Living the Promise: Chapter Eight


"Mouse! Mouse!" Kanin's words hardly carried a foot over the shrill whirring din of the drill being so meticulously guided by the community's young engineer. Finally, Vincent set his chisel and stone hammer down and reached a hand up to the excavator's shoulder.

At last Mouse realized he was being addressed and pulled the Rube Goldberg-esque drilling machine away from the wall face he'd been working on, turning it off. A sheepish grin covered his dusty face when he lifted away his safety goggles. "Sorry. Couldn't hear.

Drill too loud. Lunch time already?"

"Yes it is, Mouse. You've been working very hard this morning. Time for a break."

The enthusiastic young man looked up at the towering figure of his dearest friend with understanding. "Mouse gets busy, hates to stop. Have to finish heavy work soon. Chambers needed, behind schedule."

Kanin beat some of the more prominent layers of dust off his heavy flannel work shirt. "We know Mouse, but you can't push that drilling machine of yours too hard. You'll blow a gear we can't afford to replace and that would really set us back."

Vincent also dusted himself off as best as he could, the fine film of powdered rock greying his golden hair and thermal shirt. "It seemed as if the pitch of sound was changing as you were drilling just now. Did you notice it?" he asked Mouse with concern. "Perhaps another vein of limestone through the harder rock. We must be careful of collapse."

"Okay good, okay fine. After lunch Mouse will check things out. Go only a little way more and listen. Find what's what."

With only partially disguised relief, Kanin and Vincent shared knowing glances between them as Mouse turned away to dust himself off too.

The excavation of additional deep storage chambers had been going on for months, because of the need to free up more living areas nearer to the Inner Circle of the growing community that could be accessed by communications pipes. Work had been long and hard, with most of the heavy preliminary digging being done by Vincent alone, by hand.

In the past, any such back-breaking excavating would have earned Winslow's expertise, his blustery strength doing well against the bedrock that needed to be tackled. But the community's respected metalsmith had been a casualty of the chaos that had ultimately led up to the nightmares that had threatened the Underworld's very existence, from without and unexpectedly from within..

Now, Kanin and Cullen could only manage the more time-consuming finishing carving, after Vincent had blocked out the chambers' parameters. That was, until Mouse had adapted his pieced-together drilling machine.

The equipment had really only been used in emergencies, its precious batteries too small to hold out for any extended work period, but the snail's pace at which the present excavating project was proceeding had prompted a guarded agreement to the use of the questionable device, which actually melded high-speed drill bits with recycled gears a half century old. So far, no problems had surfaced, as a result of the machine's use.

But, the stone deep within the earth's layers where work was being done had been found to be shot through with several differing veins of minerals, unlike the normally familiar bedrock the majority of the deep tunnels had been carved out of. With the usual hand working of projects in the past, the unique properties of the various stone layers could be carefully taken into account and dealt with.

Mouse's comparatively high-speed drilling, however, had circumvented the extra-cautious procedures, and both Kanin and Vincent were keeping a close eye on the process to avoid any potential dangers. They were perfectly trusting of Mouses's abilities as engineer. It was the introduction of unfamiliar technology in his hands that sometimes gave them pause.

"Better get cleaned up a bit more. If Diana's anything like Livy, she'll not be pleased with you carrying bushels of stone dust with you into your chambers for lunch." Kanin pulled a large bucket of water over to within Vincent's reach.

"It's your turn to eat at home, Kanin. I left early to be with Diana last night, remember?"

A fraternal slap on the powerful shoulders of his co-worker spoke of understanding support. "Yes, but Livy isn't due until February, and Diana is in five weeks."

"So, if you check on Diana for me and tell her I will be home for supper, I would be very grateful. By the time you come back down, I will have more of this heavy chiseling done, and you will then be able to continue your finishing work."

Kanin shook his head, aware that, again, he'd lost out in his argument to practicality, and Vincent's selfless power of persuasion. He knew that his friend would ordinarily have kept working long into the night to keep the progress of the project moving ahead steadily. But he also knew, as any expectant father did, that those last few weeks before the birth of a child could be the most fearful and uncertain ones of all.

Thus, Kanin had been making certain that Vincent was finding plenty of opportunities to remain close to Diana through the day, despite the heavy workload. Still, his friend always insisted on reciprocating the favor, and the earnest stoneworker was grateful for that. He needed to be near Livy these days as much as Vincent needed to be with Diana.

Tossing several handsful of water over his dust-streaked face, Kanin attempted to make himself more presentable for the midday meal in community, all the while thinking of what a blessing his life had become -- After four years Above in prison, where he'd come to terms for a tragic, youthful irresponsibility with the world up top, he was now back home with his own family: Luke, Olivia, and, miraculously, their soon-to-be-born second child, a gift of love tested, torn, and finally reunited.

"They are amazing creatures, these women that we love!" Kanin commented as he handed the water bucket back over. Vincent looked up as he washed his hands, then handed Mouse a thermos of soup that William had packed for each of them. A completely knowing smile broke over the unique, dust-covered features of his face.

"Yes, and we will, thankfully, never be the same after having them share in our lives."

"I'll tell Diana you said that," came the friendly threat with a laugh. Kanin then turned out the roughly-carved entrance of the chamber, on his way to the living areas above them.

Mouse couldn't help adding his own observations to the matters at hand as he and Vincent quickly ate their lunches. "Good to have Kanin back home. Olivia's happy. Luke's happy. Family again."

"It's been a very painful time for them all. They deserve their happiness now, Mouse. It is a blessing to all of us."

"Like you and Diana. Pain, hurt, love, then a blessing of happiness, too."

Vincent looked up into the gentle, boyish face of the young engineer, and marveled at how . . . precisely . . . he had described the truth. Out of the mouth of babes, he thought.

Pain, hurt, love, and blessing:

Closing his eyes a moment, Vincent let his heart seek out the presence of his beloved family within its peaceful depths: A bright, effervescent warmth -- that was Jacob, no doubt eagerly engaged in some discovery with Luke and Katy.

Then, a gentle, steady flow of tenderness brushed with sheltering care -- Diana, going about her daily tasks, turning her thoughts to him at that instant, too, remarkably to him.

And a quiet rhythm of wondrous new life, pulsing gently, echoing the love that created it -- their unborn child. His bond with the little heart was strong now, and capable of moving him to tears, at times, in the quiet morning moments with Diana sleeping at his side.

"Yes, Mouse. I have been blessed."

Perhaps after supper tonight, when lessons had been completed and the community had slipped into its easy, end of day routines, he could bring Diana and Jacob down to the river for an hour or so. It had been a while since they had allowed themselves the indulgence, what with his workload, and Diana's state of health. But, tonight, an hour in the magic of the river garden would be so welcome.

The world Above had already been buffeted by December storms of icy rain and plummeting temperatures, but below at the river there were still plants growing in charming cracked pots and there was still thick grass to lie on and smell and touch with wonder and delight. Jacob could toss pebbles into the stream or follow a stick on its journey along the current, and he, himself, would simply hold Diana and their child in his arms as the rest of his prayer for the end of the day.

Thankfully, what had so perplexed Father and Peter about Diana's condition, its apparently accelerated state, had seemed to run its course without event. They'd cautiously prepared themselves to handle an early delivery of the child, but the pregnancy had simply settled itself into more recognizable patterns that everyone was grateful for. The baby seemed to be thriving, and Diana, too, had turned a corner in her state of spirit. Olivia's gentle encouragement and concurrent condition had done a great deal towards easing everyone's heart.

Mouse's reactivation of the drilling machine reluctantly pulled Vincent to the present reality of more digging to be done. He smiled generously at the young man as he got back up to his feet and retrieved his hand tools.

The community's chief engineer was a blessing as well, his ever-optimistic outlook at what could be accomplished only occasionally out of step with reality. The gentle soul deserved his eternally reachable hope.

He also deserved the tender kinship Vincent had caught sight of in Jamie's sweet face more than once, when her no-nonsense exterior was off guard.

Two more different spirits Vincent could never imagine as ever coming together in love -- the dreamer, and the pragmatist. The way things had been going around the community of late, though, he wouldn't be surprised to find the two young people engaged in a stumbling convergence of hearts themselves. It appeared that the Fates were set to smile on them all, at last.

With chisel and hammer in hand, Vincent set out again to square off more of the side opening into the chamber so a doorframe could be fitted, dividing up the storage space. Small bits of rock jumped up at him as he worked, giving evidence of the more brittle nature of the stone in this particular area of the tunnels. It wasn't even the softer limestone that they worked carefully around to avoid collapsing their project's walls, but something else, hard, yet unstable.

The puzzling nature of the rock slid into the background of his thoughts that again settled themselves, gratefully, onto Diana and Jacob, and the sweet care of the moments that had begun their morning. Yet, Vincent soon realized that something else was forcing itself back into his attention again.

Mouse's drilling machine.

It didn't sound right, not the same as it had before they'd stopped to rest for lunch.

The shrill pitch of revolving metal against stone was now interspersed by moments of lower-toned grinding, as if a reluctance had taken hold of the rhythm of the working parts.

. . . That mixture of stone types again. . . .The drill must be hitting more of the flinty stone behind the softer face of the chamber wall . . . A sudden unease took hold of Vincent, and he turned from his own work towards the opposite end of the room, where Mouse continued to drill.

The instant that Vincent caught full sight of the young man and his machine was the instant that the stone wall before them both exploded with a shattering force that seemed to stop time itself.

Mouse only had the presence of mind to throw up his arms in front of his face, attempting to shield himself from the terrifying, and expected, rain of stone heading for him.

Instinctively, Vincent lunged at Mouse across the open space that separated them. He caught hold of the young man at about hip level, the force of his formidible body being launched against the slighter one, hurling Mouse down to the chamber floor just a breath before the drill rigging was capsized and the full stream of shattered stone hit.

A chunk of metal from the disintegrating machine flew against Vincent as he fell with Mouse, hitting him above the left eye. Blood streamed from the wound immediately, impeding his sight. Smaller shards of stone pelted sharply through the fabric of his work shirt with their own stinging pain.

Mouse was being assaulted as well. He'd flown to the floor with enough force behind him to break his right arm as he landed. A good-sized rock hit him in the shoulder, another knocked against the back of his head, where Vincent couldn't reach a protective arm around the boy.

Then, a searing, startling flash of pain coursed through his own body, with a power that stopped Vincent's breathing. It sent a surge of white-hot agony from his left side through his entire chest. Fighting for breath, he could not, however, fill his lungs enough. His remaining vision began to darken around him.

Vaguely he was still aware of Mouse beneath him, and an automatic prayer reached his clouding mind in the hope that the young man was, at least, still alive. Then, in the fast-overpowering darkness and heart-numbing pain, a sudden flash of remembrance held his slipping consciousness in a vision he'd been tormented by months ago, but had at last dismissed only as a new father's quiet anxiety:

. . . Diana, crumbling to her knees, just out his reach.

He could hear her screaming out his name, feel her heart tearing in two, along with his own. "My love," he fought to whisper, in a voice now only a soul could hear.

 

Diana clipped the last yarn tie on the bright quilt and carefully folded the comforting blanket onto the growing pile beside her. The imaginative mix of fabric colors, patterns, and textures had all come together somehow, into a sheltering warmth that welcomed anyone reaching for it.

Not unlike her own experience of life Below the past nearly eight months. Only eight months, and only two and a half years of intermittant exposure to the nurturing, hopeful world before that: Just a bit more than three years since she'd taken on an investigation, against her better judgment, that would literally change her entire life.

It was so amazing: She felt as though her very first glimpses of life had been bathed in the soft, muted glow of candlelight. The city Above, and her own former existence in it, were far from her heart -- another life -- another person's life.

The present reality was here . . . Olivia's chamber, with the quiet hum of the sewing machine and the gentle song of friendly conversation. Luke and Jacob, building some intriguing structure with Jacob's birthday blocks, their infectious energies for the most part now confined to the stone floor across the room.

More present reality . . . The women at work on quilts for the shelter houses they were preparing as community Christmas gifts to those in need Above; the holiday an occasion to give and nurture and offer quietly anonymous support, not a rat race of meaningless consumption bordering on the blasphemous.

This was now the actuality of her home.

Yet, she'd not been completely cut off from the city and its so often spirit-shattering coldness, but, at last, she'd been able to actually feel as if she were doing something for someone to improve their lives, instead of always having to pick up the pieces after unholy chaos had shattered them.

Diana had accompanied Lena and Laura as they'd delivered one gift of a dozen quilts several weeks before to a home for young runaways and prostitutes trying to break free from the streets. The women had personally brought the quilts up to each of the girls in their shared rooms, giving faces to those in need who benefitted from the Underworld's outreach of love.

The quilts were only collections of recycled fabric bits that would help warm beds in sparse dormitories that were difficult to keep comfortable in the old brownstone, but the gift of care that went out along with the simple blankets had served to warm a number of hearts that day.

One blanket Diana had spread over the bed of a 16 year old hooker named Jeannie. She was a runaway from some vague little town in the Midwest, a victim of her mother's alcohol and her step-father's perversions, made hard beyond her years, with brown eyes that carried no life within them. Yet, beyond the "I don't give a damn" attitude, Diana recognized a frightened, lonely young girl.

The quilt, though, unexpectedly lit up Jeannie's spirit immediately, in spite of herself. Without realizing that even her tone of voice had changed as she spoke, she said quietly, "My grandma made me a quilt like this once. She made lots of them, really fancy ones, with stars and fans and things. I used to love looking through her fabric piles."

Diana had sat on the bed beside the girl and they'd spoken for a few moments about her memories, especially those of her grandmother, the only happy recollections, it seemed, the girl had. Then Jeannie's attention abruptly rested on Diana, without apology, and on her unborn child, as if forcing herself back to the present.

"You know who the father is?" came the cold, almost hostile inquiry.

Startled at the question, and its tone, Diana then realized the pain it had sprung up from within the girl's soul. "My husband is the father of our child," she responded softly. The girl seemed almost capable of understanding that.

"You happy about it?"

Another pang of frightened defiance, lashing out, unwilling to believe.

"Oh, yes, Jeannie," Diana said with all the wonder in her heart. "Yes! We both are, and so grateful. This child will be born of our love, a love we never believed we'd be blessed by. It took us a long, painful time to find our way to each other."

The girl's hardened features gentled again, despite her protective facade. "I used to wish I'd fall in love, get married, have a baby."

"It can still happen for you, Jeannie. Love can touch your life, too."

The vehemence with which the young girl shook her head brought tears to Diana's eyes. But for the grace of God, that girl could have been Samantha, selling her body just so she could eat, devoid of all hope.

After a moment of silence that echoed with pain, Jeannie found her voice. "Could I, could I just . . . touch . . . you?" The careful, stumbling request gave Diana pause again, but this time at the girl's obvious attempt to reclaim her innocent belief in life . . . and love.

All she'd ever experience of pregnancy, Diana guessed, was the fact that it would get her into trouble with her pimp, and keep her from working for her very existence.

A sharing of souls in love was beyond her comprehension.

Gently, Diana had taken the girl's hand and had held it to her baby for a long moment. When the little one stirred, as if knowing the important need for it to do so at that moment, Jeannie actually laughed, the warmth almost rising to her huge brown eyes, accepting the promising wonder that could be life.

"That's really something," she said. Diana could almost hope for the girl.

Still, when it had been time to return Below, the image that the tender, caring mother had brought away from the half-lit room wasn't even that of a hardened young hooker trying to take hold of her life. It had been, instead, that of a little girl, wrapping herself up in her grandmother's quilt, dreaming of a loving heart to share.

 

"Diana, you seem far away. Is anything wrong, dear?" Mary's gentle words slipped around her thoughts and reassured Diana of where she was.

"I'm fine, Mary. I was just thinking of how blessed my life is, compared to the lives of those we're making these blankets for."

"Yes, we are all very gifted in that, aren't we? We have each other. We have people we love and who love us. We have our hope."

Mary's quiet description of the wonder that had become her life made Diana truly realize what gifts she'd unbelievably been able to claim for her own this past year -- a loving community of family, a wondrously treasured little boy, and an extraordinary heart:

the father of both that little boy and her own unborn child.

A sweet tenderness holding her spirit told her that Vincent had sought out her presence within him. That Diana could even be aware of such a thing was part of the miracle in their love. She let her heart drift to its partner's, with welcome.

"Have you decided what you wish to do for Father this Christmas, Mary?" Olivia's question brought a sweet wash of color over the older woman's gentle, care-worn features. She, too, had been able to take hold of blessings this year in her life.

"Yes, Livy. Actually, Samantha's been helping me with it for several weeks now. I've been learning to play chess, so I may play it with Jacob."

Diana and Olivia laughed softly at the perfection of the gift Mary was preparing for the beloved patriarch of their community.

For the adults of the tunnel world, Christmas gifts meant offerings of the spirit to those they loved, gestures of shared time and talents, in keeping with the true meaning of the holiday. Oh, the children were allowed the luxury of a plaything, an almost new garment, a treat adventure in the world Above, the more tangible gifts that their young hearts could still delight in, in addition to the spirit-gifting offerings that were the center of their celebrations, and indeed, their everyday life throughout the year.

But, the adults had long ago decided that gifts of themselves were the only treasures they'd consider for those they loved.

So it came to no one's surprise that Mary had decided to take upon herself the challenge of secretly learning the strategic game Father had at last despaired of ever interesting her in, simply so that she and the venerable physician could spend future evenings in a quietly, warmly shared activity that would gift them both with time and closeness.

"That is marvelous, Mary," Olivia responded. "Father's been looking for another worthy opponent for his games."

"Jeffrey's not yet in his league and he's given up on beating Vincent any longer. He's even asked me why on earth I didn't learn!" Diana interjected with humor. "I told him I don't have the patience. You'll give him a real workout, though, I'm sure."

"Precisely why I asked Samantha to teach me. Jacob has said often her grasp of the game was extraordinary for one so young. I plan on giving him many a good battle!"

"What about you, Livy? What are you doing for Kanin?" Diana asked.

"I hope it will be something special for him, too," came the soft-spirited response, as Olivia left her place at the sewing machine and walked over to Luke's small chest of drawers. The boy came over to his mother's side after he realized she'd been rummaging about a bit without obviously finding what she sought. Jacob joined the group of women, too.

"Here, Mother. I pushed it farther behind my clothes so that Father couldn't find it by accident." The earnest, dark-haired six year old carefully pulled what appeared to be a muslin sack out of the deep drawer, a heavy one, about the size of a pillowcase.

Olivia reached into the drawstring sack and came over to Diana's chair with three chunks of rock, each about the size of a fist. Immediately, Diana could appreciate the appeal of the stones. One was pure, pearly white. Another was a veined green, and polished smooth on three sides. The third was speckled in red and black.

"Marble. And granite. They're beautiful, Livy. Where on earth did you find them?"

"Remember when Mouse brought news of that old bank building they were tearing down in Greenwich a couple of months ago? I went up with him once to see if I could find some special stone for Kanin to do his carving with. There was this beautiful staircase all shattered to bits in the rubble, and chunks of a doorway lintel. I gathered about a dozen different pieces."

Diana smiled with understanding. Olivia's face, long etched with undeserved lines of weary pain, shone gently as she spoke of her husband, finally returned to her.

"Kanin is a fine stonecutter, and he loves working the chambers below. But being able to sculpt in marble or granite -- that is something he's always wished for. I know the pieces are just tiny, but, perhaps, he can do something with them."

Carefully, Olivia replaced the stone chunks into the bag, which Luke again hid deep into his drawer. Jacob came over to Diana's side, then announced with generous pride of his own, "Mama has been working on a gift for father, too. A book of music poetry."

"Really, Diana?" The little boy's announcement quickly turned all attention to the remaining woman in the room. She was happy to share her secret as well.

"Vincent enjoyed the two classes I planned with the older literature students on music poetry so much that I thought he'd like reading more. I've written down some song lyrics that have meant a good deal to me over the course of time, and bound them together in a small journal for him."

"How wonderful!" came Olivia's comment. Mary also recognized the sweet and gentle spirit of love shared in such a gift.

"I believe that Vincent has probably read every volume down here, literary or not, at least a half dozen times," came the warm statement from Mary with a laugh. "He's certain to welcome a new source of poetry."

"Mama has drawn beautiful pictures to go with the words, too." Jacob's further explanation turned Diana's cheeks to a gentle pink at the inevitable outpouring of interest in her project.

"I didn't know you were an artist, Diana," Olivia said.

"Oh, heavens, far from an artist, Livy!" Diana rushed to inform. "I only sketch a bit, very simple things. Unfortunately, it came in handy when I was Above and working on a case. I'd sometimes sketch out scenes of incidents as I pictured them in my mind so that I could study them more closely for possible leads. It was hardly a worthwhile expression of any artistic talent."

"But Vincent surely will love a glimpse into another facet of yourself, child," Mary pointed out. Diana smiled shyly, trying to call to mind the number of times her husband had told her that he'd never come to completely understand her, and that he would be eternally grateful because of that fact. It must be at least a hundred times by now. Mary's observation had indeed been part of the motivation for her gift. All she'd ever have to give her beloved would be herself. She welcomed the opportunity to reveal her heart, in some small way, even more intimately to him.

The trusting friendship that the three women shared urged Olivia to ask a favor. "Do you think you could show us some of your work sometime?" With the remarkable spirit of the sensitive, intuitive young woman a known and so welcome part of the community now, too, Olivia was certain any sketches Diana might have lately created would surely be special works of art.

Diana was able to easily take the request in the spirit in which it was intended -- a confidence shared between loving family members. Funny, ordinarily such a private person Above, defensively so, what with her soul-eroding past vocation, she'd felt so strangely at home with her shift to a very community-oriented existence, opening herself up to these supportive women as well as to her beloved husband, happy to welcome their concerned and gifting friendship as if from her own family.

"I'll do better than that," she replied to Olivia's request with fervant trust. "I'll let you see the book for Vincent. Jacob, you know where it is. Would you bring it back for me here, please?"

The little boy was out the chamber door before anyone could blink an eye, eager to show his treasured extended family members that he, too, could be trusted with a special and important secret project.

Mary bent back to her hand sewing, a satisfied smile gracing her mother's face. She was so glad that Diana could feel close enough to her and Olivia that she could share a relatively intimate revelation of her heart's love with them.

It hadn't been so long ago that the tested young woman had buried her hopes and emotions for the mythic, haunted being that had been Vincent, devoid of all promise in his life. Now, the man that Mary loved as her own child was finally at peace with his soul, sheltered in the warm and generous love of the burnished-haired redeemer before her. And that long-assaulted young woman's spirit was also given sancutary at last, finally free to proclaim its love and care without guilt or shame.

Yes, the blessings were finally within reach for so many of those she loved, Mary decided with great satisfaction.

A few moments later, Jacob returned, carefully carting a metal tin, about the size of two shoeboxes put together. The tin was decorated with a Currier and Ives winter scene and had once been filled with butter cookies.

Diana smiled and shook her head as the little boy gently set the box on what was left of her lap. "Oh, Jacob, angel, you didn't have to bring the whole box! You know the book is inside."

"But I didn't want to upset your special treasures, Mama."

With a sweeping hug and a heartfelt kiss to the little boy's golden hair, Diana acknowledged his care with her memory box. "That was very kind of you, Jacob." Realizing that Mary and Olivia would be just as intrigued by the contents of the box as by the poetry book, she took a leap of faith into the bonds of family and opened the box up in their presence.

At first reluctant to intrude on Diana's privacy, her two companions eased over to her side with gratitude at her invitation. The enigmatic young woman at once became a forever beloved sister and daughter, as any final vestiges of polite distances were set aside.

Carefully, Diana eased several stacks of letters tied with ribbon out of the box, then shared her photograph of her graduation day at the Police Academy with the women. Olivia commented at how alike Diana and her father looked. Mary, with a mother's eye, caught sight of the pride, and quiet ache, in Diana's own mother's warm features.

She also noted the official-looking certificates their companion set aside without explanation, catching sight of the words "bravery" and "commendation" on both of them. That Diana wouldn't even give a second thought to such things at the moment came as no surprise to Mary.

Then a smaller stationery box came out of the tin, at which Jacob chose to remain for closer inspection. It was his favorite object in the memory tin, though he'd been offered only slightly revealing explanations as to the items' importance to his mother:

The container held some carefully wrapped and dried flowers -- a rosebud corsage, treasured from a long-ago evening of dancing in the park, with a newly-discovered soulmate; a red rose, that had graced a pillow on another tender, threatened, wondrous night; and, most important to the little boy, a third rose treasure he did know the full story of . . . the white and red blossom that he'd given Diana on his last birthday, the mystically melded flower that had told her the time was right to leave behind her guilty fears and rejoice in the promise of the day.

Beneath the small box of fragile blossoms were two slim, old volumes of verse, so similar to the ones easily evident all around them in the community -- Grey's Elegy in a Country Churchyard, and a collection of Dylan Thomas. Diana handled the books carefuly, gently, offering the other two women beside her only a few words of explanation:

"These finally led me to Vincent." Poetry of loss and remembrance, that had finally drawn Diana to the one place where she would meet up with her destiny face to face . . . Catherine's grave, and the tormented remnants of a remarkable heart that was to become her beloved.

One more special little keepsake Jacob reached into the box for, with obvious familiar fascination -- a perfectly preserved fossil of a seashell. The little boy couldn't quite understand why his mother did not keep it within the glass jar that sat on her mirrored dresser and held numerous other, tiny shells. He did, though, treasure looking at it for the secret, long ago world it hinted at that must have existed within the parameters of their own world.

Diana had singled it out, though, for the memory of how she'd come to possess it -- swimming in the hot spring stream so far below with Vincent for their Midsummer excursion. The powerful forces of nature that had melded an object of beauty from the world Above to the stoney depths of their own world had become a cherished mirror, for her, of her entire existence of late, indeed, even of Vincent's state of soul.

It was during that journey that she'd revealed to him the wonderous fact that she was bearing their child. That time, too, had become for them an opportunity of unburdened, uninhibited, loving acknowledgement of their need for each other, a touching to the very bonds that held their hearts and souls as one.

The sweet memory brought a breathless stirring deep within her spirit, and body, that hardly took note of the fact she was eight months pregnant now. Diana smiled softly to herself as she pictured how Vincent would be giving her a startled, but not too harsh, reprimand, when he came home tonight, about the direction her thoughts had no doubt threaded themselves into his heart from her own, when he was trying to put in a day's work in the chambers below. It would only serve as further evidence of the ease with which they now were free to accept all of their compelling devotion to each other.

"Here's the book, Mama." Jacob had set aside the seashell and retrieved the final item in the keepsake box -- Diana's gift to Vincent for their first Christmas together. Almost shyly she handed the booklet over to Olivia, as Mary looked over her shoulder. The women began to page through the thin volume with gentle wonder, slipping into the heart of their mercurial friend and reading the tender radiance of her love there for her husband.

The cover of the booklet was sturdy card stock that had been washed with a gentle irridescence of watercolor that left just a hint of rainbow hues. The front cover was simply title, "Lyrics" in Diana's unflourished penmanship, written carefully in black calligraphy ink.

The pages of the booklet were also softly washed with the same tint of colors as a background to neatly handwritten words that spread beneath a more prominently lettered title. On most of the sheets, in at least one corner or another, a small, penciled sketch envisioned a portion of the song lyrics with understated, quiet poignancy, from an obviously talented and intuitive hand.

"Diana, these are beautiful," Olivia commented softly, as she carefully flipped the pages. The eclectic collection of lyrics that were contained within those pages soon proved to be very much a complex and revealing portrait of its creator her companions felt priviledged in its unveiling to them:

"Both Sides Now", by Judy Collins, graced by a sketch of clouds and a rainbow; "I Am, I Said" by Neil Diamond; "Forever Autumn" from the Moody Blues, in warm colors of a wood, beckoning, but sad, too; and several selections from Simon and Garfunkel --

"Bridge Over Troubled Water", "The Boxer", and "Scarborough Fair."

"I remember this one, Diana," said Mary with gentle introspection at the sight of that last lyric selection.

"You were humming it to me when I woke up after the tunnel collapse." Diana recalled the quiet sound of the familiar melody seemed so suddenly enchanted, filling the stone chambers. It had comforted her, soothed her pain, so much of which had been spiritual and emotional, as well as physical, at that time.

The sketch for that song brought Mary back to the scene she'd witnessed in the hospital chamber that so long ago morning: Diana, battered, weak, and so terribly alone, suddenly being resurrected by the simple presence of Vincent in the room; and her beloved foster son, thoroughly incapable, for once, to bury with harsh denial the longing love that his heart was so guiltily harboring for the needful, and deserving, young woman before him.

The picture Diana had set to the corner of the page for "Scarborough Fair" was a small vignette of a medieval country fair, with pennants flying and children romping through vendors' stalls. Beneath a tree in the foreground sat a young couple, a pretty girl, blonde and fair, in medieval gown, and, from his own telling garments, a dark-eyed troubadour with a lute resting at his feet.

The couple was embracing tenderly, but the girl was betrayed by a single tear slipping down her cheek.

With the next page, the lyrics and pictures became more recognizably personal, as the beautiful, but anonymous figures in the previous drawings had now become familiar:

"A Place For Us" from "West Side Story" becoming a depiction of the city Above divided from the tunnel world Below; "I Don't Know How To Love Him" from "Jesus Christ, Superstar", sheltering just a small drawing of Vincent from behind, only his cloak and the fall of his long hair, with the skyline of the city indistinctly beyond his view, and a hand, a woman's slender arm and hand, reaching out to rest on his shoulder -- but stopping short in the attempted touch.

Mary put her own arms around Diana's shoulder, as all three women lingered over the memories that picture conjured up for them each, but then, the amber-haired artist turned to smile through tears still held in check. "It gets better, don't worry."

"Diana, you've put your heart and soul into these pages. Vincent will treasure them." Olivia gently turned one more sheet, and came upon "All I Ask of You" from "The Phantom of the Opera."

This page was graced with two larger pictures that were simply breathtaking in their subtle spirit as well as in their execution. On the full page opposite the soul-revealing lyrics, Diana had sketched her own portrait, and Vincent's, on their wedding day, at the moment Mary had left their hands joined by the entwining bonding ribbon. The picture caught the quietly awestruck wonder in each face, as their attention was held to their clasping hands, Diana's ethereal grace and Vincent's mythic power each tenderly caressed by the warm colors of candlelight that encircled them. No one else was visible -- only the two of them at that compelling instance, embodying the pleading promise of the lyrics.

Then, on the page of the song itself, at the bottom corner, another sketch took hold of the women's hearts with tender understanding. This picture had Diana sitting in her home chamber on a chair beside the bed. The soft tunnel gown she was clothed in showed evidence of her enlarged figure. Little Jacob was kneeling beside her, his head resting on her lap, as his mother set her own hand gently onto his bowed head. A volume of Dr. Seuss was recognizable beside them.

"Mama even drew a picture of me," came Jacob's wonder-filled comment, that elicted a sweetly generous hug and kiss from his mother.

"You are one of the most wonderful parts of my life," she breathed tenderly, as the little boy returned to his block building with Luke on the floor.

There was one more blank page of watercolored paper left in the booklet. "That one is for a picture of Vincent and the baby," Diana explained with quiet tenderness, her hand automatically going to her ripened form with cherishing acknowledgement.

Mary leaned a hug down to her with sweet recognition of her own. "Diana, thank you so much for letting us see your journal."

"Thank you for letting me feel comfortable enough to want to." The words were certain and truly grateful.

"Is there anywhere a poor working man can go for a decent meal?" The sound of Kanin's teasing voice filled his chamber suddenly, as he strode over to kiss Olivia on the cheek. Noticing the wedding portrait of his friends on the page open before his wife, he smiled at Diana. "So, that is what I missed! Vincent wasn't far off the mark when he described you as an angel on that day, Diana."

"Only that day?" came the accusing question, as Diana carefully laid the booklet, and all her treasures back into her box, setting it finally on the table.

"It must be your turn to check up on these ladies, right, Kanin?" Mary questioned with brightness. Their newly arrived, and still dusty, companion gave Luke a hug, then settled down on the floor with his son and Jacob to investigate the children's construction endeavors.

"Can we help it if we are both worried about you two?"

Olivia pulled herself a bit ungainly to her feet, and shooed some of Kanin's dust-filled wake off the shoulder of her sweater with exasperated patience. "Just wait, Diana, and see if their concern extends to midnight feedings and dirty diapers."

Diana smiled as she flicked a bit of stone out of Olivia's braided hair. She came to her feet, too, as Kanin's appearance would denote the fact that the lunch hour was imminent. And everyone in the community was well acquainted with William's displeasure with late arrivals to the dining room. He simply hated when his cooking expertise was reduced to cold, unrecognizable remnants of meals.

"I have to defend my husband, though, Olivia," Diana continued as she took a few steps from her own chair. "Vincent has been more than helpful these days. I'm overwhelmed with tender care."

"Now you're going to get me into trouble the next time I overlook putting away my carving tools," Kanin pleaded with Diana first, and then his own wife with good humor. He helped Luke settle a particularly stubborn block into place on the tower he was erecting. Jacob picked up his own construction, a fanciful ship, for a final observation.

But, just as the little boy came to his feet, too, eager to exhibit his handiwork to his mother across the room, he stopped dead in his tracks. The little ship clattered to the stone floor from his hand and broke apart.

All eyes in the room were instantly on the child, who grew visibly pale and nearly tottered on his feet. Kanin, who was closest to him, wrapped a securing arm around the little boy. Diana moved towards him unsteadily herself, as Kanin questioned in urgency, "What is it, Jacob, what's wrong?"

The little boy appeared not to hear, as huge tears formed in his eyes and ran suddenly down his cheeks. He clutched at his chest, apparently fighting for his breath. Only Kanin was close enough to hear the child whisper through his gasping sobs, "Father."

Then a heart-wrenching cry filled the room.

It was Diana, falling heavily to her knees.

Mary swiftly took hold of the young mother, attempting to support her somehow, but her own hands trembled as she took in what Diana was actually crying out in agony: It was Vincent's name. Sobbing it over and over again, Diana couldn't bear the horrific ache that was pressing in on her from the depths of her soul. "Oh God, God, no, please no! You can't! Vin-cent!"

Unable to catch her own breath, suddenly, the room began going dark. Diana collapsed against Mary in devastated disbelief and pain.


Continued in Chapter 9