Come To Me In My Dreams

Deb

Catherine was worried. She hadn't felt well for weeks. At first she just chalked it up to chasing after her four kids, doing some charity legal work, helping with some of the tunnel chores and redoing their new, larger, tunnel-access home. At least, that's what she told Vincent when he voiced his concern for her. He had asked her several times if she was all right and had taken to bringing her snacks in the afternoons and insisting that the children give her a "nap-time" when their youngest, 4-year-old Devin, took his nap. Still, she had a nagging worry that something wasn't right.

Not wanting to worry Father, who would then worry Vincent, she paid a visit to Peter.

"Hello, Cathy, to what do I attribute this wonderful visit?" Peter asked when she arrived.

She had promised herself she would tell Peter her symptoms and not get emotional, but as soon as she heard Peterís gentle query all her best intentions went out the window. All Catherineís fears along with her problems flooded out. She immediately broke down in tears.

Peter quickly walked around his large desk stacked with charts and wrapped her in his arms. "Now, now, Cathy, what is it? Tell me everything, sweetie."

When she was able to speak, Catherine took a deep breath and expressed her concerns. "Peter, something has to be wrong. I just don't feel well. Vincent has gone to the lower tunnels to help with some work there, so I wanted to see you while he is farther away. Through our bond, I know he can feel my anxiety, but I am hoping to find something out before he returns. He is worried too, and I don't want to make him worry more than is absolutely necessary."

"So, Cathy," Peter asked motioning for her to have a seat, "tell me what has been going on?" He sat on the corner of his desk and held Catherineís hand as he waited for her response.

"I thought maybe it was just that the children were having shorter class days since the summer monthsÖ Jacob is eight years old now and has a million questions about everythingÖThe twins, Caroline and Caleb, are only six but they think they can do everything that Jacob can do, so that is a circus sometimes. Then the baby, Devin, at four of course chimes right inÖ and you know we just got this new house.... I just feel so tired all the time. I've tried resting more...I have no appetite...it's getting harder and harder to reassure Vincent that I'm all right. In fact, he is very worried too. Am I repeating myself? And I'm so emotional," she choked out as she broke down in tears again.

"Now, now, Cathy, weíll get to the bottom of this," Peter said, taking her in his arms and letting her cry. "Itís good that you came to get checked out. Iíll do a physical and some labs, then go from there." He handed her a tissue from the box on his desk and she dried her eyes.

Peter did a complete physical and found her body to be strong and healthy on the outside. He called the lab and scheduled a quick battery of blood and urine tests and instructed her to come back to his office when she finished. He wanted to have some kind of answer for Catherine before she left.

It wasn't too long after she finished the tests before Peter called her back into his office. Leaning back in his leather desk chair, he regarded her with a twinkle in his eye. "Well, Catherine, I think I have an answer for your symptoms. According to this blood test, you're about 10 weeks pregnant!"

"But, but Peter...really...I...I...." Now she was laughing and crying at the same time."You would think after three pregnancies I would know. I just have been so busy and so tired, I didn't put it all together. You know my cycles have always been so irregular. This is so different from the others. No morning sickness. I did have a loss of appetite and fatigue...oh, I'm rambling again." She ran around the desk and gave Peter a hug, smiling radiantly through her tears.

Peter smiled at her now-relieved expression and offered, "We can do a quick ultrasound to get an exact gestational age before you leave, if you would like."

Catherine shook her head, refusing the suggestion. With an apologetic grin she added, "Oh no, you know Vincent loves to see those. I want us to see this little one for the first time, when weíre together, like we did with the twins and Devin." As she thought out loud, she paced the room. "Could you bring that little portable machine that you call your 'Fisher-Price' ultrasound over to the house?" At his nod she walked to the front of the desk and went on, "How about Tuesday of next week? I'll have Mary and Father take the kids for the evening. They love spending the night in the tunnels." She realized she was rambling again and caught herself, this time to say what was foremost in her heart. "Oh, Peter, thank you so much!" She ran back around the desk and gave him another big hug.

As he returned her hug, he said, "Don't thank me, Cathy. This was all your and Vincent's doing."

They both laughed.

******

Vincent was worried. Catherine seemed to be very upset this morning. He knew she was trying to suppress her end of the bond as she did when she didnít want to worry him. There were several times that morning when heíd almost left the work crew and gone to her. Heíd even calculated that the 2-hour return would only take him one and a half hours on his own. "Why did I leave her this morning? I knew she hadnít been feeling well," he chided himself. But just about the time heíd decided to go to her, sheíd suddenly seemed to feel better, in fact elated as best as he could tell. Confused, he reminded himself to speak to her about trying to close the bond to him. It never made him feel better and in fact made him worry more. As he probed the bond further, he was sure she was happy now and actually seemed to be feeling better, although he could sense her nagging fatigue. He decided to stay and help the crew finish the job, throwing himself into his work so they could be finished sooner. If he stayed, they would be done by late afternoon and he could make it back to the tunnels by dinner.

 

CHAPTER TWO

While the children were still in their morning classes, Catherine planned how she would tell Vincent. She and little Devin went shopping for a special dinner and flowers. Vincent loved fresh flowers and even had an area of the back yard portioned off as his flower garden. They had a very tall solid brick fence surrounding their yard, which was also partially covered with a solar roof. If you were standing in the yard you could see out, but no one could see in. Vincent was thrilled to be able to go out into the sunshine whenever he wanted.

Catherine found a wonderful pre-made gourmet meal that could be just heated and served. It even came with a salad and dessert. Perfect, no fuss no muss. "I can pop this in the oven and it will be done by the time Vincent and I get home." She went by the tiny little gift shop she loved, hoping they still had the delicate angel figurines that she gave Vincent for each of their children. Each figurine was different. She counted how many there were. An even dozen. "I hope we don't need to use them all," she laughed to herself.

"What you laughin' at, mama?" Devin asked.

"Oh, I was just thinking how much I love you." She picked him up and twirled him around. His giggles brought tears to her eyes. "Another baby," she sighed happily to herself and patted her still flat belly.

She found the perfect figurine. It was a tiny crystal angel with wings so detailed they looked like feathers. She wondered how she had missed it before. The clerk told Catherine that this angel was a limited edition, with only fifty issued. In fact, it was so new she had only put it out that day and it was the only one she would get. That made it final; Catherine would give her love this special angel for their special baby.

She had it wrapped and put in a bag so Devin wouldn't notice she had a gift. She knew he would spill the beans if he realized it was a present. She rushed home just in time to put away the "evidence," then she put her sexiest dress in the guest bedroom where she could make a quick change and surprise Vincent in a beautiful dress and with a wonderful meal both at the same time. "That will just be the beginning of the surprises for the night," she smiled to herself.

On the way to the dining hall, Catherine found Mary and asked if the children could spend the night so she and Vincent could have a special evening. She didn't explain why. She wanted Vincent to be the first to know. Mary was thrilled to have the children, as she and Father were very much the doting grandparents-Maymay and Papa Father, the children called them.

Catherine and little Devin got to the dining hall just as William was putting out lunch and the children were crowding in from their various classes. Devin ran to meet his siblings and they all sat down for lunch. The children discussed their morning and in between conversations with their children, the adults discussed things that were going on in their lives. It was a happy, chaotic atmosphere and Catherine loved everything about it. She didnít realize how much she was smiling until William stopped by her place at the table.

"Well, Catherine, you must be feeling better," William said. "You are almost glowing."

"Thank you, William," she answered, then she whispered, "I didn't know anyone noticed."

"I always notice that smile of yours and I have been missing it." William gave her a quick hug and continued on his way.

The children shared their morning with Catherine as they ate lunch. After their meal was done, they laughed and skipped down the tunnels to the access to their new house.

Catherine read to the older children while Devin napped. Then they went outside to play. As Catherine watched her children run and jump, she found herself, as always, amazed at each one. While each had some characteristic of Vincentís, none of them had all of his unusual attributes. Vincent was glad that his children could have the best of both worlds, but Catherine almost longed for a baby that looked like him. She chided herself for being selfish.

Playtime over, she herded the children upstairs to get baths and pack a small bag for their overnight visit to the tunnels.

"Mom, can we stay with Maymay and Papa Father in the morning, too? We don't have classes in the morning," Jacob pleaded.

Caroline, Caleb, and even little Devin chimed in, "Please, please, please!"

Laughing, Catherine agreed to ask if it would be OK with Maymay and Papa Father, knowing that they would love to spend more time with the children and she would love to spend the morning lounging with Vincent.

 

CHAPTER THREE

Vincent hurried back from the lower tunnels as soon as the work was done. He knew Catherine and the children would meet him in the dining hall, so he stopped at his old chamber, grabbed a change of clothes and took a quick bath. He arrived at the dining hall still damp, but clean. He wanted to surprise his family, so he closed his end of the bond a little. "Whatís good for the gooseÖ," he thought.

Catherine didn't see him arrive; although through the bond she knew he was very close, she couldnít pinpoint where he was. Vincent saw her from across the room. He loved her more every day. It was amazing how love could go on endlessly. He looked at his children and his heart swelled. He had heard it said that the heart changes when you have a child, it prepares itself for all the tasks that a parent is supposed to carry out. It molds and transforms itself to be able to perform the job, and it eventually becomes a "Parent's Heart"- very different than before- and if you have more than one child, then more than one heart is formed. He had found that to be true, as he loved each child more than he believed possible every day.

And with every "Parentís Heart" he grew, his love for his Catherine grew in proportion. Love was a wondrous and mysterious thing that he didnít think he would ever understand but would never take for granted. This life that he had was something he never imagined he could ever have. CatherineÖHis CatherineÖHis forever love, made it all possible.

He walked quietly up to his lively crew, approaching Catherine from behind. He wrapped his arms around his love, and about that time the children also noticed him. They all jumped up and screamed, "Daddy, Daddy!" as they churned into one big group hug.

Mary and Father standing nearby appreciated the scene. "How could I have been so wrong? Catherine is the best thing that ever happened to Vincent," Father commented.

"You wrong?" Mary smiled, letting him know she completely understood his mistakes and his regrets.

Father put his arm around Maryís waist and pulled her to him. "Well, thank goodness you made an honest man of me and became ĎMrs. Fatherí five years ago."

Mary smiled at the pet name he had called her since their wedding. "Did I tell you the children are going to spend the night with us tonight? Catherine asked me earlier and of course I told her we would be delighted."

"Oh good, weíll need to pick out a new book," Father remarked, already thinking ahead with pleasure to an evening with his rambunctious grandchildren. "We finished Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Luckily Catherine has given us all of J.K. Rowlingís books, but that woman is going to have to write fast to keep up with these children. I swear they love books as much as Vincent did as a child."

"And there is a group going to the pool to swim about mid-morning tomorrow so we can let the children go, too," Mary added. "I love to see them splashing and having so much fun. It will be a wonderful surprise." They both looked back toward Vincent, Catherine and their boisterous crowd of little ones.

The children all chimed together, "We are going to spend the night with Maymay and Papa FatherÖMama said we could."

"Did she really, now?" Vincent asked, glancing at Catherine as he sat down. The three youngest of his children climbed in his lap, as he wrapped one big arm around them. Jacob crouched between the chair back and Vincentís back, leaned over his fatherís shoulder, and wrapped his arms around his daddyís neck. Catherine was smiling that beautiful, radiant smile that always melted his heart. He reached across the children with his one free hand and touched Catherineís cheek. "Well, I guess if your Mother says itís OK, and Maymay and Papa Father say itís OK," he hesitated for effectÖ" then I say itís OK, too."

Amidst shouts of joy, the children tumbled off their father and ran to tell Maymay and Papa Father the good news.

"Now, you donít have to be in a hurry to pick them up in the morning," Father said. "We could meet for a picnic lunch at the pool about noon. Mary and I have been intending to take the children for a swim and a group is going in the morning. William will be preparing one of his special picnics for us all."

"That sounds like a good plan, if youíre both sure. You know this crew can be a handful at times," Vincent answered.

"Donít worry, weíll have a wonderful time," Mary reassured him.

Catherine and Vincent hugged and kissed each child with reminders to mind their manners and be good. As always, just before they walked away, Vincent turned and blew a kiss to his children. As they had all done from the time they were toddlers, they each blew a kiss back as Catherine smiled and whispered, "I love you all."

The children each shouted back, "I love you all, too, Mama! I love you all, too, Daddy!" They all giggled.

Then the whirling, laughing group of children ran to Father and Mary and they were off to the library chamber for board games and reading before bedtime.

"Remember when Jacob first said ĎI love you allí? It was such a cute mixture of words we just repeated it back and now it is part of our family; I love it," Vincent rumbled as he placed one strong arm around his wifeís shoulders.

"Me, too, Vincent, me, too." She wrapped one arm around Vincentís waist and with her free hand held his large one that circled her shoulders, and they turned to walk to their home.

"So, to what do I owe this wonderful state of affairs, not that I'm complaining. Having my beautiful wife all to myself for an entire evening and being able to sleep in." He pulled her closer. "By the way, have I told you lately that you are the most beautiful woman in the world?"

"Let me see," Catherine put her finger on her chin as she pretended to think. "The last time was...hummmÖthis morning, actually. Right after I told you that you were the most handsome man in the world. Oh, Vincent, I fall in love with you more every day." She smiled radiantly.

Vincent wrapped her in his arms and started kissing her. Breathlessly, he whispered, "We had better hurry home or we'll have to start this evening right here."

"Is that a threat?" Catherine teased as she touched her nose to his, lightly brushed his lips with hers and then gently bit his bottom lip.

"No, it's a promise." Vincent growled. He kissed her again and felt her sigh more than heard it as she leaned her body into his. The smell of her hair, her warm, velvet-soft mouth so eager for him, her breasts pressed to his body, and the feel of her firm bottom under his hands as he pulled her closer made him want to take her right there in the tunnel.

"If I didnít know there were sentries nearby, my love, I would fulfill that promise right here and right now," he growled.

"Then letís hurry home. We canít go shocking anyone now, can we?" Catherine whispered back. She put her index finger in her mouth and then ran it over his lips as she pulled away.

Vincent grasped her hand, kissed her wrist, and arm in arm they continued to walk toward their home. Except for a few stops for kissing and giggling, they continued on without having to shock anyone.

As they neared their homeís tunnel access, they began to talk about the children and how their day had been. "Iím guessing you finished the work in the lower tunnels, since you are all back home tonight," Catherine queried.

"Yes, we are all done down there and it looks really good this year." Vincent shook his head in admiration. "The new structural suggestions that Mouse came up with are working well. I swear that man is a genius in some areas." He hesitated a moment, then continued, "Speaking of being in the lower tunnels today, I was really worried about some of the feelings I got from the bond, especially the feeling that you were trying to block it. What was that all about?"

"Oh, I just knew that you were worried about me and I didnít want you to keep worrying. I knew that if you were able to get your work done you would be back tonight, and you know how I hate spending the night without you." Thatís partially true, she thought to herself, hoping the promise of the night to come would keep Vincent from sensing her little fabrication.

"So are you really feeling better?" His skepticism was clear as he probed the bond, sensing only love, happiness, and more than a little fatigue.

"Yes, I do feel better. I think I just had some viral thing that took its time to pass. Except for feeling a little tired, Iím all better now," she reassured him, waving one hand in dismissal of his remaining concern. Their conversation was cut short as they negotiated a hidden door leading to the tunnel entrance to their home.

As they stepped off the elevator they could smell the dinner warming in the oven. "Whatever you have in the oven smells wonderful," Vincent commented, suddenly realizing how hungry he was. He opened the oven door and peeped in just as Catherine gently slapped his hand.

"No peeking, itís a surprise." She laughed at the look on his face. "You look just like Devin when he gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar."

At that, Vincent stuck out his bottom lip and did a perfect imitation of his youngest child pouting because he couldnít have his way.

"Let me kiss it and make it all better," Catherine taunted.

Catherine giggled as Vincent tried to take her into his arms.

"No, no, you bad boy," Catherine teased as she twirled out of his reach and shook her finger at him. "First things firstÖ. Dinner, then dessert."

"Well then, if you don't mind my love, I'd like to take a proper shower and change again before dinner. Since you are feeling better, I want to be presentable for your surprise dinner." This time he succeeded in wrapping her in his arms, and brushed the top of her head with his kiss.

Catherine gave him a warm hug, and then said, "I'll just put the finishing touches on dinner, and you go have your proper shower."

By the time Vincent came back downstairs, a beautiful candlelit dinner complete with fresh flowers was on the table and Catherine had changed into her lovely, very low-cut gown.

"You are beautiful, my dear. I love you," he breathed as he wrapped her in his arms. Catherine did not resist him this time. She leaned into him as he kissed her and wrapped his arms around her waist. Vincentís large hands skillfully unbuttoned each of the tiny buttons that ran down the back of the dress. Catherine let the dress fall in swirls around her legs; she wasnít wearing anything underneath. Vincent tenderly picked her up and carried her upstairs. With one hand he scattered the books and stuffed animals the children had left on their bed during story time before he lay Catherine down. He took a long moment to look at her as he stripped off his clothes. They both forgot all about dinner.

 

CHAPTER FOUR

"I think the candles have burned away and the food is cold, Vincent."

"Ummm" was all Vincent could answer as he ran his finger over one nipple and down to her navel. Catherine shivered with delight.

She took his clawed finger in her hand and kissed it gently. "I love these hands. These are my hands. Gentle, beautiful, skillful hands." She gently sucked his index finger and kissed his palm.

Vincent pressed her body to his and kissed her as he rolled to his back and pulled her over on top of him. He grabbed a large purple teddy bear that was nearby and stuffed it under his head for a pillow. They lay that way for several minutes as he gently massaged and lightly scratched Catherineís back.

Catherine raised her head and kissed him softly. "I wish I could put into words how much I love you, Vincent."

"I was just thinking something like that earlier in the dining hall as I watched you and the children. It is overwhelming at times. I have no words to express it." He sighed, deeply frustrated by the attempt.

Catherine lifted her upper body and looked into his eyes. "Again, my dear, I believe you are right. What are you using for a pillow?"

"I donít knowÖit was just close by and soft."

Laughing, Catherine realized it was Calebís teddy bear. "Thatís a Kodak moment if I ever saw one," she said as she moved to get up despite Vincentís protests.

"I have something for you, Vincent," Catherine whispered in his ear as she kissed him on the nose and forehead. Then the sight of his shaggy head and wild hair being cushioned by the large teddy bear made her giggle again.

Vincent smiled as he watched Catherine walk to her closet. He thought that childbearing had made her body more beautiful, if that was possible. He loved how her firm buttocks swayed as she walked. Her thighs slightly parted when she tiptoed to retrieve a small package from one of the upper shelves.

"Do you know you are the most beautiful woman in the world?" He gracefully moved from the bed to his large chair that was beside the fireplace in their bedroom.

Smiling, she softly padded back to him and sat in his lap. She had a small gift-wrapped box in her hand. "I love you, Vincent." She kissed him as she handed him the box. "Go ahead, open it."

Surprise lit his eyes. "Have I missed a holiday, Catherine?"

"No, silly, itís just a little something I thought you might like," she replied, running an index finger along one of his finely arched eyebrows.

As soon as he opened the box and saw the tiny crystal angel, he knew.

"Catherine...you...we...are you sure...Oh, I was so worried...when did you find out...when will this happen?" Tears quickly formed in his eyes. "I am so relieved. I was really worried when you just continued to feel bad. ReallyÖa babyÖa new baby?"

"Are you happy, Vincent?" Catherine basked in what their bond had already told her-his happiness was deep and all encompassing.

"I'm ecstatic, my love," he confirmed. "I can't believe we both missed it. I must be losing my touch. I knew almost before you with the others. It's not like this is our first child, we're supposed to be pros at this. Oh, Catherine, another baby." He placed a clawed, protective hand over her flat abdomen. "I love you so muchÖanother babyÖreally?" He sighed with satisfaction, "I guess for an old man, I have still got it."

"I object," she interjected in her best defense lawyer voice, "you are not an old man, but I must agree you do still Ďgot it,í my dear," she laughed.

"Tell me everything, from the beginning," he urged.

Catherine settled more firmly into his lap and leaned against his chest, resting her head in the hollow of his neck, breathing in his scent as she took a deep breath. "You know I haven't been feeling well. I went to see Peter today and he ran some tests." She rose up and looked at him, "By the way, that is when I was trying to suppress the bond. I didnít want to worry you more, but I hoped to have some kind of answer by the time you got home. Iím sorry."

Not wanting to interrupt her, he nodded, smiled, and gently rubbed her back.

Catherine continued, "Anyway, Peter said I am perfectly healthy and we are about 10 weeks pregnant. We should have a new baby in February. Hopefully it's just one, I'm getting too old for twins again." Catherine leaned into the hollow between his chest and his shoulder and softly kissed his neck.

"We'll take what we get and love our child more than any child was ever loved," Vincent added as he wrapped his arms tightly around her slender body.

Catherine smiled. "You say that with every baby we have, Vincent." She again nuzzled his neck.

"And I mean it, too," Vincent added, already feeling his new "Parent Heart" begin to form.

"I know you do, my love," Catherine added. "You know, I was thinking, what a strange thing love is. Every day I think I love you more than I ever could and then before I know it, I love you even more. Then with each child, even more love. I think your ĎParent Heartí theory is very true."

He smiled and nuzzled her neck in turn. "I was just thinking the same thing. You would think we shared some kind of bond, wouldnít you?" he laughed. Then on a serious note, he added, "I never in a million years believed that I could have this life. I wanted it, even yearned for it, and ached for it after I found you, but never believed it was possible for me. That is, until you believed enough for both of us."

Catherine looked into his deep blue eyes; "I think some part of me knew from the day I woke up in your bed after I was attacked. I just had to convince you to let me back into your bed." They both laughed.

Not bothering to dress, they placed the new tiny crystal on the mantel along with their other angel figurines. "Five kids, Vincent, five. What will we do with five kids?" Catherine giggled.

"We'll love them all more than any children were ever loved." With that Vincent picked her up and they moved back to the bed.

Much later they reheated their dinner and shared it in bed. Vincent presented Catherine with one of the flowers from the bouquet on their dining room table and she put it in her hair, behind one ear.

"Let me get our book out and see what names we have left," Vincent said as he reached into the drawer of the bedside table and dug through its contents. "This drawer certainly has lots of things in it. Did you move our book? Never mind, here it is." With a flourish he brought out a small notebook and began flipping through the pages. "Oh, yes, here is the page." He rolled back to face Catherine as she turned on her side to face him. "We have Vincent Jacob Wells. That would be our Jacob." He glanced up at her for her approval and she nodded in feigned solemnity. "Next we have Catherine Caroline, mark that one already used. Letís see, next is Charles Caleb, also in use."

Catherine nodded her head as he read each one. "You love doing this, donít you?"

"I love every tiny aspect of anything that has to do with my family, so yes, my dear, I love this name choosing thing that we do." He nodded soberly, but his eyes flashed with humor.

"Me, too, Vincent. Me, too." She snuggled closer to him, draping an arm and a leg over his body.

Vincent wrapped his arms around her waist as they lay facing each other. "I love how your body feels next to mine," he moaned more than whispered.

"Mummmm," is all Catherine hummed back.

After a few minutes, he still held her but continued to read over her shoulder. "OK, where were we? Oh, yes, Peter Devin Wells, our little Devin." He looked up, suddenly concerned. "Do you think he will be upset that he isnít the baby anymore? Jacob was so young when the twins were born, he never knew anything different, but Devin has been the youngest for four years now."

"Of course, he will have some issues, but he has such a sweet heart. Heíll do fine with the baby," she replied, soothing him. "What names do we have next on our list, love?"

"We seem to be running out of names here, my darling. We will have to do some research if we have many more babies." He glanced at Catherine, who pretended to ignore him. "Weíre down to three names: Charlotte Marie, after your father and Mary, and we have William Chandler after your father and William. And we have Hamlet Caesar."

"What!" Catherine almost shouted as she snatched the notebook away. "Let me see that. I know I didnít agree to that!" Laughing, she rolled away and turned her back to him.

"But we could call him Ham, my dear. It has a ring to it, donít you think?" he pleaded, trying to sound serious.

"You think youíre funny, donít you?" Giggling, she threw the notebook back at him.

"I made you laugh," he commented wryly.

Catherine couldnít hold it anymore; she threw the pillow at him and they both dissolved in laughter.

Vincent wrapped Catherine in his arms and kissed her face. They lay together for several minutes just enjoying the feel of their bodies together.

Picking up their little notebook, Catherine started reading again. "OK, where were we?" Catherine pointed her finger at him. "This is serious now, donít make me laugh."

Vincent put on his best serious face.

Taking a deep breath, she recounted, "So we presently have Vincent Jacob, Catherine Caroline, Charles Caleb, and Peter Devin."

"Correct, my dear." Vincent agreed, trying to be serious, and stifling a smile.

Catherine then continued on, "Then this little one will be either Charlotte Marie or William Chandler."

"Unless we have twins again," Vincent mischievously added.

Catherine playfully threw another pillow at Vincent and said, "We wonít even talk about that at this point."

"So, my lovely wife, what shall we talk about?" He kissed her forehead and both sides of her face. As he nuzzled her ear, he whispered, "Maybe we should not talk at all."

******

The next morning while Catherine slept in, Vincent made breakfast in bed for both of them. About mid-morning they enjoyed a bubble bath together before they made their way back to the tunnels.

CHAPTER FIVE

Right on schedule, Peter arrived with his portable ultrasound machine. The older children were in school and Devin was staying with Mary. "Well, Vincent, I understand congratulations are in order again." Peter joked as he shook Vincentís hand.

Peter set his machine up and they all eagerly got their first look at the newest Wells family member. As Peter ran the transducer over Catherineís abdomen, he commented on what they saw. "The baby looks to be the correct size for gestational age, you have a nice amount of fluid around the baby also. Those, as you both know by now, are good things. I canít really visualize the brain well, but thatís not uncommon at this stage of development. Overall, everything looks good. Iíll just come back in a couple of weeks and weíll look again. By then you will be almost 15 weeks along. Everything will be bigger and easier to visualize."

Catherine had a sinking feeling. "Are you saying that something may be wrong?"

"No, I am not saying that at all, and I do not want either of you to worry until I tell you itís time to worry. I would just like to get a better view of some of this little oneís organs, thatís all. Oh, and before I forget, I brought you some samples of prenatal vitamins and iron. Your labs showed that you were a little anemic, but you have been anemic in the beginning of all your pregnancies."

Catherine sat up and Vincent protectively wrapped his arm around her and asked, "So as best you can tell, Catherine and our baby are both healthyÖexcept for a little anemia?"

"Thatís what Iím saying. Unless you need me beforehand, Iíll see you in two weeks. Oh, and here is the picture that I made of the baby. Weíll get another picture when I come back."

That night as they lay in bed, Catherine and Vincent talked about the ultrasound. Vincent tried to reassure himself and Catherine that they shouldnít worry. "I think Peter would have told us if he saw something wrong, donít you?"

"Yes, I suppose so. I just hope everything really is OK," Catherine commented as she placed a protective hand over her abdomen.

It was a long two weeks for both of them.

Peter revisited as he promised. "OK, letís get a good look at this little one."

He ran the transducer over the little baby bump Catherine was beginning to grow. "Still lots of fluid, so that is good. The baby is movingÖanother good thing. Do you want to know the sex of the baby?"

"We usually donít find out, but maybe this time we can find out. What do you think, Vincent?"

Even without the bond, Vincent knew she was worried and so was he. "I think I would like to know also. Peter, can you tell us?"

"The baby is in a good position to see. Do you see those three tiny lines that look kind of like the side view of a hamburger? That looks like a little girl. Even though it is a little early, Iím going out on a limb and saying this little one is a girl."

"A girl," Catherine and Vincent said simultaneously.

"So, Catherine, I guess Hamlet Caesar is out?" Vincent joked as he squeezed Catherineís hand.

Catherine smiled, "You still think your funny, donít you?"

"Iím still making you laugh, arenít I?" Vincent answered.

"No, it wonít be Hamlet, itís Charlotte Marie, our little Charleigh."

"Charleigh." Vincent tilted his head as he thought about the sound of the nickname Catherine gave their baby. "I like it."

As they watched the baby roll and turn on the monitor screen Peter froze a picture of the babyís feet. "Again, I donít mean to alarm you, but the shape of the feet looks unusual. They are curved out like the rockers on a rocking chair."

Vincent grasped Catherineís hand. "What exactly does that mean?"

"Let me scan over her body and see if there is anything else that would concern me. Iím trying to see the brain."

A tear fell down Catherineís face. Vincent tenderly wiped it away with his finger.

Peterís findings were concerning, but not conclusive. The brain looked abnormal. The shape of the feet looked abnormal. Some structures in the heart looked abnormal. Catherine would have to go to a center that had more sophisticated equipment. She would also have to have an amniocentesis. Although Peter and Mary would accompany her, the person that she needed most at this time could not be with her. Vincent could not go to the large hospital with her. Peter was kind and tender with them both. He tried to reassure them, but they all knew something was not right. He called to schedule the appointment for further testing.

Later that evening, Vincent held Catherine and they both cried.

"Iím so sorry, Catherine. I know the problem is with my DNA. I should have known that eventually my unusual makeup would bring tragedy."

"Vincent, donít talk like that. We have had four normal children. You cannot take all the blame for this. Iím older now, it could be something with me that caused this." She held his head in her hands and forced him to look at her. The tears flowed freely from both of them. "Are you listening to me? We have to be strong for each other, for our children, and for this little one. I need you more now than ever before and you need me, too. We canít get lost in our grief. We have to support each other."

"I know youíre right, Catherine. I want to be with you for the testing, but because of who I am, I canít. I feel like I have failed you and our child."

"Stop it right now, Vincent!" She held his shoulders and shook him. "You are not helping me now. No, you canít go with me for the further testing, but you can help me now. You can be strong for me now! We have to support each other now!"

"I love you so much and I want to protect you and all our children. I feel so helpless. There is nothing I can do to fix this."

"I know, I feel helpless, too. Just hold me, Vincent."

 

CHAPTER SIX

Fortunately, Peter was able to get Catherine an appointment in two days. Mary and Peter accompanied Catherine to get opinions from a Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist. This ultrasound showed the details of their babyís problems much more clearly. She had what the doctor called "multiple anomalies," including brain, heart, and skeletal problems. His words seemed to float around CatherineÖprobably a syndromeÖamniocentesis to rule out genetic..will send ultrasound reports to a pediatric neurosurgeon and pediatric cardiologist. Mary held Catherineís hand as they both cried.

The Maternal Fetal Medicine doctor continued, "This baby has what we call lethal anomalies. Iím so sorry to tell you that the chances are not good that this baby will live long enough to be born and if she is born alive, she wonít live long. Today you can see the pediatric cardiologist and the pediatric neurosurgeon, to be sure nothing can be done to surgically improve her life. The amino will tell us if she has a chromosome problem, but I am almost 100 percent sure her problems arenít genetic in origin. I am so sorry. If, after all the testing, your baby does in fact have a lethal syndrome, I have to offer you the option of terminating this pregnancy, and if that is something that you want to do, it needs to be done sooner rather than later."

Catherine couldnít believe what she heard and looked to Peter to interpret. "Whatís he sayingÖterminateÖno, Peter, donít let himÖ"

Peter gently took Catherineís other hand. "No, sweetie, he is not saying you have to do that. It is just an option he has to offer you, thatís all."

Catherine shot back, "Well, itís not an option we would consider!" She dissolved in tears.

At their home, Vincent, feeling Catherineís pain, dropped to his knees and cried alone.

When they arrived home, he met them at the door as Catherine ran to him. They both cried. Catherine didnít have to say anything, Vincent knew.

Mary, Father, and Peter all tried to comfort them. Eventually, Mary made tea and sandwiches for everyone and, out of habit and the need to do something, they all sat down at the table and tried to eat and drink.

"What do we do now, Peter?" Vincent asked.

Fresh tears again flowed down Catherineís cheeks. Vincent placed a protective arm around her as she laid her head on his shoulder.

"Letís wait for the conclusive diagnosis. Then weíll make a plan. I donít mean to be brutal, but I want to be honest. It doesnít look good. I am so very sorry."

******

Two days later, Peter came by with the final report results. At Vincent and Catherineís request, Mary and Father stayed below with the children. Their little girl had several anomalies. None were genetic, but each one alone was considered fatal. There was no cure. There was no surgery that would make her whole. She had a complex set of problems that were called a syndrome. Very rare, they had said. Only a handful of patients in the world had this set of anomalies together and they had all died before birth except one. That baby lived for five hours.

Catherine and Vincent again held each other and wept.

Peter continued, "As far as what do we do now, after the visit to the specialists, I did some research on what our options are."

Catherine and Vincent both looked up and listened as Peter outlined his ideas.

"I think I found someone who may be able to help us all through this. She has experience with Perinatal Hospice, which is a program to care for families whose babies will not live long. She is world-renowned and can also be trusted. With your permission, I would like to introduce you to her."

Vincent glared at Peter. "Can she save our babyís life, Peter? Can she make our baby whole and healthy?" Vincent was almost shouting as he paced and clenched his fists. He unconsciously paced between Peter and Catherine, trying to protect her from any more pain. "No, she canít, can she, so why drag Catherine to another specialist? Donít you think Catherineís seen enough people?" By now Vincent was jabbing his finger at Peter and almost roaring. "I want you and the rest of the world to leave us alone!"

Catherine reached up to touch Vincentís arm and when he looked at her she grasped both his hands. "Vincent, we canít do this alone. We need help."

Vincent exhaled heavily and turned away from her. He returned to pacing the room, running one hand through his long mane of hair. When he turned to face Peter and Catherine, new tears rolled down his face. "Yes, youíre both right. Iím just so angry. How could this happen to our child, Peter? I feel as though I have caused thisÖthat something inside me has brought about this tragedy and there is nothing I can do to protect my wife or my child." He dropped his arms loosely to his sides and collapsed beside Catherine on the sofa.

Peter began softly, "I wish I knew why this happened to you. If I knew why, then maybe I could fix it. Maybe I could make it better. As far as this being your fault, Vincent, I think the fact that you have four healthy children rules that out. Besides, the tests also rule out any genetic problems. But with all my medical knowledge, with all my medical contacts, I donít know why and I canít make it better. All I can do is bring you the best medical care available. I can bring people to you who are trustworthy and capable. I can help you through this, but I canít make it better." Now Peter was also crying.

After a long moment Vincent took a deep breath and looked to Catherine. She quietly nodded her consent. "OK, so who is this person, Peter?"

Clearing his throat, Peter started, "Her name is Dr. Nikki Blackfeather. She is a Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist with a subspecialty in Perinatal Hospice. She is partially retired now and only accepts a few cases a year. She can be trusted. I took the liberty of briefly speaking to her about the two of you and about our little Charleigh. She has agreed to help us. One more thingÖshe, too, has lost an infant daughter to a fatal syndrome. She has been where you are. At the time she was a young OB in a busy hospital. The experience with her daughter changed her focus and she started working to help families whose newborns will only live a short while."

"OK, Peter, one more thing. If she truly can be trusted, can she meet with all of us, Vincent included?" Catherine asked. She looked at Vincent. "I canít meet anyone else without you. I know it may be difficult for you, but I need you with me. I wonít have you left on the outskirts any longer. We both need help, not just me."

"If I may interrupt here," Peter started, "that is what I am saying. She is totally trustworthy. I explained a little of our situation and she is perfectly fine keeping any and all of our information totally confidential. She works with families in their homes and then is also in attendance for their deliveries. So she would be perfectly comfortable coming to your home. As I said, I explained a little of our situation and she says she would love to meet both of you and to do whatever she can to help you."

"If it is what Catherine wants," Vincent turned to look at Catherine and she nodded again, "then I trust you will set up an appointment with Dr. Blackfeather and weíll meet her here."

Catherine again nodded. "Yes, yes, that will be fine." She slowly stood and after hugging Vincent turned to Peter and grasped both his hands. "Thank you so much, Peter. If you donít mind, I would like to lie down now." Peter gave her a hug and she turned to go upstairs. She said over her shoulder, "Vincent can show you to the door."

As he escorted Peter to the inner door that led to the short hallway to the entrance of their home, Vincent apologized to Peter and thanked him for his help.

"No need for an apology or for the thanks. Iím part of this family, too, and I also need help. Dr. Blackfeather will help us all."

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

The doorbell rang and Mary answered it.

"Hello, Peter," Mary said.

"Hello, Mary, this is Dr. Nikki Blackfeather. I told you all about her."

"Yes, itís nice to meet you, Dr. Blackfeather, and thank you for helping us."

The woman smiled. She was a petite woman with the olive skin and black hair of her Native American ancestry. "Itís nice to meet you, too. I wish we could have met under different circumstances though."

Something about how this new doctor looked at her or maybe the way she held her hand for a few seconds after her introduction gave Mary a sense of trust that also brought comfort. Maybe it was how genuine she seemed. Maybe it was the hint of sadness in her brown eyes that comes from someone who also knew tragedy. One thing was for sure, this woman was there for them and to help them in their need. Mary knew that as well as she knew her own name.

Vincent wore his gloves and his cape with his hood up. Even with Peterís assurance, he was not sure that Dr. Blackfeather wouldnít be shocked by his appearance. He was nervous about meeting someone new while at the same time, relieved that he could remain by Catherineís side.

After introductions and handshakes, Dr. Blackfeather started. "I have been looking forward to meeting you all. I know itís difficult, especially for you, Vincent, to bring an outsider in." Then she peeked into Vincentís down-turned face and said, "Itís really all right. Iím here to help, not judge. Iím here for youÖall of you." She looked around the room and smiled at each of them.

"How are you doing, Vincent?" She again peeked into his down-turned face. "Would it be all right if I move this back a little? I have trouble speaking to people when I canít see them." She stood on tiptoe as she reached up and gently moved back the hood just enough to see his face. "Did Peter tell you I collect capes? I started out collecting medical capes, but as I began seeing more and more non-medical capes, I started collecting all types of capes. Yours is especially nice. If you like, I can bring some pictures of my capes for you to see on my next visit."

Vincent cautiously glanced up at her; she smiled and so did he.

With that bridge crossed, they all sat down together and discussed their plan for the future. Dr. Blackfeather handed them a stack of journals, some obviously for children. "I have brought a journal for each of you and one for each of the children. One thing I want you to do is journal your feelings. Putting them down on paper helps to bring them out and helps you to deal with them. Donít forget to involve the children. Peter tells me they know that you are pregnant and they know their sister is very sick. Is that still the case?"

"Yes," Catherine answered for them all. "If I may be so bold to ask, Dr. Blackfeather, before we get started, could you tell us a little about yourself? Peter has given us some information and Iím sure he has thoroughly checked out your medical background. Can you tell us something about you, about your life?"

"Yes, of course, Iím sorry, I have a tendency to jump right into things and sometimes forget to get properly acquainted. To begin with, please call me Nikki." She leaned back in her chair. "Letís see, where to start? My mother and father were both killed in a car accident when I was a little girl. My Elisi, the Cherokee word for Grandmother, raised me. She was half Cherokee and half Mexican. Iím sure youíve heard of people whose ancestry included an Indian princess."

They all nodded.

"Well, thatís not my family," she added smiling.

They all laughed.

"My parents did incorporate some Indian traditions into our family before they died. I do have a traditional Cherokee name, Juganawvi Noquisi Kvnige Anijisqua. Literally translated it means ĎWarm Star of the Blackbird Clan.í My Grandmother shortened it to Nikki Blackfeather when I started school."

Nikki continued, "Many members of my motherís line were healers as well as several members of my fatherís line. Most of my family now lives in Arizona. Iím divorced and took my maiden name back after my divorce. I live with a dog-named Autumn; I call him Tum. I also have a cat I call Starwalker, Star for short. I got both of them from the pound and they are wonderful companions. That pretty much covers my household. My foundation is called Isabellaís Promise, named after my daughter. Iím sure Peter told you about my daughter. Would you like to know more about her?"

Both Vincent and Catherine nodded.

"My baby girl was named Isabella after my Grandmother, who was named after her Mexican Grandmother. I always promised her that when I had a little girl I would name her Isabella. Unfortunately, my Isabellaís time with me was all too short, but in the few days she lived, she changed my life forever. When Isabella was born I had a wonderful nurse who taught me everything I know about helping families whose babies die. She was so kind, caring and knowledgeable. She knew what I needed before I knew. Iíve since made her the CEO of my foundation and together we teach other health care professionals how to care for families like yours."

Nikki rummaged through her bag. "I have a couple of pictures of Isabella with me if you would like to see them?"

"Oh, my," Father stammered. "I donít know about anyone else, but I never thought about pictures. What sweet memories those must be. Yes, I for one would love to see your pictures."

"Most people donít think about that, Mr. Wells."

"Oh, please call me Father, everyone does."

"Of course, then Father it is. I have an album at home Iíll bring with me next time, but here are the two that I carry with me." Dr. Blackfeather pulled out a wallet-sized picture of a tiny little girl with black hair and olive skin. The baby was clothed in a pink dress that had tiny tucks and delicate embroidery on it. She had a tiny baby doll under her arm. She lay in a wicker Moses basket with several Native American medicine amulets and spiritual symbols around her. There was another picture of a young Nikki holding her baby to her chest, her cheek pressed against her daughterís silky hair. As each of them gazed at the photos, each had the same thought: such sweet memories these must be. They all decided that they would take lots of pictures of Charleigh.

They spent the next three hours talking. Talking about emotions, talking about a birth plan, talking about making memories that will have to last their lifetime. They discussed how to tell the other children that their baby sister was going to die and discussed how to help them through their grief. Nikki had also brought books for them to read. Not those long psychology books that were so difficult to read-these were short, to-the-point books written by people who had experienced what they were experiencing. There were books targeted at families, mothers, fathers, children, and even books for grandparents. At times, one or two of them cried. Other times all of them cried together. At the end of the three hours, they had a starting plan. They had something to do, no longer would they just sit with their hands in their laps and wonder what to do.

After hugging each of them, Dr. Blackfeather said, "I know this may sound strange, but treasure whatever time you have with Charleigh, as it's all the time you'll have. Catherine, keep a record of her movements. Youíll look back at those pages one day and they will be memories to comfort you. I want each of you to talk to and about Charleigh. One of the most painful things is for people to act as if their baby didnít exist. Donít be afraid to make her a member of your family. Donít be afraid to make happy memories. Enjoy her every day she is with you. Itís OK to laugh just like itís OK to cry. Realize that people grieve differently. Agree to support each other in your grief however you express it. And one more thing. I know from personal experience that even though you have heard from all the experts, there is a part of you that is screaming, Ďbut my baby isnít going to dieí."

Catherine and Vincent both looked down and nodded.

Nikki continued, "And if that happens, you will all hold on to Charleigh and love her just like you love all your other children. I, too, will hold out that tiny spark of hope that she will be born whole and healthy. The love for your child wonít change just because she dies or doesnít die. The love you have for Charleigh, your other children, and for each other is what will sustain you no matter what happens."

After another round of hugs and a plan to meet once a week, Father and Mary escorted Peter and Dr. Blackfeather to the door.

"You know, I really like her. She seems to know her stuff and she gives those really good, tight-squeeze hugs," Catherine said, smiling through a fresh set of tears. "I am exhausted, sad, and relieved at the same time."

"As am I, Catherine, but at least now we have a plan. We have someone to guide us through the darkness. Someone that has been where we are about to go."

The next day, Catherine and Vincent sat down with their children to talk about baby Charleigh. Catherine held Caroline on her lap and Vincent held Caleb. Jacob sat between them on the sofa and tried to hold Devin on his lap.

"No, Jacob, I not wittle! I big brofher now!" Devin cried as he wiggled over to sit between Jacob and Catherine on the sofa. "I big now, huh, Mama?" Devin interjected as he looked up at Catherine.

"Well, Devin, you will all always be my babies, but yes, you are a big brother now and you are growing bigger every day," Catherine added.

Vincent began, "We wanted to speak about your baby sister."

"Baby Charleigh," the twins added energetically.

Vincent smiled, "Yes, our sweet baby Charleigh. Remember that we told you that baby Charleigh was very sick?"

They all solemnly nodded in unison.

"Well, we want you to know that baby Charleigh continues to be very sick and she seems to be very weak. We want you to know that we love baby Charleigh and we want you to love her too. We are going to enjoy Charleigh just as we have been. Remember how we feel her move in Mommyís tummy?"

They all solemnly nodded in unison again.

Vincent continued, "Our friend Nikki has given us some new journals to write about Charleigh." He passed each child a journal and a new pen or pencil. "You can write to Charleigh or about her. You can write what your feelings are, too."

"I can write my name, Daddy!" Devin proudly announced.

"Yes, you can, baby," Catherine added as she gently pushed Devinís wild hair out of his face. "And Iíll help you put down any other words you want to put in your journal."

Caleb added, "I want to say, I love you, Charleigh, even if you are a sister and not a puppy. Daddy says we can get a puppy one day, too, so we will have a little sister and a puppy!"

"And so we will, my Caleb, so we will," Vincent softly whispered to his son.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

Weeks became months and the visits from Nikki helped them prepare for saying hello and goodbye to their baby. She became friend and counselor to the entire family and even helped Father OíBrien speak to the tunnel and helper community.

On subsequent visits other plans were made; Vincent and Father were to build something for Charleigh. And Mary and Catherine decided to make clothing and blankets for Charleigh.

Vincent and Father planned to build a tiny cradle for Charleigh. Father knew several helpers, including Cullen, who had worked in woodcrafts and set about getting someone to help them. Through one of the helpers they found a rare type of wood called pink ivory, from Africa that has hues of pink that range from a pink blush to a golden cherry color. With help and instruction from some of the helpers who came below, Father, Vincent, and even Jacob, Caleb and Devin helped to build a tiny, special cradle for Charleigh.

Mary and Rebecca sewed a soft, light pink cushion and lining for the cradle. Other female members of the tunnel community crocheted identical blankets, sweaters, caps, and booties for her. Catherine oversaw it all, making suggestions here and there.

Mary helped Catherine sew a couple of matching quilts. They took small squares from each of the other childrenís blankets, small pieces from Vincentís cape and pieces from Catherineís shawl to make squares for the quilts for Charleigh. After considering their options, they decided that after Charleigh left them, they would keep all her things in the cradle along with the white teddy bear Nikki had given them. Dr. Blackfeather had described how they could put Charleighís hand and footprints on the bear and on a couple of the blankets they had made. Of course, Charleigh would be dressed in her beautiful hand-made dress, cap, booties, and blanket.

Each of the children, with help from Vincent and Catherine, made something for their sister and wrote a story for her.

 

CHAPTER NINE

Two weeks before her due date, Catherine was resting on the sofa reading a book of sonnets when she felt a warm rush of fluid spread beneath her. Her membranes had ruptured and labor was starting. She protectively clutched her abdomen even though she felt no physical pain at the moment. "No, not now, Iím not ready, not now!"

Vincent ran from Fatherís chamber when he felt Catherineís panic. "What is it, Catherine?" He found her still clutching her abdomen, lying on the sofa. "Catherine, what has happened?"

"My membranes have ruptured, labor has started, Vincent! Iím so scared! Please, if there is a God up there, please give me a miracle," she prayed and then began to panic. "This canít be happening. I wonít let it happen, Vincent." Shouting through her tears, she cried, "This baby is not coming today! I wonít let it! This is not happening to us, VincentÖPlease, oh, please, Vincent tell me this is not happening." She curled into a ball on the sofa and wept.

Vincent leaned down and gently touched Catherineís shuddering shoulders.

Catherine jerked away and shouted, "NO!"

Vincent again tried to take Catherineís shoulders. She again jerked away.

"This is not happening; Iím telling youÖit is NOT happening!" She tried to pull away again.

With tears running down his face, Vincent whispered to her, "Come here, Catherine. Come to me, my love." He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into his lap as he sat on the sofa with her. She did not resist this time.

They both held onto each other and wept. Vincent quietly murmured as he gently rocked back and forth, "Shhhh, Iím here, my love. You donít have to do anything. Iím here and Iíll get both of us through this. Lean on me, my love, and let me carry both of us through this."

They both felt a tiny kick from their beloved baby.

Catherine continued to weep, "I donít want our baby to die. She just canít die, Vincent."

"Donít think about it, my Catherine. Just love herÖ just love her. Thatís all we can do. We will love her more than any child has ever been loved."

Vincent gently picked Catherine up and carried her upstairs to their bedroom and to the bed where all their children were born.

CHAPTER TEN

Father and Mary arrived a few minutes after Vincent. Upon hearing that labor had stared they knew what to do. Through all the months of planning and preparation, everyone knew their role. Peter and Nikki were notified, as was the tunnel community. William delivered food for the family and helpers. Jamie arrived to attend to the other Wells children.

Vincent remained at Catherineís side coaching her through her labor. "Breathe, my love, thatís rightÖin through your nose and out through your mouthÖyouíre doing wonderfullyÖitís almost gone now."

Catherine leaned against Vincent and rested. He wiped her face with a cool cloth. "It wonít be much longer, Vincent, I can fell her moving down."

"Just rest for now, my Catherine, weíll soon see our little Charlotte Marieís face. Think about how good it will be, to finally touch her face, hold her close, and kiss her lips."

Catherine moaned as the next wave of contractions started.

Vincent sat behind Catherine supporting her body in a sitting position as she started to push.

Only three hours after labor started, Charlotte Marie Wells was born. At just barely four pounds, she was Catherineís tiniest baby. She had her fatherís unruly strawberry blonde hair and Catherineís full lips and square jaw. Her eyes were a gray-blue color. She cried when she was born. Catherine and Vincent were afraid they would never hear their babyís voice and were surprised that she was strong enough to cry.

After a quick examination, Nikki wrapped the baby into a tiny bundle and gave her to Catherine. "Iím sorry, there are no surprises. Iím afraid our diagnosis is the same. Iím so sorry."

Catherine held her baby to her chest and put her cheek against the velvety soft cheek of her newborn. Vincent sat beside his wife on the bed and wrapped them both in his arms. They both cried.

After a few minutes, they did what all new parents do. They gently touched their babyís face. They counted her fingers. Her nails were remarkably like Vincentís. They unwrapped her and counted her toes. Catherine laughed through her tears, "She has your big feet and long toes, Vincent."

Smiling, he inspected the little feet once more. "Why, I do believe she does. What was the word the doctors used, rocker-bottom feet? I guess they do look a little like that, but they are definitely my big feet and long toes, rocker-bottom or not."

Catherine placed her baby on her chest, skin to skin, like she had done with all her babies. Then she leaned back against Vincentís shoulder and relaxed. She began to hum the lullaby that she sang to all her children both before they were born and after.

Catherine tried nursing, but little Charleigh was unable to suck. Nikki explained that Catherine should express some colostrum into her babyís tiny mouth. They supplemented her with drops of sugar water and Vincent gently massaged his tiny daughterís throat to help her swallow. Both Vincent and Catherine were comforted by the fact that they could help nourish their baby.

While Catherine rested, Mary bathed and dressed the baby and gave her back to Catherine and Vincent. For the first time Catherine noticed Nikki had been snapping pictures. They all knew the pictures would be treasured later.

After a short rest, the other children were brought to see their new sister. They all scrambled up on the bed as their parents welcomed them to visit. There were OOHHís and AHHHís all around. They each took a turn, with some help, holding her and talking to her. They presented their sister with the gifts they had made for her and they were each given a gift from Charleigh.

"She doesnít look all that different, mama. Maybe she will be OK after all," Jacob wondered out loud.

"Iím sorry, son," Vincent said as he tenderly reached out to his oldest, "Iím afraid she does have all the problems that we have talked about all along."

While the three youngest siblings were still engrossed in looking at and touching their sister, tears began to trail down Jacobís cheeks. Catherine handed the baby to Vincent and wrapped Jacob in her arms. "Iím so sorry you have to go through this. Iím sorry we all have to go through this. But our Charliegh was sent to us for a reason, even if we donít know that reason yet. She is a special gift for us to treasure for a short time and remember forever. We will carry her always in our hearts. We have to lean on each other now. Itís OK to be sad." Jacob nodded, hearing the familiar words that were being related to him. They had spoken extensively about what would happen when their sister was born, but they all had held out a little hope that all would be well. "You are a wonderful big brother, Jacob, and I know Charleigh is so proud to be your little sister." Jacob tenderly touched the babyís hand and she grasped his finger. Jacob smiled through his tears.

Charleigh lived for two days. During those two days tunnel dwellers and helpers alike visited her. The entire community took such tender, loving care of Vincentís family. They were surrounded and supported by the love of the community.

During the final hours, Vincent and Catherine asked to be alone with their baby. They held her close, trying to compress a lifetime of memories into such a short time. They kissed each tiny finger and each tiny toe. They gently undressed her and caressed every part of her body. When Charleigh was no longer able to maintain her body temperature, Catherine held her tiny, soft body skin to skin next to her chest and Vincent covered her with warm soft blankets. He sat next to Catherine in bed and wrapped them both in his arms. In the end, little Charleigh quietly slipped from this world. She just closed her eyes and was gone. Both Catherine and Vincent felt her go and sent with her all of their love. Vincentís voice was barely above a whisper as he continued to hold Catherine and Charleigh in his arms and murmured. "Come now, and let me dreamÖand part my hair Ö" He caressed his infantís hair as he continued, "and kiss my browÖ," he kissed her forehead, "and say, My love why sufferest thou? Come to me in my dreams, and then by day I shall be well again." 1

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

The funeral was held at the reflection pool. The tiny cradle with Charleighís remains, a few photos, clothing and her teddy bear were placed at the front of the makeshift chapel. Don Campbellís The Mozart Effect: Music for Little Ones, played softly in the background.

Father OíBrien took his place at the podium and started the service. He had been born and raised in Ireland and even though he had lived most of his adult life in the United States, he still had a strong Irish brogue.

"On last Tuesday morning at the hour of 3:30 the hearts of the family of Vincent and Catherine Wells were made glad by the arrival of their fifth-born child, Charlotte Marie. She was a petite little girl weighing just barely four pounds. Little Charleigh they called her. After too short a time had lapsed, a hushed silence hovered over them and the announcement that their baby had been called home was made. There is a book on whose pages are inscribed an everlasting reunion: to this Book we commend these parents and extend to them our sympathy. The family of Vincent and Catherine Wells welcomes you to this celebration of her life."

Father then spoke. "Every baby is special, but Charleigh was extra-special. She passed from her parentsí loving arms into the loving arms of God in an all-too-brief instant. Charleigh never knew pain or anguish, she only knew love. She was surrounded by the love of her parents, her siblings, and her large tunnel and helper family. And while her time with us was short, we will treasure our memories of her. With each memory our hearts will be reminded that nothing can ever take away the love we have known. That love remains a part of us forever and through that love our tiny, beloved Charleigh will be a part of us forever."

Rebecca rose and made her way to the front of the room. "Most of us take 70-100 years to learn and complete our Ďassignmentí on earth.... some souls only Ďtouch downí for a few minutes, hours, or days. And in that short time, because their souls are so near perfect, they complete their earthly assignments and are called home. Tiny Charleigh gave us the opportunity to experience the pure love that accompanied her perfect soul. For that we are grateful and will remember her always."

Peter rose to speak. "I am so honored to speak at this celebration of Charleighís life. I know most of you through my role as a helper, but as most of you know, I am a physician. That is how I first met both Cathy and Vincent. I became a helper shortly after Vincent was found and helped Father to care for him when he was so tiny and so sick. I was Cathyís motherís physician when she was pregnant with Cathy and I delivered Cathy. Never in a million years would I have thought these two wonderful people would meet and fall in love. Now, I as well as all of you, know, theirs is a match made in Heaven. These two were made for each other. Iíve come full circle as I have delivered all of Vincent and Cathyís children. These two remarkable people could only have remarkable children and it has been a delight to see each of them grow and change. Then there was little CharleighÖ even though she was only with us for a short time, she changed everyone who came into contact with her, myself included. She was the embodiment of perfect love. She never knew heartache or pain. She knew only love. Her short, precious life was the epitome of unconditional love. She was born, lived and died in dignity and grace. I want to thank Vincent and Cathy for allowing me to be a part of their lives and a part of their childrenís lives. My life has been enriched because of you two and the love you have for each other and for each of your children."

One by one, the tunnel residents who had been a part of little Charleighís short life stood up and told stories of their memories of the tiniest tunnel dweller. There were lots of smiles as well as lots of tears.

Then Jamie rose to speak. "Vincent and Catherine asked me to read this poem for Charleigh. It is from a poem written by Pilot Officer Gillespie Magee of the No. 412th squadron, RCAF. Itís entitled "High Flight".

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds,
And done a hundred things you have not dreamed of -
Wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence.
Hov'ring there I've chased the shouting wind along,
And flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew Ė
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God
.

At last, Vincent rose to speak. "Catherine and I put together a few words we would like to share with you. We chose this poem for Charleigh because we can see her now," and his voice cracked. After a few seconds and with tears streaming down his face he continued, "We can see Charleigh now, with Catherineís radiant smile, giggling as she dances across the skies. She has truly slipped the surly bonds of earth and even now is doing things we have never dreamed of.

"She had my strawberry blonde hair and unfortunately my big feet, long toes, and my fingernails. She would have had her motherís green eyes and stubborn jaw line. We know she melts the heart of God as she touches his face. We can see God gather her onto his lap and hold her close. We can hear him whisper to us, ĎI will hold her close, my children, until the time comes when you can be reunited and you can hold her in your arms againí.íí

Pausing again and gathering himself, he continued on. "We can see another little girl who also sits in the lap of God. She has dark brown hair and olive skin and her name is Isabella. Theyíre quite a pair as together they dance across the sky with their angel wings. While it will seem to be a long time to us, it will only be the blink of an eye for these two tiny angel friends before we will all be reunited, forever."

He looked into the audience and saw their friend, Nikki, smiling through her tears. He nodded to her and she nodded in understanding.

He took a deep breath before proceeding. "And so we will continue on. Not knowing why she was taken, but holding our precious baby close in our hearts, our dreams, and in our wonderful memories until we meet again. We love you, dear, sweet, baby Charleigh, forever and ever." He blew a kiss toward the sky and left the podium. Only he heard Catherine whisper through her tears, "I love you all, my precious baby."

As Beethovenís "Pathetique" Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, movement # 2 softly played in the background the group moved to the edge of the pool. There each one received either a pink or white balloon.

Father OíBrien again led the ceremony. "Please join us as we release our balloons in memory of our sweet, little Charleigh and in honor the unconditional love her family has for her. As the balloons were released they bumped and swirled around the chamber before catching the air currents and floating up to the sky. Everyone was silent as they watched the balloons floating up and up until they were almost out of sight. Even Charleighís siblings were silent as they stood, holding their balloons in their chubby hands, watching everyone elseís balloons float up.

Catherine knelt beside her children and gently asked, "Did you want to let your balloons float up to heaven too, or did you change you minds?"

As only children can do, they looked around and realized they had been so caught up in the sight of all the other balloons floating up, they had forgotten to let go of theirs. Giggling, and in unison, they each released their balloon, waved and shouted, "Bye, bye, Charleigh. We love you all." And they each blew a kiss toward the sky.

 

 

ONE YEAR LATER

"Go get it, Ham!" Caleb shouted as he threw the stick across the yard. The three-year-old retriever raced to get the stick and bring it back. The children each took a turn throwing first a stick then a ball for their "pound puppy" to bring back.

Catherine and Vincent sat on their back porch and admired the work their family had done in Charleighís flower garden. They had cleared out the winter plants to make room for the spring flowers that they would grow. There were four small angels that each of the children had selected to go in the garden. There were also two slightly larger angels that Catherine and Vincent had selected. One had painted strawberry blonde hair and the other had black hair. They were holding hands and seemed to be giggling.

Vincent laid his head in Catherineís lap. As they watched their children at play, Catherine brushed her fingertips through Vincentís hair and said, "You know, you were right, Vincent."

Without opening his eyes or moving his head from Catherineís lap, Vincent muttered, "Of course I was." And then opening one eye said, "Exactly what was I right about this time my dear?"

Catherine giggled, "About Ham having a ring to it. You were right, as long as it is a dog named Hamlet and not a child."

Trying not to laugh out loud Vincent closed his eyes and added, "Very funny, my love."

"I made you laugh didnít I?" Catherine volleyed back at him as she leaned over to kiss his forehead.

"Did you feel that Vincent?"

"Did I feel it, I think I may have a concussion," he laughed as he sat up and rubbed his head in mock pain. "That little girl gets stronger every day. She is going to give the others a run for their money." He leaned over and kissed Catherineís enlarged abdomen.

Overhearing their parents, the children ran over with Ham following closely on their heels. "We want to feel too! We want to feel too!" they all shouted.

As Ham found a spot close by for a nap, they all sat quietly, with four sets of small hands and Vincentís very large furry hand finding places on Catherineís belly. They waited for several minutes.

"Make Bella move, mommy!" Caroline shouted.

Just at that moment, they all felt a flurry of tiny kicks.

"Our baby is strong, isnít she?" Jacob asked.

"Yes, our baby is very strong," Vincent reassured him. "Very strong, just like her mother." Vincent leaned into Catherine and kissed her gently.

Surrounded by their children still with their hands on her tummy, Catherine nuzzled Vincentís ear and whispered, "I love you."

Vincent gently cupped Catherineís face in his hands and kissed her full lips. "I love you, too." As Ham slept nearby, Vincent again found a spot on Catherineís belly among the four sets of small hands and waited for their baby to acknowledge their presence.

 

THREE WEEKS LATER

A message rang across the pipes in the tunnels:

This morning at the hour of 4:30 the hearts of the family of Vincent and Catherine Wells were made glad by the arrival of their sixth-born child, a little girl, Chandler MaraBella Wells. She weighs six pounds, twelve ounces and is nineteen inches long. Mother, Father, and infant are all healthy and well. Charleigh and Isabella have all the angels in heaven up and celebrating. As this message comes to you, Vincent, Catherine, Jacob, Caroline, Caleb and Devin are having a private birthday party for Marabella. Vincent would like to add that after their family celebration, they will be resting today and will announce when they will be prepared for visitors.

 

1. From "Longing" by Matthew Arnold