Contrary to his usual habit, Vincent woke very slowly. He could
feel awareness of his surroundings welling up from what seemed to be
a very deep place. He saw no need to hurry it, since his present
half-awake state was so thoroughly pleasant; he felt more relaxed
than he could ever remember. There was also a curious and
unaccustomed sensation of ... lightness? ... as if a tether binding
him to earth had been cut, or a burden long carried had been
relinquished at last. Everything around him was quiet, and he drifted
slowly toward consciousness. Then Catherine moved beside him, and his
eyes snapped open.
For a moment, the sight that greeted those eyes convinced
him he was still asleep and dreaming. Reluctantly he closed and
opened them again. The vision was still there ... a very tangible
vision, he realized, as she snuggled closer to him, still asleep. The
warmth of her body against him, the heady feel of her skin touching
his, triggered the memory of the night before in a great flood. The
revels of Winterfest, late into the night. Bringing her to this
remote chamber afterward, that he had filled with candles and roses
... telling her that he was finally ready to take the risk of loving
her. Her joy ... her passion ...
Their bond told him she was awake seconds before the
sensuous rubbing of her cheek against his chest, and the cluster of
kisses that followed. Sighing in utter contentment, she lifted her
head far enough to focus on his face. Her smile was the most
beautiful sight he had ever seen--at least since the previous night.
"Good morning." Catherine's voice held a langorous
quality he had never heard before. "If it is still morning. If we've
been sleeping all day we certainly earned it."
Remembering how they had earned it left Vincent
temporarily bereft of speech, and almost of sense. "It's not quite
noon," he finally managed to get out, in a voice he barely recognized
as his own.
"How can you know that?" Catherine asked, intrigued.
"It's quite obvious you're not wearing a watch ..." She smiled
wickedly. "Is this yet another hidden talent you've kept from me?"
"The candles. I can tell by how much they've burned
Catherine spared a glance for the huge candles on their
tall holders at the corners of the bed. "I must have been preoccupied
last night. I never thought ... those would have to burn a long time,
or we'd be waking up in the dark. Electricity doesn't seem to stretch
to this chamber." Catherine propped herself up on one elbow to regard
Vincent curiously. "What is this chamber, anyway? Besides a place
I'll remember vividly until my dying day."
Her reminiscent smile made it somewhat difficult to frame
a reply, but Vincent made a manful effort. "We have a few like this,
remote, assigned to no one in particular. They are sometimes used by
people who just need to spend time alone to think or meditate. They
are quite popular with couples who are ... uh ... courting. Or those
newly married, or parents of small children who need to get away once
in a while."
"You mean, this is sort of the Tunnel equivalent of a
resort?" Catherine laughed delightedly.
"One might describe it in those terms. This chamber in
particular." Vincent gave Catherine a secretive smile.
"What do you mean, 'in particular'? Don't tell me you
have even more surprises up your sleeve. So to speak." Catherine ran
her hand slowly down his arm, as if if to emphasize his current lack
"Did it surprise you that I finally gained the courage to
love you? You should have more faith in your powers of persuasion."
"I guess I was afraid to hope too much--it felt like I'd
be tempting the gods. Look what happened to all those poor Greeks who
let their hubris get out of hand." Catherine's voice was half
teasing, half serious.
"Fortunately," Vincent told her gently, "whatever gods
watch over us seem to be of a more benevolent turn of mind.""At least
lately," Catherine admitted grudgingly. "I hope they'll stay that
"They should," Vincent replied in a mock-serious tone.
"After all, you just sacrificed a virgin to them ... in a manner of
"You were a very willing sacrifice, my love." Catherine
was unable to take either her hands or eyes away from Vincent, as if
she too were afraid he would dissolve into morning light, like her
dreams of this moment always had before.
"A willing sacrifice is the kind most pleasing to the
gods," Vincent spoke softly as his fingers gently traced the curve of
"Then they should be remarkably pleased after last night.
Once you realized there was nothing to fear, you were positively
eager to be sacrificed. Except ... "
"Except what?" Vincent tried to keep his voice from
betraying his sudden worry. Had he failed Catherine somehow? Or
worse, hurt her in a way his passion of last night had prevented him
Catherine leaned close to him and whispered
conspiratorily into his ear. "I'm afraid they won't believe you were
a virgin. You were wonderful. Worth waiting years for ... worth
waiting a lifetime for."
Both embarassed and pleased, Vincent took refuge in
words. "I was not without theoretical knowledge, Catherine, but after
Lisa, how could I know that anything I read or heard would be true
for me? Until you convinced me otherwise, I never believed I had the
right to risk putting that knowledge into practice."
"Well," Catherine announced emphatically, "for someone
who's never done this before, you have a remarkable talent. Although
I don't know why I should be surprised at that; you've done well at
anything else you put your hand to." A stricken look came over
Catherine's face as soon as the words were out.
Vincent grinned in delight. "Catherine! I've never seen
you blush before." Taking pity on her, he continued. "I haven't
succeeded at everything I've tried."
"William tried to teach me once to bake bread, at my
insistence. It was a disaster.""Why? I know you can cook other
things, and very well, too."
Vincent raised the hand that curled around her shoulder.
"You showed me, Catherine, that these hands are made for loving,
after all. But they are not made for kneading dough."
"Dear heart--bread I can get anywhere. Loving I only want
Vincent pulled Catherine close for a slow, gentle kiss.
After a while, she lay back against his arm, and he stroked her
throat and shoulders with a feather touch as she spoke again.
"Dear love," she said softly. "So many times you told me
to follow my heart--and so reluctant you were to follow your own.""No
less a sage than Emerson," he replied, "said 'a foolish consistency
is the hobgoblin of small minds.' "
"Mmm. Well, we know there's nothing small about you,
Vincent," Catherine told him silkily.
It took a few seconds for her words to sink in, then
Vincent gave Catherine the satisfaction of seeing him blush for the
first time. This was an aspect of Catherine he had never before seen.
He discovered that his surprise quickly gave way to pleasure. His
lips found hers again. As they began to work their way downward, he
felt her hands tangle in his hair, and his breath began to quicken as
hers did. Clearly they were done with conversation for some time.
The candles had burned considerably lower by the time
Vincent even thought of resuming their conversation. Catherine was
idly stroking the hair that fanned out over his back as he lay with
his head on her breast. He briefly considered lying there forever,
but reluctantly concluded that they would both have to eat
eventually, not to mention ...
"Catherine ... "
Reluctantly, Vincent rolled over and attempted a sitting
position. "There's something else I would like to show you."
Catherine stretched luxuriously and moved to sit beside
him. "Vincent, if you show me anything more I'll have to take a rest
cure. That will make Joe very unhappy; practically everyone at work
is taking off after Christmas."
"This surprise," he assured her, "is of a different
"Well, my love," she replied, "I don't know whether to be
disappointed or relieved. But, since I've undeniably enjoyed all your
surprises so far, lead on."
Rising from the bed, Vincent held out a hand to her.
Curious, she took it and followed him to a door at right angles to
the one through which they had entered last night. Moving the
tapestry aside, he drew her through and stepped aside to see her
"Oh, Vincent, this is wonderful! No wonder you said this
chamber was special." She turned to him excitedly. "Who built this?
How long has it been here?"
Pleased at her reaction, Vincent explained as he
retrieved bathing paraphenalia from a small cabinet near the door.
"These are natural hot springs, but everything was quite primitive
until about fifteen years ago. This was built by a man called Tohiro,
who died before we met. He had been born in Japan, and was badly
disfigured when Hiroshima was bombed. He lived with us for the last
twenty years of his life."
"It just occured to me," Catherine said as she slipped
into the warm water, "that I should spend all my extra time Below
helping with the laundry. One thing I never considered in all my
hopes of us becoming lovers was what an extra burden it would be for
whoever washes sheets around around here."
Entering the water himself, Vincent watched as Catherine
ducked her head under. Shaking the water out of her eyes as she
emerged, she sat next to him on the stone seat carved along the side
of the pool. She slipped into the curve of his arm and leaned her
head against his shoulder. Vincent marveled at how quickly he had
become used to having her there.
"Dearest, we are not the only ones down here who engage
in activities that increase demands on the laundry. We have lovers,
and married couples, and young children, after all." He kissed the
top of her head. The last time he had seen her hair wet like this,
she had almost drowned. There were so many memories that needed to be
replaced with happier ones ...
Catherine insisted on washing every inch of him, from his
mane of hair to the furry feet which had so delighted her last night.
Returning the favor, he discovered a whole new category of
contentment. Supporting her with one arm as she lay back in the
water, he watched her hair spread out in the current, rinsing the
soap away, and thought of goddesses rising from the sea.
Moving from the washing pool to the soaking one, they
settled into the warmth. For a long time they sat without speaking,
enjoying the feel of the water. It seemed to Vincent that only the
heaviness of his utterly relaxed body kept him from floating away, he
felt so light with happiness and relief.
Catherine sat on his lap, one arm curled around his neck
and her other hand idly stroking his chest underneath the water.
"Mm?" Realizing the response fell far short of his usual
articulate level, he decided he couldn't care less.
"How did you know this room would be free tonight--did
you have to, well, make reservations?" She began to toy with the
strands of his hair that floated on the water.
"This room is never used at Winterfest--that's the one
time when all our people come together; this place is where people go
to be apart."
"Well, what about the roses?" Catherine wondered. "How
did you ever manage to get so many? Did you get Mouse to liberate a
shipment from the flower market, no questions asked?"
"Actually, one of our Helpers is a flower wholesaler.
I've helped her over the years with projects which needed strength,
or construction skills. She has been troubled by arthritis for a long
time, and such things are difficult for her." Vincent laughed. "I
believe I now owe her my services for the next two decades."
"Didn't she wonder why you wanted about ten dozen roses?"
Vincent could feel Catherine smile as her head rested in
the hollow of his shoulder.
"Perhaps she wondered at first, but after seeing us
together at Winterfest she may have developed a theory or two."
Vincent kissed the top of Catherine's head again, just to keep in
practice. "Do remember meeting Mrs. Tran?"
"She's the one?" Catherine raised her head. "No wonder
she kept looking at me all night and smiling."
Vincent stretched lazily. "I told Father last night that
I was going to suggest that you stay Below, since Winterfest was so
late. Of course, I didn't mention that I planned to suggest staying
with you." Reluctantly, he stood and took Catherine's hand to lead
her from the pool. "We should give some thought to making an
appearance soon. It's getting late and I do not dry quickly."
"I'll help," Catherine volunteered eagerly.
"If you help too much," Vincent cautioned, "we may not
get out of here until dinnertime--and you must be hungry."
Catherine admitted this was so. After the towel drying
was completed in as businesslike a manner as circumstances allowed,
Vincent led Catherine to a small room off the bathing pool. Its
particular configuration channeled and concentrated the air, making
it almost a miniature version of the Chamber of the Winds.
"This is wonderful!" Catherine shouted happily to be
heard over the whistling winds. "This place even comes with an
industrial strength blow dryer." Vincent smiled at her pleasure,
watching the flush on her cheeks and the gleaming hair whirling
around her face.
When they returned to the bedchamber, Catherine shook her
head as she retrieved the velvet dress from where it had fallen the
night before. "Lying in heap all night has not improved this one
bit," she commented, "even if it weren't unsuitable for day wear.
Might that wardrobe have something that wouldn't get me stared at all
Pulling open the wardrobe doors, Vincent retrieved a
dress and held it out to Catherine. "The last time you wore this was
when you came Below after your father died. There are other things
here if it pains you to wear it again. But you did look beautiful in
it," he said wistfully.
Catherine took the dress from him and slipped it over her
head. "Not all the memories from that time are painful, Vincent." She
stroked his face. "And now that we know that there are no limits to
the love between us, there is a core of joy at the center of our
lives that no sorrow can touch."
Suddenly, the wonder of it was so great she felt unable
to hold it; the sudden tears that overflowed her eyes seemed all that
kept her from bursting with a happiness of such magnitude she knew no
words adequate to express it.
Vincent drew her into his arms, holding her as fiercely
as she did him. It was a long time before they were able to part so
Vincent could dress. Catherine helped him pull the shirt over his
head and slip into a vest. Tying all the ties and buttoning all the
buttons on the elaborately piecemeal garments brought her more
pleasure than she thought possible. The intimate ordinariness of
these acts, even more than than their lovemaking, stunned her with an
awareness of the infinite possibilities that had suddenly opened
before them. Not a life without limits, but a life together--and who
knew what the limits might be?
They walked back to the central chambers with a sense of
amazement at how much had changed between them since they had taken
the same path in the early hours of the morning. So few hours, to
contain such happiness. Such a short time to change the course of two
lives. But then, there was a day less than three years ago they had
begun in ignorance of each other's existence, and ended with their
lives inexplicably intertwined. They walked in silent wonder, hands
clasped, unable to let go of each other even when the passage
narrowed too much for them to walk comfortably side by side.
Catherine wondered what Father and the others would
think. Surely their new intimacy, the exponential increase in their
happiness, would be so obvious that everyone would stop and stare as
soon as they entered a room. Catherine was perfectly willing to shout
it from the rooftops, but was afraid Vincent would be uncomfortable
or embarassed. Looking at him as he walked beside her, it occurred to
Catherine that the only beast-like thing about Vincent was not his
looks, nor his strength, but his innocence. Whether his passion dealt
love or death, it was with the innocence of a beast. Only men could
pervert the act of love in rape. Only men could take sick pleasure in
torture or kill for such convoluted motives as greed or revenge or
politics. Vincent's passion for her was as pure as the crystal that
hung around her neck, untainted by the tangle of power games, of user
and used, that so often passed for love in her world.
As it turned out, Catherine need not have worried about
their reception. Everyone Below was either still groggy from
Winterfest or so excited about the holidays still to come they hardly
noticed Vincent and Catherine. After all, Catherine had spent so much
time Below since Vincent's recovery from near-death last summer they
were used to her presence. If the more sensitive of the Tunnel
dwellers noticed an extra glow about their favorite couple, it was
attributed to the holiday spirit-- or to the lingering effects of too
much of another kind of spirit the night before.
Regular mealtimes were fortunately another casualty of
the holiday preparations, so Catherine and Vincent were able to
scrounge a late lunch without a lecture from William, who seemed to
spend all his waking hours baking these days. Tucked into a corner of
the kitchen, surrounded by warmth and the smells of yeast and
cinnamon, the two lovers shared a meal of odds and ends, wondering if
any heaven could possibly be better than this. Emerging from their
haven, they were immediately shanghaied by Kipper and Samantha, who
took their duties as heads of the decoration detail very seriously.
Catherine was put to work stringing popcorn as Samantha
confided in a very loud whisper that Vincent was useless for such a
task, since his large hands were not well suited to delicate
threading, and besides he ate too much of the popcorn. Catherine made
a mental note to load up on popcorn the next time she bought
groceries, as memories of just what those hands were good for kept
damaging her concentration.
Vincent was dragooned into hanging decorations at a
height his diminutive overseers couldn't reach. Happily stringing her
popcorn, Catherine decided that the Tunnel dwellers had the right
idea. Not only did they celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwaanza,
they even created another holiday of their own for good measure.
Depending on when Hanukkah fell, some years they ended up celebrating
for almost a month. Suddenly she stopped with her needle poised in
mid-air as her face fell. In a moment, Vincent was beside her chair.
"Catherine, is something wrong?"
"Vincent, I just remembered--Hanukkah begins tonight, and
I promised Jenny I'd come. They're having a big family celebration at
her parents', an open house after dinner. I think they wanted to
cheer me up, since it'll be my first holiday season without Dad.
Jenny could hardly tell them how I was really spending the holiday."
"That sounds like something you would enjoy, Catherine,"
Vincent observed with puzzlement. "Why don't you--"
"Vincent, I just can't bear the thought of being away
from you, even for a minute, not now, not after ..." She ducked her
head in consternation. "Oh, God, I'm being silly, aren't I?"
"No," Vincent said softly, "you're not. I can't bear to
be apart from you either, even though I know we must go back to our
everyday lives in a little while. But you mustn't disappoint Jenny's
"I wish you could come with me," Catherine smiled. "Maybe
nobody around here has noticed anything's different with us, but one
look at my face and Jenny will know the other shoe has dropped.
She'll have a fit not being able to see you right away and give a
great big congratulatory hug."
"Then I shall come with you," Vincent stated.
"What?" Catherine was so startled she dropped her string
of popcorn. "Vincent, it's in Brooklyn! Even if we had time to walk
that far, none of the deep Tunnels go under the river. The ones that
do are too public."
"We'll walk part of the way," Vincent explained calmly,
"and take the subway for the rest. With the holiday crowds, it should
be safe enough for you after dark ... or perhaps you should take a
Catherine began to feel like she had wandered into the
Twilight Zone by mistake. Had her beloved taken leave of his senses?
Here he was talking about taking the subway together like it was the
most normal thing in the world. Maybe her attempts to convince him
they could have more of a life together than he was willing to admit
had been too successful. As she tried frantically to think of an
appropriate response, she suddenly remembered just how Vincent was
used to taking the subway.
"Vincent!" she cried, horrified. "You're worried about me
riding inside the subway and you plan to ride on it?
You can't! It's too dangerous! We're not talking about saving my life
here, just going to a party. It's not worth it. I'll call Jenny and
tell her I can't come; she'll figure out something to tell her
"Catherine--" Vincent captured her hands in his and
smiled. "I've been riding on the tops of subways for twenty years,
and haven't fallen off once. You're in more danger crossing a
Catherine looked at his sparkling eyes in consternation.
One thing she never wanted to do was have Vincent be less than he was
out of deference to her. She had a sudden vision of a young boy with
wild golden hair, clinging to the train's roof in exhilaration, able
to forget for a little while how constricted his life really was.
Able to pretend for just a moment that it wouldn't be that way
For so long, all she had been able to think about were
the fears and self-doubts that kept Vincent from consummating their
love, and how she could convince him that completion was not only
possible, but inevitable and right. That was so monumental a task,
she had barely given a thought to what came after. Now, feeling the
touch of those gentle hands that had at last given her the love she
knew they could, Catherine realized that an even greater challenge
lay ahead. Building a life with this unique, precious creature before
her would be full of such unexpected questions. There was no model
for it; they would have to move carefully, making their own path. But
make it they would, and the journey began now.
"All right, Vincent," she said, sounding braver than she
felt. "But you'd better not make a habit of it if you have any
concern for my blood pressure."
A moment after Catherine knocked on the Aaronsons' door, it was
opened and a wave of light, sound and delicious smells poured into
the corridor and surrounded the smiling figure of Jenny's mother.
"Cathy, dear, I'm so glad you were able to come. We don't see enough
of you these days."
Catherine gave Leah Aaronson a hug. "I know. I promise
one of my New Year's resolutions is to say 'no' a lot more often at
work. I know it's important, but so are family and friends."
David Aaronson came to add his greetings to those of his
wife, and led Catherine through the throng to say hello to Jenny's
oldest brother. His visit from California was the reason for this
exceptionally large gathering of the clan. After saying hello to the
whole family and admiring the baby, Catherine was handed from one
Aaronson to the other, talking to people she hadn't seen in years,
and several she was sure she'd never met before. The only Aaronson
that didn't seem to be in evidence was Jenny.
Catherine hoped Vincent wasn't too bored, waiting for her
in the tunnel that ran below the apartment house across the street.
She tried to open herself to all the sights and smells and sounds
around her, letting her feelings of warmth and friendship for these
people flow through their bond. If he couldn't be here with her,
Catherine wanted to share this with him as much as she could.
Suddenly the crowd parted and gave her a glimpse of
Jenny, trapped in a corner by a group of young cousins engaged in
some cutthroat dreidl-spinning. She was scowling suspiciously at a
gangly youth as if she suspected him of rigging the game. Looking up
suddenly, her eyes met Catherine's. Doing her best to look
nonchalant, Catherine smiled and waved. Jenny stared at Catherine a
moment as if puzzled by something, then her eyes widened. Climbing
over the Aaronson cousins, oblivious to their protests, she
approached with the inevitability of a tsunami.
"Hi, Jenny," Catherine greeted her.
"Hi, nothing, Chandler," Jenny countered. "Come on."
Catherine found herself dragged down the hallway into a
bedroom populated solely by a mountain of coats. "All right, pal,"
Jenny ordered, "give."
"Cathy, if the electricity went out right now, a room
with you in it would still look like a hundred menorahs on the last
night of Hannukah."
"Jenny, nobody else seems to have noticed anything. I
can't imagine what you mean." Catherine knew this was a game she'd
already lost, but it was fun anyway.
"Bull, Chandler. You forget who you're talking to."
"Whom," Catherine corrected primly.
"Whom, schmoom," Jenny dismissed her. "Don't change the
subject. Something's happened, and it must be pretty big to get you
to look like that. What ... ohmigod." Jenny grabbed Catherine's arms
and grinned from ear to ear. "You did it, didn't you."
"Did what?" Catherine couldn't keep this up much longer;
an equally flamboyant grin kept struggling to take over her own face.
"You know damn well what! You and Vincent! Tell me this
minute or I'll go push your face in the chopped liver."
"Well, if you put it that way ..." Catherine couldn't
hold it in any longer. "Yes. YES. YEEESSS!!"
Jenny shrieked and hugged Catherine with such abandon
they both fell over on top of the coats. "Good grief, Jenny,"
Catherine giggled. "If anyone comes in now they'll have a whole new
theory about why a nice girl like me doesn't have a boyfriend." That
set them both off again, and it was several minutes before either of
them could manage to sit up. After wiping her eyes and straightening
her hair, Jenny took a deep breath.
"Cath, I am so happy for you. I can tell by the look on
your face it was wonderful."
"Yes, it was," Catherine whispered, hugging herself. "I
can still hardly believe I'm not dreaming."
"Damn!" Jenny exploded, practically jumping up and down
in her excitement. "I wish we weren't stuck at this party. Not only
would I like to tell that gorgeous guy of yours how smart he is, I'd
like to get you back to him. I can't believe you bothered to come to
this shindig--I know you'd rather be with Vincent, especially now. I
can't believe you could tear yourself away."
"Jenny, you know your parents really counted on me
coming," Catherine reminded her. "They've always been so nice to me,
and I've hardly seen them lately. Besides, they're so concerned about
me being alone since Dad died." Catherine sighed. "I could hardly
tell them I'd be spending the holiday with the city's biggest
"Turned out to be quite a holiday, didn't it?" Jenny
grinned. "You sure got some present, and it's not even Christmas yet.
Of course, I guess this qualifies as 'the gift that keeps on giving.'
We've gotta get you back to Santa Claus as soon as possible."
"Actually, that won't take as long as you think,"
Catherine revealed. "You're right about not being able to tear myself
away. He's just across the street."
"Across the--" Jenny stared. "You mean there are Tunnels
in Brooklyn too?"
"In every borough," Catherine told her, "but only the
ones in Manhattan are really lived in."
"But how did Vincent get across--no, don't tell me, I can
take only so much at once. Just when I think I've gotten used to the
idea of the Magic Kingdom ... "
"Jenny, you learned about it less than two months ago. It
does take some getting used to ... although you got used to Vincent
"Yeah," Jenny agreed, "in some ways that was the easiest
part. I already knew you loved the guy, and when I met him, all I
could think of was at last you'd found the right one, and he wasn't
some egotistical Yuppie clone."
"Understatement of the century," Catherine smiled.
"No, seriously," Jenny insisted. "Remember, I've known
you since we were freshies at dear old Radcliffe. Your track record
was not too impressive then."
Catherine winced. "I was young ... "
"That's what Nancy and I kept telling ourselves. Then you
actually decided to marry Stephen Bass--I can't tell you how relieved
I was when that fell apart. And Tom Gunther ... look up 'prick' in
the dictionary and there's his picture."
"You really worried about me, didn't you?" Despite the
bantering tone, Catherine could hear the seriousness under Jenny's
"You bet I did," her friend agreed. "you never believed
you were worth much for anything but decoration--everybody assumed
you were just a shallow rich kid, until you believed it yourself. You
kept picking guys that thought so too." Jenny looked at Catherine
thoughtfully for a moment. "I guess that's why when I met Vincent,
none of the strangeness mattered. All I could see was that you'd
finally met a man who not only thought you were worthwile, but had
even gotten you to believe it."
Catherine was so moved by Jenny's revelation she didn't
know what to say; she sat with her eyes on her lap, stroking
someone's fur muff.
Jenny stood up decisively. "Come on, if we don't get out
of here soon people are going to talk. You can mingle for a little
while longer, then we'll sneak out of here so I can get you back to
Mr. Right and tell him how good he is at picking women. Besides, I'm
dying to see if he looks as pie-eyed as you do."
Less than an hour later, Jenny and Catherine were
climbing a ladder down into the tunnel where Vincent waited. Jenny
clutched a large bag of Hanukkah cookies in her teeth, since
Catherine had mentioned how much he liked them. Jenny was a little
worried about her reception--this was not exactly an occasion covered
by Miss Manners. What was the appropriate way for congratulating a
furry hunk on having the good sense to start sleeping with your best
friend? She'd only met the guy six weeks ago, after all, even though
she'd been dreaming about him and Cathy since the beginning. When she
finally met him, his appearance neither frightened nor repelled her.
She was too delighted to discover that for once her dreams hadn't
been full of the ambiguous symbolism that so often frustrated her,
but perfectly literal.
After that first night when they had talked for hours,
Cathy had told her that Vincent felt the way Jenny did, like they had
known each other for years. Maybe it wasn't so surprising, after all.
They had one very important thing in common. They both loved
Catherine and wanted her to have the happiness she deserved. Jenny
was almost as ecstatic as Catherine that Vincent had finally decided
only a life with him would give her that happiness. She grinned as
well as she could with a bag of cookies in her mouth. Boy, the next
fifty years or so were going to be real interesting. She was
determined she'd be around to watch.
Reaching the tunnel floor, Jenny turned around, bag of
cookies still in her teeth, to find Vincent's smiling eyes looking
directly into hers over Catherine's shoulder. They were hugging as if
they'd been apart for about a year. With a final squeeze they
separated enough so both could face Jenny, who saw that Vincent's
smile wasn't limited to his eyes. Realizing Miss Manners was sure to
advise against speaking with a bag in one's mouth, Jenny hurriedly
removed it and extended it toward Vincent. "Happy Hanukkah," she
managed to croak out. "L'chaim."
"L'chaim," Vincent repeated. "A very appropriate
sentiment, since I have never felt more alive." He looked at
Catherine, who gazed up at him like he was a combination of God and
Jenny couldn't stand it anymore. Miss Manners be damned.
She threw her arms around the two of them, almost in tears. "God, I
am so happy for both of you!"
Entangled in a three-way hug, Catherine and Jenny weren't
sure whether to laugh, cry or both. Vincent was dazed by the feelings
coursing through him, both Catherine's and his own. Having spent his
whole life preparing to face pain, he found himself inundated by more
joy than it seemed he could possibly hold. He realized in some
amazement that he would have to learn at last to deal with happiness.
What a welcome task that would be ...
Jenny extricated herself and attempted to regain her
composure. "Those are Hanukkah cookies," she explained, gesturing
toward the rather damp and now very wrinkled bag."Cathy said you
really liked them. I know you likelatkes even better, but they
don't exactly travel well."
Vincent acknowledged her gift with a smile. So far, he'd
done more smiling in the last ten minutes than in the six weeks he'd
known Jenny. "Perhaps soon you can come and make some for us." Us.
What a lovely word.
"Oh, you bet!" Jenny agreed. "Any time!" She took
Vincent's hand, and Catherine's. "Look, I have to get back to the
party, or my parents will call the cops. I'll come and see you soon,
OK?" She shook her head in wonder. "You know, Hanukkah presents are
supposed to be just for kids. But you two have given me the best one
I've ever had."
The trip back to Manhattan was uneventful, but Catherine
didn't breathe easy until she descended the ladder in her basement
and found Vincent waiting as calmly as if he'd taken a more
conventional means of transportation. She insisted she didn't need
Vincent's help to retrieve things from her apartment. Riding on the
subway was enough excitement for one night. She made him promise to
stay rooted to the spot until she returned.
Catherine had always intended to spend Christmas Below,
but she had counted on going home the night of Winterfest and coming
back later. Now she was planning to stay right through until
Christmas night. Too bad Cinderella was going to turn back into an
overworked ADA on December 26. Catherine smiled happily as she packed
a small suitcase. True, she and Vincent would have to take up the
duties of their daily lives all too soon ... but they would never be
the same again. Discovering the shape and direction of those
lives--that life--was going to be a glorious adventure.
They stopped by Vincent's chamber so he could pick up
more clothes also, then took themselves to the room full of roses
where they had spent the previous night. They had intended only to
drop off the clothes and return to help with the holiday
preparations. They did manage to get the extra clothes put away, but
the presence of the huge bed, and the roses, and the fact that it had
been hours since ... It was a long time later before Catherine
realized neither of them had really had any dinner. She sighed
happily as Vincent began nuzzling her neck again. They had water,
they had each other, and they had a whole bag of Hanukkah cookies.
Who could possibly need more?
They made up for it at breakfast the next morning. Going
to bed as early as they had meant they were actually able to squeeze
in some sleep. Catherine was discovering to her great pleasure that
Vincent's reknowned stamina was good for much more than running
through tunnels, but it wasn't infinite. Now that she and Vincent
were one in every way possible, Catherine felt even more a part of
his world. Although both duty and friends kept her tied to the world
Above, her father's death had severed the last family tie. Neither
his family nor her mother's had been large, and now there was no one
Sometimes, wrapped in the love of Vincent's world, it
truly felt like Father and Mary were her parents, Jamie and Rebecca
her sisters, Mouse the somewhat disreputable younger brother. Now
that the last barrier between her and Vincent had crumbled, now that
their dream of a life together was beginning to take on the texture
of reality, Catherine realized how relieved she felt, knowing this
world, like Vincent, could be part of her life forever.
William was pleased to see Catherine devouring twice as
much breakfast as usual. He took it as a compliment to his cooking,
since clearly she didn't eat enough Topside. Maybe Vincent thought
she was perfect, but William believed she needed fattening up. As a
reward for her appetite, he allowed her one of the coveted spots on
the cookie-decorating crew, while Mouse dragged Vincent off,
reminding him of his duties as director of the children's production
of A Christmas Carol.
On the morning of Christmas Eve, Father found himself
awake very early. He had been much in demand during the furious
holiday preparations to give advice, mediate disputes, and patch up
children whose urge to decorate inaccessible corners was greater than
their balance. Years as the Tunnels' only resident physician had long
ago cured him of the need for much sleep, so he made himself a pot of
tea and brought it to the study. The peace and quiet was like a balm;
there had been precious little of it this holiday season.
He sat back in his favorite chair, letting the tea warm
both his hands and his insides. The midwinter festivities seemed more
lavish than usual this year, and Father began to examine why this was
so. He thought back to Winterfest, where Vincent had seemed to be the
center of attention. The children had surrounded him all evening.
Every girl-child old enough to walk wanted to dance with Vincent;
time and again Catherine had to drag him away from partners who
barely came up to his waist. It didn't take a great deal of insight
to recognize that the community knew only too well how close they had
come to losing Vincent this year.Paracelsus' death, and Vincent's
close escape from it, were cause for rejoicing. This year was the
darkest they had known for a long time; it made sense that their
yearly celebration of light would be greater.
Father suddenly realized how little he had seen of
Vincent since Winterfest. He smiled, thinking that Catherine's
presence Below had something to do with that. Unlike the days after
her father died, when her constant closeness had been so troubling to
his son, Vincent now seemed content, even happy to have her here.
Father admitted to himself how much he had come to rely on her
presence as well.
Suddenly Father had an overwhelming desire to talk to his
son. Vincent usually woke quite early, but often stayed in his room
reading, so as not to disturb others. Reaching his son's chamber,
Father was surprised to find it empty. Where could he be at such an
hour? As he continued to stand there, it slowly occurred to him that
this chamber felt like it had been uninhabited for some time. Come to
think of it, he hadn't seen Vincent near this room since before
Winterfest. No emergency could have called him away; the pipes would
be full of such an event. Surely he had not gone to find Catherine so
early in the morning ... He stared at the empty room for a long time,
then went back to sit in his study with his pot of tea and think.
The morning of Christmas Day found him there again after
breakfast, but this time his peripatetic son made an appearance.
Father motioned Vincent to sit in the chair beside him. "I'm glad to
see you," he smiled. "We seem to have been ships that pass in the
night of late."
"Indeed, Father," Vincent agreed. "The children seem to
think of me as a freighter, since I spent most of yesterday moving
furniture and carrying heavy objects from place to place."
"After the year we've had," Father said with feeling, "it
gives me great happiness to see you enjoying this time of
celebration. Catherine, too. She seems to be in the spirit of the
holidays as well. I'm glad that being among us has helped ease her
pain over the family she has lost."
"She loves us all very much," Vincent answered softly. "I
believe she truly regards us as her family now."
Father spoke again in an even tone, looking at the table
rather than at his son. "Her closeness was so troubling to you when
she stayed Below with us after her father died. I'm glad to see that
now you seem content to have her here."
Vincent said nothing. "You know," Father continued, "I
have finally admitted to myself how much I have come to be grateful
for her presence as well. When you were having those terrible
nightmares this past summer, and took so long to recover, I came to
rely on her greatly."
"She has been reluctant to talk of it to me," Vincent
confided. "I remember being convinced the Beast would win this time,
and being weary of the battle ... I remember deciding there was only
one way to protect those I loved. I remember Catherine suddenly there
before me, screaming my name as she saw my claws aimed at my own
throat. I remember thinking, just before I lost consciousness, that I
could not bear to give her the pain my death would cause."
Father closed his eyes at the memory of how close Vincent
had come to the brink, and how only Catherine's love had kept him
from taking that last leap into the dark. Half a year later, the
recollection could still cause him to shudder. "When you were in the
coma, she was down here every night, watching you, talking to you.
Even after you came out of it and the nightmares began, she stayed,
hoping her presence would somehow soothe you."
Vincent shook his head in wonder at being loved so much.
"All she would say to me about that time was that it gave her the
opportunity to become closer to you."
"It did," Father agreed. "During your convalesence she
came Below night after night, even though you were asleep most of the
time. We would sit here, alert for any sounds of distress from you,
and talk for hours on end."
"Mostly about you, of course." Father seemed a million
miles--or six months--away. "She was hungry for every scrap of
information about your past, especially the time you almost died
before, after Lisa left. Anything that could help her understand your
pain and help you deal with it."
"It surprises me," Vincent admitted, "that you told her.
You were never so forthcoming before."
"I was well aware," Father replied emphatically, "that I
owed your life to her. She more than earned the right, by her love
for you and her courage. I told her everything I knew." He was silent
for a moment, then continued. "At the time, I was too preoccupied
with your health to notice ... it was only afterward that I realized
her questions had a pattern to them."
"A pattern?" Vincent asked, suddenly alert.
At first, Father seemed to have changed the subject.
"Once I was so certain I knew the answers where you were concerned,
and if I didn't I thought it prudent to err on the side of caution.
If it were necessary to curtail your life to preserve it, what choice
did I have?"
"But Catherine saw things differently." It was not a
"She never said so in so many words," Father recalled,
"but the questions she asked made it clear she believed my fears for
you, my certainties about what was and was not possible for you, were
based less on evidence than on long-unexamined habits of thinking."
"And that disturbed you."
"More than I ever admitted to her. Good grief, Vincent!"
Father's eyes met his son's at last."My whole life Above crumbled
into ruin because my scientific training wouldn't allow me to deny
the truth of the evidence before me. Now I had to face the
probability that for years I had been allowing my affection for you,
my fears for you, to cloud my judgment."
Vincent smiled fondly at his his Father. "That explains
the change I found in you when I recovered enough to talk. Your
answers to my questions had always been full of 'definitely nots.' I
was amazed at the sudden plethora of 'maybes' and 'I don't knows.'"
"Catherine," Father said emphatically, "made me examine
all my cherished certainties. It became painfully clear how much I
had represented my interpretations as facts. Even though she never
told me directly, I came to realize she had her own theory. Did she
ever tell you what it was?"
"Yes," Vincent replied, looking over his Father's
shoulder into the distance. "Simply put, she believed that what I saw
as the problem was the solution. That my killing for her was the
only outlet I allowed to express my passion. That our
bond would never let me hurt her. That giving our love the physical
expression it demanded would not be dangerous, but would only heal us
both. Eros over Thanatos."
"Do you think," Father asked very carefully, "that she
might be right?"
For a long moment, the silence hung between them like
something that could be touched. Then Vincent met his Father's eyes
again, calmly, proudly. "I know she is."
Father let out the breath he didn't remember holding,
closing his eyes against the sudden threat of tears. Thank God, it
was true. Love was stronger than Death after all. He opened his eyes
to find Vincent leaving his own chair to kneel on the floor beside
him. He hugged Vincent as fiercely as he could, weak as he was with
relief, and giddy with joy.
This was the sight that met Catherine's eyes when she
entered the study. Slowly she walked toward them, sinking to her
knees beside Vincent. She looked up at Father and smiled at him, half
shy, half triumphant. "I guess you know."
"Oh, Catherine," he cried, "I have no words ... "
"Then we have your blessing?" Vincent asked with a smile
in his voice.
"My blessing, my congratulations, and my everlasting
gratitude to Catherine!" He touched her hair. "To think, I once told
my son to forget you, that you could bring him nothing but pain."
"I think we're both grateful," Catherine laughed
tearfully, "that Vincent can be very stubborn at times."
That Christmas morning, Catherine thought how different this was
from any Christmas she had spent before. Not only being without her
father, or being secure in the knowledge that she and Vincent were
together at last. Christmas Below was so different. Instead of the
disorderly mounds of ripped paper and ribbons scattered among
expensive presents, there were small piles of brightly colored paper
or fabric, carefully removed and folded to be used again. There were
few presents, since most of the gifts were exchanged at Winterfest.
Those that were in evidence were simple, homemade or recycled, but
imbued with more love than anything F. A. O. Schwartz ever sold.
Watching the children and not a few of the adults
enjoying their presents, Catherine laid her head happily on Vincent's
shoulder and thought about last night. She and Vincent had exchanged
their tangible presents after Winterfest and before Catherine knew
about the greater gift that was in store for her.
Last night and this morning they had given that gift to
each other many times. Afterwards, they had packed their things to
take back to Vincent's chamber. Just before cleaning up the room in
readiness for its next occupant, they had carefully picked all the
petals from ten dozen roses. Although they couldn't resist the
romantic gesture of tossing a few into the bathing pool with them,
the rest would be dried for potpourri and sachets. Catherine made
Vincent promise to save some for her. She planned to buy the most
beautiful fabric and lace she could find and make one for herself,
something to treasure for the rest of her life, as she would treasure
the memories of the past three nights.
Lost in those memories and the delicious feel of
Vincent's nearness, Catherine gradually began to pay attention to
faces around her. Although many were absorbed in thoughts and
conversations of their own, she began to intercept more than a few
surprised and speculative glances. Mary looked oblivious, and Mouse
bubbled along in happy innocence. But Jamie--Catherine nuzzled
Vincent's neck and grinned at Jamie, whose eyes got so big they
threatened to eclipse her face. Lena was looking awfully knowing, and
Catherine knew she couldn't face Cullen's wicked grin for more than
three seconds without blushing. Even if the increased intimacy
between her and Vincent weren't becoming more obvious every day, the
looks that Father kept giving them would give the least observant of
their friends a pretty big hint. Poor Vincent was going to be the
object of considerable speculation by tomorrow.
Catherine lifted her head to speak softly into Vincent's
ear. "Since I have to go back to work tomorrow ... could I interest
you in coming to my place tonight to see my Christmas tree?"
"Most people," Vincent asked innocently, "use etchings,
do they not?"
"I," Catherine replied loftily, "am not most people."
"No. You are not."
Catherine remembered what she had planned to say with
some difficulty. "You've only been in my bed once before, when you
hardly realized where you were. Even under those circumstances,
worried as I was, I remembered thinking how well you fit there."
"Yet another memory that needs to be replaced with a
happier one," Vincent said. "When would you like me to come? So to
"Vincent!" Catherine whispered in astonishment. "I had no
idea you were such a bawd. It's wonderful."
"You forget," he smiled, "how well acquainted I am with
Elizabethan literature. If more people understood Elizabethan English
better they would be quite shocked at Shakespeare."
"That sounds promising," Catherine mused. "You can read
me all the naughty bits and explain what they mean if I don't know."
"I shall begin a careful review of the Complete
"To return to the subject," Catherine went on, "I should
like you to arrive as soon as possible after dark. Since A
Christmas Carol is a matinee, that should give you time to accept
everyone's kudos on your brilliant direction. Just give me an hour's
head start so I get the apartment ready."
"I accept your gracious invitation with pleasure,"
Vincent purred, kissing the top of Catherine's head.
"I wish I didn't have to go back to work tomorrow," she
sighed. "I hate to think of you alone down here, with everybody
indulging in heavy speculation."
"I think speculation is fast changing into certainty,"
Vincent countered. "After I leave tonight and don't come back until
dawn, it will only accelerate the process."
"You've stayed out that late lots of times before,"
Catherine reminded him, "walking the city streets, or looking at the
"True," Vincent agreed. "But I didn't come back with the
look I expect to have on my face tomorrow morning."
"Jenny!" Catherine exclaimed as she opened the door to her
friend. "You're early."
"I know, I wanted to ask you a favor before we go out to
lunch." She leered comically. "Since it's the middle of the day I
knew I wouldn't be interrupting anything."
"You've been enjoying yourself altogether too much this
past month," Catherine laughed. "Ever since Vincent and I got
together you haven't stopped smirking."
"You should see the look that's been on your face since
Winterfest," Jenny countered. "I can't believe everybody at the DA's
office isn't wondering what's going on."
"I'm sure they are," Catherine said, "but they know
better than to ask by now. Joe's curious as can be--I keep catching
myself grinning like an idiot at the oddest moments, and being so
distracted at others people have to ask me things three times.
So, what favor do you want? You can have anything but
"Rats!" Jenny exclaimed. "Well, as my second choice, can
I borrow a dress?"
"Any one in particular?"
"My idiot employers have decided to have a posh reception
for one of our most obnoxious but profitable authors. Attendance for
lowly editors is not optional, but we're supposed to wear evening
dress. Do they really think I can afford to buy an evening gown on
what they pay me? I suppose I could rent something, but--"
"But that would be silly when I have a whole closetful I
hardly ever wear anymore. My lifestyle doesn't require them much
these days. Come on, let's raid my closet."
Jenny rummaged among Catherine's clothes, picking out
dresses she thought would flatter her and handing them to Catherine,
who spread them out on the bed. Suddenly Jenny began to chuckle.
"Well, well, Cath, what have we here? This looks a bit large for
you." Jenny held up the dark green hooded robe. It looked about a
foot too long and miles too big.
"That," Catherine informed her, "is Vincent's birthday
present. He needed something comfortable to keep up here, for the
times he stays in my apartment."
"Nice color for him," Jenny mused. "Bet it looks great
with his hair. Does he stay here often?"
"Too often for my peace of mind," Catherine confided,
sitting on the bed.
"Hey, what's wrong?" Jenny asked in concern as she sat
next to her friend.
"Oh, Jenny--ever since we became lovers everything seems
so much more intense. I'm happier than I've ever been, but more
worried too. Even though my hours are more regular at work now since
I stopped that dangerous investigative stuff, the domestic violence
and child abuse workload is tremendous. I can't spare the time to go
Below every night, but Vincent finds it harder than ever to stay away
"So what's the problem?"
Catherine clutched Jenny's arm. "It's so dangerous! I
worry constantly about him falling--the weather's so awful. Or he
might be seen, it's happened before. I can't believe I've been
letting him do it for over two years."
"Let hardly seems the right word," Jenny pointed
out. "I doubt you could have stopped him. So what are you going to
"What makes you think I'm going to do anything?"
Catherine asked innocently.
"Because I know you," Jenny replied. "From what you told
me, ever since last summer you've been making things happen. You
saved Vincent's life and helped him recover. You changed your work so
it wouldn't put you--and him--in danger anymore. You convinced him
not to be afraid of making love to you. I can't believe you're not
planning to do something about this."
"Well," Catherine admitted with a smile, "I am. But
you'll have to wait until after lunch to find out. So--why don't you
try on this one?"
Jenny looked around as the neighborhood began to seem familiar.
"Haven't I been here before? There aren't many places like this left
in your part of New York. Most of them are apartments now."
Catherine unlocked the front door of the handsome old
townhouse as the late-January wind whipped around them. "You've got
quite a memory," Catherine said in admiration as they entered the
foyer. "I don't think we've been here together since college."
"Right!" exclaimed Jenny. "You brought me here during
vacations a couple of times. I remember I was scared to death the
first time--humble Jewish scholarship student meets scion of Old New
York family, wife of famous actor."
"Who turned out to be an absolute sweetheart, to your
surprise," Catherine reminded her.
"True, true. I couldn't believe those stories she told
about herself and your grandmother when they were young."
Suddenly Jenny turned to Catherine in alarm. "The house
looks empty--and you've got a key. She's not--"
"Oh, no," Catherine reassured her. "Edna's fine. She just
didn't want to stay in New York anymore after her husband died. She
went to live with her son's family in Florida."
Jenny gave a sigh of relief. "Thank God. I know she must
be almost eighty by now, but I hope she lives forever. Are you doing
some legal things for her?" They moved into the main part of the
house after depositing their coats in the closet.
"Sort of," said Catherine casually. "I bought her house."
It took a moment for that to sink in. Then Jenny grabbed
Catherine and shrieked. "You what? Of course! What a dolt I am! This
is the solution, isn't it?"
"I hope so," Catherine said fervently, hugging Jenny.
"But I need your help."
"Anything!" Jenny vowed. "Move furniture--strip
wallpaper-I'll even clean basements."
"Nothing like that," Catherine laughed. "Come on, let me
show you the place first and then I'll explain."
After the tour, Catherine led Jenny to the kitchen. Only
after they were seated at the large table with coffee in front of
them did she begin to talk. "The thing that bothers me a little,
Jenny," she explained, "is that I haven't told Vincent about this
because I want to surprise him. But it's a pretty big step to take
without consulting him."
"Good grief, Cath, how can he not love it? It gives you
both what you need most--a safe place to be together. It's got the
best security system I've ever seen, access to the Tunnels-- not only
can he get here without going outside, he can come any time of day.
There isn't a window in this place that isn't frosted or curtained.
"That's what I thought," Catherine agreed. "I even asked
Father, and he thought it was wonderful too. But just in case, I want
you to be my insurance policy."
"Your what?" Jenny was at a loss. "What can I do?"
"Take my old apartment."
"Take your--as a favor? My God--twice the rent I could
afford to pay wouldn't half cover the mortgage on that place." Jenny
scowled. "And if you were about to suggest I take it rent free--"
"I would if I thought you'd do it," Catherine retorted,
"but I know you too well for that. You can pay the same rent you're
paying where you are now--and don't worry about covering the
mortgage, there isn't any."
Jenny's face fell. "Oh, Cath, I forgot ... it was in your
father's name, wasn't it?
Catherine nodded. "And he had mortgage insurance on it.
Don't forget," Catherine said almost bitterly, "I'm an heiress now.
I've got more money and real estate than I know what to do with."
Catherine took Jenny's hand. "I'm sorry. I just get upset
sometimes, thinking how hard my father worked to give me everything
that money could buy. Maybe he thought it would help make up for
"Maybe he thought it would help him forget," Jenny
"Maybe. I can't help but think it helped kill him years
before his time ... and regret that I didn't tell him I'd rather have
had more of him and less of the money. Now it's too late."
Jenny still held Catherine's hand. "Don't you think it
pleases him to see what it's doing for you now?"
Catherine squeezed Jenny's hand. "Oh, I hope so. I hope
he sees how happy we're going to be here."
"So--what about the house in Connecticut? Do you have to
"No, I'm selling Dad's duplex. Edna probably would have
been happy to give me this place--it meant a lot to her, and
she hated the thought of a stranger living in it. But she knew I
wouldn't allow it." Catherine looked far away for a moment. "I
couldn't bear to sell the Connecticut place, even though I hardly get
to go there any more."
"Only when Vincent's busy and your impoverished friends
need time in the country," Jenny smiled.
"You know you can go there anytime you want, with or
without me," Catherine smiled back. "Besides, it's a great place for
groups of Tunnel kids to go. And ... "
"It's silly, I know. I just can't help but hope I can
take Vincent there some day. I know Father's right, it's much too
dangerous--but I still keep hoping."
"It's important for you to give you and Vincent a place
of your own, isn't it?" Jenny asked. "Away from the Tunnels."
"God, you scare me," Catherine said in awe.
"Hey, this is Ms. Intuition you're talking to. I agree
with you." Jenny stared into her coffee cup. "I realize I've only
known those people for a few months, but it didn't take long for me
to see that place is as much a prison for Vincent as a refuge. Of
course, everybody loves him, but they also take him for granted a
lot. It wouldn't take much for them to become overdependent on
him--if they aren't already."
"You don't know how glad I am to hear you say that,"
Catherine said fervently. "I thought maybe I was seeing things that
"No, I think this is just what both of you need. You
know, I've wondered ..."
"What?" Catherine asked, curious.
"Were you ever tempted to just chuck it all and move
"Twice," Catherine admitted. "Both times at emotionally
vulnerable moments. One of the things I admire most about Vincent is
that he didn't take advantage of that. He's always believed more in
me than I did in myself."
"Do you think you could do it?"
"If something happened Above that gave me no choice, yes.
But you must remember, I'm not just the woman Vincent loves, I'm a
Helper. It took me a long time to earn that trust, and it's a
responsibility I take very seriously. Down there, I'm just another
brain and pair of hands. Right now, I can do more for all of
them--including Vincent--where I am.'
"I think this house is the ideal solution," Jenny said.
"Vincent can spend the day Below while you're at work. You can go
there as often as you have time, and he can stay here with you when
you can't. Rub your shoulders when you're hunched over those briefs.
Bring you tea and sympathy. Curl up in a chair by the fire with a
book and watch you all night instead--hey, Cath!" Jenny reached over
to put an arm around her friend's shoulders. "That's not supposed to
make you cry!"
Catherine wiped her eyes with a napkin. "I'm sorry,
Jenny," Catherine sniffled. "It's just--what you were describing--it
sounds like Paradise. I can't believe it could really come true at
"Well, we're gonna see that it does, pal. I guess I can
trade my little dump for a grossly expensive co-op if you insist,
just to do you a favor," Jenny grinned. "And you can come visit the
balcony any time you get nostalgic. But I think you're worrying for
nothing, Cath. Vincent's gonna love this place."
A month later, Catherine paused in the door of the library, tea
tray in hand, to drink in the sight before her. Vincent sat on the
sofa, wearing the green robe, absorbed in the book he held. The
firelight brought out the highlights in his hair and the rich patina
of Edna's old furniture. He loves it, Catherine thought. He
really loves it. The wave of happiness that suddenly overwhelmed
her caused Vincent to look up. He came toward her and took the tray,
setting it down to gather her in his arms. Paradise indeed, Catherine
thought. Or almost ...
There was one great thing left unspoken between them, and
Catherine feared it would remain so unless she set things in motion.
The past two months of loving had not been enough to dissolve that
iron core of doubt that still hid in the center of Vincent's heart;
the belief, unvoiced and perhaps unrecognized, that there were still
things he dared not wish for, dared not believe he could deserve.
Catherine wasn't about to delay any longer; it was time to show him
just how much he did deserve.
She kissed Vincent lightly as she pulled away. "Our tea
will get cold."
"We musn't allow that," Vincent laughed. "Father would
never forgive me if I showed disrespect for a good pot of tea."
Vincent released her and they settled comfortably on the sofa, facing
the fire. Catherine tucked her feet under her and sipped the tea
quietly for a moment. She sensed Vincent's contentment as it settled
over him like a blanket. Holding the cup in both hands, she began to
speak very casually.
"I had a chance to talk to Lena for a long time last
night while you were helping Mouse," Catherine began.
"Do I dare ask the subject of your conversation?" Vincent
"Actually, we hardly talked about you at all. In fact, I
mostly listened while Lena went on about how wonderful Julio was.
Those two are really serious, aren't they?"
"That is quite obvious to everyone Below," Vincent
"It gives me great pleasure to see Lena happy." "It gives
me even greater pleasure," Catherine chuckled, "to see her get over
you.""She did that some time ago--shortly after she met Julio."
Catherine became absorbed in smoothing the sofa pillow.
"So--what are they going to do now?"
"Continue what they have been doing for some time, I
imagine," Vincent suggested as he nuzzled her ear.
"My, haven't we gotten over our shyness quickly!"
Catherine said in mock surprise. "That's not what I was talking about
and you know it. Are they going to ... well, get married?"
"Married? You mean, Above?"
"I mean anywhere," Catherine replied. "I suppose they
could get married Above if they wanted to, since they both had lives
there at one time. But neither of them seems much inclined to go
Topside ever again."
"No," Vincent mused. "Their lives there were quite
painful ... and Julio has been with us for over ten years. He has
shown no interest in going back."
"So, what do you think they'll do? Has this sort of thing
"Sometimes," Vincent explained. His concentration on
refilling their teacups seemed excessive for the task at hand.
"In the past, some members of our community have married
legally Above. They use a Helper's address to obtain the proper
documents. We also have a number of Helpers authorized to officiate
"That seems a good idea, for those who thought they might
want to return Topside someday," Catherine replied in her best
professional voice. "But about those who are sure they never want to?
Or somebody like Pascal, or Rebecca, who've never lived anyplace but
Below? I can't believe the people who came up with Winterfest, and
that beautiful naming ceremony, haven't invented something suitable
for the occasion."
"You remember Lin and Henry--"
"But that wasn't a real Below wedding," Catherine
interrupted. "They only held the ceremony there for safety. You must
have something for those who've never had a life Above. And what
about Kanin and Olivia? He'd been Above, but she never had. What did
"We do have our own ceremony," Vincent admitted softly.
"The union is recognized Below, but of course has no validity in your
"Which world is that?" Catherine asked quietly. "I have
"I only have one," Vincent said, not looking at her.
"A little more than that, surely. We share a small part
of my world, even if most of it's within these walls."
Catherine stole a glance at Vincent's face. He sat
staring at the fire, the flames washing his still profile with molten
gold. After a moment's silence she continued. "I had a friend in
college who was Catholic. She told me that in the past, when people
sometimes lived in remote places without a priest, it was perfectly
legitimate to marry without one. The true marriage was in the hearts
of the couple, and the vows they made. A priest doesn't really marry
people, they marry each other. Did you know that?"
"I believe I've read something to that effect," Vincent
Catherine continued in the same even voice, "It sounds
like the really important part is making that commitment to each
other, and acknowledging it in front of their community, people who
mean something to them. It's as binding as any set of legal papers.
More, actually--a contract can be broken. But a true union of minds
and hearts is forever." Catherine stopped suddenly, no longer
trusting her voice.
Vincent took a deep breath and spoke again. "What you say
is true when both people have chosen a life Below. But for someone
who had to maintain a life Topside as well, it would be very
"Above, such a person would not be viewed as married at
"Well, what would that really matter?" Catherine asked,
her voice back under control. "Lots of people stay single nowadays,
especially if they have careers. Oh, I suppose people around them
might speculate. Maybe they'd assume the person was afraid of being
married just for her--or his--money. If the person were a woman, say,
they might think she'd just missed the boat, since there are more
single women than men. Maybe they'd think she was gay ... or carrying
on a long-time affair with a married man."
"Surely it would be uncomfortable for someone to be the
object of such speculation."
"Vincent," Catherine replied, "I think you overestimate
people's curiosity about others,especially those they only know
casually. Most people are much too concerned about their own
problems, or acid rain, or the stock market, to spend much time
wondering about their colleagues' private lives ... especially if
they seem to lead very dull ones."
"Surely it would be difficult for ... for a woman such as
you describe to keep such an important part of her life hidden."
"Perhaps," Catherine agreed huskily, "but only because
she would be so happy, and so proud of her husband she'd want to
shout the news out to everyone. But silence would be an awfully small
price to pay to protect something that meant so much to her."
Suddenly Vincent rose and stood with his back to her, his
hands gripping the mantle. For a long moment, there was nothing to be
heard but the crackling of the logs. Vincent's voice was so low
Catherine could barely hear it, but there was no mistaking the
undertone of astonished wonder. "Her husband ..." In one fluid
movement, he turned and sank to his knees before her.
"Catherine--dearest Catherine--will you marry me?"
Unaware of the tears that ran unchecked down her face,
Catherine sank into the depths of his eyes. "Yes. Oh, yes. Yes!" She
threw her arms around his neck, burying her damp face in a cloud of
gold. Home at last.
"Catherine, perhaps we should move. You must be cold." Without
exactly discussing it, they seemed to have decided to seal their
bargain immediately--too immediately to take the time to climb an
entire flight of stairs. Vincent was still puzzling out Catherine's
remark that 'right here on the Oriental' was the perfect spot. It
sounded like a quote, but Vincent was quite sure it must be from
something he hadn't read ... not that he'd been in any mood to
request footnotes at the time. Vincent really didn't want to move,
but he didn't feel the cold like Catherine did--besides, he was
supremely comfortable, with her draped over him like a blanket.
Still, it would be ungentlemanly not to make another attempt.
"Catherine--dearest--wouldn't you like to move? The fire
has gotten quite low, since we haven't been paying attention to it."
"We haven't?" Catherine mumbled into his chest. Raising
her head, she grinned at him. "Oh--you mean the one in the fireplace
over there. I guess it could stand another log. But don't you dare
move from this spot until I get back. We have things to talk about."
"Surely," Vincent suggested as she stood reluctantly and
moved toward the fire, "there are more appropriate places to talk?"
Watching Catherine stoke up the fire wearing nothing but earrings was
really quite pleasant. He stretched luxuriously, unaware that the
unconscious seductiveness of that action nearly caused Catherine to
drop the poker as she turned toward him from the now-blazing fire.
Grabbing an afghan from the sofa, she spread it over them both as she
quickly settled into her former position.
"Vincent, dear," she informed him, "the most appropriate
place to do something is not necessarily the only place."
"Are you by any chance referring to our recent
"Beds are fine places to make love," Catherine announced,
"but floors in front of fireplaces make a nice change, don't you
think? You certainly seemed ... energized by the novelty." Since
Vincent could not contradict that argument, he said nothing. "As a
matter of fact," Catherine continued, "I was noticing how sturdy the
kitchen table is."
Between Vincent's startled twitch and her own laughter,
Catherine managed to fall off her beloved and land beside him on her
back, still giggling helplessly. "Oh, Vincent," she managed to gasp,
"the look on your face!" Getting herself under some semblance of
control, she kissed the tip of his nose apologetically before
continuing. "I was only kidding. I have too much respect for the
nation's artistic heritage to risk a Stickley table that way.
Besides, how would we ever explain to Father how we got the
"I am sure he is a sufficiently skilled diagnostician to
determine that," Vincent replied drily. "It occurs to me," he
continued, "that being married to you is going to be even more
interesting than I dreamed."
"You don't know the half of it." Catherine promised.
"So-when do you want to do it?"
"Do it?" Vincent asked, astonished. The woman was
"Get married," Catherine reminded him. "Remember?"
"Well--" Vincent stalled for time as he switched mental
gears. "We should allow enough time for everyone Below to prepare.
This will be a very important occasion for them."
Catherine hugged Vincent. "I can hardly wait to tell
everybody. Knowing how happy this will make them gives me almost as
much pleasure as knowing how happy it will make us."
Vincent hugged Catherine back, rubbing his cheek against
her head. "We need to allow enough time for Devin and Charles to make
the necessary arrangements. I would like Devin to stand beside me."
"I thought you might. And I'd like Jenny. Do we get more
than one each?"
"If you wish," Vincent replied. "Do you have someone else
"Yes--and I think you do, too. Someone to whom it would
mean a lot."
"Yes," Catherine agreed. "He absolutely worships you;
he'll be beside himself when you ask him. And I'd like to ask Jamie.
She's a good friend to me Below--and besides, she's the only one who
can keep Mouse in line."
Vincent tilted Catherine's chin so he could look into her
face. "Do you think six weeks would be long enough?"
Catherine smiled lovingly at her husband-to-be. "Great
minds with but a single thought. Our anniversary?"
"Are you sure," Vincent asked, "that it would not cause
you pain? You have other memories of that day that are not pleasant."
"All the more reason," Catherine announced emphatically,
"to exorcise those demons once and for all."
They lay quietly for a long time after that, listening to
the crackling of the fire as it died to embers. Finally they rose,
collected their robes, and turned out the lights. As they sleepily
mounted the stairs toward their bedroom, they speculated on the
effect their announcement would have Below. Basking in the glow of
anticipation, they finally slept.
"Oh, Cath, tell me everything," Jenny begged. "What did Mouse
say? Jamie? Father? Did they go as crazy as I did?"
"At least," Catherine laughed. "I don't think Father was
surprised, exactly, but he knows Vincent. I'm sure he wondered how
long it would take his stubborn son to allow himself to dream of the
next logical step. My guess is he thought it would take a lot
"He may know Vincent," Jenny admitted, "but he doesn't
know you as well as I do. You lawyers are a devious bunch, putting
ideas into people's heads in that sneaky way you have."
"Vincent would have dared to think of it himself,
eventually," Catherine replied seriously. "But it would have taken a
long time. He still had some idiot notions about tying me to a
limited life with him instead of all the dazzling possibilities I
could have Above. I knew after we agreed to get married he'd have a
"So what did you do about it?"
Catherine looked astonished at herself, and a little
sheepish. "I got mad. Would you believe I actually yelled at him?"
"Yes, I would. What did you yell, exactly?"
"First I set him him straight about my dazzling life
Topside. I've tried to tell him before, but I guess I was a bit more
... emphatic this time. I let him know in no uncertain terms how
shallow and unsatisfying it was ... how I've done more real living
since I've known him than I did in the three decades before."
"Good start," Jenny said admiringly. "Then what?"
"Then I accused him of insulting me by assuming I was
still so shallow that I'd come to regret my choice if I got a better
offer. I pointed out that I'd had one from Elliot I thought I
couldn't refuse, and the prospect made me so miserable I could hardly
bear it. I told him I'd never been happier in my life, goddammit,
than I was with him, and then I threw a pillow at him and started to
"Wow!" Jenny exclaimed, impressed. "What happened then?"
"I think he finally got the point," Catherine smiled.
"And then we made up. Exactly how is none of your business," she said
firmly, forestalling her friend's next question.
"Oh, I can imagine." Jenny looked at Catherine
speculatively. "It must be pretty wonderful, given the way you've
been looking and acting ever since Winterfest."
Catherine looked at her hands. "It is. I find myself
thinking the most astonishingly trite things."
"Like, 'I never thought it could be like this?' I'd be
willing to bet you've even said it.'"
Catherine groaned and hid her face in her hands.
"Guilty," she mumbled through her fingers. She removed her hands to
reveal a suspiciously pink face to her erstwhile Maid of Honor. "But
it's true! Making love with Vincent bears about as much resemblance
to making love with anyone else as--as Chartres does to a
"Do you think it's just because you love him so much
Catherine leaned back in her chair and pondered for a
moment. "That's certainly part of it. But not all. For one thing,
Vincent's more concerned with pleasing me than himself."
"And ditto for you, I'm sure.Catherine smiled. "I suppose
so," she admitted. "There's also the bond. He can always tell through
that what I like best. But I've also gotten pretty good at knowing
what he likes. Not that it's difficult ... his responses are so
innocent, so completely honest."
"No trying to be cool? No looking like he's trying to
remember what that diagram on page fifty-six looked like?"
"Hardly. I also wonder ..."
"What?" Jenny prompted when Catherine remained quiet.
"I wonder if the bond isn't beginning to work a little in
the other direction. Lots of times it seems like I can sense his
feelings in a way I couldn't before--at least not often. Maybe it's
just that being around Vincent has developed my intuition."
"Could be all of the above," Jenny suggested. "If I were
you I wouldn't worry too much about analyzing it. Just be grateful
"Oh, I am," Catherine assured her. "I am." Catherine's
reverie and Jenny's amused contemplation of her friend were suddenly
interrupted by the doorbell. Jenny stayed alert as Catherine went to
answer, hoping it was something innocuous. She relaxed as Catherine
re-entered the library, grinning and shaking her head.
"What is it?" Jenny was dying of curiosity.
"Would you believe a telegram?" Catherine replied. "From
"A telegram? You're kidding! Who sends telegrams any
more?" Jenny was looking forward to meeting this strange brother of
Vincent's. "Why didn't he just call you? The Adirondacks aren't that
"Devin never got over all the Sherlock Holmes stories he
read as a child." Catherine handed the piece of paper to Jenny.
"Besides, Vincent will enjoy this better than a phone call."
Jenny took the paper and read.
HOT DAMN STOP SMARTS RUN IN FAMILY STOP CHARLES AND SELF
BE THERE BELLS ON STOP LOVE TO BE BEST MAN STOP CAN ALSO OFFICIATE IF
NEEDED STOP SEE YOU APRIL FOOL
"Can also officiate?" Jenny looked confused. "What does
"God," Catherine realized, "I'd better not show Father
that part. I presume he means he paid twenty-five dollars once to
become a Minister in the Universal Life Church," Catherine laughed.
"Strange as it seems, that lets you perform legal marriages."
"Are you going to take him up on it?" Jenny asked
"No--only one role to a customer in this wedding."
"So who is going to do the honors?Father?"
"That's what I thought at first," Catherine replied. "But
then I came up with another idea, and talked to Father and Vincent
about it." Catherine curled up on the sofa next to Jenny. "Most of
the time, for a strictly 'Below' wedding, Father or another Council
member officiates. But the more I thought about it, the more I
decided to have it done by clergy. One of the Helpers is an Episcopal
priest. I've met him before, he's a really fine man."
"Is that so important to you?" Jenny asked. "You're a
good person, Cathy, but you never struck me as being terribly
religious, in the formal sense."
"I'm not, particularly," Catherine agreed. "But I want
this to be as much of a marriage as possible without endangering
Vincent. Maybe we can't have a marriage that's exactly legal-- but at
least it will be sacramental."
Jenny touched Catherine's hand. "I think that's
wonderful. I'm sure it will mean a lot to Vincent."
Catherine squeezed Jenny's hand gratefully. "It will mean
a lot to both of us." She was quiet for a moment. "But there's more
to it than even that."
Jenny looked at her friend sharply. "Do I detect a shift
into lawyer mode?"
"There you go, being intuitive again." Catherine's face
suddenly looked serious, and more that a little pained. "I've never
been able to forget that time Vincent was captured by Hughes, and how
lucky we were that I got him back before word got out. I keep
wondering what I could do if something like that happened again, and
we weren't so lucky."
"What do you mean?"
"Vincent's greatest protection is the fact that,
legally--as far as Topside is concerned--he doesn't exist. But if he
ever did get captured, that could work against him."
Jenny's eyes widened in sudden understanding. "You mean,
if he has no legal existence, he has no rights either."
Catherine nodded. "And with a dubiously legal marriage, I
might have no rights as his wife, no way to protect him. But there's
church law, and civil law. If we were married in a religious
ceremony, that could make for an interesting legal tangle. At least
it would give me some ammunition."
"Wow. What a thought." Jenny shuddered. "Let's hope it
never comes to that."
"Amen," Catherine agreed emphatically. "But if it
did--well, Vincent's protected me more times than I can count. I have
to protect him in any way I can." They sat in silence for a moment,
then Catherine shook her head as if to clear it. She stood and turned
toward Jenny. "Enough of this. It's getting late, and we have a
dinner reservation Chez Tunnel. Let's go."
After dinner, the members of the wedding party split up
according to sex. Vincent and Mouse went off with Father, while
Catherine, Jenny and Jamie huddled in Jamie's chamber. Catherine
remained standing while her two attendants flopped onto the bed.
"Well, your brideship," Jenny inquired brightly, "what's the plan?
Are we going to wear pink chiffon and picture hats?"
"Bite your tongue, Aaronson," the bride replied, looking
like she'd bitten into a lemon. "This is a Below wedding, and it's
going to look like one." Catherine began to pace. "Since the bride's
family traditionally pays for the wedding, I'm being indulged. But I
don't want things to get too fancy--it would make me uncomfortable in
front of people who have so little."
"Catherine," Jamie reassured her, "I told you not to
worry so much about that. Everybody Below is so happy you're marrying
Vincent you could wear a dress made of dollar bills and nobody would
"Now that would be an interesting fashion statement,"
Catherine couldn't help but smile. "Well, I did
compromise. I bought tons of old fabrics from some antique clothing
dealers, and all sorts of remnants--but they're remnants from very
expensive shops. Don't tell."
"Mary and Sarah," Jamie explained, "are looking it all
over and they promised to give us some ideas of what they'd like to
do by next week. Then we can all decide which we like best. I know
they'll come up with something wonderful."
"OK with me," Jenny agreed. "I love the stuff people wear
around here. But what about the bride?"
Catherine inclined her head toward the door and Jamie
jumped up to pull the heavy tapestry over the opening. To any Tunnel
resident, that was as inviolate as a closed door would be Above.
Catherine opened Jamie's wardrobe, which never had much in it, and
reached back in the corner. Jamie helped her pull out the large
garment bag and extract the dress it held. Shaking it out, Catherine
held it up against herself and looked at Jenny. "What do you think?"
"It's gorgeous!" Jenny exclaimed. "And unusual--I've
never seen a wedding dress made of raw silk before."
"My mother," Catherine said softly, "was an unusual
"Oh, Cath--" Jenny found that the lump in her throat kept
her from saying more.
Catherine stroked the fabric lovingly as she continued
speaking. "Mom had very simple tastes. She didn't like things that
were too fancy or glittery. It's funny--she couldn't have picked a
better dress for me to get married in if she were with me now. It
almost makes me believe she had a glimpse of the future, and knew
that I'd wear it someday--and for whom." Catherine gave an embarassed
laugh. "Silly, isn't it?"
Jenny found her voice again. "I don't think it's silly at
all. I didn't know you had your mother's dress."
"I didn't. I found it at Dad's place when I went to clean
out the last of his stuff."
"And I gave you a hard time because you wouldn't let me
come with you," Jenny remembered.
"You came all the other times, and I couldn't have done
it without you. But that last time--I had to do that alone."
Catherine continued to stroke the fabric tenderly. "I
found this tucked away in an out-of-the-way closet. I guess I always
assumed it was in storage somewhere; I never dreamed Dad kept it at
home all these years."
"Maybe he liked keeping it close by," Jamie suggested,
"because it made your Mother feel closer."
"I'm sure that's right," Catherine nodded. "There wasn't
as much dust on this as you'd expect for something tucked away for a
quarter-century or so. It makes me wonder how often he took it out to
look at it."
"Hey," Jenny admonished, "save the tears for your own
Catherine squared her shoulders in determination as Jamie
helped her put the dress back in its protective covering. "Right.
I've got enough to worry about without that."
"Such as what?" Jenny asked. "Wondering if the groom's
going to pass out from excess of ecstacy before the ceremony?"
Catherine tried to pretend she wasn't blushing even as
Jamie's chuckle told her otherwise. "Such as what the bride's present
to the groom is going to be--don't even think it,Aaronson--and the
"What about the rings?" Jamie was concerned at
Catherine's sudden unhappy look.
Catherine dropped heavily into the chair and sighed. "I
could afford to buy them, but I'm afraid that would make Vincent
uncomfortable. I know it disturbs him that he has 'so little to give
me,' as he puts it. Even though I've told him a million times that
all I need is him ... there's nothing more precious to me than that."
Jenny looked thoughtful. "Cath--your intended has a
selfesteem problem that's been decades in the making. You're not
going to get rid of it overnight."
Jamie nodded sagely. "Men can get funny ideas sometimes."
That remark brought a smile back to Catherine's face, but
only fleetingly. "Even if I could buy them without hurting his
feelings, can you see me waltzing into a jewelry store to buy wedding
rings? Catherine Chandler, darling of the tabloids?"
"Ouch," Jenny winced. "I never thought of that. You've
been doing your best to keep a low profile so they'll forget about
you, but that would sure set them off again."
"And I couldn't wear a ring that was too obvious, anyway.
Think of what fuel that would be for the DA's office gossip mill."
Jamie had been sitting silently in deep concentration.
Suddenly, her face brightened. "Catherine?"
"What is it, Jamie?"
"I think I have an idea. Will you trust me to take care
of it? It can be my wedding present to you."
Catherine looked at Jamie in surprise. Jamie was a
resourceful young woman, but to depend on her for something so
important ... but then, what was family for? "If you're sure, Jamie
... yes, I'll leave it to you."
"Well, Vincent," Father observed, "your plans seem to be moving
forward apace. William, of course, has been complaining that six
weeks' notice was barely enough to prepare for an occasion of this
magnitude, but he's exaggerating."
"He usually does," Vincent observed drily. "I was more
concerned about Father Atwood being available."
"Nigel wouldn't miss the chance to officiate at your
wedding if the Archbishop of Canterbury were in town," Father beamed.
"I'm very pleased that you and Catherine wanted him."
"Can't get license," Mouse pointed out. "God's better."
Vincent stared at Mouse. Sometimes that young man's
insights amazed him. Vincent himself had suspected Catherine had
several layers of motivation in her choice of Nigel Atwood; he had
not expected to have his suspicions confirmed by Mouse, of all
"I find it all too appropriate," Father went on, "that
your prodigal brother has decided to arrive on April first."
Vincent raised an eyebrow. "Father, you're extremely
pleased he plans to spend so much time with us, you needn't try to
hide it. And he has hardly been prodigal of late."
Father's face softened. "No--his care of Charles has been
exemplary. I admit I was worried about his choice to live in a rather
remote area, given Charles' medical needs. But Peter's report of his
visit was very reassuring. The local doctor seems a good man, and
Charles has come to trust him."
"Besides," Vincent reminded him, "didn't Peter say the
man's daughter planned to join him in the practice when she finished
her residency? It appears Charles will have the best of care."
Mouse spoke from his Buddha-like pose on Vincent's bed.
"Glad Charles is coming too. Sorry everybody messed up last time."
"Yes," Father agreed. "There are many Below that feel we
could have been more patient, more understanding."
"Charles is calmer now," Vincent added, "more secure.
Both Devin and I were guilty of underestimating the burden of fear
and confusion he still carried."
"What about clothes?" Mouse interrupted, ready to move on
to topics of more immediate interest. "Have to wear fancy stuff?"
Vincent smiled. "Not too fancy, Mouse. Not for you and
Devin. I only hope Sarah and Mary practice restraint where the groom
"Well," Father beamed, "it sounds like everything is
Vincent nodded, but Mouse's eyes were on his hero's face,
and what he saw there gave him concern. "Something else, Vincent.
Father looked sharply at his son. "Mouse is right, isn't
he, Vincent? There is something."
Vincent sighed. "A minor thing," he admitted. "I don't
know what to do about a ring. The crystal cavern holds many wonders,
but gold ore is not among them. Catherine knows we have little of
value to her world here Below, and would be uncomfortable knowing we
used part of our scarce resources for her."
"Mouse won't get caught. Not again."
"Bailing you out of jail is not the only situation that
would require us to use such resources," Father informed Mouse.
"Catherine could certainly afford to provide what was
needed," Vincent continued, "but she fears hurting my pride.
Rationally, I know her wealth means little to her, except as a way to
make life easier for those she loves, or who need help."
"But it still bothers you." Father reaches out to touch
his son's bowed shoulders. "Vincent, it's only human nature." As
Vincent raised his head, Father met his son's implacable gaze.
"Yes, Vincent," he insisted. "Human nature."
Suddenly their mutual concentration was broken when Mouse
leaped up and began hugging himself gleefully. "OK good, OK fine!
Mouse can fix! No problem."
"Mouse, whatever are you talking about?" Father exclaimed
"Rings. For Catherine. For Vincent too. All figured out.
Let Mouse do it--OK, Vincent? My present."
"Mouse, what makes you think--" Father stopped abruptly
at Vincent's touch.
"Mouse, do you mean you will provide the wedding rings?"
Mouse beamed at Vincent, nodding his head so vigorously
his hair fell into his eyes. Vincent thought hard for a moment. To
trust something this important to the unpredictable Mouse ... Vincent
made his decision. Better for him and Catherine to wear cigar bands
for all the years of their marriage than extinguish the light that
suffused that young face. "All right, Mouse. And thank you."
Father sank back into the chair, appalled. He hoped
against hope that Vincent didn't regret this.
On the streets of Manhattan, March was trying to decide whether
it was a lion or a lamb, and changing its mind frequently. Below
those streets, Catherine and Vincent were curled up on his bed,
surrounded by piles of books. Catherine rummaged enthusiastically,
increasing the disarray. Finally Vincent could stand it no longer.
"Catherine, what are you searching for?"
"That book that talked about Quaker weddings. I wanted to
check the wording again." She turned her attention to the bookcase
next to Vincent's bed, hoping the elusive volume might have migrated
over there. Suddenly she reached out and drew something from the
shelf, turning to her fiancé with an indulgent smile.
"Vincent, I didn't know you brought this down here."
Vincent shrugged his shoulders. "I wanted more time to
look at them. When we looked at them together, I found myself too
easily distracted from the past by the present."
Catherine opened the photo album with a fond smile. "May
it always be so, love," she announced firmly. "I want us to
concentrate on present and future ... but it's nice to remember,
especially the good parts."
Vincent slipped an arm around Catherine's shoulders. "It
gives me great pleasure to see what you looked like as a child. It
seems amazing that we shared the same city for so many years, with no
idea of what we would be to each other some day."
Catherine turned to plant a soft kiss on his cheek. "The
fact that we managed to find each other at all is the really amazing
thing. I think it happened at just the right moment in our lives. I
don't think I could have appreciated you properly when I was younger
and even shallower, and I can't imagine you would have seen anything
worthwile in me."
Catherine," Vincent admonished, "you have often expressed
your concern about my self-image, but you are hardly immune to--"
"Let's change the subject," Catherine interrupted
hastily. "What about that book?"
Vincent sighed but began helping her look. In a sudden
burst of inspiration, he leaned over the edge of the bed and spied
the volume in question resting on the floor in company with several
of its fellows. Retrieving it, he handed it to Catherine with a shake
of his head. "My love, you are one of the most energetic researchers
I have ever known. You must have left your law books in ruins."
"Guilty. I have to restrain myself when the books belong
to somebody else, like the library or the DA's office. This feels
more like my carefree college days." She flipped through the pages
looking for the passage she remembered. "Here it is! All you'd have
to do is stand up during the regular Sunday meeting and say,
'Friends, I take this my friend Catherine Chandler to be my wife,
promising through divine assistance, to be unto her a loving and
faithful husband, until it should please the Lord by death to
separate us,' in about fifty or sixty years." Catherine looked at
Vincent lovingly. "I added the last part."
Vincent kissed her forehead. "It has a sweet simplicity
to it," he agreed. "Would you say the same to me?"
"Suitably adjusted for 'husband' and 'wife,' yes."
Catherine sighed. "I'm afraid it's a little too simple. I just liked
the part about friends. You were my friend first, after all. Or at
least I thought that's all you were at the time." She took Vincent's
hand, twining her fingers around his, but didn't look at his face.
"When did you fall in love with me? At the very beginning?"
Vincent looked at their entwined hands, speaking so
softly Catherine could just hear him. "Yes. I didn't recognize it at
the time--after all, I had spent years convincing myself that kind of
love was something I would never know. All I knew then was that I
couldn't get you out of my mind--literally or figuratively."
"When did you recognize it?"
"When you were falling in love with Elliot Burch."
Catherine blinked back tears as she put her arms around
Vincent. "Oh, my love--I can't bear the knowledge that I caused you
pain, however inadvertently."
Vincent held her close. "Catherine--dearest--how could
you have known, when I tried so hard to convince you, and myself,
that kind of love was impossible between us? Part of me wanted
nothing but your happiness--but another part screamed in pain at the
thought of you finding that happiness with anyone else."
"If it's any consolation, I think it was already too
late. I think I fell in love with you as early as you did with me; it
just took me even longer to figure it out."
"Catherine, for all those months I kept away from
you--you had no reason to believe you'd ever see me again. You must
have wondered sometimes if it all hadn't been a dream."
"No. I knew it was real. I doubted I'd ever see you
again, and hadn't the faintest idea of how to find you, although I
thought of looking more than once. I told myself it was just because
I wanted to be your friend, to thank you more for all you'd done ...
but I was lying to myself. I never told you before, Vincent, but
after I met you I never slept with anyone else. I gave myself other
explanations at the time, but now I know it was because some part of
me knew from the first there was no one for me but you."
Vincent looked at Catherine in wonder. "I never realized
... when I discovered the bond I had with you, at first I tried hard
to ignore it; it felt like I was invading your privacy. Ijust assumed
... but now that I think about it, I should have known. If you had
been with anyone else, I don't think I could have escaped knowing."
He shuddered helplessly at the prospect.
"I should have known when everything fell apart with
Elliot." Catherine continued. "I turned against him so fast, without
listening to his explanations, and he did nothing worse than Tom
Gunther or countless others like him did every day. But by then I
knew you, and without realizing it, measured every man I met against
you. None ever came close."
"When did you realize you loved me as more than a
"I came pretty close when Hughes captured you, but you'd
done such a good job of convincing me that going to Providence was a
good idea, I didn't trust my perceptions of what was between us. But
when you were in that cave-in, and I thought you might be dead--after
that, there was no doubt. It took me awhile to figure out what to do
about it, but after that I never again doubted that I loved you."
Vincent drew Catherine close again. "Sometimes I think we
made the path to true love even rougher than it's supposed to be."
Catherine snuggled happily against him. "Maybe," she
agreed. "But who knows? Maybe that's the only path that would have
gotten us here--and since I like where we are, I'm not about to
quibble over the route. I'm counting my blessings."
They held each other quietly for awhile, each reliving
the torturous road that had led them to their present joy. After a
time they reluctantly separated to continue their research. There was
after all, a wedding to plan. Some time later, Vincent began to
"What?" Catherine demanded.
"If you wish simplicity," Vincent grinned, "the customs
of the Trobriand Islands should be perfect. It says here that even
couples who have been sleeping together for some time are not
considered married until they perform a certain act in public."
"What act?" Catherine attempted to look her most
"Eating yams," Vincent answered, straight-faced.
He had only seconds to enjoy Catherine's reaction before
the pillow impacted his head. Her attempts to pulverize her intended
ended when she was weakened by an unvoidable fit of the giggles.
Vincent struggled for composure. "Catherine, we really
should keep our minds on the job at hand."
Catherine regarded him indignantly. "You're the one who
brought up yams," she reminded him.
Eventually they settled down to some serious research,
identifying poetry and other readings for their wedding, taking bits
and pieces from various sources to construct as ecumenical a ceremony
as possible. When Catherine suddenly frowned, Vincent asked her what
"Don't we have the older version of The Book of Common
Nodding, Vincent dug into the pile and handed her a
well-worn volume. "The 1928 edition," he announced. "Father refuses
to acknowledge the 1977 revision."
"Really?" Catherine smiled. "Why doesn't that surprise
me? Actually my father liked the older version better, too. I can't
decide which to use for the exchange of rings. There's a beautiful,
straightforward simplicity about the new version ... "
"I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow, and with all
that I am, and all that I have, I honor you ..." Vincent quoted from
memory, in a voice that caused Catherine to lose her train of thought
"And the old version?" Vincent prompted.
"The what? Oh ..." Catherine tried to collect herself. "I
never liked that obey business much," she admitted. "And that bit
about endowing with wordly goods seems terribly materialistic. But
there's a part they left out of the revision that I always loved ...
do you think we could combine the two?"
"I don't see why not--it's our wedding, after all."
Vincent gently trailed the back of a finger down her cheek. "What
part would you like to keep?"
Catherine leaned into his touch, her eyes fixed on his
" 'With my body I thee worship'--I never understood what
it meant--until you."
Like spontaneous combustion, the sudden wave of passion
that engulfed them seemed to erupt from nowhere--but in seconds, they
were both on fire. Books went flying as they sank into the bed, arms
and legs entwined, lips seeking hungrily. As Catherine's mouth opened
under Vincent's, his hand slipped under her sweater. As she tangled
one hand in his hair, the other began a frantic tugging on his shirt
"Vincent, have you--oh!"
Father stopped dead in his tracks, transfixed by the
scene before him. Disentanglingthemselves in record time, Catherine
and Vincent stared at him in turn. For a moment, all held still like
a Victorian tableau, then all began to talk at once.
"Forgive me, the tapestry was up so I thought--"
"I'm sorry, Father, we didn't expect--"
"We didn't expect to ... I mean, we were just--"
They stopped talking all at once, as if on cue. Choosing
the better part of valor, Catherine buried her face in a pillow,
trying unsuccessfully to hide the fact she was having hysterics.
Vincent ran his fingers through his hair, attempting with no more
success to make himself look less disheveled.
Recovering first, Father began to appreciate the humor in
the situation. He began to chuckle. "Vincent--dear Grace had a
favorite expression: 'if you hadn't seen it before, you wouldn't know
what it was.' "
"Thank, you, Father," Vincent replied fervently. "We did
not expect to need privacy; we only intended to work on the
"That should be quite a ceremony," Father observed,
undeterred by his son's pained expression. "What account of exotic
marrriage customs led to such ... enthusiasm?"
Catherine emerged from the pillow. "Actually--" she
looked Father right in the eye--"it was The Book of Common
Father looked startled, but quickly decided not to pursue
this conversation. He began moving toward the door. "Well, I'll take
my leave and allow you to continue your theological discussion. Shall
I put the tapestry down?"
"Perhaps that would be wise," Vincent agreed.
"Father--what were you about to ask when you came in?"
The older man looked puzzled for a moment, then began to
laugh. "You know, I haven't the faintest idea! Something seems to
have driven it quite out of my head." He was still laughing as he
pulled the heavy tapestry down over the open door.
"Oh, my God," Catherine groaned. "I've never been so
"Look at it this way, Catherine," Vincent attempted to
reassure his beloved. "For all those years, Father thought this kind
of love would be denied to me, and that caused him great sorrow. He's
really very pleased that you and I became lovers."
"I know that, Vincent," Catherine sighed, "and I'm glad.
But he seemed willing to accept hearsay evidence. I hadn't intended
to give him a demonstration."
"Perhaps," Vincent decided, "this would be a good time to
tell you about Rebecca's wedding present."
"Another one? I thought the special wedding candles were
her present--that's more than enough."
"Well," Vincent admitted, "the second present is only a
byproduct of something else."
Catherine tugged on Vincent's hair. "Well, come on, tell
me! I'm dying of curiosity."
Vincent capitulated. "Rebecca has decided to move in with
"Oh, that's wonderful!" Catherine threw her arms around
Vincent's neck and squeezed. "I'm so happy for them--they're crazy
about each other. Maybe we'll have another wedding Below pretty
"It wouldn't surprise me at all," Vincent agreed.
"But what does that have to do with a wedding present for
us?" Vincent was silent, but Catherine's face suddenly lit up as she
put two and two together. "Vincent! Rebecca's moving out!"
Vincent nodded sagely. "Moving in with Gregory would
entail moving out of her present quarters, yes."
"Which happen to be right next door to yours!" Catherine
almost jumped up and down in her excitement. "That means--"
Vincent wrapped his arms around her, partly to keep her
from bouncing off the bed, partly because he found it undeniably
pleasurable. "That means that within the week I can start blocking
the current door to that chamber and carving out a new one that will
link it to this. We can make Rebecca's old room our bedroom, and this
into an anteroom."
"Hallelujah!" Catherine exclaimed. "Much as I love you,
and like staying Below--there are times when this place feels less
like the honeymoon suite and more like the lobby." She resumed her
interrupted task of removing Vincent's shirt. "Now, where were we
Vincent slipped his hands under her sweater again. "With
my body I thee worship ... "
"Let us worship together," Catherine intoned, just before
her mouth found better things to do.
Catherine sat at her kitchen table, nursing a cup of tea as she
gazed dreamily at the tiny garden. It was definitely starting to feel
like Spring. Even though this winter had been a remarkably mild one,
and an even more remarkably happy one, she was still glad to see the
change of seasons. Only Spring could due justice to the feelings of
rebirth and renewal that made her feel too full to hold any more. For
two years she had been planting seeds of hope in Vincent's
disbelieving heart--at last, it was time for their love to bloom.
She stretched luxuriously. It really was time to be
getting upstairs and back to work, but it felt too good to sit here.
Weekends were usually spent Below. Only the need to get ahead at work
so she could take a week off this month kept her nose more or less to
the grindstone. Joe probably thought she was going to the Bahamas or
some such tropical paradise. She had implied she was going out
of town, after all, but had otherwise ignored her boss's unsubtle
attempts to learn more. Catherine rested her chin in one hand and
smiled. She certainly wouldn't be getting any tan where she was
going; not many people spent their honeymoon underground.
The ring of the telephone startled Catherine out of her
reverie. Normally she would have let the answering machine pick it up
to see who was calling, but she jumped at the chance to avoid facing
the pile of work in her study. Vincent was busy preparing their new
chamber, so she couldn't count on him to rescue her for some time.
"Cathy!" Jenny began eagerly as soon as Catherine said
hello. "You've got to get down here right away."
"What? Jenny, where is 'here?' What's going on?"
"I'm at that antique shop in the Village, the one you
told me about. Where you bought Vincent's Winterfest present,
"Of course I remember," Catherine replied. "But why are
you there? Why do I have to come all the way down there now? Jenny,
are you in trouble? Is something wrong?"
"Heck, no! I just saved your buns, that's all. You know
how you've having fits because you haven't found the perfect wedding
present for Vincent? Well, I'm looking at it."
Catherine didn't hesitate. "I'll be down there as soon as
I can get a cab."
Jenny laughed. "If you can't get one to stop, pull out
your gun and commandeer one. But hurry--if I have to stay here much
longer, my VISA bill is on your head."
Catherine had lived in Manhattan long enough to know how
to get a cab without resorting to firearms. Before Jenny's will power
could break under the strain, Catherine entered the shop she had
stumbled across last December. Spotting Jenny in a corner, she rushed
to her eagerly, wondering if her friend's intuition was correct
Jenny grabbed Catherine's arm as soon as she was within
range, pointing to the wall. "Well, is that it?" she asked.
Catherine was silent as she read the words, then gingerly
took the frame off its hook and moved to where the light was better.
After looking at it carefully for several minutes, she sighed. "Oh,
Jenny, this is most definitely it. Bless you--you've done it again."
Jenny grinned happily. "Hey, when I'm a Maid of Honor I
don't fool around; all part of the service. Have you ever seen such
"It's exquisite," Catherine breathed. "And Vincent loves
John Donne. I'm glad whoever did this used the Elizabethan spelling;
he'll like that too."
"Look at the design of that border," Jenny pointed out.
"It looks like Arts & Crafts period. It might have been made
about the same time as the furniture in your house."
"Or earlier, if it's English." Catherine turned the frame
over, but the back yielded no clues. Turning it over again, Catherine
shook her head in wonder. "This was obviously done with a great deal
of love, as well as talent. I wonder how it got here? How could
anyone bear to part with it?"
"Would you like to know?"
Catherine and Jenny both turned to face the tall,
soft-spoken man who appeared behind them.
"This is your shop, isn't it?" Catherine asked. "I
remember you from when I was here before Christmas."
The man nodded in agreement. "Jonathan Sykes of Sykes and
Moore, Inc., at your service. Ah, I remember you now--the
nineteenth-century bronze of Sekhmet."
"I'm impressed," Catherine admitted as she shook his
hand. "You have a remarkable memory. Especially since it wasn't even
you who waited on me."
"I imagine it was your unusual reaction to the statue
which caused me to remember," Mr. Sykes mused. "The lion-headed
goddess is a powerful deity. Most people react with derision or awe,
depending on their attitude toward other people's religions. I can
recall no one else who grinned in obvious delight."
Catherine looked uncomfortable and Jenny suddenly became
fascinated by a Victorian chamber pot. "You know the story behind
this piece? I'm surprised anyone would let it out of the family."
"It belonged to my late partner," Sykes explained. "He
had no close relatives to will it to."
"He didn't leave it to you?" Jenny asked.
Catherine winced. "Jenny, that's none of your business."
"Sorry," Jenny apologized. "I'm a hopeless romantic."
Jonathan Sykes only smiled. "Mr. Moore was my business
partner only, and my good friend. He did have a companion of many
years, but that gentleman prececeased him."
"Still ... " Catherine looked at the beautiful poem
"I would have thought he would rather have left it to a
friend than have it sold."
"Patrick Moore was convinced it would find its proper
owner," Sykes explained. "It was made by his grandmother for his
grandfather. There was considerable family opposition to the
marriage. His grandmother was a descendant of English aristocracy--no
doubt disreputable younger sons who fled to the New World--but
aristocracy nonetheless. They wouldn't hear of her marrying a poor
Irish immigrant. But she did."
Catherine and Jenny both stared at him in fascination as
he continued the narrative. "Then Patrick's father carried on the
tradition by falling in love with a Black woman. His grandparents
didn't object, but most of the world certainly did back then.
Patrick's mother and father passed this on to him, and he carried on
the tradition in his own way. He had an almost mystical belief that
whoever bought this would be led to it-- would be someone who
appreciated its history."
When he finished, Catherine was too stunned to say
anything for a moment. Sykes wondered if she realized that she was
clutching the poem so close to her chest she looked like she would
kill anyone who tried to take it away. Finally, she found her voice.
"Believe me, Mr. Sykes--there isn't anyone in New York who could
appreciate this as much as I do."
"I had a feeling that was the case," he admitted. "I'm
sure Patrick would have been very pleased. And please call me
Catherine was still dazed as they left the shop, the
precious parcel well wrapped and held tightly in her arms, but not
too dazed to thank her friend. "Jenny, I owe you one--I owe you ten!
First, I'm taking you home in a cab, then I'm taking you out to
dinner. Name the place, I'll get reservations if I have to bribe
"Whoa," Jenny laughed. "I'll take you up on the cab ride,
but just drop me at my place--which used to be your place not too
long ago. I'll take a rain check on dinner. There's somebody I have
to see tonight."
"Oh?" Catherine pressed. "Business someone or pleasure
"Business, and none of yours. You concentrate on where
you're going to hide that present until the wedding."
Jenny was so eager to get back to her apartment she let
Catherine refuse her contribution to the cab fare without an argument
that would take time she couldn't spare. Jenny hadn't been raised by
a Jewish mother for nothing. Invite a man for dinner, even strictly a
business one, and certain standards had to be upheld. She grabbed an
apron and faced the kitchen like a general preparing for battle.
By the time the doorman announced her visitor, the smells
that filled the apartment were enough to make strong men weep with
anticipation. Checking the peephole, Jenny determined that her
visitor was the one she expected. Even though Catherine claimed
security in this building was much improved, Jenny was dubious.
Despite the "Aaronson" prominently displayed on the directory
downstairs, Jenny kept expecting anyone from wandering gypsies to
voodoo cultists to crooked cops dropping by unannounced. Undoing
various locks and deadbolts, Jenny opened the door.
The man's grin didn't quite disguise his curiosity. "Hi,
Jenny. You know, I've never actually been in this apartment before?
Although I did end up butt-first in the elevator once."
Jenny smiled as she motioned him in. "I know, Cathy told
me that story. Come on in, Devin."
As they worked their way through appetizers, dinner, and
a bottle of wine, Jenny and Devin traded stories about Vincent and
Catherine as well as each other. As the level in the wine bottle got
lower, the stories got funnier. There hadn't been much time to talk
during Devin's grand homecoming the previous weekend, but what little
Jenny was able to observe told her Devin had a definite way with
words. By the time they had polished off dessert, both were weak with
After a short, comfortable, silence, Devin set his coffee
cup down firmly and faced Jenny. "So, what's this all about?
You told me you were going to make me an offer I couldn't
refuse. While women have often found my body irresistible, something
tells me that wasn't the kind of offer you meant."
Jenny's grin matched his. "You're right about that.
Besides, wouldn't it be incest or something?" She leaned forward on
the sofa, fixing Devin with a semi-serious look. "Have you gotten
Cathy and Vincent a wedding present yet?"
Devin looked suddenly unhappy. "No--I was hoping I'd get
an inspiration once I got to New York." He sighed. "I'm not exactly
flush right now. Taking care of Charles is more expensive than I
anticipated ... and there aren't many opportunities for getting rich
in the depths of the Adirondacks-unless you already happen to own a
nice lodge or ski resort."
Jenny looked pleased with herself. "What I've got in mind
won't take much money--but it will take time, ingenuity, and some
persuasive talking. I can tell you've got all it takes of the last
"If this idea is as good as you think it is, I'll
make time. Everybody's concentrating so hard on entertaining
Charles or preparing for the big day, they'll never miss me."
Jenny nodded. "OK. Here's my plan ... "
While Jenny was unrolling her lengthy plot to Devin, one of the
objects of that conspiracy was wandering around her dressing room,
poking and prodding in drawers, making mental lists. What to pack for
a honeymoon spent crawling around in an underground kingdom that
still seemed half-mythical to Catherine at times?
She knew poor Vincent was still fretting about their
limited possibilities for such an important occasion. No matter how
many times she told him she'd be happy to spend her honeymoon in a
dumpster as long as it was with him; no matter how many stories she
told him about outdoorsy friends who went camping on their
honeymoons, he was still unhappy, reminded once again of the
limitations his differences placed on their life.
Catherine sighed. As if such unimportant things mattered
to her, measured against the glorious prospect of a life spent with
him. Clearly this was one battle that would have to be fought again
and again. Maybe in a decade or so she'd get him to really believe it
didn't matter. At least the wedding night would be spent in this
house; the nightgown she'd bought for the occasion should dazzle her
groom enough to last through a week of jeans and sleeping bags. And
the crystal cavern--if that really was as beautiful as Vincent
described, it should be pretty romantic even if it was a bit rustic.
Wandering into the bedroom, Catherine pulled out the
crystal that hung from its gold chain around her neck. It would be
nice to see the place this came from. She sat on the bed, lost in
memories. The dress she had worn the night Vincent put this around
her neck almost two years ago had looked almost as much like a
wedding dress as the one she would wear in five days. There was a
promise made that night, though never stated. Through all the
two-steps-forward, one-step-back progress of their relationship,
through all the doubt and despair both of them had suffered, this
indestructible crystal lay over her heart. Its silent message of
endurance, of hope, had kept her own determination alive through the
darkest times. And now ...
Catherine looked up as the wall panel opened and Vincent
stepped into the room. The look in his eyes as he saw her sitting
there dangling the crystal in her hand was worth enduring anything.
Wordlessly, he knelt before her, taking the crystal from her and
kissing it before letting it slide back under her shirt to find its
home between her breasts. Catherine wrapped her arms around Vincent's
neck and rested her cheek against his hair. They held each other in
silence for a moment. As they separated, Vincent rose and held out
his hands to Catherine.
"Are you ready to go Below, my love?"
Catherine took his hands and stood. "I'm ready to go to
the ends of the earth with you, any time." Such a remark clearly
deserved a kiss, and Vincent was eager to oblige. Eventually, they
made their way Below, not quite missing dinner. William had to
restrain himself from complaining, knowing he would immediately be
jumped on by a small army of romantics who were indulging the wedding
couple shamelessly these days.
Catherine felt almost guilty for stopping to eat at all.
Mouse had obviously wolfed his meal down early, and was almost
bursting with eagerness to show Catherine and Vincent his surprise.
Even Jamie had only limited success in curbing his obvious
impatience. Wilting under Mouse's implacable scrutiny, the two lovers
decided they could always sneak back later for more to eat, and made
do with an abbreviated meal. When Catherine and Vincent rose, Mouse
burst out of his chair like a rock from a catapult, leading them
toward Cullen's workshop at a pace more suitable for a track and
field competition than for navigating the Tunnels. Jamie pretended to
be disgusted, but Catherine could tell she was really as excited as
When the rest of the party arrived in Cullen's workroom,
they found Mouse looking like the cat that had swallowed the
proverbial canary--several canaries. Cullen was grinning his usual
sardonic grin, and even Jamie looked unusually smug. The three
conspirators--it was now obvious they were all involved-- faced the
future bride and groom as Jamie began to speak.
"Cathy," she began, "you remember I told you not to worry
about the wedding rings, that I'd take care of it?" Catherine nodded,
noticing Vincent's head turn to her in surprise as Jamie continued.
"Well, when I went to ask Mouse for his help, I found that Mouse had
already promised Vincent the same thing."
Now it was Catherine's turn to look at Vincent in
surprise. "Great minds think alike," Mouse offered. "Heard Father say
Cullen handed a small carved wooden box to Jamie, who
handed it to Mouse. Suddenly shy, Mouse offered it to Vincent and
Catherine. As Vincent accepted it, he and Catherine looked at the
intricate carving. What had seemed at first a complicated abstract
pattern resolved into their entwined initials.
Catherine reluctantly lifted her head. "It's beautiful!
Is it your work, Cullen?"
Cullen nodded. "Mouse and Jamie are idea men--and women,"
he added hastily at a glare from Jamie. "They came up with the notion
and provided the material, then roped me in for my special talents.
So it's a present from all three of us."
"Open," Mouse commanded. "Hurry up!"
As Catherine lifted the lid, she and Vincent looked into
the box. Nestled on dark velvet, two heavy silver rings glowed in the
soft light of Below like captured moonlight. After a moment of
absolute stillness, Vincent reached inside and gently removed the
smaller of the two. The delicate band revealed itself as a circle of
carefully carved Celtic knotwork, a pattern weaving in and out of
itself seemingly without beginning or end. What looked like separate
strands at first proved to be so inticately interwoven they formed a
single entity. Catherine held the second ring, as beautifully carved
as the first but sized to fit Vincent's larger hand.
Unnerved by the lengthy silence of his friends, Mouse
began to explain. "Sorry they're not gold--gold's not easy to find or
take--not a good idea, either." Mouse pointedly avoided looking at
Cullen, who bowed his head at a suddenly painful memory.
"Silver's easy to get," Jenny broke in. "People are
always losing earrings and rings in grates, and Mouse finds lots of
bits of forks and spoons all the time. I knew he'd have plenty for
Catherine finally found her voice past the lump in her
throat. "They're wonderful--they're perfect!"
Vincent agreed. "This is great gift to us. We will both
be proud to wear them."
"Don't mind they're not gold?" Mouse beamed but was still
not quite convinced.
"You know," Catherine replied, "gold stays shiny even if
you neglect it, that's one of the reasons people value it ... but I
don't think that's a very good metaphor for a marriage."
Catching Catherine's train of thought, Vincent nodded.
"Silver requires care, and attention, to remain at its
best. Its beauty cannot be taken for granted."
Catherine moved to hug Cullen, Jamie, and a flustered but
delighted Mouse. "I think you've made a perfect choice. These are the
best presents you could possibly give us." Relectantly putting the
rings back in their box, Catherine handed it to Jamie. "Technically,
it's the Best Man and Maid of Honor who are responsible for the
rings," she explained. "But under the circumstances, I don't think
Devin or Jenny will mind if we give that honor to you and Mouse."
Mouse looked like someone had just presented him with a
lifetime supply of the finest tools and gizmos, and Jamie looked
equally as happy. Cullen smiled on the whole gathering like a
benevolent if slightly disreputable uncle on his best behavior.
Vincent suggested they all repair to the kitchen to celebrate the
occasion. Catherine grinned to herself as her unsatisfied stomach
rumbled in happy anticipation. How clever of her to marry a man who
was smart as well as handsome.
On the eve of the wedding day, Father entered Vincent's
room--Vincent and Catherine's now, really. The outer room seemed
little changed from the day long ago when Vincent finally accepted
that Devin would never be back to share it, and began to make it his
own. A new door, however, now led to the chamber beyond. As yet it
held little but the magnificent old bed that mysteriously appeared
there one day when Vincent was away in the house he and Catherine
shared. No one knew yet, except the perpetrators, whose gift that had
been. There hadn't been time to add much else, but Father was sure
the newlyweds would deal with that task in short order when they
returned from their honeymoon.
Sensing his father's presence, Vincent lifted his eyes
from the task before him and smiled. "I'm glad you came, Father. I
thought you might like to see this finished. I have to wrap it soon,
Catherine will be here within the hour."
Father stood next to Vincent, contemplating the gift his
remarkable child was about to present to his bride. "It's beautiful,
Vincent; it turned out exactly as you had hoped."
Vincent shook his head ruefully. "It never turns out as
well as I hope, Father, but I pray Catherine will be pleased."
"I guarantee she will be." Father laid a hand on his
son's shoulder. "And very touched, as well."
Vincent's smile of gratitude was fleeting. "It pains me
that since her father's death, Catherine has no real family left at
all ... only some distant cousins she's never even met."
Father sat on the bed beside Vincent, resting both hands
on his cane. "Vincent, tomorrow Catherine will become part of our
family--if truth be told, she is already. Those Below could not love
her more if she'd been born to us--for herself, and for the happiness
she brings to you."
Vincent put an arm around Father's shoulders and kissed
the top of his head. "Thank you. That means a great deal to me. To
both of us."
Father rose and moved toward the door. "Now, I shall
leave you to await your bride-to-be. If you two have any last-minute
discussions ..." he smiled mischieviously, "don't forget to curtain
the door." Vincent suddenly began wrapping Catherine's present with
He finished with only minutes to spare. Catherine must
have left work early or found a cab driver whose speed had endangered
every pedestrian along the route home. Vincent just stood there
looking at her. She couldn't stop smiling; her eyes shone with happy
anticipation. He held out his arms, and she flew into them--after
carefully depositing the package she carried on the daybed. Swinging
her around, Vincent kissed her firmly, or as firmly as he could
manage despite her giggles.
Setting her down, Vincent smiled in return. "Well, you're
early. Does this mean you still want to marry me?"
Catherine slipped her arms around his waist and hugged
him so hard for a moment he couldn't breathe. "You bet! You have to
make an honest woman of me now, or I'll sue you for breach of
promise. I'm a lawyer, you know, and I've got witnesses." Suddenly
serious, Catherine laid her cheek against Vincent's chest. "Oh, my
dear love--it's only twenty-four hours, and I can hardly bear to
Their second kiss was deeper, more passionate; Vincent
was almost ready to suggest putting down the curtain when Catherine
broke away with a reluctant little sigh. "Damn. I guess we'd better
restrain ourselves until bedtime, we've got a lot to do yet tonight."
Catherine picked up the package she had brought and handed it to
Vincent. "Starting with this. The bride's gift to the bridegroom ...
thank you for loving me. Every time you look at this, I want you to
remember just how much I love you, and always will. Body and soul."
With trembling hands and a full heart, Vincent carefully
unwrapped Catherine's present. When the beautifully written poem and
its painted border were first revealed, Vincent drew in his breath
sharply; when he finished reading the words, he turned to Catherine
with a look that made her weak.
"Catherine--this is magnificent, perfect. You found
something you knew I would truly love."
Catherine sat down next to him, kissing his cheek.
"Actually, I think it found me." As they both looked down at the
words and colors, she told Vincent the story of its provenance.
When she finished, nothing would do but another kiss, and
another. Then Vincent pulled away, took a deep breath, and handed
Catherine her present.
Unwrapping the back first, Catherine realized it was a
painting. Elizabeth had told her that Vincent was an artist of no
mean talent, but he didn't seem to agree. Catherine had seen little
of his work, except some humorous sketches that he often made to
amuse the children. She turned it over with anticipation. When
Catherine saw what he had done she gasped, and then began to cry.
"Oh, Vincent, I can't believe you did this--I can't believe you even
thought of it. You are the most wonderful, amazing man ..." She
buried her face in his shirt, turning it damp almost instantly.
Vincent put his arms around her as best he could, which was a bit
difficult since she still held the painting.
After a moment, Catherine regained control of herself and
raised her head, looking at the painting again and wiping her eyes
with her free hand. "So this is why you had my old photo album down
here." Looking out at her from the frame were four people, painted in
blacks and whites and grays to resemble a photograph. It looked like
a typical wedding picture, with the bride and groom in the center.
Vincent must have had to guess at their clothes, since he wouldn't
see his completed for the first time until tonight. The bride's dress
wasn't exactly accurate, but close enough that Catherine wondered if
Jamie had squealed, just a little. Both her portrait and Vincent's
were good likenesses, although he had made her much more beautiful
than she actually was and himself less so. Flanking the wedding
couple, all smiles, were the bride's parents.
Vincent had made Caroline Chandler look a little older,
although nowhere near the twenty years she'd never had the chance to
live. Her father looked so alive Catherine couldn't believe it was a
whole year ago she'd lost him. Looking at this picture, it seemed for
a moment she hadn't really lost either of them at all. No matter how
truly she believed they would be there in spirit, Catherine knew
Vincent had sensed her sorrow that her parents couldn't be at their
wedding in a more tangible way. This was his way of giving her that,
creating a little world within the boundaries of this frame; a little
world where the impossible was real.
Catherine laid the picture gently against the wall and
sat there looking at it a long while as Vincent held her. Finally
they rose and took both presents into their bedchamber, having agreed
without the need for words that was where they belonged. Steeling
themselves to ignore the bed for now, they went out to meet the
evening's fate hand in hand.
For once, William didn't seem to mind that everyone was
too excited to give his dinner the attention it deserved. His head
was too full of plans for the wedding feast to even notice. After
dinner, Mouse, Devin and Vincent were dragged off by Mary and Sarah
for the final fitting of their wedding clothes.
Catherine and Jamie took advantage of their absence to go
meet Jenny at the entrance under Catherine's old building. Jenny had
decided to come Below the night before so she could be on the spot in
the morning, doing her duty to get the bride properly decked out for
When the female contingent of the wedding party returned,
they were dragged off in turn to try on their dresses and pronounce
them satisfactory. Following that, Father had insisted on a brief
wedding rehearsal, even though the ceremony was going to be neither
long nor complicated. Nigel Atwood muttered something which sounded
like "O ye of little faith," and Peter prescribed a good stiff dose
of brandy for purely medicinal purposes. Catherine and Vincent were
too amused at this byplay and too wrapped up in each other to notice
how much time Devin and Jenny spent off by themselves in earnest
Finally there was nothing left to do until the day
arrived. After escorting Jenny to her guest chamber not far from
Jamie's, Catherine and Vincent were able to return to their own
chambers at last. Vincent pointedly pulled down the tapestry over the
outer door and the inner for good measure. As he began the always
pleasurable task of undressing Catherine, he said softly next to her
ear, "I'm glad you don't believe the superstition about the groom not
seeing the bride before the wedding."
Catherine smiled as she methodically unlaced Vincent's
complicated garments. She was getting much faster at this with
practice. "Who says I don't believe it? I don't think it says how
long before the wedding the groom's not supposed to see the
bride, does it?" Vincent nuzzled her neck as he slid the blouse off
her shoulders; her slacks soon joined it over the back of a
strategically placed chair. Having quickly disposed of Vincent's
shirt, Catherine pushed him onto the bed so boots and jeans could
follow. All impediments removed, she joined him on the bed, slowly
running her hand through the soft fur of his torso. As the back of
one furry hand slid sensuously down her backbone, Catherine purred in
Vincent's ear. "If we don't want to take chances, you don't have to
see me. We can always turn out all the lights."
They day of the wedding dawned clear and beautiful, but
the only ones who saw it were the Helpers who would be coming Below
later for the evening ceremony. The groom didn't see a thing, since
the bride had decided to take no chances after all and extinguished
every light and candle. After making love one last time that morning
before it became sanctified and semi-legal, Catherine made Vincent
promise to keep his eyes closed while she stumbled toward the door in
the dark, muttering a very unbridelike remark when her knee banged
into the chair. Dressing quickly in the outer chamber, she made her
way to Jenny's room. She wouldn't see Vincent now until the wedding.
Catherine found Jamie already in Jenny's room. Looking
guilty as sin, the two broke off their excited conversation the
minute Catherine popped her head in the door. A light breakfast was
laid out, with a pot of tea kept warm by something that looked like
one of the fifty percent of Mouse's inventions that worked.
"All right--what are you two up to?" Catherine eyed them
both suspiciously as they offered her tea and muffins.
Jenny looked mysterious as she slathered a bagel with
cream cheese. "I was just telling Jamie about your wedding present,"
she informed Catherine. "You and Vincent will just have to wait to
find out what it is." In between bites of bagel, Jenny laid out the
day's schedule. After breakfast, Vincent would be spirited away by
his groomsmen to supervise final preparations in the Great Hall.
During their absence, the bridesmaids and the bride would help put
the finishing touches on the decoration of Father's study, where the
actual ceremony would be held. It would be a bit of a squeeze, but
the spiral staircase was perfect for grand entrances.
"After lunch, presuming any of us feel like eating by
then, men and women go to their respective pools for the ritual bath.
I like that," Jenny asserted, "it sounds very Jewish."
"You must like the ceremony, too," Catherine replied. "We
borrowed bits from everybody."
"Except the yams," Jenny corrected.
Catherine groaned. "God, does everybody know about the
Jamie nodded. "Pretty much. Vincent must have told
Father. Brooke overheard Father tell Peter, and she told Stephen, and
he told ..."
"Never mind," Catherine interrupted. "I don't think I
want to know. Back to the schedule ..."
"Right." Jenny licked her fingers. "Well, after the
ritual bath comes the ritual robing. First we do our hair with the
flowers and all, then we start to get dressed. With all the buttons
and ties and laces and whatever, that should kill the afternoon."
"Then Rebecca lights all the candles--Kipper and Samantha
are going to help." Jamie's face was alight with excitement. "After
that, we just wait for the signal."
"And then," Jenny said softly, "you and Vincent get
Catherine reached out to Jenny, clutching her hand. "Oh,
Jenny--it's really happening, isn't it? It's really coming true."
Jenny squeezed Catherine's hand. "That it is, Cath. It
really is. Are you getting nervous?"
"No, not really. Excited yes, but not nervous." Catherine
pondered a moment. "I guess it's because I've been married to Vincent
in my heart ever since that night I left Nancy's. But I'm still glad
we're making it official," she smiled.
Jenny stood up and put an arm around her friend. "Well,
c'mon--let's go get you married."
Later that afternoon, Devin enjoyed the temporary respite as he
relaxed in the baths with his brother and a remarkable aquatic mammal
named Mouse. Right about now, Devin thought Otter might be more
appropriate. Watching Mouse's antics, Devin turned to his brother in
amazement. "Are you sure you only taught him to swim last year?"
"Yes." Vincent shook his head as one of Mouse's more
energetic maneuvers splashed them both. "Unfortunately, he still
seems unclear on the difference between a swimming pool and a bathing
Watching Vincent watch Mouse, Devin was quite happy to
sit still himself. It had been a hectic week, between the wedding
preparations Below and the even more elaborate preparations he and
Jenny had made. At one point, he was convinced they'd never pull it
all together in time, but Jenny was adamant. He thought the hardest
part would be keeping Vincent and Catherine in ignorance of their
plans, considering they'd had to bring Father in on it and a few
others. That had turned out to be surprisingly easy--or maybe not so
surprising. After all those two had been through, they were entitled
to be wrapped up in each other for awhile.
Vincent turned his head to meet Devin's eyes on him.
"What are you thinking?"
In all his travels, Devin had never encountered eyes like
that. "About the fact that my little brother is actually getting
married. Although you're not so little any more, are you?"
"No," Vincent agreed. "Nor so innocent."
"In more ways than one, from what I've heard." Devin
turned his eyes to Mouse again. "There's another way I let you down.
If I'd stuck around, things wouldn't have been so hard for you. You
wouldn't have had only Father's opinion about what was possible for
Devin turned again as his brother's hand came to rest on
his shoulder. "Devin," Vincent said earnestly, "don't do this. How
can I wish anything had been different, if my life led me to the joy
I know now? Perhaps no other path would have brought me here--and I
could not be happier than I am at this moment."
Devin put his hand on Vincent's gratefully and then
grinned. "Oh, I don't know--I'll bet you'll be even happier in about
ten hours or so." He gave Vincent a long, speculative look. "Cathy
really likes that furry carcass of yours, does she?"
"She does indeed," Vincent emphatically, squirming a
little. "And if we pursue that line of conversation I won't be able
to stand up for some time. We can't afford to linger; you remember
how long I take to dry."
Devin laughed in delight. "My, my, little brother, you
have grown up! OK, I'll be good. I'd be drummed out of the Best Men's
Union if I made you late to your own wedding."
Maybe Catherine wasn't nervous, but Jamie was becoming
increasingly anxious at the idea of being the first of the bride's
party to go down the stairs. Even knowing that Mouse had the
unenviable position of leading off the whole show didn't make it any
easier. She kept telling herself that even if she fell all the way
down, no one in the audience would remember it after they saw
Catherine. Jamie had always thought Catherine was beautiful, but
tonight she looked like a princess out of a fairy tale--which, Jamie
decided, was pretty appropriate after all.
Jenny seemed to agree. "Cathy, I've never seen you look
more gorgeous--and I've seen you look plenty gorgeous before.
Vincent's going to just melt."
Catherine adjusted one of the flowers in her friend's
hair. "Jenny, it wouldn't matter to Vincent if I were dressed in a
sack. One of the many reasons I love that man so much."
"He's a paragon, no argument." Jenny looked at Catherine
with a critical eye. "OK, final checklist. Something old?"
Catherine touched the crystal lovingly. "Probably a few
"My present from Peter." Catherine held up her wrist to
display the delicate crystal-and-silver bracelet.
"Something borrowed--must be those attractive pearl
earrings belonging to your Maid of Honor." Jenny shook her head in
mock amazement. "Even though the idea of Cathy Chandler borrowing
earrings is like Imelda Marcos borrowing shoes. And something blue
"You've already seen that, several layers ago," Catherine
said firmly, "and I'm not showing you again. Besides, Peter will be
here any minute."
"Alas," Jenny mourned, "the most beautiful lingerie in
Victoria's Secret, and only Vincent gets to see it from now
on.""Yes," Catherine agreed. "Isn't that wonderful?"
Jenny hugged the bride and agreed. "You bet."
"Well, Mouse," Devin asked, "ready for your grand entrance?"
Mouse was pale but determined. He would face death and torture for
his beloved hero and friend, but right now either seemed preferable
to the prospect of walking down that staircase first.
"I have every confidence in Mouse." Vincent clasped the
young man's shoulder. "He'll do fine."
As Mouse gazed at Vincent in grateful adoration, Devin
turned his attention to the groom. "And how are you doing? I expected
you to be a basket case by now."
Vincent was quiet for a moment, then began to speak in a
wondering tone. "For most of my life, getting married was something I
never conceived of in relation to myself. Even when I fell in love
with Catherine, and knew she loved me, it seemed no less impossible.
Now that we've decided to marry, it seems as inevitable as moonrise.
How could I ever have thought otherwise?"
Devin clasped his brother's arm, the smile temporarily
absent from his face. "For twenty years, I carried your pain with me
as an undertone to everything I did. Seeing you happy at last is the
best thing that's ever happened to me."
"Amen to that." Father entered quietly and looked on his
two sons with fondness. "Vincent, you look elegant. Catherine will be
Devin moved to put an arm around his father, the smile
returning. "You know, Mary wanted to dress him in gray, but had to
settle for all those tawny colors because Vincent insisted on wearing
that Puss-in-Boots footwear of his--and I can't get him to tell me
Father smiled in response, reveling in the cameraderie of
his two unique children. "Vincent? Surely you'll tell your poor old
Vincent raised his eyes to heaven and prayed for
strength. Perhaps grooms were made to suffer this way as a final
trial before winning the fair maiden. A nice fire-breathing dragon
would have been better. "Catherine," he sighed in resignation, "is
extremely fond of these boots."
Devin gave the thigh-high boots a long look. "Is that
what she said? 'Extremely fond?' Somehow that doesn't sound like
Vincent ducked his head so the golden mane obscured his
face. "Actually, if you must know, he admitted grudgingly, "she said
they were 'unbelievably sexy.'"
As Kipper lighted the last of the candles, Rebecca turned to
Mary. Lit only by countless flickering candles, the chamber looked
magical. The air of excited, joyful anticipation was almost tangible.
Members of the community she hadn't seen in months had come for this,
even Narcissa. There were at least as many Helpers as there usually
were at Winterfest--but then, this was the event of a lifetime for
many in their community. Rebecca nodded to Mary, and as the older
woman stepped forward, the pure notes of a flute cascaded off the
walls like elvish music. Into a silence that thrummed like an
unvoiced note, Mary spoke.
"Our world began in darkness and in fear. Through love
and generosity, through mutual caring, we made a light that drove
back the darkness, one candle at a time. Today, we gather to
witness two members of our community pledge their love to each
other. As one candle is lit from another that the light may never
die, so love must be renewed generation after generation. Love
created our world, hope sustains it, and the vows that these two
make today carry both into the future--may their love sustain them
through all their lives, and the lives that follow them."
Michael stepped up to face those assembled as Mary
retreated. Taking a deep breath as he opened the book he carried, he
began to read.
Attenders to this day: Look, the wedding is a reason
To inspect your thoughts; say
Smily wishes to the young wedded,
But see to your own new season--
No trite impediments, no bored white
Winter of cold thoughts imbedded
In mountain crevices of self-pity.
Be gathered into the light,
Into no mere festivity--
But more, a snowballing of hope.
Then you still live; we all
Live on tomorrow when two breaths elope,
Tonight when pulse on pulse sustains
Two lives, these and their sweet flesh ...
Inhale brisk flowers, then let befall
Whatever dark rains
Come; you see lives mesh
Today; today you bystand bliss.
Attend all this.
Michael retreated in turn as Lena and Julio took his place,
reading in chorus.
Splendor is upon everything Blessing is upon
Who is full of this abundance
Bless this groom and bride.
Nigel Atwood took the place of Lena and Julio as the
sound of cello and violin, harp and flute, filled the chamber. All
eyes turned toward the top of the stairs. After a few seconds of
unbearable waiting, Mouse appeared. Looking more serious than ever in
his life, he moved downward with concentration worthy of a brain
surgeon. He clutched a wooden box in his hands so tightly those
assembled might have guessed it contained the One Ring on its way to
Mount Doom. Fortunately for Mouse's peace of mind, he was the center
of attention for only a moment, then the Best Man appeared. Even the
irrepressible Devin seemed awed by the specialness of the occasion.
When Vincent appeared at last, arm in arm with Father, a
sigh went through the audience like wind through wheat. Not one of
those assembled would have thought such a creature in need of a spell
to turn him back to a handsome prince. He was one already, a vision
in cream and brown and tawny gold. Never had his natural grace been
so evident; never had he seemed so sure; never had anything seemed so
right. He carried an unlit candle, Father a matching candle already
topped by a steady flame. When they approached Nigel, Father moved to
stand at right angles to Vincent as Devin and Mouse fanned out behind
him. Vincent turned to face the staircase, a look on his face like a
saint might fix upon the altar of his god.
Had anyone been looking at Mouse when Jamie appeared,
they would have seen the face of a young man whose world has been
turned upside down. In place of the scruffy companion of his Tunnel
wanderings, a young goddess glided down the stairs. Her
peaches-and-cream dress looked like something Juliet might have worn,
or at least a Juliet who had to depend on leftovers from the looms
that supplied the palaces of Verona, instead of the wealth of the
Capulets. Suddenly Mouse's world shifted into a new and disturbing
orbit, never to be quite the same again.
Jenny came next, looking like she had followed the fairy
lights under the hill, and didn't care if she discovered a hundred
years had passed when she emerged. She was a woman who had seen
Catherine down many a dead-end path, and was delighted to know her
most beloved friend had found the right road at last. Jenny's smile
was so infectious, by the time she was halfway down the stairs
everyone below her was smiling too--except Vincent, whose eyes
remained fixed on the top of the stairs.
His eyes widened and his lips parted a split-second
before the soft sound of a hundred people beginning to breathe again
filled the room. Catherine stopped for a second, finding Vincent like
a lodestone finds True North, before moving down the spiral path in a
rustle of silk. Like Father and Vincent, she and Peter carried the
same combination of lit and unlit candles, only hers was surrounded
by a cascade of flowers. In the years to come, Catherine was never
able to describe the room in which she was married to save her life.
If Elizabeth hadn't preserved the scene in the Painted Tunnels, it
would have remained a mystery to the bride. From the moment her eyes
first found Vincent's face, nothing else existed for her.
Reaching Vincent, she handed the flowers to Jenny and
stood beside him holding the candle. Father lit Vincent's candle as
Peter did the same for Catherine's. When the new flames steadied,
Catherine and Vincent touched them at the same instant to the huge
candle that stood before them on its tall holder. As that flame took
hold in turn, Father and Peter spoke together.
"As light passes from candle to candle, so life passes
from soul to soul. In the name of those who gave you life, we pray
that together you may bring light to those who come after. Carry
the flame into the future, as we have carried it to you."
After all four smaller candles were placed in holders on
either side of the great one, Nigel Atwood began. "Dearly beloved
The Archbishop of Canterbury might not have recognized
the ceremony that followed, combining as it did words from a whole
tapestry of faiths and times and places. Disparate as they were, all
were chosen from the heart. Words of poets and priests were woven
together with those of the ceremony that had united those Below for
decades. Her wedding reminded Catherine of a Tunnel garment, bits and
pieces from all over put together in way that was unique and
"Catherine, will you have this man to be your husband; to
live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love him, comfort
him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health; and forsaking all
others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?"
"I will." Her voice rang strong and true. Never had a
promise been easier to make. It only put into words what her heart
had vowed a long time ago.
"Vincent, will you have this woman to be your wife ..."
Vincent was awed by the look of loving determination on Catherine's
face. Through what miracle had such a woman come to love him, and
have the courage to put her heart and her life into his keeping?
"... as long as you both shall live?"
"I will." He felt the sudden pressure of Catherine's hand
on his as her eyes shone with unshed tears.
Catherine had determined that any promise, any pledge,
that Vincent made to her she would give to him in turn. Her voice
never faltered as she gave him the special promise they had agreed to
make. "Vincent, please know this: I will protect you, watch over you,
and love you until my last breath." As Vincent repeated the words to
her, it was as if two unseen presences were now beside her, rejoicing
in the knowledge their beloved child had found her happiness at last.
When Vincent completed his promise, Devin and Jenny
stepped forward. Each picked up a cup of water and poured the
contents into a silver goblet. Handing it to Catherine and Vincent,
they spoke as one.
"As many rivers flow into the great ocean, the separate
streams of your lives now join. May your love be as clear as a river,
as patient as a forest pool, as enduring as the sea." Catherine drank
from the cup, then passed it Vincent to do the same. Under the
sea-green gaze of Catherine's eyes, Vincent felt his future open up
before him, as vast and uncharted and full of wonders as the ocean he
had never seen.
Mouse had to continually keep himself from sinking into
the beauty of the ceremony like a stone into that sea. At last, it
was time for his final duty. He handed the wooden box to Devin, and
relaxed. He hadn't disgraced himself, and now he could enjoy the
ceremony without worrying if he would. Devin opened the box and
handed Vincent the ring. Catherine was determined not to cry at her
own wedding, but Vincent's voice as he slipped the ring on her finger
almost made her break her vow to herself. "...with all that I am, and
all that I have, I honor you ..."
Those beautiful hands, that she loved so, but caused
Vincent such pain. The hands that had killed so often to protect her,
those same hands that he had almost turned on himself, now cradled
her own as he slipped the silver circle onto her finger. A circle,
symbol of infinity, world without end ...
Devin passed the box to Jenny, who removed the larger
ring and handed it to Catherine. Vincent was sure he already loved
Catherine as much as any living being could love another, but when
she put the ring on his finger, he found his heart swell even more.
Such a small thing, done without thinking ... as Catherine slipped on
the ring, she twisted it so it would slide smoothly over his fur.
Vincent blinked back tears of his own as her voice and feelings
filled him like a song.
"With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship
As the ceremony moved toward its conclusion, the room
became quieter and quieter, waiting for the words that would seal it
all, not daring to believe the miracle was about to happen. As
Catherine and Vincent stood before him with clasped hands, Nigel
Atwood gradually raised his voice so the final words rang out in
"As fire and air make light, and earth and water give
life, these two have pledged to join their lives. I pronounce that
they are husband and wife, in the name of God. What God has joined
together let no one put asunder."
For a few seconds, silence reigned as if no one could
quite believe it had really happened. Then the musicians burst into
sound, seeming like ten times their number. Vincent and Catherine
stood facing each other for a moment as if they couldn't believe it
was true either. Then they moved into each other's arms for a kiss
that brought happy grins and a sudden burst of talk and laughter from
their assembled friends.
After they parted, Vincent suppressed an almost
irresistable urge to roar as he took Catherine's hand and led the way
to the Great Hall. Jenny and Devin followed arm in arm, sharing wide
grins that somehow contrived to be smug and happy all at once.
Deciding it was the proper thing to do, Mouse offered Jamie his arm.
She accepted it like the daughter of royalty and moved serenely
forward. Mouse, on the other hand, had some trouble navigating as he
kept staring at Jamie and not at the path before them. Father tried
to maintain a dignified pace, but he felt alternately like tossing
away his cane and dancing a jig, or fainting with relief.
Fortunately, a brother physician was in attendance ... although Peter
seemed miles, or more likely years, away.
The excited crowd flowed behind them, acting like this
was every holiday they'd ever known rolled into one, and several more
they hadn't thought of yet. This time, Vincent wasn't allowed to risk
mussing up his wedding finery by moving the huge bar from the door.
It took Cullen, Michael and Julio to take his place, but eventually
the doors were thrown open and everyone poured into the Great Hall
for the Wedding Feast.
Vincent and Catherine were led to two elaborately carved
chairs that had been set up at one end of the room. No mere reception
line for these two--they looked more like a King and Queen of some
magical land presiding over their court. It seemed that every member
of the Tunnel community and at least two-thirds of the Helpers were
determined to offer congratulations. For a while, Catherine was
afraid she and Vincent would still be sitting in these chairs next
morning, but eventually the multitudes found their way to the food
tables or congregated into talkative groups.
Suddenly a high note rang out from the flute, calling for
silence. Vincent stood and offered Catherine his hand to lead her to
the center of the floor. The musicians began to play a waltz. As they
glided around the room, the crowd ceased to exist for them, caught up
as they were in the music and each other.
"What are you thinking?" Vincent asked softly.
"About my first Winterfest." Catherine looked at her new
husband as if she still couldn't quite believe tonight had really
happened. "Less than fourteen months ago I didn't even know that you
Vincent held her tighter. "We have both learned much
"So we have ... and we've only begun."
Soon the bride and groom were claimed by others.
Catherine danced with so many people she lost count. Father was as
elated as she'd ever known him; Peter could talk of nothing but how
much Catherine looked like her mother on her wedding day. She
expected Devin to joke, but all he could do was thank her again and
again for making his brother so happy. Even Mouse risked a dance,
concentrating so hard on his footwork Catherine had all she could do
not to laugh.
Eventually, she found her way back to Vincent and they
escaped to the stairs, a traditional refuge for weary dancers.
Laughing, she hugged him. "If any more people want to dance with me,
I'll have to crawl to the crystal cavern with you tomorrow."
Vincent hugged her in turn and smiled. "Normally, I would
simply carry you the whole way--but I'm not sure I'll be able to
stand up tomorrow either. This is worse than Winterfest."
"I never thought I'd see people happier than they were
then, but look." Catherine gestured toward the crowd below them. "I
think it's because at Winterfest we were really celebrating escape
from death. Tonight we celebrate nothing but life."
Vincent took Catherine in his arms and kissed her
thoroughly, not caring they were visible to all. If a man couldn't
kiss his wife in public ... his wife ... his wife! He kissed
her again, even more thoroughly, and she wrapped her arms around his
neck as if she had no intention of ever letting go.
Across the room, Jenny saw this display and nudged Devin.
"They don't look like they're going to last much longer. We'd better
tell them before they get away from us."
Devin stared at Vincent like he'd never seen him before.
"Wow ... what were you saying?"
Jenny explained again as she dragged Devin across the
room, picking up Father along the way. Not until they were halfway up
the stairs did Vincent become aware of their approach. Catherine was
only alerted when he extricated himself from their kiss.
"You can't ask either one of us to dance," she announced
in no uncertain terms. "We claim sanctuary."
Jenny laughed and handed Catherine her bouquet. "As Maid
of Honor, it's my job to see that you do your duty. I got the
impression you and the groom here were contemplating an early
As Devin called for attention, Vincent removed one of the
larger flowers from the bouquet. He had absolutely refused to have
anything to do with garters in public, to Catherine's relief. When a
crowd of laughing young men gathered below, Vincent turned his back
to them and tossed the bloom over his shoulder. Making the leap of
his life, Julio caught it in midair. As he was carried off by
well-wishing friends, Catherine squeezed Vincent's hand. "My
compliments on your aim, husband. I hope I can do as well."
Vincent didn't even notice the single women congregate.
That was the first time Catherine had called him "husband." Not until
she swung her arm over her head to toss the bouquet in a graceful arc
did awareness of his surroundings return. To no one's surprise, a
delighted Lena caught the bouquet. Clearly there had been a
conspiracy--many a taller woman seemed unaccountably unsuccessful.
Lena was borne toward a laughing Julio, and the musicians, renewed by
the promise of another wedding soon, broke into dance music with new
"Well," Devin grinned, "it looks like this party can go
on fine without you, if you can think of other things you have to
"I'm sure we'll think of something," Catherine replied
loftily. "We have to get our rest if we're going all the way to the
crystal cave tomorrow."
Jenny took a deep breath. "You're not."
Catherine and Vincent both stared. Catherine found her
voice first. "What do you mean, we're not?"
Devin put his arm around Jenny's shoulders. "We decided
the occasion called for something more special than that. It's our
wedding present to you."
"But Devin--" Vincent shook his head sadly. "Where else
could we go?"
Devin looked at Jenny. Jenny looked at Devin. They turned
back to the new-wedded pair and spoke together. "Connecticut."
Vincent clutched Catherine's hand as he felt a sudden
hope leap in her, only to be forcibly quenched. "Oh,
Jenny--Devin--it's very sweet of you, but it's impossible." Catherine
bowed her head and blinked quickly several times. "Father's right,
it's too dangerous."
"Why?" Devin demanded.
Catherine raised her head in surprise. "Why--suppose
something happened so I couldn't drive, even a sprain ... we'd be
stranded. Even if Vincent knew how to drive, he couldn't risk being
"That's why you're getting an escort," Jenny announced
firmly. "We've got two vans; Devin and I will be right behind you. If
your van breaks down--and it better not at these prices-we'll get you
there. If anything happened that you couldn't drive, there's two of
us to take over."
"We'll be traveling at night." Devin added. "There's
practically no chance Vincent could be seen. But if he is, I've got
enough stories cooked up to explain our way out of anything. Not to
mention lots of fake ID for all occasions."
Vincent felt that flicker of hope in Catherine's heart
strengthen ever so slightly, but she continued. "Suppose there was
some kind of medical emergency ... "
"You'll just have to be easy on Vincent," Devin said
solemnly. "But if something happens, remember how good a fraud I am
... and remember that someone who's led safaris in Kenya had to be a
pretty good bush doctor. I've handled emergencies in places a lot
more primitive than Connecticut."
Jenny didn't give Catherine time to object further.
"We're staying in the next town the whole time you're there, and
Peter lent us a beeper and a cellular phone. If you need us for any
reason, we'll be close by."
The flicker became a flame. "The house isn't ready ...
we're not packed ..."
"It is," Devin corrected, "and you are. What do you think
Jenny and I have been doing all week?"
Catherine was almost ready to believe. "But Father ..."
she objected weakly.
Jenny and Devin stood apart so Father could step up
behind them. "Not even I could fault their plan. Nothing is totally
without risk, but these two have eliminated most. What remains is
worth it for this."
Catherine turned to Vincent, a question in her shining
eyes. He touched his palm to her cheek, finally daring to hope
himself. "Catherine--we have faced greater risks together. I'm
willing if you are."
Catherine threw her arms around his neck and hugged him
as hard as she could. Turning to embrace Devin and Jenny, she burst
into tears at last. Vincent faced his brother for a moment, then
embraced him with a gratitude too great for words. After a whirl of
hugs, kisses and tears, Devin lent Catherine a handkerchief.
"Everything's in the van, you just need to change into your traveling
"Take as long as you want," Jenny encouraged, "as long as
you remember we've got two hours of driving ahead of us. Think of it
as being in yichud."
"What?" Devin asked.
Vincent's wedding reading stood him in good stead. "After
a Jewish wedding, the couple spend a short time in seclusion. It is
symbolic of earlier times, when the marriage was consummated right
after the ceremony."
Devin grinned wickedly. "Well, the old ways are often the
best. Pound the pipes when you're ready, and we'll come get you."
Vincent and Catherine walked slowly toward their chamber
hand in hand. The Tunnels had never been so quiet, even after
Winterfest. With the exception of the sentries, and Pascal in his
pipe chamber, everyone was still celebrating with an enthusiasm
usually reserved for Royal nuptials. Husband and wife moved through
the dim corridors without speaking until they reached the door of the
chamber where Vincent had brought Catherine, broken and bleeding,
three years ago this very night.
As if reading his mind, Catherine turned to him and spoke
in a voice husky with feeling. "At first, I was sure that night was
the end of my life. And it turned out to be the beginning."
Unable to speak, Vincent could only take Catherine's face
in his hands, looking at it a long time before bending to kiss her.
Then, his eyes never leaving her face, he swept her into his arms and
carried her through the door. Setting her down, he pulled the
tapestry over the opening and began pulling pins and flowers out of
her hair until it cascaded down around her shoulders.
Catherine turned around and Vincent carefully began
undoing the many buttons one by one. Finally she stepped out of the
dress and hung it carefully in the wardrobe. Someday ...
Piece by piece, their wedding finery was removed and
carefully laid away. At the very last, Vincent lifted the crystal
from Catherine's neck and laid it gently down beside the white rose
in its pouch. Lifting her hand to his lips, he kissed the silver band
that circled her finger. Still holding her hand, he turned to lead
her to the inner chamber.
"Vincent..." He stopped and turned back to face his wife.
Catherine gestured toward the bed in the outer room, the one he
brought her to the first night they met. "Here, Vincent," she said
simply. "We need to close the circle."
Nodding, he laid her on the bed where he had dreamed his
boyhood dreams, and lay down beside her. No dream of his youth had
even come close to this. Golden as he in the light from the stained
glass, Catherine held out her arms, and he sank into them like a
river into the sea. As their love carried them in an ever-heightening
spiral, they crossed the threshold which left the past, with all its
doubts and fears, behind. Together, they entered the future.
Now, as in Tullias tombe, one lampe burnt cleare,
Unchanged for fifteene hundred yeare,
May these love-lamps we here enshrine,
In warmth, light, lasting, equall the divine;
Fire ever doth aspire,
And makes all like it selfe, turnes all to fire,
But ends in ashes, which these cannot doe,
For none of these is fuell, but fire too.
This is joyes bonfire, then, where loves strong Arts
Make of so noble individuall parts
One fire of foure inflaming eyes, and of two loving hearts.
First published in Definitions of Love 3 (1990), edited
by Kay Simon
Reprinted (with its prequel, "The Fire and the Rose"), in
Bondstories 11 (1996), edited by Joyce Fuller Kleikamp
About the Author
: Edith Crowe is an academic
librarian who has been involved in various fandoms (starting with
) since 1972. Beauty and the Beast
is the one she's most emotional about and the first (and so far only)
one to inspire her to write fiction. She had seven "continuing
classic" stories published in the late 80s and early 90s, in zines
now out of print. New stories include the rather racy "My Furry
Valentine" in the A Kingdom by the Sea
conzine and several in
issues of Sanctuary.