Living the Promise: Chapter Five


"Even though the questioning of values and traditions was the source of a great eal of tension between the generations at the time, we've come to see the '60's as the beginning of our modern society's social conscience. Young men and women, only a bit older than yourselves, realized they had a responsibility to one another, to people of other cultures, races and backgrounds, to women, to the earth itself. They searched for ways to understand how they could work to bring about change and tolerance."

Jeffery raised his hand and Diana acknowledged him. "I remember reading that some people began communities that lived together as families and provided for one another."

Diana nodded at her student's comment. "That's right, Jeffrey. Many of those communities were no different than our own here today. People worked together, lived simply, provided for one another. They sought out their places in the world and tried to find ways of living together in peace with one another, respecting their beliefs, and the very land they lived on itself.

"But, things weren't happening only in isolated areas. Even the majority of young people who still remained living in cities and towns as their parents had, attempted to influence society with their ideals of freedom and justice. They spoke our in universities; they protested against a war they weren't certain was moral; they marched side by side through segregated neighborhoods working for equality for all people.

"Even their music became a means of touching the country's conscience. The poetry of their lyrics spoke about all they believed and hoped and dreamed could happen, all they saw as unjust, all they struggled to understand."

Vincent's quiet contemplation of the contemporary sociology class being held in their chamber was equally absorbed between the wonder and pride he held for its teacher and her spellbinding, thought-provoking imagery, and the students who were so intently and totally attuned to their subject matter. There had never been any doubt in him about the powerful good Diana's extraordinary mind could bring about and nurture within her students in past months.

Samantha joined the discussion. "I've heard some of those songs. Mary had recordings of a few of them that were popular back then, that she used to listen to sometimes before her player got broken. The music was so easy to listen to, but the words -- you just wanted to stop and really hear the words, listen to them and what they had to say."

Diana smiled. "There were a lot of singers and songs like that back then. The music was really the poetry of the time. It spoke to the people of dreams and ideals and pain and frustrations.

 

'The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls

and tenement halls,

And whispered in the sounds of silence.

 

'How many times can a man turn his head

and pretend he just doesn't see?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind;

The answer is blowin' in the wind.

 

'All we are saying is give peace a chance.

All we are saying is give peace a chance."

 

Strong and unselfconscious, Diana's lilting voice drew her students totally into the message she wished to share with them. Vincent was transfixed.

"It would be wonderful if we could listen to some others of those songs." Her husband's quiet observation was met with a chorus of agreement from the students. Diana's realization that she had unexpectedly gained an additional, sensitive scholar warmed her heart.

Vincent was, without question, considered a gifted educator himself in the tunnel community, equally skilled in getting five-year-olds to relish Shakespeare as he was in making ancient history alive and relevant to adolescents geared always to thinking in terms of the here and now of life. But his own study of and empathy and understanding for a world he could never be a complete part of was an enlightenment in itself to the youngsters in the room.

"I'd love to get my hands on some of those albums," Diana responded. "Unfortunately, I doubt they'd be too easy to find any longer. Maybe my sister kept some of our records. We used to spend hours together listening to them, trying to understand what they were saying to us.

"At any rate, if I have the time, though, I will write out some of the lyrics from memory and we can discuss them at another class."

There was an anticipating chorus of excitement at the idea. Vincent smiled readily at how receptive the students were to his wife's imaginative approach to learning. Diana didn't miss his quiet approval, and, as always, took it to heart.

"It's getting late. We'd better end," she concluded. "Don't forget to read chapter eight for our next discussion on the Civil Rights Movement. Who gets the textbooks first tonight?"

Jeffrey and Lana raised their hands and carefully retrieved the two precious volumes that seven middle school students would share that evening for their studies. They and Samantha, Zack, Kipper, and the other scholars then filed through the chamber doorway with greetings and comments, to their eagerly anticipated free time before supper.

Vincent collected Diana's notes and resources into a pile onto the corner of the table in their chamber. Offering his wife a hand up from the straightback chair she was sitting upon, he guided her to the much worn but comfortable reading chair. Diana sat down upon it gratefully. A moment later, a small cushioned stool was slipped under her feet, and her shoes were slipped off.

"Oh, does that feel good! Vincent, thank you," came the sighed comment. Her husband replaced the various chairs and benches congregated around the table that the students had quit, then eased his powerful form beside Diana on the chair arm. He wrapped a comforting embrace around the slender shoulders as she sank against his body in easy shelter.

"I would venture to guess you yourself were one of those searching, questioning spirits." The comment was both teasing and washed with genuine admiration, as Vincent attempted to place himself within his wife's indefinable, contradictory essence. Diana graced him with a smile that only reinforced her enigmatic attractiveness.

"Heavens, yes! I was ready to pack myself off to a commune in California with just the clothes on my back and a dream to guide me. Unfortunately, I only happened to be a seventh grader at a strict parochial school at the time. I had to settle for some local consciousness-raising. I actually helped organize my classmates into protesting the second-class citizenship of women in our little corner of the world."

A rather timid, guilty smile brought a blush of color along with it across Diana's face at her memories, even now. "I spent half a day in detention once, for pointing out, rather vehemently, the unequal power structure of our own school. The majority of our teachers were underpaid women, and religious, who didn't even get any compensation for their work beyond knowing they were quietly doing God's work in the world. A male coach was hired who was only teaching two health classes a day besides his coaching duties, and he, of course, got paid more.

"Here, the women were forced to deal with the day to day trials of educating the next generation, forming their skills and their morals, guiding them into leadership positions, and just because a man could dribble a basketball well, the school board said his effort was worth more! All the positions of power on that school board, too, were held by men, many of them not even with any educational background."

Vincent was not at all surprised at the soft outrage he could still read in his wife's memory. Even as a youngster, it would appear that her commitment to justice and right had held to her spirit with powerful influence. "Were you able to accomplish any change?" he asked.

"I like to hope that we at least made people think about priorities on that one. The teachers, for the most part, welcomed our concern, praised us for our efforts, but the long arm of authority brought us back to the reality of how the world actually worked. And I got to listen to Sister Mary Damian's lecture on humility and pride for an hour in detention."

"You were a rebel then, weren't you? I never would have imagined you so." Vincent's warmly teasing observation was tinged with deserved admiration for the righteous firebrand he loved. She returned a challenging smile to him.

"See . . . you had no idea you were marrying an anarchist."

Leaning down, Vincent kissed his wife gently on the forehead. "I don't know that 'anarchist' is the right word for you, my love, but I did have some idea that life with you would be far from placid and ordinary."

For a long moment, Diana let herself sink into the welcome comfort of having Vincent near her, know that his love for her sheltered as much respect as tenderness. God, she'd been blessed! and she reminded herself of it every minute of every day. She never needed to be anyone other than herself for Vincent, and she treasured the freedom and empowering wonder of that reality.

She surely could use some of that empowerment lately. For all her spirited demeanor of the moment, she was finding herself more and more often physically tested, something she was not used to enduring, becoming exhausted from the simplest of tasks. She'd had to look to Vincent's patiently attentive caring to accomplish the least little things, at times, like getting her shoes on and off. But, even though it was more than a bit humbling to have to be feeling so . . . vulnerable . . . in what was only a simple, natural process of life, she found herself truly holding to the depth of honest emotional need she was able to share with her beloved husband because of it..

The unique circumstances of her pregnant condition were worrying Vincent, she knew, but with their ability to support one another from the depths of their love, they'd managed to come to grips with the fact that what was physically happening to her was possibly just meant to be, given the unknown scope of their experience with it all. In that uncertainty Diana simply turned to what had always sustained her in her life's most difficult moments: a healthy trust in providential care.

Conceding that there was going to be little else that she could do to meet the unknown with, she'd simply decided to rely on Father's solicitous medical attention, Vincent's tender devotion, and a quiet, heartfelt, prayer: beginning her day with it and ending it too -- that her baby would be born safe, healthy, and well. Vincent had always been able to follow that same pathway to reassurance with her.

But he was troubled, still, and Diana hoped that her unique state of health was the only thing that had managed to cause the anxiousness of his heart the past few days. She'd become aware, in the acutely sensitive bonding that existed between both their hearts, that there might be something more that was threatening his peace, something she was certain he'd been trying to keep from touching her.

"You didn't sleep very well last night," was all she said to him now, almost knowing what the something more could be, with spirit-shadowing fact. She knew what day it was, today.

Vincent gathered her more closely into his arms. He didn't wish to frighten her or burden her with his turmoil from the dreams. Yet, he also did not wish to cause her pain, the pain of uncertainty in the day. With a gentle sweep of his hand over her cheek, Vincent reassured her, as he, himself, had been this morning.

"Don't fear today, Diana. They are in my heart, yes, the memories; but there is so much more there today as well, so much that is promising and not painful."

Diana held to the arm sheltering her and breathed her silent prayer of thanks. How long had it been since his soul was crushed anew with every memory of this day? The pain, the guilt, the loss: They had been so encompassing and powerful, capable of dragging his assaulted heart past any breath of promise embraced with an ease of terror that had shaken her own beliefs and hopes. But, somehow, somehow, they had clung to one another and survived . . . to live in the warmth of love shared. Their love shared.

The tender peace, always within ready reach between them, finally radiated with sure brightness again in both their hearts at that moment. Holding to it, feeling it reach out and sheltering them, was all that was needed to renew their spirits. Even on this day.

"I should ask Maureen next month when I see her if she kept any of our old records."

Vincent accepted her change in the direction of their conversation as evidence of her quieted spirit. He kissed the top of her amber head softly, filling his own soul with the balance they had once again been able to offer one another.

"Would she have, after all this time?"

"I wouldn't be surprised if she did. She kept everything when we were growing up, letters, flowers. She always was a hopeless romantic."

"And you, obviously, were not." The quietly challenging observation was a mute point between them. Vincent knew that his bride treasured every breath of their shared experiences, held to every word, every touch, every hope, with uncontested awe. She made him feel capable of gifting her with the slightest truth of his care. In the wonder that had become his existence, bathed in her love, he even believed it himself.

The gentle softness of Diana's lovely features caused her attentive husband to draw her heart tenderly closer within him as well. She never spoke much about her former live Above, these days, and Vincent truly believed she was happy in his world, their world, in their new life together.

Yet, the past seemed always so closely within reach, on this day, even if it was no longer able to cause desolation. Diana's willingness to offer him her own memories spoke of her conviction with the present. Still, the ties of the past, the hopes and dreams and shared experiences of those that had been a part of their lives were, nevertheless, able to cling to their hearts with insistent strength, he knew. What they were able to come away with from those memories now, could at last speak to them of cherished remembrance.

"You miss your sister." The comment was softly spoken fact, not inquiry. Vincent knew one of the ties that his beloved bride still cherished from her past was her childhood bond to her sibling. And she had been forced to turn her back on that treasured link, for him.

Diana turned to hold her husband's compassionate gaze, and was certain of what he meant. "I understand why things have to be the way they are, Vincent, at least for now. Maureen does, too. It's all right. We saw each other at Laura's last month. We write. I haven't lost her."

Running a hand over the treasured amber hair that was neatly braided, Vincent marveled anew at the scope of love between them, and of how familiar it was to them, as though it had always been a wellspring of their souls, instead of the hard-won actuality that it was. Still, that rightness had come at a cost -- for her especially.

"But, it isn't the same as sharing your home with her, offering her a meal you've prepared especially for her, spending time together to renew your bonds within the circumstances of your new life."

Diana rested her head on Vincent's arm, stroking her slender fingers over the soft warmth of his fur-backed hand. Her father's wedding band rested easily on his ring finger. Dad was down here with her, she knew, in Father; and Mom, in Mary's gentle support. A sister? Olivia, Rebecca, Jamie, surely. Samantha? An almost grown Alex, her little niece. She understood, though, what Vincent was attempting to guide her through with his words.

Having, from childhood, resigned himself to the reality of living his life alone, truly alone, even amidst his loving circle of family, she knew that Vincent treasured every one of his relationships with those around him as gifts and blessings. He would want her never to be bereft of such nurturing experiences, of losing her ties to them. Still, whatever she had been constrained to surrender, she'd regained in other wonders of the soul even more gifting.

"I've been used to doing without her close. Maureen moved to Boston just after she and Andrew got married, because of his work there. We managed to hold on to our relationship, Vincent. That won't change because I'm here."

The soul-reading blue eyes deepened with understanding: Another gentle-hearted woman, another act of generosity in love.

 

"For a man shall leave his mother and a woman leave her home,

And they shall travel on to where the two shall be as one."

 

Lifting her head up in surprise at the quietly offered poetry, Diana smiled in gentle wonder at her love. "There was a song popular in the '60's based on that Bible passage."

"'The Wedding Song' by Paul Stookey. Yes, I've heard it."

For a long moment, his bewildered wife held his belovedly memorized countenance with puzzled amazement. Vincent raised her hand to his mouth and kissed the palm with infinite, exquisite tenderness. "I've loved beautiful music, listened to it speak to me also, most of my life, Diana. Not all of it has been Chopin and Beethoven."

Crystaline green eyes lit with spirit-lifting wonder. "Oh, Maureen is going to love getting to know you when the time comes!"

"I'm certain the experience will be mutually enlightening. I will look forward to learning a few more things about you from her." The promise of mischief was alight in deep azure eyes, too. Diana could hardly believe that those eyes were ever devoid of hope and life.

"Well then, I'll have to keep in her good graces during our next visit, or she'll be apt to do the sisterly thing and divulge all of my deepest, darkest secrets to you."

"With your temperament, my sweet Diana, there are bound to be plenty of them, too."

In a huff, the red-haired teacher was ready to protest her injured temperament by what should have been a sweepingly graceful exit, but swollen feet, a sore back, and 25 extra pounds seriously impaired her efforts. Diana was able only to struggle up from her chair. She was immediately enfolded by the gentle strength of loving arms that gathered her up off the stone floor and set her onto the bed instead.

"You need to rest, Diana. You've been working all day."

"I need to get to the kitchen and finish decorating Jacob's cake."

"You'll be overtired. You already are."

Diana set a loving kiss onto her husband's protesting lips as she attempted to get back onto her feet. "For a man who is capable of being supremely serene and balanced, Vincent, you have suddenly become a chronic worrier."

"Where my wife and child are concerned, I cannot worry enough about them." Carefully Vincent set his head down onto the ripened contours of his wife's figure, sheltering her with a powerful arm, holding the blessed rhythm of a tiny heartbeat preciously within his soul. Diana found her hand trembling as she set it onto the golden red silk that fanned itself over her body.

The unburdened flood of aching, wonderfilled love rushing through her came, without question, from that bowed figure gathering her to his heart. I've lost nothing but pain, my sweetest love, and gained an eternity of heaven, she silently reassured him.

"I'll come back here to rest a bit after I'm done in the kitchen. I promise."

The golden-locked head was raised and a look of grateful tenderness held her in its warm embrace. "Jacob is excited about tonight. Thank you for helping give him some joy for this day."

"Thank you for believing there could be joy."

A gentle kiss to a porcelain cheek was the only acknowledgement necessary.

Yet, Vincent knew what a gift it could be, for his little son, for Diana, and for himself: the belief that there was something to rejoice in on this day, as well as something, someone, to mourn. Jacob's sweet soul had been, for the past three years, the very light that had kept Vincent from being totally, irredeemibly smothered by the darkness of grief and loss. Like his new mother, he had kept his father's tested and wounded soul from succumbing to an existence unblessed by hope. But more than that. There was so much more than that, so much more to Jacob than simply that merciful act of rescue and protection.

Jacob was a gentle, strong, startlingly bright and sensitive little soul in his own right, a wondrous three year old boy who loved books and sailing ships and music and climbing rocks. He played tag with the other children and rested quietly beside his parents in contemplation of the world's graciousness and complexities. He made people smile by simply being in the room with them.

That was reason enough to celebrate for the child, with the child, because of the child, even on this day.

Vincent knew that recognizing the little boy's place in all their lives tonight would allow him to recognize the hope and possibility of the future, for all of them. Catherine had died in his arms on this night. The better part of his own soul had died with her. But Jacob had lived.

And Diana had guided them both to the treasure of her own love.

"Are you certain you wish to walk with us tonight? It is a long way." The words were gently concerned, but unnecessary, he knew. Diana let her fingers become enfolded by a hand no longer deadly, only different, and breathtakingly beautiful in its tender care.

"We wanted to be there as a family. It's important that we can do so, Vincent. We agreed."

"Yes, we agreed." Her husband's words were tinged with regard, for her courage and generosity. Diana knew his only worry was for her safety and that of their unborn child's.

"If I get tired, you can carry me part way. I promise. No argument."

The blue eyes were shining with love, as they always were when they held hers. "I will take Jacob down to the river to pick his roses. That will give you a little extra time to finish his treat." With a kiss both gifting and seeking, Vincent turned to collect his little boy from his afternoon play session with Luke and Katy.

Diana closed her eyes and settled a moment more comfortably onto the worn old chair. The rest of the words came to her, so easily, with such understanding. She whispered them softly to herself, feeling them echo within her own heart's experience:

 

"'As it was in the beginning, is now until the end.

Woman draws her life from man, and gives it back again.

And there is love. There is love."

 

Touching a tender embrace to the child she now nurtured within her, a responding caress to her own spirit came to her from a mythic embodiment of eternally devoted care.

Diana gathered the love to herself, knowing her husband was able to do the same.

 

Scampering from rock to rock in the streambed with a sure-footedness that was remarkable to behold, Jacob stopped his exploration long enough to settle his attention onto the thick moss growing on one side of several large stones at the water's edge. The tiny greenery felt like a fine carpet beneath small, inquisitive fingers. Yet, ever sensitive to his surroundings, the little boy was careful not to disturb the growth, taking his welcome experience of it without threat or disruption.

A moment later he was busily dropping pebbles into the sailing pool, delighting in the enlarging circles the rippling water reached out across its mirror surface.

Vincent sat on the grass beneath the shelter of the ficus tree and marveled, as always, at the wonder of the Underworld's lush garden of greenery. The riverbed was flourishing with ferns and carpeting ground covers in addition to the grass that thickly cushioned the expanse of the small park. The potted, flowering plants were in a riot of color, shape, and texture: cyclamens, begonias, even a hanging fuschia pouring out of a basket set atop a pile of rocks, so that its rich color flowed over the stones in a cascade of softening life.

So much color and beauty, not eclipsing the wonder of the stone cavern, forcing it to starkness, but simply brightening it with the possibility of marvel to be shared. They'd let themselves be drawn into that magic, Vincent recalled with a grateful heart. One Friday night, when Jacob had been happily settled into an overnight visit with Luke, Olivia, and Kanin.

Vincent and Diana had found themselves irresistibly drawn down here to the riverbed to walk its length in the park area in quiet, tender, contemplation, of it, and of each other. The spilling of the meandering waters, the falls' reassuring, muffled roar, and their own heartbeats were the only sounds about them in the pale evening light of the great cavern.

It had only taken them a moment before they'd found themselves wrapped in each other's arms, lying on the grass -- a gift never destined to be his before -- feeling the cushioning grass beneath them, the smell of it, actually seeing the misting of the falls collecting on the blades. Holding Diana close in his arms, marveling at the gentle, fresh blush on her cheeks from the circulating air about them.

Lying in each other's embrace, Vincent could swear he'd almost seen the colors of the setting sun in the lowering light of the cavern.

They'd spent the night thus, under imagined stars, not consumed by heated need, only sheltered in the sweet awareness of each other's presence, blessed by the vibrant beauty of the living nature around them. He'd awakened, not to the familiar, subdued light of the night candle glowing softly in their chamber, but to the sensation of softly reflected sunlight reaching down to them from the mysterious heights of their surroundings.

He'd awakened to see that light glowing in Diana's hair, radiating from the emerald eyes she opened to him that were brimming with tenderness. They'd spent a night resting peacefully in each other's embrace, to begin the day sharing heaven's light.

Diana's vision had made such a miracle possible -- a garden amidst the stone walls -- the most beautiful gifts of her world of sunshine and cloud-scattered sky transported far beneath the city's streets, to thrive on the mystical warmth of reflected light. And love.

Vincent came to his feet. He'd always know, too, what a blessing sitting in the grass, watching his little boy dropping stones in the water, could be.

Had it been an eternity ago? He'd raged against heaven once, in this very spot, to Diana, despaired of ever being able to share the night sky with his child in safety, knowing he'd never be able to pick out shapes in the clouds to the little boy's delight.

It had grieved him to pain because that world, Catherine's world, would always be a foreign, dangerous place for him, one he could never share freely with her child. And he'd felt the anguish of knowing that his own world would forever be only composed of darkness, stone, and pain. There was nothing of beauty or softness he could see to give to his child, share with his little boy freely.

But, here was a new creation, born of both the glory of the world Above, and the shelter of that Below, in truth, the best of both worlds. A small pocket of Eden he and Jacob could roam freely. It would be his second child's inheritance as well.

A blessing to heaven was raised for the foresighted angel that had helped such a world of promise evolve within his reach.

"Jacob, we had better pick our flowers and return home. Supper will be waiting."

Lively, heartstopping blue eyes held his father's from across the grassy expanse. "Coming, Father." In a moment, a tiny whilrwind scrambled to the carpeting grass in a sweep of laughter and motion, to take an unearthly hand in his with welcome. "Mama said to check that the begonias have enough water."

"We'll see to them, also, my little one." Vincent smiled at how conscientious his child had become of his newly appointed task of apprentice gardener. With Diana's state of health making the steep path to the river's edge off limits as of late, her time in the garden had been reduced only to those instances when Vincent had been able to carry her carfully down, times which had become rather sporadic as stone-working duties within the deep tunnels and chambers had kept him frequently occuppied for extended periods of time.

To assure the survival of the garden, Jamie had taken over most of the cultivating activities, under Diana's instruction, and Jacob was a serious-minded conveyor of those instructions when he accompanied Jamie to the riverbed on her rounds. He was always able to remind her which plants needed more water, what shrubs could stand to be trimmed, and which seed pods were to be left undisturbed for future cultivation.

One plant, however, that seemed to thrive in the makeshift bower with a will of its own, continued to be the rosebush growing in the center of the garden. Catherine's rosebush.

Every other plant, every blade of grass, every flower and shrub in the park was considered a common inheritance for the entire community. The rosebush, though, remained forever, Catherine's. And it was subject only to Diana's careful tending, by unspoken mutual agreement of the whole Underworld community.

Vincent was in quiet awe at the sight of that bush now.

From its great terracotta container, that was cracked only on one edge, the plant, which had supposedly been only a shrub-sized hybrid, now rose fully to stand nearly up to his shoulder. Almost Catherine's height. He'd found himself thinking that more than once.

She'd always needed to stand on tiptoes to slip her arms around his neck. Diana was taller, her lanky, slender legs bringing her easily up to his cheek. Catherine had needed the courage to extend the reach of her love round about him, tentatively, always almost expecting him to draw himself beyond her offered tenderness. Diana could set her gifting care readily to him, touch him with the physical wonder of her love without a strain.

As for the rosebush, it now spread half as wide as it was high, in a verdant mound of glossy green leaves and scores of red and white blooms at various stages of budding. The plant defied all logical characteristics of rose growing -- it was thriving without bright sun, blossoming profusely year round, taking only short intervals of rest. It never went dormant.

The soft, sweet fragrance was indescribable, too, a light mixture of floral and spice that could not be reduced to its elements. It permeated the surrounding air with a gentle richness.

Jacob drank in the perfume with a child's abandon. He'd taken his first steps reaching out past his father to that rosebush, two long years before. Diana had brought it Below to relinquish it with a guilty heart to Vincent's charge. Having resurrected it from Catherine's terrace, she nevertheless found herself assailed by colliding emotions in keeping it from him for so long.

Vincent, himself, had accept it with pain . . . and wonder . . . and an unexpected, fearless tenderness for the generous heart that had restored it, and the sweetness of its memories, back to him.

"Mama has taken such good care of this rose, hasn't she, Father?" His own thoughts echoed to him from his child's soft words filled Vincent's heart with warmth.

"Yes, she has, Jacob. She wanted you to have it."

"Because my mother Catherine planted it?"

A gentle ache tugged within him at the easy words of his little boy's observation. "Catherine planted this rosebush, yes, Jacob, and Mama wished for you to be able to share in its beauty so it would remind you of her, of who she was."

"Mama must love Catherine as much as you, Father."

For a long moment, the azure eyes lighting a mystic face of legend held on to tears, uncertain if they could, or should be shed, and whether they should be evidence of joy or sorrow.

They'd both blessed his tested spirit with love beyond telling, different facets of it, surely, as night and day, as rock and sky, but love, nevertheless. He'd cherished them both, still loved them both as well, from equally compelling sources within different recesses of his soul.

Could the two women have ever come to cherish each other in another reality?

"I believe she does. Because she loves us both so much, Jacob." The tears did fall then, quietly, ones of tender wonder and accepted mercy. In another reality, they could have been friends, Diana and Catherine, but then he would have been left bereft of the gift of one of their souls touching his own.

"Which of the flowers do you wish to pick?" at last, Vincent was able to ask his son quietly. The little boy considered a moment, then pointed out one bloom after another which his father then cut; three red ones and three white ones. Jacob would bring them to his mother Above as he had done so every year on his birthday.

The task completed to his satisfaction, something else took hold of the little boy's heart, something as imperative as choosing the right flower gift for his angel mother in heaven. "Could we pick some flowers for Mama, too, tonight?" came the softly pleading request.

Vincent held the sweet bundle of heaven's graciousness in his gaze for a long moment. The little boy had no problem carrying two loving souls within his own heart as the embodiment of "mother;" one woman, never known, never seen, but brave enough to have given him life with her last breath; the other whose own courage was to be found in the small, day-to-day tendernesses that created his present, nurtured existence warmed with her love. The mythic figure that was his father ran a proud hand softly across his tousled golden curls.

"I am certain she would love some flowers. Which would you think?"

Skipping about the various pots of blooms for several moments, Jacob attempted to decide which he wished to include for his second very important selection. Vincent contemplated the little boy's actions with gratitude, knowing how attuned the child had become to his new mother's gentle spirit. He would want to offer her something very special, it was so easy to understand in his quietly intent consideration.

Diana had often brought bunches of the flowers back to their chamber to share with the community, to keep atop their own table, too. She did love their color and brightness in the mutued hues of their candlelit world, but she was also ever conscious of the blossoms' fragile existences Below. Thus, they were considered a rare treat when gathered away from the garden.

Jacob returned to Vincent's side with a deep, thoughtful look creasing his sweet little face. The child's attention settled fully onto the miraculous rosebush before them once again, then was drawn from the flowers to his father's unique features.

Vincent suddenly realized something he'd never actually taken close note of before, that came to him with Jacob's help -- In the two years that the rosebush had been a part of the garden, not a single blossom had ever been picked by anyone for any reason, other than for Jacob to carry to Catherine's grave. Oh, the marvel of the plant was always the center of attention in the little park for anyone who ventured down to the riverbed for an interlude of peaceful contemplation or simple enjoyment. Its fragrance was sampled with frequent delight by all that passed near it.

No one in the community, however, had ever deemed it seemly to pick a flower from the bush for any reason other than for Jacob's special tribute. Not even Diana.

Especially not Diana.

Forever the caretaker . . . never hers by right . . . Vincent understood what Jacob had touched to as well, with a pang of heart.

"Father, look over here."

Vincent's unsettled thoughts were eased by the sound of his little boy's voice, tinged with unexpected amazement. He'd walked around the back of the bush, that part facing away from the river and towards the stone walls of the cliffs, opposite his father. Following the boy's urging, Vincent came to that side, and reached an unsteady hand out to the thriving plant, to what the child had noticed.

"They're new shoots, Jacob, new branches rising directly from the roots of the plant."

Vincent set his hand gently amongst a half dozen new young canes filling up and out from the base of the bush. There were already several small flower buds clustered atop the strongest ones. And, a single, full-blown rose standing erect amongst the leaves and thorns of the new growth.

"Oh, may we bring that rose for Mama? She's never picked one before. Do you think Mother Catherine would mind?"

Shaking his head slowly, Vincent found it difficut to find hs voice. After a moment, he carefully reached into the plant and gently cut the stem of the new bloom. "I don't believe Catherine would mind, Jacob. I think she would want this one to go to Mama."

 

Diana lay on the bed a moment before she attempted to get to her feet. Much as she hated to admit it, Vincent had been right. She'd overtired herself today, and she dearly wanted to be able to share fully in the evening's plans. The nap had refreshed her.

Vincent's constant, tender care of her brought a gentle warmth over her spirit, even if her independent nature sometimes rebelled. Somehow, he always was able to both protect her, and give her her space, reading her need with generous patience. God, Bennett, what did you do right in your life to finally deserve him, deserve all this? she asked herself with a bemused wonder. Then, in her silent exhortation, she corrected herself. Diana Bennett was a part of her life riddled only with pain, frustration, and denial. Diana Wells was who she'd been able to become, though she had little opportunity to use the name she cherished.

She'd never believed she could become that part of herself that had remained long unfulfilled, unblessed.

But, life in the rocky chambers and tunnels had proven to be her own resurrection of heart. Loving Vincent had given her back her soul. And this evening, they would all reclaim their hope in this particular day.

Jacob's cake was decorated. Not her best effort, she admitted. She was more than a little out of practice, and William had little time to indulge in such extraneous details when he had a growing community to help feed every day. Kitchen duty meant real KP duty: peeling potatoes, helping with canning and preserving food, kneading mounds of bread dough.

Even so, Diana found that her turns at the community chores in the kitchen, providing simple, hearty meals to appreciative stomachs, had happily revived her fondness for cooking. And she'd long ago charmed her way into the great cook's good graces enough that he would allow her the occasional indulgence of baking a special treat on her own.

So, tonight, there would be a simple yellow sheet cake, with the added treat of chocolate frosting on the menu, enough for each of the community to savor a morsel in Jacob's honor. The little boy would be able to read his name in the icing atop it and know that the day would be made special because of his part in all their lives.

Diana again whispered a prayer of thanks for Vincent's part in all this. It was not right that his son should forever find his existence clouded by loss and pain. It was the proper time, now, to embrace promise and yes, even joy, for this day. Jacob was a blessing to them all. She'd been so grateful that Vincent could share in that truth at last.

Not exactly certain of how long she had slept, Diana tossed back the quilt and raised herself up on her elbow. She didn't remember pulling the blanket over her when she'd quit the kitchen. Smiling to herself, she knew where it must have come from then -- Vincent and Jacob must have returned from the river.

Sure enough, casting a glance off to the foot of the bed and over, Diana caught sight of the bouquet of red and white roses in a water glass, sitting on the table in their chamber, awaiting their walk Above later that night. As usual, the flowers were beautiful, graced with abundant petals of deepest red or purest white. Catherine's roses.

She was glad that they'd survived, more than she'd ever imagined.

Carefully pushing herself up to a sitting position, Diana stopped a moment in her movements when she felt the baby within her. This time it was a definite kick. Another little tunnel sprite she'd grow grey attempting to safely keep within the confines of their chamber soon enough. She caressed the child with love. Jacob would welcome a spirited sibling, God help them!

"I can't wait either, my little angel," she called gently to the soul beneath her softy stroking hand. She would revel in being run ragged by her two children, she knew. Vincent's spirit would never touch ground.

Swinging her legs down off the side of the bed, Diana finally caught sight of something that had remained out of her line of vision until now, on the mirrored dressing table: In a nostalgic milk glass vase, nestled in a bed of fern leaves, awaited another flower.

It was a rose, one, single, fullblown, long-stemmed rose. Where it had appeared from, Diana could hardly venture a guess, although she would have assumed from the river garden, as the ferns would attest. But, this was a bloom she'd never seen before, an exquisitely beautiful flower that held her completely transfixed by its unbelieveably unique details.

The blossom was a bursting wealth of transluscent white petals that swept gracefully from a tightly-held center. Across each opened petal, as though an artist had taken a fine brush and impulsively swirled the white with color, was a sinuous curve of deepest red. The petals almost appeard to sway and . . . dance . . . in their unfurling, with the sweep of color stroked across them, seemingly by God's own hand.

Then the gentlest of fragrances slipped into Diana's senses as well, as she came to her feet before the vintage vanity. Definitely rose, the scent, old rose; simple, yet profoundly resonant, like the blossoms that blanketed the bush in Mr. Clementi's front yard in Queens when she was a little girl. But beyond the somehow, familiar, essence, the fragrance was still tinged with a deep, musky, earthy kind of smell, something that evoked a deep woods after a spring rain, from the realm of fairies and earth mists.

At that, in awed understanding, Diana knew, without question, were the rose had come from -- Catherine's bush -- and yet, in some way, it couldn't have. The bloom appeared to be neither fruit of the red roses nor the white that were carefully collected on the table in the glass, but a heartstopping melding of both.

She touched her hand carefully to the flower, with love.

There's a language to flowers, she'd urged Joe to comprehend, when she'd first witnessed Catherine's resurrected rosebush blooming in her own loft. The plant had taken hold of her imagination with startling, sympathetic force, as she attempted to understand what her heart was telling her she was being given privileged, but pained sight to -- a love unlike any other.

Red roses and white.

Love's passion and purity.

Growing side by side, eternally drawing their existence from the same life source. But never to be experienced as one.

It had broken her heart to realize what that conclusion had told her about the man she'd come so unexpectedly to love. She'd known then that there was as much evidence of anguish as their was of fulfillment, within nature's prophetic embodiment there before her.

Yet, now, there was a new possibility embraced, also springing from that same source of mystically joined promise. It had arisen only within the boundaries of a fragile, rocky, underground world, and it mirrored evidence of the truth of a new love that was blessing that world's most cherished inhabitant, a love that had struggled with such desolation to exist, but one that had at last been given the wondrous right to be.

Diana reached a hand trembling with emotion to a small piece of writing paper folded unevenly in half, that rested against the base of the vase. In careful, rainbow crayon letters, was the very essence of that love, sweeping into her heart with uncontested welcome. The note read simply, "For Mama."

Closing her eyes and clasping the little dedication to her chest, Diana let the reality of love's mercy shelter her tenderly.

 

The prayers were automatic. Heartfelt, yes, but ingrained as well -- the proper thing to do when one finds oneself at a cemetery, courtesy of the nuns at St. Joseph's Grade School. There was a pang of conscience in that realization, too. His connection to the . . . spiritual . . . dimension of life, to the idea that there was a Higher Power out there somewhere that gave a damn about mankind, had long ago become a perfunctory habit he'd clung to only out of respect for his mother. The reality of how perversely that creation could sink from heaven had knocked any bit of his own shakey hold on belief right out of his heart.

He was reinforced in his futility by what he was within sight of at the moment: rows of granite monuments that should never have held any place within the memory he carried inside himself of Cathy. Just as the forest of stone should have long been kept away from his experience of a loving father. Joe'd had enough reason to be cynical about God.

Unfortunately, the world found bone-chilling ways to acquaint the young with death, and a Providential Presence never seemed around long enough to help pick up the pieces left behind. He'd had his own experience, too young, with that truth. His father had been murdered for his watch and his service revolver, when Joe had been only fourteen years old. His father's executioners had been the same age. In quiet rage he'd told Cathy that once. She'd ached for his pain, but kept him from using it to blind his decency and sense of justice. She'd known loss, too, in her life.

And she'd become loss. For him as well.

He couldn't recognize anything of Cathy in the cold, dark stone before him. She'd never been cold -- always warm, radiantly warm, with a mischevious smile that could light up a room. She'd never been dark, either, never. There'd always been an open brightness, a welcoming sparkle about her that made you feel like shining, too. And even when she was faced with evidence of the depravity of humankind, she'd never let that hopeful light become completely obliterated within her.

That had been Cathy.

Not cold granite in the dark.

Because of him.

"I needed to see you tonight, here, Cathy. I can't exactly explain why, here. I mean, I could talk to you anywhere, right? At home, behind closed doors at the office. You've heard me there, I'm sure. It doesn't have to be here. You're not just here, in the ground."

The words he had no fear of anyone else overhearing caught in his throat, as Joe stood for a long moment, before he found the courage to reach his hand out to the carved letters of her name, touched them gently.

"Maybe that's what Diana was trying to tell me in her letter tonight. That I needed to carry my memories of you beyond this place, to let them grow in my heart beyond this place. Because you're not just here. You are in my heart. You should be in my heart."

Reaching a hand through his thick dark hair in a familiar gesture of frustration, Joe silently listened to the urgings that echoed through his mind from a letter that had seemed as providential as it was challenging.

"I thought that's where I've been carrying you, Cathy, holding on to you all this time: In my heart. With the special kind of love that you were willing to offer me. The love of a trusted friend. But Diana had the courage to point it out to me tonight . . . I wasn't holding on to you there. I've been carrying you in my conscience instead, like a ghost."

Suddenly, the unimagineable happened within Joe's heart. It smiled. And the true, honest feelings followed, what he remembered, what he actually knew of her followed to take hold of him at last.

"You'd make a pretty lousy ghost, Radcliffe. There's nothing about you that could haunt anyone. Nothing to frighten or threaten. There's only that warmth I loved so much about you. Hell, there's the love, too. I never had the guts to come out and tell you. At least Elliot had the good sense to try."

Throwing his head back, Joe caught sight of the stars twinkling on in the autumn night, and let the tears slip from his gentle brown eyes.

For the past three years, he'd fought them, the tears. Forced them back. Ordered them back. Swallowed them hard, wiped them away the instant they dared to attempt to fall. Because he knew what would follow if he'd let them have their way: He'd drown in them.

Tonight he let them just fall, without fear. They only slipped softly down his cheeks, one after another, silently. Not tearing at his soul. Only washing it clean.

"I'm sorry, Cathy. God, you've got to know I would have never done anything to put you at risk! I had no way of knowing the scope of it all. We didn't know how far Gabriel could reach, before it was too late . . . Right to you. Right in our own office. I'd have given my life for you, kid. You know that."

And suddenly, he knew that, too. He hadn't sacrificed her to the very monster that would shed her blood. He'd only been trying to do his job. She'd only been trying to do hers. They'd only been attempting to stem the corruption and downright evil that seemed so insidious to that damn case.

He would never have let her die. He hadn't been able to rest until she'd been found.

A soft breeze unexpectedly picked up and swept passed him, carrying the same hopeful fullness he'd sensed back at his own flat. The soft current that touched him seemed almost an acknowledgement, a reassuring hand across his back. He trembled with the warm care that it radiated within his heart.

"So, now, I guess we need to go on from here, don't we, you and I? I don't mind telling you that I'm scared as hell to do it. I don't think I know how. Diana said that life would warm me to the soul again somehow. I can't really seem to find where that will be possible for me now, where I can find something to hold on to that won't crumble in my hands, something, someone worth caring about. I don't even know if I'll be able to recognize what I need anymore!"

Joe fought a moment within himself with the rest of the words he needed to say. But tonight could mean the end of the guilt-riddled pain. The fondly nourishing memories could support, at last, and not tear down. He might find his way, yet.

"You recognized the love. You let it fill you, and it raditated through you. You even let it touch me, maybe not in the way I would have chosen, but in the way I needed from you. Everything was anchored into place somehow, Cath, with what you were able to do, to give. I'm sorry that I had to cost you that. I'm sorry I had to keep you from your hopes, your future. You deserved your dreams."

Slowly, the young DA turned from his place to take serveral steps away from the stone monument before him. He wasn't certain if he'd been able to voice his heart completely. Catherine would have been able to understand what was left unsaid, though, he knew.

Without warning, the sound of Rita's gentle voice on the phone came back to him: "Don't lose heart." She'd been speaking about the Women's Center controversy. Wasn't she? Joe suddenly recognized the gentleness in her voice, the encouragement in her words. He turned back to the stone almost expectantly, as if he'd see Catherine standing there with that "I told you so" look she always gave him when he finally came to his senses about something they'd been working on.

Diana was capable of the same, impassioned admonishments to him: "You're better than this, Joe. Go with your instincts." Reading her letter this evening had indeed given him the direction he needed, the direction he'd fought in desperation. When he'd taken on

the red-headed detective as his investigator, he'd hoped he was doing all he possibly could to get Cathy justice, to find her killer and make him pay. He'd never imagined he'd also be doing all he possibly could to get himself justice, in the challenging guise of a trusted friend who'd reach out instinctively to him when she knew he'd need her the most.

It was strange, almost eerie, he thought. He'd had his hopes, his spirit, bolstered by two extraordinary women in the past. Cathy he'd loved silently, and lost in an agony of evil and corruption that had seared his very soul. Diana he'd never had the chance to love, but he respected her deeply, thankfully losing her only to her own mysteriously unfolding hopes and dreams. Was there yet room in his tested existence to finally get it right this time? Was it the time to move on, to begin again?

Almost sheepishly, the handsome, too-long careworn features broke into a gentle brightness he wasn't all that certain was in its proper place at the moment. But he was nearly convinced Catherine would not mind.

"You know, Escobar has turned into a hell of a crusader herself. If I really knew what was good for me, I'd quit shutting her out of my life. Right?"

Joe never got his answer because he was startled to hear a child's voice being carried on the breeze to him from a distance.

Or perhaps it was his response from Catherine, after all.

Because the sound continued coming closer, and, unbelievably, quite proficiently, it was reciting poetry, in a sweet, confident voice:

 

"No one can tell me, nobody knows -

Where the wind comes from, where the wind goes.

It's flying from somewhere as fast as it can.

I couldn't keep up with it, not if I ran."

 

 

The three figures moving slowly about the tree line on a still warm autumn night could have simply been three souls out for a welcome experience of nature in its fullness. The night sky was bright with stars. A friendly breeze stirred leaves that had begun piling up beneath their feet in what the day's light would have shown to be a wonder of autumn color -- golds, reds, browns, even purples.

But that light would need to be forever shunned, in reality. The leaves were piling up against headstones in a cemetery, and not natural outcrops of rock on some sheltered plain. The purpose of the excursion tonight, too, was not a joyous embrace of the natural world's beauty and fullness, but an acknowledgement of loss.

"Father, may I go on ahead now?" A small voice asked, ever eager to gather life's possibilities to itself. Even in this place, on this day.

"Yes, Jacob, but stay where we may still see you. Remember, this is not our world."

The little boy gazed up carefully into a beloved face he could trasure as no other, understanding the love for him carried in compelling blue eyes. "I'll be careful, Father." With a generous smile to the gentle, brave-hearted lady besude him, his mother, Jacob walked on ahead.

"Do you wish to rest?" The gentle words were soft and concerned. Diana smiled easily at them.

"We're almost there, Vincent. I'm all right."

A powerful arm drew her closer to his towering strength anyway. She leaned against it gratefully, knowing full well her husband was reaching his support out to her for more than simply her physical shortcomings of the moment. He was supporting her heart. The journey was still difficult to make, for her as much as for him, but they would sustain each other and find their way.

Just as they'd found their way to celebrating for Jacob this evening in the community, another gifting miracle in all their lives.

As he watched his young son walk purposefully ahead of them at a brisk child's pace, Vincent was filled with the peace and . . . rightness . . . of their decision to offer the child back his birthright.

It had been only a simple little gathering at the regular evening meal. Instead of everyone heading off to chores and family time, the community had lingered at table in the refectory area, and several small boxes covered with colored paper had been set beside the child. He wasn't certain what it all meant.

Then Diana had come in from the kitchen proper, and with William's help, had placed an iced cake crowned with candles before him, that had lit up the little boy's eyes as nothing ever had before. When he understood that the celebration was for him, because of his birthday, Jacob had simply looked to his father for confirmation.

"Happy Birthday, Jacob," Vincent had offered his child, with a hug and kiss that encompassed the entire community.

Simple present followed -- some books to keep as his own from the children's collection, handed down from the older boys and girls; a hooded sweatshirt, warm, and nearly new; a flotilla of small, plastic bathtub boats that could easily turn into pirate ships on the sailing pool; and, most wondrous of all, a large bucket of interlocking building blocks, brand new, brightly colored in myriad shapes and sizes, perfect for building castles and skyscrapers.

"Oh thank you!" came the heartfelt aknowledgement a half dozen times over, as, for once, the articulate little boy was left at a loss for words beyond those simple, grateful ones. The laughter that followed was punctuated by shared sweets and plans for building, sailing, and reading adventures in coming days with playmates and friends.

As Vincent now noticed how tall the child had grown in past months, how the warm sweatshirt fit perfectly and was not simply enveloping the little boy in a loose layer of fabric, he felt a warm pride spill over him. His son's generosity and tender care for all those around him, so very evident tonight, were a blessing in and of themselves to the community, and to his parents, especially. Three years with the sweet child in their midst: It had truly been a mercy to be celebrated this night, without turmoil.

And at that particular instant, Jacob was practicing aloud the poem he had wished to recite for his "angel mother", a special gift to her on this, his special day. The sweet sounds of the litÅ Ç É Ñ Ö Ü á à â ä ã å ç é è ■   ■                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               tle boy's voice were a healing balm. Vincent felt a tender wonder light his heart. And then, a moment later, a sudden ache, gentle, and sad. Diana laid her head on his shoulder as they walked, and he realized the feelings slipping into his heart had sprung from hers first.

She was watching Jacob outdistancing them as well, catching in her heart how the breeze played with the golden curls on his head, caressing them as lovingly as she. Vincent had touched the words in her heart the instant they formed there: "You're growing up too quickly, my little angel."

A mother's words.

Diana had the right to carry them in her heart. Even in this place, tonight.

 

The sudden need in Joe was an unnatural one of flight and concealment, something that was far distant from his normal range of emotions. The sound of a child's voice, coming from the dark on the wind, through a cemetery, should at least have caused the DA to slip into his policing mindset: All was not as it should be -- where was the child? -- why was he here? -- was he alone?

That should have been Joe's reaction to the gentle sounds of childhood poetry carried to him on the breeze. Still, what he found himself doing instead, at that instant, was attempting to hold his heart from bursting through his chest . . . not from an adolescent fear of burial grounds and nocturnal evils, but because Joe knew exactly whose voice reached him on the currents of air.

When he'd concealed himself behind a large ash tree about 20 feet way from Catherine's grave, Joe at last settled his heart into some sort of rhythmic order enough to peer out around his shelter.

The granite marker he'd just quit was still clearly in sight. Approaching it slowly now was a small boy, dressed in patched jeans and a dark colored sweatshirt. He was carrying a bouquet, of all things, in hs right hand, a bunch of flowers, roses, clearly visible in the pale moonlight of the night.

Jacob. Catherine's child.

Joe knew it for certain. It had been over six months since he'd seen the little boy in Diana's company at her loft one evening. Joe couldn't clearly make out the child's face well enough in the distance, but he'd recognize the halo of golden curls anywhere.

Cathy's baby. Diana's son.

If he'd ever held a breath of a doubt that the child was one and the same, it had all been finally put to rest . . . like the little boy's mother.

Taking a moment to ease the pounding of his heart at the confirmation, Joe took careful note of the child's present appearance. Jacob looked older than he remembered, at least size-wise, as children were despairinging wont to do without warning. The DA had somehow always kept the little boy as a toddler in his mind, but now he could see that the lanky legs took strong, confident steps. He almost questioned his assumption as to the child's identity, but the golden curls made the boy instantly recognizable, despite the passage of time. Those curls . . . and the heart-stopping blue eyes . . . that had locked onto his soul whenever Joe had come into contact with the child.

Though he was too far away to easily see the little boy's face, catch sight of those compelling eyes, the DA knew it was Jacob as surely as if Cathy had held out her hand to him and walked him across the distance to her side before his very eyes.

There was no way in heaven or hell now that the tested observer was going to quit his place. Yet, a growing part of his troubled heart told him that what might come to pass before him within the next few minutes would not be meant for peering, insensitive eyes.

Could it, though, have been meant, in truth, for him?

Coming to stand still before the dark stone at last, Jacob looked over his shoulder from the direction he had come and nodded his head visibly. Joe wasn't able to see who followed the child through the forest of markers, although he could guess, more than a little uneasily. So he willingly let that mystery play itself out in the background of his awareness as he focused instead on the little boy himself.

Jacob stood before his mother's grave for a long, quiet moment, gazing intently at the name on the stone. Gently, he set his small fingers to the carved letters, then liften them to his lips in a tender, acknowledging kiss. Reaching his left hand up to his forehead, he stopped an instant, as if not exactly certain of what he wished to do. After some decision, the little boy shifted the flowers from his right hand to his left, then proceeded to slowly, solemnly, cross himself with his right hand, with the careful detail of a angel that had just learned the devotion.

Joe swallowed hard, feeling totally, spiritually, overwhelmed, at the child's heartfelt attempt. He suddenly remembered his own Mom trying to teach his younger sister how to begin saying her prayers when she was about two and a half or three. Anna, a lefty, always forgot to cross herself with her right hand, as was properly required. His mother kept patiently directing her until she finally got it right, was able to feel the encompassing shelter of a cherished devotion readily within reach of her small heart for whenever she needed it

Directing a child's spiritual growth: Surely a mother's significant concern. Even here, before him, tonight? But which mother?

A strong urging within him told Joe he had absolutley no right whatever to be intruding on such a moment. Yet, Jacob's voice, sweetly natural and hardly ill at ease amongst his surroundings, seemed to hold the older man transfixed, totally unable, and unwilling, to remove himself from his vantage point.

"I've brought you some flowers from your rose bush, Mother," came the gentle little voice, startlingly clear on the breeze. Carefully, Jacob bent down to the stone vase that had been placed before the headstone and settled the roses into it. Red roses and white.

Their color was unmistakeable.

The last time Joe had seen such blossoms had been at Diana's loft, too, as she struggled to explain to him how a plant with unusual blossoming qualities could possibly be the reflection of an indescribable, unspeakably transcendent relationship that had drawn them both within its mysterious depths.

"Thank you for letting me give that one special rose to Mama today. It was so pretty," the child's words continued with the soft ease of familiar conversation. Joe had to remind himself that there was only a granite marker within sight of the little boy. Then he knew, for certain, that he was being given a providential gift this evening with the child's continued explanation. "She started to cry. I was afraid Mama was sad, but she just said that she was crying from love, that she loved me very much. I told her I loved her, too and she hugged me tight."

Again, the little boy turned to look over his shoulder, and this time Joe could just make out movement along the tree line in the shadows, coming in his, and the child's, direction. Nothing distinct, actually, but only a . . . sensation . . . of motion in the dark. Joe pulled back around the tree and closed his eyes tight, desperately trying to decide what to do. If he left now, he judged he could probably get to the main drive through and his car undetected by whomever was approaching. Yet, he couldn't will himself to leave. Jacob's words held him. As did the evidence that the child would soon no longer be alone.

"Father and Mama are coming. It takes Mama a bit longer to walk now because the baby will be born soon, Grandfather says. Mama let me feel it moving around inside her. It kicked under my hand." The sense of wonder was unmistakable in the soft voice. Joe felt his heart snap. "I asked her if it hurt, and she said, 'a little', but that it was one of the most beautiful things a mother could ever feel happening to her. Did I kick you, too, mother? I hope I didn't hurt you if I did."

He simply could not help it then -- the tears began to fall again. Joe felt a poignant, yearning shudder from the depths of his soul at the simply questioning words reaching him without conflict. Oh God, Cathy! he called out silently, you've got to be aching to pick that little boy up just now!

When Joe finally managed to gather his courage enough to look back around the tree again, he almost let an audible gasp escape him, for Jacob was no longer alone.

He'd been gently, lovingly, gathered up into the sheltering arms of a powerful, forbiddingly dark, shadow.


Continued in Chapter 6