VOWS OF LOVE
Vincent wandered the park, alone as always, but tonight, he wasn’t as alone as he’d been in the past. Was it possible? Could he really have asked her? And did she really say yes?
Deep in thought, he was unaware of the snowstorm that raged around him. He didn’t see the park covered in a blanket of white, shimmering in the dark all around him. His senses were still aware of all the sounds around him, nothing could totally block those out, but for once, he was totally lost in his own thoughts.
As he passed the carousel, he looked up. Realizing where he was, a small smile crept to his lips. The last time he’d been here, Catherine had shown him the envelope that Devin had left for her. On the front of the envelope was written ‘Yes, I’m a fraud’ and on the back was, ‘ but I’m a Good fraud’. Inside the envelope was a legal brief that would put away a child molester for good. Vincent was very proud of his big brother even if he didn’t always agree with Devin’s methods.
The evening passed as he wandered the park, enjoying the silence that a deep snowfall brings to the world. He’d have to tell Father of his decision. Father was not going to be happy or understanding. Well, that was just going to have to be Father’s problem now wasn’t it? As Catherine would say, he’d just have to deal with it. It was about time that Vincent stood up for himself and took control of his own life. It was HIS life after all. And now it would be ‘their’ lives that he was molding, shaping and enjoying.
First things first though… he needed an engagement ring for Catherine. The stone would be no problem; the crystal cavern would supply all he could possibly need. But who to fashion it into a ring? Mouse might be able to do it, but this had to be special. Stefan, yes he could do a very nice job of it and his jewelry shop wasn’t far from where Vincent was now. Stefan could also be counted on not to say a word until the time was right.
As Vincent headed across the park towards Stefan’s shop, Catherine was deep in thought as well. Tonight had begun so simply, she hadn’t expected to see Vincent at all, and then, there he was. As always, the sight of him almost took her breath away. He simply had no clue as to how good looking he really was. Standing on her balcony, covered in snow, he looked so cute she couldn’t help but laugh. And then the snow fight. Oh, that was fun. She hadn’t done that since she was a child.
How had things gone from that to Vincent proposing marriage to her? It was still almost too much to comprehend. But there was no denying the fact that he had done just that. He’d asked her to be his wife. Somehow, without knowing how she’d done it, she’d convinced Vincent that there was a chance for the two of them to have a future.
As she considered the many changes that would come to her life, she laughed aloud suddenly. Oh my, Father was just going to have a FIT over this. Tears of mirth streaming down her face, she tried to chide herself for being uncharitable but it just wasn’t working. Just once, she’d love to see Father speechless.
Vincent softly knocked on the back door of Stefan’s jewelry shop. It wasn’t unusual for him to be working late on repairs and such. Vincent smiled as the curtain was pulled back from the small window in the door. Seeing who it was, Stefan unlocked and opened the door smiling back at Vincent. "Vincent, what brings you here so late. Is something wrong below?"
"No Stefan, everything is fine. I’m here for personal reasons. May I come in and explain them to you?"
"Of course, come in, sit down. I’ll get you a cup of tea, I’d just put the kettle on to boil, it should be just about ready."
As Stefan made the tea, Vincent contemplated what he was going to say. Perhaps being forthright was the best way. Just explain it all to Stefan and ask him for suggestions for Catherine’s ring.
"Here we go, now be careful, it’s hot." Sipping on the steaming tea, Stefan watched Vincent. Oh boy, he thought, whatever this is, must be big. Vincent’s trying to figure out just how to tell me.
"Stefan," Vincent began slowly, "You know of my friend Catherine."
"Yes, of course. We all know about Catherine and how special she is to you."
"I’ve come to a decision tonight. I’ve asked Catherine to be my wife. I’d like you to help me with an engagement ring for her."
Stefan was too stunned to speak for a moment. Wow! When Vincent dropped big news, it was really big news. "That’s wonderful Vincent, I’m thrilled for you both. I’m sure you’ll both be very happy. I take it you’ve come here before going back below, so nobody else knows the news?"
"Yes, that’s correct. I suppose you could say I’m stalling. Father will not be as understanding as you are."
"What’s to understand Vincent? We’ve, and I mean all of use helpers and the rest of the residents of the tunnels. We’ve all been waiting for this day. If you ask some of the more romantically inclined of us, it’s taken far too long as it is. I’m glad you’ve found someone to be with, someone to make you happy. So … let’s talk about the ring you want for you lady love."
All too happy to move on, Vincent smiled. Yes, his family and friends would be very happy for him, with one exception. "The stone of course comes from the crystal cavern, I found it some time ago and I’ve carried it with me since. A part of me was always hoping I guess. What concerns me is the setting. I want something very small, but very beautiful. Something that fits Catherine’s hand as though made for it."
Taking a sketch pad from the table behind him, Stefan started sketching ideas. After several tries, he arrived at a setting that Vincent liked. A small marquis cut stone would be set sideways in a plain gold band. Not only would it be elegant, it would be small enough to not look out of place on her tiny hands.
"Thank you so much, Catherine will be very surprised. How long do you think it will take to craft the ring?"
"I’m happy to do it for you both Vincent. Catherine is family, just like all of us are. It won’t take very long at all; I’ve got a setting that can be modified with very little work. I can probably have the ring for you by tomorrow. And don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone until you’ve made the announcement."
As Vincent made his way back to the tunnel entrance, he considered just how to tell Father. On the one hand, if he told father straight out, the explosion would be over and done with quickly. But then again, maybe if he suggested it slowly, Father would become used to the idea. No, that would never happen, Father would never accept the idea slowly. There was only one way to do this. Get it over quickly and let the chips fall where they may.
All too soon, the walk to his chamber was almost complete. Father’s chamber was just down the tunnel. Shrugging off his cloak and hanging it to dry, he changed into dry jeans and put on a pair of slippers. He set his boots near the fireplace to dry and hung the jeans next to his cloak.
Walking the short distance to Father’s chamber, he wasn’t surprised to see light coming from the entrance even at this late hour. Father was what would be termed a "nightowl" at times. "Good evening Father"
"Ah, Vincent, back from your walk. Is it still snowing above?"
"Yes, the park is lovely tonight. I’d like to talk to you if I may. Something has come up that you need to be aware of."
"Of course Vincent, is there a problem?"
"No, there isn’t a problem Father, although you may not see it that way."
"Aha, I take it then, this has something to do with Catherine. Is she well?"
"She’s fine Father. She’s also agreed to my proposal."
"What proposal would that…" Father stopped, his face showing the shock of what his brain just acknowledged. "You didn’t Vincent! You couldn’t have? Tell me you didn’t propose marriage to Catherine!"
"Yes, Father, that’s exactly what I did. And Catherine accepted. We’re going to be married as soon as possible."
Half coherent words tried to form themselves but seemed to get stuck in Father’s throat. All that came out were guttural sounds. After a few moments, he seemed to get himself under control and a mask of anger clouded his face. Vincent remained calm, with a serenity that threatened to unhinge Father. Steel determination in his eyes, Vincent just sat watching Father.
One emotion after the other flickered across Father’s face until at last resignation showed. "I don’t suppose there is any way I can talk you out of this is there?"
"No Father, there isn’t. Catherine and I know exactly what we are doing and what we want from life. We are going to see that we get it. She will be moving down here as soon as possible until we can find a suitable house with access both above and below. She will also be leaving the investigative part of the District Attorney’s office. She will be working in less danger prone areas, but she will still be working. Our time will eventually be divided between our home above and our home below."
"May I as what prompted you to ‘pop the question’ Vincent?"
"I wasn’t planning to Father. I’d gone to visit her tonight, to share the beauty of the snowstorm. When I arrived on her balcony she laughed and said it looked like I’d been doused with baby powder. I decided to give her the same look. A snow battle ensued. We both had a lovely time; it’s something neither of us has done since childhood. When she invited me in for a cup of hot cocoa, I would have refused, but she pointed out that you’d probably have her head on a silver platter if I caught pneumonia from this visit. I entered her apartment so I could dry my cloak at her fireplace. After the cocoa, we sat on her sofa, not really talking, just ‘being’ with one another and before I knew it, I was proposing to her."
Father sat with his hands folded, obviously deep in thought. He’d seen this coming for quite awhile. There was no one here in the tunnels who could doubt Vincent’s love for Catherine or hers for him. It had been seen and shown in a myriad of ways. The main obstacle had always been what would Catherine do here to keep herself busy? She had a life above that Vincent was unwilling for her to give up. But with this plan of a house with tunnel access, there was every chance they could make this work. That is, IF a certain parental figure could keep his mouth shut long enough for them to be happy. Father silently chided himself. Had he been so demanding and unreasonable with Vincent? Had he really been ‘that’ overprotective?
Yes, to be honest with himself he had. It had been done with the best of intentions, first to keep Vincent safe from those that would do him harm, and secondly to keep the tunnel community safe. But at what price? Was Vincent to give up his happiness in return for the safety of the community? That was not only unfair, it would eventually lead to resentment. Yes, Vincent was right, it was time for him to take a wife and begin a family of his own. Catherine may not be who Father would have chosen for him, but he couldn’t deny that they were deeply in love and shared a connection unlike anything he’d ever seen. They truly were ‘soul-mates’.
"I can see you’ve thought this out very carefully Vincent. And I know how difficult telling me must have been for you. I apologize for that. I never meant to keep you in a cocoon. I just wanted you to be safe. I can see that Catherine makes you very happy. I can also see that you’ve thought out how to be with her and still be safe. May I be the first to congratulate you on your upcoming marriage? You will of course have the wedding here in the tunnels won’t you?"
Although Vincent had watched the emotions flicker across Father’s face and to a certain extent could ‘feel’ what Father was feeling, he was still surprised to hear the man congratulate him. This had been easier than he’d thought it would be. Staring at Father, he mumbled his thanks and started to rise.
"Surprised you didn’t I Vincent?" Father asked
"Frankly, yes. Why aren’t you yelling at me Father?"
"Would it do any good? Would it change your mind if I yelled at you? Would you go to Catherine and tell her you’d made a mistake?
"No, of course not! I haven’t made a mistake."
"That’s right Vincent, you haven’t made a mistake. I am the one who has made them, many of them. I was overprotective and altogether too cautious with you. You are more then capable of taking care of yourself and have been for many years. It just took me a little longer than most to wake up to that fact. I honestly am happy for you both. Will you bring Catherine down soon so I may properly welcome her to the family?"
Rising from the chair, Vincent stood, and shook his head. Turning to leave, he was almost to the chamber entrance when Father called, "When will you make the announcement Vincent? I’m sure that given half a chance, the rest of the community would love to help with the wedding preparations."
"Soon Father, Catherine and I wish to do it together. Perhaps we could call a general meeting of the community or maybe just put the message out over the pipes. Someone will have to let all the helpers know as well. I expect we’ll need the Great Hall for the ceremony.
Walking back to his chamber, he was still in a state of shock. Anything was possible now, he thought with a grin, I told Father I’m getting married and he didn’t explode.
Taking paper and ink from his desk, he composed a short note to Catherine
I told Father. He wishes to send you his congratulations and requests your presence as soon as possible to welcome you to the family. I was as shocked as I imagine you are now. I’ll meet you at the threshold tomorrow night at 7 PM. Father will call a general meeting of the community so we can deliver our happy news.
I love you
Sealing the message, he left it on his desk to be delivered as soon as one of the children was awake. Changing into night clothes, he slid into bed, sighing with a contentment he hadn’t known before. Soon, he would no longer have to sleep alone. Soon, he’d be able to talk to Catherine anytime he wished. Soon, he wouldn’t be lonely anymore. He relaxed into sleep, a smile on his face. The smile was still there when Father stopped by the chamber door to check on him as he’d done thousands of time since Vincent had come into their lives.
Catherine couldn’t seem to sit still. She had taken the afternoon off work to try and prepare for her meeting with Father and the rest of the tunnel community. No matter how hard she tried though, she just couldn’t seem to stop fidgeting. It was only 2 PM, how on earth was she going to fill the time between now and 7 PM when Vincent would meet her at the threshold. She got up and paced across the length of the living room again. This was nuts…she just had to get herself under control. After all, her friends in the tunnels would be thrilled for her and Vincent. Sure, Father probably wasn’t the happiest camper right now, but according to Vincent’s note, he was somewhat accepting of the idea. And in any case, it was their lives, not Fathers…right?
The ringing of the telephone just about made her jump out of her skin. Must be a tele-marketer, she thought to herself as she walked to the desk where the telephone sat. Nobody else she knew would be calling her at home in the middle of the day.
"All right, what on EARTH is going on with you?"
"Jenny!" Laughing, Catherine realized it could have only been her. "What do you mean?"
"Don’t give me that bull Chandler. I know you are about to climb the walls, what I can’t figure out is what is wrong. Is Vincent ok?"
A sigh of relief escaped from Catherine’s lips. Trust Jenny to know when she needed a shoulder to lean on. "Yes Jen, Vincent is fine. Better than fine as a matter of fact."
"So what’s the problem then. I can feel your anxiety clear through the phone lines. Give! Tell me what’s going on."
"Vincent proposed to me last night and…"
A squeal of delight caused her to hold the phone away from her ear for a few seconds, "All Right Vincent! About damn time! So, what’s the matter? You didn’t do something dumb and turn him down did you?"
"No of course not. I said yes as fast as I could. The problem is Father. I’m meeting with him and the rest of the community tonight with Vincent. We’re going to make the announcement then. I’m just a little nervous."
"That’s like saying Hurricane Andrew was just a little wind, Cath. What’s to fear? What’s the worst thing they can do to you…tell you that you can’t see Vincent anymore? Yeah, right. Like Vincent would let that happen. Relax Cathy, I’m positive that everything is going to be just fine."
"I wish I could believe you Jen. I’m so scared though. Father has always been so against our relationship. I can’t see him just changing his mind overnight."
"You never know Cathy, stranger things have happened. I bet you that when you get down there tonight, things aren’t nearly as bad as you're making them out to be right now. Tell you what, since I’m sure you haven’t eaten a thing so far today, what do you say we have lunch. Getting out of your apartment will help you to stop watching the hands on the clock."
Laughing Catherine couldn’t help but agree. They agreed to meet at a Chinese restaurant just up the street from the publishing house that Jenny worked for. In the cab on the way to the restaurant, Catherine reflected back on just how good a friend Jenny had been. She had met Vincent a little over a year ago at a dinner in the apartment. Jenny had been amazed by his appearance, but not shocked or afraid. Vincent had decided that Catherine had needed someone to talk to, to share things with, someone that was outside the community. That someone had been Jenny.
Since that time, she and Jenny had shared many things about the tunnels. Feelings, thoughts, dreams, fears, all the things that Catherine had kept bottled up for so long. Catherine couldn’t think of anyone else she’d rather have as her maid of honor at the wedding. Although there were some really close friendships she’d made in the tunnels, Jenny was family and she was positive that the other women in the tunnels would understand.
By the time they were finished lunch, Catherine had asked Jenny to be the maid of honor, been told yes, and was quite a bit calmer than she’d been when she arrived. Jenny just couldn’t resist, "See, I told you that you’d feel better after a good meal."
"Yes mom," Catherine laughed, "I’m surprised it didn’t include some of your famous home made chicken soup."
Giggling Jenny replied, "What makes you think it didn’t? You did know that won ton soup is chicken based…I worked a little magic."
As they rose to leave, Catherine gave Jenny a hug. "Thank you so much for being my best friend. I’ll let you know how things go tonight and I’ll be sure that you get the first invitation we send out."
"You better," she smiled, "Now get back to your place and get ready for this meeting. I’m sure you want to arrive in something a bit warmer than those slacks. I suggest a pair of jeans and a nice sweater, say that blue one of yours."
Waving goodbye, Catherine just smiled. She’d done it again; Jenny really should market that gift of hers somehow. That was exactly the outfit she’d planned to wear tonight.
By the time she arrived home it was already after 5. A nice hot bath, then getting dressed would take care of the remaining time. As the tub filled, Catherine laid out the clothes she would wear. The black jeans and the sky blue sweater looked so good together. She’d look dressy but relaxed. Just the image she wanted to project. Her eyes fell on the jewelry box sitting on her vanity. Of course she would wear the crystal Vincent had given her, but what earrings? Or should she go without and just wear the necklace alone. Somehow that seemed just right.
At 6:45 she left to meet Vincent at the threshold. He was never late and she’d be early just this once to surprise him. As she jumped down from the final rung of the ladder and turned, there he was. As always, she drew in her breath at the sheer beauty of him. Bathed in the halo of the lights that were put in the tunnels, his hair seemed to glow golden. He reached out his arms, and she was there, enfolded in the warm embrace of love. She sniffed, smelling the scent that was uniquely his. Patchouli and leather and something else that was undefineable, it was just ‘him’.
"So tell me Vincent, how is Father dealing with all this?" Catherine was still way to keyed up to believe that Father was going to just blindly accept the idea of marriage for ‘his’ son.
"Catherine, he really seems to understand. I think that dressing down you gave him a few weeks ago really helped change his mind on a few things."
She couldn’t help but laugh, Father had been being so stuffy about them seeing one another. When she’d come down for a weekend visit, he all but acted as if she were poison. That is, until she’d finally had enough of it and told him off. Thinking back, she could still see the scene in her mind’s eye
Father, I know you think you know what is best for Vincent, she’d begun as he was pouring the tea. But really, you are stifling him."
It had been a very good thing her reflexes were as quick as they were because otherwise Father would have let the teapot drop to the floor.
"Just what exactly do you mean? I’m stifling him? How on earth….who do you think you are…why all the ungrateful…"
You just hold it right there Father. I am not ungrateful, I am not presumptuous. I am the woman who loves Vincent with all her heart and soul. I’d die for him. I’ve proven my love to HIS satisfaction, and quite frankly….I don’t give a rats ass whether you like it or not. I’m going to spend as much time as possible with him, either here or above and if you don’t like it, you can just stay out of our way. This is OUR lives we’re living….NOT yours! You’ve influenced Vincent with your own fears and narrow minded views for way to long. Don’t you think it’s about time you let him grow up and be the wonderful, thoughtful, kind, loving, intelligent man he is?"
Sitting back in her chair, she watched Father’s face. Had she gone too far? Had she said too much? Father’s face was a study in emotions. Anger, shock, indignation, fear, resignation and then finally, calm.
"You’ve given me a lot to think about Catherine. Thank you for that. Whether or not I agree with you, you do have some valid points. I will give them due consideration. You may be right, but that’s one of the drawbacks to parenthood. Sometimes it’s very hard to let go and watch your offspring make their own way in the world. I promise, I’ll think on all you’ve said."
Catherine was too stunned to do more then stutter a few parting words as she made her way back to Vincent’s chamber. Upon seeing her face, pulled over a chair and guided her to it. "So, did it go as well as you’d hoped?"
"I was just remembering that little ‘talk’ Father and I had. I hope I wasn’t too hard on him Vincent, but someone had to say something. And I guess you are saying now that it did some good?"
"Yes, I think it did Catherine. When I told him of our plans last night, he was quiet for a time, thinking. I could see the emotions warring on his face, but when he finally spoke it wasn’t to berate me, or to tell me no, rather he was congratulating me. I must tell you, I was rather shocked. I didn’t quite know what to say at first."
"We’d better get there Vincent. Father’s got enough to worry about without us being late as well. So, shall we my love? Let’s go face the bear in his den."
As they entered the Council Chamber, they were amazed at just how many people could be crammed into that one place. It seemed as if the entire population of the tunnels were there tonight. And on each and ever face there was a smile. Someone must have said something and Catherine knew who that someone must have been. "Father, did you…"
"I haven’t said a word Catherine, I promise. All I did was to let our friends know that you and Vincent had something you wanted to discuss tonight. Anything they might have guessed…well I can’t be responsible for that now can I?" The grin that was trying to escape the corners of his lips was at war with the stern expression he was ‘trying’ to keep.
From one of the corners, half hidden by a bookcase Mouse quipped, "So tell! You have good news, we share."
Vincent chuckled, "Yes Mouse, we have good news. We wanted to share it with you all. But first, I have something I’d like to give to Catherine. Stefan, are you here?"
"Right here Vincent, and it’s just what you asked for."
Catherine was confused. What was he up to now? But before she could say anything, Vincent took a small box from Stefan, and turned to face her. "Catherine, my love, it’s taken me quite some time to realize that you are the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I can’t imagine living my life without you. Would you do me the honor of accepting this token of my love and consenting to become my wife?" He held in his hand a ring, a solid gold band, with a small diamond set sideways, it’s every facet catching the candle light and sparkling with a life of it’s own.
Tears streaming down her face, Catherine couldn’t answer with words, so she simply nodded. As he placed the ring on her finger, a cheer rose up from the crowd. Words of congratulations and ‘all right’ and ‘it’s about time’ could be heard. Catherine and Vincent however, heard none of them; they were lost in each other’s eyes.
Nobody noticed when Pascal left to go to the pipes. But soon all could hear the good news going out to any who might not have been able to attend this meeting. The smiles that were on the faces of all present, lit the room with a glow all it’s own. Even Father was grinning and had suspiciously wet eyes.
Once again, Mouse was the one to break the spell, "So? When?"
The question was picked up by one and all present. Yes, when is the big day? When are you getting married? When began to be chanted….when…when…when? Catherine and Vincent finally broke out of their spell and turned to face the group. "As soon as we can make all the arrangements. It’s January 27th now. I’d like to be married on April 12th if that’s alright with you Catherine."
"That’s perfect Vincent. Of all days, that ‘should’ be our wedding day."
"Heavens!" Mary exclaimed, "That’s not even two months away. Come my dear, we have much work to do." Mary grabbed Catherine by the arm and was propelling her towards the chamber entrance. Grabbing Jamie on the way out, she called back over her shoulder. "Ladies, I’ll need help with the gown, we’ll meet in my chamber as soon as possible." With that, she and Catherine disappeared from view.
Vincent was crestfallen; Mary had spirited her off so quickly he’d not even had time to kiss her goodbye. "Better get used to it my son," Father laughed, "Weddings take a lot of preparation and you didn’t think you two could just run off and…"
"Oh my dear son, you can’t imagine that we’d let you and Catherine run away and get married. This is something that half the tunnels have been waiting for since you were a child. The female half of the tunnels alone would disown you if you ran off. Get used to it my boy, life just changed in a big way for you both. Now then, on to more practical matters, have you decided where you and Catherine will live once you are married?
"Well, no, we hadn’t quite thought that far ahead actually. I assumed we’d be staying in my chambers."
Cullen joined Father and Vincent. "That won’t work for a number of reason’s Vincent, but if you’ll allow me, I think we (and he indicated a group of several of the men from the construction crews) might just have an idea for you.
"Yes Cullen? I’m interested in hearing any ideas."
"Ok, this is all based on the idea of Catherine keeping her apartment ‘uptop’ as a sort of base of operations. She wouldn’t actually live there, but for the world above, she’d have an address and a phone number where she could be reached. We could slightly enlarge the opening in the basement of her apartment, carefully camouflaging it of course. We’d make sure that the ladder was secure or perhaps build a set of steps leading down to the tunnels. We could install a lock, which only you and Catherine would have keys too. We’d then work on rebuilding your chamber to make it a little more habitable for two people. Maybe your own bathing chamber and definitely more storage space."
"That’s a very good idea Cullen," Father was warming to this idea quite nicely. Her apartment could then be used by helpers or for tunnel members going above. Yes, I think that this is exactly what we’ve been needing for quite some time."
"Don’t you think we’d better ask Catherine what she’d like done with her apartment?" Vincent could almost see the explosion if Catherine found out after the fact all the changes that were being planned. He could see from the look on Father’s face that he’d just had the same thought.
"Oh yes, quite. Wouldn’t do not to include her in this now would it."
"Nope," Laughed Cullen, "Otherwise, you’d get chewed out again."
Father glared at Cullen, "And just how did you hear about that? We were in my chamber privately talking."
"Tell that to Mouse, he doesn’t seem to understand the concept of a private conversation you know." Still laughing, Cullen and his group moved off to begin making the plans for the necessary changes.
Shaking his head, Father muttered " no respect" as he wandered off to find William to begin planning the food for the wedding.
Finding himself quite alone and not entirely sure of what to do next, Vincent stood and took in the room. All his friends were in small groups talking. Each group obviously was planning some different aspect of his wedding. He halfway considered telling them all to butt out and let he and Catherine do it themselves, then realized he had no clue about planning a big wedding. Maybe it was just as well that all his family was jumping in to help out. There was one thing he could work on, something that would surprise and please Catherine he was sure. He could write the vows and present them to her for her approval.
That was where she found him several hours later. At his desk pouring over a stack of books that threatened to teeter off the edge. Carefully, so as not to disturb him, she straightened the books up. Glancing up, he smiled. "I think I might have found something you’ll like Catherine. I’ve been working on our vows to each other. I hope you don’t mind. I’d very much like to read this poem to you during the ceremony. Would you mind very much?"
"I think that’s a lovely idea Vincent. I hadn’t begun to think about the vows yet. You are so much better at writing than I am, why don’t I let you handle the vows? You can consult me anytime you feel the need."
"That would be fine, it will at least give me something to do," he chuckled, "I noticed that our wedding has been taken over by the rest of the community."
"Yes, I suppose it has. But to be frank, Vincent, I’m not upset at all. I can most definitely use the help."
Pulling her onto his lap, he sniffed at the perfume of her hair. "I don’t mind at all Catherine. It’s wonderful that our ‘family’ wants to help out as much as they do. We can just sit back and direct things."
Catherine took several of the books and moved to lay on Vincent’s bed. She had planned to look through them to come up with a poem to read to him during the ceremony. The long day took its toll however, and when he looked over at her about 15 minutes later, she was sound asleep. Smiling he placed an afghan over her and went back to work. He’d sleep in the large chair tonight, watching over her.
The days and weeks passed so quickly that before any of them knew it, spring was beginning to show its head. Flowers were breaking out in bloom all over Central Park. Trees were beginning once again to show their canopy of green. And Vincent had one last assignment to accomplish before the wedding itself. When Catherine had asked him about a best man, he’d been stumped for about 30 seconds. Then it came to him in a flash just who he was meant to ask. The asking however, was going to take some arranging. After all, he’d never met this particular man in person yet. It was a very good thing that Devin had showed up three days ago. Without his help, this particular surprise would never happen.
Vincent fidgeted at the chamber entrance. "Aren’t you ready yet?"
"Hold your horses, I want to make a good impression. After all, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen him. I want to make sure everything is perfect. Has he accepted my invitation to meet?"
"Yes, his note said he’d be at the appointed place at 9 PM, which I may remind you is only 20 minutes away. Will you hurry up?"
"All right already…I’m ready to go. You’re as nervous as a cat, if you’ll pardon the expression. What are you worried about? I told you, he’s a great guy"
"I hope he’s got a good imagination as well as being very understanding. I’m not your ‘ordinary’ surprise visitor." Vincent was understandably concerned about how this meeting went. Devin was completely at ease, but then, he didn’t have as much to worry about as Vincent did.
"Alright little brother, lets get this show on the road. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be and if we wait here much longer something tells me you’ll chicken out." Devin steered Vincent through the doorway and up towards the exit to the part that would lead them eventually to the carousel.
It was fully dark when they arrived, just as they’d planned. Waiting in the shadows was a lone figure, twisting this way and that, looking for someone to appear. Devin took the lead and Vincent would wait until Devin called him.
"Hi Joe, it’s good to see you again." Devin called from the dark, slowly stepping into the light from the single street lamp.
Joe jumped about 6 inches at the sound of Devin’s voice, but calmed himself immediately when he saw that Devin was alone." Jeff, what on earth are we meeting out here for? And where the hell have you been? You disappear out of the office without a word to anyone. You’ve been gone for months, why did you suddenly re-appear."
"That’s our Maxwell, always wanting all the answers right now," chuckled Devin, "You wouldn’t believe me if I told you Joe. Let’s just say we have a mutual friend who would very much like to ask a favor of you, but she doesn’t know it yet." Devin carefully avoided the subject of the time he’d worked in the DAs office. He’d been very surprised to find out that Catherine was a friend of Vincent’s. When she found out he wasn’t a real attorney, she was furious. She’d threatened to turn him in. He couldn’t blame her, the case he’d been assigned was just too important to lose. That’s why he’d left. He couldn’t take the chance that he would be responsible for letting a child abuser walk free. He’d written up the brief, and left it for her to go over. He’d have been amazed to learn that she’d hardly had to make any adjustments to it at all, but he hadn’t stayed around long enough to find out.
"Huh?" It wasn’t a very original comment; but then again, Joe was about as confused as he’d ever been. Nothing about Jeff Radler was what it seemed to be all of a sudden.
"Let's sit down Joe, this is going to take a bit of explaining." Devin patted the seat of the park bench next to where he’d sat down. "Joe, you know that Catherine is engaged to be married, right?"
"Yes, she’s been flashing the ring around for weeks now, but none of us have any clue as to WHO she’s marrying. That wouldn’t be you now would it?"
Devin doubled over with laughter. Oh that was rich…Vincent must be about to have a cow over that one, he’d better wrap this up as fast as he could. "No, but my younger brother is the lucky fellow. That’s why we asked you here, we want you to meet Vincent. Cathy doesn’t know about this yet. Vincent is hoping to make your presence at the wedding a surprise for her. It’ll all depend on how you react to the next few minutes. You see, Vincent, well…" Devin faltered, unsure of exactly how to explain Vincent.
"I’m not what you’d call an ‘ordinary’ man Joe," The voice seemed to float out from the bushes nearby. "We wanted to break this to you as gently as possible. I see now that’s not going to work. You have Catherine’s best interests at heart as I do and you’d never settle for half an answer. I’d like you to remember something before I come towards you though, Catherine loves me and I love her and nothing, not even a negative reaction on your part will change that. Do you understand me Joe?"
"Um, yes, that is…I think so. Oh hell, Vincent, if that’s who you are, get out here and lets meet face to face like two men should!"
"Remember Joe," Devin quipped, "You asked for this."
Vincent stepped from the shadows and Devin moved to put his arm lightly on Vincent’s shoulder. "Joe, I’m pleased to meet you. My name is Vincent Wells and on April 12th Catherine is going to make me the happiest man on the planet when she marries me."
Joe stood up, taking in all 6 foot plus of Vincent’s frame. His jaw sagged and his eyes sort of glazed over. Quickly rubbing them as if to try to rub out what he was seeing, he looked again. Sure enough, a tall talking…beast…for lack of a better term stood there quietly watching him. Jeff’s arm was resting lightly on the beast and there seemed to be some sort of connection between the two of them. What was it Jeff had said, his ‘brother’ was going to marry Catherine. No, that couldn’t be, that would mean…this… this…person…being…was who Catherine was going to marry? Suddenly his legs went limp and were it not for the bench he was standing right in front of he’d have hit the ground.
"Devin, go to him, he doesn’t look well. I’ll be in my chamber. If he can accept this, bring him below. If he can’t, make sure he doesn’t see where you return to. I should have known better. I was so hoping to make this a wonderful surprise for Catherine. I know how much she values Joe as a friend and how much she’d love to have him at the wedding."
Some of the conversation was beginning to sink into Joe’s brain because as Vincent turned to leave he jumped up. "No wait! Vincent, I’m sorry. You took me by surprise is all. I’m sure that if Catherine loves you enough to spend the rest of her life with you, there must be something very special about you besides what you look like. Please, can we talk for awhile?"
"I have to apologize as well Joe. That could have been handled better on our parts. ‘Someone’ was going to brief you a bit more then he did." Turning to look at Devin, Vincent smiled ruefully. " I guess there really is no best way to prepare someone for my appearance is there?"
"Not really little brother. You are unique, you’ll have to give me that."
"Why? How? What ARE you Vincent?" Joe was having trouble framing his thoughts into words.
"I don’t know Joe. I just am. I live. I love. And I strive to be happy. Isn’t that what everyone else does?"
"Yes," Joe said slowly, "I guess it is. You are the one who saved Catherine all those times she wound up in danger aren’t you?" Pieces were beginning to fall into place now for Joe. His logical mind was taking over and making sense of what his eyes were seeing.
"Yes, and that’s one thing I wish to discuss with you. After we are married, is there any way you can ‘cut back’ on Catherine’s danger level at work? Give her lighter cases, move her to a different department, something to keep her off the streets."
"Oh that’s the easy part, she doesn’t know it yet Vincent, but she’s getting a promotion. She’ll be spending all her time in court and not in investigating the cases. Consider it a wedding present if you want." Joe was beginning to relax; Vincent was very much just a man, regardless of how he might look on the outside. Joe didn’t think too much about that, he didn’t have time, Vincent had shifted the conversation again.
"I realize you’ve just met me Joe, but I have a rather large favor to ask. Several in fact, but we’ll start with the easiest one. As you know, our wedding is scheduled for April 12th. Catherine has practically no one from ‘her side’ going to be at the wedding. I was hoping we could convince you to come. Further, I was hoping I could convince you to stand up with me and do a combination of duties. Both my best man and give Catherine ‘away’ during the ceremony."
Joe was astounded. In less than 30 minutes he’d met this person/creature/whatever straight out of some fairy tale and been asked to act as best man and father of the bride all at the same time. He shook his head trying to make sense of all of it. "Let me get this straight. You want me to come to your wedding, be your best man, give Cathy to you and stay for the reception. All this after having just met you?"
"Yup," Devin piped up, "That about covers it. You got it in one Maxwell."
Considering it for a few minutes, Joe answered the only way he felt he could. After all, Cathy was involved here and he’d do just about anything for here. "Yes I’d be happy to stand up with you Vincent. You said this is to be a surprise for Catherine right? Well then, where is this shindig being held anyway? I can’t exactly ask her for the address."
"Well actually, that was part of the other favor I have to ask of you. I’d like to show you were I live, but to do so I must ask you to make a promise. There are many good people there who would be hurt immeasurably if their secret were to get out. I can understand if you feel you cannot make a promise like this to someone you’ve just met. However if you can make it, I would be delighted to introduce you to the rest of my family."
Seeing Joe’s eyes widen slightly at Vincent’s last comment, Devin spoke up. "Not to worry Joe, Vincent is unique. I can assure you that the rest of us look quite ‘normal’. However he is correct about his concerns for the rest of us. If you do come with us, you will become what is known as a ‘helper’. Helpers are ordinary folk like Catherine who help us out as we need it. You’ll understand more once you see where we live."
"Lead on McDuff. I always loved a good mystery and this is shaping up to be one of the best. If Catherine trusts you, then so do I. I trust her judgement."
Grinning, Devin poked Vincent in the arm. "That’s 10 million you owe me little brother. I told you he’d say that."
"I should know better by now," Vincent laughed, "Never bet on something you set up."
"Right then, which way to this wonderful place anyway?"
"Follow me Joe, but remember, this place must remain secret and safe. Too many good people would be harmed if word of our existence were to get out."
"Don’t worry Vincent. When I make a promise, I keep it. Ask Cathy, she’ll tell you."
"She already has, that’s why we are here tonight."
By this time, they were at the entrance to the storm drain. Joe’s curiosity was at it’s all time high, but he kept his thoughts to himself. As Vincent clicked the lever that worked the door mechanism, Joe’s eyes became as round as a three year old on Christmas morning.
Following Devin into the tunnels, he looked around. Tunnels going off in 4 different directions, each lit with a string of light bulbs. Soft amber light reflected off the stone walls to give the entire place a soft glow. Looking down he could see that many sets of foot prints had been left in the soft sand that made up the floor. This was obviously a popular entrance…or was that exit?
"This way Joe, just follow me. We’ll be at the Council Chamber in a few minutes and you can meet Father. I’m sure you are about to burst with questions, but do try to save them until then. The answers will make a bit more sense that way." Vincent was gesturing for Joe to begin walking. Devin brought up the rear.
After walking for about 10 minutes, they turned into a very large chamber. Bookcases lined the entire upper story and books threatened to spill over from just about every flat surface that was available. This place would be a librarians nightmare Joe thought to himself. Sitting behind a desk, framed by the stacks of books on it, was an older gentleman. He wore a full beard and half glasses. His eyes smiled at Joe even as the face caught up. "Welcome Joe. We’ve all heard so much about you. It’s nice to finally meet someone who’s such a good friend to our Catherine. I’m called Father by almost everyone here, but my full name is Jacob Wells. I think we’ve met before briefly."
"Jacob Wells….but…Cathy said you were an old family friend. How did you…?" Shaking his head to try and clear the confusion, Joe just stared quietly.
Father had once been arrested while above and charged with the murder of an old friend. Paraselcus, who blamed Father for all manner of slights had arranged some very nasty surprises for him. Catherine had been very helpful in making sure he arrived back in the tunnels safely.
"In a manner of speaking I *am* an old family friend. I’m old…and I’m going to be family next week. So we weren’t exactly lying. Besides, we couldn’t exactly tell you the entire truth then now could we?"
"No I don’t suppose you could at that. What shall I call you, Jacob or Father?"
"Either is fine. I’m Father to everyone down here. Catherine calls me Father, Mary however, just calls me Jacob."
Father was pointing at a woman Joe hadn’t seen until now. She was standing in the shadows, not quite behind Jacob. As she heard her name she stepped forward, holding her hand out. "I’m Mary. It’s a pleasure to meet you Joe. Here, sit down, would you like a cup of tea? Jacob don’t keep the man standing here like he was on trial or something, fix him a cup of tea. Can’t you see he’s had a lot to absorb tonight?"
"I’m very sorry Joe, Mary is right. Sit, drink this, it’s an herbal blend and it will sooth your nerves a bit." Father poured the tea into a large mug, nodded towards the sugar and then poured cups all around. Devin declined, saying he’d be back shortly with the others."
Joe sat sipping his tea, trying to take in all that had happened in the last hour and a half. He scanned the books on the table, trying to read the titles without turning his head sideways. There seemed to be books from every possible subject piled in no particular order."
"Let me tell you a little about us Joe, and by then the others will be here and can explain to you why this place is so special to us."
For the next few hours, Joe listened as one after another, tunnel residents told of how and why they came to live in the tunnels. Some had been forced out of society, left homeless or abandoned. Some chose to walk away from nasty personal situations. Some just couldn’t take the hustle and bustle of the modern world. Whatever their reasons, Joe found that they were good, honest people who sincerely cared for one another. And down to the smallest child, they all looked on Vincent as a sort of prince of their world. Catherine was about to marry into ‘royalty’ it would seem.
By the time he’d met them all it was nearly midnight. Having planned this for a Friday night, Vincent offered Joe the use of one of the guest chambers to sleep in. "Or if you feel more comfortable, I can escort you back to your apartment building. There is a tunnel exit not too far from it."
"No, I’d like to stay. But I do have to ask, Catherine’s not coming down tonight is she? I don’t want to ruin the surprise for her. Besides, I can’t wait to see the look on her face when she sees me at the wedding." Both men chuckled at the mental image that provoked.
"We will have to tell her ‘before’ the wedding starts Joe. This isn’t’ the kind of surprise you spring on someone on a special day like that."
"You’re right Vincent," he laughed, "I just couldn’t resist. I’ll finally have a way to pay her back for that 'Radcliffe' joke she played on me a few years back."
"Oh, you mean the one about the artists model? She is still giggling over that one, maybe you do have a point."
"Vincent! You wouldn’t!" Father was appalled but laughing at the same time, "I take that back, you would! But you mustn’t."
"I won’t, but it is funny to think about. Now then, let's get you settled Joe. I’m sure you must be tired."
Joe stayed the night in the tunnels and visited with Vincent every chance he could after that. Evenings that he wasn’t with Catherine, Vincent would walk the park with Joe. I was a totally unexpected pleasure to have someone to talk with about Catherine who knew her from the world above. It wasn’t quite the same as talking about her to Peter, who’d known her all her life. Joe was a friend, and as such, had insights into her character that he’d never seen before.
Catherine had been busy with Mary and the other women of the tunnels designing and fitting the dress, planning the menu for William to prepare, and the myriad of other things that a wedding entailed. All too soon for some of them the happy day was here. Catherine stood in her wedding dress, waiting for Jamie to place the final touch, a circlet of yellow roses, on her head. Suddenly Mary’s voice called out, "No you can’t come in here right now, it’s bad luck. Oh all right…but just HIM."
Grinning at Jamie, Catherine knew that Vincent must be trying to get a peek at her dress. The next sound she heard however, caused her to whirl around and stare, her mouth open slightly."
"Wow Radcliffe, when you get dressed, you really get dressed!"
"Joe, what on earth? How did you get here?"
"Oh the usual way, Mouse led me down." Joe was having fun watching the emotions race across her face. Astonishment, fear, worry, wonder, all in seconds of each other.
"Vincent thought it would be a nice touch if I were to give you ‘away’. Happy wedding present? Do you like me? I’m non returnable you know." Joe smiled, holding out his arms for a hug.
Wasting no time, she rushed to him. Jamie cautioned, "Don’t cry now, I’ll have to fix your makeup again if you do."
"Joe this is wonderful. I’ve wanted you to know Vincent for so long, but…"
"But you couldn’t say anything. I understand now why Cathy. Don’t worry about it. I’m a ‘helper’ now, so we’ll be able to discuss this all later. Right now, the most important thing is getting you to that wedding ceremony before the groom thinks you stood him up."
"Yeah right, like that would happen in this century," Jamie quipped.
As they exited Catherine’s chamber, Father was waiting. Taking her left arm, Joe holding her right arm they walked the short distance to the Winterfest Hall. Everyone turned from their seats as Father left Catherine and Joe and walked to Vincent. Standing behind him now, Father was facing the entire tunnel community and as many of the helpers as could be jammed into the hall.
Soft music was playing, as Catherine and Joe walked slowly towards Vincent. Her eyes only on him, she saw nothing of the smiling faces and wet cheeks around her.
As she reached Vincent’s side, Joe transferred her arm from his to Vincent’s. Devin was standing at Vincent’s right, as he was the best man. Joe had declined that honor saying he thought it should be someone from the ‘family’.
"For many years we’ve been celebrating unions here in the tunnels. Join with us now as we share the bonds of love once again. Draw close and listen all who would witness this day." Shifting his attention to the couple standing before him, Father began the ceremony:
We have come together here in celebration of the joining together of Catherine and Vincent. There are many things to say about marriage. Much wisdom concerning the joining together of two souls has come our way through all paths of belief, and from many cultures. With each union, more knowledge is gained and more wisdom gathered. Though we are unable to give all this knowledge to these two, who stand before us, we can hope to leave with them the knowledge of love and its strengths and the anticipation of the wisdom that comes with time. The law of life is love unto all beings. Without love, life is nothing, without love, death has no redemption. Love is anterior to Life, posterior to Death, initial of Creation and the exponent of Earth. If we learn no more in life let it be this.
Marriage is a bond to be entered into only after considerable thought and reflection. As with any aspect of life, it has its cycles, its ups and its downs, its trials and its triumphs. With full understanding of this, Groom and Bride have come here today to be joined as one in marriage. Others would ask, at this time, who gives the bride in marriage, but, as a woman is not property to be bought and sold, given and taken, I ask simply if she comes of her own will and if she has her family's blessing.
"Catherine, is it true that you come of your own free will and accord?"
"Yes, it is true."
"With whom do you come and whose blessings accompany you."
Joe’s voice said true and strong, "She comes with me, her brother by heart and by all of you, her extended family."
Catherine and Vincent please join hands with your betrothed and listen to that which I am about to say. Above you are the stars, below you are the stones, as time doth pass, remember..."
"Like a stone should your love be firm like a star should your love be constant. Let the powers of the mind and of the intellect guide you in your marriage, let the strength of your wills bind you together, let the power of love and desire make you happy, and the strength of your dedication make you inseparable. Be close, but not too close. Possess one another, yet be understanding. Have patience with one another, for storms will come, but they will pass quickly.
Be free in giving affection and warmth. Have no fear and let not the ways of the unenlightened give you unease, for God is with you always."
"Is there anything you’d like to say to each other?" Father asked.
Yes, I’d like to read something to Catherine that I found. It sums up what I feel."
I love you,
Not only for what you are,
But for what I am
When I am with you.
I love you,
Not only for what
You have made of yourself,
But for what
You are making of me.
I love you
For the part of me
That you bring out;
I love you
For putting your hand
Into my heaped-up heart
And passing over
All the foolish, weak things
That you can't help
Dimly seeing there,
And for drawing out
Into the light
All the beautiful belongings
That no one else had looked
Quite far enough to find.
I love you because you
Are helping me to make
Of the lumber of my life
Not a tavern
But a temple;
Out of works
Of my every day
Not a reproach
But a song
"Vincent, I have not the right to bind thee to Catherine, only you have this right. If it be your wish, say so at this time and place your ring in her hand."
"It is my wish."
"Catherine, if it be your wish for Vincent to be bound to you, place the ring on his finger." Catherine gently placed a simple gold band on his finger
"Catherine I have not the right to bind thee to Vincent, only you have this right. If it be your wish, say so at this time and place your ring in his hand."
"It is my wish."
"Vincent, if it be your wish for Catherine to be bound to you, place the ring on her finger. You may speak your vows now."
Vincent spoke, his love filling his voice:
"I promise to be your lover, companion and friend,
Your ally in conflict,
You're greatest fan and your toughest adversary.
Your comrade in adventure,
Your student and your teacher,
Your consolation in disappointment
Your accomplice in mischief,
Your strength in your need and
Vulnerable to you in my own,
And most of all,
Your associate in the search for enlightenment."
"I, Vincent Wells, in the name of the spirit of God that resides within us all, by the life that courses within my blood and the love that resides within my heart, take thee Catherine Chandler to my hand, my heart, and my spirit, to be my chosen one. To desire thee and be desired by thee, to possess thee, and be possessed by thee, without sin or shame, for naught can exist in the purity of my love for thee. I promise to love thee wholly and completely without restraint, in sickness and in health, in plenty and in poverty, in life and beyond, where we shall meet, remember, and love again. I shall not seek to change thee in any way. I shall respect thee, thy beliefs, thy people, and thy ways as I respect myself."
Catherine looked up at him, silent tears coursing down her cheeks and said:
"Vincent, from this day until forever,
I promise to be your lover, companion and friend,
Your ally in conflict,
Your greatest fan and your toughest adversary.
Your comrade in adventure,
Your student and your teacher,
Your consolation in disappointment
Your accomplice in mischief,
Your strength in your need and
Vulnerable to you in my own,
And most of all,
Your associate in the search for enlightenment."
"I Catherine Chandler, in the name of the spirit of God that resides within us all, by the life that courses within my blood, and the love that resides within my heart, take thee, Vincent Wells to my hand, my heart, and my spirit to be my chosen one. To desire and be desired by thee, to possess thee, and be possessed by thee, without sin or shame, for naught can exist in the purity of my love for thee. I promise to love thee wholly and completely without restraint, in sickness and in health, in plenty and in poverty, in life and beyond, where we shall meet, remember, and love again. I shall not seek to change thee in any way. I shall respect thee, thy beliefs, thy people, and thy ways as I respect myself."
Taking a silver cord, Father binds their wrists together. "What has been joined, let nothing tear apart. Catherine and Vincent, from this day forward, your lives are joined. May the rest of your lives be filled with happiness and joy. I pronounce you married. Vincent, you may kiss your bride."
Turning slightly, Catherine turned her face up slightly as he bent down. The kiss itself was soft and gently with just a hint of the passion that was to flare later. As they broke apart, Father announced to the community, "May I present to you all, Catherine and Vincent Wells, make them welcome."
The applause was almost deafening. Cheers broke out, people and not all of them women, could be heard sniffling. One by one or in small groups, they came to offer their congratulations. William began to bring out the food and the reception was soon underway.
Looking at his bride, Vincent couldn’t figure out what had taken him so long. He was just glad that she’d stayed stubborn enough to get through to him. For her part, Catherine had never been happier. She’d finally convinced Vincent that his fears were groundless and they could begin to live the life she knew they were destined for.
Now I wonder, she mused to herself, when would be the best time to mention the baby?
The End (for now)