HOME

Joan Stephens


"Iím going home," she excitedly told the smiling young woman in the mirror. "Iím going home."

Catherine Chandler had awakened from a four month long coma two months ago. Physical therapy and an informative chat with Peter Alcott had restored her to her former physical and mental health.

As soon as possible after she had regained consciousness and the authorities had thought it safe enough, she had called her longtime friend, almost causing him to have a heart attack. Finally she convinced him that she was really alive by relating to him the story he loved to tell about her birth. Knowing the hell that Vincent was going throughĖit would have been her hell if he had diedĖshe asked him to tell Vincent that she was alive and would be coming home as soon as she could. She almost leapt from her chair with elation when he told her that Vincent had found and rescued their child. He had, after all, understood what she had told him on the roof of her prison. Telling Peter that she would let him know when she was coming home, she hung up, a glorious smile lighting her beautiful face as she contemplated her homecoming.

****************

Impatiently she waited, badgering the doctors and federal agents alike until, almost in desperation, they had agreed to release her. This was only granted only when the men who had abducted her were either dead or in jail and on the condition that she would keep a low profile. It was an easy promise to make as she intended to disappear completely. She phoned Peter at once with the good news and requested that he ask Vincent to wait for her in his chambers.

"Iím going home," she told the nurseís aide with a happy laugh. The other woman smiled at her exuberance as she took Catherineís blood pressure, pulse, and heart rate for the last time. The glowing young woman made her think about her little one-room, lonely apartment, and how dreary it was even though she had done her best to brighten it. But realizing that she would miss Cathy as she would miss a family member, she came to understand that the hospital had become her real home, and she only felt comfortable there. She was at ease in only one other place: her family home. It was foolish and destructive to keep the feud going. It was time to mend fences. "Iíll miss you, Cathy," she said as she hugged the young woman. "Have a happy life." There were honest tears of emotion in her eyes as she left the room.

***********

An excited young man and a very pregnant young woman had just stepped out of an old yellow taxi as Catherine hurried from the hospital. With a smile, she watched the young man solicitously escort his wifeĖshe assumed it was his wifeĖinto the hospital, and then she clambered into the back. Throwing her small valise onto the floor, she settled back into the imitation leather seat with a relieved sigh.

"Where to, lady?" the cabbie asked.

"The Amtrak station," she said. "Iím going home."

"Thatís nice," he mumbled not really hearing her as he lowered the flag starting the meter. He put the taxi into gear and sped down the oak-lined driveway. Her comment about home finally penetrated the walls he had thrown up around his heart and brought to mind the family he had lost due to his drinking. If going home made this woman so happy, maybe if he quit drinking, he could look forward to going home again. He decided to really make it work this time. There was no guarantee that his wife would take him back, but it would be worth the effort.

************

Smiling to himself, the train conductor watched the young woman approach the train car. She was brimming with good humor and exhilaration. "Thatís a mighty pretty smile you have there, young lady," the middle-aged man commented as he extended a dark hand to help her climb the stairs into the sleeping car.

"Iím going home," she said with a toss of her honey brown hair, her smile widening if that was possible.

"Good for you. Been gone long?" he asked.

"It seems like forever," she commented as she moved down the aisle to find a vacant seat.

With a gentle smile of his own, he thought about his wife who would be waiting for him when he got home and decided that that was definitely the best part of his day. He loved her dearly and knew that she reciprocated in kind. The only sadness that spoiled his homecoming was the absence of children. They had been unable to have any, but he straightened his shoulders with the thought that he had a woman waiting for him who loved him and that suited him just fine.

****************

The New York cabbie was even more harried and annoyed than the other driver and merely grunted when she gave him her address and stated that she was going home.

Disgruntled, he slammed the cab into gear. The womanís cheerfulness grated on his tightly strung nerves. He wished he were going home. The double shifts he was working were really getting to him. But soon, if all went well, heíd have enough money saved, and then he would shout from the rooftop of his dingy flat that he was going back home: back to the green valleys and mountains of Idaho. And . . . heaven help the next person who mentioned New York City. The woman had the right idea; there ainít no place like home.

**************

Stepping into her apartment, she looked around and realized that even though she lived here, it was no longer home; her home was eighteen stories below in the tunnels under the city. Dropping the valise on her bed, she swiftly changed from the clothes the Federal agents had given her into a pair of blue jeans and a peach angora sweater that she found still hanging in her closet. Thankfully, Peter had been none too swift in disposing of her things.

Nervous but elated, she opened the hidden door into the tunnels beneath her building and clambered hurriedly down the ladder. Usually Vincent would be waiting for her at the bottom rung, but she had asked him to await her in his chamber. The farther she descended into the tunnels, the more the pipes began to sing. She knew that they were announcing her arrival. Racing from one tunnel to another, she neared Vincentís chamber. Pausing in the entryway, her eyes came to rest on the magnificent figure standing in the middle of the room. His face was shuttered and unreadable as if he was afraid that she was only a dream. Her gaze locked with his then shifted to the child he held in the crook of his right arm. She inhaled sharply; he was as beautiful as she remembered. The child slowly turned his head and gazed intensely at the unfamiliar woman. Suddenly he relaxed, beginning to coo and gurgle, his arms and legs waving excitedly. He knew her.

Jacobís sudden reaction to her seemed to release the stasis that held Vincent. "Catherine," he lovingly breathed her name, galvanizing her into motion. He held an arm out to her, and she rushed to him, throwing her arms around him and the child. His arm slipped around her slender form, crushing her against him. She buried her nose in his quilted west, inhaling the beloved and well-remembered scent of wood and stone combined with the odor of burning candles and his own unique scent. Listening to the steady, comforting beat of his heart, she whispered the one word that described what he meant to her . . . home.

Fini