Too Many Secrets
Molly pulled the hard plastic visitorís chair a little closer to the bed and took her fatherís hand between both of her own. The doctor had said it would come any time now. And Dad hadnít opened his eyes or spoken for so long that, were it not for the slow rise and fall of his chest Ė too slow, and too seldom Ė sheíd have thought heíd already gone.
But then he opened his eyes. Glazed with pain and medication, they moved back and forth until they found her face.
"Iím here, Dad," she said, forcing the words past the lump in her throat.
"Molly," he whispered, trying to smile. It looked more like a grimace. "Honey, I Ö "
"Sssh." She bent her head to kiss his hand. "Itís okay. Donít try to talk."
"I Ö have to. Something Ö something I want Ö you to do."
"What is it? Do you want some water?"
"No, I Ö " His face spasmed with fresh pain. "My Ö my brother."
His brother? Molly was stunned. She knew about his brother, of course. Sheíd seen photos of them as boys in the family album. But any time sheíd ever asked about him, sheíd met with that hard, implacable insistence of her fatherís that they did not and would not discuss his brother. Ever. She didnít even know his name.
"What about him?"
Matthew Wells drew as much strength as he could from his failing body. "Find him. Tell him I Ö Iím sorry."
"Everything." Matthewís eyes started to droop, but he forced them open again and fastened them upon his daughterís face. "My fault. Our Ö quarrel. Tell him. I love him. Promise."
What if heís dead? Matthew and his brother had not spoken in years, since before Molly was born. She was quite sure her father had no idea where to begin looking for his brother by now. But she didnít say it. She merely squeezed her fatherís hand. "Iíll tell him."
"He wouldnít Ö he wouldnít leave New York," Matthew said. "Loved New York. Doctor. Heís Ö "
"Okay, Dad. I promise."
Matthewís eyes closed again and in a few moments, his hand relaxed in hers. An hour later, he was gone.
Molly trudged home alone. Really alone. Unless she could find Dadís brother Ė and provided that brother would have anything to do with her Ė she had no living relatives left. She was an only child. Her motherís sister was long dead in a car crash with her two children. And Mom had been gone almost five years now.
It was a week before she could bring herself to start going through Dadís papers and clearing up the details left behind when a man dies. His home, his bank accounts, what little insurance hadnít been eaten up by the cancer, all went to her. Bleakly she went through the motions, signed papers, made phone calls, did what had to be done.
Finally one Sunday afternoon, she started working her way through the family Bible and the boxes of records that might help her find her uncle.
If he still lived.
Her mother, thank heaven, had kept all kinds of things. Once Molly started going through the attic and the dressers and the boxes of old photos, she found extensive scrapbooks, her old school projects, even her first tooth, all preserved. It was a hodgepodge. Mom hadnít been organized. Dad had apparently just shoved most of it into Mollyís old bedroom, which had become a catch-all after Momís death.
Late in the evening, Molly found some photos sheíd never seen. Dad and a man who looked so much like him it had to be the mysterious brother. Her uncle, in cap and gown, was clutching a diploma cover with something written on it, but even with a magnifying glass, she couldnít read what it said. The photo was old and faded, but by the style of clothes Dad was wearing, it was some time around World War II. Nothing was written on the back of the photo.
The brother was older than Dad by a few years. Molly didnít know exactly how many. But guessing by the photo, this was a college graduation, not high school. Her uncle had a full beard.
Then she remembered. Her father had said something about a doctor when he told her to look for this man. Could her uncle have become a doctor? That would explain why he looked so grown up. Maybe this was his medical school graduation and not college?
And then, at last, sheíd found something tangible. A letter.
I understand your feelings and your wish not to be taken down in the same storm that has ruined me. I even understand why you are angry that I persist in what you consider a foolish course of action.
I donít understand how you can completely cut me out of your life. Can we not continue to have some contact, if only the occasional card or letter? Please donít do this to me. Youíre the only family I have left.
I am no longer employed at Chittenden, as you undoubtedly know. If you want to reach me, and I pray you do, for now I am still at my apartment in Manhattan. How long I shall be able to keep it, I donít know. And no, Matt, I donít want any money or help from you. Only your love and if I canít have that, your friendship.
At least now she had a name. Jacob. And if he had become a doctor, perhaps he was listed in phone records or with the American Medical Association.
She had to find him. Sheíd promised Dad.
Catherine gratefully dumped her armload of medical supplies onto Fatherís large study table and pushed back the lock of hair that insisted on falling in her eye. Behind her, Jamie, Samantha and Kipper followed suit.
Most of the Tunnel dwellers were in bed in various stages of flu and recovery from flu, and Father, Mary and anyone else who remained well Ė or well enough Ė were run ragged taking care of them. No one was in serious danger, except baby Nathaniel, whom Peter had had to hospitalize, but with almost everyone sick, the Tunnels had been in chaos.
Jamie sank into a chair and coughed into her sleeve. She waved away the immediate concern she saw on Catherineís face. "Iím not getting sick," she said. "Dust. Thatís all. Iím fine."
"I sincerely hope so," Father said, coming into the chamber to collect a basket full of the cough medicines and aspirin that Catherine had brought with the othersí help. "Catherine, would you mind taking some of this?"
"Not at all." Sighing inwardly, Catherine loaded herself up again and followed Father.
Even Vincent had succumbed this time and no one remembered Vincent ever getting flu before. Thankfully, considering it hadnít been that long since his breakdown and battle with the Other, his case was a mild one and he was already chafing at Fatherís insistence that he remain in bed another day. Mouse was almost well, too, and had been moved into Vincentís chamber temporarily, both to keep him handy for Father and to keep Vincent put.
It was at least an hour before Catherine could extricate herself from her job helping Father, but when she could, she stuck her head into Vincentís chamber to see how the patients were doing. Mouse was out cold and snoring, which made her giggle, but Vincent gave her a baleful glance.
"I could be helping, also."
"No, you couldnít," Catherine countered, coming in further. Father had said he thought both of them were past being contagious. "You stay right where you are. Father says. Besides," she added with a mischievous grin, "someone has to keep Mouse company."
Vincent gave a half-growl of impatience. "You and I both know quite well that Mouse is here to keep me company."
"And youíve both been bears," Catherine said, bending to push the tumbled golden hair from his forehead so she could place a kiss there. "Men all turn into babies when theyíre sick."
Vincent opened his mouth to protest, but her dancing eyes forced a chuckle instead. "Perhaps," he conceded. "How is everyone? Howís Nathaniel?"
"Peterís going to release him tomorrow," Catherine said. "Heís still feeling terrible, poor kid, but heís out of danger. Peter and Father will both feel better when heís at home, where they can keep an eye on him themselves. Do you want me to read to you?"
Vincent shook his head. "Do you have time to sit and talk? Mouseís conversation lacks a certain Ö verve."
Catherine laughed. "Just a few minutes. Father will come and hunt me down if I donít get back soon."
"Are you sure youíre all right?" Vincent asked, peering at her just the way Father looked at his patients.
"Yes," she said firmly. "Not a single symptom. Though how Iím going to explain to Joe that Iím the picture of health when Iíve supposedly been down with the flu for a week is something I have yet to figure out."
"Youíve lost a little weight, taking care of all of us."
"And I can do the rest with artful makeup," she said, that mischievous look coming back into her eyes. "Youíd be amazed how well that works. Joe might even send me right back home again when I come in tomorrow."
"You do so much for us," Vincent said.
"And love doing it," she came back. "Donít start with that. You know Iíd rather be here than anywhere. Now," she squeezed his hand and popped back up from her temporary seat on the side of his bed, "Iíd better get back to work. Father will wonder where Iíve been."
"No, heíll know," Vincent said, allowing himself a brief touch of her hair before releasing her.
"Later," she said softly, with a glance toward the still-sleeping Mouse, and another kiss to his forehead. "When youíre stronger."
Vincent fought back the sudden rush of blood her veiled promise caused and drew a deep breath. She grinned, knowing full well her effect on him now that he was no longer afraid to show his desire for her, and left the room.
Molly sighed and rubbed her tired eyes. She was no stranger to research, but sheíd been through every listing for every doctor in the New York phone book and in the ones for every town, city, hamlet and burg immediately surrounding the city. No Jacob Wells anywhere. What if heíd changed his name? She didnít know what heíd done to make her father disown him, but it was apparently awful enough heíd lost his job and vanished from the face of the earth. Thereíd been no date on the letter sheíd found, and no envelope with a postmark. Just the letter itself, buried among the old photographs.
Sheíd also looked for "Chittenden" in the New York phone book and found nothing. Whatever it had been, a hospital, a clinic, she didnít know, but it seemed no longer to exist.
The New York City Public Library had old telephone directories, but she doubted theyíd go back as far as the 1950s. She asked anyway, and the oldest was 1960. She looked in it, and finally found Chittenden. It was a medical research center. So, her uncle had been a researcher instead of a family doctor, as sheíd assumed? She started looking for him among the listings in this phone book and he wasnít there. Of course, the "quarrel" between her father and uncle had taken place before her own birth in 1956, therefore if Jacob had left the city afterward, he wouldnít be in a 1960 phone book.
However, if heíd been in some kind of legal tangle, it might be in the old newspaper files. She began with the year of her birth and started working backward from there.
Father sank wearily into a chair and accepted the tea Rebecca handed to him.
"You look exhausted," Vincent remarked.
"I am." Father sipped the tea and laid his head against the back of the chair. "How are you?"
"Father, Iím fine. Iíve been fine for several days now. I wish youíd let me take over so you could get some sleep."
Father shook his head. "No. Youíre not well enough to risk reinfection. And I am not about to watch you get sick again. Your metabolism is too Ė"
"Strange?" Vincent chuckled, which made Father look up in surprise. Vincentís differentness had always been a delicate point, which Father would not have mentioned but for his exhaustion making his mind work more sluggishly than usual. It was startling to have Vincent not only discuss it, but laugh about it. Vincent patted Fatherís hand. "Do not tiptoe around me, Father," he said. "Youíre too tired, and I am no longer as sensitive as I once was."
"Why not?" Father couldnít help but ask.
"It is Ö a long story," Vincent said, unwilling as yet to tell Father the secret that he and Catherine were now lovers and the change it had wrought in his heart. "Later, when youíre rested, weíll discuss it. For now, simply know itís true. I realize I present a challenge, medically speaking, and you have had more worry these last weeks than you ought. Now, let me get you a tray from William. You are going to rest and eat, and I will do your rounds." He raised a hand when Father opened his mouth to protest. "Masked, if you insist. But I will do them."
"My stubborn son," Father said, giving a weak chuckle of his own. "I do insist. Masked. But other than that, I confess a rest and a meal would be most welcome."
"It is settled, then." Vincent vanished and presently reappeared with a loaded tray. He set it in front of his father and very deliberately produced a surgical mask, which he tied around his face. "All right?"
Father nodded and tried to suppress his smile at the sight of Vincent in a surgical mask.
"No doubt I am an amusing sight," Vincent remarked, and even through the mask, Father could tell he was smiling. "Perhaps our patients will find enjoyment in poking fun at me, and they do say laughter is the best medicine." He couldnít kiss Father with the mask on, so he merely squeezed his shoulder and went on his way.
Molly stared at the news article on the microfilm reader in front of her. Jacob Wells had been investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee for his insistence that nuclear fallout was dangerous. He had even insisted that the United States should give up nuclear testing altogether and he had continued to insist this no matter what it cost him.
It seems that it had cost him his whole career and his relationship with his brother.
Matthew Wells had been a lawyer, with a thriving corporate practice. She could imagine how a brother in that kind of public trouble would have affected his own career. While she was disappointed in Dadís unwillingness to stand by his brother, she understood it, too, in a way. That had been a frightening time. Being blacklisted was a very real threat and no one realized, then, that eventually it would all blow over. Dad might well have thought he had no other choice, not if he were to save his own career and livelihood.
But what had happened to Jacob Wells since then?
Eventually it occurred to her to look through the vital records in the courthouse. The number of them was daunting, to say the least, but after several days she came upon a marriage license for Jacob Wells and Margaret Chase. She checked the date and their ages and concluded it was most likely her uncle and not another Jacob Wells Ė Jacob wasnít a common name in the 1950s, though it had come back into fashion now.
She did not find a death certificate for Jacob Wells, though she was more than a little dismayed to find one for Margaret Chase. Hers was very recent, only a couple of years ago, and apparently she had not still been married to Uncle Jacob at the time. So, there had been a divorce. That led her on another search and this one took even longer before she discovered an annulment.
"Damn," Molly said aloud, drawing a look from the records room clerk. She gave him a smile and he smiled back. The annulment had been soon after the marriage, so clearly something had gone dreadfully wrong.
Of course. The dates. Margaret had been very young and the annulment took place during the time closely following the House hearings. It didnít take a detective to figure out her family objected to Jacob and his notoriety.
There were no other records on Jacob. If he had married again, it wasnít in New York. The last mention of him she could find in the news was in 1951. Thirty-eight years.
Where had Jacob been for thirty-eight years?
Vincent had guessed correctly. Nearly all of Fatherís patients found it impossible to keep straight faces when he arrived at their bedsides in his surgical mask, and he made certain they knew it was all right if they laughed at him. He had come to realize in the last few months, thanks to Catherine and all that had occurred between them, that while his family here Below loved him dearly, they were also too formal with him. He didnít know why heíd never noticed it before, but now he was determined to change it. He wanted them to be as relaxed and casual with him as they were with each other. To hasten the process, he not only joked about the mask with the patients, he rolled up his sleeves, exposing his forearms, as he examined them and handed out the aspirin and cough syrup and took temperatures.
There were so many patients, even now, that it was nearing supper time by the time he finished. All were improving, however, and would soon be up and around again. Many already were.
He knew Catherine was coming long before the message on the pipes. He paused in his duties long enough to tap a reply and tell her where he was. He had just reached Kaninís chamber when she caught up to him, and her surprised burst of laughter when she caught sight of the mask gave him the excuse he needed to join in. Which, of course, gave Kanin permission to laugh as well.
"You look," Catherine said, hands on hips, "completely ridiculous."
"Thank you," Vincent said. "You look perfectly lovely. I take it Joe accepted your good health and did not send you immediately home?"
"Oh, I washed off the Ďsickí look before I came down," she said, taking his basket away from him and smiling at Kanin. "You look better. Feel better, too?"
"Much," Kanin said. "Iím getting out of bed tomorrow no matter what. Iím about to go stir crazy."
"Iíll bet. I know somebody else who could agree with you," she said, giving that person a saucy grin. "So, what can I do to help, Vincent?"
"Iím almost finished," he said. "You might go and tell Father that my own health remains good and that all his patients are improving. If someone doesnít, he will undoubtedly come limping down the tunnel to see for himself, and I want him to rest."
"Yes, sir," she said, sketching a clumsy salute and throwing a grin at Kanin before she left.
Kanin watched her go with a thoughtful expression. "Vincent," he said as Vincent packed up his supplies preparatory to moving on, "can I ask an impertinent question?"
Vincent chuckled. "You may."
"Did I miss something? I mean," he faltered a bit, "um, you seem, well, different. In fact, both of you do."
"I am different," Vincent said. "And content to be so, perhaps for the first time in all my life. That is what you sense, my friend." With a pat on Kaninís shoulder, he left.
One more stop and he could join Catherine in Fatherís study. Eric, in the dormitory, had been terrified while he was sick Ė he had never completely gotten over Ellieís death from the plague and thought he had it, too, in spite of Fatherís, Peterís and Maryís many assurances that he simply had a flu bug, nothing to worry about. Vincent kept the mask on only long enough to surprise a grin out of the child, then took it off and performed his care of Eric without it, in spite of Fatherís admonitions. He wanted Eric to see his expression. And he thought, by the time he left, that Eric was somewhat cheered.
When he entered Fatherís chamber, Catherine put a warning finger to her lips to keep him from speaking. Father had dozed off in his chair, head resting on his hand. Vincent smiled, and very gently lifted him, carrying him to his bed so carefully that Father did not awaken. He covered him and came back, offering an arm to Catherine silently, which she accepted, so he could escort her to the dining hall for supper.
Counting backward from Jacobís age in the 1951 news article, Molly concluded he probably graduated from med school around 1945. Because she worked there, she started with New York University, and hit gold the first time for a change. She told the registrar she was trying to trace a relative. When the woman gave her the graduation list from that year, there he was.
"May I have a copy of this? Iíd like to see if any of his classmates know where I could find him."
"Of course, Dr. Wells." The woman took the list to another room and came back with a photocopy for her.
Molly thanked her and tucked it into the folder that was getting increasingly thick, but had yet to yield any concrete information.
At home that evening, Molly started with the first name on the list and started comparing it to the New York phone directory. Surely at least some of these men Ė and they were all men Ė were still practicing medicine.
David Abbott. He was listed. An internist.
Stanley Adcock. An OB/GYN.
Henry Adler. No listing.
Peter Alcott. Family practice.
William Baker. Surgeon.
Carl Connelly. No listing.
She wrote down all the ones who were in the New York directory. Sheíd call every last one if she had to, until she found one who remembered her uncle and, she hoped against hope, knew where to find him.
Vincent had checked on Father after supper and found him still peacefully sleeping. He sent out a quiet message on the pipes that Father was not to be disturbed under any circumstances; emergencies, medical crises, anything anyone might need Father for, they should come to Vincent.
"Will they really?" Catherine asked as they strolled hand-in-hand through the Tunnels toward the Mirror Pool.
"I think so. Everyone understands how hard heís been working," Vincent said. "However, I hope no one needs him Ė or me Ė tonight."
Catherine smiled and let go of his hand so she could put her arm around his waist instead. He pulled her closer and paused to drop a kiss on her hair.
"Kanin noticed," he said, after a momentís silence.
"Did he? Did he know what he was noticing?"
Vincent smiled. "No, not exactly. He simply said we were Ö both Ö different."
"He must be feeling better," she said.
"So am I," Vincent said, his voice gone husky.
"Really." She smiled up at him. "Iím glad."
They reached the Mirror Pool and Vincent retrieved the blanket he had stashed in a convenient crevice. He spread it out and Catherine curled up on it, patting the empty place beside her invitingly. He sat next to her and pulled her close. She lifted her face for a kiss and Vincent lowered his head to hers, teasing her lower lip with his tongue and drawing a deep, sighing breath as their bodies entwined.
After his crisis several months before, when heíd been driven to concealing himself in the Catacombs to spare his friends and family from his battle with the Other, something had changed. Once Catherine approached him without fear while he was in that state, loved and accepted him, all of him, in spite of it, he had found a new peace. It wasnít instantaneous. For several weeks, the bond had been lost and Vincentís memory had been spotty. He had even, briefly, forgotten Catherineís name. He had forgotten many things.
Little by little, however, his memory had come back, but he no longer felt torn in two. There was no "Other" anymore. There was only Vincent. Catherineís acceptance of him had caused his acceptance of himself. He only wished it hadnít taken so long.
And finally, they had made love.
Perhaps, as Catherine believed, his consciousness of his difference and his shame at the desire he refused to face had created the crisis. The reporter who had stalked him had been the catalyst that brought it all to a head, but that had not been the sole reason.
Her love had brought him back. Her love continued to sustain him.
Their time together was still limited, measured in moments, but both had come to accept that it was the way things must be. Both had learned to cherish and celebrate those moments and be content.
Catherine pulled his sweater up so she could slide her hands beneath it and gave a happy sigh. "Do we dare?"
"I can no longer wait," he whispered into her hair. "You have spoiled me for resistance. Even while I was ill, I dreamed of the moment I would hold you again."
"Itís like being a teenager and sneaking off to make out under the bleachers," she said, smiling up at him. "Any minute someone could catch us."
He chuckled. "I donít think anyone will come looking, Catherine. Everyone is very tired and even those who are well will welcome a quiet evening to rest."
"Rest is not what I had in mind."
Afterward, lying entangled in each otherís arms, Catherine was dozing and almost asleep when Vincent heard a telltale tapping on the pipes. His name. He muttered a word that made Catherine burst into laughter, and she heard the rumble of his own chuckle a moment later.
"You did not learn that word from Shakespeare," she accused him.
"No," he admitted, sitting up with a sigh and reaching for his shirt. "Truthfully, I learned it from Devin when we were boys. I just never Ö used it."
"Especially not in front of Father," she supplied.
"No, indeed," he agreed. "Not unless I wanted Devinís punishment."
"The tried and true. He had his mouth washed out with soap. Mary did the honors, as I recall." Vincent finished dressing and paused before putting on his cloak.
Catherine waved him away. "Go on. Iíll catch up. I know the way now."
"Are you sure?"
"Positive. Go tend to your crisis."
He chuckled again and left.
When he reached a pipe that he knew carried to the pipe chamber, he tapped out a reply.
Vincent. Who needs me?
Message from Peter for Father. Important. Not urgent. Reply?
Vincent considered. While he was thinking about it, Catherine appeared, looking as fresh as if sheíd never been naked and moaning only a short time ago. Vincent arrested that thought even as it formed because it was not conducive to clear thinking. He told her the message.
"Iíll go home and call him," she offered. When she saw the look that brought to Vincentís face, she squeezed his arm. "Then Iíll come back."
Vincent smiled. "You read me too well sometimes." He tapped the reply on the pipe and Pascal immediately answered.
He accompanied her to the basement threshold and settled in to wait. Catherine hurried to her apartment and dialed Peter at home. He answered on the first ring. Clearly "important" was "urgent" after all.
"Itís Cathy. Whatís wrong?"
"Nothing wrong, exactly," Peter said. "I got an odd phone call this afternoon. I wanted to discuss it with Jacob. He isnít ill now, too?"
"No, no. Asleep. Vincent didnít want him to be disturbed. Can you tell me?"
Peter hesitated, and finally said, "I donít think it would be breaking a confidence. A young woman called me. She said her name is Molly Wells and her father was Matthew. She said she thought Jacob is her uncle and asked me if I remembered him from med school."
Catherine was stunned. Father had a brother? Heíd never mentioned a brother Ė but then, heíd never mentioned Margaret or Grace or that he was Devinís real father until heíd been forced into it, either. "What did you say?"
"I said I did remember him Ė our class wasnít that large, and it would probably be simple enough to uncover the information that we had our residencies at the same hospital," Peter said. "Then she wanted to know if I knew where to find him now."
"And you said?"
"I said no. I said I hadnít seen him for many years," Peter said with a sigh. "The thing is, Cathy, that she told me Matthew had died and his last request was that she give Jacob his love and apologize for their quarrel all those years ago. Theyíve apparently been estranged since Jacobís hearing with the House committee."
"Do you believe her?"
"Well, yes. As a matter of fact, I remember when we were residents that Jacob mentioned his brother was graduating from law school and he took a day off to attend the graduation. Iíd forgotten all about that until Molly called me."
"You knew he had a brother?"
"Iíd forgotten," Peter repeated. "Jacob always was reticent."
"Thatís one word for it," Catherine said, a little sharply.
"Donít blame him, Cathy," Peter said. "Heís had good reason, apparently. Will you tell him about Molly? Or would you rather I came down tomorrow and took care of it myself?"
"Iíll check with Vincent and get back to you," Catherine said. "Though I think it might be best if you tell him yourself."
Molly put down the phone and rubbed her tingling ear. Sheíd called at least 30 doctors in the greater New York City area who were on the graduating list with Jacob Wells and though all of them said they remembered the quiet, learned man from school, not one knew where to find him now. A dozen more remained, but doctors didnít answer their own phones and she had spent weeks trying to get through to the ones sheíd already spoken to. A few had said they would ask around and had taken her number, but she was losing hope that anything would come of that, either.
She was beginning to think she would never find him and that he must be dead. With no idea where heíd gone or what had happened to him after heíd seemingly vanished, he could be anywhere. There was no reason to think he had remained in New York City or even in the state. With his career in a shambles and his only brother estranged, he might have moved somewhere else, somewhere far away, and finding him would be impossible.
She couldnít bear it now if she failed. Not only had she made a promise to her father Ė and keeping her word was important to her Ė but the knowledge that Jacob Wells had watched his life crumble around him for the sake of standing up for what he believed made her proud to be his niece. She wanted to know this man. She felt cheated that she hadnít had his influence in her life because her father was stubborn and unforgiving. It was time to lay that all to rest.
Father stared at Peter in dismay and couldnít find words when he heard about Molly Wells. He had gone so pale that Peter pushed him into a chair and signaled Vincent to get him some water.
"Jacob? Are you all right?"
Father passed a hand over his face and blankly accepted the tumbler Vincent held out to him. "My God," he said at last. "Matthew. After all this time. And heís dead?"
"Cancer," Peter said gently.
"My God," Father repeated. He sat like a statue, holding the water without drinking it. "I never knew Molly," he said after several more minutes had passed. "Matthew was newly married when we Ö parted and she had not been born."
"She didnít know about you, either," Peter said, sitting down beside him and putting a hand on his shoulder. "She said she saw photos of you and Matthew as boys, in the family album, but that Matthew wouldnít talk about you. She only found your name by accident in an old letter."
"And she wants to see me?"
"Youíre her only relative, Father," Vincent put in. He had remained silent until now. "She is alone, without you."
"I can hardly bring her here, Vincent," Father said, some of the old spirit coming back into his voice.
"You donít have to," Peter said. "Meet with her at my office."
"What if she wants to visit me? What if she wants to know where Iíve been?" Father shook his head firmly. "I cannot. Too many secrets are at risk."
"What about Devin?" Catherine said. All three men looked at her. She flushed. "Devinís her relative, too. He could, well, stand in." When they continued to look at her, she added, "Heís in Connecticut. I have a phone number. I could call him and ask him to come down and he could meet her and she could tell him her story and," she paused and then said, feeling a little silly, "Devinís good at spotting a tall tale."
Vincent suddenly chuckled. "He is. He should be."
"I donít think itís a tall tale," Father said. "I think sheís telling the truth. Molly was our grandmotherís name. Our father often said he wished heíd also had a daughter, so he could name her Molly. Itís entirely understandable that Matthew would name his own daughter Molly."
"Your grandmother was named Molly?" Vincent seemed to find this fascinating.
Father nodded. "Her maiden name was Molly OíSullivan, actually. She was born in County Cork."
"She was Irish," Vincent said, his eyes lighting up. Catherine knew he was thinking of Brigit OíDonnell.
"Yes," Father said. "She died in the flu epidemic, and Dad always revered her memory." He shook his head. "Thank heaven flu is no longer such a terrible threat. I shudder to think how many we might have lost this month if it were."
Catherine was somewhat startled to hear Father use a slangy term like "Dad," but he was deep in memories now, and no one except Vincent was inclined to question him.
And it was Vincent who brought the topic back to Devin. "What do you think of Catherineís idea, then? Having Devin meet with her? He has a home and a life Above and it would not risk our secret."
Father glanced at him but didnít answer right away. He kept his eyes on the water tumbler, turning it slowly around and around and finally he said, "I think I would like to meet her myself. After I have become used to the idea." He raised his eyes to Peter. "What did you say to her about finding me?"
"I said I would ask around, check a couple of medical directories," Peter said. "I took her telephone number in case I Ďfoundí any information on you."
Father nodded. "I will let you know what I decide. Thank you, Peter."
Peter took this for dismissal, and after a kiss to Cathyís cheek, he left, accompanied by Vincent to show him the way. Peter never could remember the twists and turns back to the surface.
Catherine sat down at the table with Father, who was so deep in thought she figured he didnít even realize she was there.
"You must think me very secretive," he said, startling her.
"Youíve had to be," she said, remembering Peterís admonition.
"Not about my family," he said. "But the pain runs quite deep, and speaking of my brother is particularly painful. We were very close, once."
"Why did he disown you? Was it the hearings?"
Father nodded. "And the notoriety. He was a young lawyer, trying to make his way in the world. Our parents were gone by then. I helped him pay for law school, and he had some scholarships and the GI Bill, and he worked wherever he could find a job. Once he passed the bar and began to practice, it was difficult for him to be associated with me. It was all very public, you know. You saw the local news coverage and it was also on the radio and in newsreels. He asked me to back down but I was stubborn and idealistic and refused. Eventually we had a quarrel Ė a very serious quarrel Ė and I never spoke to him again after that. I wrote to him. That must be the letter Molly found. He didnít answer."
"He kept it," Catherine said. "He must have still felt something for you."
Father sighed. "Perhaps. Not long after that letter, I lost my apartment in Manhattan. I could no longer afford it. And it wasnít long after that that I came Below. He couldnít have reached me then, even if he had wanted to."
Molly had just stepped out of the shower after an especially trying day at work when she heard the phone. She ran to it, still dripping. "Hello?"
"Miss Wells? Itís Peter Alcott. Dr. Alcott. You called me about Jacob Wells?"
"Did you find him?" Her heart began beating like a trip hammer.
"Yes, I did. Would it be convenient for you to come to my office on Friday evening? He would like to meet with you there."
"Just tell me what time."
By the time Friday came, Molly was in such a state of excitement she could hardly make it through the day. Even her students noticed her distraction and some commented on it.
And she didnít have the slightest idea how to dress for this meeting. Would jeans be too casual? A dress too dressy? She finally settled for an outfit she would have worn to work at the university and did her hair up. Dad had always liked her hair up.
She stood in the hallway outside Peter Alcottís office for a good 10 minutes, trying to calm her nerves, before tapping on the door. It was opened a moment later by a woman her own age, with golden-brown hair swept to one side and a warm smile.
"Hi," she said. "Iím Catherine Chandler, an old friend of Peterís. Come in." She led Molly to Peterís private office, where two men, one with white hair, the other with graying hair and a beard, were waiting. Molly recognized her uncle instantly. He looked so much like her father, and except for the graying hair, had not changed much from the graduation photo she had found among her fatherís things.
He smiled. "How did you know?"
She had the photo with her Ė it had occurred to her that he might require proof Ė and she handed it to him. He gazed at it in surprise.
"I had forgotten all about this picture," he said softly. The other man Ė Peter Alcott, she assumed Ė leaned forward to look at it, too.
"I remember it," Peter said. "In fact, I took that photo."
"You did?" Molly was surprised.
Catherine, for some reason, was looking at Peter accusingly, and he caught the look and gave an embarrassed shrug. "It was a long time ago," he said to her, and she rolled her eyes.
"You remember to tell everyone that embarrassing anecdote about meeting me naked," she said, hastily adding to Molly, "when he delivered me," and then returning her attention to Peter, "but you couldnít remember taking a photo of Fath Ö Jacob and his brother?"
"You had an old Brownie," Jacob said to him. "The kind you had to look down at to take a picture."
"That was a good camera," Peter said. "I wish they still made those."
Jacob suddenly seemed to remember Molly. "Sit down, my dear," he said. "And tell me all about Matthew."
Molly talked about her father for what felt like hours, with Jacob asking so many questions that she didnít have a chance to ask any of her own. Finally, she began to grow hoarse and Catherine brought her a soda from the refrigerator in the break room.
"Tell me about your life," Molly said, finally finding an opportunity.
Jacob dropped his eyes. He and Peter, with some help from Catherine, had concocted a tale, but after listening to Molly all evening and seeing how much she was like his brother, he didnít have the heart to lie to her. Yet, he couldnít tell her the whole truth, either. Not yet. Not until he had learned more about her, and taken his request to the Council. "I have two sons," he said at last. "Iím Ö retired. I no longer live in the city and Iíve tried to forget those dark days of the witch hunts."
"I donít blame you," Molly said. She sensed there was far more but she could also see that he didnít want to talk about it. And really, they were little more than strangers still. "Will I be able to meet your sons someday?"
Catherine had been prepared for this Ė she and Father had agreed Ė and she spoke up. "Devin lives in Connecticut," she told Molly. "He couldnít get away to be here tonight, but he said he would call the next time heís in town and that heíd love to meet you."
"My other son is recovering from a long illness," Father put in, "and isnít able to travel. But he sends his warmest regards."
"I hope heíll be all right," Molly said.
"He will, thank you," Father said.
That should hold her off asking about Vincent for a while, at least, Catherine thought. Time enough to figure out what to do about Vincent once Father had made up his mind about Mollyís trustworthiness.
Molly had brought copies of several photographs, which she gave to Jacob. Most were of her dad, but several also included her and her mother Ė on vacations, around their home.
"You can show those to Devin and Ė" she paused expectantly.
Jacob glanced at Peter for a moment and finally said, "Vincent."
"And Vincent, so they can see what we all look like." Molly was suddenly worried about her other cousin. Why did Dr. Alcott and Uncle Jacob appear so uncomfortable when Vincent was mentioned? Was he more seriously ill than they had told her? What kind of an illness was it, anyway?
"Will you call me? Can we stay in touch?" Molly asked.
"Certainly," Jacob said. "You can reach me through Peter. Iím afraid I donít have a telephone."
"Jacob is rather old-fashioned," Peter said jovially. "He doesnít have a TV set, either."
Molly relaxed. She knew people like that, people who complained about the incessant noise of modern times and decided to keep their own homes free of that clutter. A couple of the professors at the university were so against "modern conveniences" that they were practically Amish. Professor Connor even insisted he preferred the company of Dickens to that of anyone else.
She pulled out one of her cards and turned it over to scribble her home number and address on the back. "You can reach me in my office at New York University or at home," she said.
"You teach literature?" Jacob said wonderingly after he examined the card.
"Yes," she said. "Specializing in British literature of the Romantic period, in fact. Though in the summers I sometimes give a course in current popular novels." Lowering her voice as if sharing a shameful secret, she said, "Sci fi. Iím a closet addict."
Catherine burst into laughter, and Jacob and Peter both chuckled.
Molly grinned, certain that had broken the ice, and decided that this would be a good time to end the meeting for now. "I hope youíll call me soon."
"As soon as I can," Jacob said. "Thank you for telling me about Matthew."
She smiled, and made her way out.
"I think sheís terrific," Catherine said to Vincent later that evening, as they sat in his chamber listening to a Bach concerto on a battery-powered tape player Catherine had brought with her. "Very sweet and friendly, and she seemed to know without being told that Father didnít want to talk about himself too much. She didnít press, but she wanted to ask a million questions."
"Did he tell her anything?"
"Not really. He said you were getting over a long illness and couldnít travel and I told her Devin wanted to meet her but couldnít be there tonight. And Father said he didnít live in the city any longer without going into details, but if she was paying attention, sheíd have figured out that it hasnít been years and years since Father and Peter saw each other. They were too comfortable together for that."
"Her attention might well have been focused on Father alone," Vincent suggested.
"If Father decides to trust Molly, sheíll know the whole truth soon enough."
"Will you want to meet her, too?"
"If she comes Below, of course," Vincent said. "I must meet this Irish cousin with the musical name."
Catherine smiled. "She even has red hair, though itís a sort of auburn."
Vincent laughed. "Just as it should be on an Irish lass. Catherine," he leaned toward her a bit, "donít worry. If Molly is as Ďterrificí as you say she is, she will be able to accept me, as the rest of my family here has."
"I wasnít worried Ė"
"You were," he corrected, but gently. "You are protective of my feelings, and I love you for that, but it will be all right, even if she is startled by my appearance at first."
Catherine shook her head. "Okay, I admit it. I donít want her to react the wrong way and hurt your feelings."
"Even you were startled at first," he said, smiling and stroking her hair. "And look at you now."
"Yes, look at me now, hopelessly in love with you and not the least bit afraid of you," she said, snuggling up and resting her head against his chest.
"You werenít afraid," Vincent said. "Only startled, and you had been through too much." He chuckled. "And you were quite ready to defend yourself."
"Iíve never forgiven myself for throwing that reflector at you," she said.
"Iíve forgiven you," he said. "I forgave you before youíd done it. I was already hopelessly in love with you."
She turned under his arm and stretched up for a kiss. "And you kept that a secret for a very long time, beloved."
"Getting there is half the fun," he returned, borrowing a phrase she had used on him when they first became lovers. Eyes twinkling, he scooped her up and laid her on the bed in one movement, so that he loomed over her. For so long he had kept his strength and size leashed and was almost ashamed of them, unless they served to protect Catherine. Now he knew she delighted in the very qualities he was once ashamed of, and he in turn delighted in using them to please or amuse her. He smoothed her hair back and kissed her with an urgency she immediately recognized and returned, but both froze at the sound of Fatherís voice in the corridor.
"Vincent? May I come in?"
Vincent muttered that word again, the one that made Catherine go off into gales of laughter that she tried to smother in a fold of his shirt. Unsuccessfully. They both sat up and tried to look proper and respectable, and Vincent gave Father permission to come in.
One look at them and Father realized the entire situation at a glance. He had suspected for some time and their guilty faces gave him all the confirmation he needed. He flushed uncomfortably. "Perhaps this is a bad time?"
"Not at all," Vincent said. "Come in."
Father stayed in the doorway. His eyes went from Vincentís face to Catherineís and his flush deepened. "I merely wanted to ask if Catherine would, well, snoop around a bit and see what you can find out about Molly. Iím inclined to ask the Council if I can bring her Below for a visit eventually."
"Of course, Father," Catherine said.
"Well, then." Father shifted his weight. "Thank you, my dear. Iíll, uh, be going now. Good night."
"Talk about beating a hasty retreat," Catherine whispered when heíd gone.
"I donít think we need worry about breaking the news to Father any longer," Vincent said very solemnly, making Catherine giggle.
"I think youíre right." She put her head on his shoulder. "Iím just a little sorry it wonít be our secret anymore, though."
Devin finally made his appearance on a Wednesday two weeks later, showing up at Catherineís office in time to take her to lunch so he could grill her about this "sudden cousin," as he phrased it.
"Is she for real?" he said. "Authentic, and all that? Not some scam artist?"
"Youíd know all about that," Catherine said.
"Hey, Iíve reformed. Honest," Devin protested.
"Besides, I did a background check," Catherine said, giving a shrug when Devin hooted with laughter and accused her of being "suspicious." "Father asked me to."
"And, sheís just what she said she was. She has a doctorate in English literature and she teaches at New York University in the English department, and sheís published four scholarly references and two novels."
Devin whistled. "Fatherís gonna love that. What are the novels about? Are they good?"
"I havenít had time to read them yet," Catherine said, "but they got decent reviews. And she got tenure last year, and she owns a pug."
"Thatís a dog, Devin."
"Howíd you find that out?"
"His dog license is on record with the city. His name is Alexander."
Devin howled. "Oh, thatís precious, that is."
"I even found her birth certificate and her father is indeed Matthew Wells and her mother was Theresa McCarthy and she was educated in Catholic schools and graduated with honors. No criminal record. No parking tickets. No divorces."
"A paragon of literate virtue, in other words."
Catherine laughed. "More or less."
"Nobody could accuse you of not being thorough, Counselor," Devin said. "Have you told Father yet?"
"I just finished yesterday and I havenít been Below since then," she said. "I had to be in court at the crack of dawn today for a hearing. You can tell him when you go."
"Iím not going anywhere until Iíve met your paragon," Devin said. "Give me her number. Iíll call her myself and give her a good going over before I go face the old man."
"Iíll be nice, I promise."
By the time Catherine could get Below that evening, Devin had already arrived and supper was long over. William had kept something warm for her, however, and she ate while Devin told Vincent and Father about his visit with "the paragon," as he insisted on calling Molly.
"I hope you didnít tell her any of your tall tales," Father said.
"Only a few," Devin said with a grin. "We got along famously, Father, really we did, and Vincent, youíre going to love her. Sheís read more books than you have, and written some, too, hasnít she, Cathy?"
Catherine nodded, her mouth too full to speak. Sheíd bought copies of Mollyís two novels for Vincent, and was more than a little amused to note that both were science fiction, the genre sheíd told Father was her "addiction." She was even more amused because she knew Vincent had read more than a few science fiction novels as a boy himself.
"She seems like a perfectly normal person with no agenda that I can detect," Devin said. "And Cathy checked her out and she seems to be okay on that front, except for the dog," he gave Catherine a grin.
"Whatís wrong with her dog?" Vincent asked innocently.
Devin rolled his eyes. "I looked up pugs in a dog book at the library," he said. "Homely little bastards."
"They are not. Theyíre cute," Catherine said.
"Anyway, as far as I can tell, and Iím maybe not the best judge, but she seems trustworthy to me, Father," Devin said. "She was awfully curious about Vincent. What did you tell her was wrong with him, anyway?"
"I simply said he was recovering from an illness and couldnít travel," Father said.
Devin grunted. "She didnít buy it."
"What do you mean?"
"I think she thinks heís locked up in a funny farm or something," Devin said. "She was just full of questions about this illness of his."
"What did you tell her?" Vincent said quietly.
"I said I hadnít been home for a while, but as far as I knew you werenít in any danger and would be up and around in no time." Devin shrugged. "Maybe we ought to punt to Catherine. Sheís probably better at this sort of thing than I am."
"Nobodyís better at misdirection than you are," Catherine shot back, and Devin laughed.
"Perhaps itís time to discuss this with the Council," Father said. "I shall bring it to the next meeting. In the meanwhile, I should send Molly a message so she doesnít think Iím ignoring her. Catherine, would you see to it?"
"What do you want me to say?"
"Arrange a meeting with her. And Iíll think of something to tell her about Vincent." He glanced at his son. "Weíll think of something."
This time, the meeting was held in Catherineís apartment and she fixed a simple meal of steak and salad for the three of them to share. Molly arrived a few minutes late, breathless and apologizing. A failing student had kept her in her office past her usual time, begging for a way to bring up her grade so she wouldnít lose her scholarship.
"Sheís hopeless at literary criticism," Molly said to Father. "Her thought processes are too concrete. She canít extrapolate at all, or analyze a text. Too literal. Way too literal. Ask her about Hamletís motivations and sheíll look at you as if youíd just spoken Aramaic."
Father chuckled. "Better suited to a career in another field, then?"
"Sheís actually studying to be a math teacher," Molly said. "But English lit is required and if she canít get through the class somehow, sheís in trouble. I donít know what to tell her. I assigned her a different book Ė ĎWork,í by Louisa May Alcott, do you know it?"
"I do," Catherine said. "Based on Louisaís real experiences, Iíve heard."
Molly nodded. "And sort of obscure, as her books go. But at least thereís very little that isnít painfully obvious in that book, so I hope she can produce some sort of coherent paper on it and I can pass the poor girl." She smiled at Father. "Iím sorry. Donít ever get me started on my students. I could rattle on for hours and put a tree to sleep when I get going on them. How have you been? Howís Vincent?"
"Heís much better," Father said. "If he continues to improve, weíll be able to introduce the two of you soon. He did send you this." Father reached into his vest pocket and produced a note that Vincent had written to Molly.
She opened it.
My brother told me of your meeting with him and how much he likes you. I look forward to meeting you myself as soon as I am able, and I am grateful to hear that you are concerned about my health. I assure you I am in no danger and will be able to see you soon.
I was especially interested to hear that you teach literature courses. I am a voracious reader myself and will enjoy discussing the great works with you when at last we meet. Take care and know that you are in my thoughts.
Catherine wasnít able to read people as well as Vincent could, but she had learned a bit from watching him do it and she could tell that Mollyís fears were somewhat relieved by the note. Between Vincentís beautiful and clearly educated handwriting, and his classical language, it had to be obvious that he was not "locked up in some funny farm," as Devin had so bluntly phrased it.
"How sweet of him," she said. "Tell him Iíd love to discuss literature with him." She glanced Catherineís way. "Do you know Vincent?"
"Oh, yes," Catherine said. "Weíre quite close, actually."
"Quite close," Father repeated with twinkling eyes. "In fact, I expect to start calling Catherine my daughter-in-law one day."
Catherine felt her cheeks go scarlet Ė sheíd had no idea Father would react that way after having been so resistant to their relationship for so long Ė and also because she expected the same thing herself and hadnít realized Father was so observant.
"Really?" Molly was delighted. "How wonderful. Then youíll be family, too! And I thought I was all alone when Dad died."
"Only temporarily," Father said. "I am glad you found me, my dear. I only wish it had happened while Matthew was still alive."
"He was stubborn and no mistake," Molly said. "I am, too, and he always said I got it from him."
"And we both inherited that trait from our father," Father said with a quiet chuckle.
"I think the note did the trick," Catherine said to Vincent later. "And Father," she paused and shook her head.
"Molly asked me if I knew you and when I said I did, Father told her he expected to call me his daughter-in-law some day. And," Catherine paused dramatically, "he seemed pleased about it."
Vincent put his arm around her and pulled her closer. "Of course heís pleased. He loves you. And he really only ever wanted my happiness. You know his history now Ė he expected you to be, well Ö "
"A shallow socialite."
Vincent chuckled. "Something like that. He knows you now and accepted you long ago. Parents never quite realize their children have grown up until confronted with irrefutable evidence, you know."
"Thatís true. Daddy was stunned when I quit the firm and he was more stunned when he realized I actually worked, and worked hard, at the D.A.ís office, as opposed to being a Daddyís girl who did lunch and shed a few tears for humanity to stanch the boredom in between times."
Vincent was familiar with the story of Edieís first reaction to Catherine. "Youíve shed more than a few tears Ďfor humanity.í" Returning to Molly, he said, "Do you think Father still wants to bring her Below?"
Catherine nodded. "And I think sheís trustworthy. She wants so badly to have people to belong to. I gather she and her dad were very close. She isnít married and doesnít seem to have anyone in her life and without him, she feels quite alone."
After hearing from Father, Devin and Catherine on the subject of Molly, the Council voted to allow the secret to be shared with her. Mary, especially, seemed to feel compassion for the young woman.
Catherine left a message at Mollyís office to call her, and arranged a meeting with her and Father. Devin agreed to be there, too.
Again they met at Catherineís apartment, partly because the basement threshold was convenient should they all conclude it was a good time to take Molly Below, and partly because they could be certain of privacy.
Molly arrived first dressed, as Catherine had told her, in "comfortable clothes suitable for a long walk." She had been intrigued by the request and had started to ask questions, but Catherine had told her it would be better to wait until they were all together. Molly was in jeans and T-shirt, and looked more like one of her own students than a responsible college professor.
Catherine greeted her with a hug. "Iíve made some cookies," she said. "FathÖ Jacob loves cookies and doesnít often get any."
"May I ask you something?" Molly said, dropping her bag and sweater on one of Catherineís couches.
"Sure. I wonít promise to answer until I hear it, though," Catherine said with a smile.
"Why is it I get the impression youíre used to calling Uncle Jacob ĎFatherí?"
Catherine was glad her back was to Molly at the moment, as she fetched the plate of cookies from the kitchen. It gave her time to collect herself before turning around. When she did, she gave a careless shrug.
"My own father died last year," Catherine said. "Jacob has been like a father to me since then, and thatís what Vincent calls him Ė Devin, too Ė and I got into the habit of calling him that myself."
"So you and Vincent are engaged?"
"Not officially," Catherine said. "Itís sort of an understanding. What about you? I havenít heard you mention a husband or boyfriend."
"There isnít one," Molly said, curling up on the couch across from Catherine. "Just never found the right one, I suppose. What is Vincent like? No one seems to want to talk about him."
This was getting into dangerous territory, Catherine thought, but she could tell Molly a little, she supposed.
"He loves to read, as he told you in the note," Catherine said. "Poetry especially. Heís committed quite a bit to memory. He prefers the classics Ė Shakespeare, Dante, Dickens, that sort of thing."
"Me, too. Except for that unfortunate fixation on science fiction," Molly said.
"Vincent is the most decent, caring, gentle soul Iíve ever known," Catherine said, smiling at Mollyís "unfortunate fixation." "He genuinely feels the pain, and joy, of the people he loves. He doesnít just empathize. He really feels it. Meeting him changed my whole life, made me a better person."
"He sounds wonderful," Molly said. "Will he be here tonight?"
A knock sounded at the door just then, giving Catherine an excuse to avoid that question. It was Devin, a bit breathless and windblown.
"I remember now why I live in Connecticut," he said by way of greeting. "Parking in New York is an exercise in frustration."
Catherine laughed. "Why didnít you take a cab?"
"Thatís also an exercise in frustration," he said. "Hi, Molly." He bent to snatch a cookie and threw himself on the couch where Catherine had been sitting. "So whereís the old man?"
"Heíll be here. You know itís a long trip for him," Catherine said. "I do wish you wouldnít call him that."
"Father," Devin corrected himself with a grin. "That better?"
Father arrived a few minutes later, and Catherine was very glad that Devin had been there in the meantime because he had been a college professor in one of his previous incarnations and he kept Molly busy talking about publishing and studentsí bad writing in assigned papers, freeing Catherine from having to join in the conversation.
"I apologize, Catherine," Father said when he arrived. "A little problem with Eric and a skinned elbow."
"Is he all right?"
"Oh, yes, heís fine. Simply a tumble, nothing to worry about." Father smiled at Molly. "Hello, my dear. Youíre looking well." He spotted the cookies, too, and seeing that Molly and Devin were helping themselves, followed suit. "Chocolate chip," he said as he took one. "Lovely. You remembered theyíre my favorite," he added to Catherine.
"How could I forget?" Catherine said.
Father lowered himself onto the couch next to Molly and looked expectantly at Catherine. She sat next to Devin, and Father nodded at her. "Go ahead, Catherine."
So Catherine, as they had decided, told Molly of meeting Vincent. She told her all of it, the party with Tom, the attack and the mistaken identity, Vincentís finding her in the park and taking her to Father because there was no time to take her to Peter or a hospital. Molly listened with a brow puckered in sympathy and not a little confusion Ė hadnít Father told her he no longer lived in the city? -- and when Catherine reached the part about awakening in Vincentís chamber and hearing the incessant tapping on the pipes, Father took over.
"I scolded my son for bringing a stranger to our home," Father said. "Even though she had been unconscious and would not have seen anything, she was at that point aware of our world. I didnít see how we would return her to her own world without letting her see more than I thought wise. But Vincent was convinced she was trustworthy, and though I thought then that he was blinded by his concern and affection for her, I also have great respect for his ability to understand others and his empathy. And really, he had no choice, not if her life were to be saved."
Molly was clearly puzzled now, not understanding. Catherine took over again, and told of the day when she removed the bandages, looked at her wavy reflection and saw Vincent behind her.
"Iíve never forgiven myself for reacting in fear," she said. "Though Vincent has."
"Why on earth did you throw something at him?" Molly asked.
Devin took his turn then. "Vincent doesnít look like other people," he said. Unlike Catherine and Father, who were tense with the stress of telling Molly a secret they all guarded so desperately, Devin was leaning back, relaxed, one ankle resting on the opposite knee. "When we were kids, sometimes other kids teased him, but I soon cured them of that. When new kids came Below, I was the one who introduced them to Vincent and I made them understand that he was not to be tormented, ever."
"Devin got into a lot of fights with other boys," Father put in.
"It was always over Vincent," Devin said. "He was my kid brother, even before I knew we were really brothers. I always thought of him that way, and I had to protect him."
"I know, son," Father said, leaning forward to pat his leg. "Devin did not know I was his father when he was a child," he added to Molly, who was clearly still trying to take in the fact that Vincentís appearance had frightened Catherine at first.
"How does Vincent not look like other people?" Molly said. "Are you afraid Iíll tease him? I wouldnít dream of Ė"
"Weíre not afraid of you teasing him," Catherine said. "Weíre afraid that youíll Ė" she paused helplessly.
"Freak out," Devin finished for her.
"Our world," Father said, clearly uncomfortable with this turn in the conversation, "lies below this one. It is a network of tunnels and chambers far below the city. It has existed for close to 40 years, secret. We have Helpers here Above, like Catherine," he stopped long enough to smile at her, "who provide us with what they can, and we make do with the castoffs of others for the rest. Vincent depends on our world, and its secret, for his very life. If we were to show you our world, and Vincent, you would have to agree to keep the secret, guard it with everything that you are, and never speak of any of it to anyone. Eventually you will learn who our Helpers are and to whom it is safe to speak. But the secret must remain a secret."
Mollyís eyes moved from one to another, as if she were waiting for the punch line. When none came, her eyes widened. "A whole world? Below the city? That no one knows about? Who built it?"
"Most of the tunnels are natural formations," Father said. "Some, and many of our chambers where we live, were built by those who live there. Others were built far in the past, by people who left no clues about themselves. We can only guess."
"The community was founded by Father and a friend of his as a place for those to go who have no other place to go," Catherine said. "Theyíre family. Theyíre my family and Devinís and Vincentís and Fatherís. They live together, and love each other, and live as well as they can."
"Is Dr. Alcott one of these Helpers?"
"Yes," Catherine said. "He has been involved since the beginning."
"We were very close friends at school and have remained so," Father said. "We misled you about our relationship, Iím afraid. We didnít know if we could trust you until we came to know you better."
Mollyís eyes returned to Catherine. "And Vincent? Prepare me. I donít want to hurt his feelings by reacting the wrong way. What does he look like?"
"A lion, more or less," Devin said, "but with blue eyes and the kindest heart Iíve ever known, and Iíve been around, havenít I, Father?"
"Just in the face, and just sort of," Devin said, not very helpfully.
"We donít know Vincentís origins," Father said. "He was found as a baby outside St. Vincentís Hospital by a member of the community. He was starving and almost frozen, and Anna brought him Below, and he survived. I consider him as much my son as if heíd been born to me. And in many ways, he is the glue that holds our community together. We love him."
"Does he Ö walk upright?"
"Of course he does!" Catherine said, more sharply than she meant to. "Devin, why did you say that?"
Father lifted his hand to stop them. "Can we trust you, Molly? Will you keep our secret, no matter what?"
"Of course I will," she said promptly. "I wouldnít dream of risking your home for anything. Youíre my family. Youíre my only family." She leaned a little closer to Father. "Keeping secrets is how we got here to begin with, isnít it? Dad kept you a secret from me. You kept Dad a secret from them," she indicated Catherine and Devin. "Your world is a secret and Vincent is a secret, and while sometimes a person has to keep secrets, sometimes secrets hurt more than they help. The trick is to know the difference, and I do now, more than ever."
"I regret the lost years more than I can express," Father said, taking her hand in his. "The ones I missed with your father, and the ones Iíve missed with you. " He looked at Catherine and Devin and, apparently satisfied that they agreed with him, he rose. "Shall we go Below?"
Catherine and Molly went to the sub-basement first, with Devin and Father following a few minutes apart, so as not to attract attention. Luckily, the sub-basement was deserted, and Catherine moved the boxes that hid the portal. She ushered Molly through first, then guarded the entrance until Father and Devin had gone through. She went down last, moving the boxes back into place before descending the ladder. Molly was stunned and staring, and she hadnít even seen beyond the small chamber below Catherineís basement. With Father leading the way, they headed toward the home tunnels.
Father paused to tap a message on the pipes, which were almost silent due to Pascalís "all quiet" signal for this evening. Pascal answered Fatherís message, and in a few minutes, the pipes resumed their normal flow of traffic.
"Now that they know weíre safely Below," Father said to Molly, "the regular messages may continue as usual."
"Is it Morse code?"
"Not exactly," Father said. "Thatís what we began with, but over the years itís been refined into a kind of shorthand. That is, common phrases are down to a few taps each, such as each of our names, and oft-used codes like Ďfood pickupí or Ďhelpí are also shorthand now."
"My name is," Catherine said, stopping Molly and tapping against her arm. "I can tap that and this," she tapped again, "and someone will know Iím Below and on my way to the home chambers."
"Not that you have to tap," Devin remarked with a grin. "Vincent knows youíre coming before you do."
"Not before I do," Catherine objected, laughing.
In a few minutes, they had reached the outer perimeter of the home tunnels and passed several people Ė Eric, with a bandaged arm, accompanied by Kipper and Samantha, who held a checkerboard under her arm. Rebecca working in her candle shop. A group of little girls playing jacks in another chamber. Everyone had been told about Molly already and greeted her by name.
Finally, they reached Fatherís chamber, where Mary waited with fresh tea. Father introduced her to Molly and waved them all to seats.
"Vincent is waiting for your call," Mary said.
Father nodded, leaned on his cane and regarded Molly. "Are you ready to meet Vincent, or would you rather get used to the idea of this place for a while first?"
"I want to meet Vincent," she said immediately.
Father nodded, stepped into the tunnel outside and tapped a message. In a few moments, Catherine could hear his step in the passage. Father had taken a chair and poured himself a cup of tea, but he had not tasted it. In spite of his outward calm, Catherine knew, he was braced for the worst.
Vincent entered, hood up and shadowing his face, and paused at the head of the stairs that led down to the chamber. As tall as he was, standing up there above them, he looked quite imposing, even with his face concealed.
"Vincent," Father said steadily, "this is my niece, Molly Wells. Molly, my son."
Molly rose and smiled, and waited.
Slowly, but not exactly reluctantly, Vincent raised his hands to the hood. Catherine saw Mollyís eyes widen as she took in the sight of his hands, furred and clawed, but her expression didnít change to fear. He pushed back the hood and though Molly blinked a bit too rapidly, she was clearly not afraid. Startled, yes. Intrigued. But not afraid.
"Hello, Vincent," she said, quite calmly. "Iíve been looking forward to meeting you."
He inclined his head regally, Catherine thought fondly, and answered, "And I have looked forward to meeting you." He descended the stairs and approached Molly, who offered her hand. He took it in both of his and they simply looked at each other for a moment. Finally, Vincent said, "I can see a bit of Father in you, Molly. Does he favor his brother strongly?"
Molly nodded. "I gave him some photos. Get him to show you. They were very much alike, especially when they were boys."
Vincent glanced at Father with twinkling eyes. "I did not know he had photos."
"I was going to show you," Father said, a bit defensively, "but I hadnít found the right moment."
Devin snorted and grinned at Catherine. "Doesnít like to be seen without a beard," he said to her.
Catherine smothered a laugh, not very successfully, and when Vincent and Devin joined in, the ice was broken for good. Vincent took a seat, poured himself some tea, and went about the business of getting to know Molly. They took to each other immediately, and Devin and Catherine exchanged more than one amused look at their chatter. They might have been childhood friends meeting again after a long separation, so eager and easy was their discourse.
"Vincent, do you know who you remind me of?" Molly asked at one point, leaning forward a bit and studying his face with the kind of scrutiny that once would have made him drop his eyes.
"And who might that be?" he asked instead, leaning forward a bit, too, to tease her.
Devin almost choked on his tea, but Vincent barely spared him a glance. "Do you really think so? In what way? Besides the obvious."
Molly grinned. "I didnít mean the way you look, though that doesnít hurt. No, itís your voice. It sounds just like I always imagined Aslanís would sound, a kind of rich baritone. You also strike me as kind and wise."
Devin choked again, but this time he was faking and Catherine rewarded him with a stern look, matched by the one Father gave him.
"I loved ĎThe Chronicles of Narniaí when I was a child," Molly went on. "And ĎThe Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobeí was my favorite book. I even hunted through our house for a portal that would take me to Narnia so I could meet Aslan myself."
"I think I should be flattered," Vincent said. "I can hardly aspire to his selflessness or his wisdom, but I will concede our voices might be similar."
"And you," Molly said to Catherine, "must have a devil of a time keeping quiet about this terrific guy when your friends want to know why you donít have a boyfriend."
"What do you tell your friends?"
"For a while, I told them it was because Dad needed me while he was sick," Molly said. "Before that, I was busy trying to get tenure. Now Iím going to have to come up with a new one."
"And the truth is?" Vincent asked. Catherine wouldnít have had the nerve. When Molly flushed and didnít immediately answer, he gentled his voice and asked, "Another secret? One you donít wish to share, perhaps?"
Molly shook her head. "A secret, but youíve shared yours," she waved her hand, indicating the entire community, "so I can hardly refuse to share mine. No, itís okay," she added when Vincent drew breath, probably to tell her she neednít speak if she didnít want to. "I donít mind telling you. I was in love with a man, another professor at the university, and it turned out he was married. When I found out, I broke it off and I just havenít had the heart to try again. I just havenít met anyone worth risking a broken heart for, thatís all. But if you tell people that," she gave a shrug and a sad smile, "they feel compelled to set you up with their single friends, and more often than not, wildly unsuitable single friends at that."
Catherine flushed, because she had immediately thought of introducing Molly to Joe. Molly grinned at her.
"You thought of someone who would be Ďperfectí for me just then, didnít you?"
"I sure did," Catherine confessed, laughing.
"Thatís why I donít tell people. No offense, Cathy, but Iím just not in the mood right now."
"None taken. As secrets go, thatís not such a bad one. After all, you didnít know he was married."
"No, but I should have guessed. He wouldnít give me his home number or take me there. We always went to odd and out of the way places for dinner. Some of our colleagues told me he was Ďbadí for me. Several times. This was all years ago when I was new at the university and didnít know anyone. They all knew his reputation, and I wish someone had just come out and told me he was married before I found out."
"Howíd you find out?" Devin asked.
"Faculty tea," Molly said. "He brought his wife."
"Ouch." Devin winced.
"Exactly. How embarrassing. I actually thought about resigning, I was so horrified."
"Why didnít you?" Father asked.
"That stubbornness you and Dad and I share," Molly said. "I would not be chased away from a job I love because of a cad." She pushed away the memory almost visibly. "Everyone here calls you ĎFather,í" she said. "I donít know if I can do that. It wouldnít feel right. Is it all right to call you ĎUncle Jacobí?"
"Of course," he said promptly. "Peter calls me Jacob, as do other Helpers who have been involved since the beginning of our world. Most of the people who call me ĎFatherí do so because they have no father of their own and I try to fill his place for them."
"And may I visit occasionally?"
"My dear," Father took her hands and smiled at her, "you may visit as often as you like. Eventually you will know the way, but until you learn, simply let Catherine or Peter know and they will bring you."
Impulsively, she threw her arms around his neck and gave him a hug. "Thank you, Uncle Jacob. Iím so glad I found you."
Devin thoughtfully offered to take Molly home, so Vincent and Catherine could say their good-nights in private. It had been a long and stressful day, but Catherine felt it had been successful. She leaned her head against Vincentís chest as they stood at the threshold.
"So there was nothing to worry about after all," he said to her, kissing her hair.
"We couldnít know that ahead of time," she said.
"No, but I think Father will sleep more soundly tonight than he has for years. Itís a shame he and Matthew spent most of their adult lives apart, and all because of stubborn pride."
"And misunderstanding," Catherine added. "And misplaced protectiveness. Seems to run in the family."
Vincent smiled crookedly. "Indeed it does. Even in the members of the family who were adopted and are not related by blood. If you had not forced the issue, we might yet be longing for one another and unfulfilled."
"And if you had not tried so hard to pretend you didnít have the very normal desires of a man who loves a woman, it wouldnít have taken more than two years," she said with a saucy grin. "But allís well that ends well, isnít it?"
"Yes, my love, it is." He pulled her close and kissed her.