FAMILY

 

Catherine automatically punched the doorbell and used her key to let herself into the townhouse.She stopped in the vestibule, divesting herself of her coat and hanging it in the closet.

"Anybody home?" she called out as she opened the vestibule's inner door and went into the hall.

"Hi, Mom!" The cheerful shout came from the back of the house.

Catherine followed the voice down the hall, through the dining room and into the warm, brightly lit kitchen, sniffing appreciatively.

"Hello, Jacob," she greeted her middle son, daring to drop a quick kiss on his cheek.

"Mom!" He squirmed away, still young enough at eighteen to be embarrassed by his mother's affection.

"What's for dinner?" she asked, lifting the cover from one of the pots simmering on the stove.

"Mom!" In exasperation he took the lid from her hand and replaced it. "Please don't do that. It lets the steam out!"

"Sorry," she said uncontritely. "What is it?"

"We're having lasagna," Jacob answered her earlier question first. "This..." he tapped the pot she'd peered into, "is an experiment. We might have it for dinner tomorrow if it works out."

"Okay," Catherine said agreeably. Jacob's culinary experiments almost always did work out, deliciously, but he had been conditioned by years of teasing from his brothers not to discuss them until he was satisfied with the recipe. Even now, any new dish which contained meat was sure to be met with wild speculation on the part of his siblings as to the source of the meat. On one recent occasion, his sister had demanded to count his fingers.

"Where is everyone?" Catherine wanted to know, wondering at the unaccustomed quiet of their usually boisterous home.

"Vicky's at Cassie's house and Evan hasn't come home from school yet."

Catherine glanced at her watch sharply. "Did he call?"

"No, but the school did. His counselor wants you to call him tonight. Evan's probably hiding out somewhere." Jacob added something to one of his pots and stirred.

Catherine sighed. Her youngest son was as much a trial as a joy sometimes.

"Oh, Charles called," Jacob added as an afterthought. "He's coming home for the weekend. Said he'd catch the shuttle and be here later."

"Good." Catherine smiled in genuine pleasure. "I miss him when he's at school. Where's your father?"

"He hasn't come up yet," Jacob replied as he bent to check the oven. "You'd better hurry if you're going to change before dinner," he warned his mother.

"Do I have time to call Evan's counselor first?"

Jacob grinned. "I'll give you twenty minutes. Vicky won't be home 'til then anyway."

Catherine went back out into the hall and climbed the stairs. On reaching the second floor, she turned right and entered the large master bedroom.

Dropping her purse and briefcase on the bed, she picked up the phone. It said something about her youngest son that she was able to dial his school guidance counselor's number from memory. "Mr. Taylor? This is Catherine Chandler. I have a message to call you about Evan?" She listened quietly as Evan's counselor described her son's latest escapade -- pouring jello into the aquarium in the principal's office.

"Mrs. Chandler, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to come in to the school. We need to discuss Evan's behavior."

Mr. Taylor was apologetic.

"All right," Catherine agreed wearily.

"Would Monday afternoon at three be convenient?"

Catherine reached for her briefcase and extracted her appointment book. "No, I'll be in court all day Monday."

"This is very important, Mrs. Chandler. Perhaps Evan's father..."

"No," she interrupted firmly, years of practice making her adept at cutting off all inquiries about her husband. "I'm afraid that wouldn't be possible. Can we make it Tuesday at four?"

After they agreed on the time, Catherine cradled the phone gently. There was a soft, sliding sound and she looked up with a tired smile as Vincent stepped through the hidden door in the false wall and slid it shut behind him.

Catherine stood up and kissed him before moving to her closet. "Evan's in trouble again," she said over her shoulder as she began to change her clothes.

"I know. He came Below today."

Catherine turned in surprise. Of all their children, only Evan rarely visited the tunnels and chambers of his father's world. His restless spirit seemed to find them confining.

"What did he say?" she asked.

"Nothing of consequence." Vincent assumed a half-reclining position across the foot of their bed. "We played chess."

"Who won?" Catherine asked with a sparkle of mischief in her eyes. It was a source of mild chagrin to Vincent that his son won most of their chess battles without really trying.

"I did," Vincent replied with dignity, trying to look as if any other outcome was unthinkable. Then he smiled. "I think he took pity on me."

They were interrupted as the phone rang once, followed by a partial ring as someone picked it up downstairs.

"Mom!" Jacob called up the stairs. "It's Uncle Joe!"

Catherine normally did not accept phone calls during her private time with Vincent, but she would always make an exception for District Attorney Joe Maxwell.

"Hi, Joe," she greeted him, sinking down on the edge of the bed and reaching for a notepad. She stopped in mid-motion and began protesting in a low voice.

"No, Joe. Absolutely not. No! My weekends are for my family..."

From his place at the foot of the bed, Vincent could hear Joe's cajoling tones and knew how this conversation would end even before he felt Catherine's resolve weaken.

"I know it's an important case, Joe..." She listened some more, then lifted her hand in a gesture of defeat.

"Okay, okay. You can have four hours of my time tomorrow. Four hours, Joe. And not one second longer!"

Joe said something that made her laugh, and she hung up the phone, turning apologetically to Vincent.

"I have to go in tomorrow. They think they've found some new evidence on the Bradley case and we're supposed to go to trial on Monday."

Tilting his head in calm acceptance, he watched with quiet amusement as Catherine rose and began to pace back and forth.

"I think it's time for me to tell Joe I have to cut back,"

she announced suddenly. "This job... it just takes too much time out of my life... out of our life." She pivoted to face him. "You don't believe me!" she accused.

"I believe you," Vincent said serenely, the underlying current of amusement evident in his voice. "But I've heard you say these things before."

"I mean it this time."

"You mean it every time." He rose gracefully and came to stand behind her, enfolding her securely in his arms. "And you'll relinquish some of your responsibilities and have more time until another case comes along that touches your heart... until there's another wrong you think you can right... and then you'll be right back where you are now."

"You know me so well," she said, leaning back against him comfortably.

"I've seen it happen," he reminded her.

"Do you mind, Vincent?" she asked suddenly. "Does it bother you when I'm working so much? I feel I have so little time for you, for the children..."

"I miss you," he admitted softly. "When you're absorbed in a case, sometimes even when you're here, you're not here. But," he shrugged lightly. "That is what makes you who you are. If you gave up your work, it would change you."

"Maybe for the better," she laughed softly.

"Impossible."

Their quiet moment together was shattered by the staccato buzz of the front doorbell, followed by the door opening and excited young male voices all talking at once.

"Charles is here!" Catherine smiled and hurried to finish changing.

"Mom! Dad!" Evan bellowed from the foot of the stairs. "Charles is home! And Jacob says that dinner's almost ready!"

Catherine winced at the clamor from below. "Why does he have to shout like that?" she asked almost plaintively.

"Because he's sixteen. And because it's much easier to yell than to actually walk up one whole flight of stairs." Vincent was matter-of-fact.

Catherine shook her head as she followed Vincent out into the hall and down the wide staircase. Having grown up an only child, with home a place of rest and tranquility, she was still sometimes overwhelmed by the noise and confusion caused by a houseful of teenagers. Vincent, with years of tunnel life behind him, seemed to handle the tumult with much more equanimity.

Their son Charles came to meet them at the foot of the stairs. Tall and broad-shouldered, he moved with the same fluid grace that characterized his siblings, and which they all had inherited from their father.

"Mother," he greeted Catherine quietly, bending down to kiss her cheek as he hugged her. "Hello, Father." He turned to embrace Vincent as well.

Catherine looked on with pride as the two men faced each other. Her first-born child, and for nearly four years, her only child, was a constant source of wonder to her. Of all their children, Charles was the one who most resembled his father, not so much in looks, though there were similarities, but in temperament. They shared the same quiet intelligence, the same subdued sense of humor, the same compassion for others, and the same implacable sense of justice.

Physically, Charles was actually a little taller than Vincent, with the same powerful build. Charles' eyes, however, were his own - a light, clear gray that sometimes changed to gray-green or steel blue, depending on his mood. His coarse, straight hair was non-descript brown, perhaps a shade darker than his mother's.

He wasn't a handsome man. His high, prominent cheekbones, deep-set eyes and slightly flattened nose precluded that, but, like his father, there was something almost magnetic about him, an air of authority that inspired confidence.

Catherine's thoughts were interrupted by Evan, who draped a casual arm around her shoulders and grinned ingratiatingly. "Hi, Mom!"

She scowled at him. At sixteen, Evan already towered over her and had his father's and brother's powerful physique. His hair was still fair enough to be called blond and his eyes were an indeterminate shade of blue. Evan was beyond bright, seeming to absorb knowledge like a sponge. Between his youth and his ability to master almost any subject with minimal effort, he was often left bored and impatient, which led him into all sorts of trouble.

"I want to talk to you later," Catherine told him sternly.

He had the good grace to look abashed and dropped his arm guiltily.

"Evan!" called Jacob from the kitchen. "Will you set the table?"

"It's Vicky's turn!" Evan protested indignantly.

"She's not here," his brother replied, wiping his hands briskly as he came into the hall.

"Evan, do as your brother asks," Catherine said quietly.

Evan looked as if he wanted to argue, but a firm glance from his father sent him into the dining room, where he could be heard rattling silver and china impatiently.

A key grated in the lock and the front door began to open slowly. Remembering that the inner door had been propped open while he brought in his things, Charles stepped quickly in front of Vincent to screen him from view.

"Vicky!" Charles cried in irritation. "You forgot the bell!"

His sister leaned out the open door to jab at the bell, producing a truncated buzz. With exaggerated care, she closed the outside door and locked it. "Happy now?" she asked her brother, giving him an enthusiastic hug.

"It's important, Vicky," Charles remonstrated.

"You worry too much," she replied breezily. "Daddy knew it was me. Didn't you?" She pirouetted gracefully and fell into her father's arms.

"Yes, but Charles is right." Vincent couldn't help smiling at his irrepressible daughter. "It's easier on everyone when you remember the bell."

From the time they had been old enough to go outside alone, all the children had been taught to always, always ring the bell before coming inside. The chance that Vincent would be caught unaware by a suddenly opened door was slim, but, as Catherine repeatedly pointed out, any risk was too great. Now it was habit for all of them to sound the warning before opening the door. Only Victoria, mercurial, high-spirited, and with a definite flair for the dramatic, kept forgetting.

Vicky was fifteen and already two self-conscious inches taller than her mother. Fine, strawberry blond hair fell in tangled waves, framing a high forehead and cheekbones, deep-set green eyes, a wide, full-lipped mouth and narrow chin. The combination of her features was both unusual and arresting.

She looked at her father now, wide-eyed, and tried to look contrite. Vincent was perfectly aware that he spoiled Victoria, but somehow he could never resist those incredibly expressive eyes that Catherine claimed were just like his.

"I'm sorry, Daddy," she apologized.

"Dinner's ready," Jacob informed them from the dining room door. "Everybody come sit down. Vicky, get the salad for me, will you?"

Shorter and slimmer than his brothers, Jacob was the child who most resembled his mother. He had her light brown hair and finer features, though his eyes were his father's blue. Quiet and thoughtful, it was Jacob who efficiently managed the household and mothered the younger children.

He carried in a steaming pan of lasagna and set it carefully on the table as Evan leaned forward for a closer look.

"Is that all?" Evan asked in disappointment.

Jacob grinned. "Don't worry, Evan, there's another pan in the oven."

"I see you haven't lost your enthusiasm for food," Charles commented cheerfully as he served himself a healthy portion.

"Hey, save some for me!" Evan grabbed for the spoon.

Vicky rolled her eyes. "Aren't you two ever going to grow up?"

"Just call me Peter Pan." Evan raised his fork with a flourish, knowing he had gotten in the last word.

There was a brief lull as the rest of the family filled their plates and began to eat. As usual, they launched into two or three simultaneous conversations.

"Guess what, Mom!" Vicky asked excitedly. "Colin Becker has a new play opening off-Broadway next month. Can we go?"

Catherine smiled indulgently. Vicky had developed a school-girl crush on the young actor after seeing him in a play last year. "Sure, Vicky. Write a note to remind me and I'll call for tickets. Does anyone else want to go?" She looked questioningly at the boys, who all shook their heads. "Looks like it's just you and me, then, Vicky."

Evan gave his sister a derisive grin. "Colin Becker! Oh, he's so cute!" he said in a high-pitched falsetto. "I'm in love with Colin Becker!"

"Stop! Daddy, make him stop!" Vicky appealed for help.

"Evan, please don't tease her," Vincent said mildly.

Evan changed the subject quickly. "Mom, I have a soccer game next Wednesday. Can you come?"

"What time will it be?"

"Three o'clock. We're playing Westland Prep. They're undefeated, but Coach thinks we can beat them!" Evan's enthusiasm was apparent.

"Evan, I can't promise you. I'm supposed to be in court all day Wednesday," Catherine began, apologetically.

Evan's face closed abruptly. "Yeah. Right," he said expressionlessly.

"Evan, I'll try," Catherine entreated. "Please understand."

Evan stared stonily at his plate and Catherine looked to Vincent beseechingly. He shook his head slightly and adroitly changed the subject.

"There is a music recital Below tomorrow evening," he addressed the table at large. "Robin is playing Dvorak's Cello Concerto. We have all been invited."

"I'm already going with Nathaniel," Vicky volunteered, naming the tunnel boy she'd grown up with and still called her best friend.

"I'm taking Amanda." Jacob smiled as he thought of the girl from Below.

"I promised David we'd get together tomorrow to work on that new computer program," Charles said.

Catherine touched Vincent's hand regretfully. "I can't," she said sadly. "There's the award banquet for Joe tomorrow night. I have to be there."

Vincent's eyes told her he understood.

"I'll go with you, if nobody else will, Dad!" Evan's voice was not quite defiant, but the look he gave his mother was clearly a challenge.

There was a moment of tense silence before Catherine rose from the table. "If you'll excuse me, I have some work to do," she said stiffly and left the room.

"Good going, Evan," Jacob muttered sarcastically.

"Evan." There was an edge of steel in Vincent's voice. "You know your mother has obligations to fulfill. And you know it hurts her when you behave as if she were abandoning you deliberately."

"Isn't she?" Evan asked bitterly, unwilling to concede the point. "She doesn't have to be gone all the time."

"The work she does demands a great deal of her and it may seem that it leaves her little time for us," Vincent explained more gently. "But she loves you very much, Evan. She has always been here when you've needed her."

"You always take her side!" Evan lashed out angrily.

"There are no sides, Evan. I love both of you. But your attitude hurts your mother, it hurts me and I know it makes you unhappy. Why do you continue to make us all suffer?"

Evan settled back in his chair sullenly. "I'm sorry."

"I'm not the one who needs to hear your apology," Vincent said evenly as he rose to his feet.

He went up to the second floor and opened the door to the study. Catherine hadn't bothered with lights or even candles. Instead, she had opened the heavy drapes that normally covered the window where she stood forlornly looking out into the night.

"He makes me feel so inadequate," she said despondently as Vincent came to stand beside her.

"I know. It's difficult for him to understand why he can't have the kind of family he thinks he wants."

"Don't you mean the kind of mother he wants?" Catherine asked wistfully.

"No. I think Evan is unhappy with both of us, with the life we are forced to lead. But he directs his anger at you because he knows I cannot change what I am."

Catherine looked up sadly. "What if I did try to stay home more? Would it help? I miss so many of his games because of my work."

Vincent shook his head. "He wouldn't be any happier," he said. "There is something in Evan that will always be dissatisfied, no matter where he is or what he does. I feel the restlessness in him."

"But maybe if I gave him more attention..." Catherine leaned her forehead against the cool glass. "That's what he's crying out for, with all these childish pranks he pulls. He wants my attention."

"Don't blame yourself, Catherine. The problem lies with Evan, not you."

Catherine shook her head sadly and went into Vincent's arms for comfort.

A few minutes later she was at her desk, already lost in her work, while Vincent sat reading behind the huge old mahogany desk that had once belonged to Catherine's father. The drapes had been carefully closed before Vincent lit a few of the candles ranged around the room - they always made him feel more comfortable, even though the small lamp on each desk provided adequate illumination. Besides the desks, which were placed at right angles a few feet apart, there were bookshelves all around the walls. The ones behind Vincent were largely filled with old, leather-bound volumes of poetry, literature, biographies, and history. A few shelves held newer books, most of them gifts from Catherine, and there was a shelf full of old medical books that had belonged to Father.

The shelves behind Catherine's desk were much more business-like and much less inviting. They were lined with law books - her own and ones which had been left to her by her father.

The other end of the big room held a battered leather couch and two big wing-back chairs that had seen better days, arranged invitingly before a large fireplace. The shelves at that end of the room contained an interesting assortment. There were children's books that had been outgrown, textbooks, a few modern novels and a wide array of non-fiction, covering almost any subject. It was a comfortable room, always dimly lit, and always welcoming.

Their home was a judicious blend of Above and Below, combining elements of both worlds. To Catherine, it was a place that held the inner peace of Vincent's world, even when the noise level threatened her sanity.

There was a light tap on the door and Evan slipped inside, crossing to his mother's desk.

"I'm sorry I hurt your feelings, Mom," he said diffidently, casting an uncertain glance in his father's direction. "I guess I know you'd come if you could."

Catherine wasn't sure if he meant his soccer game or the recital Below, but she decided not to pursue it. "That's all right, Evan." She gave him a forgiving smile before becoming more serious. "Now, about the phone conversation I had with Mr. Taylor this evening..."

She was aware of Vincent closing his book and listening, ready to lend his support and wisdom to any disciplinary action which might be necessary. Evan shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. "Oh, come sit down, Evan," Catherine said in exasperation. "You make me feel like an ogre when you stand in front of my desk that way."

He dragged a straight chair over from its place against the wall and sat down.

"Why don't you tell me what happened," Catherine suggested.

Evan squirmed. "It was supposed to be a joke," he said vaguely. "I wanted to see if I could do it."

"You wanted to see if you could do what?" Catherine pressed him.

"If I could get in and out of the principal's office and not get caught."

"I see. And why the jello?"

Evan moved restlessly in his chair and did not answer.

"Let me guess," Catherine said after a moment. "The jello

was the sign you left to prove you'd actually been there."

Evan put on a look of wide-eyed innocence. "Prove it to who?"

"Come on, Evan, give me a little credit. This was a sort of dare."

Evan grinned suddenly. "Yeah," he admitted. "Some of the guys said it couldn't be done. I said it could."

His grin faded a little under his mother's scrutiny. "I guess it wasn't very funny," he added slowly.

"Not for the fish, I'm sure," Catherine agreed drily.

Evan looked startled. "I didn't hurt the fish!"

"Evan, you put jello in their tank!"

"Yes, but I took the fish out first. I didn't want them to die!"

Catherine swiveled her chair away from him abruptly and put a hand over her mouth. It took Evan a minute to figure out that she was trying not to laugh. Sneaking a glance at his father, he decided he was trying to smother amusement, too. Evan leaned back in his chair, reflecting that maybe he wasn't in as much trouble as he had thought.

When Catherine turned back to him, her face was composed, but he thought he could still detect a glint of humor in her eyes. "And after all that, you got caught."

"They didn't catch me," Evan protested. "I confessed."

His mother looked confused.

"They thought Matthew Jenson did it because he had these red stains on his hands," he explained earnestly. "He didn't even know about it. I didn't want him to get in trouble."

Catherine smiled and shook her head, exchanging despairing glances of amusement with Vincent. "What are we going to do with you, Evan?" she asked rhetorically.

The boy shrugged and smiled hopefully. "I don't know."

Catherine thought a moment. "Okay, Monday morning you will apologize to Mrs. Webster for entering her office without permission and for vandalizing the fish tank. You will clean the aquarium and replace the fish. If any of the fish have died, you will use your allowance to buy new ones. Is that clear?"

Evan nodded. "Are we finished?" He was anxious to be off the hook.

"Yes. We're finished." Catherine dismissed him with a wave of her hand.

When he was gone, she turned to Vincent. "Did I do the right thing? I didn't punish him..."

"Why do you always doubt yourself when you deal with Evan?" Vincent asked. "You don't do that with the others."

"I don't know." Catherine was at a loss to explain. "He's so rebellious and hostile sometimes. I can't help but wonder, if I treated him differently, would he respond differently?"

"You aren't doing anything wrong, Catherine. You must trust yourself."

They were interrupted by a knock on the door as Vicky came in to say goodnight. She was followed presently by Jacob, who wanted to let them know he would be spending the night Below.

Finally Charles came in for a friendly game of chess with his father. As they moved to the chess board, the quiet murmur of their voices reminded Catherine of years past, when the children were small. Vicky would curl up in Vincent's lap while the boys gathered around to hear Vincent tell stories or read to them. Sometimes Catherine would join them, but more often she would be at her desk, half-listening and glancing up now and then to smile at her family. Times like that were rare now that the children were growing up and she missed the closeness.

She was working on her opening statement for the Bradley case, absorbed in it, and she was startled when Vincent touched her arm quietly.

"Will you be much longer?" he asked.

"I'm sorry, Vincent, I need to finish this." She looked down at her notes and back up regretfully. "Maybe another hour?"

"Charles has gone upstairs," Vincent said. "If you are going to be working, I thought I might go out for a while."

"All right," she said, a little forlorn. She wanted to be with him, but she knew sometimes he needed to be Above and alone.

She couldn't, however, help worrying about him. "Be careful."

He reached down to pick up her hand. "I will," he promised, bringing her fingers to his lips and kissing them tenderly. "I won't be long."

She watched him go through the door that led to their bedroom before she bent her head to her notes and tried to regain her train of thought.

At last she was satisfied with what she had accomplished, and began stuffing papers into her briefcase. Switching off her desk lamp, she moved easily through the darkness, going out into the unlit hallway and climbing the stairs to the third floor. As she always did, she checked on each of the children, though they weren't really children anymore, she reminded herself.

Charles was working at his computer and she exchanged a few quiet words with him before saying goodnight. Vicky was sleeping peacefully in her own room, and of course Jacob was Below tonight. Catherine paused in Evan's doorway and looked in at him, sprawled out on his back, his blankets in disarray.

Carefully she ventured into his room, picking her way through the chaos to pull the covers up over his bare torso. He looked very young and vulnerable lying there and on impulse she leaned down to brush his cheek with a light kiss. Wistfully, she remembered the affectionate little boy he'd once been, and wondered if the two of them would ever be in harmony again.

Downstairs, she went into the darkened master bedroom and got ready for bed. Going to the secret door that led to the basement tunnel entrance, she listened for a few seconds, but heard nothing. With a sigh, she made a conscious effort not to feel lonely. Vincent could be brought home more quickly that way, but she never liked the idea of manipulating him.

Shivering, she crawled between cold sheets and turned off the light. As she grew warmer, she began to relax and gradually slipped into an uneasy sleep. She was half-awakened sometime later by the shifting of the bed as Vincent eased himself in beside her.

"You're cold," she protested drowsily, turning to nestle against him anyway.

"Shhh. Go back to sleep," he whispered soothingly and kissed her forehead lovingly. Obediently she drifted off again.

When Catherine woke again, Vincent was gone. Pale daylight filtered through the drapes as she stretched and looked at the clock. With a muffled gasp, she scrambled out of bed and disappeared into the bathroom.

A few minutes later, she hurried down the stairs and heard a burst of laughter from the dining room. Vicky stuck her head out the door and called her.

"Don't go yet. Daddy says you have to eat breakfast. I fixed you some eggs and Charles already called you a cab. It'll be here in ten minutes." Vicky retreated into the dining room and Catherine smiled and followed.

Vincent and Charles were there, talking over cups of coffee and Catherine stopped to give each of them a good morning kiss before sitting down to the steaming plate Vicky placed in front of her.

"I know the eggs are underdone," Vicky apologized. "And the toast is a little burned. I'm a lousy cook."

Catherine laughed as she poked a cautious fork into the slightly runny eggs. "You don't need to explain it to me," she said, taking a bite and chewing carefully. She looked at Vincent

and laughed again. "You're being very noble," she told him.

He raised his eyebrows in a silent question.

"I know what you're thinking - `like mother, like daughter.' You're just too polite to say it."

Vicky and Charles thought that was enormously funny and Vincent grinned widely. By the time the cabby blew his horn, Catherine was feeling fortified by both the food and the brief time spent with her family and she left for work almost cheerfully.

* * * * *

Catherine's mood had deteriorated considerably by the time she got home that afternoon. The four hours she had promised Joe had stretched to nearly double that. The new evidence in the Bradley case was not significant, but it would benefit the defense. While Catherine was no longer certain she could get a conviction, Joe remained confident and refused to allow her to ask for a continuance.

Tired and frustrated, she walked into a house vibrating with the harsh sounds of discordant rock music. Just from the noise level she knew Charles was gone and that Jacob and Vincent must be Below. Coats lying on chairs in the entry told her that Evan and Vicky had friends in the house.

Sighing over Evan's taste in music, she went to the kitchen to fix herself a snack, but stopped in the doorway, appalled. Obviously, the teenagers had not been shy about feeding themselves. Empty bread wrappers, chip bags and pop cans littered the counters. Dirty plates and glasses were piled haphazardly in the sink and crumbs were everywhere.

It was the last straw and Catherine snapped. She heard the clatter of feet in the dining room and whirled, eyes blazing, to confront Evan and his friend Jason.

At sight of her face Evan stopped. "Hi, Mom," he said tentatively.

"I think Jason had better go home now," Catherine suggested icily. "Tell Vicky it's time for her friends to leave, too."

Evan's expression turned sullen, but Catherine was so angry she didn't care. Jason lost no time in getting out the door and Evan retreated upstairs.

Catherine began to tidy the kitchen, slamming drawers and cabinets violently. Evan and Vicky both knew better than to leave a mess like this! Abruptly, the music stopped and there were quick whispers and footsteps in the entry. She heard the front door open and close as Vicky's friends left.

Catherine continued clearing away the debris savagely.

Sensing movement in the doorway, she spun around to berate whichever child had been unwise enough to venture near.

Vincent stood there regarding her sympathetically. She looked at him for a moment before turning back to the mess with less fury in her movements.

Vincent came in and put a gentle hand on her shoulder, turning her toward him. Catherine's anger made her resist for a second before, suddenly, it was all gone and she leaned against him hopelessly.

"Everything's wrong," she said, her voice muffled against his shoulder. "Evan hates me. I haven't had time to even see Charles yet and he has to go back tomorrow. We're going to lose the Bradley case." The words came in a torrent. She looked up and finished in a whisper. "I can't even go to the recital with you tonight." She buried her face in his shoulder again as he rocked her gently back and forth.

He bent his head and began to speak softly. "Evan doesn't hate you. He's fighting with himself. Charles is an adult. He doesn't expect you to be here all the time. If you lose in court Monday, it will not be because you failed. You've done everything you possibly could. Now it's up to the system." Lifting her chin with his fingers, he turned her face to his. "And I know you would rather be with me tonight."

"I guess." Catherine was calmer but unconvinced. She leaned against him for a few more minutes, and looked up with a self-conscious smile. "I'm feeling sorry for myself, aren't I?"

"Maybe a little," he agreed.

He drew her out through the dining room, into the hall and up the stairs, one arm still firmly around her shoulders. "You should sleep," he advised softly when they reached the bedroom.

She lifted her head from his shoulder. "No!" she protested, denying her exhaustion. "I haven't seen you all week."

Resolutely he led her toward the bed. "We have all of tomorrow to be together," he reminded her. "You're tired."

He was right, of course, and Catherine yielded to his wisdom. "Will you read to me?" she asked, wanting to salvage something from the wasted day.

His answer was a smile and a kiss before he went through to the study, returning a moment later with a slim volume in his hand.

Catherine had kicked her shoes off and was waiting for him. He stretched out beside her on the bed, his arm going around her as she rested her head on his shoulder. He felt her relax as he opened the book.

"`...But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow...'" Vincent stopped reading. Catherine was fast asleep against his shoulder and he laid the book aside as he carefully eased her head to a pillow. He covered her tenderly with a light afghan before he left the room.

* * * * *

Catherine was still feeling a little depressed as she began to dress for the evening's banquet. Even with all Vincent's reassurance, she had awakened from her nap with the inner conviction that she was a poor mother, an inadequate wife, and a not-quite competent prosecuting attorney.

She chose her gown and laid it out on the bed before going to take her shower. When she came out a few minutes later, drying her hair, Vincent entered through the small room that connected the bedroom with the study and settled into his favorite chair. This was a ritual whenever Catherine had to go out. Vincent kept her company while she dressed, and somehow, sharing this special time together made the evening spent apart easier.

Catherine was just beginning to comb out her damp hair when Vicky tapped on the door and bounced into the room. "I'm sorry about the mess in the kitchen, Mom," she said breathlessly. "We were going to clean it up later. Daddy already yelled at us, so you don't have to," she added to ward off any further admonitions.

Catherine knew Vincent hadn't yelled - he never seemed to raise his voice to the children, but his reprimands could sting and apparently this one had. "Just be more considerate next time, please," she requested, wincing as her comb hit a snarl.

"I'll do that." Vicky took the comb. "Are you going to let me do your hair tonight?" she asked eagerly.

Catherine eyed Vicky's reflection in the mirror doubtfully. "All right," she conceded. "But remember, I have to give a speech in front of the mayor and a group of other dignitaries. Don't get carried away."

"I won't," Vicky promised cheerfully. "I'll do something appropriate for an old lady lawyer."

Catherine laughed. Vicky had a flair for styling hair and tonight she pulled Catherine's hair back gracefully in a simple chignon that was both dignified and becoming.

"There," she said in satisfaction as she placed a last hairpin. "What do you think?"

Catherine turned her head from side to side to examine her reflection before glancing at Vincent for his approval.

Vicky caught the look. "There's no point in asking him," she said in exasperation. "He thinks you're gorgeous no matter how you wear your hair!" Catherine laughed and even Vincent chuckled.

"Thank you, Vicky, it looks perfect."

Vicky went to sit cross-legged at the foot of the bed as Catherine began to apply her makeup. She always loved to listen to her parent's quiet conversation on these evenings. Their love was so real, sometimes she thought she could reach out and touch it.

The doorbell rang and Vicky leaped off the bed. "That's Uncle Joe!" She dashed out, not quite slamming the door behind her. Sailing down the stairs, she threw open the door to greet Joe Maxwell with an enthusiastic hug.

"Hi, Vicky," he grinned at her, returning the affectionate hug. "Where is everyone?"

"They heard you were coming, so they left." Vicky took Joe's hand and patted it fondly. "But I'm here." There was a teasing twinkle in her eyes as she fell into their customary easy banter.

Joe scowled. "You know, you remind me more of your mother every day."

"Thank you," Vicky returned graciously. "I wish I could say something as nice about you."

Joe pretended to frown. "I'm old enough to be your father, young lady. I deserve to be treated with some respect!"

Vicky giggled, looked past Joe, and smiled. "Mom, you look beautiful!" she said in admiration as Catherine started down the stairs.

Joe turned and whistled softly in agreement. "Not bad, Radcliffe," he teased. "I guess I'll let you walk in to dinner with me after all." He looked past her to the head of the stairs. "Hi, Vincent."

"Hello, Joe." Vincent followed Catherine down.

Vicky got her mother's coat and held it while Catherine slipped it on.

"Thanks, Vicky," Catherine smiled at her daughter. "You have a good time tonight, okay? Say hello to Nathaniel for me."

"I will," answered Vicky cheerfully. "And you," she fixed Joe with a stern look. "Don't keep my mother out too late."

"No, ma'am, I won't." Joe was speaking to Vicky but his eyes never left Vincent's face. "I promise to have her back safe and sound by midnight."

"If you two are finished discussing my curfew, I'm ready to go," Catherine announced, picking up her purse.

She paused for an instant to touch Vincent's hand as she passed him and their eyes met briefly, exchanging silent messages of love.

Joe closed the inner door before opening the outer one and ushering Catherine into the frosty November air. It was beginning to snow and Catherine pulled her collar tight as she cautiously descended the steps to the waiting cab.

In contrast, the interior of the cab was uncomfortably warm. Joe spent an unproductive few minutes trying to get the driver to turn down the heat, but the man didn't appear to understand much English. The glass partition between the front and back seats further hindered communication, so Joe gave up and rolled his window down an inch or two to admit some fresh air.

"Where's Vicky off to tonight?" he asked conversationally.

"There's a concert Below this evening." Catherine couldn't quite keep the wistfulness out of her voice.

"I'm sorry, Cathy. I wish neither one of us had to go to this dinner tonight." Joe understood the sacrifice Catherine had made.

"Joe!" She scolded him lightly, determined not to spoil his moment of glory. "This dinner is in your honor and you're getting a commendation from the mayor. You should be proud of yourself and enjoy every minute of it."

He looked pleased.

"The real question," Catherine continued, "is why you're going with me." She looked at him thoughtfully. "It's been what, sixteen, seventeen years since your divorce?"

"Haven't we had this conversation before? Frequently?"

Joe waited for the inevitable. He knew that once Catherine got started on this topic, she didn't let go. "Let me see if I can remember the next line," he continued. "`You need to find someone, Joe. You deserve to be happy.'"

"You're not taking this seriously, Joe. I'm concerned about you. You're my friend."

"I know." He looked pensively out the window. "I think about being married again," he admitted. "If I could just find the right woman... but I don't think that's possible anymore." He turned to give her a half-smile. "And it's all your fault."

"My fault!" Catherine's voice rose in mock indignation. "Why is it my fault?"

Joe looked out the window again. "I see what you have, what you and Vincent share, and I want that," he said softly. "I want a woman who will look at me the way you look at him. I want someone I can love the way he loves you. And it's just not there for me." He studied her face as the cab came to a stop in front of the hotel. "I wonder, Radcliffe," he added slowly, "if you realize just how incredibly lucky you are."

Joe climbed out of the cab. Catherine sat motionless for a few seconds before sliding across to let him help her to the sidewalk.

They found the banquet room and spent a few minutes greeting friends and acquaintances before taking their seats at the head table. The dinner followed the usual format of a cold, tasteless meal followed by too many long, dry speeches.

Catherine was one of the early speakers and she managed to entertain the guests with a funny story or two about her early days working for Joe and still impress them with how much she liked and respected this man. As she sat down amid polite applause, Joe leaned over to whisper to her.

"It was worth coming tonight just to hear you say so many nice things about me."

"Enjoy it while you can," she laughed. "On Monday I'm back to being myself again."

As the speeches went on, Catherine let them wash over her unheard. She began to think about what Joe had said in the cab. Somehow she was losing sight of what was really important.

Joe's right, she thought. All too often, I don't remember how truly fortunate I am. I have the world's most wonderful husband, four terrific kids... well, three terrific kids... and Evan. Evan is Evan, and sometimes I'd like to strangle him, but I love him and can't imagine a life without him...

Now she understood what Vincent had been trying to tell her. I've been looking at things backwards, she mused. Instead of dwelling on what I can't accomplish and can't have, I need to take satisfaction in what I can do and what's already mine.

Lost in thought, she jumped when Joe leaned over to her again and took her hand.

"Get out of here, Chandler," he told her. "I'll make excuses for you. Go, be with your family."

Catherine stared at him uncomprehendingly for a moment. As his meaning became clear, her eyes brightened. "Thank you, Joe. I owe you."

Embarrassed, he made a dismissive gesture with his hand and she needed no further encouragement.

Retrieving her coat from the check room, she waited impatiently as the hotel doorman hailed a cab. She gave the driver an address that would leave her conveniently close to a tunnel entrance and a few minutes later she was Below, walking quickly toward the heart of Vincent's world.

She heard the music long before reaching the cavern that was still known as `Father's Chamber.' Stopping just inside the entrance, she let her eyes wander around the chamber. Across the room was Vicky, listening with a rapt expression on her face. Her friend Nathaniel was beside her, and Catherine was both amused and alarmed to see that Nathaniel was as engrossed in Vicky as Vicky was in the music. Jacob was sitting near the back of the audience, holding hands with Amanda and smiling gently.

Catherine looked across the dim, crowded room, searching for Evan and Vincent. Beginning to think they might not be there, she finally spotted Evan sitting on the floor only a few feet away. Vincent stood a little behind Evan, leaning against the wall with his head tipped back and his eyes closed. Quietly she made her way toward him, trying not to disturb the others.

Catherine wondered for a moment if he knew she was there because he seemed so absorbed in the music, when, without opening his eyes, he smiled and stretched out his hand. She moved to his side, resting her head against his shoulder and immediately his arm went around her, pulling her close.

Between the music and Vincent's embrace, Catherine began to feel a contentment that had been missing for too long. If only Evan could be more understanding...

As if Evan could hear her thoughts or feel her eyes upon him, he turned and, seeing her in his father's arms, he smiled.

THE END