WINTER IS PAST

Joan Stephens


Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the
singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle
is heard in our land.

Song of Solomon ch. 2, v. 10

What was there about this particular headstone that drew her here day after day? There was nothing exceptional about the stone marker. It was plainly made out of dark gray marble stone with only a name and two dates: year of birth and year of death. The name was unfamiliar, but she wondered if the woman was someone out of her unknown past? No matter how often she tried or how determined she was, she always came up against the blank wall of her mysterious former life.

Vividly she recalled the day her life began: June 15th, 1992, one thousand and sixty eight days ago. She had awakened in Upper New York in the featherbed of an Amish family named Fuhlman. They were about to send the youngest boy, Isaiah, to fetch the police when she faintly called out to them to not bring the police; that he would find her. Unable or unwilling to answer their questions, she had slipped back into a coma that lasted for three days. The entire family cared for her, gently feeding her and tending to all her basic needs. At last she awoke. When they asked her what they should call her, she said the first name that came to mind: Caroline. Their kindness was overwhelming, and when she told them that she had no money to repay them, they were highly indignant and explained that it was their god-given duty to care for all strangers. They honored her request that the authorities not be notified about her even though she could give no valid reason. The devastating fear that she felt was evident in her eyes. She stayed with them for almost three years, coming to love each one of them as if they were her own family and working beside them to earn a small amount of money that she could call her own.

The elders prayed for her to regain her memory, but each time she tried an overwhelming fear would seize her. It wasnít that she didnít want to remember; it was that she was afraid of what had happened to her in her former life. Someone had tried to kill her. Finally she decided to make the best of the life that had been given her. For she was certain that she had been given a second chance.

A month ago, an overpowering urge to go to New York had come over her. Leaving the safety and comfort of the Fuhlmanís farm was harder than she had imagined. They tried to dissuade her, telling her that they looked upon her as another daughter, that they loved her. Benjamin, the father, hugged her hard and, looking down into her determined but damp, green eyes, stated, "I donít think we can stop her, Mama."

Caroline went into Judithís outstretched arms. "No, I think you are right, Papa. She is determined."

Smiling through her tears, the young woman hugged each one of the Fuhlman children: Anna, Margarethe, Johann, and Joseph. But she saved a special hug for Isaiah with whom she had become especially close.

"Iíll never forget you and your kindnesses. Whatever happens I know that I have a home to come to." She wiped her eyes with a handkerchief that Sarah offered her and stuffed it into her pocket after the older woman indicated that she should keep it.

Benjamin helped her into the buggy, and with much waving and blowing of kisses, they set off down the lane. After another tearful goodbye--Benjamin was the kindest and gentlest man she had met in her limited experience--she boarded a bus bound for New York City. She counted her little hoard of money, realizing that she would have to be especially thrifty and careful of how she spent it. The Fuhlmanís had taught her well, and on arriving in the city, she found a tiny, one-room apartment in a poorer section of town and began to look for a job.

It was on one of her job seeking treks, as she was walking back to her room, that she stopped in at St. Cleoís Cemetery to rest for a few minutes. She found a bench close to the entrance and sank gratefully onto it. She glanced around at all the headstones marching away from her in their straight rows and suddenly had the desire to walk among them. She enjoyed reading the engravings on the monuments: some of them were really funny and others just very odd while some of them brought tears to her eyes. She thought that she meandered in no particular direction, but when she thought about it later, she seemed to feel a gentle tug to go one way. The plainest headstone she had seen in the cemetery brought her to a halt. Wondering why the womanís resting place was marked with such a bare headstone, she leaned against a nearby, wide-spreading oak and slowly slid to sit on the ground. As she sat there beside the modest grave, a feeling of such peace enveloped her that she was reluctant to leave and go back to her bare, unappealing room.

Ever since that day, whenever she had the time, she would come and sit by the grave and talk to the unknown woman lying there. She told her of the short three years of her life and about her fear to face the hidden past. She asked her if she was a coward. Then wondered if it wouldnít be better to just go on as she was? She didnít expect an answer as she had no answer herself and knew that she was really talking to herself, but she enjoyed the fiction of talking to someone else. It made her feel less alone, as if she had a friend.

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

She had been coming to St. Cleoís for more than two weeks, but on this day she was exhausted from being on her feet for eight straight hours. She had found a waitressing job at Tonyís Diner and Pizzeria. It was the best she could do for right now as she didnít even know what skills she had. She had learned to hoe, pick vegetables, harness a horse to a buggy, make her own clothes, but those skills werenít in great demand in the bustling city of New York. It was easy to find the grave: all she had to do was locate the large oak. Spying it, she hurried there and sat down on one of the great oakís exposed roots, putting the oakís bulky bole between her and the grave. It was late afternoon, peaceful and quiet, and she didnít mean to, but she fell sound asleep. Startled awake, she thought she heard the low tones of someone speaking softly and her heart thudded with fear. She was surrounded by darkness, relieved only by the shining full moon. Peering fearfully around the giant bole of the tree, she saw, limned in the moonlight, a large form kneeling beside the headstone. Whoever he was, it was obvious that he knew the woman in the grave that held such a strange fascination for her. She smothered a gasp when she saw the large, fur-covered and clawed hand that so tenderly placed a single red rose on the womanís resting place. Scrunching down, she made herself as small as possible. She felt a strange kinship with this odd man. But she wondered if he was real or if she was dreaming. Pinching herself, she knew that she was awake and that he was as real as she was. Shamelessly, she continued to watch. He sat back on his heels. Softly, he continued to talk to the woman who slept peacefully--Caroline hoped--beneath the green sod, telling her of his lonely days and nights, pleading with her to come for him soon. The young woman, secretly spying on him from behind the tree, felt her fear ebbing away as she listened to the tenderness and yearning in that incredibly rough, smooth voice. Before rising, he rested his hand lovingly on the verdant grass that covered the grave and then climbed glumly to his feet, never taking his eyes from the headstone. He sighed deeply. By listening intently, she heard him say, "Until next week, my love. Sleep in peace." Then he trudged morosely away and disappeared into the shadows.

Leaning back against the old oak, she thought it odd that such a huge, tall man should move so diffidently through the night, covered in an all-encompassing black cloak with a hood that completely hid his face. Another odd fact about him was his very large, furry hands. In the light of the full moon that glinted off his nails, she had noticed that they were sharp and pointed. He was a contradiction in terms, and she wondered what kind of a man he was.

It was full dark as she fearfully left St. Cleoís Cemetery. She fervently hoped that she could get to her little room safely without drawing undue attention. Unfortunately or fortunately as events proved in the future, she attracted the unsavory attention of a couple of young hoods that were looking for a woman--any woman--who would serve their needs. They attacked her as she passed from a pool of lamp light into darkness. Instinctively, she fought them with skills she didnít know she possessed, but she was out of practice. One of the young men caught her from behind, pinning her arms to her sides. Her screams of outrage brought an unholy roar and a flying apparition that descended on her attackers like an avenging angel. Flinging the struggling woman to the sidewalk, her assailants fled into a nearby alley, doing their own share of screaming. Her head rebounded sharply as it connected with the side of a building. She lost all consciousness of what was happening.

Her defender bent over her and gently turned her over. He struggled for breath when the light of the nearby street lamp shone on her face. "Catherine?" he mouthed as he dropped like a stone to his knees, immobilized with shock. Leaning over her, he gazed rapturously at the beloved face he never thought to see again.

She moaned and opened her eyes. Smiling, she closed them as she softly said, "You . . ." She lapsed back into unconsciousness.

With trembling fingers, he brushed a strand of honey brown hair from her forehead. Could it be? Was it possible? The evidence was before his eyes. Did he dare to believe? A groan spurred him into action. He lifted her slight form into his arms and sprinted for home. His brain was numb from shock, with questions for which he had no answers. He had to look at her face often to reassure himself that he was not imagining that the woman bore a remarkable resemblance to his lost love. It had to be she; she had not been afraid of him.

When he reached the safety of the tunnels, he took a few seconds to examine the area in front of the unconscious womanís left ear. Gently he traced the scar he found there and bent his lips to softly kiss it. No two women could have the same scar. It had to be Catherine.

In a state of complete shock, he continued on to the hospital chamber unable to believe that he held the woman he thought he had lost forever. It seemed he was floating on air as he stepped into the hospital chamber.

Father, who had been alerted by an observant sentry, was waiting for him as he ducked around the hanging curtain enclosing the medical ward. Gently, Vincent lowered the young woman to the examination table. Her long honey-brown hair fell forward to cover her face.

"Another wounded bird, Vincent? We simply cannot keep on caring for every lost, hurt soul that you stumble upon." He was losing patience with his sonís penchant for rescuing every needy person he encountered.

"I know, Father," the younger man exclaimed breathless, not from his hurried return but from the emotions he felt when he thought about whom he had found, "but come. Look! I donít know what to believe. Itís Catherine."

"Catherine?" Father echoed, questioning what he heard. "Youíre letting your imagination run away with you."

"No, Father, really," he stressed. "Look here." He pulled the womanís hair back from her face and exposed the left temple. "See. The scar. Itís Catherine. I donít understand it, but it is she."

Gaping at the well-loved face and the well-remembered mark, Father slowly nodded his head, gulping a few times. "It certainly looks like her and the scar is just like the one Catherine wore so proudly." He gazed at his captivated son. "Well," the tunnel physician shook himself back into a semblance of professionalism, "we can figure this out later. We had better get back to caring for her while she is unconscious. Save on our anesthetic," he added thriftily, ever the economical tunnel leader.

Vividly reminded of the other time they had worked together to save this young woman, they cleaned and bandaged all of the womanís injuries. Most of the wounds were superficial. The only injury that worried Father was the contusion on the side of her head where she had hit the wall of the building. After finishing their ministrations, they stood together by the young womanís side.

"If it truly is Catherine and I have my doubts; I wonder where sheís been, and why she hasnít tried to contact us?"

"Weíll need to wait until she wakes, Father. Catherine would never deliberately hurt us or me by letting us believe that she was dead. There is a good reason for her continued silence."

"Iím sure youíre right, my son." Father clapped him on the shoulder. "Shall I get Mary to sit with her?"

"No, Iíll do that." He turned from gazing at her lovely face to look at his father. "She wasnít afraid of me when she opened her eyes as I picked her up. She recognized me but her eyes were strangely different. Young . . . innocent . . . almost as if she was only a few years old and hadnít witnessed much of lifeís pain and joy." He shook his head. "Itís a miracle, isnít it, Father?" Looking at the sleeping woman with such yearning, he softly traced the shape of her lips.

"Yes, if it really is Catherine, it is a true miracle. But then your life has been one miracle after another."

Vincent smiled affectionately at the man who had raised him and had stood by him in his deepest darknesses. "Iím taking her to my chamber," he stated.

"I thought as much," his father commented dryly, remembering the last time this young woman had healed in his sonís bed. As Vincent left the hospital chamber, he followed his encumbered child who held his returned hope in his arms.

Gently he placed her in the wide expanse of his bed and settled into his large reading chair prepared to watch over her through the night.

The following days and nights were a source of both joy and pain for Vincent. The young woman awoke the next day, sore, in pain, and with a severe headache. She managed a smile for him as she thanked him for saving her, but in her pain filled, emerald green eyes, there was no recognition of him, and his heart plummeted to his feet. Silently he offered her a glass of water and two aspirins.

"But why werenít you afraid of me?" he was able to stammer as he retrieved the empty glass.

Embarrassed, she dropped her eyes. Unwilling to confess her impropriety, she looked away from this kind stranger, who had rescued her and now cared for her, whom she had so wantonly spied upon. "I . . . ah . . . I . . . ah . . . spied on you," she confessed, twisting a corner of the sheet around her finger.

"Spied on me?" he asked, astounded.

"Yeah. I like to walk in the cemetery." Noticing the disbelieving look he gave her, she continued, "I know; I know. Itís crazy; I shouldnít do that. But I did and I always ended up at this one headstone. I was so tired today that I fell asleep leaning against the oak tree."

"Why didnít I see you?"

"I was on the opposite side of the tree, and when I woke up, scared and cold, I heard you speak, but I wasnít afraid. There was so much love in your voice that I knew that I had nothing to fear. You must have loved her very much."

"I still do," he choked out, leaping to his feet to keep from smothering her in his arms.

"Well, Iím ashamed to say it, but I watched you until you left. You and your unknown story fascinated me."

He spun around to face her. "Whatís your name?" he suddenly asked.

"Caroline."

"Caroline?" That was Catherineís motherís name.

"Caroline Els."

"Did you say Els or Wells?" The two names were so similar.

"Els. E - L - S. I thought that they fit together rather well."

"I donít quite understand. Fit together?" He sat down heavily in his large reading chair.

"I guess I should explain. My life began three years ago." So, that was the reason for the innocent look in her eyes. "I woke up with a blank memory in an Amish farmhouse being cared for by the Benjamin Fuhlman family. Benjamin had found me lying naked in the grass beside the lane that led to his house and farm. He took me to his house and they cared for me. They would have notified the police, but I asked them not to. I knew how to read, talk, and walk, I knew I was highly educated, knew a lot about the law, but for some reason I didnít actively want to find out who I was. Actually every time I tried to remember I got so scared that I quit trying. I stayed with the plain people until a month ago when I felt compelled to come to the city. I was drawn here."

Every word she uttered was like a knife to his heart. Her love for him had caused her so much pain that she fought not to remember. But still she was drawn to the one place where there was a chance that they would meet. She may not want to remember, but she had needed to come home, and unbeknownst to her, she had.

"When they asked me for my name, I told them to call me Caroline. I chose those names. Do you like them?" she seemed eager for his endorsement.

"Yes, I do," he said. "Caroline is a lovely name."

"Whatís your name?" she asked, glancing around his chamber.

"Vincent."

"Oh, I like that name. Itís my favorite."

"Iím honored you approve," he intoned with much formality as he bowed his head.

Giggling, she answered his formality with her own, "Iím honored that youíre honored." Sobering, she asked, "Where are we and what is that constant rapping?"

"Cath . . . Caroline, you are in my home and that rapping is our method of communication."

"That other rumbling is subway trains, right?"

"Yes," he agreed.

Her face lit up with pleasure as her answer was corroborated. "Then, am I right in assuming that weíre somewhere beneath the city?"

He nodded that she was right. Sighing happily and sleepily, she settled further into his bed, wriggling a little until she was in a comfortable spot.

"Are you getting tired?" he asked solicitously, rising to adjust her pillow.

"Yes, a little," she lied. She was extremely tired and in no little pain, but she didnít want him to leave.

"Are you in pain? How is your headache?"

She nodded slightly. "Itís a little worse."

He took two pills from a medicine bottle and gave them to her with a glass of water.

"Will you stay with me?" she pleaded.

"I will be right here in this chair," he assured her, his heart leaping with joy.

They spoke for a few minutes until her eyelids began to droop. Then he settled back in his chair, gazing in wonder at this miracle sleeping in his bed, marveling at the vagaries of fate and his good fortune. For he was convinced that it was Catherine who rested so lightly in his bed.

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

The next morning Mary bustled in with breakfast for both Vincent and his patient. He was asleep in his reading chair, and the injured woman was asleep on her side, turned away from the older woman. She was curious about this woman that Vincent had rescued as he had saved Catherine. The woman turned her head toward the older woman, and Mary almost dropped the tray of food as she gasped in shock. The rattling of the dishes awoke the young woman, and panicking, she asked, "What? Whatís wrong?"

"Yes, Mary, what is it?" Vincent asked from behind her. He had awakened at Carolineís first cry of distress.

Flustered, Mary turned to him and handed him the tray. Turning back to the young woman, she composed herself, "Nothing is wrong, my dear. I was just startled; thatís all. You look like someone I once knew."

"Oh," Caroline said in relief. Smiling at the older woman, she remarked, "That food smells wonderful. It makes me hungry."

Covering her reaction to the smile that was so like Catherineís, Mary put the food laden tray on Vincentís table. "William will be pleased to hear that," she commented.

"Mary, Iíd like you to meet to Caroline Els," Vincent said.

"Ca-Caroline Els?"

"Yes . . . Caroline," he stressed. "I found her outside St. Cleoís Cemetery being attacked by two young men."

"Again?"

Vincent turned to a very confused Caroline. "Everyone knows that I have a tendency to try to help anyone who needs assistance."

"Oh, I see," the young woman answered. "Thank goodness; you do. I donít know what would have happened to me if you hadnít come along."

"Ah yes," Mary said, "we have several people here who owe their lives to Vincent."

The young woman gazed up at him with admiration tinged with the awareness of what a special man he was: both in appearance and actions. Instead of finding him grossly unattractive, she thought him quite beautiful, if you could call a man that. His leonine features were arranged most pleasantly, but the most prominent of his unusual features were his startling deep-set topaz hued eyes. If you knew what to look for, you could read a world of emotions in those compelling eyes.

Disconcerted by her open, admiring gaze, he thought, Catherine always hid her admiration and love for me, not wanting to cause me any embarrassment. But though she may look and act like Catherine, she does not have her memories and experiences. There will be differences. "Do you think you can feed yourself or should I?"

"Oh, I think I can do it. The medicine has helped with the headache and the pain. I think I can sit up."

"Let me know if you are in any distress," he said as he placed several pillows behind her back.

Watching the tenderness that Vincent extended toward the injured woman and feeling as if she was intruding, Mary made her excuses and hurried to find Father, hoping he could enlighten her.

For his breakfast Vincent picked up a plate of scrambled eggs, toast and jelly, and a cup of tea and set them on his table. Returning to the bed, he handed the tray with the remaining dishes to the young woman. As he downed his breakfast, he watched her eat and noticed how she held her fork just like Catherine. And like her, she had a healthy appetite and ate everything that was on her plate.

"Um, that was good," she commented. "Whoever your cook is, he has a marvelous way with eggs."

"William is our cook. He says he has a special ingredient that adds flavor to the eggs. He wonít tell anyone what it is."

Caroline laughed delightedly. "That reminds me of Judith Fuhlman. She makes a cake that everyone just adores, but she wonít give out the recipe to anyone, even when reminded that it is the Christian thing to do. She just smiles and says that that is her one vice and then goes back to whatever she is doing."

Vincent chuckled along with her, "It seems that all good cooks are the same. I will take these empty dishes back to the kitchen, and then I need to speak with my father for a moment. Iíll be right back." Vincent wanted to ask Father to speak with the members of the community about Catherineís return, to warn them about her amnesia, and to be sure to call her Caroline. Then he hurried back to his chamber.

As he approached, he heard Mouseís voice ring out, "Not Caroline . . . Catherine!"

Vincent rushed in to find Caroline huddled at the head of his bed, the covers pulled up to her chin.

"I - Iím Caroline; I - I just look like her," she babbled.

"No! Know Catherine," Mouse stated emphatically.

"Mouse!" Vincent almost shouted. "Youíre frightening her."

"Donít mean to," the young man retorted as he backpedaled toward the door.

"I know but her name is Caroline."

"Looks like Catherine," Mouse muttered obstinately.

"Yes, I know. I think you need to leave now. Father is looking for you."

"Ok, Mouse sorry if he scared you," he grinned apologetically at the unsettled young woman. "Gotta go now. Big project for Father. Important." He turned and dashed out of the chamber.

Sitting beside Caroline, Vincent took her into his arms, and she snuggled warmly into Catherineís favorite spot: just under his chin with her cheek resting against his chest. Oh, the joy of holding her made him sigh deeply with contentment and exhilaration.

After she finally calmed down, she asked, "Why did he insist I was this Catherine?"

"Because you bear a strong resemblance to her."

"I suppose I could be her. I could be anyone," she said with exasperation. A sudden thought came to her. "Sheís the woman in the grave, isnít she?"

"Yes, she died four years ago."

"Oh Vincent, Iím so sorry. No wonder Mary and that strange young man--Mouse?-- acted so oddly when they first saw me. How it must pain you to look at me."

"No, not really," he answered with a reassuring smile for her. "Actually, it waters the lonely arid plains of my soul. You are as beautiful as she was."

She blushed becomingly and dropped her eyes. A silence descended between them, not uncomfortable but a little strained. Her guileless reticence and his ingenuous shyness conspired to silence them until she asked him a question, unaware that it would wound him to the soul. "How long do you think Iíll be here?" Vincentís heart sank. She was already thinking of returning Above. What he didnít know was that she asked this question to find out how long she could remain in this world of love and caring. "Until you are well," he answered. She wondered how long she could keep acting as if she still needed his care.

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

She had been in the tunnels for two weeks and in that short time had come to love the exotic-looking man. He had been her savior and now he had become her companion and teacher. He had shown her his entire world and introduced her to his family and friends. After a while, she became used to their initial reaction when they first met her and ignored their stumbling efforts not to call her Catherine. She didnít care what they called her as long as she was with him and could stay Below. She could not imagine what her life would be like without him.

Not only did she love the man, but she loved the manís four-year-old son, Jacob. The very day she had awakened he had brought Jacob to meet her, and they had formed an immediate attachment. So much so that he didnít want to leave her and insisted on calling her Mommy. Vincent tried to dissuade the young child, but Caroline had convinced him that it was all right. If she could be his surrogate mother for a while, she didnít mind in the least. She knew if she ever had to leave him it would break her heart, and she resolved to try to find a way to fit into the tunnel world.

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

Striding toward Vincentís chamber one afternoon, Caroline heard a strange womanís voice, and even though she had promised herself that she never would, found herself eavesdropping on him once more. She could hear and almost feel the tenderness in the womanís voice as she spoke with Vincent. Peeking around the corner of the doorway, she watched the womanís eyes and her body language. She loved him. Showing a proprietary interest in Vincent, she touched him the way that Caroline longed to, and she wondered who the woman was. Vincent treated her with the casual familiarity of a close friend, and a flare of jealousy flashed through the hidden woman. She fled, tears streaming down her cheeks, before someone found her overhearing a conversation that was not meant for her.

"It canít be her. I was there, Vincent. I witnessed the autopsy." Diana was seated next to him on his bed, leaning intently toward him, an earnest hand resting on his knee. "I saw them open her up. I donít mean to cause you anymore pain than youíve already had, but itís simply impossible."

Vincent rose to his feet and her hand fell slowly onto the bed covers. With deliberateness, he paced to the other side of his chamber and turned to seriously regard her. "All you say is true; I cannot dispute your facts, but I know here," and he placed a knowing hand over his breast, "in my heart and in my soul that it is she. How it came to be, I donít know, and if I never know, it will not trouble me in the least. All that matters is that she is here, and I will never let her go again."

"But she doesnít remember you or her former life. What if she doesnít love you now?"

He gazed at her incredulously. "She loved me before and she will love me now. This is Catherine we are talking about. The woman who is bound to me and will be through all eternity."

"I thought the bond was broken."

"It is," he nodded, "but that is not what binds us together. It is love and it is there; I just have to bring it out."

Diana got to her feet and walked over to where Vincent was standing. Placing a conciliatory hand on his arm, she asked, "Will you do one thing for me?" He nodded. "Will you take it slow?" Again, he nodded. "And will you get a set of her fingerprints for me?"

"Why? I donít need any convincing."

"Thatís exactly what Iím afraid of. That youíll get your hopes up and then have them thrown back in your face when it turns out that it isnít Catherine. It will ease my mind. Will you do it for me? Please."

"As long as you insist."

"Thank you, Vincent. You may thank me for it one of these days. If nothing else, it will prove or disprove whether she really is Catherine."

"She used this cup this morning. Her fingerprints should be on it." Using his fingertips, he handed it to Diana.

As she wrapped it in a handkerchief, she decided to lighten things up a bit. "Howís Jacob?" she asked. She loved the little boy almost as much as she loved the father. "Is he still learning how to read?"

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

A few days later she returned with the answer. She had debated whether to tell him the truth or not. She loved him and his son and wanted a life with them, but she also knew that it didnít matter to him whether the fingerprints were Catherineís or not. He would believe what he wanted to believe.

He was waiting for her in his chamber. "Well?" he demanded, unable to wait until she had made herself comfortable bu sitting on the edge of his bed.

"Youíre right. Itís Catherine," she spoke the hardest words she had ever spoken.

Vincent released a great sigh and raised his eyes to the ceiling. "Oh, thank god. I knew it; I just knew it."

"But there was a little niggly doubt in the back of your mind?"

He smiled a shamefaced smile at her. "You know me entirely too well, Diana. Yes, there was a small doubt; although, I would not admit it to myself until I heard your words. It is Catherine. I have my love back." He sank with relief into his reading chair, running shaking hands through his mane.

"Iím happy for you, Vincent." And she was; she really was. She had never seen him so happy or look so contented in all the time that she had known him.

"Thank you, my friend. I know you are."

They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes that was broken when Caroline ran into the room. "Vincent, youíll never guess what Jacob di . . . ," her words died away when she saw the other woman in the room. "Oh, Iím sorry. I didnít mean to intrude." Her face turned a bright shade of red. She was afraid that she had interrupted something very private.

"No, no, Caroline, itís all right. We were just sitting here talking. Iíd like you to meet a very close and personal friend of mine. Caroline, this is Diana. Diana; Caroline." The two women nodded to each other then Caroline held out a hesitant hand, which Diana promptly clasped with her own.

"Itís nice to meet you, Caroline," she said.

"The same here, Diana. Iíve heard the others mention you all the time. You must be a great Helper to this world. Even Jacob talks about you."

"Jacob? You know Jacob?"

"Of course, how could I not? Heís such a sweet little boy and I love him to death." Shrewdly, she asked, "Iíll bet you do to."

"Yes, as if he was my own."

"I know how you feel. I feel that way myself."

Dianaís heart seemed to crumble as she thought, You have the right. He is yours.

"Well, itís been nice meeting you, but Iíve got to get back to the kids. Iím about to help Mary give them their baths and tuck them in bed. Iíll see you later, Vincent." She hurried away.

"Iíll come to tuck Jacob in when youíre done, Caroline." Vincent called after her.

He turned back to find tears running down Dianaís cheeks. "What is it?" he asked.

"Oh, itís nothing. I guess I envy her for being here and being able to take care of Jacob. I do love him, Vincent." And I love you but I canít tell you that. Not now.

"Diana, even with Caroline here, you are always welcome. You know that."

I know that but it wonít be the same, she thought. "I know and I will come down as often as I can." She went to him and kissed him on the cheek. "See you soon."

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

With the knowledge that the woman was really Catherine, Father sent a note to his friend: Peter Alcott. He had known her all her life, being the doctor who had delivered her and was also a long-time friend of her parents.

"Jacob?" Peter called as he entered the large chamber.

Rising, Father came forward to greet his guest. "Ah, Peter. Thank you for being so prompt."

"Well, your note said that you had something important to tell me. Everything is all right, isnít it?"

"Yes, yes, everything is fine. I . . . uh . . . have some very shocking . . . news to tell you. Maybe you should sit down."

Looking quizzically at the other man, Peter took the chair next to the desk. "Would you like a cup of tea first?" Father asked, spooning loose tea into a chipped Spode teapot and then pouring hot water into it.

Impatiently, Peter agreed. He was becoming unsettled with Jacobís unhurried silence. "What is it, Jacob? It canít be all that bad."

Father shook his head, wondering how this would affect his old friend. "Itís not bad news, but I - I donít know how to tell you this without giving you the shock of your life."

"For godís sake, Jacob, just come right out and tell me. I think I can handle anything you have to tell me." He accepted the mismatched cup and saucer and raised the cup to his lips.

"All right. Catherine is here with us in the tunnels."

Peter stared at him stupefied, almost dropping his cup. "Catherine is here in the tunnels?" he said incredulously. Thoughtfully, he placed the half-filled cup on the table. Then suddenly angry, he asked, "Is this some kind of a joke, Jacob?"

"No, Peter, itís the truth. I held off telling you until we were certain. Diana had her fingerprints checked, and it is Catherine."

"Where is she? I want to see her." Peter leapt to his feet ready to dash into the corridor to find her.

"Sit down, Peter. Sheíll be here soon, after I explain something to you."

The tall, rangy doctor retook his seat and stared at Father in wonder. "She has amnesia, total amnesia. She doesnít know anything of her past." He went on to relate the story she had told him. And then how Vincent had saved her again and brought her Below.

"My god," Peter said, shaking his head. "What more can happen to that poor child."

"Vincent is taking care of her. She calls herself Caroline Els."

"Her motherís name."

"So, I understand. When I introduce you to her, you must act as if you donít know her. It frightens her whenever she tries to remember past the time she was found by the Fuhlmanís. I want you to examine her and give me your own opinion. Iím afraid that whatever the men who took her did to her has damaged her memory beyond repair. She may never remember her past life."

"Jacob, you donít need to remind me how to act with a patient. It will be difficult, but Iíll control my urge to take her in my arms and hug the life out of her."

Father smiled at his friendís feeble attempt at humor. "I asked Vincent to bring her here. I donít want to frighten the poor child. This is neutral territory of sorts, and she is comfortable here."

"But there isnít much we can do here. All we can do is ask her a few questions. Iíll need to take her Above for more exhaustive tests," Peter reminded him.

"I know, but I thought it would help things along if she got to know you first. Iím hoping that she will recognize that you are a friend and become comfortable with you. Then we can suggest the more extensive tests."

"Thatís a very good idea, Jacob. Maybe subliminally she will remember me. I certainly hope so. When will she be here?" Peter asked.

Just then Vincentís voice called out to Father, and he and Caroline entered the chamber. Peter couldnít help but gasp when he saw her. She turned to him with a resigned smile. "I seem to affect people like that all the time," she said.

"Itís just . . ."

"That I remind you of someone else," she finished for him.

"Yes, you most certainly do," Peter heartily agreed. He had to consciously restrain himself from rushing over and embracing her by tightly gripping the arms of his chair.

"Caroline, do you mind if Peter and I examine you," Father said. "He is a doctor also: an old friend of mine, and I want to see if he agrees with my findings on your condition."

"No, I guess not," she said, holding tightly to Vincentís hand.

Peter began his questioning which turned out to be very unsatisfactory. She could remember nothing before or right after Benjamin Fuhlman found her. Her life literally began three years ago.

Sitting beside the young woman and holding her hands, Father earnestly asked, "Caroline, if I was to go with you, would you consent to having more exhaustive tests done Above? They would only be run in Dr. Alcottís office. We need to find out if there is any chance of you regaining your memory."

"Can you promise me that I will regain my memory if I take these tests?" She seemed very uncomfortable with the suggestion.

"No, we canít. But if there is a chance, wouldnít you want to know who you are, who your parents were, and where you came from? You might even have children that you know nothing about," Peter added his voice to the discussion.

Slowly she nodded her head. "Yes, I guess we should examine all possibilities."

A week of extensive testing later, Father and Peter had an answer for her. They felt that a lethal combination of memory enhancing drugs and morphine had been given to her, and that the drugs had destroyed that portion of her brain that contained her memories. Why she hadnít died was a mystery to them. And it was very unlikely that she would ever regain her memory. She took all this with an oddly accepting attitude: as if it was of the least importance in her life. She had long ago embraced that fact that she would never remember her past.

But the week was not a complete waste of time. As Peter had hoped, she came to look upon him as a dear friend. He thought about the first time she had let him hug her. She was surprised to find tears in his eyes when they broke apart, and he had a hard time coming up with a convincing answer to her question, "Why the tears?" He came down as often as he could just to see her, and if she thought it was strange, she never commented on it.

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

Caroline was fully recovered and could go back Above. When Father came to her chamber to tell her, she looked away, and when she looked back at him, he was surprised to find tears hanging on the tips of her eyelashes. "What is it, my dear?"

"Must I? Do I have to go back Above? In that world I am all alone. There is no one but Peter. Here I feel comfortable and unafraid. You are here; Jacob is here."

"And someone else is here, also?" he questioned shrewdly. Timidly she smiled back at him and nodded her head.

"The whole community has been so wonderful to me. Do I have to leave?"

"If you truly want to stay here, we can put it before the council at the next council meeting. I donít see any problems. I think you can make this chamber your home," he said heartily.

Without thinking, she threw her arms around his neck and hugged him for all she was worth. "Oh thank you, Father. Iíll do just that."

"No, thank you, my dear. Since Vincent brought you Below, he has been a changed man and little Jacob is fairly blooming."

"I love L. J. so much."

"L. J.?" He asked with raised eyebrows.

"You donít mind, do you? If you do, Iíll go back to calling him little Jacob." She was so afraid that she had offended this wonderfully kind man who had been so good to her.

"No, my dear. I think it wonderful that you feel so close to him that you gave him a nickname."

Smiling shyly, she said, "I do love him so much. Itís as if Iíve always known him."

"And what about his father?"

She stared at him for a few seconds, trying to find out how he would react, and then forged ahead, "I love him with all my heart."

"Have you told him that?"

"No, not yet. I donít know what his relationship with Diana is. I donít want to cause him any embarrassment. Just to be near him will be enough."

"For a while, child, for a while," he patted her arm gently.

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

One day after all their work was completed, Caroline and Vincent were seated quietly observing the falls as they tumbled their way into the deep, dark lake at their feet. Vincent was reclining backwards on his elbows with his body stretched to its full length, while Caroline sat with her chin resting on her drawn up knees, staring pensively at the falling water. She glanced over at Vincent then hurriedly looked away as if what she was about to do was the hardest thing she had ever done.

"Is something troubling you, Caroline?"

"You will always love Catherine." It was a statement as well as a question.

"Yes," he answered after a thoughtful pause, "always. Why?"

"I was just wondering if you could ever love someone else." Like me, she thought. She loved him so much that she thought she would die if he said no. The eyes that slid up to meet his then rapidly slipped away told him all he needed to know.

"I love you, Caroline."

"You do?" Her eyes went wide with wonder and disbelief.

He nodded somberly.

"Oh, I was so scared," she said, sobbing into his vest as he held her close, stroking her soft, honey-brown hair. "I didnít know how you felt about Diana."

"Diana is a friend, nothing more."

"She loves you."

"I know," he said, "but I love you."

"I love you so much," she sobbed.

"I know."

Then a sudden thought hit her. Leaning back in his arms, she asked, "But do you love me for me or because I remind you of Catherine?"

It took him a long time to answer, but finally he raised his lowered eyes to her. He had wrestled with the decision to tell her or not and then had decided. Jumping up, he took her by the hand and pulled her to her feet. Confused, she followed him back to his chamber where he installed her in his large chair. "Wait here. Iíll be right back."

When he returned, he had a mirror in one hand and a large framed picture in the other that he carefully leaned away for her against the wall. He handed the mirror to her.

"A mirror? I know what I look like," she joked. "I just donít know who I am."

Pensively, he gazed at her, and she watched the color of his eyes change from sky-blue to a deep intensive topaz. He nodded once, decisively, then said, "I know who you are; I know your name . . . Catherine."

Inhaling sharply, she asked, "Is that why everyone stumbles over my name?"

In answer he turned the framed picture around. It was a beautiful painting of him holding a woman in his arms. When she looked at the womanís face, a gasp was wrung from her as she recognized the woman. Her eyes went from the woman in the mirror to the woman in the painting. "Oh my, I do look like her, donít I?" She raised stunned eyes to meet his.

"Yes," he said. "It is you."

"But how?" She tried to push past the blank wall in her memory but was thwarted once again.

He watched her struggle to remember, hope fading when she raised pleading and questioning eyes. "I donít remember," she said sadly.

"Then let me remember for you," he replied simply.

She agreed with a faint tip of the head as he sank onto his bed. He began the story of their life together. After he finished, she sat silently for several minutes, going over what he had told her. If what he had said was true, and she had no reason to doubt him, she could return Above to a world of ease and luxury after establishing her identity. It didnít appeal to her. In the short life she remembered, she had known nothing but hard work and frugality. The life she could have Above seemed foreign and slightly distasteful. She looked up at this man, who was watching her uncertainly, whom she knew she loved beyond comprehension. Smiling suddenly as she knew what she wanted, she said, "I want to stay here. May I?"

His relief was palpable as his tense body suddenly relaxed in relief. "Oh yes, Cath-Caroline," he cried.

"You can call me Catherine, if you want," she offered. "A rose by any other name?" She smiled and thought, Catherine is a good name, as good as Caroline.

He couldnít restrain himself any longer, and he gathered her into his arms, sobbing in relief, murmuring how much he loved her. As she stroked his hair to calm him, she savored how natural it felt to be held by him and how much she enjoyed it. And one other thing came to mind, whoever she was, Caroline or Catherine, she loved him, had always loved him, and would love him forever. She whispered to him. "Itís all right. Iím here. I love you, Vincent. thought I love you. Iíll never leave you, never again."

Caroline never regained her memory, and they never knew what had happened to her after her supposed death, or how she came to be in the grassy lane that led to the Fuhlman farm. But they had been given a second chance to make it right. Her mind may have forgotten him but her heart . . . never. In her heart she loved him and always would. It had known him the moment she had seen his clawed hands gently lay the rose on the grave.

Vincent had learned from his mistakes in the past and knew what he must do: love her completely in all ways. He faced a future that was once more bright with love and total acceptance. And Catherine had found her true home through overwhelming odds and knew that any obstacle, any barrier to love could be overcome. Together, they anticipated the journey of love that they were beginning once again.

Fini