A DREAM IS A WISH

Joan Stephens

"Iím walking through a meadow in the moonlight. Thereís a full moon and the night insects are in full voice. Iím at peace, content, then I look down to see that my hand is being held by a hand whose fingers are tipped with sharp, pointed nails. Iím not afraid. In fact, I feel safe and loved. I raise my eyes to his faceĖI know it is a manĖand see that he has, at once, the most terrible but most beautiful countenance that I have ever seen. He has the face of a lion. He smiles down at me with lovely, human blue eyes and I know that he loves me. His smile takes my breath away. We walk into a heavy fog, and as it dissipates, we are now in the sun and Elliot is holding my hand. ĎNo!í I shout and I try to pull free to find the other man. Looking around wildly, I find him on a cliff looking down at me with sad eyes, blood running down his chest. And I know that his heart is breaking because of me. Frantically, I try to break loose and go to him, but Elliot wonít let me go. He says, ĎYou belong to me now, not to him any more.í As he leads me away, I keep looking back, desperately, at the other one. I want to call out to him, but his name wonít come to me. I wake sobbing into my pillow." Catherine dabbed a lacy handkerchief to the corners of her eyes and resettled herself in the plush leather chair opposite her psychiatristís desk. She looked at Dr. Greenberg almost defiantly. "I think it has something to do with my past life."

Squinting against the bright autumn sun that glinted off her gold-rimmed glasses, Dr. Greenberg said, "Maybe, but the lion-headed man seems more mythic than anything else. We need to find out what he stands for." She rose and crossed the office to adjust the drapes.

Following the older woman with her eyes, Catherine said, "I think he stands for love, trust, and completion."

"Could be," the psychiatrist agreed. "Tell me, Cathy, how do you feel when you wake up?"

"Bereft . . . alone . . . lost."

Brushing a strand of grey hair out of her eyes, Dr. Greenberg gracefully slid into her leather swivel-chair. "Thereís more to it than that. I could see your distress when you recounted the dream. Tell me."

A shiver swept through Catherine as she almost remembered someone saying those very same words to her. "I canít hide anything from you, can I?" she said, making a joke of the question.

"Nope," The older woman grinned at her from behind the gleaming mahogany desk. The only ornamentation on the desktop was a silver tray with a pitcher of ice water and two crystal glasses.

Cathy had held these feelings in for so long that it was hard for her to find the words. Finally, the words coalesced and came tumbling out, "I feel . . . as if Iíve lost my most priceless treasure, as if Iíve lost my center, lost the best part of me. Thereís just this terrible sense of loss," she rushed on to keep from sobbing even though tears slid down her cheeks.

"Iím sorry, Cathy, but I had to know the depth of your distress," Dr. Greenberg said, compassion in her deep brown eyes. Handing the upset young woman a half-glass of water, she sat back in her desk chair, tapping her gold pen on the desk. She waited patiently for the young woman to finish her drink.

Looking around the luxuriously appointed office with its comforting blues and greens and bright yellow, Catherine noted that the plants needed water, making her think that she was like the plants, she needed the water of her memories. She drew a deep breath, afraid to ask the question that was uppermost in her mind. Finally she nodded and then asked, "Hannah, do you think that I will ever regain my memory?" Her voice and demeanor were sad and wistful.

"I donít know. It all depends on the strength of the trauma that you endured that caused you to forget."

"Sometimes it feels as if all those memories are just out of reach, but Iím afraid to take the next step."

"Have you talked with Elliot about this?"

"No." Catherine slumped in resignation. "Heís only interested in his buildings."

"You need to tell him, Cathy," Hannah said. "That may be the basis of your dreams: the need for love and not getting it."

Bitterly shrugging her shoulders, Catherine said, "I gave up on that long ago. The dreams are too recent to have the love, or lack of it, from Elliot to have any relevance." Rising from her chair, she began to pace, not remembering that she had picked up the habit from the man she loved and had forgotten.

"Youíre bitter about Elliot?"

"Well, wouldnít you be? I always thought that when you loved and married someone, you cared enough about that someone to listen to them, to want to be with them, to put their best interest before your own," the young woman said, still pacing the room. She flopped back into her chair, shaking her head. "But to Elliot Iím just someone to show off, to use my name to further his career. He even encouraged me to keep the Chandler name."

"You need to talk to him," Hannah reiterated.

"If I can ever get him alone." Catherineís shoulders bowed in depression. "I just know there is someone out there who will care for and love me as I love them."

Tapping her pen against her teeth, Hannah said, "You speak as if there is someone out there for you. Is this just a feeling or certain knowledge?"

Catherine raised her head sharply. "I - Iím not sure, but Iím almost certain. He must be someone Iíve forgotten." The more she thought about it the more depressed she felt. "Why canít I remember?" she wailed. "I want to so much."

"Itís possible that youíre pressing too hard. Relax. When everything gets to be too much for you go for a walk, go to the gym, anything to keep your mind easy and relaxed."

"Thanks, Iíll do that." Catherine gracefully rose from her chair, extending her hand.

"Iíll see you next week, same time, Cathy," Hannah said, taking the offered hand. "Try to relax, ok?"

"Iíll try. Bye."

Hannah Greenberg, psychiatrist and friend, watched an unhappy Catherine Chandler leave her office. "Find your lost past, Cathy. If you donít, I hate to think what will happen to you," the psychiatrist softly uttered as the door swung shut. She flipped on the intercom, "Send in my next appointment, Sally. Thanks."

*****

It was such a beautiful day, and she had nothing to do but return to Elliotís big empty mansion. She had never quite felt that it was really her home. She felt uncomfortable, out of place there. Only her own room was truly hers. She had adamantly refused to allow the decorator to do her room (as he put it). The rest of the house was coldly, beautifully fashionable. She preferred cooler, softer colors, and her room was always softly lighted, sometimes only with candles. Shuddering at the thought of going back to the mansion, she cast her mind around, seeking for something else to do. It was too late for lunch with Jenny, anyway Elliot didnít approve of herĖshe was no one of consequenceĖand the museum held no interest for her today nor did shopping the fashionable and expensive shops where Elliot had opened charge accounts for her. A walk in the park. Yes, that was what she needed: a chance to see the color change of the trees as she strolled beneath them. The solitude and quiet of the park in certain spots would be restful to her disquiet soul. Satisfied with her decision, she turned her steps toward Central Park.

Colorful many-hued leaves glowed in the sparkling afternoon sun. This corner of the park was deserted and quiet, and she found a solitary bench where she gratefully sat down. Why in the world did she take a long walk in high heels? As she removed her shoes and was massaging her aching feet, she glanced around this secluded glade. A large drainage tube caught her attention. Oddly, it seemed familiar. Deciding to investigate, she padded over to the tube, holding her shoes in her hand. The darkness at the end of the huge pipeĖit was large enough for her to walk upright in itĖbeckoned to her. Looking around to see if she was alone, she entered the twilight. Why the need for secrecy she wondered. There was the usual debris on the floor with a liberal sprinkling of dried leaves and a small stream of water in the middle that she carefully avoided. This is crazy, she thought. Who knows what is hiding in here? She was about to turn around when she spied a large round metal door behind a heavy grill set in the side of the concrete culvert. It fascinated her. Suddenly, the metal door slid into the wall, and a large cloaked figure appeared in the open doorway. Pushing the grill open, he peered into the sunlit culvert as if he was looking for something or someone. Surprised, rooted to the floor in fear, Catherine gasped when he turned to confront her.

"You! Itís you!"

Vincent stepped back, clutching at his heart. Why hadnít he ignored the beckoning that brought him here? He turned to bolt back into the tunnels, but she grabbed his cloak as it flared out.

"No! Donít go!"

"Forgive me; I shouldnít be here. But something called me and I had to come. I must go."

Before he pulled the hood of his cloak closer to cover his face, Catherine saw the love blazing in his eyesĖshe would recognize that look anywhereĖand another emotion burning as brightly. That other emotion . . . what was it? Pain? Yes, that was it. Pain, great pain.

Desperately hanging onto his cloak, she pleaded with the man from her dreams. "Donít go. Stay." For despite the way he looked, she knew he was a man. He shuddered as she touched his arm, and she quickly drew her hand back, afraid that she had hurt him somehow. "Who are you?" she asked, breathless with excitement. This man was the key to unlocking her memory.

"No one that you should know," he rasped.

The sound of his voice sent a thrill through her. It was rough but mellow, and she knew it intimately to the depths of her soul. "I know you," she whispered. And a name popped into her mind. "Vincent."

He shook his head. "I must leave," he said and quickly pulled his cloak from her hands. As it slipped from her hands, she grabbed his hand. He quivered like a wild bird checked in flight. Examining his hand, turning it over, running her fingers over the soft fur that covered the back, she said, "This is a beautiful hand."

"A deadly hand," was his simple reply.

"Youíve used these hands to protect me." It was a statement, not a question, but from somewhere deep behind the curtain that blocked one part of her brain, she knew it to be true.

"Yes," he answered painfully. "Leave now, Catherine, before you learn too much. Lead the life that you were meant to have with Elliot." Taking his hand back, he bolted through the open portal and quickly closed it.

She stared at the closed door for several seconds before sighing deeply. "But I donít love, Elliot," she softly complained.

*****

Later that evening Hannah had a visitor. Stepping out on her veranda, she greeted the large, dark shape of a man, "Vincent." He nodded a greeting. "How are Father and the others?" she inquired. "Iím sorry that I havenít been down for a while." Settling into one of the deck chairs, she waved him into the other.

As he eased his heavy frame into the chair, he answered, "Everyone is fine, especially Father. The older he gets, the more cantankerous he becomes."

"Cantankerous suits him," she laughed.

"Yes, it certainly does." Intently, he sat forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "How is she, Hannah?" Now they came to the crux of his visit.

"Not good, Vincent. Sheís struggling . . . very unhappy." Hannah glanced sharply at him. "Canít you feel the unhappiness? I thought there was a bond between you two."

Bowing his head, he twisted his hands together until the fingers were interlocked. "There is. But I could not bear to feel her with another man," he confessed then raised his eyes to her. "So I muted it until I could only feel deeply intense feelings such as when she is in danger. It is the only way I can do this and survive."

"Itís a wonder that her extreme unhappiness hasnít come through the bond to you. Do you suppose sheís suppressing it, trying to hide it from the man she knows is out there waiting for her, that subconsciously she doesnít want to cause you any pain?"

Rising, he paced to the edge of her veranda, looking far into the depths of the night. He shrugged his shoulders slightly. His words drifted back to her from over his shoulder. "Itís possible. Anything is possible with Catherine." He turned back to his longtime friend. "She came to the Central Park threshold today."

"She did? Wonderful."

"No," he said, sharply. "Keep her from remembering."

"I canít do that. If she remembers, she remembers."

"She must not. She must live the life she was born to."

"What if she doesnít want that life? Besides, who gave you the right to decide for her?"

"Itís my fault she lost her memory," he cried as he jerked into motion, pacing from one end of the veranda to the other.

"That still doesnít give you . . ."

"I have taken the right because I love her."

Hannah climbed easily to her feet and stopped him with a hand on his arm. Staring into his pain-filled eyes, she asked, "Have you ever thought that you might be condemning her to a life of pain and frustration?"

"She will accept her life if she does not remember," he said stubbornly.

"Youíre wrong, Vincent. You arenít with her during her sessions to see the frustration and yearning in her eyes."

"No, I could not stand it."

"Then think of her. Think of the misery that she lives in."

"What misery?" He whirled around to confront her, afraid for the woman he loved. "He doesnít hurt her, does he?" he demanded.

"There are many kinds of hurt, Vincent. I canít tell you any more than that. You know that. Just believe me when I say that if she doesnít regain her memory, I donít know what will happen to her. But I do know this; it wonít be pleasant."

*****

"Cathy, I just donít understand you. I give you everything you want. I love you. Why canít you be satisfied with that?" Elliot leaned back, comfortable in his custom-made lounge chair. "What more do you want?"

Feeling that this whole conversation was going nowhere, Catherine held her hands up, fingers splayed in frustration. "I feel so useless. Iím used to working. I want to go back to work. I want to do something useful." She began to pace back and forth in front of the huge fireplace that covered one wall of Elliotís den. Staring into the burning fire, she turned around when Elliot spoke.

"Do all the volunteer work you want; see your friends, the right kind, of course; shop; redo the house, I know you hate the way it is, but no wife of mine is going to work with the dregs of society. I know you. Youíd want to represent the poor and downtrodden."

"Oh, Elliot, why canít you see what I see? Itís not the facade that counts but whatís on the inside."

"I donít care! I havenít clawed my way up the social ladder to have my wife flaunt my origins in my face," he declared flatly.

"I donít care about your background. I never have." She tried to get through to him but to no avail.

"But others do. We will be the most socially correct couple in the city. Thatís final! I wonít discuss it again." Snapping the New York Times financial section open, he buried his nose in the paper, effectively dismissing her. Disappointed because she knew that he would never agree with her point of view, she retreated to her room, needing the serenity she found there.

Catherine threw herself into her volunteer work, but no matter how much she did nothing filled the aching void in her heart. Time and again she returned to the drainage culvert, but Vincent never returned. It was as if he knew she was there and deliberately stayed away.

*****

Affairs in the Burch household were no better than when she had last had a serious talk with him. Her sessions with Hannah Greenberg were the only bright spots in her life. She was able to vent her frustrations. She had told her about the accidental meeting with the lionman of her dream, had told her of her repeated visits to the culvert in the hope of seeing him again, and of her almost certain feeling that he held the key to her past, of her determination to see him again. Hannah neither encouraged nor discouraged her, encouraged herself by the take-charge attitude that she had always attributed to Catherine Chandler and had waited impatiently to see it emerge. Maybe now she would be an active participant in her own rehabilitation.

After a month of repeated disappointments at the entrance inside the drainage culvert, Catherine stood in front of the round door that she knew led to Vincent. This time she was not to be denied. She would stand there until something happened. What? She had no idea. Backing up, she leaned against the opposite curved wall of the tube. Her eyes wandered all over the interior of the large pipe, coming to rest on the 80" x 36" grill door next to a round opening. Slowly she straightened and moved toward it. She was certain that there was something about it that would help her in her quest. Tentatively she pulled on it. It easily swung open, revealing several rows of levers and buttons. From somewhere deep inside her, she pulled up the combination and flicked down the lever in the fourth row, third to the right. With a grating noise, the metal door rolled into the right wall and the grill that covered it swung loose. Elated, she entered, pulled the grill closed, and then triggered the lever that she found high on the right wall that closed the door. Letting her feet take her wherever they would, she started down the main tunnel. The pipes chattered, seeming to say something. Then the tapping changed, and she almost recognized it. Eventually, she found her way to a large cavern where a towering waterfall poured into a crystal clear lake. Light poured into the cavern from somewhere showing her a bench-like ledge that overlooked the falls and lake. Lowering herself onto the bench, she settled back against the stone wall. The sound of the falling water lulled and soothed her. A sudden flash of memory reminded her of how contented she used to feel sitting here. She heard snatches of conversations: her voice and another soft, whispery voice that she recognized from the day she met him in the culvert. With her mind drifting, she was surprised by Vincentís sudden appearance.

"Catherine?" He loomed uncertainly over her.

"Vincent." Dreamily she gazed up at him. She had been almost certain that he would come. "I just had to come. Iíve tried staying away, but I kept coming back and finally I remembered how to open the portal." She turned from him to look out over the falls. Sighing deeply, she said quietly, "I feel as if Iím home."

"You have another home now, Catherine. Please go there . . . stay home with Elliot, your husband."

Shaking her head, she peered up at him and stated flatly, "Itís not my home. This is." Her gesture encompassed all the tunnels.

"You have a life Above, a husband, a home, responsibilities. Those you love." Although his heart was breaking, he tried to convince her to return Above.

He trembled as she got to her feet and moved beside him, laying her hand on his arm. Looking up into his dark, azure eyes, she smiled sadly. "I loved you . . . once," she said softly.

Unable to lie to her even now, he answered simply, "Yes."

Sensing his strong emotions, she continued. "You loved me," she hesitated and added, "once?"

Losing himself in the depths of her sparkling, tear-filled eyes, he reluctantly replied, "Still."

"I knew it." Her smile lit the entire cavern. "Thatís why I feel so safe with you in my dreams." As the memories flooded through her, she threw herself into his arms, burying her face in his chest. "Oh god, Vincent, I remember. What have I done?" The tears that she had held back overflowed, streaming down her cheeks.

"Nothing. You did nothing; you didnít know," Vincent comforted her as his arms flowed around her, bringing her into the haven of his arms; the arms that had yearned to hold her for two wretched years.

Sobbing, she cried, "How could I have married Elliot?"

"You were a different person, Catherine." She leaned into his embrace as he ran his hands up and down her back, caressing her gently. Nothing was as strong as his gentleness or as gentle as his strength.

Pulling back to meet his loving blue eyes, a cloud passed over her happiness. "How could I have forgotten you? You are my life, my heart." Her weeping intensified until she was sobbing uncontrollably, dampening the front of his vest. Suddenly she stiffened. "You died! I saw them kill you, and I knew it was all my fault. Once again I had put us in a dangerous situation. Elliot told me that they found me wandering in a daze, mumbling, ĎHeís dead. I killed him.í When I came to the next morning, I didnít remember anything. And since there was no body, they thought Iíd had a hallucination brought on by whatever stress I was under. But I know why I didnít remember. I couldnít face a life without you. It was easier to forget. Oh, forgive me for being such a coward." She began to weep anew.

"There is nothing to forgive, Catherine," he said, trying to calm her. "The men who tried to kill me thought that they had succeeded and fled the scene. I was wounded, but when I woke up, you were gone, nowhere to be found. It wasnít until the next week that we learned what had happened to you."

"And by that time everyone knew I was Catherine Chandler, and Elliot had spirited me away to a convalescent hospital that he had heavily endowed. Oh Vincent, he was so kind and gentle then and treated me with such solicitousness and consideration that I began to depend on him. He even helped me to learn of my past life and find my friends. And soon he had talked me into marrying him, saying that he didnít care if I ever remembered him or myself. That we would start a new life, just the two of us. At the time it seemed like a good idea, and I thought that I was in love with him. But since then things have changed between us. His kind of love does not fulfill me, even though he keeps assuring me that he loves me. But then he treats me as if Iím a prized possession, not his wife. His buildings have become more important to him than me. And now that I have my memory back, I donít know if I can continue with this marriage." She looked up at him. "What am I to do?" she asked, her voice quivering.

"There is nothing you can do but honor your commitment," he declared and forced a smile to his frozen lips, hoping that she wouldnít see how difficult it was for him to say that.

"But itís a marriage based on false pretenses," she protested.

"That may be, but it is a commitment you voluntarily assumed. You must honor it and never return here again."

"Never see you again?" she asked aghast.

"You must, Catherine, to do otherwise would tarnish our love. We each have our responsibilities."

"I donít know if I can. I donít love him." Reaching up, she stroked his cheek, her love shining in her eyes. "I love you."

"You will find the courage when you need it, Catherine. It is there . . . in you."

Unable to let him see the pain in her eyes, she avoided his and shook her head. "Peter never said a word to me about you. Why?"

"I asked him not to. I didnít want to come between you and your life Above."

"Oh Vincent," she sobbed. "Why?"

"It was something I felt I had to do to insure your happiness."

"But Iím not happy," she replied as he placed a finger beneath her chin, raising her eyes to his. Desperately, she pulled a startled Vincentís mouth to her own and kissed him passionately. When he started to pull away, she murmured, "No, no," as she held him tighter.

"Catherine," he said, uneasily, "we must not."

"Please, Vincent, please," she begged. "If I canít have you in my life, let me at least have one night in your arms."

When he looked into his heart, he found that he wanted the same thing, and there was no fear, no hesitation. "Wonít Elliot wonder where you are?"

"No, heís on a business trip," she said bitterly. He sensed that there was much more to this business trip than just business. "And the servants have the night off," she added.

Scooping her into his arms, he carried her to a nearby unused chamber. Gently, he deposited her on the bed, and then lit several candles. She glowed in the candlelight after he had undressed her, and when he went to extinguish the candles, she stopped him.

"I want to see you," she said softly. "I want to watch you love me, to remember always."

Slowly and gently, she undressed him, drinking in the beauty that she disclosed. She pulled him down to lie beside her. Tenderly, they explored each other, learning every hill and valley of their beloved, and when he finally entered her and she took him in, they realized that at last they were home where they belonged. A night of love ensued that would have to last them for a lifetime.

Vincent, with his time sense, awoke with the dawn. Rising up on an elbow, he gazed longingly at the woman asleep at his side. She was spooned against him as if she wanted to sink into his body and become an integral part of him. Oh, how he hated to wake her, but it was time for her to return to her life Above. He leaned down and tenderly kissed her. "Catherine, it is time."

Instantly awake, she cried, "Oh no, not yet." She held him tightly against her breast. "I want this night to last forever."

"We cannot halt time, my love. What we want does not matter. Dawn will come and, with it, our responsibilities."

"Then love me one more time before I must leave." She twined her arms around his neck and pulled his mouth to hers.

Their final union took them to realms of pleasure and fulfillment seldom found by mortal man. Deep in her heart, Catherine prayed that he had planted his seed in the core of her femininity.

*****

Seven weary, wretched months followed: months in which he had berated himself for sending Catherine back to a sterile and unhappy life. True to her word, she had not returned. And he was proud of her even as he wished that she had come back. Now that her memory had returned, he found it harder to distance himself from the bond. As strange as it seemed, she was not unhappy. At one time there had been an intense burst of joy that filled him with elation, although he didnít know why. He only knew that she was ecstatic and filled with contentment. Since that time her life had settled down into a pattern of well-being and tranquillity. If she had at last found some kind of harmony in her life with Elliot, Vincent could do nothing more than wish her every happiness that she deserved. But that didnít mean that he didnít rue the day he had sent her back. If he had known the extent of his pain at her return to the world Above, he doubted if he could have done it.

In the world above Catherine was in a quandary. She was pregnant, and she wasnít sure if the father was Elliot or Vincent. The night before he had left on his so-called business trip Elliot had come to her bed and exercised his rights as her husband. It was the first time in six months that he had sought her out, and he had performed his duty almost without emotion. The next day was the day she had found her lost life and spent the night in the arms of the man she loved above all others. Elliot was ecstatic when she told him about the baby and arranged for the most expensive and prominent gynecologist and obstetrician to attend her. She had wanted to go to her own doctor, Peter Alcott, but Elliot would have none of that. Peter would have been unavailable in any event; he was in Europe on a sabbatical. So, she endured for the term of the pregnancy, knowing that if it was Elliotís child that she would be trapped in a loveless marriage forever. If it was Vincentís, then there was a slight possibility of a future for them.

Pain! Waves of intermittent, growing discomfort woke him. They were coming from Catherine, and he was powerless to come to her rescue this time. He had read in the papers that Elliot had just returned from a successful business trip overseas. He would be there to care for her. But why wasnít he doing anything to ease her pain? Suddenly, after a night of increasingly debilitating distress, there was one massive burst of agony, and he was left, gasping and sweaty, lying exhausted on his bed. He passed a trembling hand over his damp forehead. At last, it was over, and frightened, he probed the bond. Relief flooded through him as he realized that she was still alive. It couldnít have been life threatening because he felt her intense joy and satisfaction, and it seemed to have something to do with him. But strangely, he felt an ill-defined, nebulous connection to someone else. Who? he wondered. And why now? Rising, he grabbed a towel and a change of clothing, and hurried to the bathing pools. He didnít want Father to see him this way; he had no explanation for his condition.

Two weeks later a letter was brought to him by one of the Helpers. The scent of the paper told him it was from Catherine. Settling into the chair beside his writing desk, he slit the envelope open with a sharp thumbnail, took out a sheet of paper, and read:

My Love,

How wonderful it is to at last write those words. I miss you so. I relive our last night together over and over in my dreams. It is never enough, but it will have to do until we meet again. I have something to tell you that is wonderful and miraculous. You have a son. Yes, my love, you are a father.

That was the pain that he felt. She had given birth to her-their son if she is rightĖon the terrible night that he had wrestled with her pain, unable to go to her. Elation and amazement flooded through him. But how could she be sure; she was married to Elliot with all his attendant rights as her husband. He continued to read, his heart bursting with wonder and joy.

The night before I found you Elliot had come to my bed demanding his conjugal rights. Naturally, the short time between that and our last night and the birth made me think that he was Elliotís son, but when I saw his deep blue eyes, so like yours, and his awareness of all around him, I knew him to be yours. He is so beautiful, Vincent. Perfect in every way.

Please, do not worry, my love, no one but Peter will ever treat him, but if he has your constitution, I donít think many Doctors will be required.

You have given me the most precious gift I could have ever wanted. I only wish you could be beside me during the coming years. I will bring him to you when I can.

Forever,

Catherine

He had a son. That was the odd connection he had been felling for so long. His son! The wonder of it was almost more than he could comprehend. He, who had never even thought to have the love of a woman, was the father of a son, and from what Catherine had written, a perfect son. He could hardly wait for her to bring the child to the tunnels, but he had assisted in the birthing of many children and knew that it took the mothers time to recuperate. He would wait but not patiently. He had to share this wondrous news with the man closest to his heart.

"Father, I have received a letter from Catherine." He took the small metal steps in one bound.

Father glanced up at him from the pages of his book and thought how he hadnít seen that excited and elated look in his sons eyes for several years. Puzzled, he asked, "I thought that she didnít remember us." He shook his head. Would it all begin all over, the danger, the injuries, the mental distress of five years ago? Vincent had been very unhappy for these last few years, but he had been safe.

"Her memory returned about nine months ago. She sought me out and found her way to the tunnels. We met in the Triple Falls Cavern and she remembered everything. Father," he ducked his head, shyly, "we . . . uh . . . loved. And she has written to tell me that I am a father. I have a son."

"A son?" Father was totally shocked. "But . . . sheís married, isnít she?" he commented.

"Yes. Elliot Burch. Read the letter, Father." Vincent shoved it into Fatherís unresisting hand. He was almost dancing with excitement.

Father slumped back in his chair and read the words that finally convinced him that his son was a man. Smiling through his tears, he looked up into the shining face of his adopted son. "Well," he said with feigned heartiness, "it looks like Iím a grandfather, all right." Now the danger and madness would start again for Vincent, and Father sighed heavily, "I suppose youíll start going Above now."

The younger man couldnít understand why Father was not happy for him. "No, Father, I wonít. Catherine has her responsibilities and I have mine. Canít you be happy for me, for us? Must you always deflect my joy?"

Rising, Father placed a conciliatory hand on Vincentís shoulder. "Iím sorry, son, I just see years of pain ahead of you."

Vincent laid his hand on Fatherís and said firmly, "Donít you realize that I know that, but I also know Catherine. She will keep me informed about my son."

*****

The next day an excited and nervous man was waiting for Catherine in the tunnel that led to Central Park. Just before he had retired the previous night, Kipper had brought him a note from Catherine, telling him that she would bring their son to the tunnels tomorrow. Feeling her approach, he hurried to the park threshold and opened the door. Catherine dashed in windblown, breathless and beautiful, holding a small bundle pressed against her breast. They rushed into each othersí arms.

"I never thought I would see you again," she gasped.

"I know," he replied, holding her carefully. The baby was a living barrier between them.

"I didnít think that I would ever get away from the bodyguards that Elliot has assigned to protect his son," she said disdainfully. "They are like leeches. And I donít want our son to be raised like a prince, kept away from ordinary people. I can understand Elliotís fear of retaliation through his family, but this is ridiculous."

She placed the baby in Vincentís arms. Staring down into the bright, intelligent eyes of his son, he was overcome with emotion. To have a child of his own was a miracle to him. Watching him as he examined the child and held him close brought Catherine an intense joy that made her want to weep.

"What did you name him?" he asked, curious as to what Elliot would demand that the child be named. He thought surely that it would be Elliot, Jr.

"Jacob Charles, after his two grandfathers," Catherine answered with a ragged laugh.

"Didnít Elliot want the child named after him?"

"He did, but I had the doctor put the names I wanted on the birth certificate. Elliot was livid, but if he ever has a child, he can name it Elliot, Jr," she stated defiantly. "And you have a right to see your child as often as possible and I will see to it."

"It can be dangerous, Catherine."

"I know, but it is worth any sacrifice, however large."

Jacob was laughing and cooing as if he knew that the man who held him was special to him.

"He looks like you, Catherine," Vincent said. The child had his blue eyes and golden hair but the square jaw conveyed a sense of determination akin to that of his mother.

"Thatís what everyone says, but he has your eyes. Thatís what assured me that he was your son."

Vincent let himself sense her great happiness in giving him a son. His face was flushed with joy as he looked at her and said, "It warms me to feel you happiness."

"In a cold and lonely world, heís my only ray of sunshine," she said, her voice quivering.

"You have me . . . always."

"Yes," she agreed softly, "but only in my heart."

"You have Elliot." He tried to smile.

"I have no one," she stated flatly, "least of all Elliot. He loves me in his own way, I suppose, but he loves his buildings more. He does not care what I do as long as it causes him no problems."

"He has changed that much?!"

"Iím just another prize to him. What a mess Iíve made of our lives," she said bitterly.

"We will survive this, Catherine. We will endure." Returning Jacob to her, he said, "Take care of him and yourself, please. I need to know you are safe."

"Donít worry, love, we are well protected. Iíll take good care of him." Standing on tiptoe, she reached up and kissed him. When he opened his eyes, she was gone. He smiled dreamily then returned to his underground home.

*****

Through the following years, Catherine kept her promise. She sent photographs, arranged meetings where he could see the child, took Jacob to the concerts in the park and did anything that would give Vincent the chance to see his son even if it was from a distance. During this time, Catherine and Elliot slowly drifted further apart, only Jacob kept them together.

One night when Jacob was only three-years-old, Vincent made his way to the Burch mansion. Something was wrong with Catherine, and she was trying to hide it from him. Climbing through the window, he found her lying on the bed, weeping silently into a lace pillow. "Catherine? What is it? I felt you trying to hide something from me."

She launched her small body into the safety of his arms, wailing, "Oh Vincent, Iíve failed you. Iíve lost Jacob." She burrowed into his embrace, sobbing.

"Hush, Catherine, tell me what has happened." Soothingly, he pressed her head gently into his chest and caressed her silky hair, comforting her as only he could.

"Jacobís been kidnapped, and they want two million dollars ransom. And Elliot doesnít have that much loose money. All his money is tied up in his construction projects."

"Donít worry; we will find him. You are not alone in this; I am with you. Iíll mobilize the helpers and the street people may be able to tell us something."

"If only there was a bond between you and Jacob." She looked up at him, red-eyed from weeping.

"There is, but itís not strong enough yet to tell me where he is. Iím sorry, Catherine, but I will find him. I promise."

"Youíve never broken a promise to me."

"No. I never will, but I must go. Iím sure Jacob must be very frightened."

As he put a leg through the open window to leave unobserved by the security force that Elliot had hired, she grasped his arm. "Please bring him back to me," she pleaded.

"I will," he promised as he gently removed her hand and was gone.

Standing at the window, she watched as a deeper shadow moved through the darkness.

True to his word, Vincent found the child. Elliot received a phone call from Catherineís physician and friend, Peter Alcott, who related a fantastic story to him. The child had been brought to his house by an unknown man who said he had been told to bring the boy there. The stranger then hurriedly left, refusing to reveal his name. Peter had immediately called Burch. Catherine refused to stay home and went with Elliot to bring her son safely home.

Surprisingly, the child was not traumatized and was sitting at Peterís table having milk and cookies. "Hi, Mommy," he chirruped around a chocolate chip cookie. Swallowing his bite, he added, "Look, Mommy, Unca Peter has my favortest cookie." He held one out to her.

"Oh baby," Catherine cried as she swept him into her arms. "I was so scared." Falling into the chair that she had snatched Jacob from, she rocked him back and forth.

"You didnít need to be scared; the lionman saved me," he said, consoling her with a pat on the cheek.

Startled, she caught Peterís alarmed eyes. He shook his head.

"Lionman?" Elliot barked sharply.

Jacob ducked his head, taken aback and tongue-tied by Elliotís abrupt word. "Uh huh," the child reluctantly answered.

"A man dressed like the cowardly lion?" Catherine attempted to cover Jacobís inadvertent slip.

"He was no coward, Mama," Jacob stoutly defended his rescuer. But this seemed to satisfy Elliot about the identity of the lionman.

"Iím sure he wasnít." Catherine could see that Jacob was fighting to stay awake. Smothering a yawn, he laid his head on his motherís shoulder.

In a corner Elliot was earnestly questioning Peter who told him what little he knew, repeating what he had related to him over the phone. His doorbell had rung, and when he answered it, he found Jacob and a man dressed as the cowardly lion standing on his doorstep. When he attempted to discover who the man was, he was told that the stranger was only repaying a debt that he had long owed to Catherine Chandler and then the costumed man had swiftly disappeared into the night.

"Elliot," his wife called. "We need to get Jacob home and into his own bed."

"Ok, I just have a few more questions and then weíll go."

Five minutes later, Peter was ushering them out the door. Closing it after a tearful Catherine had thanked him for at least the fifth time, he leaned unsteadily against the door frame. "Itís safe now, Vincent."

Stepping into the kitchen from the living room, the tall, leonine man smiled grimly at his longtime friend.

"That was close," the lanky physician said. "Catherine covered it up brilliantly."

"Yes," Vincent said as he pulled out a chair and settled into it, leaning his elbows on the table.

"Iíd like a drink, how about you?" Peter asked.

"Tea would be fine," the younger man answered.

"Tea! Thatís all you want!"

"Thatís all I want." was the calm answer.

Turning the fire on under the tea kettle, Peter stated firmly, "Well, tea wonít do it for me," and went into his den to get something a little stronger to settle his nerves. When he returned, Vincent was pouring steaming water into a cup with a tea bag in it. "Sorry, I donít have any loose tea, but I rarely have the time to brew a pot of tea."

The common, everyday motion of making a cup of tea was bringing a calmness to Vincent that he urgently needed. To be so close yet so far away from his son and the woman he loved was more than difficult; it was painful.

Peter sat beside his young friend and took a healthy slug of his brandy. "Letís hope that Elliot believed her cover story."

"He doesnít have a reason not to."

*****

Catherine had put her sleepy child to bed after he had told her and Elliot all that he knew. Later they learned that the kidnapper had forged a note allowing him to take Jacob from preschool: there had been an emergency in the family. Jacob said that he had been taken to an old run-down hotel and kept there. The man kept calling the desk to find out if there were any messages for him. Elliot thought that must have been during the time that he had received the threat about repaying his loan or finding his son floating in the East River. Jacob then told them how on the next day a group of strange people had burst in and rescued him. They had knocked the kidnapper unconscious and took Jacob to the basement where the lionman was waiting. He had spent an entertaining time with the lionman until it was dark and then he had taken him to Unca Peterís. The child seemed to look upon it as an adventure, something he had to tell the kids in school the next day.

After kissing her son and tucking him in for the night, Catherine followed Elliot to his den. Closing the door so her son couldnít hear them, she rounded on Elliot. "See! I told you. If you treat these people right, they will repay you somehow. We wouldnít have Jacob if not for them."

Elliot threw up his hands. "All right! All right! Iíll give them a reward."

Frustrated, she almost shouted at him. "You donít understand. They donít want your money. They did it for me."

"For you? Why?"

"These are people Iíve helped; Iíve fed them, found places for them to sleep, given them clothes and money. They trusted me; they were the ones who were my sources of information, and I trusted them."

"I suppose that now you think you can go back to work in the DAís office?"

Heaving an exasperated sigh, she shook her head, annoyed. "No, Elliot, I plan to raise my son, to be with him always."

"Iím glad that you finally see my point of view. My competitors will stop at nothing to stop me."

"Are you into anything illegal?"

"No, imprudent maybe but not illegal. Iíve borrowed some money from some shady people, and Iíve been unable to pay them back. Iím broke, Catherine. I canít borrow any more legally."

"Why didnít you say something? I can lend you what I have."

"It wonít be enough."

"Well, itís something. Use it."

He came to her and took her stiff body in his arms. Pushing out of his embrace, she said, "Iím doing this for my son, Elliot, no other reason."

"All right," he said, frostily. "When can you get the money for me?"

"Tomorrow. In the afternoon. It will take me a little time to cash out my stocks."

"Good."

"Iím going to check on Jacob, and then Iím going to bed. Good night, Elliot."

He turned from her to stare into the cold fireplace.

*****

By the time Jacob was five-years-old, Elliot and Catherine lived apart in the big house and Elliot had a mistress. Catherine didnít know if it was her fault since she wasnít able to love him the way she should or if it was just in his nature.

On Jacobís sixth birthday, Vincent had sent him his favorite gift: a geode lined with startling purple crystals. Elliot wondered who the gift had come from, and when Jacob told him it was from the lionman, he disregarded the childís answer as so much nonsense as he was tired of the boyís continual assertion that he had been saved by a lionman not a man dressed as the cowardly lion.

When his mother had asked him what he wanted for his birthday, he told her his greatest wish was to meet the lionman again. He dreamed of him all the time and wouldnít be satisfied until he could see him once more. And if anyone could find him, he knew it was his mother. Before she could put the plan she had devised into action, she overheard Elliot making arrangements to send Jacob to a military school.

"Were you going to ask me about this before you sent my son away?" she asked flatly.

"Heís my son, too, Cathy. Or have you forgotten that?"

She had to bite her tongue to keep from blurting out the truth. "No, I havenít forgotten, but I donít want him sent to a boarding school."

"Itís an excellent school, only the cream of society send their children there. It will be good for him to meet these future CEOs and corporate executives, and heíll be safe there."

Catherine immediately thought of a safer place than the school. "I forbid it, Elliot. Heís too young; heís only six, for godís sake. Youíre not sending Jacob away."

"Itís done, Cathy. He leaves in a week." Elliot turned to the drafting table, dismissing her concerns. He would do what he deemed necessary for his son.

*****

As there was only one place where Jacob would be safe, Catherine laid her plans accordingly. The next day Elliot left on a business trip and would be gone for two days. This gave her time to put her ideas into action, and while Jacob was safely at school, she took all the jewelry that Elliot had given her to a jeweler for appraisal, thinking to sell them, only to find out that they were all paste. Elliot had replaced the real jewels with artificial gems. He must have forgotten to have the real gems restored, or more likely, he never had the money. Mentally shrugging her shoulders at the loss, she closed out what remained of her savings and checking accounts, emptied her safe deposit box where she kept her motherís jewelry. Free of all monetary encumbrances, she went home to wait until it was time to pick up Jacob from school. While waiting, she wrote several letters, one each to Jenny, Nancy, and Joe, explaining why she was dropping out of sight. The letter to Elliot was the hardest to write. She had to discourage him from searching for her and Jacob; he might discover the tunnels.

*****

After picking him up when school let out, Catherine and Jacob made their way to Central Park and into the large concrete culvert.

"Where are we going, Mommy?" he asked.

"To a wonderful place where we will be safe and loved," she answered.

Much to Jacobís amazement, she opened a huge round door in the wall. As the door rolled silently to the side, Jacob peered into the golden light to find his friend, the lionman, standing just inside the tunnel. "Hi," he said, "Iíve been wanting to meet you again and to thank you for saving me from the kidnapper. The people told me that you had found me and told them where I was and that you would take me home."

"No thanks are necessary, Jacob. It was my duty."

"Youíre duty?"

"Yes, I am sworn to protect you and your mother."

"Just like in the medieval days."

Smiling, Vincent nodded. "Yes, just like in the medieval days." His gaze traveled to the face of the woman he loved. "Catherine."

"Vincent," she greeted him. She said nothing about asking for sanctuary until she had talked with Father.

Reaching up, Vincent closed the door, and then taking her hand, he led his love and his son into the far reaches of the tunnels. Jacob was enthralled by all he saw, and when he was brought into Fatherís huge book-filled chamber, he was almost speechless.

"Boy, you sure have a lot of books," he commented.

Father laughed and agreed. Vincent introduced his father to his grandson.

"Would you like to see where we live, Jacob?" Vincent asked.

"You mean people live down here all the time?"

Father explained, "Most assuredly; we find it very peaceful and safe. Not particularly warm some days, but you get used to it after awhile. We like our little subterranean world."

"Yeah, sure. Letís go," the child enthusiastically cried. "Mommy?"

"I think Iíll stay here and talk with Father while youíre gone." She shooed them out and then turned to her conversation with Father. "We need sanctuary, Father. Elliot plans to send Jacob away to a military school, and I have this fear that I will never see him again."

"You have no need to ask for sanctuary, Catherine. Vincent loves you and you are welcome to make this your home whenever you wish. I know that I have not always been as accepting of your relationship with my son as I am now, but even stubborn old fools eventually see the light. "

Rushing into his arms, she began to cry. "I was so afraid that I wouldnít be welcome after all the pain Iíve caused Vincent."

"My dear, it was not your intention to cause my son any pain whatsoever. I know you love him, and I know how much he believes in a person carrying out their responsibilities, no matter how unpleasant it is. He is partly at fault. His stubborn pride in you, I suppose."

Drying her eyes, she nodded. "He is an obstinate man, sometimes too stubborn for his own good."

Father smiled his agreement. "Now would you like a cup of Earl Gray tea?"

"Oh yes, Father, please. How comforting it is to hear those words. Iíve dreamt of them often."

"You have? How flattering to me," he chuckled. "I would have thought that you would only dream of Vincent."

"Well, most of the time I did," she ducked her head, shyly, "but occasionally, I dreamt of just the tunnels and the people here."

*****

Jacob was duly impressed with the underground world and was fascinated with the Whispering Gallery. Standing in the middle of the wooden planked span listening to the voices echoing around them, Jacob looked up at the tall man beside him. Shrewdly he commented, "Youíre my real father, arenít you?"

"Why do you say that?" Vincent asked, startled by the question.

"I donít know; I just feel a connection to you that I never felt with my other father."

"I see." Taking the plunge, Vincent faced his son, "Yes, Jacob, I am your father."

"Iím glad. I donít like my other father. I donít understand him and the things he does. I feel closer to you than to him."

"His name is on your birth certificate and that makes him your legal father. You do not have to be like him, but you must respect him."

"Do I have to?"

"Yes, it tells the world that you are a decent and honorable man."

"Ok." Jacobís thoughts took a different turn. "Can I come and visit you whenever I want to?"

"Certainly, I would like that. Iíll give you a code to use on the pipes to call us when you want to visit until you become familiar with the routes to the tunnels."

"Thank you . . . Daddy," he said shyly. Vincentís heart swelled with joy to have his son in his life.

When they returned to the library, Catherine asked Jacob if he would like to stay in the underground world.

"No, Catherine!" Vincent cried out, reacting impulsively. "What of your obligations Above?"

"The obligations I have to my sonís happiness and safety far outweigh any obligations I have to this so-called marriage with Elliot. Vincent, we donít even have the same bedroom, and I know that he has a mistress. To me, itís a greater sin to stay in a loveless and useless marriage than to leave it. Elliot will get a divorce and marry his mistress. Then he can have children of his own."

"No, Vincent, there is nothing left to say," she said as she cut off his intended reply, clearly hurt by his attitude. "Jacob and I have come here to live, whether you accept it or not."

"It is what I have hoped for, Catherine, but never thought to see." He opened his arms to her. "Forgive me. I didnít mean to imply that I didnít want you or Jacob. I love you very much, both of you, and if that is what you want to do, I will gladly make room for you in my chamber."

"Oh yes, itís what I want more than anything in the world, for us to be a family." Happy and relieved, she snuggled into his embrace.

Jacob threw his arms around his mother. "You really mean it? We can stay?"

"Yes, you can stay," Father answered for her. "And I know the perfect chamber for you," he said with a conspiratorial wink, "close to the center and close to my chamber and to Vincentís. Weíll keep you safe." Turning to his immensely happy son, he said, "Vincent, why donít you and Catherine show Jacob to his chamber."

"With the greatest pleasure," Vincent exclaimed.

Father leaned back in his chair and watched his son take the hand of the woman he loved more than life and pull her to his side where he wrapped an arm around her, holding her close. Then he held out his other hand to his son and led them out of the chamber. With a happy sigh, Father dabbed at the tear that threatened to break free and trickle down his cheek. Now if Elliot Burch would only leave them in peace.

*****

Elliot returned to a silent, empty house. Even the servants were gone. Wondering where his wife and son could be, he wandered into his den and found an envelope leaning against the desk lamp. A powerful premonition gripped him as he sat behind his desk and picked it up. Opening it, he read:

Elliot,

I Ďm very sorry to do this while you are away, but I know your pride would not let me leave with Jacob without a great deal of trouble.

I hope you will not try to find us after I tell you a secret that I have kept for six years. I truly do not want to hurt you, but six years ago when my memory returned, I found the man I loved and from that reunion Jacob was born. I have taken him to a safe place, and if there is any love for me and Jacob left in your heart, please do not search for us. We will be completely safe.

IĎm sorry I was not the woman you needed. If you want a divorce, I will not fight you; I think it is best for both of us to be free and for you to seek out the one for you.

Be happy, Elliot. Be well. Goodbye.

Catherine.

As he read the letter, Elliot sat up straighter, rigid with indignation. Immediately, he reached for the phone to call Cleon Manning, the private investigator he used. How dare she? Cuckold him with another manís child and then, when he thought he had his dynasty safeguarded, to run off with the child. Heíd be the laughing stock of New York when this leaked out. Waiting for Cleon to pick up the phone, he had time to cool off and to start to think clearly. At least she had been honest enoughĖat last--to tell him that Jacob wasnít his. Although, that was probably to keep him from searching for them. He leaned back in his chair, thinking rationally and not with his wounded pride. So, that was why his son, no . . . Jacob, didnít resemble him; he looked like his father. He wondered why he had never questioned it. He hadnít wanted to, he decided; he had wanted an heir to carry on his work. Cleon finally answered, and Elliot apologized, saying that he had changed his mind and that heíd get back to him. He read the letter again. Cathy wasnít blaming him for manipulating her into marrying him before she was ready, nor for the many mistresses heíd had, nor, for that matter, for the unhappiness of their marriage. Knowing her as well as he did, he knew that she blamed herself more than she did him. He sighed; it really was too badĖshe was a great asset to himĖtoo bad that it hadnít worked out, but he should have known better. Even without her memory, she had been a strong willed and stubborn woman, and with her memory restored, she was a formidable adversary. He would miss her; he would miss their arguments. She never really gave in to him on any differences they had. Somehow she always found ways to get around him. Suddenly, he grinned; he was free . . . free of a marriage that had turned sour, that never really had a chance. And he knew it was only Catherineís dogged determination that had made it last as long as it did. He was young enough to father a whole stable of children, and surely there would be one among them that could take over his business. He laughed out loud at the thought of fathering a powerful dynasty that would lead his corporation into the forefront of the construction industry. Reaching for the phone, he dialed a number, put his feet up on the desk, and leaned back in his chair. "Catherine has left me," he said bluntly when Sandra answered. The high pitched joyful squeal almost deafened him.

Fini