That's What Friends Are For

Edith Crowe

 


Catherine scowled at the brief in front of her. The first draft had been prepared by a recent addition to the staff, fresh out of law school and with an extremely high opinion of himself. The opinion was not shared at that moment by Catherine. Devin had done ten times better than this mess, and without benefit of such minor details as an official legal education.

Catherine sighed. Making even a polyester purse out of this sow's ear would take up most of the afternoon. She didn't need this--November was depressing enough all by itself. Samhain was past and Thanksgiving was over a week away. Vincent had been away for days; the heavy rains threatened to flood the lower Tunnels and all hands that could be spared were dealing with the problem.

"Cathy?"

Catherine looked up to see the face of salvation. "Jenny! Am I glad to see you! Please tell me you want to go to lunch and rescue me from this mess."

"Can you? I'm sorry to pop in without warning like this; I know it's hard for you to get away. I just took a chance."

"Jenny--something's wrong, isn't it? Are you all right? Is there something I can do?"

"I'm fine, Cathy, honestly. But I do need to talk to you about something. It's important."

"Jenny, getting me out of this place right now is your good deed for the week. I can't face this pitiful excuse for a brief on an empty stomach. Let's go."

Catherine was surprised at Jenny's choice of restaurant. Knowing Jenny's budget was much more limited than her own, Catherine was always careful to pick inexpensive places when it was her turn to choose. Jenny always insisted on going Dutch, frustrating Catherine's schemes to take her to places like this. Quiet spaciousness of this sort didn't come cheap.

"I supposed you're wondering why we came to a place like this."

Catherine started. "After all these years, I should be used to that intuition of yours," she smiled, "but it still startles me when you say just what I'm thinking."

Jenny jabbed at her salad as if she were more interested in punishing it than eating it. "I wanted to make sure we couldn't be overheard. What I need to talk to you about is confidential." Jenny gave Catherine a pleading look. "I hate to even ask you, Cathy. Your life has been complicated enough lately without me dumping something else on you. But I couldn't think of anyone else who could help. It's because of what you told me lastsummer--remember?" Catherine tensed. She remembered only too well ...

 

The heat and humidity of late August turned New York into something it would take a Dante to describe. Catherine Chandler, however, was cool and comfortable. The Tunnels were wonderfully pleasant, even better than an air-conditioned apartment on the eighteenth floor. Besides, darkness came too late in the summer; she couldn't bear to wait that long to see Vincent. The sound of the waterfall in the background only reinforced the aura of coolness and peace. So different from Above, where a hot and surly citizenry made New York more unappealing than usual.

"Catherine?" Vincent broke into her somnolent reverie. "You seem very content at present ... but I detected some concern in you earlier. Is there anything I can do?"

Catherine sighed. "It's no big thing, Vincent, really. I just did something impulsively I may come to regret, that's all."

"Tell me," he encouraged.

Catherine shifted around to face him. "It was after you told me you'd be away for a few days doing inspections. I was talking to Jenny on the phone, and she sounded so ... hot. Her place is a lot less fancy and a lot less cool than mine. Before I knew it, I'd invited her to come with me to the Connecticut house for the weekend. It's so nice there, and I almost never go there anymore. I really should sell it, now that Dad ... "

At the sudden catch in her voice, Vincent put his arm around Catherine's shoulders and pulled her close. "That was a very generous impulse on your part. Why should you regret it?"

Catherine lifted her head from Vincent's shoulder. "Because it means I'll be trapped for two whole days with a person who's so intuitive she would have burned as a witch a few hundred years ago. A person who's known I have someone special in my life ever since the night you saved me from drowning." Catherine shook her head. "If prevarication and evasiveness were Olympic events I'd have two gold medals, I've gotten that good. But what can I do with someone who sees behind words? Those dreams Jenny had about me being in danger--I wonder what else she dreams about me that she hasn't told me? It makes me nervous."

"Keeping our secret places a great burden on you," Vincent said unhappily. "You are so alone in this ..."

"It's worth it, Vincent," Catherine replied emphatically. "It's no more than any Helper has to do, after all. At least I have Peter now."

"I'm sure it will be all right, Catherine. From what you have told me, Jenny is a true friend to you. Surely you have nothing to fear from her."

 

Catherine was congratulating herself at how well the weekend was going, after all. Jenny seemed delighted to escape the city, and they had spent the whole day swimming in the lake, eating things that weren't good for them, and generally behaving like they were back in college. Now they sat contentedly on the porch, working on monster glasses of iced tea.

"So, Cath, when are you gonna tell me about this special guy you're keeping under wraps? What's the big secret?"

Catherine had become adept at fielding verbal missiles like that without flinching. Perhaps, if she hadn't had a mouthful of iced tea at the time, she would have been able to turn away Jenny's questions with the same adroit and meaningless phrases she had used with so many others. Perhaps.

"Cathy, are you OK?" Jenny pounded her on the back as she choked dramatically. "Gosh, I'm sorry, Cath, I didn't think it was that big a deal. What's going on, anyway?"

Gradually getting her breath back, Catherine began to capitulate. Clearly, keeping Jenny in the dark was only making things worse. Surely she could tell her something ...

"Is this the same guy that made you hightail it out of Nancy Tucker's in the middle of the night? Has it really been going on for over a year?" Jenny ran a hand through her hair, agitated.

"I'm not just being nosy, Cathy, honestly--I care about you. And I've been having these dreams about you ..."

Oh, God. "What dreams?" Catherine asked warily.

"Actually," Jenny admitted sheepishly, "I've been having really weird dreams about you ever since you disappeared that time. I even thought of calling your dad then, but I was afraid they'd put me in the loony bin. Damn! I wish my dreams were more ... literal. Like last spring--it wasn't much help dreaming about flowers, and you choking. It would have been a lot more useful if I could've dreamed that weirdo's name and address."

"Jenny--your dreams really did help. They made me take the whole thing very seriously, and Joe too. It means a lot to me that you care that much. I'll never forget what you did for me then."

"Well, I'm still glad I didn't call your dad when you disappeared and tell him I thought you'd been taken to Egypt."

"What?" Whatever Catherine expected to hear, it wasn't that. "Why did you think I was in Egypt?""Because I dreamed you were in an underground room with an Egyptian god."

"An Egyptian god?"

"Well, he looked like a man with a lion's head ... isn't there some Egyptian god like that? I thought maybe all that stone I saw meant you were in a pyramid." Jenny sounded increasingly embarassed. "Dumb, right? Unless ... I don't suppose you were in Egypt?"

"No," Catherine admitted. Oh, Jenny, she thought. If only you knew how literal your dreams can be, after all.

Jenny sighed. "I didn't think so. I figured I must have been totally off base when I kept dreaming about you in that place afterward, when I knew for sure you were in New York, not in Egypt. Rats. Totally useless symbolism again. Batting zilch."

Catherine took a deep breath. "Jenny, I haven't told anyone about this because I've made promises to people who depend on me to keep their secret. I'll tell you what I can, but I can't give you specifics."

"Cathy ..." Jenny's voice turned very serious. "My mother wouldn't have gotten out of Germany if there hadn't been people willing to help and willing to keep secrets. You don't have to tell me anything if you don't want to."

Catherine reached across to take her friend's hand. "I do want to, Jenny. You're my best friend, you deserve to know something ..." Catherine smiled briefly. "Even if it's just to keep you from imagining something worse."

Leaning back in her chair, Catherine organized her words carefully. "When I was attacked and dumped in the park, I was found by a man whose father is a doctor. This man was afraid I'd die if I didn't get help immediately, so he took me home, and the two of them took care of me."

"But, Cathy ..." Jenny sounded confused. "Why did you disappear for ten days? Why didn't these people notify the police right away?"

"The two people that saved me are part of a larger community who all take care of each other. Most of them slipped through the cracks of our whole system of justice and social services. They've done nothing wrong; they're very careful about who they accept into their community. It's just that ... well, the letter of the law and the spirit of it aren't necessarily the same thing, are they?"

"My people know that only too well," Jenny replied seriously. "So ... I guess they were taking a big risk inhelping you, without knowing if you'd keep their secret. That says something pretty important about them right there."

Catherine was overcome with gratitude at her friend's quick understanding. "They've given a refuge to so many deserving people, Jenny--especially children." Catherine's love for those who had become her family shone in her words. "They've made something wonderful, something that works. If the authorities found out about them, they'd be crushed by a well-meaning bureaucracy that would ruin everything."

Jenny was quiet for a minute, digesting Catherine's revelations. "OK, I understand so far--but how does Mr. Right fit into this? That's what he is, isn't he?"

"If I said no, you wouldn't believe it for a minute, would you?"

"Nope. You might as well wear a sign."

"His name is Vincent." It was the verbal equivalent of a caress, and not lost on Jenny. "He's the one who found me in the park. For months afterward, he stayed away and I didn't know how to find him. He finally came back to see how I was, and I was determined I wouldn't let him disappear from my life again. He didn't just save my life, Jenny, he gave me the courage to live it like it should be lived."

"So, was this love at first sight?" Jenny asked.

"Not exactly," Catherine said ruefully, remembering. "I cared about him from the beginning, but it took awhile to for me to realize I was in love with him ... or maybe to admit it."

"Cathy, there's more to it than that. Why is this guy such a mystery? You're not the kind of person that would be ashamed of somebody because they were from the wrong side of the tracks instead of a Yuppie clone. Nobody knows that better than I do."

Catherine looked out over the water for a long moment. This was the hardest part to explain. "You're right, there's more to it than that. For one thing, Vincent has no legal existence, and he's safer that way. He was a foundling, raised in that community since he was an infant. His liberty, if not his safety would be in jeopardy outside it. You see, he looks ... different."

"Different? You mean, different enough so that he'd be a curiosity? Like the Elephant Man or something?"

Catherine could not keep the bitterness out of her voice. "Different enough so that some people would be frightened enough or cruel enough to hurt him. Different enough so that the ones who didn't want to kill him would treat him like a freak or an experiment. Jenny, he's the most loving, sensitive man I've ever known. I'd die before I'd let that happen to him!"

As Catherine's voice broke, Jenny closed the gap between them, holding her friend as she cried tears of anger and pain mixed with relief. When the storm subsided, Jenny spoke again, still hugging Catherine tightly.

"Cathy, I can't believe you've been keeping all this in for so long! I swear I won't say a word of this to anybody, and you don't have to tell me another thing. Just remember you're not alone, OK? Talk to me when you need to, even if you can only talk in riddles. Promise?"

Catherine could only nod, not trusting herself to speak. Promise.

"Cathy?"

"Sorry, Jenny. I was remembering Connecticut. Vividly. Tell me what's wrong."

Jenny frowned as she continued to attack her salad. "There's this woman who works at the publishing house as a secretary. She's got a terrible problem that made me think ofwhat you said about the law, and people falling between the cracks."

"What happened? Tell me, Jenny."

"It's her ex-husband. He has visitation rights with the kids ... Cathy, she has evidence that he's sexually abusing them during those visits. God, they're only eight and ten years old." "Oh, Jenny ... I wish I could say your friend is paranoid, but it's all too possible. What kind of evidence does she have?""She took the kids to one of those low-cost mental health clinics when they started acting strange whenever they came back from visits with their father. There's a doctor there who found medical evidence of abuse, and a shrink who agrees."

"Why hasn't she gone to the police?" Catherine asked. "That sounds like pretty good evidence."

"Because," Jenny replied bitterly, "the ex in question is a cop. A model citizen. Besides, she's from Chile originally. To her, police weren't people who helped you, they were the ones who 'disappeared' you. She thought things were supposed to be different in this country, but her ex hasn't exactly done anything to give her a good opinion of New York's Finest."

"Damn," Catherine exclaimed emphatically. "What about taking it to court?""She has. Her court date is in two weeks--with one Judge Bradley Worthington."

"Oh, my God." Catherine put her head in her hands. "Not 'Worthless' Worthington."

"Yeah. What do you know about him?" Jenny shook her head. "He can't be as bad as I've heard, can he?"

"He's worse!" Catherine replied, distress evident in her voice. "He distrusts expert witnesses, and he thinks all women are hysterical liars. I've seen him dismiss cases against child abusers that I would have staked my life were airtight. Your friend is right to be concerned. People have been trying to get him kicked off the bench for years. We may eventually succeed, but not soon enough to help."

"Well, Rosa--that's my friend's name--has heard those stories too. She loves those kids too much to risk losing this case. She's also heard about women who've sent their kids into hiding rather than turn them over to abusive fathers, and gone to jail because they won't say where they are. Or women who've just taken the kids and run away with them. I know she'll do it, Cathy. It took a lot of convincing to get her to wait until I talked to you."

"Jenny--what do you want me to do?"

"What I don't want you to do is get yourself in trouble. I know you're an officer of the court, and what Rosa intends to do isn't legal--even though it's right."

"Don't worry about ..."

"Not another word, Cathy. I don't want you to risk any trouble at work over this. I'm not talking to you because you're in the DA's office. I know this is a lot to ask, Cathy, but ... do you think Vincent's people would be willing to help? I don't want you involved any more, but if you could just ask them to meet me or something, maybe they could give us a place to start at least, a contact ..."

Moved by the desperation in Jenny's tone, Catherine made her decision. "I'll do what I can, Jenny. I can't give you any guarantees; they usually take a long time to decide to take someone in. But there are ... precedents for this, in cases of emergency. Let me talk to them; I'm sure they can help somehow."

"Oh, Cathy, I can't tell you what this would mean to Rosa! Believe me, she's a great person who deserves a lot better life than she's had."

"Jenny, I'll help, but on one condition." Catherine told her sternly.

"What? Anything," Jenny agreed fervently.

"Please," Catherine begged, "eat that salad while you can still recognize it."

 

"Catherine, your friend's story has touched us, but you ask a great deal--we would risk much, taking this unknown woman on faith. Can you be sure her story is true?"

"Father, I know I'm asking a lot; I'm grateful that the Council was willing to meet with me on such short notice and listen to me. You know that for for almost six months I've been working mainly with child and spouse abuse cases." Catherine looked him directly in the eye.

Father nodded, a look of understanding passing between them. He knew, and he knew why Catherine had chosen to remove herself from the dangers of investigation into the safer, if more painful environs of the courtroom and law library. She would not put herself in danger, because that put Vincent in danger. This past Spring Vincent had been forced to resort to violence too often. The anguish of that, fueled by Vincent's self-doubts and Paracelsus' madness, had almost destroyed the man Catherine loved above all. Never again would she risk getting into situations that would trigger Vincent's protective rage. The consequences were too painful, too dangerous.

"I know something about the people involved," Catherine continued. "I know that judge only too well, and I know the reputation of the clinic. I know this sort of thing happens all too often. And I know Jenny. I believe Rosa's version of events, and I trust Jenny's judgment of people."

"Catherine ..." Rebecca regarded Catherine speculatively. "Perhaps it would help us if you told us something about this friend of yours. How long have you known her?"

"It's a long story, but if you're willing ..." A murmur of assent moved around the table, and she continued."Jenny and I became friends our freshman year in college. She was a scholarship student at Radcliffe, and a lot of my fellow students wouldn't have anything to do with her. Not only was she Jewish, she wasn't rich. Her parents run a deli in Brooklyn, and not the upscale kind, either. Not a croissant in sight, but bagels to die for."

As Catherine looked around the table, she decided William was in her camp already. Anyone who preferred bagels tocroissants elicited his undying respect.

"Actually, Jenny comes from a long line of scholars and poets on her mother's side. Jenny's mother Leah barely escaped the Holocaust. Her parents saw it coming, and got her out of Germany when she was an adolescent. It was a near thing, at that ... if plenty of people, Jew and Gentile alike, hadn't been willing to keep secrets at the risk their lives, Leah never would have made it."

Catherine steeled herself to continue. "The rest of her family wasn't so lucky. Not a single one of Jenny's relatives left in Germany survived the camps. Not one."

"Dear God," Mary whispered. "The poor child."

Catherine felt Vincent's hand take hers, and clung to it gratefully. "Leah eventually made it to New York, and met Jenny's father after the war. They're good people, hard-working and generous, even though they don't have much themselves. They remind me a lot of many of our Helpers."

"I can see why your friend was sympathetic, Catherine," Father said gently. "How much do you trust her judgment?"

Catherine searched for the right words. "Jenny's not easy to fool, Father. She has a degree of intuition that almost scares me sometimes; she judges people more by what's inside than what's outside."

Father swept his glance around the table. "Does anyone have further questions? No? Catherine, is there anything more you'd like to say?"

"Only that Jenny's life, and her mother's, have taught her some important things. She knows that evil is real, and how important it is for good people to help each other. She knows that people's lives can depend on keeping secrets."

 

Although the rain had stopped, the general bleakness of the day did little for Catherine's spirits as she squinted against a cold wind, looking for the cafe where she had agreed to meet Jenny and Rosa. When she finally found it, she was grateful for its warmth and quiet. The two women she had come to meet were tucked away in a dim and inconspicuous corner. Jenny seemed nervous performing the introductions, but Catherine felt an immediate liking for the small, soft-spoken woman her old friend had championed so forcefully. Nevertheless, Catherine felt her responsibility to the Tunnel community keenly, and had to judge Rosa for herself before finally bringing her Below. The Council's support only made Catherine more determined to make sure this was the right thing for both sides.

"Rosa," Catherine asked seriously, "how much has Jenny told you about the place you'll be going to?"

"Only that it is a safe place, un refugio with good people. She said they take care of los ninos. This is a very good thing. My babies must be safe." Rosa's voice was soft, but when she spoke of her children it became edged with steely determination.

"I worry ..."

"What do you worry about, Rosa?" Catherine asked.

"This place is in New York, no?" At Catherine's nod, she continued. "My husband is good at finding people. His friends in la policia know him, but not me so well. They will believe him that I am crazy, that he wants Maria and Teresa because he loves them." Tears of grief and anger filled her dark eyes.

"Many will help him look. New York is big, but how can I hide my children from such a one?"

Impulsively, Catherine took Rosa's hand. "Believe me, no one will find any of you in this place," Catherine assured her. "But I want you to understand, none of you can leave there, at least for quite awhile; we can't risk having any of you spotted on the streets. You and your children might find it a very confining life. I want to make sure you realize what you're getting into."

Rosa faced Catherine with conviction. "I have read about women who have gone to jail because they have hidden their children and will not tell where. I would have done that if Jenny had not told me of you. The place you take me to is better than that, no? And I will have my babies with me."

Catherine nodded, satisfied. "You certainly will. These people don't have much in the way of possessions, and they work hard. But in the things that count, they're the richest people I know."

Rosa shook her head. "When Jenny first tells me of this place, I think it seems una fabula, you know, a story for children; a fairy tale. But I know Jenny, and she tells me it is true, and she trusts you." For the first time she smiled, transforming her whole face. "Now I see you, and I believe too. You are as good as Jenny says."

"So, Cathy," Jenny interjected, "what's the next step? I want to be sure nobody knows you're involved. How can we arrange this without making it too obvious? So far Rosa's husband hasn't done anything--he's probably too complacent, knowing about that judge. But I don't think Rosa should push her luck."

Rosa agreed. "I am afraid to wait long. I do not trust him."

Catherine leaned forward and became very businesslike. "A few days to prepare shouldn't be a risk. If you have things you want to bring--favorite books or toys for the children, clothes, as long as they're not too fancy--mail them to this address. It's a rooming house run by one of our Helpers, she'll see you get them. When you're ready to leave, it will look less suspicious if you're not carrying anything."

Catherine turned to Jenny. "Do you usually encounter Rosa often at work? Will it look normal if you go talk to her?"

Jenny nodded. "Rosa does a lot of my typing; I'm always giving her stuff to do and apologizing 'cause it's late."

Rosa smiled fondly. "No one will wonder at that."

"Good," Catherine approved. "In a few days, some innocuous delivery boy will bring you a package, Jenny, like you get all the time at work. It will contain a note that will just be signed 'Father'. The note will tell you where to go. After you've memorized the location, flush the note and tell Rosa as soon as you can do so without looking like there's any connection."

Jenny nodded enthusiastically. "I like it. That shouldn't look at all unusual, and your messenger will never be seen talking to Rosa directly."

"Exactly." Catherine continued. "Rosa, you said you and the children often go shopping in the evening, or out to a fast food place. We'll make sure you're in a part of town that makes it look like another one of those everyday expeditions. If your ex-husband does try to track you down, nobody will be able to say you did anything out of the ordinary--except vanish into thin air."

"I suppose," Jenny admitted disconsolately, "I wouldn't be a good idea for me to come along for moral support?"

"I'm sorry, Jenny," Catherine answered sadly. "It would be better if you aren't seen with Rosa, so her husband won't come around asking questions."

"And the fewer people that know about the place Rosa's going, the better, right?"

"Right." Catherine sighed. "You don't know how much I wish--well, never mind. Rosa, I'm sure I'll see you again, but not until after you and your children are safe." Catherine rose from the table. "Jenny--you're the best. I'll let you know how it all comes out, I promise."

 

Late the next afternoon, Catherine was congratulating herself at the unusual pace at which the contents of her "in" basket were shrinking when the phone rang. Her mind half on the call and half on the work in front of her, she became alert immediately when she realized it was Jenny--an agitated and frightened Jenny.

"What's wrong?"

"Cathy, I'm calling from a pay phone. Rosa and her kids are with me. Her husband went to the kids' school and tried to sweet-talk the principal into letting him take the kids out; gave some cock-and-bull story about Rosa being in the hospital. Fortunately, that school's had too much much experience with divorced parents and custody fights to fall for it. He pretended it was no big deal and left without them, but Rosa's terrified he's going to try a snatch. After school the kids came to tell Rosa at work. They're afraid to go home in case he's waiting there."

"Damn!" Catherine came to a quick decision. "Where are you? Okay, I'm going to give you the address of a little grocery store. Go there, ask for Michael Ng and tell him I sent you. He'll know what to do. I'll meet you as soon as I can. I think we've just run out of time."

Catherine left the cab a few blocks away and made her way by a circuitous route to the Vietnamese market tucked inconspicuously among a block full of similar establishments. She doubted there was any way she could have been followed, but caution had become second nature to her. She greeted Michael casually and they chatted for a few minutes. When it became clear that she had no unwanted company, one of the Ng children escorted her to the basement.

"Cathy!" Jenny cried. "I've never been so glad to see you."

"I am so sorry, Catherine, to put you to this trouble ..." Rosa began, but Catherine interrupted her. "Rosa, don't be silly," Catherine answered. "Everything will be all right, we've just moved the timetable up a little."

She crouched down to greet the two wide-eyed little girls who clung to Rosa's hands. "Well, today you're going to have a pretty big adventure. You're going somewhere different from anywhere you've ever been. You'll be safe there, I promise. There'll be lots of other children to play with, and all sorts of fascinating and magical things. Are you ready?"

Both children nodded, their faces very serious. Fear began to be replaced by curiosity at this strange but intriguing prospect.

Catherine turned to Jenny. "Don't look so woebegone. If you've come this far, it won't hurt for you to see Rosa's welcoming committee. Come on."

Mary Ng helped Catherine move the boxes which concealed the entrance to the Tunnels. After her charges were safely through, Catherine hugged the girl. "Thank your father for helping us outon such short notice. And thank you."

"No problem. I'll collect when I need references for law school." She winked at Catherine, and moved the boxes back.

Leaving her friends to stare to their heart's content, Catherine found a rock and tapped out a long message on the pipes. Listening to the reply, Catherine smiled to herself as she watched them. It would be difficult to say who looked more wide-eyed, Jenny or the eight-year-old Teresa. After a back-andforth exchange that lasted several minutes, Catherine returned her full attention to them.

"It'll be a little while; the welcoming committee wasn't expecting you for a while yet, but they'll be here soon."

Catherine smiled at the children to ease their residual fear. "Would you like me to tell you about some of the things you'll get to see here?" The children nodded. "Well, there's this beautiful waterfall ..."

Not long after, they became aware of the sound of footsteps approaching. Catherine realized that Father was in the lead, but couldn't tell at first who accompanied him. As they came closer, she recognized Lena and Julio. That young man had cured Lena's lingering infatuation with Vincent in the best way possible, and the happiest for all concerned. The young couple didn't know it yet, but William was already planning menus for their wedding feast.

Father smiled as Catherine introduced him to each of her charges in turn. She was a little worried about his reaction to Jenny's presence, and sighed inwardly with relief when he greeted her with as much warmth as the others.

Beginning to relax at this reception, Rosa's face lit up at Julio's greeting. "¡Bienvenido! Rosa, a usted y vuestras niñas. Yo se tendran ustedes felicidad con nosotros." Switching to English, he introduced Lena.

"Hello," Lena said, all smiles. "I came here less than a year ago, myself, and it's been the best year in my whole life. I'll help you get settled, and don't be afraid to ask me anything you want, OK?"

As Catherine began to bid Rosa goodbye, Father interrupted her. "Catherine--I am sure you would like to see your friends settled in, wouldn't you? Can you spare the time now?"

Catherine was in a quandary. "I could, but I want to make sure Jenny gets home all right."

Father turned to the silent Jenny, who was trying to blend into the stone wall without missing anything that went on. "I am extending the invitation to you as well, Jenny." Jenny smiled in delighted surprise. Catherine stared in astonishment.

Taking Catherine's hand, Father spoke seriously."Catherine, your friend has impressed all of us with her willingness to help another. Besides, it's about time you had someone else on your side of the river." Chuckling at Catherine's bemused look, Father offered her his arm. "I'll explain later," he promised as the expedition began to move off toward the Hub.

 

Many Tunnel residents had drifted to Father's study to greet the new arrivals. Rosa was concerned that the sudden change in their carefully-laid plans caused them to arrive with only the clothes on their backs. The other clothes and few treasured possessions they had hoped to bring were at this moment half-packed in Rosa's apartment. Mouse eagerly volunteered to liberate them, but Jamie distracted him and adroitly led him away before he could discover where Rosa had lived.

Mary assured the three of them that many had come Below with even less, and William began to quiz them about their favorite foods. A contingent of children arrived to look over Maria and Teresa, trying not too seem too obvious about it. When their charges began to look a little overwhelmed by it all, Lena and Julio firmly extricated the small family from its well-wishers and led them off to their chambers to settle in.

As the crowd began to dissipate, Father nodded sagely as Jenny and Catherine sank gratefully into the chairs he indicated. "It seems the new residents you have brought us will fit in nicely," Father said with satisfaction. "Assuming they can survive this initial burst of attention and curiosity. I am glad we were able to help. The children will be safe here, and with love and time, the girls will heal, I promise you."

"I never even thought of that," Jenny admitted. "I never thought beyond getting them somewhere safe."

Catherine patted Jenny's arm with reassurance. "There are plenty of people here who are very good at dealing with children who've suffered what Maria and Teresa have. Many of the children here were victims of abuse of one kind or another; Father and the others have had all too much experience with this sort of thing. They'll do more for them than anyplace Above could."

"Lena will be invaluable," Father added. "She is rather new here herself and remembers how overwhelming it can seem at first. She also also suffered similar abuse as a child, and can reassure Rosa's girls it is not the end of the world."

Jenny found it hard to concentrate on what was being said; she was still numb from the reality of this amazing place that Catherine had kept secret for so long. It wasn't anything like she expected. She had been thinking in terms of some little urban commune, and instead she'd been taken to a whole other world. It reminded her of the books she had read as a child-Pellucidar, or fairy hills--when she emerged from here, would she find that years had passed Above?

She was so distracted she barely noticed the low-voiced conversation the man they called Father was having with Cathy, but realized it must have been pretty important when she saw the look on her friend's face. Mostly astonished happiness, Jenny decided, but also ... uncertainty? fear?

"Poor Jenny--this has been a bit much for you without warning hasn't it?" Catherine sounded unaccountably nervous.

"Do you think you could stand one more surprise tonight?"

Pulling herself together, Jenny focused her attention on Catherine. "I come of pretty tough stock, remember. I can take it. Are you going to show me the unicorn stables, or Gollum, or what?" Catherine smiled in spite of herself. "Close. Father tells me Vincent wants to meet you."

Jenny was delighted. For the first time she realized that Cathy's mystery man hadn't been in evidence. She was dying to meet the paragon at last, and find out what was so special about him. The look on Cathy's face, and the tone of her voice, on the rare occasions when she mentioned Vincent caused Jenny to marvel. In all the years she'd known Catherine Chandler, Jenny had never seen her act that way about anyone. Not even close.

Literally jumping out of her chair at the prospect, Jenny watched as Catherine and Father traded an unreadable look, and the older man squeezed her friend's hand as Catherine rose from her chair.

"I just realized friend Vincent wasn't one of the greeters," Jenny offered. "Is he far away?"

"No, his chamber's right next door. He usually stays away when new residents arrive. Vincent can be ... intimidating to some people; he wants them to have a chance to get used to the place before they meet him."

"Cathy ..." Jenny was uncertain, for a moment how to continue. "Why are you so nervous? You've already told me Vincent is different, although you've been pretty vague about just how. Do you really think I'm going to embarass you--not to mention myself--by staring or making some stupid remark?"

Catherine stopped and turned to Jenny. "I'm sorry, Jenny," she apologized. "It's just that you're my best friend, and Vincent is ..."

"Yeah, I know what Vincent is," Jenny teased.

"I guess this meeting is very important to me," Catherine admitted. "Let's go before you burst with curiosity."

At first the room they entered seemed empty to Jenny. The only illumination came from candles on a table in the center of the chamber. When Catherine turned unerringly to face a shadowed corner, Jenny realized someone was there a split-second before she heard the most indescribable voice ...

"Welcome, Jenny. I am glad to meet someone so important to Catherine."

Jenny remembered Catherine telling her that she had heard Vincent's voice for days before she had ever seen him. No wonder she fell for him, Jenny thought as she replied. "I could say the same thing about you."

She watched Catherine walk over to the shadowy figure and put her arms around him. As he returned the embrace Jenny had an impression of size and controlled power, but was unable to see his features clearly. Golden hair caught the candlelight as he bent to kiss the top of Catherine's head but his face remained in shadow.

Jenny decided some encouragement was needed. "I want to thank you for what you've done for my friend Rosa and her kids. You've got a fantastic place down here. I'm honored that you trusted me enough to let me see it, and to meet you."

"Indeed," the voice replied, "it is I who must thank you. I am grateful for your concern when that disturbed man was stalking Catherine. Your support meant a great deal to her at that time ... and to me as well. Catherine's happiness means everything to me."

"Well," Jenny said brightly, "I guess we have something in common right there. Cathy's been a good friend to me for a long time. I'm glad to see her so happy. It would be an honor to shake the hand of the man who's done that for her."

For a moment, it was so quiet that Jenny was sure Vincent and Catherine must be holding their breaths. Then he stepped forward into the light.

Jenny's eyes widened as she automatically extended her hand. She found her self grinning delightedly from ear to ear, to the apparent surprise of Vincent and Catherine. Probably not a common reaction ... but her words caused Catherine to smile as well.

"At last, Cathy--a really accurate dream!"

Laughing in combined relief and delight, the two women explained Jenny's cryptic remark to Vincent as he moved around the chamber, turning on lights and inviting them to sit. He smiled over Jenny's account of her "Egypt" fiasco.

"Actually," he pointed out diplomatically, "the lion-headed Egyptian deity is Sekmeht--a goddess."

"You know," Jenny told Vincent, "when Cathy told me you looked ... different, I never put two and two together. I just assumed that lion business was symbolic, since Cathy kept telling me how brave and noble and heroic you are--"

"Jenny!" Catherine exclaimed, mortified. "I never ..." "Well, not in so many words, exactly," Jenny admitted. "But your attitude was pretty clear, Chandler."

Giving Catherine a chance to compose herself, Jenny addressed Vincent. "I'm curious. What made you decide to meet me, and to show me all this, after ... what, two and a half years?"

Vincent looked at Catherine before he began. "Keeping our secret is so important it becomes second nature to us; so automatic we put it first without thinking."

Jenny noted that although Vincent was ostensibly answering her question, his eyes never left Catherine where she sat beside him on the bed. He took her hand as he continued. "My Father was not happy with me when I took the risk of bringing Catherine here for the first time. I never doubted, but it took him a long time to trust her. He was once betrayed by someone he loved, someone from a background similar to Catherine's. I believe it colored his attitude toward her."

Vincent turned at last to face Jenny. "We became so accustomed to Catherine's silence about us we never considered whether it was really necessary for her to be so alone in her knowledge. Do you know of our Helpers?"

Jenny nodded. "Cathy's told me a little bit. I know they exist; I know she's one."

"Many Helpers know of us," Vincent continued, "and they know of me. Many have met me, and have become quite used to me. I don't know why it took us so long to realize Catherine had people close to her who could be trusted as much as we trust our Helpers."

Jenny watched Vincent as he turned toward Catherine again. "I regret we did not reach this conclusion earlier, so Catherine could have told her father." Shaking her head wordlessly,Catherine stroked Vincent's cheek, looking pained at his distress.

"Well," Jenny declared, "you can trust me to keep your secret as well of any of your Helpers. As a matter of fact, I hope you'll let me help you in other ways besides giving Cathy someone to talk to about how terrific you are. It looks like you read a lot of books, for instance, and I work for a publishing house. I get free books all the time; I'd love to have somebody to give them to who'd really appreciate them."

Vincent brightened considerably at this prospect, and began to ask Jenny about books her firm had published. From there, the conversation wandered back and forth for hours. Jenny noticed that Catherine said little. Curled up next to Vincent, she looked happier than Jenny had ever seen her. Watching the love of her life and her best friend getting along like they'd known each other for years, Catherine had the look of someone who'd unwrapped an unexpected present to discover it was something she'd always wanted.

Eventually Vincent and Jenny realized that Catherine was beginning to fall asleep, and reluctantly decided it was time for the little party to break up. Catherine insisted that Jenny stay with her that night rather than going to her own apartment so late. After bidding farewell to Father and promising to return soon to check on Rosa, the two friends allowed Vincent to escort them to the entrance below Catherine's building. Pretending to be fascinated by the access ladder--it didn't really take much pretending--Jenny gave Catherine and Vincent the chance for a more intimate goodbye.

After Jenny was tucked up in Catherine's bed with a borrowed nightgown, she discovered her previously exhausted friend was now restless and unable to sleep.

"Cathy, I just realized I shouldn't have let you be so nice to me; I should have gone home. I'm sure you'd rather spend the night down there with Vincent ... or does he usually stay with you up here?"

"Jenny he doesn't ... we don't ... I mean, we've never ...

For a moment, Jenny was so astonished at the disappearance of the articulate Catherine Chandler she didn't know what tothink. Then the light dawned.

"Cathy, do you mean to tell me you and Vincent haven't ... after all this time ... I don't get it, I could have sworn--when the two of you are together, you can practically see it in the air."

Haltingly, Catherine began to explain. As she told Jenny about her early doubts, and Vincent's fears, the words began tumbling out. Jenny learned of Lisa, and Vincent's struggle with the dark power within him; the constant vigilance required to maintain the dynamic balance that was Vincent.

"Jenny, I believe with all my heart he's wrong to fear that kind of love between us. As a matter of fact, a few weeks ago I told him my theory that what he sees as a problem is really the solution."

"What do you mean?" Jenny asked.

"The only way he allows himself to express his passion is killing for me instead of loving me. And I let him do it. I was even afraid I let myself get into dangerous situations unconsciously to make it happen, just so we'd have some way of expressing that passion, even a destructuve one."

"What did Vincent think about that?"

"I think it stunned him. He never looked at things in that way before. He's been very thoughtful ever since." The pain and longing in Catherine's voice touched Jenny deeply.

Lying beside Catherine in the dark, Jenny wondered what to say. She had been positive that Catherine and the no-longermysterious Vincent were lovers, because that's the way it had been in her dreams lately. If only she could be sure ...

"Cathy?"

"What?" Catherine's voice sounded infinitely weary. The emotional backlash of this amazing day must be catching up with her at last.

"Don't give up. I've got a feeling it'll work out."

"A feeling, have you." Jenny could hear the smile in Catherine's voice for a moment, before it became serious. "Jenny--no matter what happens--it means more than I can say to be able to talk to you about this. I never realized until tonight how much I needed it, and missed it."

Jenny waited so long to reply she wasn't sure if Catherine was still awake. She only knew how glad she was to receive the gifts of knowledge and trust she had been given tonight. And she knew that she was privileged to share something magical. Life from now on would never be the same. Feeling sleep about to claim her, Jenny turned to whisper very softly into Catherine's ear.

"Think nothing of it, Cath. That's what friends are for."


"That's What Friends Are For" © 1990 by Edith L. Crowe

Comments & questions to ecrowe1228@aol.com

 

First published in Tunnels 2 (1990), edited by Barbara Storey

 

About the Author: Edith Crowe is an academic librarian who has been involved in various fandoms (starting with Star Trek) since 1972. Beauty and the Beast, however, 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.