WE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN

Joan Stephens

Peter Alcott, doctor, friend, and confidant, watched his goddaughter interact cautiously and delicately with the tunnel residents. Cathy Chandler was definitely out of her element. He wondered briefly if he had made a mistake talking his longtime friend, Jacob Wells, leader of the tunnel community, into allowing her to even know of the tunnelís existence, let alone, to come Below and to meet the members of the tunnel world.

His intentions . . . Well, you know the old saying, he thought, Good intentions pave the road to hell.

He considered the reasons for his actions. Cathyís life had dissolved into one that was foolish, frivolous, and fruitless, becoming nothing but a round of senseless parties, constant shopping, and very few hours spent in her fatherís law office. Still, he had hesitated to say anything to Charles, her father and his close friend, but on the day he had finally decided to broach the subject, Charles had surprised him by confessing, "Peter, Iím worried about Cathy. I donít understand what sheís doing with her life. Thatís not the way I raised her. Iím not happy with her, Peter, but sheís my only child. I donít know what to do."

Reaching across the table, he clasped his friendís arm. "Iíve been wondering when you would notice."

"Oh, Iíve been aware of the shallowness of her life for quite some time." They had met for dinner at their club, and Charles signaled to the waiter that they were ready to order. "But what can I do? Every time I mention her lack of enthusiasm for her job, she just gives me a peck on the cheek and laughs and blithely goes on her way. Iím at my witís end." He glanced up at the patiently waiting waiter. "My usual, Robert." Glancing at his friend, he asked, "Whatíll you have?"

"Steak, medium well, baked potato, and salad. Coffee, black."

Robert nodded and left to relay the order to the clubís master chef.

Taking a sip of his martini, Charles said, "Why did Susan turn out to be such a level-headed young woman? What did you do?"

Peter shrugged, "Hell, Charles, I donít know. Maybe itís her motherís influence. Who knows?"

"If only Caroline had lived," the other man sighed. "Itís not been easy being a single parent."

"I donít think you can blame yourself, Charles. What Cathy needs is someone or something to give her life a sense of direction."

"But who or what? Every time she has a new boyfriend, I think maybe this is the one. Even a new interest but nothing seems to last for very long." Despondently he raised his glass to his lips and took a long drink.

Peter toyed with his wine glass, twirling it around and around. "I have an idea. Let me see what I can do."

"I hope we can find something to turn her around."

Their conversation drifted in other directions until Robert returned with their dinner.

*****

After dinner, Charles returned to his apartment still wondering what he could do about Cathy. She was thirty-years-old, by God, she should be married and a mother by now instead of running all over creation in search of God knows what. He had hoped that her latest fiancť would settle her down, but Tom Gunther seemed to encourage her flightiness. He wondered what Peterís plan was; his old friend would tell him nothing about it.

Peter, on the other hand, took a cab to his office and, through a secret door in his office, entered the world of his best friend and fellow doctor, Jacob Wells. Greeted happily by the members of the tunnel world, he made his way to his friendís chamber. Arriving with a huge smile on his face, he commented, "Jacob, every time I come Below, no matter how depressed I am, I end up smiling as if I donít have a care in the world."

The tunnel leader returned his smile. "Happy and contented people are infections, my old friend. Care for a spot of tea?"

Peter waved his hand, "No thanks. I just had dinner with Charles Chandler and Iím caffeined out. Do you still have any of that Napoleon brandy left? I could sure use a shot of that." He settled in the chair that was usually reserved for Jacobís son, Vincent.

In answer Jacob pulled open the bottom drawer of his battered mahogany desk and took out a bottle and two glasses. Pouring an inch into each of them, he handed a glass to Peter. With a quizzical look at his long time friend, he asked, "What brings you here so late?"

Taking a swallow of the brandy, Peter decided to get to the heart of the matter right away and said, "My friend, Charles Chandler, has a daughter that he loves very much. But her life is as aimless as a crooked river." He proceeded to relate all the problems that the distraught father had with his child and asked for Jacobís help.

"What in the world do you think I can do?" Jacob asked quizzically as he sat back in his chair, gazing at his colleague over steepled fingers.

"Well, I want to bring Charles Below."

"Impossible!" Jacob stated adamantly. "I know that heís a good friend of yours, but I have only your word that heís trustworthy."

Peter leaned forward intently, hastily assuring his old friend, "Heís a good man, Jacob, honorable to a fault. Iíve known him since prep school. Once he gives his word, itís impossible to get him to break it."

"What you ask is simply not possible. I know nothing of this man."

"Jacob, I would trust this man with my life, with my daughterís life. I canít give you any stronger assurances than this." A sudden idea occurred to him. "Besides, he would be a valuable resource for the community. Not only is he reliable and responsible, but heís very generous to his friends. We could use a little assistance every once in awhile. Things . . . happen and you never know when you might need someone like him on your side." Peter could see that he was making a little headway with his friend.

The tunnel patriarch voiced his other concern. "But how does introducing him to the tunnels help with his problem?"

"If we get him involved, heíll see how honorable and self-reliant the people are here, and he will want to introduce Cathy to this world."

"But is she as trustworthy as you say her father is?"

"Absolutely! Once she knows the necessity of protecting this place, she will respect your need for secrecy. Sheís like her father in that way . . . if she gives her word, itís chiseled in stone."

Still not quite convinced, Jacob asked, "This . . . Cathy? . . . is worth all this effort?"

Making eye contact with his old friend to make his point, Peter replied, "She may seem shallow and wayward, but beneath all the trappings of a society girl, Cathy is a warmhearted, loving woman. Thereís not a mean bone in her body. Sheís smart, a lot smarter than most people give her credit for. Somehow she got on the wrong path, and I want to help to get her straightened out."

"You sound as if she means a great deal to you," Jacob commented.

"She does; I helped to bring her into this world, and sheís like a second daughter to me."

After a prolonged period of silent speculation, Jacob made a decision he hoped he wouldnít regret. "All right, Iíll call a council meeting for two nights from now. You can make your proposal then, but it will be up to you to convince them."

Peter let loose a sigh of relief. With the tunnel leaderís backing, he knew the council would grant his request. Placing a warm hand on his friendís arm, he said with intense earnestness, "You wonít regret this, Jacob. I promise."

"I certainly hope not," was the cautious reply.

*****

"Thanks, Jacob," Peter said, smiling gratefully at his friend as they strolled back to the leaderís home chamber. "Without your backing, I donít think they would have agreed to Charlesí acceptance into the tunnels."

"I hope I wonít be sorry," Jacob grumbled.

Peter couldnít keep from chuckling at his friendís pessimism and reassured him, "You wonít, old friend; I can practically guarantee it."

"Practically? Is that the best you can do?"

Laughing heartily, Peter clapped him on the back as they entered Jacobís chamber. "Itís as good as gold."

Anyone walking by then would have heard Jacobís dubious, "Hah!"

*****

Charles had proven to be everything that Peter had said about him. He and Jacob had hit it off from the beginning, and when the tunnel patriarch discovered that he played a middling game of chess, Peter could almost see Jacob rubbing his hands together in glee. After his initial introduction, Charles became a frequent visitor, coming Below more often than Peter. He was introduced to Vincent after a suitable time. The frequent mention of him had piqued his curiosity, and after asking Jacob about him, he had been carefully prepared for the meeting. If he was shocked and dismayed by Vincentís appearance, he never turned a hair and heartily shook the manís hand. That sealed his acceptance by Jacob and the community. Getting to know Vincent was a joy as they held many lively discussions that lasted for hours. They discovered that they shared a common interest in many different disciplines.

On one of his frequent visits to the world Below, he learned of Vincentís darker side. In the midst of an intense discussion about e. e. cummings, Vincent suddenly said, "Excuse me, Charles," and rushed away. From Jacob, Charles learned to his astonishment that Vincent was the one and only defender of the tunnel world and in the process also found out of his darker side. Not having seen the young man lost in his darkness, it was difficult for him to reconcile what Jacob told him with the gentle and kind man that he knew, but he knew that the tunnel patriarch would not lie to him. Carefully observing the leonine man, he came to the conclusion that you had nothing to fear from Vincent unless you meant harm to him, his world, or to those he loved.

*****

Over the following months it slowly penetrated Cathyís disorganized mind that there were many days and nights when her father was unavailable. He was maddeningly evasive when she asked him where he disappeared to. By doing this he was assured that she would become extremely curious and find some way to discover what he was doing. It had happened as Peter had hoped it would. Charles was so impressed with the ethos of the tunnel community that he wanted his daughter to experience the life Below. He hoped that by being introduced to a world where things and so-called important people were of supreme insignificance that she would see the frivolousness of her present life.

One night she waited out of sight and followed him from his apartment to Central Park and into a large culvert. Pausing just outside the drainage tube, she couldnít conceive of a logical reason for him to have entered it. Maybe he was secretly meeting an informant with necessary information pertaining to one of his cases. That must be it. Leaning against the curved wall, she waited for her father to return. After half an hour had passed, she started to get impatient. Where was he? He should have come out by now. Well, sheíd just have to go in and get him. But when she entered, she found him calmly waiting for her, standing inside a torch-lit tunnel. Beside him was a man of similar age who was dressed in clothing that seemed almost medieval. She came to an abrupt halt and stared.

"Catherine," her father said in a conversational tone, "Iíd like you to meet a good friend of mine."

"You led me on," she sputtered. "You deliberately left a trail for me to follow."

"Guilty as charged," he grinned at her.

Squinting her eyes suspiciously, she asked, "What are you up to, Dad?"

"I wanted you to meet Jacob." He nodded at his friend. "And to see his world and meet his people."

"Why?" she asked warily.

Jacob stepped forward. "Miss Chandler, your father has become a great friend and helper of my world. Wouldnít you like to see why?"

"Your world?" She looked from him to her father and back to him again. "Whatís going on here? Is this a joke or something? It is a joke, isnít it?"

Charles shook his head. "No, it isnít."

"Oh, come on, Dad. Thereís no world under Central Park." She was certain that they were pulling a joke on her.

Her father and the other man simply stared at her.

"Oh, come on," she repeated. Her eyes widened as she realized that they were completely serious. "Youíre not kidding."

Silently, the two men shook their heads in unison.

"Wow," she exclaimed and turned to her father. "How did you find out?"

"Peter told me."

"Peter?"

"Heís an old friend of mine, Miss Chandler. Iíve known him since medical school," the man named Jacob said. "Please, allow me show you my world."

Cathy took the hand held out to her and followed her father and his strange new friend into a world of fantasy. Their first stop was a large book-lined chamber that was Jacobís room and the hub of the underground world. On the way there she met people who greeted her father warmly, and she could see that he was well-respected and liked by the inhabitants of the tunnel world. Even with her, a stranger, they were polite and courteous, and every one of them was dressed in the same manner as Jacob. Mulling it over, she realized that they had to make do with every scrap of clothing they could find. She was shown the chandlery where a young woman named Rebecca toiled smilingly. Then in rapid succession they showed her the laundry, the woodworking shop, the blacksmithís forge, the school rooms, the dining chamber, and last but not least, the kitchen where the delicious aroma of freshly baked bread had tickled her nose as they approached. On the way back to Jacobís chamber, they passed a lighted but empty room. "Whatís in there?" she asked inquisitively.

"That is my sonís room. Heís away at the moment," Jacob answered, wondering what this womanís reaction to his strange looking son would be.

"Will I meet him soon?" The glimpse she had of the manís room intrigued her.

"At the proper time, my dear."

What a strange answer to a straightforward question.

"Vincent is quite a unique fellow, honey," her father interjected. "Youíll like him."

Jacob shot him a disconcerted look. "Well . . . yes. Would you like some water, Miss Chandler, before the childrenís play?"

"Yes, I would. Iím thirsty, and I want to sit down and take off these high-heels. Theyíre killing me," she answered with a chuckle and a deep sigh of relief as she sat down. "The children are giving a play down here?" Gratefully she took off her shoes and rubbed her aching feet.

"We try to have as many of the amenities of civilization here in our world as the world Above. The children love to entertain us," Father replied with pride. "And our people encourage them. Itís a great learning lesson for all involved."

Looking around, she could see that Jacobís chamber was filled to bursting with people, laughing and talking, happy in their small confined world. Peter waved to her from across the room. He was seated next to the older woman called Mary and Rebecca, the candlemaker, with Pascal, the pipe master, sitting behind them. They returned to their high-spirited discussion, laughing and giggling.

"Next time you come wear low heels, honey," her father suggested as he took a chair beside her and began to massage her sore feet.

Next time? Iím not sure I want there to be a next time, she thought as she relaxed into his expert manipulations.

"Here we go," Jacob said heartily, handing her a chipped cup full of cold, clear water. "The children should be ready to start any minute now."

As he finished speaking, a boy, she remembered later as Kipper, stepped out on the makeshift stage. Striking a pose, he declaimed, "Gentlepersons, tonight the All-Star Tunnel Childrenís Theater Guild presents our version of ĎAndrocles and the Lion.í He bowed and scuttled out of the spotlight. A titter of amusement ran through the audience, and Cathy was surprised to see how much her father enjoyed the opening speech. He had always been rather critical of amateur plays, and she wondered what it was about this strange place that enthralled him so much. She hadnít seen him this relaxed since her mother had died. If for nothing more than that, she decided to make an effort to become more acquainted with tunnel life and the people who lived here. She loved children and decided to begin with them.

The play was a rousing success. Everyone, even her father, gave them a standing ovation. Cathy made her way backstage to congratulate the cast, especially the young boy, Geoffrey, who played Androcles. As she rounded the set, she spied the tail-end of a black cloak disappearing into the shadows. I wonder who that was?

"Did you like it, Miss Chandler?" a young girl, Samantha Cathy thought, broke into her musing.

"Oh yes, you children did a marvelous job." The smiles grew wider, and a few light punches in the arms were exchanged by the boys. "Whereís Androcles?" she asked, looking around for him. He was standing directly behind her; his chest puffed out with pride when she told him she had never seen a better Androcles.

*****

Later that evening after the children had retired to bed, Cathy put her thoughts into action. "Jacob, is there anything I can do to make things easier for you and your people? I have the resources to help in any way I can."

Charles closed his eyes in despair and leaned his head against the back of his chair. Here was a perfect example of her lack of understanding of people. Opening his mouth to reprimand her, he stopped when Jacob place a cautionary hand on his arm.

"Thank you, Miss Chandler," the tunnel patriarch said kindly but forcefully, "but we are doing very well. Your assistance is not needed at this time."

She felt as if she had been gently reprimanded. And she was surprised. She had thought that he would jump at the chance to have her help. She had badly misjudged him. "Oh," she quietly said, "all right. If you ever need my help, be sure to ask me." Squirming uncomfortably in her chair, she looked to her father for his support, but he was deep in conversation with Cullen. She didnít know what to do, so she stared down at her clasped hands. Conversation flowed around her, but she was silent, confused thoughts rolling around in her brain. Much to her relief, her father finally decided to leave. Cullen guided them to an entrance that had been broken in a brick tunnel. "Where are we? This isnít the way we came in."

"No, it isnít," Charles agreed. Shaking Cullenís hand, he asked, "Can you come by my apartment tomorrow about 7:00 P.M.?"

"Sure," Cullen answered. "Iíll bring some wood samples and designs with me." He nodded to Cathy and left, whistling happily.

Cathyís curiosity got the better of her. "Whyís he coming to your apartment? Is he making something for you?"

"Iíve seen some of his work and itís beautiful. I want him to make a new desk for me," he replied tersely.

Trying to figure out just where they were, she looked all around. "Where are we, Daddy?" She was getting rather angry with him; he seemed to be upset with her, and she wanted him to tell her why.

"Beneath your apartment building."

"We are?" she exclaimed.

"Yes, Jacob had this entrance made at my request. I thought it would be much safer than traipsing through the Park at night."

"How do we get into the building?"

"Climb those iron rungs and go through the door above."

She did as he instructed and found herself in her own storage area.

Her father came to stand beside her. "Through that door is the basement."

Laughing gently, she said, "Yes, Dad, I know."

Ducking his head, he grinned at her.

"Daddy, I have a feeling that youíre upset with me."

"Not upset, honey, just disappointed in the way you handled the situation with Jacob."

"But I sincerely meant every word I said."

"I know, but you went about it in the wrong manner. You were a little condescending. They are justly proud of their world and how hard they must work to keep it running and safe."

"Oh," she colored, embarrassed. "Iím sorry that I made such a faux pas. Iíll be more careful in the future." Taking him by the arm, she asked lightly as they left the cubicle, "How do you do it?"

Maybe she was learning. "I find work for them to do, find ways to give them things they need by going through the Helpers."

"They have Helpers?"

"Theyíre people who have lived Below at one time or were helped by the tunnel world."

"Then they can use help?"

"Oh, definitely, but youíve got to be careful how you go about it."

By this time they were standing outside her apartment. "Can you come for a while?"

"Iíd love to, honey, but Iíve got an early appointment in the morning."

"Ok." She reached up and kissed his cheek. "Iíll see you tomorrow. Good night."

He squeezed her arm. "Sleep well, honey." He walked toward the elevator as she unlocked and entered her apartment. Tonight had given her much to think about.

*****

There was something about the world Below that intrigued Cathy. They had absolutely nothing in the way of modern conveniences that she could see, and they had to work doubly hard for everything that they had. It was cool and dark, but they were the happiest people she had ever met. There was constant laughter, singing, and just plain enjoyment of life. Comparing them to her friends above, they were far richer with their closeness and companionship. She discovered to her amazement that she envied them. Not once when she was Below, which happened more frequently as she became better acquainted with the tunnel world, had she felt unwelcome. They accepted her on her own merits and not on how wealthy or powerful she was. She rather enjoyed that, being treated like an ordinary person.

Also there was a mystery Below that she was determined to solve. Several times she had heard one of the tunnel residents mention Jacobís son, Vincent, only to have someone else elbow them in the side, when they noticed her, and then they would quickly change the subject. She decided she had waited long enough to meet him, and she told Jacob that she would not take no for an answer.

He sighed and agreed, "But I must prepare you to meet him."

"Why? Is something wrong with him?"

Jacob walked away from her and then turned to study her. "What I am about to tell you must go no further than this chamber. Do I have your word on this?"

"Itís that important to you?"

"Yes, Miss Chandler, it is. If you donít give your word, you will never meet him."

"I donít know why thereís all this mystery." Flinging her hands in the air, she agreed, "All right! I give you my word."

Jacob nodded, hoping her word was as good as her fatherís.

Folding her arms, she waited for him to begin.

"For one thing . . . my son is different, Miss Chandler, . . ."

"Oh for heavenís sake, call me Cathy," she barked, causing him to give her a startled look.

He nodded abruptly and continued, ". . . different and special. He is generous, kind, and loving. Heís a wonderful teacher, the children adore him, and heís loved by all those who live here and by our Helpers."

"But! Is he deformed or something?"

"No, I canít say heís deformed; he just looks different. You wonít believe this until you see him, but he has the face of a lion."

"A lion? You never cease to amaze me, Jacob. You really expect me to believe this cock and bull story of yours?" She stalked away then turned around to berate him for telling such a story. Her eyes flew wide open when she saw the imposing figure poised at the top of the small metal stairs. She gulped as he gracefully descended the stairs and came to stand before her. He towered over her, but she didnít feel the least bit intimidated. Quite the contrary, she felt nothing but friendship from him. She gasped in wonder as she stared up into his remarkable countenance. He was amazing. And his face was as Jacob had said . . . that of a lion but mixed with very human features. The shape of his face was manlike, his slightly slanted eyes were the most human feature about him, and his lower lip and chin were fully human. His nose, or should she say his muzzle, and the cleft upper lip were lion-like. Short, bristly stubble covered his cheeks and chin. As she reached up to lightly touch his cheeks, she learned that they were as soft as peach fuzz. Upswept golden eyebrows rose up into the golden mane that covered his head. Tearing her eyes away from his fascinating visage, she looked accusingly at Jacob. "Why didnít you tell me he was beautiful?"

The tunnel patriarch blinked in confusion, and Vincent stepped back in surprise. Jacob immediately revised his opinion of this young woman. Maybe there was hope for her yet. "This is my son, Vincent. Not all find him beautiful; some find him something to fear."

"Well, theyíre fools," she stated adamantly.

"Miss Chandler." Vincent bowed slightly to her and took her hand.

"Call me Cathy," she managed to say as a bolt of energy raced through her. She noticed that Vincent started also when their hands touched.

Gathering his scattered wits about him, he shook his head. "If you donít mind, I would rather call you Catherine."

Slightly dazzled, she smiled up into his azure eyes. "Then I take it that you wouldnít want to be called Vinnie?"

"Good heavens, no," Jacob interjected as Vincent returned her smile.

His eyes twinkling merrily, Vincent said, "Somehow, I donít think Vinnie suits me."

Catherine laughed delightedly. "I think youíre right. Vincent suits you much better."

"Can I interest you in a cup of tea?" He was at ease with her and noticed that she had relaxed also.

"Yes, Iíd love one."

"Father?" Jacob nodded his acceptance.

Sitting around his desk, they talked about their childhood, and she learned how this strange man had come to the tunnels.

When it was time for her to leave, Vincent offered to guide her to her threshold. On the way there she learned that he was the one who had made the entrance. Arriving at the entryway, she held out her hand to him. There was another shock as their hands met again only it was much less than the first time. "Thank you, Vincent, for making the entrance and walking with me to my door." She could see that he didnít get the reference to an old dating ritual from Above. "Good night," she whispered.

"Good night," he replied and watched her enter the light that came from somewhere above. He heard her climb the iron rungs and open a door. Then there was silence. With his hand over his heart, he fell back against the tunnel wall. He had finally met her: the woman he would give his life and heart to, the woman he would love forever. "Catherine," he murmured. Saying her name was like hearing a symphony. In a daze he wandered back to his chamber to spend the night dreaming of a green-eyed beauty. He had heard the story about her fatherís fears that she was wasting her life, and had not expected her to be so warmhearted and accepting of him. He had thought that he would frighten her and that he would not like her.

*****

Catherineís visits to the tunnels increased after her introduction to Vincent. He fascinated her. He was so erudite, with such courtly manners. When you were in his company, you felt as if everything you thought or said was of the greatest interest to him. He listened to you, allowing nothing to interfere. He had reawakened her love for poetry and classic literature. One evening he asked her to go to a concert with him. She was mildly surprised when he led her to an unused drainage tube. There piled on the floor was a mound of pillows and blankets. A small hamper sat on the floor by the wall of his Ďmusic chamberí as he called it.

"Where are we?" she asked as he helped her to sit on one of the cushions.

"Right under the first row." He settled down next to her, and they enjoyed Rachmaninoffís great music, and then had a light snack of cheese, fruit, and wine during intermission.

Later at the threshold to her building, Catherine thanked him for a wonderful evening. "You really know how to show a girl a good time."

"You really enjoyed it?" He had been so afraid she would be offended by his arrangements for the evening.

"Oh Vincent, it was wonderful. Iíve never heard the music so clearly, and the company was exquisite. You have such knowledge of the music and the composers. You put me to shame."

"Oh no, Catherine, I didnít mean to do that," he replied, chagrined that he might have seemed too overweening.

Laying a hand on his arm, she said, "No Vincent, itís good for me. It makes me want to learn. I really enjoyed the evening." She smiled at him from behind a fall of hair and asked, shyly, "Can we do it again?"

His heart took flight. "Oh yes, they are playing Mozart next Saturday night."

"Wonderful. Iíll meet you here." The smile slipped from her face as she suddenly became very serious. She didnít know how he would take her next words, but she took a deep breath of courage and said, "Would you care to visit me some night?" She waited, breathlessly, for his answer. He looked stunned, and she mentally kicked herself for destroying their evening.

Then he smiled so widely that the tips of his long canines gleamed in the blue-white light from above. "When?"

"Would Tuesday be all right?"

"Tuesday would be fine."

She grinned back at him and nodded, then turned to leave. "Good night, Vincent," and she was gone.

"Good night, Catherine." Vincent practically floated on air as he returned to his chamber. He didnít know how Father would take his going Above to visit Catherine. It really didnít matter what Father thought; he had been going Above for years, and on Tuesday he was going to visit her.

*****

Hearing approaching steps, Jacob raised his eyes from the ledger he was working on and waited patiently to see who it was. Charlesí smiling face was the first thing he saw. The other man was almost dancing as he entered, took a seat by Jacobís desk, and leaned back with a contented sigh.

"Well, Charles, youíre actually beaming, why is that?"

"Cathyís a different woman," he said with a large grin. "Sheís changed, Jacob. Sheís become the daughter I thought I had raised."

Jacob agreed. "Iíve noticed a subtle change in her myself. She comes here almost every day."

Charles seemed shocked. "Almost every day?"

"Yes, and when sheís here, she and Vincent are inseparable."

"I see. That was a complication I hadnít considered." Frowning, Charles continued, "You know I think the world of Vincent but Cathy?"

"What are you saying, that my sonís not good enough for your daughter?" the other man said sharply.

"On the contrary," Charles replied, trying to soothe Jacobís ruffled feathers, "Iím afraid sheís not strong enough to maintain this kind of a relationship and will end up hurting him. Sheís had her share of relationships, and sheís walked away from all of them. I donít want that to happen to him."

The fire of wounded pride died in Jacobís eyes, and he nodded soberly, "That is what I fear. Iím afraid it would destroy him if that happened. She makes him hope for a life that can never be. It is too dangerous for him to become heavily involved with the world Above."

"I can understand that; I donít know if Cathy does."

They sat in silence for a few minutes, going over in their thoughts what they considered to be a weighty problem. Jacob broke the quiet when he said, "I love Cathy, Charles, but I love my son more and if he should lose himself in the heat of passion . . . ?"

"You think itís gone that far?" Charles straightened up anxiously.

"No, not yet, but I see it coming," Jacob replied, a worried frown on his brow.

"And you think that he could harm Cathy," Charles stated.

"Oh, not deliberately," Jacob replied. "But I worry that in the heat of passion he might harm Catherine unintentionally by scratching her or something as innocuous as that. It would devastate him." Resting his chin on steepled fingers, he gazed into the past. "There was a young girl. . . . They grew up together . . . were very close. One day she danced for him . . . teasing him. . . . When he responded, she pulled away. . . . He accidentally scratched her back. He was so shocked and humiliated that he became violently ill. I canít allow that to happen again."

"God, Jacob, Iím so sorry. I never would have suggested this if Iíd thought they were going to get so close. What can we do?"

"Well, Iíve been thinking about this for some time, but I didnít know how to approach you about it. Here is what I suggest." Leaning forward confidentially, Jacob continued, "As far as I know, they only meet here and on her balcony, so I can find ways to ensure theyíre never alone, and I will warn him against growing fond of her."

"Iíll do the same with Cathy," Charles chimed in.

"Hopefully we can nip this in the bud."

Two worried fathers fell silent, commiserating with each other.

*****

Catherine had come to a decision. She didnít like corporate law, and she didnít know how she was going to tell her father that she had decided to work for a pro bono clinic. Vincent had inspired her to put her education to use to represent the poor and downtrodden.

The best way to tell him was on a full stomach. Her father was much more mellow after a good meal. So, the next day she met him at ĎJean Georgesí for dinner. It was one of her fatherís favorite French restaurants, and she knew that heíd be in a really mellow mood after a good meal served with the best of wines.

Lingering over a last cup of coffee, she was laughing at a feeble joke Charles had made. Suddenly she sobered. "Daddy, I need to talk with you about a change Iím thinking about making in my life."

Oh god, here it comes. He stiffened and smiled woodenly at her. Swallowing nervously, he said brightly, "What changes?"

She reached across the table and took his hand. "Daddy, I know youíve always wanted me to be a partner in your law firm but . . ." She made a face. "Daddy, to be truthful about it, I hate corporate law."

He wilted like a ruptured balloon. "Is that all?"

"What did you think it was? That I was marrying Tom? Thatíll never happen," she said flatly.

"Ah . . . you took me by surprise, thatís all." Laughing in relief, he studied her then said, archly, "I never would have suspected that you didnít like corporate law. Oh no, never." He chuckled, shaking his head. "Are you asking me or telling me?"

Squeezing his hand with relief, she replied, "Telling you. Iíve already accepted a position with the South Bronx Free Legal Clinic. This is my letter of resignation."

"Youíve really thought this through, havenít you?"

"Iíve learned a few things from our friends Below."

"You certainly have. As sad as it makes me to lose you, Iím proud of you, honey." He raised her hand to his lips and kissed the back of it. "Your mother would be so proud of you, too."

"I hope so." She retrieved her hand and asked, "Are you really all right with this?"

"Well, I donít know what I can to do change your mind. Youíre as stubborn as your mother." He smiled, taking the sting out of his words. "But if I had known that this would be the result of introducing you to the tunnels, I donít know if I would have."

Catherine shivered as she thought of never meeting Vincent. "But I, at least, am glad you did," she said brightly.

Ah, Cathy, how like your mother you are. That led his thoughts to the problem of her relationship with Vincent. Maybe this new job would keep her so busy she wouldnít have time to go Below so often. That and his plan to spend more time with her should keep her from seeing Vincent so much. Well, things might work out yet. There might even be an eligible young man at the Legal Clinic. Feeling much better, he leaned over the table encouragingly and said, "Now . . . tell me about this new job."

*****

In the world Below Vincent was staring in disbelief at the work schedule he held in his hand. He looked from the sheet of paper to his father. "Is this a joke?" he asked bluntly.

"Not at all. Youíve had so much free time lately that I thought we would finish some projects that weíve set aside." He looked rather smug, which greatly perplexed Vincent.

"Do I have time to sleep?" he asked sarcastically.

"Of course, you do," Father replied in a condescending manner. "I know you need your rest. Now, off to bed with you."

Vincent halted at the entrance and turned back to his father. "Iím going Above to see Catherine. Sheís had a stressful day and I need to see her."

"I donít think that would be wise, son. She can only cause you pain," he cautioned his startled son.

"I thought you liked Catherine. I donít understand this change in attitude."

"I do like Catherine; sheís a fine woman and a wonderful Helper. But thatís all she can be. Iíve watched the two of you becoming closer and closer. Soon if youíre not careful, youíll be yearning for the life that can never be." Vincent bowed his head. Father was right; in the happiness of his relationship with Catherine, he had forgotten about the life that could never be. "I would suggest that you cut back on the time you spend with Catherine before one of you is hurt. It would be best if you never went Above to see her."

Vincent turned cold at the thought of not seeing her except when she came Below. Then they had no privacy at all. He had no answer for his father; he could not agree. With a "Good night, Father," he hurried from the chamber.

*****

Slowly but inexorably Catherine and Vincentís time together became less and less as their fathers conspired to keep them apart. The lovers began to question their relationship until, at last, in desperation Catherine confronted Vincent in his chamber. Knowing he was committing a breach of ethics, Father shamelessly eavesdropped on the two young people.

"Youíre upset," Vincent stated the obvious.

"Youíre darn right I am," she growled. "What have I done to drive you away?"

"You? I thought you didnít want to see me."

"Why? What made you think that?"

"It seemed that so many times you had an excuse not to see me."

"Well, you did the same thing."

"I always had a good reason, and it grieved me greatly that I couldnít spend the time with you. I wanted too so badly."

"You did?"

"Yes, I did."

"Well, I wanted to see you too, but something always came up." A strange look appeared on her face and her eyes narrowed in thought. "I donít know why I didnít see this."

"See what?" Vincent asked intrigued.

"Vincent, why havenít you been able to come and see me?"

"Well, Iíve been very busy. Father has all these projects for me."

"And when we do get together, weíre never alone. And my dad has been uncharacteristically attentive lately. Always coming by at the oddest hours. Why havenít you answered any of my messages?"

"I never received them. I sent you many messages and never received an answer." He stopped as a sudden unthinkable thought came to mind. "You donít suppose . . ."

"Youíre darn right I suppose. Those two old men are interfering in our lives."

"Catherine! They wouldnít do that."

"Oh, wouldnít they?" She turned a sad countenance to him. "I thought Jacob liked me."

"And I thought Charles liked me."

"But not the two of us together," she said, darkly.

Vincent took her in his arms and tenderly ran his hands up and down her rigid back. "It seems that way, doesnít it?"

"I donít think Ďseemsí even begins to cover it." Stepping out of his embrace, she stalked back and forth in front of an increasingly indignant man. "Iím so mad; I could scream. What were they thinking? Donít they trust us to know what weíre doing?"

"It must be me, Catherine. Father has always told me not to want the life that could never be, and your father must think Iím wrong for you."

"No, I donít think thatís it. I know my father thinks the world of you. Itís not that." Coming back to him, she put her arms around his waist and squeezed. "I think itís time we cornered two old foxes and dragged the truth out of them."

As his arms snaked around her, he laid his cheek on the top of her head. "I definitely agree."

Reaching up a delicate hand, she gently stroked his downy cheek. "I love you, Vincent," she said softly. "I have for a long time. I hope this confession wonít drive you away."

He chuckled quietly as he shook his head. "No, it wonít drive me away. I have a confession to make. I have loved you since the first time I saw you."

Catherineís hand moved to cup the back of his head and pulled his head down until their lips met in a sweet kiss of commitment.

In the corridor Father was beside himself. All that he and Charles had tried had backfired and driven the two young people into each otherís arms. And on top of that they were angry with their respective fathers. Hurrying to his chamber, he wrote a short note to his partner in crime and had Mouse deliver it right away. The reply that Charles sent back reeked of his consternation.

*****

With trepidation, Father heard Vincent approaching for what he knew to be an unpleasant confrontation.

Vincent entered without his usual greeting. He stalked up to Fatherís desk and speared the older man with a sharp look until he squirmed uncomfortably. "Would you care to explain yourself?"

"Explain myself?" Maybe acting innocent would keep the roof from caving in on him, but he seriously doubted it.

Vincent just folded his arms over his chest and waited. Moving uneasily in his chair, Father couldnít look his son in the eyes. He hemmed and hawed until he burst out, "It was for your own good."

"My own good?" Vincent thundered. Father had the good grace to look abashed as he flinched at his sonís anger. "Who gave you the right to decide what was good for me?" He fell into a nearby chair and, placing a hand to his forehead, wearily shook his head. "Father, Father, how could you?" he said softly.

"I did it out of love," the older man cried.

"No, you didnít. Yes, I know you love me," Vincent said when Father began to say something. "You have always done everything for me out of love. But sometimes, Father, love can destroy as you have almost shattered my sense of my humanity. Oh, I know you never meant to hurt me, but sadly you have never seen me as a whole man; and therefore, you canít picture me in a relationship with a woman."

"No, Vincent, itís not that. Catherine has a life Above that she is comfortable with. She has a career that means a great deal to her."

"I know all that." He raised his head to gaze defiantly at his father. "I would never ask her to leave her life Above for me. She is a child of the sun."

"Then how long do you think she can keep on living a life divided between the darkness of the tunnels and the light of Above? Some day she may find that she canít do it anymore and leave you. I know, even if you are too blind in love to see, that that would devastate you, maybe even kill you."

"I donít think that will happen, but if it does it is my problem not yours. I know her heart and in her heart she loves me."

"What about the danger to you of discovery and the possible discovery of this world? Do you want this world that has supported you to be destroyed?"

Vincent leapt to his feet, dismayed that his father would think him so cavalier with the safety of his world. "Of course not, I will always protect this world. You know that. And my love for Catherine will never interfere with that." Holding his arms out at his side, he pleaded for understanding, "Why are you doing this, Father?"

Father could see that he was getting nowhere with his recalcitrant son. He really didnít want to cause him any pain but felt he was impelled to bring up his last argument. "If you wonít listen to reason, then I must ask you this. What if you should hurt Catherine as you did Lisa?"

Vincent stepped back in consternation. "I could never hurt her."

"Maybe not. Not intentionally. Iím just afraid to take the chance."

"The chance is not for you to take. The decision of how close Catherine and I become is for us to make," Vincent stated firmly.

"But still, can you take the chance?"

"I have told her about Lisa and she still loves me. And I love her, Father. I will not be separated from her any longer. Do you understand me?" He waited patiently for his father to come to the conclusion that he meant what he said. "Do you?"

"Yes, I do. Son, Iím truly sorry. Charles and I were only trying to keep our children from being hurt."

Vincent bent down and kissed his fatherís cheek. "I love you, Father. But it is my life to live, and you must trust me enough to let me do it on my own. I appreciate your advice when I ask for it, but not your interference. I hope you can abide by this. This is the last time we will discuss this problem."

"I will try, son. I canít make any promises. Old habits are hard to break. Just remember, if I falter and stumble that it is love that guides me." He stroked the head bent over his fragile frame.

"I will, Father." At the entrance he turned back to say, "Good night, sleep well."

"Iíll try," Father said, "Iíll try."

*****

Charles Chandlerís head snapped up, startled by the loud bang when his office door was slammed shut. Well aware of what was coming, he watched with trepidation as his daughter strode angrily toward his desk. Attempting to feign ignorance, he quipped, "Youíre a little late for work, arenít you?"

She stopped directly in front of him, and planting her hands on the highly polished desktop, she leaned forward. "I called them and said I had to tend to my incapacitated father."

"Iím not incapacitated," he protested as he leaned back in his chair to get away from her threatening expression and almost tipped over. She never moved a muscle to help as he righted himself.

"Not yet," she said ominously. Straightening up, she threw her hands up in the air. "What were you thinking, Dad? Did you think we wouldnít eventually figure it out? How dare you interfere in my life or in Vincentís life like that?" By this time she was pacing back and forth punctuating her agitation with various gestures, the main one: pointing her finger at him. "Do you have any idea what this has done to Vincent?"

"Vincent? Jacob assured me he would take care of Vincent. I love Vincent; I would never do anything that would hurt him."

She stopped abruptly and glared at him. "Well, you didnít succeed; you really hurt him. Why, Dad? Why have you and Father tried so hard to keep us apart?"

"We did it to keep him from getting hurt."

"To keep him from getting hurt?" she whispered. With dawning horror, she whispered, "By me?" Her anger swiftly disappeared. Quickly she sought the solidity of a nearby chair and slid onto it. "But I would never hurt him."

"I know you well enough to know that you would not intentionally hurt him. But how many boyfriends have you had in the last two years or fiancťs for that matter." He hated to hurt her this way, but he needed to make her see his and Jacobís position.

"Well, thereíve been a few, but none of them meant anything to me the way Vincent does."

"Youíre still engaged to Tom, arenít you?"

"No, I gave him back his ring after I met Vincent."

Leaning forward, his elbows on the desk, he said, "Now . . . you see what I meant. If you were to encourage Vincent and then toss him away as you have so many others, you would destroy him."

She straightened up with resolve. There were a few things he needed to know about her relationship with Vincent. "Dad, thereís no way I could ever just Ďtossí him away. I donít know how to explain this to you so I wonít even try; Iíll just lay out the facts. Vincent and I are connected, like Iíve never been connected to anyone else." She tapped the region over her heart with her knuckles. "Heís here, right now. So, you see Iím never alone; Iím always with him wherever he or I may be. I couldnít leave him if I wanted to and I donít want to. I love him, Dad, as Iíve never loved anyone else." Tears gathered in the corner of her eyes, threatening to spill over. "Please understand; heís my life and I would give everything for him." She had wanted to tell him this for over a month, and the release of tension was too much for her. She bent over with her hands covering her face and began to cry in earnest.

Charles sped around his desk and took his weeping daughter in his arms. "There, there," he said, as he ineffectually patted her on the back, "I didnít know it had become this serious. Jacob and I were just trying to head off an unhappy time in our childrenís lives. If you love Vincent this much, I can only say that Iím glad and that Iím behind you all the way. After all, I love him too."

She wept into his vest at his honest confession. "Oh, Daddy."

Ah, he was back to being Daddy again; he was back in her good graces.

"I love you," she gushed with deep emotion.

"I love you, too, honey, and I only want whatís best for you." Gently he stroked the hair that reminded him so much of his beloved wife. He had never found another woman who affected him like she did, and he didnít think he ever would. "You know what? I know your mother would love Vincent if she had ever had the chance to meet him."

"You really think so?" Cathy sniffed.

"I know so," Charles replied, handing her a tissue. "Now blow your nose and wipe your eyes. And, for heavenís sake, go and fix your mascara; you look like a raccoon." He gave her a gentle shove in the direction of the executive bathroom and returned to his chair. With a watery chuckle, she disappeared behind the bathroom door. Ah . . . children, they never cease to amaze you. Never in his wildest dreams had he thought that by introducing her to the tunnel community that she would find the love of her life, for thatís what he realized that she had found. All her life she had looked for something and neither he nor she had known what it was, but at last she knew where her life was headed, and he hoped to be there when she arrived at her destiny.

Catherine emerged from the bathroom looking more presentable. "Thatís more like it," her father commented. "Can you forgive your old man for interfering in your life?" He opened his arms to her.

Without hesitation, she nodded and walked into his embrace. "I can forgive you almost anything, Daddy. You only did what you thought was right."

"But how wrong we were, Jacob and I."

"There was really no harm done. In fact, I think it helped to clarify a few things."

"Oh, really. Like what?"

Grinning up at him, she shook her head. "Iíll tell you some other time. Right now, I need to get back to work."

"My, you were never that worried about getting to work here." He winked at her.

"That was Cathy, Dad; this is Catherine talking." She reached up and buzzed him on the cheek. "Donít call me; Iíll call you," she said as she stood in the open door. "I need some time with my man."

"Whatever you want, honey," he said with a broad smile.

"Love you, Daddy," floated through the closing door.

"Love you too, honey." He sank thoughtfully into his chair and reached over to hit his secretaryís call button.

*****

In the elevator, Catherine was busy thinking about what had just taken place with her father. To know that she was the basis for their actions was a sobering thought. She had been thoughtless and uncaring about the men . . . no, about the people who had entered her life. But that was before Vincent. She had learned the joy of valuing others for whom and what they were, not what she thought they should be.

She also knew that she had made a commitment to Vincent in her fatherís office, and she knew without even thinking about it that Vincent had made the same commitment to her. The warmth of his love surrounded her as her love encompassed him. If it hadnít been for two--no, make that three--sly, old foxes, she and Vincent might never have been able to make the pledge of love that they now made. She decided that she would take the day off and spend it confirming that vow. He always knew when she was coming; he would be waiting.

 

Fini