle and gripped the edge of the sink with both hands. When she turned around she was smiling, but the smile didnít reach her eyes.

"Peter said the danger is over and you can go home," she explained the circumstances.

Vincent listened, and although he was distressed at hearing of Mitchís death, he was concerned for Catherine.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

"Oh, Iím fine." She waved a hand at him. "Iím just surprised. I was getting used to having you around and had almost forgotten that you would ever have to leave." She turned away from him and started moving dishes to the table. "Letís get dinner over and you can start getting ready; Peter will be here day after tomorrow."

Catherine managed to stay busy and hold it together until Thursday evening. Theyíd spent the afternoon moving boxes of clothes down from the attic so Vincent and Peter could take them back with them. She was tired from all the trips up and down the stairs and had said she wanted to go to bed early. She was getting ready for bed when she decided that she would do the last of the laundry so Vincent could take all his clothes home clean.

In the laundry room, she dumped the last load in the washer and one of the chambray shirts that Vincent had been wearing missed the washer and wound up on the floor. She leaned to pick it up, but as she did she caught a whiff of Vincent, his soap, and his own special scent, from it. Before she knew it she had slid down the front of the washer and was on the floor sobbing into the shirt as if her heart would break.

Vincent was up in his room reading when he felt Catherineís sadness. He could tell she was crying and had to go comfort her. He found her in the laundry room floor, her back against the washer, her knees drawn up and her face buried in one of his shirts. He sat on the floor next to her and gathered her into his arms. She gave up the shirt in her hands for the one that he was wearing and continued to cry.

"Catherine, what is it?"

"Iím being stupid and selfish," she managed, "but Iím going to miss you terribly!"

"How is that stupid and selfish?" he asked as he rubbed her back.

She put her hands on his chest and pushed herself back a little so she could look into his eyes. "Because I know you miss Father, your family and your home, but if I could keep you here I would. That is selfish. Iím spoiled and Iím too used to getting what I want. She collapsed back against his chest and snuggled comfortably there.

He relaxed against the washer and tightened his arms around her. "I donít think that is true. If youíd been getting what you want for the last few years, neither of us would be sitting in the laundry room floor right now. And you are not spoiled, even when you were a child, I donít ever remember you sitting back doing nothing while others waited on you; I think Lisa was more spoiled than you were."

"Maybe itís just because since youíve been here Iíve seen where my life was lacking. I donít do anything for anyone else, Iíve been very self absorbed. Thatís why I want to become an active Helper once Iím back in the city. Iíve even begun to feel a little guilty about Tom."

"Why would you feel guilty about that?"

"Because by marrying him I was taking the easy way. What was stupid was that I knew what a real marriage was supposed to look like. I had my parentsí example, and Peter and Janine; but when I thought of them and remembered the pain that both Dad and Peter went through when they lost their wives, I decided that I didnít want that. I didnít want to love someone like that; it hurts too much if you lose them. I know better now, it hurts too much to live without it; and it hurts just as much when you find out about your spouseís infidelities whether you love them or not. I guess Tennysonís line 'Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at allí is true."

"Tennyson was a wise man," was all Vincent said.

"It just suddenly hit me that you are leaving in about less than twenty four hours and I havenít told you nearly all the things I want you to know." She drew in a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. "Iíll see you again, but it may be months."

"Catherine there is something I should tell you," said Vincent as he searched for a way to tell her about the Bond. He finally settled on telling the story from beginning to end.

"What is it?" she asked. He could feel her body tense.

"Nothing bad, at least I donít think it is, I hope you donítÖSince Iíve been here, Iíve developed a connection with you. Iíve always had some empathic abilities; theyíve been strongest with the people Iím closest to, Father, Mary, Devin and a few others. Even with them, Iíve always had to be in the same room with them or at least close by; and with almost anyone, I can establish a limited connection just by touching them. With you, it has been different. From the moment you took my hand when I arrived, a connection has been developing and growingÖto the point where now, even distance doesnít seem to diminish it. I can feel what youíre feeling, I almost know what youíre thinkingÖwhen youíre frightened, happy or sadÖI feel what youíre feeling, when you do."

She drew back again and looked up at him, "How?"

"I canít explain it. Iíve never experienced it before."

She reached up and touched his cheek, "And when Iím touching you?"

"It is enhanced; I get physical sensations. Just know that itís true. Your pain is my pain; sometimes almost as if we are one."

"That was how you knew when I fell by the pool," she said as the implications dawned on her.

"Yes. That time, even though I wasnít touching you, I felt the pain in my side when you hit the pool ladder. Extremely strong emotions must enhance the Bond even more."

"The Bond? Is that what it is?" she asked.

"That is what Iíve been calling it. It seems to have developed into more than a simple connection."

"Then, you are telling me that you think that even once you are home, this Bond will still be there and you will know what Iím doing 24/7?"

"I wonít be intruding, if that is what you mean. You are there, 24/7, as you put it, but most of the time I can damp it down to just a feeling, as if our hearts are beating almost in unison, with just enough syncopation that I can tell the difference and focus on yours if I want. Normally, if I want to know how you are, that is what I have to do; I make an effort and focus and then I can tell what you are feeling, or even if you are awake or asleep, but I canít read your mind," he assured her. "Itís only in times of great duress that I donít have to focus. It is as if your heart knows of the Bond and uses it to call out to me."

"If I wanted to, do you think I could send you a message?" she asked curiously.

"I donít know. If that message could be couched in feelings, you probably could. Maybe you should try it after I leave, then if I get it, I can make a note of the time and we can compare our notes when we see each other again."

She was still leaning against the washer studying him. "Is it the Bond that I feel, or do I really love you?" she said, almost as if she was asking herself.

Vincent was shocked at her words.

"Love?" he asked incredulously.

"Yes, you havenít felt that? Iíve probably been broadcasting it for days now," she said.

"I try not to intrude," he repeated his earlier words.

"Well, you might as well know, youíre bound to find out sooner or later. I love you. I compare what I feel for you and what Iíve experienced before and I think of something I heard my mother say to a friend once. The friend was talking to Mom, speculating on whether she was really in love with a man she was seeing. Mom told her that if she could picture spending the rest of her life without him and it didnít look dull and drab then she probably wasnít in love, but if it was dull and drab or if she just couldnít picture a life without him, then she was in loveÖVincent, I canít picture my life without you in it somewhere, preferably beside me. Life without you just doesnít work out to anything but dull, drab and lifeless."

Vincent stood, he moved very quickly, leaving her sitting on the floor.

"Catherine," there was a note of panic in his voice, "what you are picturing isnít possible."

Catherine swiftly came to her feet to stand in front of him. "Why not?" was her only question.

"Because it just isnít possible," he repeated. "Iím not like other men; I have a darkness inside me. It makes it impossible for me to love you as you deserve."

"I canít accept that Vincent. We all have things inside of us that arenít nice; and I will be the first to agree that you arenít like other men. You are more, better than most; you are gentle, strong and loving. Youíve shown me more love and consideration in the short time youíve been here than Tom did in the entire time we were married."

Vincent turned away from her and leaned against the dryer. "Catherine, please, just know that what I say is true. I can feel your love, and it is a wonderful thing, but I cannot accept it from you. To love me the way you want to would put too many limits on your life; it might even put you in danger and I canít be responsible for doing that.

She walked up behind him and put her hand on his back. "Vincent," she said softly, "no matter what the life, or who lives it, there are always limits. But limits can always be pushed and stretched, and sometimes they even cease to be limits."

Vincent shook his head and walked away. "No Catherine, you are wrong this time."

 

Breakfast the next morning was strained. Vincent came in while she was putting it on the table. He ate and left with not much more than a thank you. Catherine folded that last of his clean laundry and left it in the laundry room while she went to shower and dress. When she went back to get it to take to him, it was already gone.

Vincent managed to avoid her all day. He was on the move all day. She planned a special dinner for that evening, a kind celebration in spite of the way she felt about him leaving. She spent a lot of her day in the kitchen.

Peter arrived around 5PM and after a drink and a rest he and Vincent started loading all the boxes into the van.

Peter carried most of the conversation through dinner and they all helped to clean up. Finally it was time for them to leave.

Catherine walked out to the van with them. Vincent opened the door on the passengersí side and climbed in as Peter walked around to the driverís side and got it. Catherine followed Vincent and caught the door before he could close it.

"Thanks for hauling all this stuff back for me, Peter," she said.

"It will be appreciated Below, Iím sure. When can we expect to see you in town again, Cathy?"

"Iíve got to have find a good realtor. They say that houses sell better if they are occupied, so I suppose I should stay until it sells, but I will be in for Thanksgiving. Jenny and I have a standing date for that, and then I will probably come in to do some Christmas shopping. Iíll call you and let you know."

"Good, save a dinner date for me."

"I will Peter."

Catherine turned to Vincent; she leaned toward him and whispered, "Be well, Vincent," she followed it with a short sweet kiss. "I love you."

She stepped back and closed the door, leaving Vincent staring at her with a look of astonishment on his face. She stood and watched until the van reached the turn into the trees. Then she turned and went back into the house where she flipped the switch that closed the gate.

She walked through the house. It was so quiet. She went upstairs intending to strip Vincentís bed and pick up the last of the laundry from the hamper. But heíd already done that. She closed the windows in the room then left, closing the door behind her. She found everything from Vincentís room in the laundry baskets in the laundry room.

She suddenly felt exhausted, she hadnít slept well the night before, so she locked up the house and headed for her room. When she walked into her bedroom she saw something that made her break down. Vincent had left one of his shirts, probably the one heíd worn the day before, folded neatly on the foot of her bed and then she saw that one of her pillowcases was missing. She gathered up the shirt and buried her face in it. She fell asleep that way and woke the next morning feeling only a little better.

* * * * * * * * * *

One day at a time, she told herself every morning when she woke. She applied herself and finished a few chapters and sent them to her publisher. Autumn arrived and she had the landscapers cover the pool and get it ready for winter. She called the realtor and made an appointment to have someone come out to talk about selling the house.

Her first conversation with the realtor was a surprise. She asked when sheíd be moving out and told her that this type of estate actually sold better if it was empty and the potential buyer knew they could move in as soon as they closed. Catherine told her that she could be out by the end of the month.

Her first call was to Peter. She told him about her talk with Vincent about sending things below through Brightonís Warehouse. He knew Joshua and told her that he would call him and tell him to expect a delivery.

Then she called Jenny and told her that she was moving home. Jenny was so excited Catherine could hear it in her voice. Jenny said that sheíd call a cleaning service and have them go over and give her place a going over. Then she said that she would be up to help on moving day.

Her last call was to a moving company to set up a date and time for them to clear the entire house and deliver it to Brightonís Warehouse.

The week before the movers were due, Jenny arrived with a van to help Catherine move her personal things. It only took a couple of hours to fill the van and Catherineís car. Catherine called the realtor who said that she would be glad to meet the movers and let them in and then see to it that the place was cleaned and locked up afterward.

Peter met them at Catherineís apartment building and with the help of the doorman, they had everything carried up and piled in the living room before it got dark.

Late in the evening, after Jenny and Peter left Catherine finished unpacking her clothes. There were still boxes of books and keepsakes in the living room. Catherine showered and was standing on her balcony when she decided to send her first Ďmessageí to Vincent. Sheíd been so busy for the past six weeks that she hadnít even thought to try.

She took a deep breath, closed her eyes and sent all the love she was feeling out into the night. She knew he was out there, somewhere under the park, not all that far away. After a few minutes she sighed, smiled, then turned and went inside to bed.

* * * * * * * * * *

During his first few days home, Vincent had been distracted and distant, but eventually he got back into the routine of life Below. Father had been worried at first, but after a few days he was satisfied that Vincent was back to normal.

When Vincent had been home for a few weeks he joined Father for breakfast one day and asked him point blank, "Father, why is it you think that a normal relationship with a women is not a possibility for me?"

Father nearly choked on his tea. "Vincent," he said after he cleared his throat and put down his cup, "I donít think Iíve ever said that it would be impossible, just not something to be taken lightly. Any such relationship should not be taken lightly."

"But father, after Lisa left you always led me to believe that you didnít approve of me in any such relationship."

"My qualms had more to do with you having a relationship with a woman from Above. Lisa, even though she was raised Below, was always more a girl of the world Above. She never quite fit in here, she couldnít wait to go Above. If you had fallen in love with Rebecca or Olivia or another girl Below, I think I would have offered words of caution, but probably nothing more."

Vincent sat back in his chair, stunned. "I guess Iíve misunderstood you all these years, Father. I always thought you disapproved of any relationship with a woman."

"I donít know why you would have thought that," said Father.

"You saw to it that Lisa left so soon after the incident, that I thought you felt that she needed protection from me."

"No Vincent. She was in a hurry to get the audition over with. She wanted to be able to start at the school at the beginning of the next term. You became ill so soon afterward that there was no time to explain the circumstances. After you recovered, talking about Lisa seemed to be so painful for you that I just quit trying to talk to you about it. She wrote you once or twice, but I was honestly afraid to give you the letters."

"Do you still have them?" Vincent asked.

"I think so, look in the bottom drawer of my desk, I think there are two letters addressed to you. They were in outer envelopes sent to Peterís office."

Vincent went and looked and a few minutes later returned with the envelopes. "I think I will go back to my chamber and read these. Thank you Father."

Back in his chamber, Vincent sat at his table and carefully opened both envelopes. One was dated about a week after Lisaís departure and the other about a month after that. The first one was short.

 

Dear Vincent,

Iím sorry I left so quickly, and I want to be sure that you know that it wasnít because of what happened. Miss Porter came Below and told me that there is an opening in the next class, but I needed to have my audition done before that so a decision can be made.

Iíve had my audition and I think it went well. Miss Porter was there and she said that I danced perfectly. Iím just waiting to hear from the school.

By the way, the scratches are already healing and Dr. Alcott says that he doesnít think there will even be a scar.

I hope to see you soon.

Love,

Lisa

 

He laid the first letter aside and picked up the second. Where the handwriting in the first one had been neat and legible, the second looked like it had been written in a hurry.

 

Dear Vincent,

Iím sorry I havenít written, but then I was surprised when you didnít answer my first letter to you.

Iíve been very busy since I started at the school. I donít just have dance classes, although they are the focus; mine anyway, I have other classes too. My education Below was obviously a very good one, because I am about two years ahead of most of the others my age in most subjects. That will be nice, because I can stay here until Iím 18 but I wonít have to take a lot of academic classes and I will be able to concentrate on my dance.

I thought at first that I would be able to come home for Winterfest, but we have a recital the week before Christmas, so I wonít be able to make it, we have an important rehearsal that night.

I hope to see you again soon.

Love,

Lisa

 

Obviously the fact that heíd never answered her letters didnít bother her very much. She hadnít written any more after the second one and sheíd gone on with her life. Heíd heard about her occasionally. Miss Porter came for Winterfest every year and always had a report. At the last one Lisa had been the prima ballerina with a dance troupe from England.

It was a lot to take in. Lisa hadnít been traumatized by his reaction to her dance; Father hadnít decided that there wasnít a woman in Vincentís future. He needed to talk to someone else. Maybe he could catch Peter at home.

It was late afternoon when Vincent reached Peterís basement. He went up the stairs and tapped on the door into the kitchen. Peter was in the kitchen and opened the door quickly. He greeted Vincent and invited him to share his dinner.

Vincent joined him at the kitchen table. While they were eating Peter asked if there was a special reason for the visit.

"I had a talk with Father this morning and I wanted a second opinion."

"Are you ill, Vincent?" asked Peter with concern.

"No, Peter. It is something else. But as one of my doctors for most of my life, I wanted to ask you some questions."

"Sure, Vincent. What can I help you with?"

"Father said something years ago, that I obviously misunderstood. I always thought that he was of the opinion that I should never be involved in a relationship with a woman, but this morning, he told me that I misunderstood him. He didnít want me to get involved with a woman from Above, but if I fell in love with someone from Below he wouldnít stand in my way. I wanted your opinion. Is there any reason, any reason at all, why I shouldnít be able to have a normal relationship with a woman?"

Peter could tell that Vincent was embarrassed to ask what he was asking, but he was determined to know. Peter was determined to give him all the information that he wanted.

"Well, I havenít examined you since you were about sixteen, but physically, I never saw anything that would be a reason why it couldnít happen. You are physically stronger than most men, but youíve learned control, so I donít think it would ever be an issue. Jacob and I have speculated over the years whether or not you could ever be a father. If you like, you could give me a sample and I could tell you if you are fertile or not. But then there is always the question of whether or not your DNA is compatible. I could take a cheek swab and have it checked, but I donít know anyone who could do that discreetly and if your DNA was too much different it could raise questions that I donít have answers for."

Vincent shook his head. "I have no reason to really need to know any of that right now. If I ever get to that point, I wouldnít want to pass this," he indicated his appearance, "on to a child. I know what itís been like. Iíll keep your offer in mind. If I was to prove to be fertile, is there any other way to find out if my DNA would be compatible enough to produce offspring?"

"We could try to fertilize an egg outside the body; itís called in vitro fertilization, but if it worked it would mean actually creating an embryo that would either have to be destroyed or implanted, but I would rather not go that route."

"I agree. Iíll just cross that bridge, if and when I ever get to it."

Peter had been watching Vincent closely, now he asked a question.

"Does any of this have anything to do with Cathy?"

"It all started with a question to Father this morning. One thing led to anotherÖI just wanted to know." Vincent gave Peter a rather sheepish look. "The idea is going to take some getting used to."

Vincent stayed a little longer, they talked of other things then he left and headed home.

He detoured into Fatherís study where he allowed Father to lure him into a game of chess. He was distracted when he was suddenly bowled over by a feeling of happiness and joy. He knew it wasnít him, he was losing the chess game, so he had nothing to be that happy about. He considered that it might have been Fatherís happiness he was feeling, he didnít often beat Vincent at chess, but he didnít think Father would be that happy about winning. He probed it deeper; it was Catherine. He wondered what had made her so happy. Times like that he wished they had phones Below.

The children were happy that they had Vincent back as their teacher. He was seldom alone between breakfast and bedtime. He almost had to hide to be alone with his thoughts. He did his best to try to do that every few days, for the sake of his sanity. Heíd missed his family while he was gone, but heíd also enjoyed the peace and quiet and most of all, the privacy.

He was on his way back from one of those retreats late one evening when he was suddenly enveloped by a warm feeling. He stopped and leaned on the wall and concentrated on the Bond. It was Catherine, she was sending him another message full of love. It sent him back to his chamber with the intention to reexamine his long held convictions.

* * * * * * * * * *

Catherine had been back in her apartment about a week when she called Peter.

"Peter, could you take me Below to see Vincent?" she asked after they exchanged greetings.

"Sure, honey. Heís off on a work detail right now, but there is a childrenís concert planned for Saturday evening and I know he will be back for that. Iíve been invited; you can come with me then. Is that OK?"

"Yes, it sounds like fun. And it will allow me to see Vincent in a non-threatening environment."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Peter with a chuckle.

"Well, I kind of pushed him a little when he was staying with me." She decided to tell Peter the whole story. "Peter, he is the most wonderful person Iíve ever met. I donít know how to thank you for thinking of me when he needed a place to stay; for reintroducing us. I love him, and I think he returns the feelings. He told me that he has this empathic Bond with me and can feel what I feel."

"Iíve heard that he has those abilities," confirmed Peter.

"Well, he said that the Bond he has with me is different from any that he has with anyone else, that he can feel it even at a distance; but that is not the issue. The issue is that he has the crazy idea that he isnít allowed to love me back. I donít know if Iíll ever be able to change his mind on that, but I will settle for just being in his life, if that is all I can have."

"Honey, a man would have to be made out of granite not to love you. Vincent is only human, he will come around," Peter assured her.

"Are you sure of that, Peter? The human part, I mean. I donít have any doubts, but he seems to."

"Well," Peter smiled to himself as he spoke, "externally, he is like any man, except for the claws, teeth, hair and a few other minor anomalies. All his internal organs are present and in the places they are supposed to be. He has very little body fat and is stronger than most body builders, but his muscles donít bulge. His conditioning and stamina are excellent. He can work circles around even the fittest Below. One of his favorite ways to cover long distances is to run."

"You donít have to convince me, Peter. He is the most human man Iíve ever met. I think he is the one who needs the convincing."

"I think he is coming around, honey," he told her. "Now, if you can be at my place about 6PM on Saturday that should give us plenty of time to make it to the concert before it begins."

"Iíll be there. What should I wear?"

"Something warm. Iíd suggest slacks, shoes that you can walk in and a jacket. It will be warm in Jacobís study once everyone is there, but the tunnels will be chilly."

"OK, Iíll see you then. And thank you Peter."

"Youíre welcome, Cathy. Iím not sure what you are thanking me for, the concert invitation or the lesson on Vincentís anatomy, but youíre welcome."

"Both, Peter."

The rest of the week crawled. Catherine didnít have much to do. She talked to the realtor who was selling the house a couple of times. Sheíd already shown the place several times. She didnít think it would take long.

On Friday she met Jenny for lunch, and she spent Friday afternoon shopping. She wanted to take some gifts Below when she went but she wasnít sure what to take. She settled on chocolate for the children, and a special blend of tea for Father.

Saturday finally arrived and she took a cab to Peterís and arrived about thirty minutes early.

She waited a little impatiently while Peter finished dressing, and was all for leaving early.

Peter stalled and finally told her his reason.

"Cathy, I think it would be a good idea for us to arrive just before the concert actually starts. That will make it impossible for Vincent to take it into his head to leave, or for Jacob to question your attendance. You can join Vincent and I will make sure Jacob knows who you are and why you are there."

"Do you think that Vincent will try to leave, or that Father would object to me being there?"

"Iím not sure about Vincent. I had a rather strange talk with him a few weeks ago, and I donít think he would avoid you, but you never know, and I donít think there will be any problem with Jacob once he knows who you are, and I intend to tell him as soon as I get there."

They finally descended the stairs to Peterís basement and then the ladder down into the tunnel below his house. It was almost a thirty minute walk to the main hub of the community. When they passed the sentry post, Peter stopped to talk to the sentry and explain who she was and ask that the sentry not announce their approach. Once he was told who Catherine was, he agreed. Everyone knew that she was the person who had offered Vincent a place to stay when heíd had to leave the tunnels.

When they arrived at the study, the musical group was tuning up and it seemed like the whole community had crammed into the room. Peter stepped in first and scanned the room for Vincent. He found him near the side entrance sitting on the floor with his back against a bookcase, his head back and his eyes closed. Peter pointed him out to Catherine then took the bag with the chocolates and tea, and her jacket before she started picking her way around the perimeter of the room toward Vincent. He hung her jacket and his on the coat tree before he made his way to where Jacob was sitting.

Father was scanning the room when he saw a strange woman making her way around the room toward Vincent. He was on his feet and about to go to her to find out who she was, when Peter reached him and grabbed his arm.

"Sit down Jacob," he said. "Itís all right. Itís Cathy. Sheís moved back to the city. She called me and I invited her to come with me."

Father gave Peter a look of relief a sat back down in his chair.

About the same time, Catherine reached Vincent. She stood for a moment looking down at him and enjoying the picture he made.

"Vincent," she called quietly.

His eyes opened and before him was the flesh and blood version of the woman he had just dreaming of as he had dozed.

"Catherine!" He gave her one of his rare smiles and then opened his arms.

She was surprised at the invitation that the gesture insinuated, but she didnít question it. She dropped quickly to her knees and nearly dove into his arms. His embrace felt like coming home.

"Iíve missed you, Catherine," he whispered.

She wrapped her arms around him and returned his hug. He felt so good!

She felt his fingers under her chin and he turned her face up toward his, then his head dipped and his lips met hers. The kiss was only a little bit longer than the one she had given him when heíd left, but it was infinitely sweeter because heíd initiated it.

What neither of them saw was Fatherís reaction to it.

When he saw Vincent embrace Catherine, heíd snorted, causing Peter to look at them. Both Peter and Father were watching as Vincent kissed Catherine. Father was on his feet more quickly than Peter would have thought his bad hip would have allowed. Peter grabbed his arm again and held him back.

"Leave them alone, Jacob!" he said.

"Did you see that, she kissed him!" hissed Father.

"It looked more like he kissed her, to me, but you should still leave them alone," said Peter, trying to hold back a laugh, and barely succeeding. "I thought you told Vincent that you didnít have any objection to him becoming involved with a woman."

"She is from Above. Sheís not the right kind of woman for him. He needs someone who isnít flighty and self absorbed. She will just tire of him or of the restrictions that he has to live with and she will leave."

"Jacob, you will not find a more down to earth, intelligent, generous woman anywhere. Wait until you get to know her before you pass judgment. Besides the concert is starting so we need to be quiet."

Across the room Catherine stared up into Vincentís eyes as he drew back. She couldnít believe what had just happened. He smiled down at her.

"We will talk later, Catherine," he said with another smile. "The music is starting."

She was surprised again when he settled her comfortably in his arms and held her through whole concert. She had expected him to be a little less demonstrative in public.

While everyone was still applauding at the end of the concert Vincent quickly rose and helped Catherine to her feet. "Come," was all he said as he drew her toward the side entrance that they had been sitting near.

He led her out and down the tunnel, made a turn and then they went a few more feet to his chamber. Once inside he pulled her into his arms again and held her.

Her arms went around his waist and she gave a deep sigh of contentment.

"This is so good. I missed you. I couldnít stay away any longer. I had to take the chance that you wouldnít want to see me. I asked Peter to bring me Below."

"Catherine, Iím so sorry about my behavior before I left your home. You took me by surprise and I had some misconceptions that I had to come back here to clear up. Iíve done that and now I think Iím ready to accept that you love me; if you do."

"Yes Vincent. I wasnít joking. Iíve missed you so much."

He dipped his head and captured her lips again, and this time there was nothing sweet about the kiss. It was deep and passionate and Catherine was losing herself when she heard the angry voice.

"Vincent, what is the meaning of this?" demanded Father, as he stormed into the chamber with Peter right behind him.

"Iím sorry, kids," said Peter. "I tried to keep him out."

"Thatís all right Peter," said Vincent, then he turned toward Father, but he kept his arm around Catherine. "The meaning of this is that Iím kissing Catherine, Father." There was a twinkle in Vincentís eye that seemed to irritate Father.

"I can see that! Why are you kissing her?"

"Why does any man kiss a woman? Because I like it, and I hope she does too. If you would be so kind as to leave, we could get back to it and I can find out if she does like it."

Catherine was staring up at Vincent with an astounded look on her face, Father started to sputter and both Vincent and Peter burst into laughter.

"Please Father," said Vincent, after he regained his control. "I really would like to be alone with Catherine, we have a lot to talk about.

Peter reached out and took Fatherís arm for the third time that evening. "Come on Jacob," he said. "Trust his judgment, and mine. Iíve known Cathy all her life, and if I remember correctly so has Vincent. Iím sure you remember the first time they metÖhe was three and she was a few months old." He led Father out of the chamber. A few seconds later he reached back in and dropped the privacy drape down and then he retreated again.

Vincent dropped into a chair and pulled Catherine into his lap and hugged her tight.

He pulled back a little and Catherine thought that he was going to kiss her again, but he didnít. He gave her a slightly shy look and dropped his eyes.

"Before this goes any further, I have a confession to make, Catherine."

"What is that Vincent?"

"UmÖI have found that I do like kissing you and it wasnít a skill that I have had much, well any, opportunity to perfect, but it doesnít seem difficult to learn."

"You do it very well," interrupted Catherine.

He looked up with a slight smile. "Thank you. But I have to tell you that any knowledge that I have of what might come after the kissing isÖwellÖpurely theoretical, learned from books in Fatherís library."

"That is all right, Vincent. You learned a lot of new stuff when you were staying at me: how to take care of the pool, use the VCR, the stereo, the washer and dryer and you learned them very quickly. Iíve very sure that whatever you chose to put your mind to you will learn quickly." She kissed him lightly. "We can continue the way we started and then take it at your speed. Iím not normally a patient person, but Iím sure I can be patient with you. Iím sure you will be worth waiting for."

Vincent took a deep breath and let it out in a contented sigh. He nuzzled her neck and kissed his way back up to her mouth; she could feel his arousal growing.

"But first, Catherine, I need to talk to you."

"What about?" she nuzzled back, hoping to distract him.

"I talked with Father, and what I told you before; I was wrongÖI do love you. I always thought that love grew over a long period of time, but I seem to have fallen in love with you within days of meeting you. Or maybe Iíve been in love with you since the first time you looked into my eyes all those years ago. Whichever it is, know that I love you now, and that I will always love you. I know I donít look like other men, and that I will never be able to live with you Above, at least not permanently, but I want to spend the rest of my life with you in any way we can figure out how to do it. That is, if you will have me."

For the first time, he looked into her eyes and was surprised to see tears there. She glanced around the chamber.

"Do you think this place is big enough for two?" she asked.

He hugged her close.

"If it isnít, we can chip away a little more rock and make it big enough," he promised.

She nodded. "Do you remember that movie we watched, the one with Tom CruiseÖĎTop Guní?"

Vincent looked puzzled. "Yes, but what has that to do with this?"

"Remember what Carole said to Goose?"

"Um, I donít think so."

"Take me to bed or lose me forever."

"I refuse to answer that," he said as he looked into her laughing eyes.

"Oh, come on, Vincent. I know you liked the movie. Iíve never met a man who didnít."

"But I liked it as a movie, not something that I want to emulate."

"Vincent, you bigÖ"

"Donít say it Catherine!" he interrupted, but she could see he was on the verge of laughing.

"Then say itÖPretty please?"

Vincent sighed then looked into her eyes, and said very seriously and in a very soft and sexy voice: "Show me the way home, Catherine."

She pulled his mouth to hers and kissed him very thoroughly, as she thought that even this time of the year, the nights werenít long enough.