THE ULTIMATE WINTERFEST SURPRISE
BY KATHY DE
Late afternoon found Catherine pacing restlessly on the cabin porch.
Joe came out and handed her a cup of tea. “Pretty soon, kiddo.”
Catherine frowned at him and sighed. “It’s almost dark and you have tinted windows. If we left now by the time we hit any real traffic it would be dark…”
Joe thought about it and found the logic in her statement. “True…”
“Joe…they’re so close…I don’t know how much longer I can wait.”
“I know, Cathy. I can’t believe you’re going to be the surprise guest at Winterfest this year.”
“At this rate it will be next year!” Catherine argued impatiently.
He chuckled at her as he reached out and touched her shoulder. “So…let’s get the show on the road…”
Catherine raced inside to get everything ready while Joe got on his cell phone. He texted Debbie to get Jacob and Vincent to their house so they could talk about the meeting arrangements.
Debbie ran full speed to the nearest pipe and tapped out a message to Jacob. Within ten minutes, he was standing with her in their basement dialing Joe’s number.
“Hey, Uncle Joe.”
“Great news, hey kid?”
“Yeah, the best.”
Jacob’s lack of enthusiasm was lost on Joe who kept talking enthusiastically. “We’ll be in the city within a couple hours, what’s the best way to come Below?”
“Why don’t we meet at Peter’s apartment?”
“Peter’s?! Jake I can’t just waltz up the front steps past the doorman with your two brothers.”
Jacob rolled his eyes. “Fine…we’ll meet at your house.”
Jacob hung up and Debbie looked at him curiously. “What’s up, Jake?”
“Why the cold shoulder? Aren’t you happy about your Mom coming back?”
“Yeah…” Jacob sighed. “Yeah…I’m just concerned about my Dad.”
“He loved her, Deb…with all his heart and soul…”
Debbie frowned. “But that’s a good thing…my Mom always said Aunt Cathy loved him just as much.”
“Yeah…so much she faked her own death and dumped my dad and me.”
“Jake! That’s not fair!”
“Not fair?! She was the one that went out and started another family.”
Debbie shook her head, knowing Jacob was wrong. “You don’t know what the truth is…so stop guessing. Have you told your Dad how you feel?”
“Sort of…my Dad is so confused. I know he wants to see her…to hear what she has to say but…the other part of him wants her to stay where she is and be happy.”
“I can’t believe he doesn’t love her anymore!”
“Grandfather told me my Dad always felt like my mom deserved better than living Below….that she’d be giving up too much to be with him.”
“Well back then she lived in Uncle Peter’s apartment. She dated big time developers, was on the society gossip page every Monday….now we find out she’s been living on a private island all these years surrounded by money…power….prestige…”
Debbie frowned then gasped aloud as a thought struck her. “Oh my God! What about all her money?”
“What about it?”
“Are you gonna have to give it back to her?”
Jacob rolled his eyes and shrugged. “It’s hers…she can have it. The only thing I ever bought is more property around the cabin, I was hoping my Dad and I could start going there.”
“Well…maybe you still can…you know…all go there together…”
“Deb…can you see some 16 year olds hanging with my Dad? There probably spoiled rotten punks that will blow the whole damn secret.”
Debbie spat out disgustedly. “My Dad’s met them, he wouldn’t bring them Below if he didn’t trust them.”
Debbie was tired of him talking down to her and shot him another angry look. “You know, Jacob…you can be a real ass sometimes. I could tell something was bothering you, and I was only trying to give you a chance to talk about it. You know what…wallow alone in your self pity!”
She whirled around and started to walk away. Jacob grabbed her arm and pulled her back. “Hey! Debbie, come on…I’m really, really sorry. I can’t believe I’m acting like a child, but my thoughts and feelings are just so jumbled right now. I hear what I’m saying, and even I can’t believe this stuff is coming out of my mouth.” At her look of disbelief, he continued to plead his case. “Come on…you know I’m not normally like this…”
“Yeah…normally you’re okay.”
“Just okay?!” Jacob said endearingly.
Debbie rolled her eyes as she hid her smile. “Yes, just okay. When you’re not being condescending, I actually like you…you’re like the older brother who goes away to college but tries to keep in touch.”
Jacob gave her a quick hug. “Thanks, I mean it…sometimes I forget how cool you are.”
Debbie returned the hug. “Come on, I’ll wait with you…we’ll meet your brothers together?”
“Um…yeah…that’s fine. My Dad won’t be here until I get a feel for the type of kids they are.”
A few short hours later, Joe texted Debbie that they were a few blocks away.
Jacob ran to the basement to send a message to Vincent. He had to wait almost 10 minutes for a reply before he could head back upstairs.
Debbie was walking out the front door with two blankets when he came back. “Where are you going?”
She shrugged as she called out over her shoulder. “My Dad called and asked me to come out to the car with two blankets…”
She ran to the driver’s side and waited for her dad to open the window.
“Hi, Dad!” Debbie called out happily as she tried to look at the other passengers.
“Go run and open up the front door, will ya kiddo?”
Debbie briefly caught Catherine’s eye and smiled then quickly rushed to do Joe’s bidding.
Joe handed back the blankets to Devin and Charles who tossed them around their shoulders and over their heads before the four of them ran to the safety of the house.
Joe ran in first followed by Catherine and then the boys.
“Thanks, kid,” Joe kissed Debbie and hugged her then turned to the others. “Welcome to my home.”
“Your home?” Catherine asked with confusion. “Isn’t this Peter’s house?”
“Used to be…Jenny and I bought it from him after he moved into your apartment. Make yourselves comfortable.”
Seeing that the boys were still hiding under their blankets and wanting to let them get over their awkwardness, Debbie tried to play hostess. “Can I get drinks for anyone?”
Catherine stepped forward and took her hand. “Debbie, I’m Cathy. Your mother and I were best friends a long time ago…you remind me so much of her.”
Debbie smiled warmly as she tried to appear nonchalant. “I’m glad…as Moms go she’s pretty cool…she can hardly wait to see you again.”
Joe took Debbie’s hand and led her into the kitchen to get their guests drinks.
Catherine looked over at a tall handsome guy standing off to the side. “Jacob?” she asked nervously.
“Yeah…” Jacob nodded and stepped forward. “Hi…mom…”
Tears sprang to her eyes as she melted when he called her mom and she pulled him into a hug. “I can’t believe you’re alive. I was told you had died”
Jacob hugged her back just as warmly. “That’s what I was told about you.”
Charles and Devin had taken off their blankets and stood quietly waiting for someone to say something to them.
Jacob’s back was to them when Catherine looked up. “Can I introduce you to your brothers?”
Jacob nodded and turned around, and his jaw dropped in shock. “Oh my God!”
Debbie walked in with four cans of pop and gasped. “Holy shit!”
“Debbie!” Joe reprimanded as he walked protectively over by the twins. He looked curiously at Jacob who seemed just as incredulous. “What’s wrong with you two?”
Jacob looked at him then back at the twins who were looking decidedly uncomfortable. “I’m sorry…really…I just can’t believe how much you look like my dad…well…our dad.”
Joe frowned at Debbie. “I told your mom all this on the phone, didn’t she tell everyone.”
Debbie shook her head. “It didn’t come through…all she knew was that Cathy had two teenage boys…no one knew they were Vincent’s.”
Catherine’s shoulders fell in defeat. “Which explains why he’s not here…he heard I had other children and assumed I moved on and had a life with someone else.”
Jacob realized she had hit the nail on the head and smiled warmly at her. “You know him well...”
Catherine sighed as she looked at him sadly. “I used to…”
Debbie looked at Catherine then at her Dad. “How can they be Vincent’s?” she whispered to him.
Catherine overheard her and smiled. “Your Dad’s been wondering that same thing for 2 days…and…as soon as we get Below I’ll explain it all.”
Jacob walked up to his still silent brothers and offered his hand. “I’m Jacob.”
The twins exchanged glances then Charles slowly offered his hand. “Charles.”
Jacob took his hand and the two squeezed hands strongly. Jacob smiled and turned to the other one who offered his hand as well. “Devin.”
They also shook hands then Jacob turned towards the basement steps. “Well Mom…Charles…Devin…I’ll lead the way and take you to see the man you’re all anxious to meet!” The twins hesitated and Jacob laughed. “I’m your older brother you know…you have to listen to me.”
Debbie rolled her eyes and handed Charles and Devin each a can of pop. “I’m Debbie, nice to meet you.” She ignored their surprised looks and hugged each of them impulsively. “I have 4 younger sisters and a younger brother and none of them listen to me.”
“Ha!” Jacob said as he led the way followed by Devin then Charles.
Catherine listened on proudly as Jacob walked backwards and talked to them the entire time about the tunnels and the new world they were entering into. She was grateful he was doing whatever he could to put them all at ease.
They came to a pipe and he quickly tapped out a message then turned to his brothers. “We use a form of…”
Charles interrupted. “Morse code?”
“Yes.” Jacob smiled.
“I figured out Vincent but not much more.” Devin surprisingly said.
“How did you know?” Jacob gasped.
Charles smiled. “We’ve been trained to decipher codes. I knew that it was highly likely you were tapping a message to your…I mean our father.”
Debbie piped in. “Jacob also told him it was clear and he should come, he’s probably on his way.”
“Oh joy,” Charles said nervously under his breath.
“Charles!” Catherine reprimanded lightly.
“Mom! What’s wrong? Chuckie here said Oh boy!” Devin covered for his twin as he mimicked happily. “Didn’t ya’ Chuck?”
Catherine looked on suspiciously as Jacob laughed aloud and put his arms around each of their shoulders. “We’re gonna have a blast learning about one another.”
They continued to walk until they came into the Whispering Gallery. The boys were fascinated and stopped to listen while Catherine and Joe walked past them and took the lead.
Around the next bend, Vincent stood nervously in the tunnel way.
Catherine gasped when she saw him but at the hesitant look on his face she slowly walked forward and stopped uncertainly a few feet away from him. “Vincent.”
To keep her at a distance, instead of hugging her Vincent took her hands in his. “Catherine.”
Catherine wanted to leap in his arms but she understood his hesitation and smiled at him. “You look well.”
“Catherine…words cannot describe how we felt when we received the news...”
Jacob came around the corner and laughed at him. “Dad! If you think that news was a shock wait until you meet these two.” Charles and Devin hovered nervously out of sight and Jacob rolled his eyes at them. “Come on…trust me…his bark is worse than his bite.”
The twins walked around the corner into the tunnel way and stood nervously looking ahead. Vincent gasped and leaned back against the wall for support. Catherine grabbed his cloak sleeve to stop his retreat then slipped her hand into his and squeezed gently. “I want you to meet our other two sons, Vincent.” She pointed at the one on the left. “Charles and Devin,” she said as she referred to the one on the right.
Vincent was speechless and Jacob broke the tension with a joke. “He’s in shock because he’s just realized he’s outnumbered by sons…”
The twins smiled weakly as they looked at the only other person in the world that looked exactly like them.
“Dad!” Jacob’s voice prompted Vincent into action.
Vincent’s brow furrowed with confusion as he looked back and forth between the twins then at Catherine. “My sons?!”
Devin shrugged nonchalantly and cocked his head to the right endearingly. “That’s what they keep telling us but without a paternity test I don’t know of we should believe them.”
Charles snorted at the joke and everyone started to laugh.
Vincent recovered from his shock and slowly walked to stand in front of the twins. “It’s an honor to meet both of you.”
“It’s an honor to meet you too, sir.” Charles said quietly.
Jacob punched him lightly on the shoulder. “Save the sir for when you get into trouble…just call him Dad.”
Charles looked at his older brother then back at his father. “Dad.”
Vincent stepped up and hugged Charles warmly. “Charles…” he turned to Devin and hugged him as well. “Devin…welcome…my sons…” he gasped.
Jacob grabbed his brothers by their arms. “Come on…enough mush…”
As they walked, Jacob laughed aloud at Devin’s earlier joke. “Devin, if you had any idea how much you sound like the person you’re named after, you would die. I can’t wait for you to meet him!”
“Who is he?” Devin wondered.
“Our uncle…well…sort of…Grandfather raised him and Dad together…”
Joe prompted Debbie to walk with him to give Vincent and Catherine a second alone. “C’mon kiddo…I want to go find your mom. I sure missed her…”
“Ack! Tell me you’re not going to be all googly eyed with her and get all smoochy!!”
Joe grinned and put his arms around her shoulder. “No…I thought I’d spend some time with all you kids first. I missed all the fighting these past few days.”
Finally alone, Vincent turned and looked at Catherine incredulously.
“Surprised?” she said softly.
“Oh, Vincent…it’s such a long story…”
“I…imagine it is but it’s certainly one I’d like to hear.”
“I know…” Catherine sighed as she nodded. “But could I ask you for something first?”
“You know you can ask me for anything, Catherine.”
“Could I have a hug?” Catherine pleaded.
Vincent stepped forward. “Catherine…” he whispered as she melted into his arms and the two held each other tightly.
A few minutes later, Devin’s voice carried back to them through the tunnels. “Mom! C’mon on!”
Ignoring Devin’s pleas, Catherine sighed as he cradled her to his chest. “I missed this so much…”
“As did I…”
Catherine pulled back slowly then leaned up and kissed Vincent lightly on the lips. He blinked in surprise but didn’t move back as she smiled up at him. “We should introduce the boys to Father and then… then I’ll explain everything. Joe’s going to need to know it anyway and I imagine Jenny’s about ready to bust a cork…”
Vincent nodded and put his arm around her as they walked towards the home tunnels.
Joe and Debbie walked into the library first.
Jenny whirled around and ran up to Joe. “Hi, honey.”
“Hey, babe.” He said as they hugged.
Debbie grabbed Jenny’s arm as she pulled her away. “Mom! You’ll never guess what Dad said on the message you missed!”
Jenny looked up as Jacob, Charles and Devin entered the room. “Um…let me guess…Cathy’s 16 year olds look just like Vincent?” In a state of shock, she walked away from Debbie and stood in front of the twins. “Hi, I’m your Aunt Jenny…your Mom and I were friends for…”
“A million years!” Catherine interrupted as she walked into the room.
Both women broke out in tears as they ran into each others arms. They hugged fiercely and stood and cried together.
“I’m so happy to see you!” Catherine cried out.
“I can’t believe you’re alive! I’ve missed you so much!”
“I missed you too, Jen….can I introduce you to my sons?” Catherine led them to her twins. “This is Charles…and this is Devin.”
“Charles and Devin…it’s great to meet you.”
“Hello, Aunt Jenny,” they said simultaneously.
Vincent touched each of them lovingly on the shoulder. “I’d like to introduce my sons to their grandfather…do you know where he is?” he asked Jenny.
“He’s lying down.”
“I’ll get him, Dad,” Jacob offered.
He disappeared into the back chamber that was Father’s bedroom but quickly came back out. “He’s already on his way!” he said as he came over and took Catherine’s hand and dragged her to a place where she would be the first person Father saw.
“What’s all the commotion?” a gruff voice said as it came closer. Father stopped when he came around the corner and saw Catherine standing there.
“Dear, dear Catherine.”
“Father,” she said as she came up and hugged him warmly.
“So the news we received about your being alive was true…” he said as she stepped back and he cupped her cheek lovingly. “It’s so good to see you again,”
“It’s good to see all of you again,” Catherine took his hand and turned around. “Father, I’d like to introduce you to my sons.”
“Hmmm?” Father said as he walked with her. “Dear God!” he exclaimed when he spotted the twins. In shock, he quickly sank into a nearby chair.
“Father?!” Vincent said with concern as he rushed over.
“I’m okay,” Father said as he waved his hand dismissively.
Vincent took his hand then and smiled. “Then I should think that you would like to meet my sons…Charles and Devin.”
Father smiled weakly at the two boys that came to stand in front of him. “You’ll forgive an old man…I just…the shock of seeing you…I…you both look exactly like your father did at that age.”
“Charles, Devin…this is your Grandfather.”
“Hello, Grandfather,” Charles said as he stepped forward tentatively and shook his hand.
“Which one are you?”
“Charles,” he said with a smile.
“Hi, Gramps!” Devin said as he stepped forward next.
Father chuckled and shook his hand warmly. “You are obviously Devin! And I might say that you are already taking after the man you’re named for!” Father gestured with his hand. “Please, sit down.”
“Can we all sit down?” Catherine asked.
Sensing that this was going to be a long talk, Jenny pushed Debbie towards the door. “Check your brother and sisters and put the word out that we aren’t to be interrupted for any reason.”
“Now, Debbie!” Joe stated matter of factly.
Debbie frowned and headed out of the room to do as she was told.
Ever mindful of Catherine’s need for privacy, Jenny looked at her. “This is family business…we should leave …”
Catherine smiled and shook her head. “You are my family…both of you.” She smiled over at Joe. “Besides, Joe you’ll need to hear this story anyway.”
“Jacob, perhaps you could take your brothers to get something to eat…”
“Really, Dad?! I’d like to hear this…”
Devin looked at his mother pleadingly. “Mom…we deserve to hear this too!”
Catherine shrugged her shoulders in defeat. “Yes, you all do…every last ugly truth…but I warn you it isn’t a pretty story…”
Father sat at the head of the table with a twin on either side of him. Jacob sat next to Charles while Vincent sat next to Devin. Catherine sat next to Vincent leaving Jenny and Joe at the end of the table.
All eyes turned to Catherine who looked quietly down at her hands. “I’m not sure where to start…”
Vincent reached out and took her hand. “I’d like you to start at the moment you found out you were pregnant with Jacob.”
Catherine squeezed his hand and began. “After Joe was hurt in that car bombing, I wanted to help so I donated blood. The nurse came with me with the announcement that I shouldn’t have donated blood while I was pregnant. I…um…had no idea…I started to tell you…but…”
“I was still weak from being sick…” he said quietly.
“Yes…I still needed to tell you…I even tried but…”
“He had amnesia…” Father supplied.
“Yes…I thought I’d have plenty of time to tell him so I put it off.”
Joe grimaced. “Then Moreno pulled his betrayal and you were captured by Gabriel.”
“Yes,” Catherine nodded realizing they knew she had been kidnapped. “I was supposed to be killed then Gabriel found out about Vincent. He informed his boss…”
“Ares.” Joe supplied.
“Yes.” Catherine answered.
“Ares? The guy was named for the God of War?” Jacob asked incredulously.
Catherine smiled lovingly at him. “You know your Greek mythology…it was always one of my favorites too.”
“I know, Dad told me.”
She thought about Vincent sitting and telling their young son things about her to make her seem real and looked gratefully at Vincent. “I’m glad. Anyway, Ares saw the videos Gabriel had taken of Vincent and he became obsessed with him. When it was discovered I was pregnant, it was Ares who insisted that I be kept alive.”
“He wanted my child.” Vincent stated flatly.
“Yes, by then Gabriel had also become obsessed with you. They…stopped pumping me full of truth serum and started pumping me full of vitamins. They left me alone in a small room. The only human contact I had was at meal time when the nurse would come in with my tray and three times a week when the doctor would check on me.”
Father scowled. “That’s it?! No one spoke to you at all?”
“No. Gabriel was constantly watching us but…sometimes the doctor would explain what he was doing…he told Gabriel it was important for me to know what was happening so that I could take care of myself and the baby.”
Jenny looked at her with tears in her eyes. “It must have been horrible for you. I can’t imagine going through that alone.”
Catherine sighed. “It wasn’t that bad. I spent my days talking to the baby…I mean Jacob…singing to him…relating stories to him about all of you…about my family, my childhood…anything I could think of.”
“Still,” Joe said as he shook his head in disgust. “Jenny and I were together every step of the way for all 6 of our kids…I wouldn’t want her to do it alone.”
Catherine shrugged indifferently. “I had no choice if I wanted my child to live.”
Vincent couldn’t stand the thoughts that raced through his head and Jacob sensed his distress through the bond and tried to forward the story. “Mom…tell us about my birth.”
Catherine took a deep breath. “Well, my labor started and I tried to hide it as long as I could. The pain was eventually too much and they came in and whisked me to the delivery room. I think at that point your father was inside the building and searching for us…”
Vincent interrupted her to explain his actions. “I’m not sure how…but I could feel Jacob’s heartbeat. I didn’t know what it was but I followed it and it brought me to you.”
Catherine squeezed his hand. “You were getting closer to us when they became desperate. They were going to do a c-section but I delivered Jacob just in time.” She turned to look at Jacob. “The doctor let me see you for the briefest of seconds…you were perfect…the most beautiful baby I’d ever seen…and then…they took you away…”
“He was only the most beautiful baby until she saw us,” Devin whispered loudly to Charles as he tried to lighten the somber mood.
It had the desired effect as Jacob laughed lightly. “Yeah, but I was the first!”
Catherine grinned then rolled her eyes and shook her head ruefully. “All of our babies were equally beautiful!”
Vincent smiled at the light banter and leaned in conspiratorially. “Good cover, Catherine.”
Trying to get the story back on track, Joe asked, “What happened then, Cath?”
Catherine sighed as tears came to her eyes. “The doctor followed his orders and injected me with…”
“Morphine,” Joe interrupted. “Well…that’s what the autopsy said.”
Jenny elbowed him gently in the ribs. “Which was obviously wrong, now shush!”
Vincent ignored them and took Catherine’s hands and held them in his own. “But you came to me…you died in my arms. I was there, holding you when you took your last breath.”
“I know that’s what you thought. I thought that too…” Catherine nodded as she remembered him holding her.
Joe shook his head with confusion. “Then how…”
“The nurse that had been taking care of me didn’t work for Gabriel…she was loyal to Ares. In the commotion of Jacob’s birth, she made up a fake syringe and gave it to the doctor. She gave me some drug that induces a coma.”
“Probably something like Propofol,” Father nodded vigorously. “That explains why you thought she was dead, Vincent. Her vitals signs would have been almost undetectable.”
Joe shook his head. “That makes no sense! Vincent brought her back to her apartment then sat with her what 3…4 hours…then she was there at least another hour while the police secured the scene.”
Catherine thought how hard it must have been for Vincent to sit with her that long knowing she was dead and she squeezed his hand. “Ares owned the ambulance you sent me to the morgue in…they took me straight to his compound. His team brought me back to life and countered the effects of the drugs I’d been given.”
“We never questioned when they suggested a closed casket…Oh My God! Who did we bury?” Jenny asked appallingly.
Catherine shrugged “I have no idea, Ares must have found someone my size and age with a similar look.”
“Not that I’m complaining but why did he keep you alive, my dear?” Father wondered.
“Ares was just as ruthless as Gabriel if not more so…but he was also brilliant…he wanted me alive so I could nurse Jacob…provide him with his mother’s milk.”
“But Gabriel didn’t believe in the importance of a mother’s touch.” Vincent added.
Catherine nodded. “Ares was furious when Jacob grew sick. He wanted to use me but he couldn’t…Gabriel had pumped me so full of toxins he was afraid my milk would do more harm then good. He realized Jacob would die if he didn’t have his parents contact…”
“So he let me find Gabriel…to save Jacob and heal him…” Vincent guessed correctly.
“Yes…except the more that Ares saw of you the more he respected you. He saw you as an intelligent being, someone who could love and protect those close to him. He gave up on Jacob, he thought he was too sick to be saved so he allowed you to take him because he didn’t think he’d live anyway. Besides, by then he had already started to think of the future.”
“The future?” Vincent wondered aloud.
Jacob cringed with anticipation as he looked at his mother. “I have a feeling this is the part we’re not going to like, Dad…”
Catherine smiled weakly as she looked at Vincent. “Do you remember when Gabriel had the doctor take all those blood samples…”
“Yes, he said it was to help Jacob.”
“It was more than that…there were several times that the doctor sedated you…it was then that he took…um…more than just blood samples...”
Jacob hissed in his breath while Vincent sat quietly as the shock settled throughout his body.
Jenny looked confused. “I don’t get it…what did he take from Vincent?”
“Six kids and you still have to ask what the man provides?” Joe asked her sarcastically under his breath.
Realization dawned on her and Jenny looked horrified. “He hoped to have more of Vincent’s babies?!”
Catherine nodded. “Yes…I was nursed back to health and then they…um…harvested my eggs. They worked their magic and a year later I was impregnated again with the embryos.”
“Catherine…” Vincent looked at her with tear filled eyes. “I’m sorry.”
Catherine smiled and squeezed his hand. “I’m not.”
Jenny leaned forward. “So you had another child?”
“No…something went wrong…I don’t know what…they never said…I miscarried in the seventh month.”
Jenny winced in sympathy. “Oh, no…”
Joe frowned in confusion. “Seven months…that’s late for a miscarriage…isn’t it?”
“That’s because at that late of a stage it isn’t considered a miscarriage…” Father grimaced sadly.
Catherine had hoped to hide the trauma from Vincent but she knew she wasn’t fooling Father or Jenny. “No…I had to give birth…it was a little girl…she was stillborn.”
“Ares must’ve been furious,” Jacob said quietly.
“Disappointed is more like it…he wanted to use her for testing…to find out what went wrong…but he lost interest because she looked like me, so, I took her out back and dug a hole and buried her under a tree in a quiet meadow overlooking the ocean. I named her Caroline”
Jenny began to cry. “Oh, Cathy…I can’t imagine your grief.”
Tears fell freely as Catherine nodded. “I didn’t think I’d survive…the grief was overwhelming…I either shut down emotionally or it was just a little easier the next time.”
“The next time?! Dear God, you went through this again?” Father gasped.
Catherine nodded sadly. “Yes…there were several more failed pregnancy attempts but two years later, I was pregnant again. Another little girl…the ultrasounds revealed she looked just like Vincent. Ares was beside himself with joy but she was born 6 weeks early. She was so small…and she fought so hard…” Tears continued to fall from her eyes as she looked at Vincent. “I tried everything I could…the doctors and I observed her twenty four hours a day…but she died after two weeks.”
Vincent’s shoulders sagged with grief as Joe swallowed hard. “You buried another daughter…”
Catherine shook her head as she looked away sadly. “No…um…Ares wanted her tested…the scientists…”
“Never mind, Cath,” Joe grumbled as he and Jenny held hands.
“I gave up all will to live at that point. They had told me that Vincent and Jacob were both dead and I hoped I would follow them soon.” Catherine cried harder and it took several minutes but she finally pulled it together after Jenny shoved some tissues in her hands. “I thought that was it for me…I would be killed after the doctors hinted that I was getting too old. Ares brought in three younger women but none of them ever became pregnant. It was suggested that Vincent’s unique chemistry wasn’t compatible with anyone else. Ares had other ideas and had the doctors use some of my eggs instead and he had the embryos implanted in the women. The first woman miscarried immediately, the second in the fourth month and the third woman’s baby died at birth, it was a little boy. Ares had all of the women and the babies disposed of.”
“I hope this story starts getting better soon Mom,” Devin moaned.
Weak smiles were sent his way and Vincent smiled at his son as he grabbed his shoulder and hugged him briefly. It helped to break the tension in the chamber so Catherine could continue.
“It does…by this time, Ares hopes at a small army were quickly fading. I failed to get pregnant several more times and the doctor’s suggested fertility drugs. I was on them for about three months when I became pregnant. In the third month, it was discovered I was having twins. From that day forward, every precaution and consideration was taken daily for the duration of my pregnancy. Then I gave birth to Charles and Devin. ”
“That’s what Mom called us…Ares called us Romulus and Remus,” Charles stated quietly.
“The feral children of Mars…the god of War.” Jacob’s tone mimicked his brother’s.
“Ares wasn’t taking any chances with the boys. I was with them constantly for the first two years of their lives. I was able to nurse them and take care of them. It was under constant supervision but I managed to tell them how much I loved them and how much their father would have loved them if he had lived. After their fourth birthday, Ares started their training. He would take them all day and school them in forms of combat then at night I told them bedtime stories about this world. I was afraid that at any given moment Ares would get rid of me and as they got older, I had to encourage them to keep our talks a secret.”
Charles smiled. “We always thought of it as a game. Ares would try to find out what my Mom said to us and Devin and I would make up elaborate stories about things she never said. Devin even told him Mom said we should listen to him and be the best little soldiers we could be.”
Devin laughed aloud at the memory. “He was shocked and started to trust Mom more. We had figured out pretty quickly what our roles were and we did and said everything he asked of us.”
Charles nodded. “He was pretty proud of us…we were like human sponges. Everything he taught us we retained. He didn’t realize we were learning everything so we could get away from him.”
Devin looked down sadly. “It became more and more apparent to us we needed to do it after Mom got pregnant again.”
Jenny hissed in a breath as Catherine looked down sadly and nodded. “The boys were healthy 7 year olds and Ares wanted to chance it again. The doctors said it couldn’t be done. The twins had done a number on my body…they each weighed over eight pounds at birth and with the afterbirth…”
“My God! Catherine that’s a lot of baby for someone your size!” Jenny gasped.
“Yeah, that’s what I kept reminding myself as I pushed them out,” she chuckled then grew serious again. “So…once again he brought in women and impregnated them with my embryos. None of them took and the doctors assured Ares that the viability if the eggs had long since run out. He ignored them and had me start on fertility drugs again. I got pregnant the third month.”
Charles frowned at the memory. “We didn’t know it but Ares kept us away from her in fear that we would get her sick.”
“She was huge by the time we saw her again!” Devin added.
“I was carrying twins again, one girl and one boy. I miscarried again in the seventh month and all my female organs came out with the last one. Ares was there and once again was furious…I thought that he would let me die right then and there but thankfully, Charles came down with a fever that morning and he ordered the doctors to stitch me up. When it was over, both boys were sick and Ares brought them to my bed to recover. Three weeks later, he took them away again.”
Devin sighed. “We were allowed to see her on Sundays until our 15th birthday…then our training became more intense and he refused our requests to see her.”
Charles looked nervously at the group and hoped he didn’t sound crazy. “This is going to sound bizarre but we have this type of…connection with her…we’re able to feel what she feels…”
Father leaned forward in his chair and patted his grandson’s hand. “We call it a bond and it’s not so bizarre. You’re father used to have one with your mother until he became very sick and lost it but he has one with your brother and has had it since he was a baby.”
Devin nodded with understanding. “It helped us stay connected with her.”
Catherine nodded. “I could sense them and what they were feeling. Ares left me alone and I lived for the day when the boys would be old enough for us to try to get away. Then Kate and Joe showed up and here we are…”
Silence filled the room as everyone let the tragic story sink in.
Finally, Jenny squeezed Joe’s hand. “Look this has been a long couple of days for you and it’s late. Joe and I are going to gather up our crew and get them home.”
Joe nodded as they stood. “We’ll check back in tomorrow unless you need us sooner.”
Catherine stood and she and Jenny hugged tightly. “We’ll talk soon, Cathy, I love you.”
“I love you too, Jen.”
Catherine and Joe hugged warmly. “Did I thank you, Joe?”
Joe smiled the boyish smile Catherine remembered from so many years ago. “You just did, kiddo!”
The couple left and in the still silent room, Charles and Devin exchanged glances.
Devin nodded at his brother and looked at Catherine curiously. “Mom…we’re hungry.”
Catherine rolled her eyes as Jacob laughed and clasped their shoulders. “Me too, come on…I’ll introduce you two to William! He may have some leftover stew.”
The boys left and Father grumbled. “I guess I should make that walk and get some tea.”
“Father, its late…would you like me to have a tray sent instead?” Vincent offered.
“That would be nice, son.”
Vincent turned to Catherine. “I’ll only be a minute…”
“I’ll go with you, I’d like to spend some time with the boys and I would kill for some of William’s stew.”
Father smiled as the two left holding hands.
As promised, Vincent sent a tray to Father and he and Catherine joined their sons for their first meal together. They laughed and told stories and learned about one another for the next three hours.
Devin finally leaned back and yawned loudly. “I could sleep for three days.”
Charles wrinkled his nose. “Hopefully after a bath!”
Jacob laughed. “Come on, you guys can crash in my chamber, we’ll go grab another bed from storage and then I’ll show you where to take a bath.”
They all stood at the same time and the boys each hugged their parents then left.
Catherine turned to Vincent and sighed. “A bath sounds wonderful.”
“I’ll…get you something to change into.”
Vincent led the way to the bathing chamber then handed Catherine a gown and some clothes to change into.
“Vincent, if it would be okay, I’d like to come see you after my bath?”
Vincent looked down shyly. “Of course, Catherine, I’ll be waiting for you there.”
After his quick bath, Vincent got dressed in a pair of gray sweat pants and a white thermal shirt. He stood in front of his open bureau and decided against adding his usual additional layers. Apprehensive about the upcoming meeting with Catherine, he paced in his chamber as his thoughts raced uncontrollably.
Dressed in a warm, floor length night gown, Catherine stood nervously in the doorway of Vincent’s chamber and watched him pace.
His head was down and he was lost in thought but sensing a presence, he looked up and slammed to a stop. Both of their hearts were beating rapidly when he looked into her eyes. In there depths, he saw the same love that had been there over 20 years ago.
“You still pace when you’re nervous?”
Vincent cocked his head to the side. “And you still look like an angel standing there…” Slowly he opened his arms to her. “Catherine…” he whispered uncertainly.
Catherine felt her insides quake when she heard his voice and tears fell from her eyes as she walked into his arms. “Vincent!”
Their arms came around one another and Catherine felt like she was back at home nestled safely beneath his chin. The two clung to one another as their hearts reconnected after so much time apart.
Catherine backed up first and looked up into his eyes. “I never stopped loving you…”
“Nor I you.”
Vincent had tears come to his eyes and Catherine gently dabbed at one as it slid down his cheek. “Don’t cry, Vincent, I’m barely holding it together here…and…”
Tears flowed freely from her eyes as Vincent reached up gently and cupped her cheek in his hand. “Catherine…” he said as he bent over and kissed her lovingly.
She was so shocked, she clung to him as she responded to the gentle pressure from his lips. She felt his love flow through her entire being, and her legs became so weak they gave out.
Vincent scooped her up in his arms and stepped back to sit on his bed with her nestled in his lap. Suddenly overcome with shyness and uncertainty he looked down at their clasped hands. “I’m…sorry…I shouldn’t…”
Catherine mimicked his earlier gesture and cupped his cheek and prodded him to look at her. “Don’t ever apologize for loving me, Vincent.”
She leaned in and kissed him and let him deepen the kiss. She knew, as she did so many years before, that she would let him decide how far to take it.
Someone cleared their throat and Catherine and Vincent looked up to see their three sons standing in the doorway. Catherine slid from his lap to sit next to him on the bed.
“Ewww…” Devin laughed.
“Sorry to interrupt,” Jacob grinned boyishly.
While Charles blushed and looked away, Devin squeezed down between his two parents making them scoot apart. “We thought you could tell us a bedtime story.”
Jacob gaped at Devin’s nerve. “Oh, geez, I’m gonna love having you around!”
Devin looked at Vincent and Catherine with eyes filled with pure innocence. “I have no idea what he’s talking about; I just wanted to see my Mommy and Daddy before I went to bed.”
Vincent blew out a long breath and smiled. “You’re always welcome here, Devin.”
“See!” Devin said accusingly to Charles and Jacob. “We weren’t interrupting anything, were we Dad?”
“Um…no…we were just talking.”
Vincent looked at them sheepishly while Jacob laughed aloud. “Come on, Dev, leave them be.”
Devin leapt to his feet and pretended a look of disgust. “Fine…you two sit and here and…talk…and your boys will put themselves to sleep.”
Catherine rolled her eyes and smiled. “Goodnight, boys, we love you.”
Jacob and Devin laughed as they left the room while Charles looked on sheepishly. “We just wanted to make sure you were okay, Mom.”
“For the first time in over twenty years I am.”
“Okay.” Charles nodded. “Goodnight, Dad.”
He left, and Catherine turned to Vincent. “I’m exhausted, too.”
Vincent looked away and nodded, he still could not bring himself to ask her to stay with him. “It’s late…if you want I…can show you to a guest chamber…”
Catherine chewed her bottom lip nervously but decided to make the first
move. “I’d like to stay here with you…if…that’s all right…” She looked away as she realized her boldness was perhaps too soon. “But if you’d rather…I can…
Vincent sighed as relief flooded through him and he took her hand to stop her fumbling. “No…I…it’s more than all right…I should have asked…”
Vincent stood and started to blow out the candles. Catherine helped him blow out a few before she pulled back the covers on the bed and climbed in moving over near the stained glass window still mounted in the wall. He slipped in next to her and lay flat on his back staring at the ceiling.
“This feels like a dream,” she whispered.
Vincent moved and propped himself on his elbow facing her. “It’s real, Catherine.”
“Will you pinch me so I know it’s true?”
He rubbed her arm softly. “I could never hurt you…you’ve endured so much pain already….”
“Not pain, Vincent…heartache, yes but not pain. I never suffered physically.”
He reached out and gently laid his palm on her lower belly. “You bore many children, labored through too many unsuccessful pregnancies, alone.”
Catherine rolled to her back and put her hand over his then scooted closer to him. “And the most painful part of all of it was losing your children.”
“He used you like a brood mare,” Vincent stated disgustedly,
“Yes,” Catherine acknowledged sadly. “But I was more than willing to try to have your children. I was so excited each time I discovered I was pregnant and I prayed every day that the baby would be born healthy, I wish they had all lived.”
“You gave me three sons, Catherine. I could never have even dreamed it was possible, and yet you gave me the greatest gift a woman could ever give man.”
“It would have been nice to have a little girl. Caroline never took a breath but little Jennifer, the baby who looked like you…she was such a fighter…”
Tears fell again and Vincent put his arm around her and pulled her close as they grieved 18 years later over the death of their daughter.
Catherine’s head rested over his heart and her eyes slowly closed as she struggled to stay awake.
Vincent smiled as her weariness transmitted to him over their newly restored bond. “You’re exhausted.”
“Yes, I am.”
He pulled her closer and held her tightly. “Sleep now, you’re safe.”
Catherine smiled and snuggled against him then fell into a deep sleep almost immediately. She rolled over and turned onto her side. Vincent moved to spoon against her back and she sighed contentedly as her body responded to his closeness and scooted closer against him. Vincent’s hand rested on her belly and he soon followed her into sleep.