A knock on her tiny bedroom door barely registered. “Come in!” she yelled without raising her head.
Light footsteps entered after the door creaked open. “Cathy?”
“Yeah?” she replied absently.
“How are ya holdin’ up?” The voice cracked, characteristic of the age.
“I’m trying not to think about it.”
“Oh.” A long pause ensued. The slightly smaller body found a chair to sit back in.
“Doncha worry none. Nuthin’ coulda gone wrong.”
Lifting a dark blonde head, she reiterated, “I said, ‘I-don’t-want-to-talk-about-it!”
The teenage boy held up both hands, palms facing her, hoping to pacify. “Okay, okay. So I’m droppin’ it.”
“Good,” she huffed.
“Jus’ remember whose th’ one who took care of ya.”
Looking at her companion again, Catherine’s eyes softened. “I know.” Then grinning, she teased, “But you’re just returning the favor.” They smiled at each other.
Downstairs, the door banged shut. Various noises followed. Heavy footfalls started toward the stairs nearby. “Tony!”
“Up here, Gramma!” he shouted.
The elderly woman made her ponderous way to Catherine’s room. The boy and the frail woman watched the silver haired senior expectantly. She fell into a chair heavily. The two young people waited respectfully, knowing she’d speak at her own pace. Breathing deeply to catch her breath, she finally gave them her story. “I followed your directions exactly, Catherine.” Gulping air, the tired woman still beamed at her grandson and the interfering outsider. “I had it ready, just before I spotted him. We bumped ‘accidentally’ just like we were supposed to. He has it in his pocket, snug as a bug. I have to say, putting into a pocket is more like taking out than I imagined.”
“You didn’t bump very hard, did you?” Catherine looked her up and down to be reassured of her well being.
The woman chuckled appreciatively. “No need to fuss over me.”
“Just returning the favor.” It was a running joke between the three.
“And since ya got me back with my folks, we’re doin’ th’ same,” he added. “You did good, Gramma. Did any of them see?”
The older woman sighed. “No. They don’t usually follow me. I did see the one with the doctor, but he didn’t see nuthin’.” She grinned triumphantly.
“I can’t believe they are still around!” Catherine fumed.
“They know yer not dead, so they watch anyone connected to ya.” Catherine nodded, looking down. “I’m jus’ glad our guy remembered you, when he saw ya wandering around, lost.”
“So am I,” she replied. “To think, I woke up on the autopsy table! The morgue attendant looked like he was going to faint or get sick. Or both.” She smirked, seeing the shock again in her mind’s eye.
“They found out he was doing drugs and even selling there. He was high, an’ messed up a lot. They never did figure out he replaced you, but they found out on a couple others. He’d been high when doing them, and panicked when he totally screwed up. He was fired and arrested, just a few weeks ago.”
“Seems like forever.” Catherine’s face took on a depressed expression.
“He’ll come,” Tony reassured her.
“He has to.” Her face fell back onto her knees, as she resumed her rocking.
* * *
Peter Alcott made his way down the long, familiar Tunnels. He could barely remember a time before Below. He was so used to having this alternate, secretive life, it was second nature. He didn’t think of the other half of his life when he was in either setting. When Below, he did not think of Above.
Hearing a new tapping message announcing his arrival, he smiled. Patting at his pocket holding the paper, Peter frowned. This was a very strange letter indeed. It was addressed to him from someone he did not know. It was full of symbolic words, a hidden message he surmised. He had a strong hunch Vincent was either involved or would understand what was said between the lines.
Samantha ran up, eager to escort him to Father’s study. “Hello, my dear.” He put his arm over her young shoulders.
“We didn’t know you were coming, Peter.”
“Neither did I!” he joked easily. They both laughed.
Soon he came to Father’s chamber. Several people stood as they entered, obviously waiting for him. “What’s this? Is there nothing else to do tonight but wait on an old man?” Peter was greeted warmly, respect evident for one of the founders.
After a hearty hug, Jacob Wells asked, “So what brings you here, old friend?”
Sitting down heavily, suddenly all seriousness, Peter sighed. “I received the strangest letter by the strangest delivery system, today.” Peter reached in for it as Father slipped on his glasses.
Opening the page slowly, Peter handed it over to Father, too weary to read.
“Hi everyone, sorry I’m late.”
“Devin!” Peter and Devin hugged. “You’re home?”
“Yeah, I plan to stick around for awhile this time. I gotta teach the next generation how to keep Father occupied, or he won’t be happy.” Peter grinned. “Besides, I gotta spoil my nephew, don’t I?”
Both men sat down, and Father cleared his throat to gain attention.
Vincent whispered to his brother, “Peter received a letter. We are about to hear it.”
Devin nodded curiously and settled next to his little brother.
Reading loudly, so all assembled could listen, Father
| Dear Doctor,
Hi old friend. How are you doing these days? I know you never hear from me anymore, but I hate writing. Well, I figured it was about time again. What’s it been? Two or three years?
How’s the practice? Aren’t you retired yet? And your other doctor friend? Are you taking care of your community of patients like good partners should?
Talking about doctors, you should sit in on one of my sessions with my shrink. I keep having these dreams, and are they weird! I think my doc is making plans for career advancement based on my dreams alone.
They are a series of them. The first one, I’m a king. I know, you’re thinking my ego has no bounds, but well, it is a dream. What can I say? I was a boy king, so figure out the symbolism on that one! Anyways, I was unjustly exiled from my little kingdom. I wandered around searching for someone to help me. I found this emerald, that I somehow understood (you know how in dreams, you just know) that it would help me get my throne again. On my journey back, my enemies attacked. The emerald started to glow. Out of nowhere, this huge lion shows up and saves me. He helped me back to my kingdom, and disappears before my very eyes. I’m crowned king again.
Father looks up at his life long friend. “Peter, I just don’t see what-.”
“Father,” Vincent interrupted. Every eye turned on their
golden son. He’s never used that tone of voice before. He sounded like
both a stern father and pleading child at the same time. “I might understand
the meaning behind the letter, but I must hear the whole of it.”
Father frowned, but agreed. He read on.
|The next one was much shorter. I learned about ruling,
but the biggest thing was I lost the jewel. I grieved for it, because its
power had helped me. Even worse, I saw the lion- what’s that phrase? -
“weeping profusely”. I only saw this from a very great distance, but I
could see he was overcome by the loss of an emerald!
The last one was rather unsettling. I found the gem again, but because I did danger surrounded me and my kingdom. I was going to lose my throne and people again. And the threat was even worse this time. I knew this time I had to get rid of the emerald to be safe. I searched for the lion everywhere.
Finally, I met him one night when there was hardly any light at all. We met at the place I’d seen him cry so hard. He told me, “This is the place I had told myself it was gone forever, and now it is the same place I reclaim it.”
“It is a jewel worth more than my entire kingdom.”
“It is priceless,” he agreed.
As I handed the emerald over, it started to glow. When he held it in his paw, it shone so bright I had to cover my eyes. Then I woke up. I have a feeling I won’t be having anymore, similar dreams, but who knows?
Well, enough of that. I visit my grandmother now. She’s a smart one she is. I’d almost say spry- she does things you’d never imagine a nice, old lady would.
I’ve been training on my job, since I started it a little while ago. Everyone treats me like well, and I’m learning a lot. Feels like family.
Gotta go now, old buddy. Hope life sees you well, no matter how up or down it takes you.
“Well,” Father said, at a loss for words. “Who’s Tony, Peter?”
The old doctor shrugged. “I have no idea.”
A murmur arose among the Tunnel family gathered. “I do.” Vincent stood and started to pace, deep in thought.
“Vincent! What does this mean?”
Vincent ignored Father’s outburst, and stopped in front of Peter. “How did you come by this letter?”
“Actually, I found it in my coat pocket, an inside one, when I got home tonight,” he paused. “I suspect this elderly lady I bumped into, but that’s my only running theory.”
“Did she have dark hair, eyes, or skin?”
Remembering, Peter replied, “She did have dark, olive skin and deep brown eyes. Her hair was completely white.”
Pacing again, Vincent struggled to comprehend the rest of the message. Devin piped up, “Care to fill the rest of us in, little brother?”
Sighing, Vincent dropped gracefully into his vacated chair. Everyone became hushed at his first word. “Catherine,” he choked. “She once helped a boy. His name was Tony.” Peter smiled, Father gasped. The narrator sighed again. “He was a gypsy. He claimed to be the rightful king of the Gypsies.” One could hear a pin drop, it was so quiet. “His father had been successor, and his brothers framed him, so he was exiled with his wife and son. Tony was later orphaned, but because of the ‘law’ his grandparents wouldn’t even acknowledge him.”
“Oh! Poor boy,” Mary exclaimed. “What happened?”
Vincent looked at her tenderly. “Catherine helped him to prove his uncles’ perfidy. He was accepted and his uncles cast out. I believe his grandfather died shortly after.”
“And he became king,” Peter finished.
“And you had to rescue him once?” Devin asked shrewdly. Vincent nodded once.
“Because of Catherine.” Father’s voice was filled with gentle respect, grief, and affection.
Vincent felt his eyes tear at the emotions shown.
“Yes.” It was a strangled tone.
Clearing his throat, Peter asked, “What does the rest mean? The grandmother, I assume, pickpocketed the letter onto me. What else?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Diana stepped forward from the wall she had been leaning on. All eyes focused on her expectantly. “The boy is suggesting a meeting. To give back something that endangers he and his followers. What it is, I cannot say, but it’s important enough to risk his grandmother for.”
“Something priceless,” Devin agreed.
“Vincent- you cannot even consider such a meeting?” Father felt his heart constrict at the familiar expression on his son’s face. Vincent would go.
“Well, you won’t be alone,” Devin said without preamble. He waved off the objections beginning to show on his stubborn brother’s lips. “I won’t hear of anything else.”
“I’m going to be there,” Diana jumped in with determination. Vincent’s shoulders slumped.
“But where and when is it supposed to happen?” Peter was confused.
“At her grave, on the next new moon,” Mary responded intuitively.
“That’s correct, Mary,” Vincent squeezed her shoulders in approval.
“Why do you say that?” Peter queried.
“Why Peter, I’m surprised you haven’t figured it out. A night without much light? The place of his grief and acceptance of loss? Whatever else?”
“Hmf,” he grumped good-naturedly.
“What could this boy possibly have that would be worth risking this community for?”
Vincent replied immediately, “Information.” Comprehension dawned in the Patriarch’s eyes.
To show his acceptance, he murmured, “Godspeed, my son.”
“Thank you, Father,” he whispered as he bent and kissed the whiskered cheek.
* * *
Tony smirked at her in the faint moonlight. “My people have done just that for thousands of years. We had to survive somehow. Sneaking out of a town or city in the middle of the night, so no alarm would sound, is child’s play to us now.”
“You should go take your place.”
“He’s here!” Catherine practically squealed. Glancing up at her in that particular moment, Tony saw her eyes in the silvery light. They glowed fiercely, with a soft radiance that left him breathless. Then she turned away.
“Wow,” he whispered.
* * *
“I hear several people,” Vincent whispered to Devin. “I’m not close enough to distinguish anything else.”
“Your ears are better than ever,” Devin breathed beside him. Diana, Peter, Mouse, and Jamie all waited further back in some brush. Vincent had told them they had to wait for his okay to come forward. Devin didn’t take orders well, especially from his younger brother.
They saw a boy step boldly next to Catherine’s grave. He looked about mid-teens, not very tall, and compactly built. “He looks similar,” Vincent informed Devin.
“But is it him?” Devin whispered back fiercely.
“Only one way to find out.” The black cloaked figure rose gracefully and walked slowly toward the Gypsy youth. As he drew near, completely hidden in the hood, Tony’s eyes grew round.
“Wow!” The exclamation was barely audible.
“It is you,” laughed the velvety voice.
“I wondered if you would bother showin’ up.”
“How could I refuse a king?” Vincent teased gently.
“What is yer name, anyhow?” Tony dared, never having been told.
The tall figure paused, then answered, “Vincent.” Tony nodded regally, all serious intent.
“Thanks again for saving me, last time.”
“It was my honor to help.”
The two signaled and the groups both moved to a secluded clearing, both sides hanging back still. “What is this priceless jewel you went to such lengths to give me? What is worth risking both of our lives, and our families for?”
“Your Emerald.” Tony turned and waved someone forward. Vincent tensed, wondering if it was a trap after all. The small person walked toward them, stopping a short distance away. They were bundled in outer clothes and a blanket wrapped around their head.
“Who are you?” Vincent demanded. Dropping the blanket to her shoulders, Catherine looked up at him, her eyes bright with tears and shining like two moonlit seas. Or emeralds.
Vincent’s breath rushed out of him as he stepped back several paces in shock. “Catherine!” he whimpered imploringly. His hand went to his heart in an achingly familiar gesture.
Catherine started to run to him when someone stepped in her path. Veering away, the impudent person again stood in her way. Stopping, Catherine turned absolutely enraged eyes on the obstacle to her happiness and her way home.
“What are you doing? Get out of my way!!” she cried at her sudden adversary. Both sides of followers drew closer to their respective leaders, sensing trouble.
“No,” came the vehement reply. “You’re dead. How do we know you’re not just a fake stand in?” Vincent stared at her, doubt filling his beautiful blue eyes. Catherine was unprepared for the verbal assault. Her mind went blank. Then inspiration struck- it was so obvious.
“Vincent,” she called softly. “Feel our Bond.” Diana gasped, as did the others of the Tunnel Community. They knew only a select few actually knew of the existence of the Bond.
Vincent looked within, searching desperately. That little bit of awareness that had always been a part of him (even before he rescued her), flared to life. He fell to his knees with the force of his emotions; and hers. His hood fell off, baring his magnificent face to every onlooker.
Before Catherine could take a single step, her nemesis intervened again. “He may want you so much, he’s just imagining it.”
Vincent reeled from the possibility. “Diana!” he growled at her, fearful she spoke truth.
Devin calmly asserted, ‘It does seem too good to be true. What do you say, Cathy?”
Catherine glared at the fiery haired upstart. Then her eyes softened in understanding. How can any woman not love him?” she whispered to her.
Diana’s whole body trembled, but she stood her ground. She would not let her whole world shatter without a fight. “Prove your case, Counselor.”
Genius struck again, and Catherine picked up the thrown gauntlet. Grinning triumphantly at the very interested assembly, she squared her shoulders. “Vincent,” she spoke quietly, but with authority. Looking at only him now, gazes locked, she asked him, “Would you know my scent? That could not be replicated exactly the same.” He slowly moved his head up and down once as he unsteadily stood to his feet. Lifting his face into the breeze, he drew air in through his sensitive nostrils. They flared once in reaction.
“My Catherine!” Vincent sped towards her outstretched arms. She laughed joyfully, her tears cascading down her face and glinting moonlight. Diana stepped back, literally and figuratively, out of the lovers’ path. Vincent picked Catherine up, pressing his face to her breast. She hugged his golden head to her, her legs wrapping around him securely. She needed to be closer, so much more closer!
“Vincent!” she breathed in wonder and longing. He lifted his face. She placed both on either side, and dipped down to kiss him deeply. Hungrily. Neither cared they had an audience.
Filled with her everlasting need of him, she thrust her tongue into his mouth, startling him. He tried to pull back, but she clamped her hands on the back of his head and held him there. He relinquished control to her.
The taste of him was so fulfilling. It was honey, but roughly textured and distinctly male. Catherine’s whole body thrilled. Finally letting go from sheer oxygen deprivation, she gulped in air. His heavy panting fanned her face, bathing it in his warm scent.
Slowly, he lowered her to the ground. She purposefully slid along his muscular body, feeling him respond involuntarily. He gasped sharply. Refusing to totally let go, she wound arm around his waist. His arm held her shoulders. His family- hers now also- surrounded them eagerly. “Devin! Peter! Jamie! Mouse! Oh, I missed everyone. I can’t wait to see Father.’ Diana had already left, needing to come to terms with the situation. They all hugged and greeted Catherine, impressing her with how much they’d missed her too.
Turning to her Beloved, she said, “Come see Tony. He’s helped me so much.” He inclined his head in that endearingly familiar manner.
The kid king pumped the gloved hand enthusiastically. “I’m really glad ya got her back.
You take good care of her, ya hear?” Vincent smiled. Tony hugged Catherine and said, "I’ve returned the favor.” He wiped his eyes. “It was good seein’ ya again- Lady.”
Catherine cried harder at the nickname.
Vincent swung her up in his arms. “It’s time to go home.” She nestled into his arms as he walked away. The mists enshrouded them, much the same as it had years ago (the first time), concealing them. Even nature was doing its part in preserving their love.