AS MORTAL LOVERS DO
"I remember when Joe Maxwell first came to the Tunnels. He saw where we lived and how we lived and what kind of community we were. After I showed him everything, he turned to me and said, 'What is this, freakin' Middle-Earth?'"
Grandfather got some laughs. Those who weren't laughing merely had glum expressions or were crying. One of the criers was Laura. Dan stood behind her, gently touching her shoulders with his large hands. Lonnie stood near them. For the first time I saw him without his cap. He held it respectfully in his hands as Grandfather spoke.
Many of the Helpers had gathered in the Library along with all the Tunnel Dwellers. Robert sat on a chair with Max cuddled against his chest. Jamie and Mouse were holding hands. Pascal nodded and smiled at Grandfather's story.
Father and Diana stood near Grandfather, near each other. It was the first time I had seen them together in three years, but I could take no joy from it. I watched them and everyone else from the far end of the Library.
"I could have never imagined Joe living here among us," Grandfather continued, "but that didn't prevent him from being our friend. He helped to keep this community safe for twelve years. We owe him a great debt, and he will always be in our hearts. If any one wishes to share a memory of Joe, please do so."
Pascal raised a hand. Grandfather nodded.
"I remember when I showed Joe the Pipe Chamber. He couldn't believe it. 'You can actually send messages along these things?' he said. 'You sure can,' I told him and showed him the code we use.
"On that night there was a message using a pattern I had never heard before. I couldn't understand it the first time or the second. Then on the third I figured it out. It said, 'Why...don't...you...kiss...my...'"
Laughter from others broke right into Pascal's punchline. He laughed as well. Even Father chuckled.
But for me that was all I could take. Their merry sound only reminded me of who had been taken away from us, and why. I had to run, had to get as far away as I could.
Next thing I knew I was in the Whispering Gallery. I sat on the bridge, my legs dangling over the long drop into the cavern. I wondered how long it would take before I fell all the way down. I was still speculating on this when I heard my name spoken by a voice clearer than the fragmented voices echoing in the Gallery.
I didn't turn to look, but I heard two sets of feet. One of them stopped at the bridge's end as the other walked up to me.
Diana knelt at my side and said, "It's not your fault."
"I didn't pull the trigger," I muttered, "but I..."
"If you didn't pull the trigger, then you're not guilty."
"But if I hadn't..."
"If you hadn't done this and you hadn't done that..." She sighed. "You made a mistake, but you never meant harm to Joe. The blame falls on the gunman. And that was Crown, wasn't it?"
I nodded. The police had searched the park and the surrounding blocks thoroughly for Joe's assassin. They found no trace of the man. They never would. They were still searching into the night as the people Below mourned for their slain friend.
Diana said, "I know you haven't told us anything about Bradbury for fear of endangering us, but now..."
"It doesn't matter. It never did. If I stay, if I go, if I live, if I die...nothing will change." I stood and faced the third person in the Gallery. Father looked back at me, his face mirroring both my grimness and my resolve.
"There's only one thing I can do," I said.
Father slowly nodded.
"What?" Diana said, pulling herself to her feet. "What's the one thing?"
"I have to do this alone."
"Oh, for God's sake!" Diana's voice ricocheted from one end of the Gallery to the other. It was one of the few times in her life that she had ever shouted. "Why did I even bother to come back?! If this is the way it's going to be, then..."
I placed my hands on her cheeks. I made sure that Diana could look nowhere else except into my eyes. "I have to do this alone," I slowly repeated.
She wanted to protest, but she couldn't argue with the look in my eyes. She could only reach up to my wrists and hold tight.
"I'm glad you came back," I said. "Not just for me, but for Father. Whatever happens next, you need to know that you two belong together. It doesn't matter if you don't have a Bond..."
"Oh, Jacob," she sighed. "You don't understand."
I looked at her, then looked at Father. Their faces told me something I had never even considered.
I lowered my hands from Diana's face. She kept her warm hold on my wrists as I said, "You...you do have a Bond."
"Not now," Father said. He walked toward me and Diana with one hand trailing across the guardrail. "Three years ago, however, it just happened. I became aware of exactly how she felt, and she could sense my feelings from Above."
"Then why did you..."
"We were scared," Diana said. "I was scared because I had never felt anything like that before. And Vincent..."
"I was scared because it reminded me of Catherine. I didn't want to experience that again with another woman." He raised a hand to silence any comment from me. "Not because the Bond was an experience meant solely for me and your mother, but because I will always live with the memory of how that love ended. I needed my love with Diana to be different. Just as close, just as passionate...but different."
"You keep telling your father to move on," Diana said. "He always wanted to. But the Bond was a reminder of the past. Back then we faced the fear that history was repeating itself. If the world destroyed what Catherine and Vincent had, couldn't it destroy us as well?"
"So Diana chose to leave," Father explained, "and I chose to let her go. We needed time to confront our fears and to see if we wanted to continue. It was a hard choice. Unfortunately we made the mistake of not telling you why she was leaving. We thought that you were too young to understand."
"You were right," I said in a soft voice. "I wouldn't have understood then. But I understand now."
I was quiet for many seconds, then said --
"I understand that you two were being even dumber than I thought."
They both stared at me.
"I mean, that's about the most asinine motivation I've ever heard. My mother was killed, so now one of you has to die because you have the Bond? What is this, Dramatic Writing 101? You broke up for three years over this?"
Diana and Vincent looked at each other. Then they looked at me.
And they both smiled. "Well," Diana said in a dry voice, "we didn't say that we were being particularly smart when we made this decision."
"Love brings joy," Father said, "but not always wisdom. Sometimes it takes years to realize a mistake."
Diana released one of my wrists and raised a hand to her shoulder. Father reached out and held her hand. Damn, I thought, how could I have not seen this? How could I have not seen that they had never been truly apart?
"Love can be a dark land where we stumble without sight. We can behave so foolishly there." Father looked straight at me and added, "But you know this as well as anyone, don't you, son?"
I almost fell off the bridge. Before I could speak, Father said, "Diana, Jacob and I have to talk alone."
She didn't want to leave. She looked at me for a long time, then said, "I would love to go with you to the Park again."
"I think I'm a little too big to carry on your shoulders now."
"I'll manage. So you promise me..."
She squeezed my wrist, then turned to Vincent. The two of them held hands for a few moments.
Then she walked to the other end of the bridge and left my sight.
"Did she tell you about me and Alexandra?" I asked Father.
"She told me what she has seen, but she's not sure about the relationship between the two of you. But I've always known. I knew about your love before I had even heard her name."
He gently placed his hands on my shoulders. "On the night you went to The Wall of Sleep I was in my chambers. It was there that I suddenly felt so strange. I couldn't identify the cause until I realized that it wasn't my emotion. It was yours."
I held my breath.
"I sensed that you were looking at a person whom you couldn't understand, but couldn't stop watching. And then...there was such music in the air. A voice was merely speaking, but with a wealth of sensitivity and understanding. I couldn't hear the exact words, but I sensed them as if they were breezes passing my ear. I also realized that my son had fallen in love. He had, in fact, found a soul which immediately touched his own, and one which he had touched as well."
I released my breath into quick, hoarse words. "Why didn't you tell me?!"
"Because you have said plainly that you didn't want our Bond to return."
My face turned red. "I...when I said that..."
"You spoke some of your feelings when you said that. Not all of them, but the Bond still made you uneasy. You were right to be so. I also knew that this love between you and Alexandra was a private matter. That's why I kept silent. I knew there would be a better time to talk about it." He raised his eyebrows. "If I hadn't known, then Joe and Grandfather's anger would have been small in comparison to mine."
"You still had a right to be angry."
"I also had an obligation to understand. While your actions on that night were rash and even unworthy of you they were driven by love. For the first time in years I was sure that my son wasn't just thinking of himself. He wasn't using justice as an excuse for violence. He had found the one person without whom he couldn't be complete"
When he finished talking, I didn't respond at first. The distant voices of others flittered through our silence.
Then I said, "I've been kind of a jerk these past few years, haven't I?"
"And I have been foolish and withdrawn from my own son." He shrugged. "I guess we are only human after all."
"Do you have the Bond now?"
"No. It just happened that one time. It may not happen again. That doesn't matter. It came when it was needed."
"You should know that...well, I haven't sensed what you..."
"As I said, son, it will come when it's needed. Do we need the Bond now?"
"No. We don't." I smiled and squeezed his shoulder. For a second we were just like any father and son.
Then I sighed. "Hell of a time to have this revelation."
"You know why."
"I know what you're willing to do."
"It's what I have to do."
"Is it? Do you really think this is your destiny?"
"It's not a question of destiny. It's simply the only choice I have left."
Father briefly watched my face, then said, "This Alexandra -- is she like me?"
"Not...exactly like you, but you share a similar burden."
"And what about the world in which she lives?"
"It's like this." I motioned to indicate the Whispering Gallery, the Chamber of Winds, the Great Hall, all of the Tunnels. "Only dark."
Father nodded. "Jacob... you might consider this to be a 'Dramatic Writing 101' concept, but I believe that if you look at life in the right way, you will see a pattern. What seems like chaos is actually a weave of parallels, similarities and shared experiences."
"You think there's a parallel here?" I said slowly. "You think that my life is mirroring yours?"
"I believe so."
"And this is supposed to cheer me up...how?"
Father smiled. "A mirror shows the reverse of an image. My life with Catherine ended in its youth. I believe your life with Alexandra is just beginning."
"I know. I'm not saying that it will be easy, but your story doesn't end tonight."
How many times had Father said something like that and I would roll my eyes in response? This time I said, "I'm beginning to understand that you're the wiser man, Father, so I'll have faith in what you say."
"I'm not a wise man," Father said, "but I have my moments."
"Well, here's a moment for both of us."
I hugged him. He accepted the hug.
When we pulled apart, I said, "I need to go."
I walked away from him. I forced myself not to look back.