A Tumultuous Engagement

Sequel to A Winter's Journey

by Kathy De




It was one of the best Winterfests in the history of the tunnels. Vincent and Catherine’s wedding announcement sent waves of excitement through the crowds. As soon as Father left the happy couple, well-wishers crowded around them offering their congratulations. 


It wasn’t long before Catherine was separated from Vincent as the women gathered around pleading with her to tell them the whole story about how Vincent proposed.


Catherine could hardly get a word out as friend after friend came over to hug her and offer their well wishes.


Poor Samantha, even though she secretly hoped Vincent would wait another ten years to marry her, she liked Catherine and knew she was a better choice for him. She couldn’t contain her excitement anymore and jumped up on a chair and turned angrily towards the women.


“Could everyone please pipe down so Catherine can tell her story?” 


Samantha had the sense to look contrite as Mary shot her a disapproving look right before she gently put her arm around Samantha’s waist and helped her to the floor. She kept her hand on Samantha’s shoulder as she addressed the crowd. “Samantha’s right. Let’s give Catherine a moment to catch her breath. I’m sure she would be happy to relate her story to all of us.”


Samantha smiled up at Mary, grateful she wasn’t going to be publicly reprimanded for her rude outburst. Catherine was beaming as well. These people were her family, she was happy to tell them her story.


As Catherine looked over at Vincent with a dreamy look in her eyes, Rebecca smiled. “Even as a young boy, Vincent was always so sensitive to a person’s feelings, I bet it was the most romantic proposal you’ve ever heard.” 


Catherine laughed; she knew Rebecca was the closest thing to a sister that Vincent had. She had grown up in the tunnels with Devin and Vincent and had shared many wonderful times with them. Catherine made a mental note to herself to consider having Rebecca as a bridesmaid. 


Jamie interrupted Catherine’s musings. “All I’ve got to say is, it’s about time!” 


Mary nodded in agreement. “I’m just glad that Vincent finally decided to ask you, dear. It may be well overdue, but I can speak for everyone when I say we have been rooting for you two from day one.” 


“Here, here!” Olivia agreed as she shifted Luke on her hip.


Samantha groaned impatiently and rolled her eyes. Lana came to her rescue. “We really would like to hear the story, Catherine.” 


Catherine looked around and smiled at everyone, then sat down in the chair Samantha had stood on. “Well, I don’t know what to say. I’m not sure where to start....”


“Start when Vincent walked in the door of the cottage. I bet he was gorgeous,” Brooke said dreamily.


Catherine laughed as Jenny came over to stand by her side. Someone grabbed an extra chair so she could sit next to Catherine. Jenny smiled at Catherine and turned to address the group.


“Actually, how Vincent got there is an adventure story in itself. Maybe Devin would relate it all to you sometime. The real story comes when Devin and I pretended to go out for a date one night and left Vincent and Catherine alone.” Jenny raised and lowered her eyebrows suggestively.


Catherine sent Jenny a mock look of anger, then began to laugh.


“Well...most of it is private, but I can tell you that Vincent vowed to love me and cherish me every single day for the rest of our lives if I would agree to become his wife.”


A collective sigh was heard from the group.


“Did he kiss you then?” Amy tactlessly asked, then, realizing how inappropriate the question was, started to blush.


Catherine took mercy on her and smiled at the newest young teenager to join the world Below. “Yes, Amy, as a matter of fact, he did.”


Brooke spun loftily around as she sang out, “How romantic! I bet he was even on his knee in front of you!” 


Catherine blushed furiously when she remembered the actual position they were in. She decided for the sake of young ears not to relate that they were sitting in the bed they had shared over the weekend. 


Mary caught on quickly and shooed everyone away. “Now, now, everybody, we must let Catherine get back to Vincent. Look at the poor dear over there. Someone needs to rescue him from those barbarians.” 


**********


Everyone looked over at Vincent with sympathy. Right after Catherine was taken from his side, Devin grabbed him and sat him in a chair. Someone shoved a cigar in his mouth and Vincent sat there while the men teased him mercilessly.


Devin laughed outrageously at his brother. “So she finally got her hooks in you! Another man bites the dust! Glad it’s you and not me!” 


Cullen laughed as Vincent looked at Devin in confusion. “I bet she batted those pretty little green eyes at him and he fell all over himself to get her.” 


Vincent blushed and Pascal took mercy on him. He grabbed Vincent’s hand and shook it. “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer man, Vincent. Catherine’s a great girl, we all love her.” 


Peter walked up and sincerely congratulated Vincent. “I’ll speak for her Dad and tell you that I know for a fact he would be extremely happy for both of you.”


William nodded in agreement then turned to Vincent to offer a warning. “You take good care of that little lady; if you don’t, you’re going to answer to me!” 


“Hah, take good care of her! He never left her side all weekend. It was disgusting.” Devin made a funny face and everyone laughed.


Cullen picked up again on Devin’s teasing. “What about at night? Did he leave her side then? I bet it got miiiighty cold sleeping up there?”  


“Well, Jenny said her room was toasty warm and my room was perfect. I don’t think Catherine used her room. I’m not sure where she stayed....” Devin trailed off, leaving people to speculate. Vincent blushed furiously as Devin continued to tease him.


The men laughed and pounded Vincent on the back in congratulations.


“What’s so funny? Didn’t hear joke...no reason to laugh,” Mouse said in confusion.


“That, Mouse, is because some of the humor isn’t funny.” Father shot Devin a disapproving look, effectively reprimanding both Devin and Cullen at the same time.


**********


Catherine could tell by the way the men were slapping him on the back that Vincent was being teased. She knew he must be very uncomfortable with the conversation she was certain was coming from the men. She smiled at her friends and rose from her chair and made her way across the room. 


She was stopped by a few more well-wishers, but her eyes never left Vincent’s. He stared at her in wonder and the men amazingly quieted down as she got closer. They were truly touched by the love showing in her eyes. Catherine was a special person and they all loved and respected her. Her love for Vincent was an inspiration to the entire community. They were all very happy for the couple.


Catherine smiled at the men as she walked among them and came to stand next to Vincent. She placed her hand on his shoulder and addressed the group. “Good evening, gentlemen. May I steal my fiancé for a dance?” 


Vincent stood and took her hand as he shot the men a warning look. They knew he wouldn’t stand for any off-the-cuff remarks. 


Cullen chewed on his lip but elbowed Devin in the stomach and nodded in their direction as the couple walked away. “We should take bets on when the first baby comes.”


Devin laughed at Cullen. “By the looks of things, I’d say in nine months. I’ll bet you a turn at sentry duty that I’m right.” 


Cullen looked at Devin and sized him up. “No way, I give it six months after the wedding date and I’ll bet a turn at kitchen duty.”


The other men closed in and gathered around Devin and Cullen, each giving their own ideas on a date for the baby. Devin had started a betting list when Father, wondering about the commotion, turned around.


“What on Earth is going on?” Father demanded.


Mouse jumped up excitedly, he wanted to be the one to tell the news. “Taking bets. Guessing when baby will come.” 


Peter, who had his back turned for most of the conversation, whirled around and looked at Father confused and asked, “What baby?”  


“Vincent and Catherine’s.” Mouse rolled his eyes, wondering why Father and Peter were always out of the loop.


Father sputtered angrily and shot Devin and Cullen a very angry look. Most of the men had the sense to slink way in embarrassment as they started to break up their little party. Some of them walked over to where the girls were sitting and grabbed partners, then headed to the dance floor.


**********


Peter turned to Devin. He wanted to ask the questions he knew Father was too angry to voice. “Devin, what is the meaning of this? Do you know something that the rest of us don’t know?”


“I don’t know anything more than anyone else. It was just a little harmless fun.” Devin raised his hands in surrender as Cullen nodded in agreement.


“Just a little harmless fun! Do you want to explain to Vincent why you’re taking bets on his personal life? Don’t you think he would be hurt by this, Devin?” Father furiously spat out.


Devin looked ashamed. He hadn’t thought that far ahead. Vincent would be horrified if he knew they were taking bets on Catherine getting pregnant. The guy had enough performance anxiety to last a lifetime; he hadn’t meant to add to it. “I’m sorry. I just didn’t think. I’ll apologize to Vincent later.” 


Father shook his head. “You will not discuss this with him. You can go to the rest of the little boys in your group and tell them that the playground bet they made is off! Please!” 


“You’re right, Father. Devin and I will do it immediately,” Cullen said. He, too, was ashamed at their actions.


Father stormed angrily away while Peter shot the men a quizzical look, then followed Father to a quite place in the corner. Devin and Cullen had the sense to look ashamed, but as they slowly looked at one another again smiles broke out on their faces.


**********


Father muttered to himself the entire way across the room. Peter heard him and couldn’t help but smile.


“Jacob, it was just some harmless fun. You know that Devin would never intentionally do anything to hurt Vincent. If anything, he has always treated Vincent like he would any other man.”


Father turned to Peter, his eyes still flashing with the anger he felt when he found out what the group of men had been doing. “But....There is no excuse....” he spat.


“Oh, come on! Do you remember my bachelor party? I believe someone who shall remain nameless said some pretty risqué things to me....” Peter looked meaningfully at his best friend and smiled as they both remembered the wild night they had spent back in their youth.


Father continued to smile as he shook his head, giving up the fight. He had a feeling Vincent and Catherine were planning some type of announcement. They had only returned from her cottage a week ago. Since then, Vincent had seemed happier, more settled. Father was grateful for whatever transformation had taken place. He knew half of what Vincent internally battled was his intense feelings for Catherine. Now it seemed the couple could proceed and have a happy and fulfilling life. 


Peter looked at him with a puzzled expression on his face. He, too, worried about both Catherine’s and Vincent’s well being. It was none of his business, but he felt for the sake of the friendship he once shared with Charles he should find out.


“Jacob, do you think they are sleeping together? Well, not sleeping together...do you think they are...?” 


“Yes, Peter, I do think they are...having relations.” Father nodded and looked at his friend. He knew Peter asked, not to be nosey, but because he had the same concerns Father had; he knew he could trust Peter, so he continued, “In fact, I know they are. You see, Catherine and Vincent fought recently. I think they even “broke up,” so to speak. Catherine left for her family’s cottage and her friend Jenny was supposed to meet her there. Somehow Devin got involved and he and Jenny convinced Vincent to go there to finally work through his and Catherine’s problems. Devin came home and assured me that everyone was fine and their relationship was back and better than ever. I took that to mean that they had finally....”


“I get the picture.” Peter nodded his head in understanding, then turned to Jacob with another question. “Did anyone talk to Vincent about...um...birth control?” 


Father’s eyes grew as large as saucers. He looked over at Vincent with worry. “I certainly didn’t. I never thought the need would...Oh, dear God!” 


Peter looked at his friend with an equally worried look. “So, Devin’s betting pool may not be so far fetched?” Peter quizzed.


“Maybe Catherine had the sense to protect herself.” Father looked hopefully over at Peter. 


Peter could only answer him with a shrug. “She’s never come to me for any birth control pills. I wonder if I should have a talk with her. If she becomes pregnant, we will have to monitor her closely. We certainly don’t want her to have a baby as sick as Vincent was. Every time I see him, I’m still shocked that he survived.” 


Father nodded his head in agreement. He looked over at the couple as they danced on the floor. They held each other closely, oblivious to everyone around them. 


“I’m shocked he survived as well. I remember holding him for hours on end while he screamed and cried. My only relief was when poor Mary took over for a few hours so I could try to sleep. I remember the day it finally ended, I woke up one afternoon to find Mary fast asleep in the rocker, Vincent held tightly in her arms. I peeked inside his blanket and he looked at me with those little blue eyes so trusting and so grateful. I still remember his toothless little grin as he grabbed my finger and held it tightly. He grabbed a hold of a piece of my heart that day, as well.”


Father’s eyes welled up with tears as he retold the story to Peter. To his credit, Peter, who had heard the story dozens of times before, grabbed his friend’s shoulder and squeezed it affectionately.


“You raised a fine boy, Jacob. Well, actually, two fine boys.” Peter glanced over at Devin, who was on the dance floor dancing with Rebecca. Devin was actually tugging at Vincent’s hair trying to get his attention. Rebecca laughed hysterically, slapping at Devin’s hands, while Vincent ignored him and stared into Catherine’s eyes. Peter started to laugh as he turned back to face Father, who had also observed Devin terrorizing his brother and was shaking his head.


“Well, you get an A for effort anyway.” The two friends laughed together.


Father grew serious again. “And now a dream I never thought to have for Vincent has come true. This wonderful woman has come into his life, fallen in love with him and...turned the tunnel world upside down.” He chuckled affectionately. He truly loved Catherine like a daughter. If anyone in the world would have told him his unusual son would one day marry a beautiful princess, he would have never believed it...yet here it was, happening right before his very eyes.  He wondered again about the possibility of a dream of children. He looked over at Peter.


“So, what are the possibilities you and I could become grandfathers?”


“I don’t know, Jacob. Catherine’s mother had a really tough time getting pregnant. She lost two babies before she finally carried Catherine to term. I don’t know if it was because she was sick or if something else was going on. I do know that her pregnancy with Catherine was very worrisome. I have never seen two people who wanted to be parents more than Cathy’s mom and dad. When she was born, it was like the heavens opened and smiled on her little face. They adored everything about her. A few years later, there was another miscarriage and then I never heard another word about babies from either one of them.”


“Peter, could you consult with Catherine? Make sure she understands our concerns. I would, but I fear Catherine may not welcome this conversation coming from me...because of the past....” Father said guiltily as he looked towards the floor.


“Jacob, Catherine is one of the most forgiving people I know. It’s not in her nature to hold a grudge, but I will talk to her. I would like you to be there though...you and Vincent...this affects him as well.” Peter held up his hand to stop any objections from Father. Father merely nodded. It would be uncomfortable for everyone, but the conversation was certainly important enough to warrant a meeting. He looked over at the couple again, noticing the new intimacy that surrounded them.


“We better have this talk soon,” he warned as he nodded in their direction. 


Peter followed his gaze and laughed. “Soon it is...although it may be too late!”  


**********


Father held the closing ceremony of Winterfest and welcomed Jenny, as their newest helper, into the fold.


It was late and the party was starting to break up. The band announced that it would be the last number of the night and Cullen escorted Rebecca out onto the dance floor. Devin sashayed Jenny close to them and the four friends laughed with one another and joked about how oblivious Catherine and Vincent were to everyone on the floor.


 “This should be a fun wedding to try to plan if they won’t separate long enough to make any decisions.” Jenny rolled her eyes in mock disgust as she looked over at Rebecca. 


Rebecca smiled and joined in on the fun. “Maybe we should plan it and have them do something outrageously funny. You know, dress them like Robin Hood and Maid Marian or...Romeo and Juliet...can you see Vincent in tights?”  


Cullen laughed hysterically at her comment. “I’d pay to see that.” 


Jenny had another idea. “What about Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara? You know... southern gentleman and the innocent belle?” 


“Vincent would go for a suit way before he’d agree to wear tights,” Devin smiled.


“He would wear anything Catherine asked him to wear. I’m telling you the man’s in loooooovvvve!” Cullen laughed.


The song ended and the two couples walked off the floor. Rebecca and Jenny started to pick up the few loose articles of trash that had been left on the tables, and Cullen and Devin began to blow out the candles. 


Cullen glanced back at Catherine and Vincent, then hit Devin on the arm, pointing towards the couple. “Look at those two.”


Catherine and Vincent stood in the center of the dance floor. Catherine’s head rested on Vincent’s chest as he held her to him tightly. Both of them had their eyes closed as they swayed back and forth to some imaginary music. Devin shook his head in amusement.


When they finished the last bit of clean-up, the four of them stood at the doorway and then turned back towards the dancing couple.


“We can’t leave them like that, can we?” Rebecca asked.


Cullen shrugged in indifference. “I’m good with it; how about you, Dev?”


“With all the guests here tonight, I have to bunk with Vincent. I don’t care if he sleeps standing up. It’ll give me more room in the bed,” Devin added.


“Devin! Well, I’m going to say my goodbyes.” Jenny smiled as she walked over to Catherine and placed her hand on her back.


“Hey, Cathy, I’m going to get going, okay?” 


“Oh, Jen, so soon?” Catherine backed away from Vincent and looked around the room. She noticed that everyone else was gone and a deep blush came instantly to her cheeks. She looked up at Vincent and he was equally mortified. 


“I...um...guess we missed some of the party, huh?” Catherine smiled innocently and turned to face the group of friends.


“Just a little of it.” Rebecca smiled, taking mercy on Catherine and trying to put her at ease.


Cullen wasn’t so generous and couldn’t help teasing Vincent some more. “Hey, Vincent, now that your hands aren’t so full, do you think you can help with the door and the heavy wooden plank?” 


Vincent held Catherine’s hand and quietly led her by everyone else. Cullen grabbed him on the shoulder and affectionately squeezed him.


“You know we’re just teasing the heck out of you, don’t you, big guy? I couldn’t be happier for the both of you. If anyone deserves a break, it’s you two.” 


Catherine smiled as Vincent put his arm around her, then nodded and quietly spoke to the group.


“Thank you, Cullen and everyone, for being such good friends.” He put his arm around Jenny and drew her to his side opposite of Catherine. He kissed the top of her forehead, then looked out again at his friends.


“Catherine and I wouldn’t be together if it wasn’t for Devin and Jenny. We owe you both so much.” 


Catherine smiled and looked past Vincent into Jenny’s eyes. “He’s right, Jen, if it wasn’t for you pushing me into telling you the whole story, who knows where we’d be right now.”


Jenny smiled at her friend. She was so glad Catherine was happy. “Hey, it was Devin’s crazy plan. If you want to thank anyone, thank him. I just brought the van.” 


“I will speak about crazy plans with Devin later,” Vincent said quietly, pretending an anger he didn’t feel. 


“Woooo...that doesn’t sound good, Dev,” Cullen teased as Rebecca smiled.


**********


The three couples walked out and waited for Vincent to lift the heavy wooden plank and put it back into its slot, effectively closing the doors to the Great Hall. They made their way back to the home tunnels, and Cullen and Rebecca said their goodnights and headed to their respective chambers.


Devin turned to Catherine and Jenny and took a courtly bow. “Can we walk you ladies home?”


“Well, if you wouldn’t mind, Devin, could you see that Jenny catches a cab at the park entrance? I’d hate to make her walk all the way to my place when she lives at this end of town,” Catherine asked of her future brother-in-law.


Devin nodded in agreement. “Sure thing, Cathy. Don’t worry, I’ll see her safely home...all the way to her front door.” 


Jenny shook her head in answer to Devin’s offer. “Oh, no, Devin, you don’t have to do that. I don’t want to put you through so much trouble.” 


“’Tis no trouble at all, milady. I will see thee safely to thine house,” Devin assured her.


“Devin, what’s with the Shakespeare talk?” Catherine asked as she laughed at him.


“’Twas an idea presented tonight, that for thine wedding thou shall appear as Romeo and Juliet,” Devin offered as a reason.


“You’re kidding!” Catherine smiled in disbelief.


Devin’s head shook as he continued his story. “Money was even offered to see Vincent in tights!” 


Vincent gasped in horror and Devin couldn’t keep a straight face anymore. Jenny and Catherine started to laugh as well. 


Catherine reached up and kissed Vincent on the cheek. “You poor dear, I promise, Honey, I will never make you wear tights...at least, not in public.” Catherine giggled again and Vincent started to calm down and see the humor in all of it.


Jenny sighed and came over to Catherine to hug her goodbye. “I know it’s early by New York standards, but this little girl is exhausted. I’m heading for home.” 


Jenny turned to Vincent and stood on the tips of her toes and kissed his cheek. “Goodnight, Vincent. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you soon. Thanks for inviting me to this wonderful celebration and please pass my thanks along to Father as well. I never did get to see him before he retired.” 


Vincent looked at Jenny. In a short time this woman had become a very good friend. He was so thankful that Catherine had shared their story. He knew that Jenny would be a friend of both of theirs for a very long time. He pulled her into his embrace. “Thank you for coming, Jenny. The evening would have been incomplete without you.” 


Jenny stepped away and looked over at Catherine and couldn’t help but tease her. “He’s an awfully good hugger. If you ever get tired of him, I might just snatch him up.” 


“Nope, I’m going to keep him for a very long time.” 


Jenny tapped her finger on the side of her face and pretended like she was deep in thought. “Too bad he doesn’t have a twin somewhere.”


Devin rolled his eyes in disgust. “What’s he got that I don’t got?”


“Me!” Catherine said as she walked over to Devin to hug him goodbye.


Vincent was quiet through this whole conversation, then finally turned to speak to Devin. “I suppose I’ll see you back in our room. Please see Jenny home safely.” 


“Yeah, well, you see Catherine home safely.” Devin offered Jenny his arm as they turned and walked out towards the park entrance. 


********** 


Vincent led Catherine home through the tunnels. The way was so familiar they walked it automatically while they held hands and talked. Vincent had been quiet for much of the conversation and Catherine looked up at him quizzically. Vincent sighed and turned her to look at him.


“I hope you weren’t upset that I chose this night to announce our wedding plans. I know we talked about it, but we never said that we were going to actually do it. Then, when I saw you standing there, my only thought was to announce it to the world, while all our friends were gathered around.” 


“Oh, Vincent, I couldn’t have found a more perfect time to announce my becoming your wife. I wish I would have thought of it sooner, we never prepared Father. He won’t be mad, will he?”


“Father’s congratulations were sincere. He truly loves you, Catherine. I know he is very happy that he was proven wrong.”


“He wasn’t wrong...just...over-concerned.” 


“You, my dear, are a very forgiving person.” 


“And you, my dear, are very well loved.” Catherine smiled but had to quickly cover her mouth to suppress a huge yawn that came out. 


“Come, Catherine, you look exhausted. Let me get you to bed.”


“If you get me to bed, I hope we won’t be sleeping!” Catherine smiled at him as he blushed deeply.


“I didn’t mean….” he stammered.


“It’s been so long since....” Catherine looked at him hopefully.


Vincent tapped her on the end of her nose with his finger as he gently reminded her, “It’s only been a few days.”


With a sigh and a petulant pout to her mouth, Catherine objected. “It feels like much longer....Vincent, when will Devin be leaving?”


“I’m not sure, Catherine. Devin never has plans; he just goes when he feels the time is right.”


Catherine thought for a moment, her mind quickly coming up with a plan. “Well, then your chamber is out of the question. Tomorrow….Will you come to my place tomorrow? It’s Saturday and maybe you could stay through until Monday morning?” 


Vincent nodded his head but looked unsure. “Do you think you could tolerate me for that long? Once it’s daylight you’re stuck with me; there’ll be no turning back?” 


“Vincent, I would love to be stuck with you...anywhere and anytime.” Catherine smiled and kissed him, then they turned and walked the rest of the way to her apartment.


Catherine looked at the ladder and sighed. “I’ll miss this old ladder when I move down here. Every time I come down, it brings me to you. I wonder if I could take it with me.”


Vincent smiled and drew her into his arms. “You still have a few more months to use it.”


Catherine looked up at him, contemplating what he said. “A few more months seems like an awfully long time. Vincent, maybe on Sunday we should discuss our plans.”


“The wedding plans?” 


“Well, those, too. No, I mean our future plans. Vincent, I don’t know if I want to work anymore. I mean...I really don’t need the money and it will only get more dangerous if I keep trying to come and go from the tunnels.”


“But….” Vincent prompted; he knew there was more she wasn’t saying.


“But I like my job. I like helping the people I help. I do a lot of good work there.” 


“No one expects you to quit your job, Catherine.”


“I know.” Catherine stifled another huge yawn. Vincent waited until she was finished, then looked deeply into her eyes. He lowered his head and kissed her. Catherine moaned, then deepened the kiss, and it quickly turned quite passionate. Vincent had to pull himself away from her. Catherine blinked at the sudden loss of contact.


“Tomorrow, love. I promise. You need your rest. I should be able to be there by 9:00.” 


Catherine sighed in agreement. “It’s too many hours from now.”


“It’ll go by quickly. Sleep now and remember...I love you.” Vincent bent to kiss her forehead.


Catherine raised her head and he made contact with her lips instead. He kept it brief, then guided her to the ladder.


“Go now, before I change my mind.” 


“Vincent, if you change your mind, I’ll come back down to you.” 


Catherine smiled, then climbed up the ladder. She turned around after she reached the top and blew him a kiss as she shut the door.


**********


Devin had made sure Jenny was safely home and came back to Vincent’s chamber. While he was getting ready for bed, Father came in to see him.


“Devin, may I speak to you a moment?” Father tentatively walked up to his eldest son.


“Sure, Pops, can’t you sleep?” Devin gave his Father the once over, concerned for his health. 


“Yes, I’m quite tired, but I wanted a chance to speak to you without Vincent around. Will you follow me back to my chamber?” 


Devin was about to get changed. He was just starting to take off his shirt to put on his night shirt when he stopped. “Sounds serious; can it wait until morning?”


“I’d like to speak to Vincent first thing in the morning, but I need to speak to you before him.” Father looked at his son, hoping he would come with him. 


Devin walked up and took Father’s arm and led him towards the study. “What’s so important, Dad?”


Father smiled at his son. “Not here, in my bed chamber.”


Devin looked at him in surprise. It wasn’t very often that anyone was ever allowed in Father’s bed chamber. He nodded and followed his father into his room. Father motioned for Devin to sit on his bed, so he did as instructed. Father remained standing and began to pace the room.


“Devin, I never told you the whole story about how I came to live down here. What I mean to say, of course, is you are familiar with the story of your mother and me, but I don’t believe I ever told you about Margaret.” Father turned to Devin and looked at him, unsure of how to proceed, then began to pace again.


Devin shrugged; he knew whatever his Father would tell him must be hard to speak about, so he decided to let him know what little Vincent had told him. “Margaret was your wife.”


Father stopped and looked at Devin in shock. “How...?”


“Vincent told me. It’s no big deal, Pops. You were married, went through a rough patch and she dumped you. I know it must have been extremely painful, I can understand why you turned to my mother. She helped you forget.”


“Well, all of that is true. Margaret was the love of my life. I was devastated when she left me. I had lost it all and then her. I did turn to your mother for comfort...in the beginning...but after a while I did come to love her for herself. Your mother was a very special woman in her own way; she was so excited when she became pregnant with you....” 


Father had a faraway look in his eyes and Devin was getting tired. “So, why is this so important that you tell me this now?”


“Devin, I am an old-fashioned man and you are my first-born son. I have Margaret’s ring and I would like to give it to Vincent so that he may present it to Catherine.”


“Sounds good to me, what’s the problem?”


“Well, Devin, by birthright the ring belongs to you. You may wish to give it to your wife one day.”


“Whoa! Wait a minute. I’m not getting married...not anytime soon. I’m happy being a bachelor, having my freedom.”


“Yes, but someday….”


“...Is not coming in any lifetime I plan on living. Dad, I appreciate the thought, but give the ring to Vincent. Margaret would have been his mother. I have stories about my own mother that I can cherish. Let Vincent have Margaret’s memories.”


“Devin, I can’t thank you enough. Both Vincent and Catherine got to spend time with Margaret before she died. She came to love them both like her own children. I think the ring will mean so much to them.” 


Father turned towards a box in his bureau that he knew held the jewelry. It had been so long since the box had been opened that the latch had rusted closed. Devin took out his pocket knife and smiled up at his father. He used the knife to pry open the lid of the box. Father and Margaret’s rings laid intertwined on a small felt cloth. Father quizzically looked at another cloth and opened it slowly. Inside of the cloth was a beautiful antique brooch. 


“Oh, my God! Devin, I forgot I had this!” Father held out the brooch for Devin to take from him.


“What is it?” Devin asked as he inspected the intricacies of the design.


“Devin, that brooch belonged to your mother. She gave it to me to give to you one day. She said it belonged to her mother, who had gotten it from her mother. I had forgotten I even had it. I am so sorry. I don’t know how I could have forgotten it all these years. I don’t know why I didn’t see it when Margaret came back to me. She wore her wedding ring for the ten days she lived with me before she....” 


“You probably had a little bit more on your mind when Margaret was here. Anyway, it’s beautiful. If I hadn’t been such a hothead, I’m sure I would have gotten this sooner. Thanks, Dad, for taking care of it.” 


Father smiled at Devin, grateful his son could forgive him so easily. “You’re welcome, Devin. Now, you’re sure about the ring?” 


“Yeah, Dad, give it to Vincent. It will make a good wedding gift. Now...you look tired and I’m exhausted, so I will leave you and say goodnight.” Devin bent down to kiss his father’s cheek, then turned and left the room.


Father crawled into bed and was immediately asleep.


**********


Devin was in the chamber changing again when Vincent walked in.


“I thought you would be asleep by now.” Vincent walked past Devin to put his cloak on the chair. 


“Father had to see me.”


Vincent nodded. “I was just going in to tell him goodnight.”


“Don’t bother, he was snoring before I hit the door. That’s what I hope to be doing in less then ten minutes.” Devin smiled and finished changing for bed. 


“Me, too.” Vincent was at his dresser and quickly changed into his night clothes. He walked to the desk and extinguished the candles and headed for the bed. 


Devin and he climbed into bed. Devin had almost fallen asleep when Vincent woke him up.


“Devin?” Vincent’s tentative voice floated over to him.


Devin startled awake and angrily answered Vincent. “Aaugh! Why do you always wait until I’m almost asleep to ask me life-altering questions? Can you answer me that?” 


“I’m sorry, Devin, but I need your help.” 


Devin sighed in disgust. “With what now?”


Vincent ignored his anger. “I’m planning on spending the weekend at Catherine’s….”


“Well, goody for you! You know where everything goes by now, don’t you?”


“It’s not that...I will have to tell Father….” Vincent trailed off, knowing Devin would understand his dilemma.


“Well, so what! You went to the cottage in Connecticut and he only mildly blew a gasket. You’re only going to be up top in New York City. I’m sure he’ll have no worries about that,” Devin replied sarcastically, and Vincent snorted in answer to his humor. “Maybe you can tell Father that Catherine will be in charge of protecting you….” 


Vincent sighed again, so Devin continued, “You go and I’ll tell him after you’ve left, this way you only have to hear the lecture after you come back. Now, will you please go to sleep?!”


“Thank you, Devin.” 


Vincent was answered by a grumble coming back to him from the other end of the bed. He smiled and rolled over and the two men were soon fast asleep.


**********


Everyone in the tunnels normally slept pretty late after a night as exciting as Winterfest. This day was no different, and it was almost 10:00 a.m. before the pipes began to come to life again. Vincent started to wake first and his stirring in the bed disturbed Devin, who also began to wake.


Vincent scooted to the end of the bed. He was on his way to the bathroom facilities when he felt Devin stir. “Sorry, Devin, I didn’t mean to wake you up.” 


Devin stretched and yawned, then opened his eyes to look at his brother. He started to laugh hysterically when he took his first look at Vincent. “Nice hair...did you stick your finger in an electric socket?” 


Vincent looked at him, not quite understanding the question. It finally dawned on him what Devin meant and he smoothed a hand over his hair. 


“Oh! That’s much better.” Devin laughed and got out of bed. “Race you to the bathroom!” 


Devin took off like a jack rabbit and flew to the bathroom facilities. Vincent rolled his eyes and followed his brother. When both men were finished, they went back to their chamber to change clothes for the day.


Father walked in and smiled at them as they were getting dressed. “Good! You’re both awake. I was wondering if you would mind joining me in the study to have your breakfast. I have some things I would like to discuss with you, Vincent.”


Vincent, assuming it was about his announcement, sighed. “Yes, Father. I’ll be there.”


Father looked over at Devin. “And you, son?” 


Devin knew Father was going to give Vincent Margaret’s ring. “You want me there, too? I think Vincent and you should speak alone.”


“No, Devin. I’d like you to be there as well.” 


“I’ll be there then. Why don’t you and Vincent head to the study and I’ll go get us trays from William,” Devin offered.


Father smiled at him. “Actually, I’ve already spoken to William. As soon as I send word, he will have some of the children bring our trays. I already have tea waiting for Vincent and me, and William has promised to send coffee as soon as I call for it. So, will you both come with me now?”


“Lead the way, Father.” Vincent waved his arm, indicating Father should go before them. He and Devin followed behind him. Vincent looked at Devin quizzically and Devin smiled and nodded his assurance. Vincent looked worried and unsure, so Devin roughly pushed him into the wall, then kept on walking. 


Vincent, who had been lost in his own thoughts, was unprepared for Devin’s push. He hit the wall soundly and grunted on impact. 


Father heard a noise and looked at Vincent over his shoulder. “Vincent, please don’t dawdle!”  


Devin turned and smiled at Vincent over his shoulder as he continued to follow Father. Vincent narrowed his eyes at Devin’s back and soon caught up to him. They had only taken a few steps before Vincent managed to slip his foot in front of Devin’s, effectively tripping him. Devin lurched forward to his knees and hit Father’s cane. 


Father turned around in surprise while Vincent grabbed his father’s arm to steady him so he wouldn’t fall. 


“Devin, please be careful, you almost hit Father!” Vincent accused. 


“Sorry, Dad. I don’t know how I could be so clumsy!” Devin looked at Vincent murderously.


Father narrowed his eyes suspiciously at his two sons, then shook his head and turned to lead the way again.


**********


Father served tea for himself and Vincent and it wasn’t long before three children came in with trays laden with food; a fourth child had coffee for Devin.


“Thank you, children.” Father smiled at the four kids as they turned to leave.


“Yes, thank you.”  Vincent nodded his thanks as Devin smiled.


Vincent and Devin dug into their food with gusto, while Father took his time buttering his toast. He looked at his two sons and sighed. “It’s just like old times, isn’t it? The two of you sitting across from me, barely tasting your food, ready to run off to some dangerous adventure, anything to get away from me….”


Vincent and Devin looked at one another guiltily. Neither one had realized they were eating so quickly. Vincent was anxious about what Father wanted to talk about, and Devin, well, Devin just did everything quickly. They both made a conscious effort to slow down.


Vincent was the first to speak. In his embarrassment for being reminded he was eating too fast, he lisped. “Sorry, Father. You have my undivided attention.” 


Devin rolled his eyes at his brother. “Thorry, Father...Thorry, Father!! You’re such a suck-up!”


Vincent ignored Devin and continued to eat his breakfast. Devin was mad that he had failed to get a rise out of his brother, so he continued to badger him. “You still talk like a baby! Haven’t you figured out a way to speak yet without those fangs of yours getting in the way? How does Chandler stand it?” 


Vincent narrowed his eyes angrily at his brother. With a quick glance to see that Father wasn’t watching, Vincent threw a spoiled grape from his plate at Devin and hit him in the eye. 


“OW!!! Did you see that, Dad? He could have taken my eye out!” Devin said seriously as he tried his best to hide a smile.


“Vincent, you shouldn’t throw food at your brother! And Devin, you shouldn’t make fun of your brother. And just for your information... from a medical standpoint, I hardly think getting hit with a spoiled grape could damage your vision! Now, I want to thank you both; I had forgotten for a second how much fun meals can be with you two,” Father reprimanded as he also tried to hide the smile that was creeping onto his face.


It wasn’t long before all three of them were finished with their breakfast. Vincent couldn’t stand the suspense anymore and looked over at his father. “What is it you wished to speak to me about?” 


Father looked over at Devin. He wanted to give Devin one last chance to change his mind. Devin nodded for him to continue. “Well, Vincent, it’s about your wedding.”


“Father, I’m sorry that I didn’t discuss the announcement with you first. Catherine and I had spoken of it but never finalized our intentions. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision; she didn’t even know I was going to do it.”


“That’s fine, Vincent, although you probably need to apologize to poor Catherine if she wasn’t ready to share your news yet.”


“Catherine was happy with my decision.”


“As we all were….” Devin smiled.


Father cleared his throat and continued. “Yes, well, anyway, about your wedding...have you given any thoughts to the actual ceremony? You know, when I was married to Margaret we exchanged rings....”


A worried look came over Vincent’s face. “I hadn’t thought that far into the ceremony. I suppose I could try to trade my time to one of the helpers in exchange for money to purchase a ring. I don’t know if there will be time to earn enough money to give Catherine the type of ring she deserves….”


Devin snorted out loud and the two men looked over at him. “Oh, come on, Vincent. Catherine loves you so much you could get her a ring from a gumball machine and she would love it!”


Vincent shook his head, clearly distressed. To him it meant that there was another thing that Catherine would have to forego because of him. Father sensed his son’s panic and hurried to continue on with the original conversation.  


“Vincent, I did not bring this up to cause you undue worry. I think I may have a solution to your problem.” 


Vincent looked at him quizzically, wondering what Father could do about his dilemma. Father reached into his front pocket and drew out a small bundle of felt. He held his hand out and Vincent took it from him. He gently unwrapped the item and stared at the two rings shining in his hand. He looked up at his father in wonder, expecting some type of an explanation. 


“Those are my wedding rings. They belonged to Margaret and me. Perhaps you could use them for your wedding to Catherine. I know that my own marriage didn’t last long, but I believe yours will. Your love for Catherine and her love for you is timeless.”


Vincent smiled in appreciation. “As was your love for Margaret; you had a rough start, but in the end you found each other again.” 


Vincent stared at the rings and admired their beauty. Suddenly a thought crossed his mind and he looked at his brother. “Devin, you will not be upset if I accept these rings, will you?”


Devin smiled warmly at his brother. “Not at all, Vincent, and I think Catherine will love these rings. Father talked to me last night and I assured him that I plan on staying a bachelor a long time.”


Vincent nodded; he knew Devin was being honest with him. He turned to his father with tears in his eyes. “I don’t know what to say, Father; how can I thank you?” 


“You just have, my son. Now, when you show them to Catherine, if she doesn’t like them, I don’t want you to be upset about giving them back to me. Catherine should be allowed to decide if she wants used rings.” 


Vincent sat quietly, already anticipating presenting them to Catherine, while Father and Devin smiled, trying not to disturb his thoughts.


**********


Catherine was sleeping late when the phone rang and woke her from a beautiful dream. She groaned and rolled over to pick up the phone.


“Hello.”  


Peter’s voice greeted her. “Hi, sweetheart, are you still sleeping?” 


Catherine glanced at the clock and realized it was almost 11:00 a.m. She hadn’t slept that late since she was a teenager. She sat up in bed. “I was. Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe how late it is!”


“Well, you had a big night.” Peter smiled into the phone. He was so happy for her.


Catherine readily agreed. “Yes, I did. So, what’s the reason for the phone call?”  


Peter knew he didn’t call Catherine that often. He knew she would guess that he had another agenda. “I was wondering if I could talk with you and maybe Vincent. Are you busy today?”


Catherine didn’t have any plans other than to clean house and plan for this weekend. She was so excited Vincent would be spending the night. She couldn’t wait to make love to him in her bed and stay there for two whole nights! She realized her mind had wandered and got back to Peter, politely asking him, “What do we need to talk about, Peter?”


“Well, I’d rather speak to both you and Vincent at the same time. It’s important that we have this conversation.”


Catherine knew that Peter wouldn’t ask if it really wasn’t important, but she didn’t want to ruin her weekend plans either. “Peter, can we meet Below Monday night? Will that be soon enough?”


Peter sighed on the other line. “Sure, honey, I guess that’s soon enough.”


“Good; I’ll send word to Vincent and we’ll meet you Below. How about around 7:00?” 


“I’ll meet you there, Cathy. Thanks.” 


***********


Catherine hopped out of bed to begin her day. She wanted the apartment to be perfect. Vincent had only been in it a few times and tonight he would spend the night and all of tomorrow with her. She didn’t want him to see the dust bunnies under her bed. She walked over to her stereo and put on some sixties music to get her moving. 


The entire time she cleaned, her thoughts were of Vincent. It had been two weeks since they had come back from the cottage. Since then he was busy with getting the Great Hall ready for Winterfest and she was bogged down with cases at work. Her impromptu vacation set Joe back a few days, so she was trying to make it up to him. All of this left little time for Vincent and Catherine to be together. Now that they had become lovers, their separation seemed that much harder to handle. Tonight was going to be the first night that they would have to spend some time together alone. Catherine wanted it to be perfect. She was mentally planning the night in her head while she worked.  


She stripped the bed of its linens and headed to the washing machine to start her first load. She grabbed the can of furniture polish on the way back and grimaced as she sprayed the end tables next to her bed. “You could write your name on this,” she thought as she scrubbed it clean. She headed over to her dresser and thoroughly cleaned it, as well as the vanity. 


She went back to the kitchen to grab the glass cleaner and cleaned the mirror on the vanity and then the one in the bathroom. She washed the tub and toilet bowl and then scrubbed at the counter top. She hated cleaning the countertop; it was always covered with make-up and hairspray. She grabbed the used towels and throw rug off the floor, then headed to the laundry room to add all of it to the piles to be washed. She grabbed a bucket and mop and filled it with steaming hot water and cleaner, then walked back to the bathroom where she quickly mopped the floor. While it dried, she traded the mop for the vacuum cleaner and vacuumed her entire bedroom, underneath the bed and all. 


She walked into the laundry room and switched loads of clothes and then headed to the kitchen. This room was always spotless because she rarely ate at home. She quickly wiped down the counter and appliances, then mopped the floor and closed the door behind her. 


She dusted the tables in the living room and then vacuumed the whole area.


Surprised, she stood in the doorway looking around the entire house and then looked at her watch. “Not bad timing, Chandler,” she thought to herself. “You did it all in fewer than two hours!” 


Catherine had worked up a sweat. She still needed to get to the market but she couldn’t go out in public looking like this, so she headed for the bathroom. She put up fresh towels and laid down a clean rug, then ran a bath. She had a leisurely soak, making a mental list of things to pick up at the store. She wondered what kinds of foods Vincent truly liked. She knew Below that they couldn’t afford to be picky, so she wanted him to have all his favorites while he was here. She sighed, hoping her culinary skills would be good enough to cook the things he liked. 


Catherine finished her bath and then dressed. She quickly threw another load of clothes in and left for the market. 


**********


Catherine walked into her favorite market. Stan, the owner, was a helper and she had been using his services since she found out about the world Below. 


“Is that my favorite little lady I see coming into my store?” Stan said, his speech peppered with an accent as he smiled heartily and walked over to Catherine to give her a hug.


Catherine returned the hug warmly. “Hi, Stan.”


“I heard congratulations are in order! Vincent, such a good boy but kind of slow in some things, eh?”


Catherine touched his arm and rushed to defend her fiancé. “Well, he was worth waiting for.”


Stan got a twinkle in his eye and nudged her. “Yeah, but you didn’t wait too long after you went away? That must have been some special weekend, eh?”


Catherine blushed furiously and looked away. “It gave us time to talk.”


“What is all this? Talk, talk...Ha! Talk did not make that young man propose to you. But...I am embarrassing you. What can I get for you today, my special little lady?”


Catherine frowned at him. “I’m not sure, Stan. I was hoping you could help me choose. Vincent is coming to my apartment for the weekend and I want to make sure I have all his favorite foods....”


“He come tonight, eh? After dark, right?”


Catherine nodded in assent. 


“Then he will have already eaten his dinner tonight.  So, we need all three meals for tomorrow. I have just the thing, come….” Stan walked excitedly away.


Catherine was embarrassed but thought she may as well get it over with. “Um...Stan?”


Stan turned around at her words. “Little girl, what is it? What would cause such a look of worry on your face?”


“Stan, I’m not exactly a gourmet cook.”


“No worries, your Vincent is very easy to cook for.” 


With a smile he turned; Catherine had no choice but to follow. Stan picked up some bacon and eggs and bagels with cream cheese for breakfast. For lunch, he picked up some chicken breasts and ribs and grabbed a bottle of barbecue sauce for them as well as some white rice. Then lastly he grabbed two huge steaks and two big potatoes for dinner. He added some frozen vegetables and a big loaf of French bread. 


“All this, Stan?” Catherine stared in wonder at all the food and then remembered how much he and Devin ate while at the cabin. She slowly shook her head as she headed to the cash register. With a sigh, she knew she would have to call a taxi, she could never walk all the way home carrying this much food. 


“Vincent’s a big boy. I think you’ll have him use up a ton of energy, eh?” Stan’s eyes were twinkling again and Catherine found herself blushing once again. “I ring this up for you then have my delivery boy bring it to you...say around 5:30?”


“Could you, Stan? That would be great, I wanted to stop and get some fresh flowers from Mrs. Gainer’s shop.”


Stan nodded in agreement. “She does have the best flowers, besides all of this is too heavy for you to carry by yourself.”


Catherine reached for her wallet and Stan shot her a disapproving look. “You know you give me way too much money every month already. Why did you think I would accept payment for this?”


Catherine looked at Stan anxiously. “Stan, that money is to be used Below. I can buy my own groceries. But, since you mentioned it...is it really enough for them? Are you able to provide them with everything they need?” 


“William has never been happier. Father suspects something but as long as we keep it low-key and send down extras a little at a time, he doesn’t get too upset.”


Catherine started to laugh. “Wait until he sees the food for the wedding!” 


Stan chuckled with her, then grew serious. “Speaking of the wedding...when is it?”


“Not until April, why?” Catherine cocked her head, wondering why Stan suddenly appeared...nervous.


Stan looked at her and shrugged. “Catherine, this wedding will be the most important wedding in the history of the tunnels. Everyone thinks so! I want to make sure if you buy the food through me that I have plenty of time to get the best of everything.” 


Catherine smiled warmly at him. “Oh, Stan...that’s so sweet. Look, Vincent and I are planning on talking about the wedding plans this weekend. If I come up with anything soon, I’ll let you know.” 


Stan shook his head and grinned. “If you think that you will have any plans finalized without running them past Mary and Rebecca and Sara and...Ha!”


Catherine looked at him in horror. Of course, Stan was right. She never thought about the women Below wanting to help with the planning. Vincent was like a son to Mary, and a brother or good friend to the others. She was going to keep a journal while she and Vincent talked and write down all of their desires and then call a special meeting with anyone Below who wanted to be a part of planning the wedding. “Stan, you are so right! Thank you for pointing that out before I hurt anyone’s feelings.”


He smiled again and shook his head. “You would have eventually thought of it on your own.”


“Maybe. Well, I better get a move on....” Catherine impulsively kissed Stan on the cheek and headed out the door. She knew he was watching and turned back to wave.


**********


Catherine walked into Mrs. Gainer’s flower shop.


Mrs. Gainer smiled and came to greet Catherine warmly. “Hello, dear, you look beautiful this morning. It must have something to do with that wonderful announcement you and your fiancé made last night!”


Catherine smiled back and took the older woman’s hands into her own. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Gainer, and you’re right, it is a wonderful announcement. Thank you.” 


Mrs. Gainer leaned into Catherine, looking conspiratorially at her. “So, what brings you out here on such a day? I would have thought you would be somewhere a little darker, possibly more romantic?” 


Catherine blushed and gently leaned in. “Actually, if you can keep a secret….” She stopped and looked around the shop, pretending to be sneaky. “I’m going to kidnap Vincent and keep him at my apartment until tomorrow night.”


Mrs. Gainer looked surprised and pretended to be scandalized. “Well, I never.” she said as she raised her hand to her chest, “...got caught, I mean.” She laughed heartily and Catherine joined in with her.


“Mrs. Gainer, I wanted to pick up some fresh flowers for my apartment, a small arrangement for the kitchen table and two larger ones...one for the coffee table in the living room and one for my bedroom. Do you think you could manage all that on such short notice?”  


“Sweetheart, for you and Vincent, I could manage the moon and stars. Michelle, my helper, will be in soon. How about I make the arrangements up and send them to you by...say 6:00?” 


Catherine smiled at her as she grabbed her wallet and took out her money. She handed it over to Mrs. Gainer. 


“Let me get you your change, dear.”  Mrs. Gainer started to walk over to the cash register. 


Catherine smiled at her and shook her head. “No...The rest is for you. I know how hard it is to do this all at the last minute.” 


Mrs. Gainer had looked at her in shock. Catherine had handed her enough money to cover the arrangements plus an extremely generous tip. The old woman reached out with her hand to give Catherine back the money. “Child, this is way too much! I can’t accept this.”


Catherine again shook her head and pushed the money back at her. “Please, it would mean so much to me if you would accept it. Take your assistant out for dinner on me, okay?” 


The old woman nodded and smiled and Catherine turned and walked out of the shop.


**********


Catherine had completed her shopping and turned to head back home. She was walking past a store front and stopped when she saw two mannequins standing in the window. They were wearing his and hers matching lingerie. The male had on a silk shirt and lounge pants while the woman had on a baby doll chemise that was tastefully covered up with a beautiful kimono robe.  She smiled and decided to go into the store. She was walking around just looking at what they had to offer. She was amazed at some of the wild outfits but she was starting to realize that they probably didn’t have anything that would fit Vincent. She looked up as a pretty woman approached her.


“Hi. My name’s Amanda and I’m the owner of the shop. If I can help you with anything, just let me know.” 


Catherine acted impulsively. “I saw the matching set you have in the window and was wondering what sizes it came in?”


Amanda smiled and nodded. “That is a really nice set; we are always getting compliments on it. It’s one of our best sellers. Is it for you?” Catherine nodded, so Amanda continued, “I know we can easily cover your size. How big is your...husband?” Amanda tried to politely ask. 


Catherine smiled. “Fiancé, and he’s pretty big. I’m not sure what size….”


Amada nodded and turned to walk to the back of the store. “Hey, Honey? Can you come out here a minute?” 


She turned back around and faced Catherine. “My husband’s here and he’s a pretty big guy himself. Why don’t you take a look at him, compare him to you fiancé, and then we can go from there.”


Catherine agreed and saw this man coming from the back of the shop. He looked close to Vincent’s size, but she couldn’t be sure.


Amanda smiled at him. “This is my husband Mark. Mark, this woman’s fiancé is a big guy and she’s not sure what size she should buy. Can you….”


Mark walked over to Catherine with a big smile on his face. “Don’t worry, she does this to me all the time.” 


Catherine looked at him, assessing his height and shoulder width. It was really hard because Vincent always wore so many layers of clothes. She only had those nights in the cottage to go by. 


Catherine still looked puzzled, so Mark stood by her side and reached his arm around her and pulled her in close. “How about now? This help?” 


He was close to Vincent in height and his body felt like it was just as big around. She reached up and grabbed Mark’s arm as he flexed his muscle. Catherine smiled up at him in wonder. “Thanks, it really did help.” 


“Glad I could be of help.” Mark nodded then kissed Amanda on the cheek and headed towards the back of the shop. 


Amanda turned to Catherine. “So, what do you think? Is your guy a little smaller than Mark?”


“Actually, I think he may be a little taller. His waist feels right but when he flexed his arm….” Catherine stopped; she didn’t want to offend the woman.


“Go on....” Amanda prompted her with a smile.


“I think Vincent has bigger muscles,” Catherine shyly told the woman.


Amanda smiled easily. “Good for him. Well, I’ll tell you, I would get Mark a 2X, but if you think your guy’s bigger, you should go with a 3X. This loungewear for men tends to run smaller and if Vincent makes a muscle he’ll rip through the shirt like the Incredible Hulk.”


Catherine smiled, grateful she had not offended the woman. “Do you have those sizes in stock?” 


“Sure do! Let me grab them and I’ll meet you at the counter. Would you like a small or medium?”


Catherine thought for a moment and decided on a medium. She didn’t want it to be too constricted when she wore it. “A medium, please.”


Amanda went to pick out the items while Catherine walked to the counter. She saw some scented candles and decided to pick up a few for the bedroom. Amanda walked up and rang up the purchase.


“Thanks for your help, and thank Mark for me, too.” Catherine smiled as she reached for her bag. 


Amanda smiled as she opened the door to the shop. “Come again.”


**********


Catherine looked down at her watch and realized how late it was. She hailed a cab, knowing it would get her home quicker. She got upstairs and was only there a few minutes before the groceries were delivered. The young man carried them to her kitchen and she gave him a generous tip as he left. She walked into the kitchen and put all the groceries away. She was surprised Stan had thoughtfully included ice cream, one of Vincent’s favorite desserts.  Catherine sighed...three more hours. She went to the laundry room, then started the last load of clothes.


She walked to her bedroom and put fresh sheets on the bed. She was just finishing up when the doorbell rang. She knew it was the flowers she was expecting. She let the delivery guy in and he set the arrangements down on the table while she dug out a tip for him. With a smile, she walked him to her door. She quickly unpackaged the arrangements and set them around in their areas. 


She glanced at her watch and sighed again. That had only taken fifteen minutes. She thought about taking another shower; that would at least waste some time. She wondered what Vincent was doing as she headed for the bathroom. 


**********


Vincent was below, pacing in his room. He still had three more hours before he could leave for Catherine’s. The excitement of being with her again was almost too much. 


Devin was trying to read and Vincent was driving him crazy. He finally had enough and looked up at Vincent. “What’s the chance of you sitting down anytime soon?” 


Vincent looked over at Devin, startled when he realized he had forgotten Devin was in the room with him. “I’m sorry, Devin. I just can’t seem to settle down.”


“Yeah, well...you may as well relax, you have at least two hours before you can leave.”


“Two hours and fifty-five minutes.” Vincent sat down in a chair but was soon up and pacing again.


Devin shook his head in disgust. “So considering you will need to clean up in that time....” 


“I have already finished my bath,” Vincent supplied.


“Wonderful...I get to watch you pace for two hours and fifty-three minutes!”


Vincent ignored him. Devin tried to come up with a way to help him. “Hey, I’ve got an idea...let’s find Rebecca and play a game of Scrabble for old time’s sake....”


Vincent looked over him, trying to figure out if this distraction would work. Devin got up from his seat and went out the entrance to the chamber. He tapped out a message and came back into the room. “I called for Rebecca. Let’s get the game set up.” 


Devin went to Father’s study. Luckily, he wasn’t there and Devin quickly grabbed the game and headed back to Vincent’s chamber. 


The two men had just finished setting it up when Rebecca walked into the chamber smiling. “Hi, guys, what’s going on?” 


“Vincent needs some distraction for a few hours. We thought a game of Scrabble might do it. You game?” 


“Sure, Devin.” 


Rebecca looked at Devin and smiled. She sat down by the board and grabbed her letters. Devin grabbed his also and they both turned to look at Vincent. Vincent looked down at them, rolled his eyes, then sat down. He, too, grabbed letters and they fell silent. 


Rebecca spoke first. “I have a good word to start with.”


Devin nodded to her. “Go ahead, I didn’t get any vowels.”


Rebecca put down her word and tallied her score. Devin was able to build off her word and tallied his score. Vincent sat in his chair and looked at the flame from the candle.


“Um...Vincent? It’s your turn,” Rebecca gently reminded him.


Vincent looked down at the game board and added the word “go.” Devin rolled his eyes as Rebecca looked at Vincent in surprise. Vincent had almost always won the Scrabble games any time they played. Because he was a voracious reader, he had an immense vocabulary and usually the other players were left groaning at words he created. Neither Rebecca nor Devin could remember a time when Vincent was stuck creating a word. 


Rebecca shrugged as she grabbed more letters. She sat and came up with her word and recorded her score along with Vincent’s. Devin took letters and added them to his tray and also came up with a word. He relayed his score to Rebecca. Devin looked over at Vincent and kicked his leg. 


Vincent looked at his letters. He sat there as Devin sighed and handed him the two tiles he had forgotten to take. Vincent’s face visibly brightened and he added the letter a in between the letters s and t to form the word “sat.”


“That’s it!” Devin was so disgusted he upended his letter tray. 


Rebecca, however, was really concerned. She had never seen Vincent this distracted. She reached out and placed a hand on his arm. “Vincent, tell me about it. I’d like to help. What troubles you so?”


Vincent smiled at the woman who was most like his sister. He placed his hand on top of hers. “Thank you for asking, Rebecca. I’m not troubled, just anxious.”


“About what?” Rebecca asked aloud. Vincent shook his head for a reply.


Devin quickly jumped in. “He’s spending the weekend at Catherine’s and has to wait three hours before he is able to go to her.” 


Rebecca nodded in understanding. “Too bad there wasn’t a way to get him there earlier.”


Devin grew thoughtful. “Hey! I’ve got it!”


Rebecca immediately grew worried. “Oh, Devin, no! I didn’t mean for you to concoct one of your dangerous plans!” 


Devin smiled. “What if we grabbed Cullen and the three of us got Vincent up to Catherine’s apartment?”


Vincent looked startled but intrigued. Rebecca jumped at the chance to help but wanted to hold back until she heard Devin’s entire plan. 


“How do you propose I get there, Devin?” Vincent finally had to ask.


Devin shrugged nonchalantly. “In the elevator, of course.”


Rebecca gasped. “What do you mean, Devin?”


Devin hastened to explain. “You and Vincent can stand at the back of the elevator. You face forward and Vincent can turn his back to everyone.  Cullen and I will stand in front of you two and block anyone’s view. When we get to Catherine’s floor, one of us can knock on her door and when she opens it, Vincent can run in. No one will see him.”


Rebecca nodded at the plan. It did sound pretty good and there would be three of them to help Vincent if anything should go wrong. “What do you think, Vincent?”


Vincent was in shock. The possibility of getting to Catherine sooner was making him want to take the chance. “I...I’m not sure. I never thought....”


Devin grumbled, “For Pete’s sake...are you going to do it or not?”


Devin looked at Vincent eyes and knew he was going to do it. “Let me get Cullen here and see if he’s available.”


Devin walked out and summoned Cullen over the pipes. It wasn’t long before he got there. He was startled to see everyone gathered there looking at him so anxiously. “What’s up?”


“Vincent needs our help getting to Catherine’s apartment early. Are you in?”


Cullen looked at Devin. He hadn’t known Devin for long but he liked the man. Devin’s reputation for wild adventures had preceded him though, and Cullen felt like he had to ask, “How crazy is the plan?”


Rebecca laughed. She, too, felt very protective over Vincent. “It’s not that bad, Cullen. I even said I’d go along with it.”


“Okay, who’s going to fill me in?”


Devin nodded. “Easy. We’re heading up on the elevator. You, Rebecca and I are going to block the view of Vincent. He can run right into Catherine’s apartment.”


Cullen nodded. It sounded simple enough to pull off. He liked that it wasn’t some elaborate plan that had a lot that could go wrong. “Okay, I’m in. When do we go?”


Devin smiled and clapped Cullen on the shoulders. He looked at the group. “Now’s as good a time as any.”


Rebecca’s smile faded. “Vincent, can you tell if Catherine is home?”


Vincent sat quietly and opened his bond to Catherine. She was home and he felt that she too was anxiously awaiting his arrival. With a shy smile, he looked over at Rebecca. “She’s home; she’s just as anxious as I am.”


Rebecca smiled back at him as Devin and Cullen walked towards the entrance. Devin turned around and looked at Vincent. “Are you coming or what?” 


Vincent broke out with a huge smile. Rebecca and he followed Devin and Cullen to Catherine’s basement.


**********


The four friends made it up and into Catherine’s storage room. Cullen shifted the boxes and hid the entrance to Below. 


When he was done, Devin addressed everyone. “Okay, one last time. I will go and get the elevator. When it comes down, Rebecca, you go in first. Vincent, you stand in front of her facing her. Cullen and I will stand close to you with our backs to both of you. When we get to Catherine’s floor, Cullen, you go knock, and as soon as Catherine opens the door, motion for us and we’ll run in. Anyone have any questions?” 


Cullen nodded, then a thought came to him. “Hey, Devin, let’s grab some of these empty boxes. It’ll give us more to hide him with.”


Devin nodded in agreement. “Good idea. If it gets bad, we can raise them up to our shoulders.”


“Anyone else got a question?” When no one answered, Devin walked and pushed the elevator button. When the doors opened, they all quickly got inside. 


As all of Devin’s other plans, it did not go off without a hitch. It was the end of the day and people kept getting on and off the elevator. At one time it held four other people. One man had been shoved to the back. Vincent turned his shoulder to block his view. Rebecca looked at the man as he eyed them curiously. He was trying to look around Vincent’s shoulder and see the man under the hood. Thinking quickly, Rebecca moved in closer to Vincent and grabbed either side of his hood. She lowered his head to hers and gave him a big kiss. She could feel Vincent’s surprise as he caught his breath, shocked by her actions. She stayed that way for a long time. She opened her eyes slightly and saw that the man had turned away. She backed off a little but didn’t let go of his hood. She wanted it to appear as if they were still kissing. 


Devin was able to shift the box and block anymore view. The elevator stopped and the last of the people got off. The doors shut and everyone finally breathed. One more floor to go and they would be at Catherine’s front door.


**********


Catherine had just finished lighting candles when there was a knock at the front door. “Who in the world can that be?” she wondered as she walked to the door. 


“Who is it?” she asked aloud.


“Cullen.” 


Catherine was shocked and quickly opened the door. Vincent sailed past her as Cullen, Rebecca and Devin followed.


Catherine’s mouth hung open in shock as Devin moved her out of the way and closed the door. He reached up and tapped her chin with his finger to lightly close her mouth. 


“Surprised?” he asked, although he already knew the answer.


Catherine walked over to Vincent and put her arm around him. She felt his heart pounding in his chest. “Astounded is probably a better word. How did you get him here?” she asked the group as a whole.


Cullen laughed. “Aw, it was nothing.”


Vincent couldn’t help but comment. He was still working on adrenaline. “It was not...nothing, Cullen, we were almost caught.”


Rebecca smiled at Catherine. “It was Devin’s idea, of course. I’d forgotten how many of his plans go haywire.”


“Hey! When I told everyone my plan, nobody seemed to have a problem with it. So there were a few minor glitches we hadn’t worked out.”


Catherine cleared her throat; she really wanted to hear the story.  “Please!” 


Devin sighed. When it came to protecting Vincent, Catherine could be as bad as Father sometimes. “We came up on the elevator.”


“You what?” she asked incredulously.


Cullen finished the story. “We came up on the elevator. Vincent had his back facing forward and Devin and I hid him from everyone’s view.”


“No problems.” Devin smiled. 


Vincent whirled on him. “No problems. I was almost seen. If it wasn’t for Rebecca’s sacrifice, I would have been caught!”


Devin shrugged nonchalantly. “But you weren’t! So you had an interesting ride up, what’s the big deal?”


Cullen came to Devin’s defense. He knew Devin had been just as scared as he was when that man had tried to see Vincent. Rebecca’s fast thinking had, in fact, saved the day. “Vincent, we did it. We got you here. Have fun with Catherine and forget about the whole thing.”


Catherine looked at the group, not quite ready to let Devin off the hook. “What sacrifice did Rebecca have to make?”


Rebecca shuffled her feet nervously. “It was not a sacrifice, Catherine. Vincent’s just being...Vincent. It was really no big deal at all.”


Devin sighed and held Rebecca’s hand. “It was a big deal. You thought quickly and saved us some fancy footwork.” 


Devin turned back to Catherine to answer her question. “At one point, there were about four other people on the elevator with us. Some guy got shoved to the back and he was trying to see Vincent’s face. Rebecca grabbed his hood and pretended to kiss Vincent. It stopped the guy long enough for me to shift the box I was holding and hide Vincent better.”


“She did not pretend. She was forced to endure....” Vincent said quietly as he blushed furiously.


Catherine turned her attention back to Rebecca, who was anxiously looking at Vincent. She wanted to try to ease his discomfort. “Vincent, I was not forced to endure anything. If I had to do it all over again, I would.”   


She glanced quickly at Catherine. She wondered if Catherine could help ease his discomfort. Catherine shook her head dismissively, shrugged her shoulders and then went to her and hugged her. “Rebecca, I can’t thank you enough. Your quick thinking got him here safely.”


“You’re not mad...that I...kissed him?” 


“Not if it saved his life!” Catherine quickly reassured her. “I want to thank all of you for what you did. Would you like to sit down? Can I offer anyone something to drink?”


Each of the group declined her thoughtful invitation. Devin walked over to the door, as Cullen and Rebecca followed. 


Devin addressed Vincent. “Hey, little brother, I’ll tell Father you’re here until Monday morning. I guess I deserve it if he blows up at me.” 


Vincent’s heart rate had finally returned to normal. He walked over to the group. “Devin, thank you. As always, life with you is an adventure.” 


Vincent shook Cullen’s hand and he gave Rebecca a hug. “Thank you,” he said to her quietly.


Rebecca looked up at Vincent. She placed a comforting hand on his arm. “Vincent, you’re one of the best brothers a girl could have. You mustn’t think it was a sacrifice. You would have done the same thing to help me.” 


Vincent looked at the floor and shook his head. He was still not convinced it was not a sacrifice to kiss him. Her argument held no weight. If he had to kiss her it would be acceptable, she was a normal person. He was....


Catherine took the time to thank them and let them out the door. She locked the door behind them and turned to Vincent. 


**********


Catherine knew by Vincent’s demeanor that right now he was ashamed of his appearance. She walked over to him and raised his chin with her fingertips. She pulled his head down and gave him a long kiss. He finally responded to her gentle prying and opened his mouth as she deepened the kiss. She stepped away to remove his cloak as he gasped for breath.


She smiled up at him with love in her eyes. “Hello, Vincent.”


He lowered his head again and looked at her shyly. “Hello, Catherine.”


“I’m glad you found a way to come here early. I’ve missed you. I was so anxious for these hours to pass.”


“I too, was anxious...” he chuckled, “...hence the desperation to use one of Devin’s plans.”


“Well, it worked. You’re here and safe. What do you want to do first?”


Catherine only had to look at him and he was lost. He stepped closer to her and took her in his arms. He lowered his head and kissed her. Their kissing soon rose to a level of passion that demanded a release. 


Vincent backed away and Catherine grabbed his shirt front. “Please, Vincent!” she begged.


Vincent shook his head slowly, gasping for breath. “Catherine, we need to slow it down. I can’t maintain control if we keep this up too much longer.”


She pulled him closer to her and pleaded with him, “Next time, Vincent. We can go as slow as you want next time, but for now....” 


It had been two weeks since their time at the cottage. Now that Vincent had a taste for what he was missing, he was just as ready as Catherine to move forward. Catherine grabbed his hand and walked towards the bedroom. As she entered the room, she removed her shirt. She hadn’t put a bra on after her bath, so she stood in front of him topless. Her nipples hardened under his gaze and he moaned in response. 


He quickly removed his vest and stepped closer to Catherine. He kissed her lips passionately, then kissed a path down to her neck. Her arms rose up to guide his head as she lowered him to her breasts. He took one of the nipples into his mouth and began to gently suck. Her arms reached for the back of his shirt as she gently tugged it towards his shoulders. He broke contact long enough to help her remove the shirt over his head. 


His arms went around her and drew her close. She leaned her head into his chest and kissed his muscles as she made her way up his neck towards his mouth. Vincent lowered his head once again and kissed her lips. She gently deepened the kiss and again their passion burst into flames.


Catherine moved her hands to the front of his pants and gently undid the buttons. He grasped her hands and helped her remove his pants. She gently closed her hands around his manhood, stroking it softly. He moaned and lowered his hands to her hips as he removed the scrap of fabric she considered panties. 


His fingers quickly found the moist heat at the junction between her legs and moaned when he discovered her body was ready for his. He picked her up and carried her over to the bed. 


She reached down and threw the covers back as he placed her in the center of the bed and slid in next to her. It wasn’t long before his hands found her center again and she bucked underneath his hand. 


“Please, Vincent, now!” 


He moved over her and joined their bodies in one swift drive. She moaned in ecstasy as he buried himself fully inside of her. They moved as one and the passion they shared quickly put them over the edge. 


Vincent made to move and Catherine grabbed him and held him inside her. He stayed on his elbows above her, trying to relieve her of his weight. He kissed her deeply as she caressed his back. She finally sighed and released him. He moved off to her side and brought her to rest on his chest.


He tried to catch his breath as she smiled at him. “That was worth the wait.”


He shook his head slowly. “I...lost control. It’s been a long two weeks. It was too fast,” he admitted shyly.


Catherine kissed his breast and flicked her tongue over his nipple. “It was perfect. It has been a long two weeks; I needed it just as badly.”


Vincent tightened his arm around her and moved her to his side. He looked at her, love clearly showing in his eyes. “Catherine, I love you.”


“And I love you, Vincent,” Catherine said as tears came to her eyes. 


He looked at her as a question formed on his lips. “So, why the tears?”


She smiled and kissed him again. “Because I love you so much, sometimes it hurts.”


He nodded in understanding. “I, too, feel like the only time I don’t long for you is...when I’m inside of you, loving you.”


He leaned in again and kissed her. She quickly responded and her body flared to life. He felt the flames of passion rise in her and it equally matched his own. She reached for him and found he was ready to enter her and she quickly got to her knees. She moved over him and lay on his chest while he looked at her with a question in his eyes. 


She forgot they had never been in this position before. She quickly moved her hips back and he realized what she was doing. He positioned himself and he quickly slipped his shaft inside of her. She leaned back and buried him further inside. He moaned at the new sensation it created. 


Catherine moved herself up and down on him and he gripped the sheets with his hands. She moved over him to release the pressure in her thighs and he quickly took one of her nipples in his mouth. He suckled on it and moved to give the same attention to the other one. His hands held onto her bottom as he moved his hips and kept the rhythm going. Catherine moaned in ecstasy. She leaned back once again and rode him as long as she could. 


Vincent could feel her tire as the muscle strain in her thighs increased and, without ever losing contact, quickly switched their positions. He held her tightly as he drove them to release, then collapsed on top of her. She held him tightly in her arms, her legs wrapped around his waist.


With a sigh, he rolled off once again and pulled her close. They stayed that way for a long time, then Catherine’s alarm clock suddenly went off. She jumped up and reached over him, shutting it off. He looked at her with a question in his eyes.


She laughed at him. “That was to tell me you would be here in a half an hour. I was going to get changed into a new outfit and light all the candles....”


“And I ruined your surprise,” he said softly.


She kissed him gently. “Your surprise was much better.” 


He laughed and hugged her tightly. “Catherine, it’s only 8:30.”


“I know, it feels like...”


Vincent’s stomach growled loudly. He looked at her, embarrassed.


“Oh, Vincent, I’m hungry, too. Let’s raid the refrigerator.” 


Vincent was still blushing. 


“What is it, Vincent?”


“Catherine, I’m….”


“What?”


“Sticky!” he said, mortified. 


She laughed out loud. “I am, too, actually. Can we make it through a shower together?”


“I don’t know...” he smiled, shaking his head.


“Give me five minutes and the shower’s all yours.” Catherine raced into the bathroom and quickly hopped in the shower. She cleaned all the parts that needed cleaning and hopped out, dried off and dressed in her new outfit. 


Vincent was still in bed when she walked out. He admired her new outfit and ran his fingers over the silky texture. She kissed him thoroughly. “Shower’s all yours. I’ll start some dinner. There are plenty of extra towels inside the cabinet and something special for you is sitting on the counter.”


Vincent eyed her curiously as she smiled and then left the bedroom and headed to the kitchen. He hopped up and headed into the bathroom. He saw the package on the counter and opened it. He gasped when he saw clothing that matched her new outfit. He shook his head wondrously as he got into the shower. 


**********


Catherine stopped in the living room to push the button on the stereo, then headed for the kitchen. She didn’t want to spend a lot of time making one of the meals Stan planned, so she started water to boil for pasta. She grabbed a jar of spaghetti sauce. Jenny’s mom had taught her how to add spices to it to make it taste homemade. 


Catherine had just dumped the noodles in the boiling water when Vincent entered the kitchen. He blushed as her eyes roamed over him in his new outfit.


“Thank you, Catherine.” Vincent smiled shyly.


“You look wonderful.” 


“It feels wonderful,” he admitted. 


“Here, let me see.” She came up to him and ran her hand down the length of his chest. “It does feel good.” 


As she moved her hand lower, he gasped and grabbed her hand, effectively stopping her. She looked up at him with a pout. He smiled and kissed her nose. “Be good,” he reprimanded. 


He looked up and noticed the sauce starting to boil and splash up on the counter. “Can I help?”


Catherine followed his gaze and quickly turned the flame down under the pot. “Can you get the salad out of the fridge and maybe open up a bottle of wine?”


Vincent nodded and quickly went to do as she asked. He completed the small tasks and took over for her when it was time to dump the spaghetti noodles from the pot of boiling water. Catherine quickly put the spaghetti in a bowl and poured the sauce over it. A splash of sauce landed on her arm and she jumped from the burn it created. 


Vincent took her wrist and quickly put it to his mouth. He kissed away the sauce and then blew on her wrist. He checked to see if she was burned badly and then he raised his eyes to hers. 


Catherine’s eyes were darkened with passion and he blinked in surprise. He smiled proudly when he thought of how quickly she responded to him. She kissed him and turned back to the spaghetti. 


Vincent carried the bowl to the table while Catherine grabbed some bread and butter. They ate their meal and Catherine quickly cleaned up the dishes while Vincent started a fire. They settled on the couch in front of the fire to finish off the wine. 


**********


Catherine moved in closer to him. “Vincent, this is so nice, having you here.”


He put his arm around her and drew her even closer. “It’s nice to be here, Catherine.”


Catherine moved her head against his chest. “Vincent, maybe we should talk about where we are going to live once we’re married.”


Vincent looked down at her, wondering what she meant. He shook his head slowly. “Catherine, you know I have no choice but to live Below. If you do not wish to live down there and you think there is anywhere else for me....”


Catherine quickly pulled away from him and turned to face him. “I’m sorry, Vincent. I never meant to imply that I didn’t want to live Below. If you want to live Below then that is where we shall live.”


Vincent shrugged his shoulders. “Catherine, there is no other place for me....”


“I’ve given this some thought and there might be another way.”


Vincent looked at her calmly and waited for her to continue. She smiled at him and went on. “If my apartment building has access to the tunnels, then others must as well, right?”


She looked at him for confirmation and when he nodded she went on. “If I looked for a home that I could buy near here or closer to the park, would you consider living in it? If we use every precaution we could to make it totally safe?”


Vincent looked at her and sighed. She looked so excited, he didn’t know how to answer her. He didn’t want to disappoint her but he wasn’t prepared to make any kind of a commitment until the plan was better thought out. He answered her the only way that he could. “Perhaps.”


Catherine was excited. It was more than she thought she would get from him. He looked so surprised and relieved when she kissed him.


“What’s that for?” he wondered aloud.


“For even considering the possibility before telling me ‘no’ and for giving me a chance to try to work something out and for having faith in me....” She kissed him each time she said the word “for.” On the third one, he kissed her thoroughly. She gasped and clung to him. He finally broke the kiss. 


Catherine laid her head back on his chest. He set down his wine glass and put both of his arms around her. “So, does this mean you have decided to continue your work in the world Above?” 


Catherine sighed. “I’m not sure yet, Vincent. It just seems like too big of a decision to make right now. Can we talk about something else?”


Vincent kissed her forehead. “Most women would want to be planning their wedding.” 


“Do you want to talk about it, Vincent?” she wondered excitedly.


“If you would like to, then so would I,” he admitted to her.


Catherine went to her work case and grabbed a legal pad and a pen. She wrote “Wedding” across the top. 


“Vincent, are any of the helpers men of the cloth?”


Vincent thought for a moment and then nodded. “Father Kevin is a Catholic priest who lived Below at one time.”


“Do you think he would he marry us?”


“I think he would be delighted to marry us, Catherine.”


Catherine wrote “Father Kevin” across the top of the page. She wrote “Best Man” on the next line. 


She looked up at Vincent. “I suppose you will want to have Devin as your best man?”


Vincent nodded and she wrote his name down. “Is there anyone else you would like to ask? Men you were especially close to growing up?”


“Well, there’s Pascal, Thomas and Jonathon who I grew up with, and Cullen and Mouse and....”


“Vincent, I forgot how close knit of a family you have down there. Maybe we should just have Devin and Jenny stand up with us.”


Vincent did not want to make Catherine sacrifice her dream wedding. “Will you be disappointed?”


Catherine shook her head. “I was going to ask Rebecca. I know she is like a sister to you, but….”


“But now I’m making it more difficult.” Vincent smiled.


“Not at all, Vincent. Jenny and Devin got us to this point and they will see us through to the end. They’re the only ones I’m really concerned with. We can include the others in different ways; I don’t want anyone to feel like they are not a part of this wedding.”


Vincent kissed her gently. “You are an amazing woman, Catherine. Your thoughts are always for others.”


Catherine kissed him back. “Okay, vows...traditional, or should we make our own?”


Vincent, unlike most grooms, had the ability to write beautifully, so he easily answered the question. “Catherine, I would love to speak my own words of devotion to you in front of everyone. What would you like to do?”


Catherine kissed him again. “Okay, so we make our own vows.”


Vincent looked at Catherine with mischief in his eyes. “Am I to get a kiss every time I answer a question?” 


Catherine, not realizing she had done this, had a big smile light up her face. “I think that would be a wonderful idea. Do I get a kiss now that I answered your question?”


Vincent leaned in and kissed her warmly. “I like making wedding plans, Catherine.”


“Me, too.” Catherine, ever the taskmaster, looked at her note pad. “Okay, what about the food. Should we have it catered to lift the burden off of William?”


“You should consult with William about that, Catherine.” Vincent leaned in for his kiss.


“Mmmm...What kind of food should we serve?”  


Vincent smiled at her. “Catherine, what kind of food would you like to have served?” 


She raised her brows in surprise that he had turned the table on her. “I’m not sure. I guess I’ll have to ask William that too.” Catherine leaned in for her kiss.


Catherine smiled then continued, “How should we send invitations out to everyone?” 


“Pascal.” Vincent kissed her.


“What should we wear?”  Catherine softly posed her question.  


“Mary,” Vincent replied as he kissed her.


“What about entertainment?”


“Father.” Vincent, who had been drawn down to one word answers, kissed her passionately this time.


“What....”


“No more questions, Catherine.” Vincent effectively silenced her with his lips. 


Catherine dropped the legal pad and pen to the floor and threw her arms around his neck. Vincent deepened the kiss and ran his hands lightly up and down her back. Catherine squirmed in anticipation and Vincent laid her back on the couch and knelt on the floor in front of her. 


He opened up her robe and slid it off her shoulders. Catherine let it fall from her arms and then Vincent kissed her. He worked his way from her forehead to her lips then down to her neck where he nuzzled her gently. He kissed his way down to her breasts where he suckled them through the silky fabric. He continued on his downward path. He kissed the outsides of her legs on his way down past her knees all the way down to her toes. 


He kissed the inside of her foot and started his journey back up, kissing on the insides of her legs. When he got to her knees he stopped and looked at her with a question in his eyes. They hadn’t loved this way before and he was still unsure if what he was doing was acceptable to her. He didn’t know if she would be offended by his actions. 


Catherine nodded her assent and lifted the chemise over her head. She lay back down and watched as his head lowered to her once again. He kissed her knees and started upwards as she spread her legs to allow his entry. With a sigh of satisfaction, he kissed her womanly flesh and allowed his tongue to gently lap at the moisture he found there. 


Catherine bucked underneath his mouth and Vincent held her gently as he drank from her. She was moaning and writhing when he felt the pressure in her build quickly. With one last flick of his tongue, he pushed her over the edge. She fell back on the couch, trembling. He quickly gathered her into his arms and held her tightly while she came back to reality.


Her first conscious thought was being held in his arms. “Oh, Vincent.” 


“Catherine, I didn’t know I could do that to you so quickly.” 


She kissed him passionately and moved slowly on his lap. She could feel his erection beneath her and looked at him. “My turn!”


Vincent shook his head. “Catherine, you don’t have to...”


Catherine kissed him to quiet him. “Shhh, I want to please you.”


Catherine fell to her knees in front of him. She unbuttoned his shirt and helped remove his pants as his erection stood proudly in the air. She kissed his forehead and then his lips. She moved downward to his neck where she knew he liked to be nipped. She bit him gently then blew on the skin to soothe him. 


She kissed her way down his arm and stopped and paid close attention to his hand. She put each finger in her mouth and gently sucked as she flicked the nail at the end with her tongue. He watched, amazed, as she took his differences and made them normal. She kissed her way back up his arm and nuzzled his neck once more. She kissed a trail down to his chest where she felt for his nipples and kissed each of them before she continued her journey lower.


She made it past his rib cage before he actually moaned out, “Catherine.” Taking mercy on him because he had waited so long, she gently took his manhood in hand and kissed the top of its head. She licked at the bead of moisture that had appeared there then quickly enclosed her mouth around him. As she lowered her lips on him, he bucked under her. Nothing could have prepared him for this feeling of her mouth on him. It was a different sensation from being inside of her. He wasn’t able to control what her mouth was doing to him. Every move she made was a delicious surprise. 


She removed her mouth and quickly replaced it with her small hand as she gently stroked the length of him. She kissed her way to his sac and took each of the globes into her mouth and gently kissed them, rolling her tongue around them. He moaned and she went back to his shaft. Once again she kissed the head of him. She rolled her tongue all around on it and he unconsciously captured her head and gently pushed her forward, Catherine smiled and took him into her mouth once again. She pushed her lips over him as she continued to caress him with her hand. The motions working together soon had him gasping and with a roar he exploded into her mouth. She held him until he was soft again and with a swift swipe across her mouth with the back of her hand she moved up to hold him.


“Catherine, there are no words….”


“Yes, there are, Vincent. I love you.”  


He looked down at her in wonder. He was honored that she loved him like she had. Sometimes he couldn’t comprehend why she loved him the way she did. He hugged her close and kissed her deeply.


“I do love you, Catherine. More than I can even put into words. You have made me...a man in more ways than one. I....”


“Shhh, Vincent. You have always been a man. You just needed to find the right person to love you. Luckily, I got to be that person.” Catherine snuggled up against him.


It wasn’t long before Vincent felt Catherine starting to fall asleep. He shifted her from his lap and she protested weekly. He picked her up and carried her to the bedroom. 


He laid her down and once again crawled in next to her, this time not to make love but to sleep. They were exhausted. He covered them up and he drew her close to him. He held her tightly in his arms as they fell asleep.


They slept through the night. Whenever they lost contact with one another, they each subconsciously reached out for their mate. Sighs of contentment could be heard from either of them when the touch of the other was felt again.


**********


Father walked into Vincent’s chamber very late that night. He saw only Devin lying in bed, reading by candlelight. He glanced around the room but could not see Vincent. He turned back and addressed Devin.


“Devin, do you know where your brother has gone?”


Devin didn’t look up from his book, although he hadn’t been reading since his father entered the room. “Hmmm...Catherine’s apartment.”


Father’s brow furrowed. “It’s so late, is he still there?”


“Didn’t I tell you? Sorry, I must’ve forgotten...he’s spending the weekend. He’ll be back early Monday morning.” Devin still hadn’t looked up from the book but he braced for the explosion.


Father didn’t disappoint him. “You know full well that you didn’t tell me this news. Dear God, what’s gotten into that boy?”


Devin angrily sat up in bed and swung his legs around. “Well, first, he’s not a boy, he’s a man! Second, he’s finally acting like a man and loving the woman he plans on spending the rest of his life with!”


Father shook his head, clearly distressed, then sat down heavily in a chair. “You’re right, I know, but....”


Devin interrupted him before he could get any further. “But what, Dad! Do you plan on trying to get them to sleep in separate beds on their honeymoon? It’s too late for that!”


Father looked knowingly at Devin. “I know it is too late for that! Peter and I hoped to talk to them about...preventing...unwanted pregnancies.”


Devin laughed hysterically. Father looked at him angrily. “What is so funny, may I ask?”


“Sure, you can ask. I was wondering if I can be there when you tell Catherine you’re concerned about her getting pregnant. I can’t wait to hear what she says to you when you tell her a pregnancy may be unwanted.”


Father shook his head in distress. “No...I didn’t mean to say unwanted! I meant to say unsafe. Peter is concerned for Catherine’s health because of complications that her mother had in carrying a baby to term. I’m concerned for the baby’s health as well. Vincent was so sickly we almost lost him. You know that! We just want to make sure that they are ready for any...complications that can arise.”


Devin’s attitude changed immediately. He got up and walked over to his father and placed his hand on his shoulder. “Well, I’m glad I could be your first attempt. Now that you’ve had a chance to rephrase your concerns, you should be able to present them without alienating your son and future daughter-in-law.”


Father patted Devin’s hand on his shoulder and sighed. “Yes, well...it may be too late already to voice them. I never spoke to Vincent about...and unless Catherine’s done something....” Father looked up at Devin hopefully. “I don’t suppose you...?’


Devin shook his head as he walked away. “What? Talked to Vincent about birth control?”


“Well, yes...or maybe you purchased...?”

 

Devin whirled around to face him. “I didn’t buy Vincent any rubbers, if that’s what you’re getting at! Good God! I can’t believe we’re having this conversation about a man in his thirties!”


Father shook his head again as he rose and walked to the chamber entrance. “Most men in their thirties don’t require this conversation! Let’s just hope….”


Devin sighed and went back to bed.


**********


Catherine woke to find Vincent lying beside her, still sleeping. She smiled to herself at the amazing night they had spent together. In just a few short months, they would be able to spend every night together. “But where?” she wondered to herself. She leisurely thought of different scenarios in her mind. She checked off the pros and cons and was still confused on what to do.


Vincent woke to find Catherine’s brow furrowed. She looked like she was in deep concentration. He moved gently and pulled her to him. With a sigh, she cuddled in close to him. She kissed his chest and nuzzled her nose in the cushiony fur there. Vincent tightened his embrace and asked quietly., “Good morning, Catherine. What troubles you so?” 


“Good morning, Vincent. It’s nothing, really. I’ve just been giving more thought to our living situation.”


He felt her confusion earlier but now he felt...strength in her. He felt she may have reached a decision. “Have you come up with a solution?”


She looked at him and nodded. “Yes, a few minutes ago, when I saw you bathed in the sunlight. Your eyes were closed and the sun was glistening through the strands in your hair and warming your face. You didn’t know it but you looked so peaceful and happy. I want you to be able to have that always, anytime you want.”


Vincent nodded and smiled. “You must have whatever you wish then, Catherine. Whatever you need to make you happy, I will try to give you.” 


Catherine was startled by his words. She knew he said them with love, but it made her sound like a spoiled child. “Vincent, I don’t want to do this for myself. I want to do it for you. Of all the people in the world, you deserve everything. I want to give you everything. I don’t mean money and expensive things; I mean the sun in the blue sky and the green grass. I want to let you see the colorful birds in the trees and flowers growing in pots on a deck and....”


“Catherine, you have given me more in two and a half years than I have ever dreamed of having in my entire life. You give food and clothing to my entire community to help ease our discomforts. You befriended the children Below and help to raise them to be good caring people like yourself. And to me...you have given me a reason to live. Oh, I existed before you came into my life, but once you were a part of me, I began to live. You give of yourself each and every time we love and for that I will be eternally grateful.”


“Vincent, that was the most beautiful thing anyone has ever said to me. I think you just wrote your wedding vows.” Catherine, with tears in her eyes, leaned in and kissed him. 


He held her for a long time and Catherine finally rolled over. “I can’t wait anymore. I have to go to the bathroom.” 


She left the bed and ran to the bathroom. When she was done, she peeked out at Vincent. “I’m going to take a shower unless you need to get in here.”


“I’m fine, Catherine. Take your shower.” Vincent stretched out on the bed and looked out at the sky through the top of the balcony doors. The sky was so blue and there were big fluffy white clouds floating lazily by. He could hear the shower running through the closed bathroom door. He hadn’t needed to go to the restroom until the water started running.


With a sigh, he walked to the bathroom door. He opened it gently and called out to Catherine. “Catherine, I’m sorry...I have to use the bathroom.”


Catherine was lathering her hair with shampoo when he came in. “Go ahead, Vincent.”


Vincent quickly relieved himself and without knowing any better flushed the toilet.  


Catherine screeched as cold water shot from the shower head as she was rinsing the shampoo from her hair.


Vincent, concerned for her safety, opened the door and gently peeked in at her. She was shivering in the cold water as she looked at him pitifully. He quickly figured out what happened and blushed guiltily. “Oh, Catherine, I am so sorry...I didn’t know.”


She nodded at him with her teeth chattering. He came into the shower to hold her. The water had returned to normal and he rubbed her as the warm water cascaded over her. She moved in to his warmth and kissed him gently. His passion quickly flared and he stepped back. She grabbed for his arms and handed him the bottle of conditioner. “Vincent, will you put this in my hair?” 


He nodded and added a small amount to his hand. He reached up and gently ran his fingers through her hair and massaged the conditioner into her hair. 


“This has to stay in awhile; may I wash your hair while we wait?” 


Vincent nodded and Catherine switched places with him under the shower head. His hair was quickly wet and she gently massaged his scalp as she worked the shampoo through his hair. “Now, rinse,” she instructed him. 


He looked at her again and she reached out with the conditioner. She put a very generous amount in his hair and ran it through to the ends. “I need to rinse mine out.” Once again she traded positions with him. He reached out and separated her hair as the water rinsed the last of her conditioner away. 


While her head was thrown back, Vincent leaned over and kissed the vulnerable part in her neck. Catherine lowered her head and he kissed her lips. She quickly deepened the kiss and reached her arms around his neck, effectively covering her arms in conditioner. “One more time, Vincent,” she prompted. 


They traded places for the last time and Catherine made sure that all the conditioner was out of his hair. She reached for a bar of soap and lathered it up. She ran it over Vincent’s chest, then his arms and back. He turned around and she ran it down the backs of his legs. He turned again and faced her. She ran it up the fronts of his legs and then finally onto his erect manhood. She caressed it over him and gently reached under him, fondling his great sac. He moaned and grabbed her hands. “Your turn.”


He did just as she had and lathered up the soap. He washed her arms and back then moved to her breasts. Her nipples were hardened and he held the pebbles between his fingers. She moaned and leaned against him. He washed down the backs of her legs and moved to the front. His fingers found her and he caressed her core. She moaned again and reached for him. He dropped the soap and they quickly rinsed off. 


She turned off the water and they walked out of the tub into the bathroom. Catherine reached up and threw her arms around Vincent’s neck. He grasped her to kiss her and ended up lifting her off the ground. She flung her legs around him. In this position, he could slip right into her. He grabbed a towel and set it down on the countertop. He sat her on top of it while he checked to see her readiness, and then he drove into her. They quickly established their rhythm. Catherine was moaning and grasping for him. She ended up scraping his back with her nails. He released his breath with a hiss as he felt the pain she caused with her nails. He growled and she whimpered as he kissed her roughly. She screamed his name as her release came and he let out a roar a few seconds after that. 


He held her gently while they came back down from the heavens. She waited until her heartbeat settled until she could look at him. “Turn around, Vincent.”  


She gasped at the ugly slashes her fingernails had made on his back. “My God, Vincent, I am so sorry.” Tears had gathered in her eyes and were starting to flow freely. “I’ve never been that rough with anyone before.”


“Catherine, it just surprised me. I didn’t mean to growl like an animal.”


Catherine shook her head in disgust of her actions. “Why not? You made love to an animal. Please let me put some antiseptic on those cuts.” 


Vincent nodded. It made sense; he really didn’t want to have to explain to Father why he had infected cuts on his back. Catherine quickly applied the cream, dabbing it lightly to the worse areas. She washed her hands and turned to him again. 


Tears were still in her eyes and he lifted her chin so he could see her. He kissed her and all was forgiven. 


**********


They put on their matching sleepwear and walked into the kitchen. Catherine opened the front door and got the morning paper for Vincent. Vincent had started a pot of water for tea, so Catherine brought out a frying pan for the bacon. “Vincent, why don’t you go relax and read the paper? I’ll bring the tea in to you when it’s ready.” He nodded, then smiled and kissed her.


The pan heated up quickly and Catherine soon had the bacon frying. The smell wafted to Vincent in the living room. Catherine brought him a cup of tea and he grabbed her around the waist. 


She laughed as he nuzzled her neck. “I like bacon almost as much as I like you.” He smiled into her neck. 


She struggled to release herself and he let her go. She kissed him quickly. “I don’t want it to burn. How do you want your eggs?” she called over her shoulder as she walked to the kitchen. 


“Scrambled?” he asked hopefully.


Catherine peeked around the corner. “Scrambled it is.” She grabbed the carton of eggs from the fridge and the bagels and cream cheese. She added more bacon deciding to make the whole package. “It could always be used for sandwiches later,” she thought. 


She broke six eggs into a bowl and then added two more, just in case. She whipped them up and added a touch of milk and then whipped them up again. The bacon was done and she removed it from the pan and dabbed the extra grease off of it. She put it on a plate in the microwave. She quickly dumped the extra grease from the bacon, then wiped the pan of residue. She put the eggs into it and started to cook them. She reached up and added bagels to the toaster and pushed the button on it. The bagels popped up and she spread cream cheese on them. The eggs were done soon after and Catherine pushed the buttons on the microwave to lightly heat up the bacon. 


She made a plate for herself with the equivalent of two eggs and a few pieces of bacon and one half of one of the bagels. She piled Vincent’s plate with the remaining eggs and put at least a fourth of the package of bacon and the three other halves of the bagels on it. She carried the two plates into the dining room. Vincent walked over and kissed her on the forehead. “It smells wonderful, Catherine.”


They sat and ate their breakfast. Vincent shyly asked Catherine if there was more bacon. She nodded and he went up to get the rest of it. Catherine forced down her food. She normally didn’t eat breakfast in the morning, so this was a lot for her. Vincent finally sat back satisfied. She smiled at him as he refreshed her tea. 


He gathered the dirty dishes and walked them to the kitchen. He had already started washing them when she called out to him. “Vincent, just leave them, I can load them in the dishwasher.” He shrugged and finished up the dishes; there were only a few. He didn’t mind. 


He walked out drying his hands with the towel. “All done.” 


“Thank you. Are you always going to be this helpful or are you putting on a show?” she laughed. 


“I’m hoping if I’m really good, you’ll decide to keep me.” 


“Vincent, you are stuck with me forever and ever. I’ll never let you go. You can’t lose me, remember?”  She stood and grimaced at the soreness in her lower area. 


Vincent immediately noticed her discomfort. “Catherine, what is it? Please tell me!”


Catherine smiled shyly. “Well, we’ve been extra busy since last night and I think I’m just a little sore.”


Vincent was immediately contrite. “I’m sorry, Catherine. I must learn to curb my...enthusiasm.”


She shook her head. “We both need to work on moderation. Let’s try to plan a night at least once during the work week so we aren’t so...enthusiastic on weekends.”


“Catherine, come, let’s sit on the couch and relax.” Vincent reached for her hand and pulled her along. He sat her down and covered her up with a blanket. He walked and grabbed her cup of tea and the newspaper and brought it to her. He grabbed his own tea, then settled down at the other end of the couch. He covered up with the blanket and pulled Catherine’s feet across his lap. He gently massaged her feet as she read the paper.


“Hey, Vincent, do you like to work the crossword puzzles?” Catherine asked as she reached for the pen she had been using last night. 


“I do; sometimes Father and I work them together. We are normally able to complete them.”


Catherine shook her head in disbelief. “Well, I’m not as smart as Father, but I bet I can do okay. Do you want to try?” 


Vincent looked at her in amusement. “Catherine, you have knowledge in many aspects of life. Yes, I would love to complete the puzzle with you.”


Catherine moved to get up. “Should I come by you? I could sit across your lap and write the answers.”  


Vincent looked at her with a question in his eyes. He didn’t know what position she meant to take. 


She grimaced when she got up and he looked at her apologetically. “Don’t say it, Vincent! I wouldn’t change one bit of our time together.” She piled the pillows up behind Vincent and had him turn to the side. She lay between his legs and rested against his chest. 


She held the puzzle in her hands and asked if he could see. He said that he could, so she proceeded to read him the clues. Catherine was shocked that Vincent knew so much about current events overseas. The only time she was able to contribute was when the questions regarded television, law or fashion. Vincent knew answers before she even completed the question. It wasn’t long before they completed the puzzle. 


“See, Catherine. You should never doubt your abilities to complete whatever you set your mind to do.”


Catherine yawned and stretched out her muscles. Vincent got up to go the bathroom and on his way back stopped at her small library of books. He selected a classic he hadn’t read in years. “Shall I read to you for awhile?” 


Catherine nodded and stood up. “First I have to go to the bathroom.”


On her way out of the bathroom, Catherine looked at the bed. She knew Vincent would be much more comfortable stretched out on its length. “Vincent, why don’t we read in the bed? There’s a lot more room to lie down together.”


Vincent came into her bedroom. Catherine piled the pillows on the headboard and instructed Vincent to lie down. She grabbed the blanket off the couch in the living room and lay next to Vincent. She covered them up and settled down into the crook of his arm. Vincent read most of the book before he realized Catherine had fallen asleep. He reached and turned out the light and cuddled her close to him. He soon fell asleep, too. 


********** 


Vincent woke Catherine. He was thrashing around on the bed, in the throes of a nightmare. She called out to him and caressed his cheek. He quieted and fell back asleep. She cuddled up closer. With a quick glance at the clock, she closed her eyes. “Just a few minutes more,” she thought. 


It was another hour before either of them woke again. This time Vincent woke first and was gently tickling Catherine’s nose with a strand of his hair. 

He loved to watch her scrunch up her nose at the offending sensation. She reached up and vigorously scratched at her nose. With a sniffle, she opened her eyes. 


She immediately smiled at him then narrowed her eyes suspiciously when she saw he was giggling at her. She figured out he had been tickling her on purpose. Vincent jumped back in surprise when she leapt on top of him and tried to tickle him. She was having a hard time finding a spot on him that was ticklish. As her body moved intimately on top of his, his body flared in response. He immediately grabbed her body, flipped her over and pinned her underneath him as he tried to gain control over his lower half. 


Catherine’s eyes darkened with passion and he kissed her but quickly backed away. “Catherine, your body needs its rest. Come, let’s find other ways to occupy ourselves. Besides, I’m hungry again.”


Catherine laughed and shook her head incredulously. “My food bill is going to go through the roof,” she thought to herself. They got out of bed and walked to the kitchen. 


**********

 

Catherine opened up the refrigerator door and looked out over at Vincent. “Stan gave us steaks, potatoes and vegetables or barbecue chicken and ribs with white rice?”


He looked at her gratefully and smiled. “You have managed to get all my favorites...I can’t decide.”


“I’ll tell you what, I’ll make the steaks for lunch and I’ll make up the ribs and chicken and let them sit in the sauce. We can heat it up for dinner later on.”


“Catherine, that sounds wonderful. You’re spoiling me. Will I always get to eat like this or are you just putting on a show?” 


Catherine knew he was teasing her, repeating the words she had said to him earlier in the day. She thought for a moment, then answered using his words. “I’m hoping if I’m really good, you’ll decide to keep me.”  

 

Vincent joined in the game. “Catherine, you’re stuck with me forever and ever. I’ll never let you go. You can’t lose me, remember?” 


Vincent took her hand and kissed it as he looked in her eyes. She took her hand and placed it on his chest and moved in closer. He reached down and kissed her gently. 


With a sigh, he backed away again. “Lunch, remember?”


Catherine smiled and went about preparing all the meat. Vincent watched and learned how to use all the things in the kitchen that were foreign to him. One day he hoped to be able to treat Catherine to meals, to help out if they chose to live in the world Above.


He shocked himself for a moment. He turned his head and pondered what he had just thought. Was he really considering living in a house in the world Above? Was he willing to risk being seen by someone to please Catherine? What if they had children? Was he willing to allow his children to be raised in both worlds? Did he just wonder if they would have children? What if the dream he had came true? What if some monster kidnapped Catherine to get his child?


Catherine looked over at him and saw that he was lost in his thoughts. She bent over and kissed his nose then smiled at him and went back to cooking. 


He looked up at her in surprise. She had kissed him and smiled at him. Her smile warmed his heart. He knew then that he would do anything to make her happy.


“Vincent, penny for your thoughts?” Catherine nonchalantly asked as she moved around the kitchen. She knew he’d had a nightmare earlier; she wondered if he would share it with her.


“Unfortunately, my thoughts aren’t worth a penny right now.” 


Catherine nodded and went back to preparing the food. She had lunch ready within the hour and she and Vincent sat to enjoy it. He quickly polished off his steak while she had about a third of hers eaten. He was finishing off his baked potato while she cut off a small portion from her steak, then added her larger piece to his plate. 


He looked at her in surprise. “Catherine, I have had enough, you should try to eat more.”


“Oh, Vincent, I’m stuffed already. I can’t eat this much. If you don’t want it, you don’t have to eat it.”


He acted like he was going to pick at it but he was soon finishing it off. She had suspected he had still been hungry. “What does he eat when he’s doing hard physical labor?” she wondered. She decided to talk to William. If he had to feed the men Below this much food everyday, there was no way he had enough money to keep them going. He needed to use all the money she gave Stan every month. If he went over that amount, she would just increase it. She didn’t want any one Below to suffer when she had the power to prevent it.


Like after breakfast, Vincent gathered up the dirty dishes and walked them to the kitchen. He quickly washed them and Catherine came in to dry them and put them away. The kitchen was back together in no time.


**********


Vincent headed to the couch and Catherine followed him there. Catherine turned to him. “Vincent, have you ever watched television?” 


“I have. As a young boy, when the children Below got really sick, Father would send me to Peter’s. I think he wanted me away from the others in case I caught what they had. Peter would allow me to watch cartoons. That’s about all I remember; as I got older, Father realized I didn’t get sick often and he allowed me to stay home.”


“I have a few videos that we could watch. Are you interested?”


Vincent looked at her curiously and she walked over to a cabinet. She knew Vincent was a fan of the Civil War period and she had a copy of “Gone with the Wind.”


“Vincent, this movie is long but I think you’ll enjoy it. It’s a love story that takes place in the South during the Civil War.”


Vincent nodded and Catherine put the movie in. She snuggled up to him and they sat all afternoon and enjoyed the film. Vincent was surprised that he enjoyed it so much. He had never seen a movie in its entirety. It had the right blend of history to make it interesting and the passion of heartbreak to entertain like a classical play.


When the movie ended, Catherine stood and stretched out her body. Vincent stood and did the same. As Catherine was dropping her arms, she reached out and encircled Vincent’s neck. His hands came around her waist and drew her close. He bent and kissed her and she quickly sought to deepen it. Vincent stepped back; he didn’t want to start anything they couldn’t finish. He still felt guilty that she was so sore. He had promised himself he would let her rest and he was going to try his best to keep that promise. 


“Vincent, did you like the movie?”


“It was very good, Catherine. I read the book years ago when I was still in my late teens. I think I can appreciate it much better now. If Father can find it, we may read the book during my literature class.”


Catherine smiled at him. He was always thinking of new ways to entice the children into reading. It didn’t take much though, because Vincent was such a good teacher. He explained things to anyone who had a question. His patience was endless and you could tell the children loved him for it. 


She nodded. “I’m glad you liked it. Um...I’ll be right back. I need to use the bathroom.”  


“I need to use it myself. I can wait.”


**********


After he went to the washroom, Vincent met Catherine in the living room. She had made some tea for them and was sitting on the couch.


“I’m glad you came in here. I would like to talk to you about something, Catherine.”


“What is it, Vincent? Is something wrong?”


He took her hands in his and rushed to assure her. “Not at all, Catherine. In fact, it is going much better than I anticipated. I can’t think of when I have spent a more enjoyable weekend. It’s always so hectic Below. There are always so many things that cry out for my attention. I feel like I can truly concentrate on you. I’m finding that I love doing that.”


Catherine kissed his hands. “I’m finding that I love when you do things for me. Vincent, I know how important you are to the people Below. I really don’t mind if you have to help others with their problems. That’s what having a family is all about. Maybe after we’re married we’ll be able to find a secret place we can skip off to and be alone.”


“Catherine, that’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about.”


Catherine looked at him and nodded. “Go on, Vincent.”


“If you wish to find a place Above that you and I can live in...I would happily move into it with you.”


Catherine’s jaw dropped and Vincent stood up and started to pace. “It would have to be close to the park. It would require that a lot of safety measures be installed and I would have to have easy access to the basement and the tunnels. If we ever have….”


Vincent hesitated, unsure of how to proceed. Catherine was unsure of why he stopped. She knew he had more to say but was trying to gather the courage. 


“Vincent, I know all of this. It’s going to be hard to find the perfect place but I will look and we will find something. But if you have any other concerns, you should tell me about them now.”


Vincent turned to her. He looked as shy and insecure as he had before they first made love; he lowered his head in shame. Catherine wondered what was upsetting him so and rushed to his side. She was surprised to see that he was crying. 


She took his hand and led him to the couch. She pushed him to sit and then sat on his lap as she threw her arms around his neck. She held him tightly for a few minutes and then pulled away to look at him. “Vincent, please tell me.”


His eyes held the last traces of tears. “It’s difficult to talk about, Catherine.”


“We’ve never withheld the truth from one another, remember.”


He nodded weakly and shook his head. “In some ways, this is even harder to talk about.”


“Vincent, please. In four short months, I will be your wife. I want to share every part of your life, good and bad. If this is about living Above then....”


“No, it isn’t. I began to say that it would be important if we ever have...children...that they have access to both worlds at all times.” 


Catherine was confused. She couldn’t figure out why this would cause him such unhappiness. “Vincent, I think you’re right. It would be important for the kids to have access. I’m not sure why that would cause you to be so upset.”


Vincent hung his head in shame again. “Catherine, you have given me so much already. I had never even dreamed of being able to share my life and my love with a woman. Yet, here you are, an impossible dream that came true. And now....”


“Go on.”


“Now I dream of what it would be like to have a child of my own. I’m not even sure if I can father children. Even if I could, do I have a right to have that dream? Do I have a right to condemn a child to the same life I had to lead?  Do I dare believe that someone like you would welcome a child like mine?”


Tears started to fall from Vincent’s eyes again. Catherine kissed them away. She kissed his face until her lips found his. She tried to comfort him through her touch as she sent wave after wave of love through the bond. She backed away to look into his eyes. She wanted to say this one last time and this time she would make him understand the truth behind her words.


“Vincent, I told you at the cottage that I would love to have your baby. I’m honored that you feel that I’m worthy enough to carry your child. I just know that you and I together have an amazing capacity to love. If we can’t have our own children then we will help raise the children in the tunnels who have no parents. That’s all we’ll ever need, someone to share our love with.”


Vincent wanted to argue, to make her understand she may be giving up her chance to bear children because of him. “But Catherine….”


“Shhh...Vincent. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I am going to spend the rest of my life with you whether we have kids or not. I love you. You have to believe in that!”


Catherine held him tightly as he buried his face in her shoulder. She felt him trying to come to terms with what she said. With a sigh, he finally pulled away from her. “Catherine, I love you!”


“I know, Vincent. Why don’t you lie down and I’ll finish reading the book to you.” 


Catherine got up and walked to the bedroom. She picked up the book they were reading earlier and grabbed the blanket. 


She sat on the edge of the couch and put a pillow on her lap. She motioned for Vincent to lay his head there. He did and then stretched out his legs. He was too long for the couch so he rolled to his side, bent his knees and snuggled up against her. 


Catherine began to read as she fiddled with locks of Vincent’s hair. He loved the feel of her hands in his hair. Her voice soothed him and he found himself dozing off. 


Catherine finished the book and placed it on the table. She moved the stray hair that had fallen across his face as he slept. She ran her hand lightly on his face. She loved the feeling of the hair on his face. Most men shaved their hair and their faces were often rough. Vincent’s was smooth and soft. She ran her finger down the length of his nose and towards his unusual lips. She outlined them and smiled at how much joy they could bring her with a single kiss. Vincent wrinkled his nose. She didn’t want to wake him up so she gently eased out from under him and went to the kitchen. 


**********


Catherine was surprised to notice it was 6:30 already. She thought about making dinner. She was not at all hungry but knew Vincent would probably be hungry when he woke up. She quietly got the ingredients together. She put the chicken and ribs in the oven to bake. She started the water to make the rice and then quickly made salads while she waited for it to boil. When the water came to a boil, she added the rice. Everything was almost ready. 


She grabbed a section of the newspaper and started to read it. She was surprised by the amount of marriages on the society page, but even more surprised by the amount of divorces. She shook her head ruefully as she realized she could have been a statistic like some of her friends. “I got a good one,” she thought to herself. 


Vincent started to wake up. He was surprised to find Catherine gone. He wondered how she managed to slip out from under him without waking him up. He sat up and noticed her at the table.


He walked over to her and sat down next to her. “I’m sorry, Catherine. I usually don’t sleep this much. I don’t know what’s come over me. I guess I must be catching up from all the sleep I lost with the Winterfest preparations.”


“It is a lazy Sunday, isn’t it? Just think, we can have these all the time. Dinner’s almost ready, are you hungry?” 


Vincent looked at her shyly. “Yes, actually I am.”


She laughed and kissed him on the nose. “Let me check on it.”


“No, Catherine. You’ve done everything else. Let me put the last of it together.”


“Okay, if you want....Thanks.”


Vincent got up and walked into her kitchen. He had observed her enough to know where she kept everything. He quickly got it all together and brought it out to her. “This smells wonderful, Catherine.”


“Yes, it does,” Catherine agreed. She was surprised that the aroma of the food had stimulated her appetite. She took some of the rice, a small piece of chicken and three ribs. 


Vincent observed her and wondered about her appetite. “Catherine, you’re not like one of those silly women from the movies who don’t eat so they can try and maintain their tiny waists, are you?” 


“Vincent, I assure you, I work hard to keep this body. I don’t get the exercise you do at my job so I have to get it on my own. Just wait until I’m pregnant and as big as a house. Wait until I send you to Stan’s at 2:00 in the morning for a candy bar and pickles. You’ll be begging me to eat less.” 


“You will be carrying my child. You will need to keep up your strength.” 


“I’ll be fat and ugly!” She snorted in disgust for everything women had to go through.


“You’ll be beautiful.” He smiled and leaned over to kiss her. 


She kissed him and looked down. She hid a satisfied smirk on her face, He was thinking about fatherhood now with no hesitation and no fear. He hadn’t even realized how normal they sounded. 


Vincent finished almost all of the food. There was a small amount left and Catherine wrapped it up and put it into the fridge. Vincent and she washed the dishes and headed with tea to the living room.


**********


“Vincent, would you like to househunt with me?”


Vincent shook his head ruefully. “Catherine, you know I would like to but I can’t.” 


“Sure you can!” She shot up and headed to get the Sunday paper. She rifled through the stack and grabbed the classifieds and flipped to the “For Sale” ads. She handed him the paper, then grabbed her legal pad and pen and sat down next to him.


“Vincent, I thought some things over while you slept. I would like to get a big house for you and me and any kids we have but I also want to have guest bedrooms for the children Below. Children like Michael, who needed a place to stay while he got acclimated to college, or Laura, who needed a place to go to for refuge, a place where she could always feel safe and a place where she could go to when she needs a break from the world around her.”


Vincent slowly shook his head. “Catherine, you do so much already….”


“I know, but I’d like to do more.”


They began to read through the ads together. They laughed at the descriptions of some of the places. There were places for sale in terrible neighborhoods, yet the realtors had put colorful phrases in the ads to entice people to look at them. Catherine jotted down three addresses of prospective buildings. She wasn’t thrilled with them but they were worth looking into. 


Vincent sat quietly. He couldn’t believe the prices they were asking. He and Catherine never discussed money before. He had none to offer and he knew she was wealthy, but how much could she afford on her own? How did one go about asking that question? Could he allow her to spend all she had on a place that he couldn’t help pay for? 


Catherine noticed Vincent had gotten quiet again. She dispensed with her normal pleading and just sighed. “What is it, Vincent?”


“Catherine, these buildings are very expensive. You must know I have nothing to offer to you....”


Catherine realized what the problem was and she rushed to assure Vincent everything was going to be all right. “Vincent, I was blessed to have two parents who loved me very much. They also happened to be extremely wealthy. Both of my parents were only children and I am an only child. I have inherited more money then I can hope to spend in a lifetime. If I can buy one of these buildings and help you and the others Below lead a better life, I am going to do it. You need to get used to the idea of having newer things in your life. I also want you to know that at any time, if you want to purchase something or if you want something, you are to tell me so that I can get it for you.” 


Vincent knew he would not win this argument, so he gave up. He would try not to burden her with his needs and he would continue to work hard in his community so as to not be a burden on them either.


“Vincent, there’s more. You know that Margaret left her money to me; she gave me orders to use it in any way that I could to help the community Below. In the past, I have always tried to ‘shelter’ Father from knowing how much I gave to the helpers to keep everyone Below comfortable. Now I realize that there is so much that the money could be used for, the possibilities are endless. As for Father….” 


“Catherine,” Vincent tried to quietly interrupt. 


“...Well, I think he and his future daughter-in-law are going to need to sit down and talk. I know he’s as stubborn as you when it comes to money, but think of the education it could bring to the kids. They could easily afford college now. Father could even make them work harder to prove their ‘worth’ before they are given the money to attend....” 


Vincent stared at her in amusement. He thought he had better try to slow her down. “Catherine.” 


“...Those that don’t want an education could go to trade schools or we could pay their salaries and have them work for helpers until they learn the skills they need to make it on their own....”


Vincent lowered his head and kissed Catherine deeply, effectively quieting her. She was panting heavily as she looked up at him in surprise. 


“What was that for?”


Vincent’s eyes shone with laughter as he gently teased her. “I wanted to see if I could get your attention. I will have to remember in the future how I got you to listen.” 


“I’m sorry, Vincent.” Catherine blushed and looked down in embarrassment.  Vincent lifted her chin to look into her eyes. 


“Don’t ever be embarrassed for caring so passionately about something. I love to see how you light up when you are excited about a cause. Your determination is inspiring.”


Catherine smiled at him, then sighed, “Thank you, Vincent. It always seems like I have to fight harder to prove myself to people. I hate it when people think I’m just a spoiled little rich girl. When I was growing up, I saw so many rich kids that aspired to do nothing. They were perfectly content taking what they thought was owed to them. It’s disgusting how shallow and unproductive those people actually are as they sail through life on the coattails of their hard-working parents. It’s amazing how cruel and ugly they are. I have seen so many people who are shells of what they could have been had they just applied themselves.”


Vincent shook his head. He wouldn’t believe that Catherine could have ever been like she described. “You could never be like that, Catherine. Your heart is too kind.”


“Sadly enough, I was a lot like that. Well, not cruel, but I was pretty selfish. After my mother died, I never heard the word ‘no’... I guess my Dad just thought it would be easier to give in. I don’t know how he put up with me sometimes.” Catherine looked down, thinking of her father and how much she missed him.


Vincent looked at her, sympathetic for the things she had to go through at such a young age. “You were a child trying to come to terms with the loss of a mother. You deserved to be a little spoiled. I can tell you received love as well as possessions or you wouldn’t care about people as much as you do. You have never shown that other side to anyone Below. You have always been extremely generous with your time and your money.”


“It’s not my money anymore, Vincent, it’s our money. I want you to have just as much input into the things we could accomplish as I do. I want you to be a part of the planning when I...we...talk to Father.”


“Where do you want to start?” Vincent wondered.


“The children, I guess. The people Below struggle daily for their very existence, yet they have the most beautiful spirit. There is always a kind word to be given and a helping hand if you need it. The kids are amazingly unselfish and thankful. For the most part, they are better suited for the world Above then the kids who were raised in it. I want to make sure that they be given a chance to attain their goals. Reach their dreams.”


Vincent grabbed her hand and kissed it. “We will work on it together then, Catherine. We will speak to Father together.”


Catherine kissed him, then fell into his arms. She was so grateful he was finally taking her off the pedestal she always felt like she was put on. She wanted them to be equals in every way.


“Catherine?” Vincent said as he pulled away.


“Yes, Vincent?” She wondered what more he would question.


“Did I see a carton of chocolate ice cream in your freezer?”


Catherine laughed out loud. She had forgotten Stan had sent Vincent’s favorite dessert. “Vincent, I forgot it was in there. If you would like some, I could get it for you.”


Vincent shook his head. “You don’t have to do that. I can get it. Would you like a bowl?”


“I’d better not...I’ve had an awful lot to eat today,” she said ruefully.


Vincent left and came back shortly with a huge bowl of ice cream for himself. She looked at it with horror. “You’re not going to eat it plain like that, are you?”


Vincent looked at her with a question in his eyes, while Catherine shook her head. “Vincent, nobody eats ice cream without toppings on it!”


“Catherine, I’ve never had...toppings on my ice cream before. I don’t know what you mean.”


Catherine decided she would have to treat the world Below to an ice cream sundae bar, complete with every topping imaginable, as soon as she could. 


“Here, give me that bowl and follow me.” 


Catherine took Vincent’s bowl and got up to walk to the kitchen. Vincent followed curiously behind her. Catherine dug through her cabinets, pulling out three different kinds of toppings. She opened the refrigerator door and grabbed a can of whipped cream and nuts and even managed to find a jar of maraschino cherries. 


She silently thanked Jenny for her last break-up that resulted in a girl’s pig-out fest in Catherine’s living room; without that she wouldn’t have had the ingredients Vincent needed. Catherine scooped his ice cream into a bigger bowl and quickly added all the toppings. Vincent watched in fascination as she created a big sundae for him. She put two cherries on the top of it.  


She handed him the bowl and spoon. “Now here’s a bowl of ice cream you can be proud of!” 


She turned and went back to the couch as Vincent followed behind her. With one last look at her, he tasted the new treat. He looked like he’d died and went to heaven. He licked his lips and moaned in pleasure. Catherine stared at him in amusement as he heartily dug into the treat. 


He offered her a spoonful and she took it from him. His eyes darkened with passion as he watched her lips caress the spoon as she slid the ice cream from it. Catherine smiled at him innocently and moved to pick up the cherry from the ice cream. She ran it through the whipped cream and held it to his mouth.


“Here, have my cherry.”


Vincent took it into his mouth and savored the sweetness. He smiled at her as he repeated her gesture. “Catherine, would you like my cherry?”


“I’ve already had it, Vincent.”


He looked at her quizzically as she started to giggle. “Never mind.” She took his cherry as she realized that he didn’t understand the hidden meaning. 


Vincent offered Catherine more spoonfuls and the sundae was quickly finished. Catherine grabbed it and walked it to the kitchen while Vincent sat back and enjoyed the fire. She quickly rinsed the bowl and came back to sit next to Vincent. 


**********


Catherine snuggled in next to him as he released a sigh. She lifted her face to his and smiled. “Happy?”


“Catherine, I can’t tell you how happy I am when I’m with you. This weekend was like a dream.”


She nodded in agreement, then looked down sadly. “Too bad it has to end. Tomorrow it’s back to reality and we have to wake up from our dream. I have so much to do at work.”


“Yes, and I will have to go and face Father’s wrath.”


Catherine looked at him, a question in her eyes as he smiled down at her and explained. “I never told him I was staying here this weekend.”


She sat up and looked at him with concern. “Vincent, he’ll be worried sick!”


“No, I left it for Devin to handle.”


Catherine giggled. “Chicken!”


Vincent rolled his eyes and grabbed her to pull her back to his side. “He can lecture me soon enough.”


Catherine continued to giggle and couldn’t help teasing him. “Oh, you poor baby, I wish I could be there with you.”


Vincent grabbed her waist and started to tickle her as she rolled over trying to get away. She surprised him with a burst of strength and managed to get away from him. He lunged for her and she screeched as he narrowly missed catching her. She ran into the bedroom as he leapt to his feet in hot pursuit. In her eagerness to get away, Catherine tripped on the last step and caught herself before she fell. It gave Vincent enough time to catch her and lift her into his arms.  


She squealed in outrage as he tickled her sides and set her on the bed. He knelt over her and kissed her as his tickles changed to caresses. The kiss soon had them gasping for breath as she undid his shirt buttons. 


Vincent retreated in concern. “Catherine, you’re sore, you should rest.”


Catherine kissed him deeply, then grabbed his shirt and slid it off his shoulders. “Tomorrow!” she gasped. “I can rest tomorrow!”


Vincent’s restraint vanished and he fell next to her on the bed. Their movements were hurried as they removed one another’s clothing, but Vincent’s control took over and he slowed their lovemaking to gentle caresses. As he entered her, he did so slowly; he kept his rhythm slow and it wasn’t long before the pressure had built inside of them and needed to released. They gasped in unison as he drove them over the edge. Vincent collapsed on top of her but successfully kept most of his weight on his elbows.  He kissed her and rolled over on his back, trying to catch his breath.


“Catherine, will it always be like this?” he panted.


“I think so, Vincent. I don’t think I will ever get enough of you.” 


She smiled and moved to snuggle against him. Once his heartbeat settled down again, he moved off the bed and turned down the covers. Catherine crawled underneath them and he slid in next to her. She put her head in the crook of his arms and gently caressed his chest with her hand. He took her hand in his, brought it to his lips and kissed it. He looked at the ring finger and stopped. He had forgotten Margaret’s ring in his jeans pocket.  


He patted her hand and slid from the bed, then bent and quickly put on his lounge pants. He walked to his jeans, then smiled at her as he dug into the pocket and removed a small square felt. He walked back to the bed nervously. 


The bond spoke to Catherine of his nervousness and she looked at him quizzically. He sat on the edge of the bed facing her and suddenly became very serious. 


“Tell me,” she prompted.


“Catherine, I have something to give you, something that was given to me by Father. It belonged to Margaret and he wished for me to give it to you as my wife.” Vincent reached out his hand to her.


Catherine nodded as he handed her the small felt square. She smiled as she opened it and saw the rings it contained. She took them out and held them in her hands. “Oh, Vincent, they’re beautiful!” 


Vincent smiled as he took the woman’s ring and placed it on her finger. “Catherine, these rings were Father and Margaret’s wedding rings. They had a happy beginning and a happy ending. Our relationship reminds me of theirs in some ways...so many outside forces to overcome. I want to show everyone that love in its purest form can endure through all of life’s obstacles. I want to prove that love will always win.”


“Vincent, I would be honored to wear these rings. Margaret didn’t have the strength when she was young but she always loved Father and came back to him in the end. He forgave her and together they found happiness once again.”


Catherine slipped Father’s ring onto Vincent’s finger. It stopped just above the knuckle. “I guess yours will have to be bigger,” she giggled.


Vincent was embarrassed that his hands were so big and looked down at the bed.  “Maybe I just shouldn’t wear one.”


“There is no way in the world that you’re getting away with not wearing a ring! This ring will tell every other woman that you’re mine and that you’re off limits!”


Vincent looked at her in amusement. She was treating him like he was some desirable heartthrob. He was so grateful that she always made him feel so wanted. “Maybe I should wear it through my nose so you can lead me around,” he teased.


Catherine pretended to consider his request. He looked smug but his eyes began to show his worry. She laughed as she saw the change. “No, I guess the finger is good enough. Why don’t I take them in and get them resized?” 


He nodded in thanks and tears came to her eyes. “What is it, Catherine?”


“It feels so right on my finger, like it was always meant to be resting there. I hate to think of taking it off now that it’s finally found a home again.”


“I’m glad you like the rings, Catherine. You don’t mind....” Vincent trailed off, unsure of his words.


“What?” 


“You don’t mind that they’re...not new. That they’re used?” Vincent looked embarrassed. “Catherine, I wish I could afford to buy you a ring at the most expensive counter in Tiffany’s, but….”


“But those rings, Vincent, are just rings. These rings have already symbolized a great love, they’ve already lived a lifetime of love, and now they get to live again. I am so honored that Father thinks enough of me to allow me the opportunity to wear his rings. I can’t wait to thank him!”


“You’re the daughter he never had; he loves you, Catherine, and so do I.” 


Vincent smiled and kissed her gently. Catherine smiled as he broke the kiss. “I love you, too, Vincent.”


Catherine sat with her arm extended and admired the ring on her finger. Vincent crawled under the covers and pulled her to lay back on him. She snuggled down against him and twirled her hand in the light, admiring the sparkle from the diamonds. He smiled and turned off the light and they held each other by candlelight. 


“I’ll be gone when you wake tomorrow, Catherine,” Vincent whispered.


Catherine tilted her head to look at him. “Wake me up before you leave, I want to say goodbye.”


“We should say our goodbyes now; you need your rest.”


Catherine shook her head. “No, I want to get to work early tomorrow so I can be in the tunnels by 7:00 tomorrow night.”


He looked at her in confusion. “I forgot to tell you, didn’t I? Peter wants to talk to you and me together and I bet Father will want to be there as well.”


Vincent sighed. “I wonder what he wants to talk about? I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.”


Catherine smiled and kissed him, then rolled over as he spooned up behind her. He held her as they fell asleep.


********** 


Vincent woke right before dawn. He reached for Catherine to hold her one last time. He caressed her shoulder gently while he enjoyed the feel of her safe in his arms. With a sigh, he released her and scooted to the end of the bed. He grabbed his clothes and walked into the bathroom. He quickly changed and headed for the balcony doors to look for his shoes. 


While he was putting them on, Catherine woke. “Vincent?”


“I’m here,” he whispered.


Catherine sat up in bed and rubbed her eyes. “Are you leaving already?”


“It’s almost dawn, I....”


“I know. I can’t wait until we find a place. I like to wake up in your arms. Can I have a kiss before you leave?”


Vincent smiled as he walked over to her. “I’ll see you tonight.” 


“I know, but 7:00 seems so far away.” 


Vincent leaned down and brushed his lips against hers. “Rest now.”


“No, I’m getting up too. I want to get an early start. I never want to have work on weekends again. From now on, weekends are ours! We can stay Below or you can come Above; either way we are going to be together.”


“I agree. This last separation was the longest.” Vincent bent and kissed her once again, then headed out the door. 


With a sigh, Catherine got ready for work.


**********


Vincent was Below in no time. He headed for his chamber, then quietly slipped out when he remembered Devin was there and sleeping. He went to the kitchen and William greeted him enthusiastically.


“Hey there, Vincent, haven’t see you all weekend.”


“Good morning, William. I haven’t been here; I spent the weekend with Catherine.”


“Good for you.” William pounded him on the back. 


“William, Devin is still sleeping in my chamber; can I help you prepare anything?”


“Sure, I would never refuse a helping hand. Here, put this on and come on over here.” 


Vincent took the apron that William offered and tied it around his front. William guided him to the griddle and showed him how to make pancakes. Vincent soon had a dozen cooking and William handed him a stainless steel container to stack them in. He would place it in the oven later and keep the pancakes warm.


William got to work on the rest of the meal. He looked over at Vincent and smiled. “So, did you and Catherine get a chance to make any plans for the wedding?”


Vincent nodded. “A few; I told Catherine she would have to consult with everyone down here about the final plans. I do know she wants to meet with you about the meal.”


William beamed with pride. “So, she’s not going to hire a caterer?”


Vincent shook his head. “I don’t think so. I know neither of us would wish to burden you with another huge party. Winterfest cooking takes up all your free time; we hate to ask you to do it again.”


“Nonsense! I’ll have so much help because it’s yours and Catherine’s wedding, I won’t know what to do with it all.”


Vincent smiled, then cocked his head as he listened to a message come from Father requesting some of William’s special tea. 


William scowled as he got his special blend off the top shelf. “Poor Father, this damp cold weather must be getting to him again. That’s the third time in a week he’s had to ask for it. Now where’s Samantha, she should be here by now...she could take this to him.”


Vincent took the last of the pancakes off the grill. “I’ll take it to him, William. I need to tell him I’ve returned.”


“Thanks, Vincent.”


**********


Vincent carried Father’s tray with the tea to him. He walked into the study and set it down on the table. Father was in the other room when he heard the cups rattle.


“Thank you, Samantha. Please ask William if he would send me a breakfast tray in about an hour. I’m not feeling very....”


Father walked out of his bedroom and spotted Vincent. “Vincent, you’re back?”


Vincent nodded but his face showed his concern. “Yes, Father. I got back about an hour ago. I was helping William make pancakes when your call for tea came over the pipes. Are you not feeling well?”


Father waved his hand dismissively in the air as he sat down with a groan. “Just a little stiffer than usual; these old bones can’t take this damp winter air. Did you have a nice time with Catherine this weekend?”


Vincent nodded again. “It was wonderful. I gave her the rings, Father.”


Father gasped in surprise. “So soon? Well, what’d she say? Did she like them?” 


“She loved them, Father. She was honored that you offered them to us. She is planning on thanking you tonight.” Vincent looked at him, hoping he would enlighten him on what it was that they were supposed to discuss. 


Father chose to ignore him and turned the conversation back to the rings. “I’m glad Catherine could appreciate the love that was behind the gesture. Did it fit her okay?”


“Catherine’s fit perfectly. She’s getting yours...mine resized.”


Father grinned at his son. “Yes, well, I figured that would have to happen.”


Devin chose that moment to walk in the room. “Good morning,” he grumbled.


“Good morning, son. Did you sleep well?” Father smiled.


“Without that big furry oaf that’s usually in there, I get a good night’s rest. Yes, these past two nights have been nice.” Devin, pretending not to have seen Vincent, smiled as he walked up to the table. “Oh, Vincent, you’re back.” 


Father rolled his eyes as Vincent shook his head. “Yes, Devin. I’m home and ready to take my chamber back. You should be able to find an empty guest chamber now that Winterfest is over. Look in Section 12...there should be something there.”


Devin looked at him suspiciously. “Section 12 is the furthest from the community....”


Vincent looked at him innocently. “Is it? I hadn’t realized.”


Devin shook his head. “That’s great, Vincent! That’s the thanks I get for getting you to Catherine’s in the middle of the day....”


Devin stopped as he and Vincent exchanged anxious looks. Father’s head snapped up and he looked at them for some sort of an explanation. 


When none came, he cleared his throat. “I’m waiting.” 


Samantha entered the room with a breakfast tray for Father. Devin and Vincent sighed in relief. 


Devin jumped up from his chair. “Wow, that smells good. I’m going to head for breakfast.”


Vincent shot up from his chair. “Sounds good, Devin, I’ll go with you.”


The two men walked quickly for the door. Samantha looked at Father as he called out to them. “Don’t think I won’t hear that story later!”


With a sigh, Father thanked Samantha for bringing him a tray. 



********** 


Catherine went to work early and was sitting at her desk immersed in files when Joe came in. He spotted Catherine at her desk and walked over to it, smiling. 


“Hey, Radcliffe! What are you doing here so early?”


Catherine marked her spot in the deposition she was reading, then looked up as she gave him one of her brightest smiles. “Good morning, Joe.” 


“Whoa, somebody had a good weekend. Must’ve got lucky, huh?”


Catherine rolled her eyes and shook her head, choosing to ignore him. She pointed at the coffee pot. “I just made some fresh coffee.”  


Joe smiled at her. “Huh, trying to butter me up for something?” 


He turned and went to the pot and poured himself a cup. He brought the pot over to her desk and refreshed hers as well. 


“Thanks, Joe and no, I’m not trying to butter you up, although...I do need to leave here by 5:00.” She looked up at him hopefully.


“5:00...hot date on a Monday night? He must be pretty special.” Joe laughed at her, then saw she wasn’t going to tell him anything, so he continued, “I see you found the big stack of work I left on your desk Friday; let’s see how much of this you can have done by this afternoon.”


Catherine handed him better than a third of the pile. “Here, these are completed and ready for you to look over.”


Joe’s jaw dropped in surprise. “All this, Chandler? What the hell time did you get here, 8:00?”


“7:00!” Catherine said as she smiled, then looked back at her files. 


Joe looked down at her and shook his head in disbelief. He walked into his office and set the files on the desk. He was opening the blinds on his windows when a thought crossed his mind. He quickly walked back to her desk and grabbed her left hand.  


“Ha! I wasn’t imagining it! You’re wearing a ring! You got engaged this weekend?”


A blush crept over Catherine’s cheeks. She berated herself for forgetting she had the ring on and now she was going to have to tell Joe something. She looked at him and saw how confused he looked and she looked down and worriedly decided what she should say. As far as anyone in the office knew, she wasn’t even dating anyone.


Catherine looked at him again and sighed. “Yes, Joe, I am engaged, and right now I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my entire life. But I’m wondering if there’s any way we can keep this quiet? I don’t want a lot of people knowing about it.” Catherine slipped off the ring and put it discreetly in her purse. 


Joe looked at her with concern. “Hey, Cathy, don’t take this the wrong way, but when a girl gets engaged she usually wants to shout it from the rooftops. If you’re really engaged...why the long face? Are you not happy about it? Are you being forced into it or something?”


“No, I’m not being forced into anything. I just really would like it to remain private.” Catherine’s eyes pleaded with him for understanding.


Joe nodded and looked at her suspiciously. “Hey, if that’s the way you want it, fine by me. I won’t tell anyone your news.” He put up his hands in surrender and started to walk away. 


“Thanks, Joe.” Catherine smiled at him. She knew she had hurt him by not telling him more about Vincent, but she just didn’t see how it could be done. With a sigh she turned back to her work. 


Catherine worked through her lunch hour and had almost all of the files completed by 3:00. She had three stacks on her desks: those that were ready to go to Joe, those that were waiting for research material, and those that needed more investigation done on them.  She sat and made phone calls to set up appointments for interviews throughout the next week. 


It was 4:00 when she was through with her work. She smiled when she thought that if she left now she would have time to shower and go below and have dinner with Vincent before their meeting with Peter and Father. She grabbed the stack for Joe and headed to his office. She knocked on his door then walked in. She started to back out when she noticed he was on the phone, but seeing her intentions he waved her back into his office. She stood and waited for him to finish his phone call.


Joe hung up after a few minutes. “What’s up?”


Catherine put the files on his desk. “I’m finished with these. I’m still waiting for some data on a few of the others and as for the rest, I’ve scheduled interviews with people for this week.”


“Wow! That’s the fastest I’ve ever seen anyone work; you on your way to meet him now? This guy must be pretty special.”


Catherine nodded and smiled at him. “He is, Joe.”


Joe got up and walked around his desk, then offered her a hug. “Yeah, well, whoever he is, I think he is one pretty lucky guy. Congratulations, Cathy.”


“Thanks, Joe.”


“You’re welcome; now get outta here before I find more for you to do!”


Catherine flew to her desk and grabbed her briefcase and purse and headed for home.


***********


Vincent and Devin avoided Father by spending most of their day in the lower tunnels helping Kanin and Cullen carve out new chambers. The new living quarters were starting to shape up nicely as the four men worked together. Each man put all his effort into the back-breaking work but the easy banter that went on between them made the day more bearable. 


William sent down a hot lunch and the men quickly devoured it, then got right back to work. A few hours later, Devin had finally had enough. It had been years since he had worked this hard. 


“Guys, I gotta rest!” Devin sat down hard and swiped at the sweat rolling down his face. 


Kanin nodded and sat down next to Devin. “Yeah, me, too! Luke was up late last night teething.”


Cullen poured cold water for everybody and then sat down next to the other men. Vincent took a hearty drink and then went back to work. 


Cullen shook his head in exasperation. He turned and looked at the other two men and grumbled, “I guess Catherine didn’t tire him out this weekend after all. She must’ve lost interest already!” 


Kanin chuckled and Devin looked over at Vincent. “Don’t let him fool you, he’s only trying to avoid a talk with Father, although if Cathy could see him now, she might think twice about keeping his furry butt.”


Vincent turned and looked at the three men, and shyly smiled at his friends. “Actually, I think Catherine loves my furry butt, and if you must know, I’m trying to finish this chamber. I figure there’s only an hour or so left of work and it will be complete. The Stevens’ kids could move back in with their parents and not be separated anymore. Maybe little Jessica will sleep through the night again when she’s near her mother.”


Vincent turned and went back to work. Kanin’s heart clenched when he thought of little Jessica crying in her bed without her mother nearby. He got up and went to work next to Vincent. Cullen took a big swallow of cool water and stood and walked over to pick up the rocks they were chiseling off the walls. Devin sighed and stood to stretch as he too joined in the work. 


They had worked for a few more hours when Cullen finally called it quits. Devin looked at him with relief and Kanin nodded in agreement. It was 5:15 and they had been working since 8:30. 


“C’mon, Vincent, call it a day,” Kanin pleaded.


Vincent shook his head and continued to chisel. “I would just like to finish this last shelf.”  


Cullen was going to argue but Vincent suddenly stopped chiseling and looked off into the distance. All three men had been with him at one time or another when he got this look in his eyes. They knew it meant that feelings of Catherine were flowing through the bond. 


“Catherine’s Below. Perhaps we should quit for the day.” 


Vincent grabbed his tools and started to walk to the door. The other men shook their heads with amusement and followed him back to the home tunnels. Kanin and Cullen headed for the bathing pools while Devin and Vincent headed for their chamber.


“Devin, I’m just going to tell Catherine I need to bathe. She’s almost to the study. Perhaps she can sit with Father for awhile.” 


“Sure, let Father lecture her instead of you.” Devin grinned as Vincent’s face changed instantly. “I was kidding! I’ll meet you in the bathing chamber.”


Devin entered their chamber as Vincent continued on to the study. He was correct and Catherine was indeed just sitting down with Father when he walked in. 


Father looked up in shock at his son’s filthy appearance. Vincent was covered from head to toe in dust and grime. His hair from sweating hung down in tangles on the sides of his face. “Vincent, you should head to the bathing chamber immediately.”


Vincent nodded in acknowledgement. “I just wanted to tell Catherine I was heading there and I would be a few minutes.”


Catherine had turned and looked at Vincent with adoration in her eyes. He was the most handsome man she knew. She rose to her feet and walked over to him. He blinked in surprise when she went on her tippy toes and kissed him on the lips. 


She smiled at him as she stepped back and held his hands as she looked at him hopefully. “Hello, Vincent. I’m sorry I’m early. I thought we could have dinner together before the meeting.”


“I should like nothing better. I just need some time to clean up. Perhaps you could visit with Father?” 


Vincent looked over at Father for confirmation. “I’d like nothing better, Vincent. Please, Catherine, will you join me for some tea?” 


Catherine smiled as she walked back to her seat. Vincent looked at his Father and issued a warning with his eyes. Father nodded in understanding and Vincent bowed his head in thanks. He turned and walked out the door.


**********


Father looked over at Catherine. “I’m sure he won’t be very long since he knows you are waiting.”


Catherine smiled and shook her head. “I don’t know...he looked pretty dirty.”  


“I’ve seen him look worse. I don’t think he’ll be long,” Father rushed to reassure her.


“I shouldn’t have come so early without checking with him first. I didn’t realize he was going to be so busy,” Catherine stated.


“Nonsense, I know that they worked overtime today. They probably tried to finish a chamber for a new family that has come down here to live. The children are having a hard time sleeping away from their parents. I know the little girl’s crying touched Vincent deeply.”


“I can see that happening. Too bad there isn’t a way to carve chambers quicker.” Catherine smiled. She wished there was equipment or something that could be brought Below to help the growing community.


“I would certainly welcome that idea. This poor family was sleeping in their van. When the temperatures dropped below 0 last week, one of our helpers found them huddled together. He could hear the kids crying out in pain from the cold.”


“You were able to help them?” Catherine asked hopefully.


“Yes, we got them warm and comfortable. The parents have been extremely helpful. They are always ready to lend a helping hand whenever anyone asks and the kids are starting to settle in. It’s just been hard at night; I think with everything they’ve been through, they’re afraid to be separated from their mom and dad.” 


 “That’s certainly understandable.” Catherine nodded in sympathy then looked away.


Both of them still seemed a little nervous. Catherine was wondering what the meeting with Peter was going to be about and Father was trying to not say the wrong thing. So many times, he said something, thinking it was the right thing to do, and he only ended up hurting someone. 


Catherine looked over at Father with a smile. “I’m glad we have this opportunity to talk.”


Father raised his eyebrows in surprise. He was certainly not expecting her to welcome being alone with him. “I’m glad as well, Catherine. It seems like we never have an opportunity to talk alone. Here, let me pour you some tea.”


He reached over and poured her a cup, then pushed it on the table to her. She reached for it and he noticed the ring on her finger. He let a small smile creep onto his face. Catherine looked up and noticed his gaze, then followed it to her hand. With a smile, she set down her cup of tea and extended her hand to show him the ring. 


“So, Vincent gave you the ring?” Father questioned. He was a bit nervous as to what her answer was going to be. 


Catherine nodded. “Yes, he did, and it’s the reason I’m glad we get to talk alone.”


Father looked at her, wondering if she was upset about getting a used ring. “Catherine, I told Vincent if you didn’t care for the ring that you should feel free to return it and....”


Catherine looked horrified at the thought. She possessively held her other hand over the ring. “Not care for it?! Father, I absolutely love it!”


Tears sprang to Catherine’s eyes as she lovingly looked at the ring. “Father, I am so honored that you offered Vincent the chance to give me this ring. I am truly touched that you think enough of me to allow me to wear something that meant so much to you and Margaret.”


Father looked down and hid the tears that sprang to his eyes. “Catherine, I know we have had our...differences. But I want you to know that I look at you as more than Vincent’s future wife. I look at you as the daughter that I never had, as the daughter that I wished I could have had.”


“Thank you, Father.”


Father held up his hand to stop her. “Let me try to get the rest of this out...Margaret met you and knew you for such a short amount of time, but she told me that she could tell immediately that you were the one for Vincent. Your love inspired us to have some very painful but healing talks. When she died, she died as my wife; your devotion helped bring us back together. Margaret said that she truly cared for you and that she felt she could love you…. I want you to know, Catherine, that I do love you. You are the only choice for my son and I will never be able to thank you enough for all you have given to him. I am honored that you agreed to use our rings as a symbol of your love.”


Father looked up and Catherine could see the shimmer in his eyes. She ran to his side and hugged him warmly. “Father, I now know that whatever happens in the future, I have a father again.” 


Father returned her hug and then Catherine sat down next to him. There were tears flowing from their eyes but they were smiling warmly at one another. 


That’s how they were when Vincent walked in. He looked at them quizzically and they looked at one another and burst out in laughter. Catherine swiped at the tears in her eyes and Father used the backs of his gloves to wipe the tears from his eyes. 


Vincent smiled, pleased that the two weren’t arguing but had rather seemed to reach some sort of an agreement. “We should think about heading to the dining chamber, it’s almost dinnertime.” 


Peter walked in at that exact moment. “Good evening, everyone, did I hear someone say dinner? Great, I timed it perfectly!”


Father stood and walked over to Peter and put his arm around him. “Yes, it would seem that you did. It’s amazing to me how coincidentally your visits are timed with the meals that are served here.”


“You don’t say.” Peter laughed and turned as Father led him out.


Vincent offered his arm to Catherine and she took it but lagged behind. Vincent slowed his pace, wondering why she was walking so slowly. He soon got his answer; once Father and Peter were out of sight, she flung her arms around his neck and gave him a deeply passionate kiss. Devin walked in and Vincent broke the kiss and stepped back. He and Catherine were breathing heavily and they blushed in embarrassment for being caught acting like two teenagers.


Devin couldn’t help but tease. “Hey, don’t stop on my account. I would have thought you had enough of each other this weekend. You two heading back to our chamber or might you try to nourish those bodies?”


Catherine looked at her future brother-in-law. “We are going to dinner, Devin. I was just saying hello to Vincent.”


“Wow! If that’s hello...I’d love to be in the room when you’re saying goodbye.”


Catherine blushed and Vincent walked to Devin and poked him in the chest with his finger. “You’d better be nice, Devin, or I won’t allow you to be the best man at the wedding.”


Devin looked surprised and then began to smile at the news. He looked back and forth between Vincent and Catherine. “Really? You want me to be your best man?”


Catherine smiled and nodded and Vincent looked down shyly. “There is no one else that I would rather ask, Devin. You are one of the most important people in my life. I’d be honored if you would stand by me as I commit myself to Catherine.”


Devin rubbed his hands together vigorously and shouted, “Woo Hoo! I won’t let you down, little brother.”


Catherine and Vincent smiled at his exuberance. 


“I guess he’s pretty happy, Vincent,” Catherine said as Vincent smiled at her. 


Devin started to walk and talk out loud of his plans. “Well, I guess I should start working on my best man’s speech. Man, the things I’m gonna tell about you....”


Catherine giggled as Vincent looked horrified. Devin noticed his expression and started to laugh. Catherine placed her hand on Vincent’s arm to offer him her support.


Vincent put his arm around her, then looked down at her. “I wonder if it’s too late to change my mind and ask someone else.”


Catherine giggled as Devin ran back to their side. “No way, I promise I’ll be good! Just trust me.”


Vincent rolled his eyes and Catherine continued to giggle as they made their way to the dining chamber for dinner.


********** 


Devin, Vincent and Catherine spent their dinner with Kanin and Olivia and Cullen and Rebecca. The friends visited until well after dinner was completed. Olivia was first to leave because Luke was starting to get fussy and Kanin, of course, left with her. Rebecca went with Jamie to make candles and Cullen went with Mouse to see some new plans Mouse had.


Peter came up to the table and greeted everyone as they began to leave, then looked at Catherine and Vincent. “If you two aren’t busy, maybe we could have that meeting?”


Vincent looked worried but Catherine shot to her feet. “Sure, Peter. I’m curious what could be so important that you and Father wanted to have a meeting with both of us.”


Peter smiled at her then came over and put his arm around her. “You are as insatiable as ever. Have you ever heard the saying ‘curiosity killed the cat’?”


Catherine giggled at him. “Sure! A million times from you and Dad while I was growing up.”


Father had left earlier, so Catherine walked with Peter while Vincent trailed behind. Vincent looked to Devin for support. “Devin, you’re welcome to come to the meeting with us if you’d like.”


Devin laughed at his brother’s nervousness. “I already know what this meeting’s about and watching you get a lecture from Father is not part of the best man’s duties. Thanks anyway! Good luck!”


Devin walked off, and with a sigh Vincent caught up with Catherine and Peter.


**********  


Father had tea waiting for everyone and the four of them sat down together. Catherine held Vincent’s hand. She was not worried in the least bit but she knew Vincent was leery about hearing what they had to say. 


Both of them looked to Father to begin and were surprised when Peter cleared his throat and took the lead in the conversation. 


“I want to thank you for coming to listen to us. I know you may not be thrilled with the things we are going to talk about, but I want you both to know that it is our belief that it will be beneficial to everyone in the long run.”


Catherine smiled at Peter. “Stop beating around the bush; what is it that you want to discuss?”


Peter looked to Father one last time; Father nodded, so Peter continued, “Well, it has come to our attention that your relationship has moved...forward.”


Vincent sat up in his seat. “I don’t see how that is any of yours or Father’s business....”


Catherine squeezed his hand to calm him. “Let him speak, Vincent.”


Peter nodded at her. “Thank you, honey. Personally, I think it is wonderful that you and Vincent are together. I’m glad that you’re finally...well...never mind. But you’re right, Vincent, it normally would not be our business. Father and I are concerned about your future. We’re concerned about the possibility of you having children together.”


This time it was Catherine who was the one to sit up in her seat. She angrily addressed the two men. “If either of you think you will have any say in whether or not Vincent and I have children, you’re crazy. If Vincent and I conceive, I would like both of you to be a part of the process, but if you don’t support us you can both go to ....”


Peter put up his hand to stop her. “Catherine, honey...please, just hear us out.”


Catherine sat back to listen to what they had to say as Peter sighed, then continued, “We are not concerned about your decision to have a child, we are concerned about your personal health, as well as the baby’s health.”


Vincent sat forward in his seat again. “Why are you concerned about Catherine’s health, Peter? Is she in danger if she carries a child of mine?”


Peter shook his head. “Not just a child of yours, Vincent, but any child....”


Catherine shook her head. “Oh, for Pete’s sake, Peter, I’m perfectly healthy. Why couldn’t I carry a child if I wanted to?”


This time, Vincent squeezed her hand in support. “Let him speak, Catherine.”


Peter chuckled at how alike these two were and then became serious again. “Catherine, there are things you should know about your mother’s medical background….”


Catherine finally became concerned and sat forward again. “What are they, Peter?”


Peter looked at her and took her hand in his. “Catherine, your mother actually had two miscarriages before she had you. I wasn’t her doctor at the time, but I know each time she miscarried it was before the fourth month and, unfortunately, back then we just didn’t have the technology to know why. When she became pregnant with you, she switched to me for her medical treatment. There were no complications and, other than a little morning sickness, you were a pretty uneventful pregnancy. When you were about three, I guess, she became pregnant again and once again miscarried. After that I think they just quite trying.”


Catherine allowed the information to sink in before she asked her question. “But my mother never suffered any side effects of the miscarriages, right?”


“No, other than being emotionally draining, physically she was fine; well, until she became sick, of course.”


Vincent was highly concerned. “Did the miscarriages have anything to do with the reason Catherine’s mother became sick?” 


Peter shook his head. “I don’t believe so, Vincent.”


Vincent was relieved at the news and then thought of another question.  “Peter, is there any reason to believe that Catherine may have the same problems in carrying a child?”


Peter thought for a moment. “Well, sometimes mothers and daughters share the same types of complications, but it certainly isn’t the norm; it doesn’t necessarily happen all the time.”


Catherine sighed. “So, we could all be worried for nothing.”


Peter nodded. “I don’t know if I would say worried; how about cautious?”


Father, who had remained quiet this whole time, finally cleared his throat and all eyes turned to him. Vincent looked at him. “Father, do you have something to add?”


Father nodded and looked at his son. “Peter and I were also worried about you fathering a child.” When he saw Catherine meant to speak, he quickly went on. “Not that you couldn’t father one, but what the general health of the baby would be like.”


It was Catherine’s turn to speak. “Are you afraid for some reason that Vincent’s child would be unhealthy?”


Father nodded. “Catherine, you, of course, know that when Vincent came to us he was very sick. You know that he almost didn’t make it. Peter and I used all of our medical knowledge to help him through his sickness, but in the end it was Vincent who fought his way back to health.”


Catherine knew the story behind Vincent and had to ask, “But it could be that Vincent was so sick because it was January and he was exposed to all the elements?”


Father sighed. “Yes, but Peter and I believe that there may have been more problems then we could determine. It wasn’t like we could do any type of blood work on him. We basically could only feed him and love him until he finally responded.”


Catherine nodded in understanding, storing the information into the back of her mind. “Thankfully, you did! I’m sure it was your love that he finally responded to. Well, technology is much better today. I have access to two wonderful doctors and I’m just going to have to have faith that the two of you will be able to handle any crisis; besides, our baby will have something that Vincent didn’t have, and that’s all of us.”


Father and Peter smiled at her courage and her faith in them. Peter reached for Catherine’s hand. “Honey, I’m glad you understand. We aren’t trying to discourage you from having kids, we just wanted to give you your medical background so you can determine if you want to have kids. We wanted to give you time to...prevent them if you decided against having them.” 


Catherine smiled. “Well, I certainly refuse to prevent any pregnancy. If it happens, it happens. Vincent and I will deal with it once it comes up.”


Father cleared his throat again. He was embarrassed but he knew he had to ask the question. “So, can we assume that to date you haven’t been using anything for protection?”


Catherine blushed and then nodded. “There’s a chance that I may be pregnant right now.” Her eyes sparkled with delight at the thought.


Peter looked over at Vincent. He had been very quiet through the last part of the talk. “Vincent, what is it?”


Vincent hung his head in shame. “Catherine shouldn’t have to go through all of this. I wish there was a way that I could change this. This is happening because she is choosing a life with me.”


Catherine’s eyes flashed in anger. “Vincent, if you think you are going to back out on marrying me, you’ve got another think coming. If and when I have a baby, then we will have a baby, but it’s you I want to spend the rest of my life with. You and I are walking down that aisle in less than four months and nothing is going to change that. Please tell me we are not going to argue about this?” 


Vincent blanched under her anger, then shook his head. Peter laughed at the tiny woman who had control over this hulk of a man. Father smiled; if it was possible, he fell in love with Catherine a little bit more. She never allowed Vincent the chance to bring up his differences. She loved him and accepted him as he was and she wouldn’t hear another thing about it. 


Peter stood up, pleased that the talk had gone so well. “I need to go, it’s getting pretty late. If the two of you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to ask.” 


He stood up and leaned over and kissed Catherine on the forehead. He shook hands with Father and Vincent then said his goodbyes. 


**********


A few minutes after he left, Father looked and saw a book that Peter was to have taken with him sitting on the chair. “Peter wanted this book; too bad he forgot it again.”


Vincent hopped up. “I’ll run it to him, Father.”


“Thank you, Vincent. I know he really wanted to read it.”


Vincent hurried from the chamber. He walked fast and quickly caught up with Peter, who had gotten held up talking to people in the tunnels. 


Vincent called out to him, “Peter!”


Peter turned at Vincent’s voice and smiled. Vincent ran up to him with his arm extended, offering him the book. “Father said that you keep forgetting this. I offered to run it to you.”


Peter shook his head, taking the book. “Thanks, Vincent. That’s the third time I forgot this darn thing.”


Vincent nodded and looked down at the ground. Peter could tell that Vincent looked like he was struggling with a question, so he waited patiently and wasn’t disappointed. Vincent looked up at him but couldn’t bring himself to ask the question.


Peter sighed. “Vincent, no question is ever silly; now, it’s getting late – please, just ask it.”


“Peter, I was wondering if the difference in our size would be an issue in Catherine carrying my child. I’m worried that the baby would be too big and that something like what happened to Devin’s mom could happen to Catherine.”


“Now, see, Vincent, that wasn’t a stupid question at all. Devin was an extremely average-sized baby. Grace was an older woman who should have never had a baby and she ran into complications. Catherine is young and healthy, although she could stand to gain a few pounds. The father’s size has very little to do with the size of the baby. Your future wife was a whopping 9 lbs. 6 oz. at birth. Many women who are built smaller than Catherine have bigger babies and are perfectly fine.”


Peter laughed, grabbed Vincent on the shoulder and shook him gently. “Nine months is a long time to worry, Vincent. Plan your wedding and celebrate your time alone with Catherine. If she has her way, she’ll be pregnant in no time.”


Peter left and Vincent stared at the spot where he had just stood. He pondered everything Peter had just said. With a sigh he turned and walked back to Father’s study. 


**********


Father sat with Catherine waiting for Vincent to return. With their newfound peace, he looked over at her and bravely decided to offer some advice. “Catherine, with the news you have shared tonight, might I ask that you start taking a good multi-vitamin and that you begin eating regular meals?”


Catherine smiled at him. “I’ve been taking vitamins for years, Father; I’ll look into it and see if I’m getting the right amounts of everything and I promise I will try to be more conscious of missing meals.”  


Father shook his head. “I thought, perhaps, that you may even start having your suppers here Below. You know you are always welcome and that there is always enough; besides, William loves it when you come for meals.”


“I had actually planned on coming Below more often. Vincent and I decided to only have Devin and Jenny stand up with us in the wedding, but I want to include anyone who wants to be involved so that no one feels left out.” 


Father smiled at her. “Catherine, you’re too kind for your own good.”


Vincent walked in and Catherine rose to meet him. 


Father called out to Vincent, “Catherine has decided to take her evening meals with us from now on. Now we can see that she is eating properly for at least one meal a day!”


Catherine rolled her eyes and giggled, then noticed the lines of fatigue on Vincent’s face. “Peter was right, it is getting late. I can see myself home. Vincent, you should go get some sleep, you look tired….”


Vincent nodded in agreement, then looked down at her. “I am tired, Catherine, but I will walk you home.”


Catherine opened her mouth to protest but Vincent silenced her with a kiss. Catherine walked over to Father and bent to kiss him on the cheek. “Goodnight, Father. See you tomorrow.”


Vincent called out over his shoulder, “I won’t be long, Father.”


Father smiled to himself as the young couple left. Things were certainly looking up.


**********


Catherine and Vincent, hand in hand, walked slowly towards the entrance to her building. 


Catherine smiled up at Vincent. “As much as I like our time alone together, I can’t wait until I don’t have to make this walk any longer.”


“Especially on nights like this, it will be nice to know that we can just retire for a quiet evening alone and not have to end it with a walk,” Vincent agreed. 


“I called a realtor today on those three buildings. I have appointments to see two of them on Wednesday and the other one on Thursday. I wish you could come with me, but do you think Devin would want to tag along and offer his opinion?”


Vincent shrugged. “I’m not sure; now that Winterfest is over, Devin may be making plans to leave. I’ll speak with and let you know tomorrow.”


They were soon at the threshold, where Vincent turned to Catherine and took both of her hands in his. “Each day we are confronted with problems that should drive you away from me and each day you show an amazing strength and push those problems away like they are mere feathers in the wind. I love you, Catherine.”


“Vincent, I learned from you that no problem is insurmountable. Your love showed me a person can be stronger and better. I love you, too, Vincent.”


He bent to capture her lips in his. He had only planned on giving her a light kiss goodbye, but once again Catherine pulled him closer and deepened the kiss, and soon their passion was on the rise. Vincent once again had to be the one to dampen the fire that quickly threatened to consume them. He pulled away but held her close. 


He waited until their heartbeats slowed, then he looked at her with a smile. “I’ll see you tomorrow for dinner....”


Catherine nodded, then climbed up the ladder; with a last look down she called back to him, “Goodnight, sweetheart.”


Vincent turned to walk home. Using pet names was not a common practice Below, so Vincent hadn’t had an opportunity to hear many couples refer to one another in an intimate manner. He remembered thinking it was nice when Peter called Catherine “honey” earlier. He rolled the name of “sweetheart” through his mind. He decided he liked her calling him that and smiled all the way to his chamber.


**********


Peter called Catherine the next day at work. She was immersed in a brief when she grabbed the phone. “Catherine Chandler.”


“Hi, Cathy...it’s just me.”


“Peter? What’s wrong?” Catherine answered. Peter rarely called her at work, and she became immediately concerned and set down her paperwork.


“Nothing; sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. I was just wondering if you could come in to see me. In lieu of our conversation last night, I thought that maybe I could get some blood work done just to be certain that your levels are at the norm.”


“Okay, but I’m going to look at two houses tomorrow night and another one on Thursday; that only leaves tonight and Friday.”


Peter was stunned at the news. “Houses? Are you planning on moving?” 


Catherine debated about telling him. They hadn’t had a chance to tell Father yet, but she didn’t see any reason that it should be kept a secret. “Actually, Peter, yes. I’d like to find a place for us to live in after the wedding. One just like yours...big, safe, lots of bedrooms, convenient location, nice entrances...the list goes on.”


“I understand you’re at work, say no more. Vincent has agreed to this?”


Catherine giggled. “As long as everything checks out and is safe, yes.”


Peter laughed as well. “I don’t think that man has the power to deny you anything.” 


Peter’s mind was working furiously. He was not a normally impulsive man but this could be the answer he’d been searching for. “Cathy, I know it’s last minute, but why don’t you and Vincent come to my house for dinner, say around 6:00? I have something to show you that might interest both of you.”


“Okay, I can make it, but I’ll have to check with Vincent,” she replied, wondering about the sudden need to see them.


Peter was starting to get excited. “Plan on coming here; I’ll go Below right now and send word to Vincent, and if he can’t make it, I’ll call you back.” 


Catherine laughed but was still mystified. Her godfather was acting mighty peculiar. “I’ll be there, Peter.”


**********


Joe was once again surprised when Catherine’s work was finished by 4:00. She was still putting in tremendous hours and accomplishing major amounts of work in a single day. He marveled at her dedication when she didn’t even need this job. 


“I take it you’re leaving early again,” he teased. 


“Yeah, Joe, I am. I’ve been here since 7:30 and I have so much to do before April,” she said distractedly.


“So, April...that must be when the big day is, huh?” 


“Yeah, it is. But it’s going to be a small, very intimate affair.” She immediately felt bad. Joe was a good friend and she had all but brushed him off. If there were any other way to handle this, she wished she could find it. 


“Hey, I understand. See you tomorrow.” Joe looked back down at his paperwork. 


With a sigh, Catherine left the office.


**********


Catherine went home, took a quick shower, then headed to Peter’s house. 


“Hi, Cathy, come on in,” Peter greeted her upon opening his door.


Catherine handed him a bottle of wine. “Good evening, Peter. Thanks for inviting me. Ummm...it smells wonderful in here. I’m starving!”


Peter set the bottle of wine down and was just taking her coat when they saw a small light, discreetly hidden next to the kitchen door, flash twice. Catherine looked at Peter with a question in her eyes. 


“That’s your fiancé coming in,” Peter laughed, then walked towards the kitchen. Catherine followed him to the back of the house. 


“It’s safe, Vincent,” Peter called out as Vincent came through a huge hidden panel in the back of the kitchen. 


Catherine stood there stunned. She had been coming to Peter’s house her entire life and never knew there was a hidden door in his kitchen.  


“Hi, honey,” Catherine smiled as he walked over to her and greeted her with a kiss. 


“Hello...sweetheart.” Vincent smiled at her coyly as Catherine beamed at him. She was so happy he was finally relaxing with their closeness. 


Peter laughed at the two of them. “Come on, you lovebirds, dinner is ready to be put on the table.”


Peter handed Catherine the oven mitts. “Do you mind, Cathy?”


Catherine shook her head, turned to the oven and brought out a lasagna tray his housekeeper had made. Peter handed Vincent the bottle of wine Catherine brought and an opener, while he headed to the fridge to grab the salad and bread and butter. Peter set the items on the table, then grabbed some wine glasses so Vincent could pour them wine. 


The three sat down and while eating their salad, talked about the things that had happened that day. Catherine served the lasagna and they continued to make small talk through the rest of dinner. After dinner, Catherine grabbed up all the dirty dishes and set them in the sink, while Vincent put the leftovers on the countertop. Peter had started the tea pot earlier and its whistling prompted him to make them all tea.


Peter looked at both of them. “Come on, leave this mess, I’ll get it later; let’s take our tea and sit in the family room.”


Vincent and Catherine followed him into the spacious family room. They sat together on a couch opposite of him and wondered if he was finally going to tell him why he had called them there.


Peter smiled at the two of them while he sat his tea cup down. “Okay, okay...I won’t keep you in suspense anymore. An idea came to me today when I was talking to Cathy earlier. She said that you two were going to start looking for a place to live after the wedding.”


Catherine nodded but Vincent quickly answered, “That’s correct, Peter.” He thought that Peter was going to try to talk them out of living Above and he wouldn’t dream of disappointing Catherine.


Peter could tell that Vincent thought he objected, so he quickly rushed to reassure him. “I think it is a wonderful idea, but I know how hard it’s going to be to find a house in this market, and I think I may have a solution....”


Catherine leaned forward as he spoke. She knew he was right, it would be extremely hard to find anything that didn’t need a ton of work to make it livable and would be ideally located near the tunnels. 


Peter saw they were interested, so he continued, “I know of a place that needs very little work done to it. It has several bedrooms. The bathrooms and kitchen have been completely updated and there is a good-size family room and living room.”  


Catherine was very excited. “Peter, it sounds perfect; how far from the tunnels? Do you think it could have an entrance Below added to it?”


“It’s close to the tunnels and already has an entrance to the world Below.”


Catherine and Vincent both looked at him in surprise. Vincent sat thinking of all the helpers he knew that lived around here, but couldn’t think of anyone he knew that was selling. 


Catherine looked at Peter’s mischievous smile. A thought crossed her mind, but she didn’t know if she was on the right path. “Peter, surely you don’t mean….”


“Yes, Cathy, I do... I’m wondering if you would be interested in my place?”


“Your place?” Vincent asked in wonderment.


“Yes, Vincent. I’ve been thinking of selling this place for over a year and a half. I’ve spoken to Susan and she’s moved away now and happy where she’s at. I even bought a condominium out by her last summer. Anyway, she won’t be moving back to New York and this place is just too big for me.”


Catherine had to ask. “Peter, what about your practice? Isn’t this still your office?”


Peter nodded. “Yes, but I can move my offices anywhere. I may even share a practice with someone again. I’ve been slowly decreasing my patient load for years; I really only work maybe two days a week.”


“Where will you live, Peter?” Vincent wondered.


Peter smiled mischievously again. “Funny you should ask that. I was hoping to find a one bedroom condominium, one that is small and in a quiet building, hopefully not too far from the park and the tunnels.”


Catherine giggled in excitement. “Peter, are you suggesting that you would be interested in my place?”


“You do have the perfect place, Cathy. Now, I want you to know that there will be no hard feelings if you two decide that this isn’t the place for you. I just know that Cathy said she was going house hunting and I thought that I would throw this house into the mix for you to consider.”


Catherine looked over at Vincent. What she saw in his eyes confirmed how she felt. “Peter, I’m not going house hunting now. I know as far as I’m concerned your place is perfect! Vincent, why don’t you go and look around and tell me what you think....”


Vincent shook his head. “Catherine, I’ve played here since I was a young boy; Susan and I were good friends at one time. I know this place very well, and if you like it, I think it is perfect as well. Peter even installed a security system years ago.”


That was all that Catherine needed to hear. “Well, then it’s a done deal! Peter, do you know what kind of a price you’re going to ask?”


“Tell you what, Cathy. You get appraisals on this place and your place; we’ll swap and you can pay me 10% less than the difference.”


When Catherine went to argue, Peter held up his hand. “Do you have any idea the hassle you’re saving me by not having to sell it myself or deal with a realtor? Draw up the papers yourself and I’ll sign them. Now, for the fun stuff; when do you kids want to start moving things around? I will need a little time to move my practice.”


Catherine shook her head in disagreement. “Peter, I don’t want you to move your practice. You have that small hallway with only a couple of rooms and the back entrance. Your patients come mostly during the day and Vincent will be Below working by the time they start showing up. You can continue to work from here. You won’t be in the way in the least bit...please, consider it.” 


Vincent nodded his approval at Catherine’s idea, and Peter smiled. “It would be nice to keep it here. That’s really the only reason I haven’t sold this place yet. Okay, I will, but I want to pay rent.”


Vincent chuckled out loud, knowing Catherine would have something to say, and she didn’t disappoint him. “No way, Peter. You can operate your business but I refuse to accept money from you!”


Peter looked at Vincent, who was still laughing. “You knew she was going to say that, didn’t you?”


Vincent nodded his head. Peter sighed; he knew he was beaten. “Okay, honey, thank you.”


Catherine came up and hugged him. “Thank you, Peter. This house is the answer to my prayers.”


“So, when do you kids want to move? After the wedding?”


Catherine looked at Vincent again. He knew what she was thinking and nodded his approval. “Oh, Peter, let’s do it sooner!” 


She realized she may be putting him on the spot and quickly countered, “I’m sorry, that was kind of rude of me. I’m just so excited about being able to live with Vincent, I wasn’t thinking. I know you have a house full of furniture to go through and I need to find someone who would want my stuff....”


Peter looked at her in surprise. “You wouldn’t bring your furniture here?” 


Catherine shook her head as she giggled. “My furniture really wasn’t designed with Vincent in mind.”


Peter laughed as Vincent pretended to be offended. “I tell you what....Your apartment is beautifully decorated. I’ll buy your furniture except for your bedroom set. It’s a little too feminine for my tastes. I’ll move my own bedroom set over to your place when we’re ready.”


Peter looked around the room and stared at all the heavy wooden furniture. “It’s funny, when Sharon was alive and Susan was little, it seemed so important to have all this furniture. Now it’s just stuff I need to get rid of. I really don’t want any of it; I’ll probably just donate it Below.”


Vincent sat forward in his chair. “Peter, I know Sharon and you had a wonderful life together. You made a beautiful home and Susan grew up in a loving family. This is very generous of you to donate your memories. The Stevens’ family is moving into their chamber soon and will be in need of beds and furniture. I don’t mean to rush you with your decision but....”


Peter held up his hand. “Nonsense, Vincent. I’ll decide tomorrow what I’m keeping and what can go. You two can have what you like and send anything else Below. Those poor kids have been through Hell and back, haven’t they? You tell Father, I said there are at least three beds coming down tomorrow night.”


Catherine interrupted. “Four....Vincent, I know I’m going to buy you and me a king-size bed; they are welcome to my whole bedroom set - well, except for the vanity which was my mother’s.”


Catherine turned to Peter. “Peter, I’m ready to move whenever you are.” 


Peter nodded. “Well, I’ll tell you what. I was planning on going to see Susan. Her baby’s due sometime in the next month. I’m actually leaving Saturday and I’ll be gone until the third week of January. I’ll give you two the keys to this place and you can do whatever you please to it. I’m sure you’ll want a fresh coat of paint on all the walls and a chance to redecorate. I can move into your place when I get back in February.”


Catherine smiled at him. “Great! I’ll get my place repainted in the same neutral colors and get the carpets and upholstery cleaned. When I rent a van and get the men Below to move my furniture, I’ll have them move yours as well.” 


“Sounds good to me. Now, are you two sure this is what you want to do?” 


Catherine nodded with tears in her eyes. “Peter, I would love to raise my family in this home. It reminds me of my home when Mom was alive.”


Vincent put his arm around Catherine to offer his comfort. “I, too, have many fond memories of time spent here, Peter. I would love to have this be our home.”


Catherine sniffled and looked up at Vincent. “I meant to say something about it earlier. I can’t believe you and Susan played together.”


Peter laughed. “Vincent spent almost as much time here as you did. He was always looking for a chance to escape and would come up here at all times of the day. Every afternoon he would help Susan with her homework. Saturdays they spent watching cartoons in the morning, then reading in the afternoon. Did you have a crush on her, Vincent?” 


Vincent blushed. “She was always so nice to me. Devin was the one who actually liked her. When he left and then Lisa left, I spent even more time here then Below. It helped to...fill the void.”


Catherine squeezed his hand. “It’s amazing to think that we had the same friend growing up. I’ve always looked up to Susan. She was like the sister I never had. It’s funny she never mentioned you....”


Peter nodded. “Susan always knew the importance of keeping the world Below a secret. If any big party was going on here, Vincent was warned and he stayed away.” 


Vincent smiled, his eyes were twinkling with amusement. “Except once. You had a party and Susan had the chicken pox and wasn’t allowed downstairs. She had sent me a letter earlier in the day and I felt so bad for her I sneaked upstairs during the party and kept her company.”


Catherine gasped. “Vincent, you could have been caught!”


Vincent nodded. “I almost was; I read to Susan until she fell asleep. When I looked up, I saw that a little girl had snuck into her room and was sitting in the corner, listening to me read. She had almost fallen asleep so I picked her up and put her in bed next to Susan. Susan woke up and held the little girl. I know she didn’t see my face and I whispered to her to go to sleep and she closed her eyes immediately. Susan told me to run; I was so scared of getting caught I ran all the way back to my chamber.”


Catherine giggled at his youthful defiance of authority. Peter looked at Vincent with narrowed eyes, trying to remember the night it happened. He decided to ask Susan about it. “I may have a story to tell at their wedding,” he thought.


Catherine yawned and Vincent decided they should leave. “You need your rest, Catherine. Perhaps we should say goodnight.”


“Not yet, Vincent, I’d like to see the entrance to the tunnels from here; let’s go Below and you can walk me home?” she asked hopefully.


She turned and gave Peter a huge hug. “You’ve made me a very happy woman tonight. Now, I hope I can make you happy too. Peter, I was wondering, in place of my Dad, if you would walk me down the aisle at the wedding?”


“Oh,  Catherine. It would be my honor.” Peter hugged and kissed her. He shook Vincent’s hand and then they turned and walked towards the kitchen. “Hey, young lady, wait here just a minute.”


Peter ran to get his medical bag. He got out a syringe and walked towards her. “Look, in all the excitement tonight I almost forgot I wanted to get your blood work done. If I put a rush on it, I should have the results by Friday.”


Catherine made a face but rolled up her sleeve. Vincent held her hand and Peter drew her blood. He put a band-aid on the spot when he was finished. 


“What, no sucker?’ Catherine asked hopefully.


Peter rolled his eyes and pointed to the hidden panel. “Go! I’ll call you with the results and tell you my recommendations.”


Vincent and Catherine left after saying their goodbyes.


**********


They couple held hands and made the walk to Catherine’s threshold. Catherine was exhausted but kept up a steady stream of talk. She was so excited about the prospect of decorating their home. She kept asking Vincent question after question regarding his choice of colors and furniture styles and furnishings and wallpaper. She finally realized he hadn’t been saying much.


“Vincent, I’m sorry, I’m overwhelming you, aren’t I?”


He stared at her with amusement. “I’m happy that you are so excited, Catherine. I wonder if you are perhaps biting off more than you can chew. You have a wedding and now a move to plan.”


Catherine swept her hand through the air dismissively. “Details, details...I can handle it. You wait and see. I’m going to come Below tomorrow for dinner; I’d like to tell Father of our plans. Do you think we could eat in the library?”


Vincent nodded. “Father has dinner there often when he has pressing business. I’ll tell him to expect us.”


They reached her threshold and Vincent leaned in to kiss her goodbye. This time he was the one who deepened the kiss and she clung to him as he swept her up into his arms. With a sigh, he set her back down. 


“Vincent, now that Peter’s house is going to be ours, I can’t wait any longer. It’s like having a cookie dangling in front of you but not being able to reach it.”


He smiled at her lack of patience. He imagined this is what her Father must have had to go through each time she begged for something. “So you don’t want to wait until the wedding before we live together?”


“Do you?” Catherine wondered. She knew Vincent was old fashioned, and didn’t want him to compromise his beliefs. 


“Why don’t we wait and see how quickly we are able to get things done and then we’ll go from there?” 


She nodded and Vincent kissed her on the nose and watched as she climbed the ladder. He turned and walked to his chamber.


**********   


Father and Devin were sitting in the library enjoying some tea.


Devin looked at his Father. “So, Pops, where was Vincent tonight?”


Father cringed at his pet name and looked up from the chessboard where he was currently setting up the pieces for a game. “He and Catherine were having dinner at Peter’s house. Peter had something to talk to them about.”


Devin nodded. “Huh...I wonder what that is all about?”


Father shrugged and with an edge to his voice answered his son. “Something that I am sure we will have to discuss at great length.”


Devin reached over and took his Father’s hand in his. Father stared at him in shock. Devin normally was not the type to be overly demonstrative. “Dad, I want you to promise me something....”


Father nodded, so Devin continued, “Whenever Vincent tells you something that you don’t like...you need to sit back and just listen to him. He’s a grown man now and soon he will be living with Catherine. Don’t make him choose between the two of you, because you won’t like the choice he makes. Don’t alienate him now when you have so much to lose. Embrace Catherine and keep your family. Promise me, okay? Please, Dad!”


Father looked at him, then slumped his shoulders. He knew Devin was right. He did not want to lose Vincent and he really did love Catherine. He did not want to alienate either one of them. “I promise to try, Devin. Thank you, I know you are only doing this to help me. Now, how about a game?”


Vincent walked into the library and found Father and Devin playing chess. Father was in a glorious mood because he was beating the pants off of Devin. 


Devin looked up at his brother. “Hey, I could use some help here,” he said as he looked back down at the chess set. 


Vincent came over and stood by Devin’s side. He gazed at the board and then leaned over and placed Devin’s king on his side. “Even I can’t help you with this one. Sometimes it is best to admit defeat.”


Devin groaned and Father chuckled with glee and pointed at a chair. “Well, come sit, Vincent. Tell us what Peter had to say.”


Vincent sat and looked at his Father. Devin could tell by the expression on his face that Father was probably not going to like the news. 


“Peter wanted to tell Catherine and me that he is selling his house. He’s been planning on it for quite some time now and when Catherine told him she was house hunting, he offered us his place.”


Father sat back and Devin sent him a warning glance. “That’s great, Bro. So, are you buying it or what?”


“Yes, Catherine and I agreed it would be the perfect place to raise our family. It is close to the main tunnels and has easy access already in place.”


“Yes, and Peter put in that new security system a few years ago. It’s a fine place, Vincent. You chose well,” Father said.


Devin looked at Father and reached over to squeeze his hand as Vincent sat in shock. He was expecting a huge argument and was astounded when none came forth. He looked at Devin gratefully, suspecting correctly that it had something to do with him.


Vincent continued slowly. “Father, Catherine would like to tell you about it herself tomorrow night. She was wondering if we could have dinner here and talk about it.”


Father nodded. “Yes, yes, that’s fine, Vincent. I hope she is planning on getting plans underway for this wedding. Everyone is so anxious to help, they’re driving me crazy with their questions.”


Vincent smiled. “I already told Catherine she was doing too much with planning a wedding and now a move. She assured me she could handle it.”


Devin laughed. “I’ve seen her at work. She’s a force to be reckoned with when she’s on a roll. She’ll be fine. I’m sure Jenny won’t let her fall behind. Hey, how is Jenny? I haven’t seen her in awhile.”


Devin tried to sound normal but Vincent’s instincts spoke to him otherwise. “I believe she’s fine. I think Catherine is planning on calling her tomorrow. Why do you ask?”


Devin blushed but tried to hide it. “Oh, just curious...well, I’m tired, goodnight.”


Devin got to his feet and walked quickly from the room. Vincent watched him leave and cocked his head as he wondered what that was all about. 


“I’m tired too, Father. Goodnight.”


“Goodnight, Vincent.” 


**********


Catherine got to work early for the third day in a row. She quickly got most of the cases on track and took a break at about 10:00 to call Jenny.


“Jenny Aronson, can I help you?”


Catherine smiled into the phone. “Yes, you can. Can you meet a friend who is bursting with news for lunch? My treat!”


“Hi, Cathy! Um....I can but it has to be an early lunch. Say, maybe 11:00?”


“Jen, that’s perfect. I’m starving. I forgot to eat breakfast and the only thing to eat around here is Joe’s chocolate cheese doodles.”


Jenny laughed. “Yuck, don’t eat them! Meet me at Maria’s at 11:00 then, okay?”


“Thanks, Jen. See you there.”


Joe walked up as she was finishing her conversation. “What’s the problem with my chocolate cheese doodles?”


Catherine grimaced and shook her head. “Well, unless you’re five and having a tantrum, I see no reason to eat them.” 


Joe shrugged at her teasing comment. “Ha, bet you’d go for some rabbit food, though? Carrots, celery...You know what your problem is, Radcliffe? You don’t know what a good snack is. Hey, any chance you finished that Gutierrez brief?”


Catherine dug through her stack and handed it to him. “I didn’t know you needed it; it’s been done for two hours. I would have brought it to you.”


Joe shook his head. “No big deal. Jackson just called; he wanted it sent to him today. I’ll have to call a messenger. Thanks.”


Joe turned to walk away. “Joe, I’m meeting Jenny for lunch, I’ll take it over to him. I’ll be right by there....”


“Thanks, Cathy.” Joe handed her the file back. 


**********


Catherine left the office and made the delivery. She was five minutes early and got herself and Jenny a table off by themselves. Jenny arrived not long after her.


“Hi, Cathy.”


Catherine got up and hugged her friend. “Hi, Jenny, thanks for coming on such short notice.”


They ordered their lunches and sat and waited.


“So, tell me the big news?” Jenny begged.


Catherine smiled and showed her the ring instead. “Oh, Cathy.... It’s beautiful!”


“Thanks, Jenny. It seems so real now. Now I can ask you something I never thought I would get a chance to ask....Would you like to be my maid of honor?”


“Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes! I get to help you plan your wedding!” Jenny sang excitedly. 


Catherine held up her hand. “There’s even more news. Are you ready to do some power shopping with me?”


Jenny looked at her. “For what, dresses and flowers and tuxedos and caterers and....”


Catherine interrupted, “...furniture and carpeting and drapes and paint colors and decorative lighting and....” 


“Okay, I give…. Oh....You bought a house, didn’t you?”


Jenny could tell by Catherine’s face it was true. “You did! Where is it? Can I go by and see it?”


Catherine laughed at her excitement. “You’ve been there, Jenny. Like a million times, with me. I’m buying Peter’s house.”


“Oh, my God, Cathy, that place is huge! It’s gorgeous, too; are you and Vincent going to...what am I saying...well, of course you, are.... Oh, Cathy! We get to decorate that place?”


“Yeah, Jen, top to bottom. Peter’s moving into my place and taking my furniture, except for the bed, which I’m sending Below. I need everything!!!” Catherine laughed.


“Are you nuts?! Are you going to try to do this and plan the wedding?”  Jenny asked incredulously.


Catherine answered her friend, “You bet I am.”


“Okay, I’m in; when do we start? What kind of furniture does Vincent like? What colors did he ask for? What kind of....”


“Hold on, Jenny. You sound like me now.” Catherine suddenly became sad. “I wish Vincent could go with me. I wish he could pick out what kind of furniture he would like.”


Jenny thought for a moment, then her face brightened with a solution. “Why don’t we take pictures of the stuff you think you want and then show them to Vincent and he can choose with you?”


“Jenny, that’s a great idea. How about we go this weekend to Peter’s and scope out everything and come up with our game plan?”


Their meals came and the women sat and ate and talked of all their plans.


Catherine went back to the office and again left by 4:30. She headed home took a shower and made it Below by 6:00.


**********


Catherine walked into the library where Vincent and Father were sitting. 


“Good evening, Catherine. Please come in,” Father greeted.


Catherine had a large file folder in her arms and Vincent looked at it and wondered about its contents as she set it off to the side. She smiled at him and gave him a kiss. “Hello, Vincent.”


“Hello, Catherine.” Vincent smiled back and returned the kiss.


She then walked over to Father and gave him a kiss as well. “Hello, Father.”


At that moment, their dinners arrived from the kitchen. Father turned to the children. “Thank you, children, and please thank William for being so prompt.”


The kids left and the three of them dug into their dinners. Catherine cut her meat in half and added it to Vincent’s plate. “Catherine, you shouldn’t give me so much, you should try to eat more,” Vincent reprimanded.


“William always puts too much on a plate. I’ll be as big as a house soon!” she smiled.


They finished their dinner and made small talk until the same three kids came for their empty trays. 


Once they left, Father turned to Catherine. “I know you want to spend time with my son, but what makes you so eager to spend time with me?” he teased.


“Father, I always want to spend time with you,” Catherine giggled as she reached for the file folder. “Although I have some serious items I’d like to discuss with you before you take it to the council.”


Vincent was intrigued by what Catherine could possibly want to talk about. Father looked at him for some type of an explanation, but he just shrugged. He was as much in the dark as Father was.


Catherine looked at both of them, then continued, “I’m sure Vincent has mentioned to you that he and I are purchasing Peter’s home?”


Father nodded. “Yes, he has. Peter has a lovely home, Catherine. I’m sure you will be happy there.”


Catherine had expected to hear a lecture and was surprised by his reaction. She could tell that he was being sincere, so she moved on to the next subject.


She handed him a bank statement showing an astronomical amount of money in it. Father gasped at the amount. “Catherine, is this all yours?” He gave the paper to Vincent, who was just as surprised by the large figure. 


Catherine smiled at him. “Sort of, but only by default. It should be yours!”


He looked at her quizzically, so she went on, “Father, this is the money that was left to me by Margaret when she died. I promised her that I would use the money to help the world Below. That was her desire, not mine. It was my job to make sure that the money was spent wisely. I set up a separate account and I’ve been sending money to the helpers and working with them to send a little extra each time. As you can see, the money in the account keeps growing because in the past I’ve had to hide it from you rather than risk your anger.”


Father blushed and looked down. Catherine read his mind and continued,  “Don’t be sorry. Now, I agree that only certain members of the council should know of your wealth. We all saw what happened before when the gold was found Below...we certainly don’t want that fiasco repeated, and it is a huge responsibility to handle this kind of money wisely. I was always willing to do it, but now that I see how little I have been able to accomplish behind the scenes, I feel like now is the time to ‘come clean,’ so to speak.”


Catherine opened her file and took out another sheet of paper and handed it to Father. “These are ideas I have come up with on my own for ways that I think we can help the day-to-day work situation Below. And now that Vincent and I are purchasing Peter’s house and it’s so close to the home tunnels, I’m pretty excited about implementing some of these ideas.”


Father said nothing and passed the list over to Vincent. Vincent read it quickly and looked over at her. “Catherine, this is a list of commercial-sized refrigerators and freezers for food storage and a gas grill and oven as well as commercial-sized washers and dryers.”


Catherine smiled. “I know, Vincent, I made the list.”


Father shook his head. “Catherine, what I think Vincent meant to say is that there is no way for us to operate these machines. If we tried to patch into the city’s power supply they would surely notice this much of a drain and come to investigate.”


“I’m sorry; I forgot to say that the men would have to spend the time to run electrical and plumbing from our house to wherever these things would be kept. I know it would be extremely expensive, but as you can see, you have the money to cover the expense and it would only be a one-time cost.”


Vincent sat and nodded. “Father, Catherine’s plan is well thought out and would solve the problem of food storage. It would also eliminate the time-consuming task of washing clothes for everyone.”


Father sat back and thought of any problems that could occur. He had a hard time coming up with any that they couldn’t easily find a solution for. “I have to admit I’m worried about running a gas line for the dryers and the oven.”


Catherine spoke up first. “If it’s a problem, they could keep the washers and dryers in our basement. It’s only a little farther to walk to our house than it is to walk to the chambers they use now.” 


Vincent smiled at her generosity. She was welcoming his family into their home without a second thought. “That would be a good solution, Father. The path is smooth. We could make a cart that the woman can use to carry the clothes on. That should save them a lot of back-breaking labor.”


Father nodded in agreement. Catherine continued on as she handed Father another piece of paper. “What about the electricity for the freezers and refrigerators? That shouldn’t be hard to run. Here is a sheet of food prices from Stan. He said if you buy in bulk you can save so much money. William would be ecstatic to get a month’s worth of food at one time and the community would actually be saving money in the long run.”


Father sat and pondered her next item and passed the paper to Vincent. Vincent scanned the figures on the page. “I didn’t realize that food was so expensive. Father, these are substantial savings.” 


“Yes, I see that, Vincent,” he answered. “William’s never complained about his cooking ability before, only about his supplies. Let me talk to him and think on this stove idea some more, Catherine.”


She smiled at him. “Of course, Father.” 


She took another piece of paper out of her folder and showed it to Father. “We know from Michael’s example that the children Below can easily be assimilated into a college atmosphere. The only thing I see that they lack is computer training. I thought that if Vincent and I set up a computer lab in one of our extra bedrooms, the children Below could come and have computer classes, say two to three times a week. We could purchase five or six computers and the kids could be split into groups and come up throughout the day. This would enable them to be able to complete with the ‘regular’ kids when they get to college level.”


She brought out yet another piece of paper and began to pace. “These are the current prices of college classes at the local university. If we set up a scholarship program, we could make the kids ‘earn’ the right to go to college. Anyone who fulfilled the requirements that were set forth could potentially go to college if they so desired. I’ll let you and Vincent as their teachers come up with that plan on your own.” 


She stopped in front of Vincent and, with a sigh, looked over at Father. “So, what do you think?”


Vincent grabbed her waist and pulled her to his lap. He kissed her as she marveled at his lack of modesty. “You are a very intelligent woman, Catherine. You have brought some wonderful ideas to us to think about. Hasn’t she, Father?”


Father finally looked up. His mind was reeling with all the information she had just laid in his lap. “Yes, Catherine. They are wonderful ideas and without Margaret’s money totally unattainable. I only wish she could be here to watch it all happen.” 


Catherine jumped up excitedly. “Then you’ll let me go ahead with them?”


Father nodded. “I have to speak to the council first, but I don’t foresee it being a problem.”


Catherine ran over and hugged and kissed him. “Oh, thank you, Father. Thank you for letting me feel like a part of the community.”


“My dear, you are an integral part of this community. I just hope that we are able to handle all the free time we will be given. Once you’re spoiled by machinery doing your work, it’s hard to go back to the old ways. I hope this money will hold out for years to come.”


Catherine waved her hand in the air dismissively. “Father, I have three times that amount; our world will never do without again.” 


Vincent’s jaw dropped open and Father looked uncomfortable at this new piece of news. Catherine, who had gone back to her folder, looked up at the silence that had fallen in the room. She saw Vincent’s expression and became worried. She looked around for the source of his worry then back at him. “Vincent, what is it?”


He gasped and looked down. “I had no idea, Catherine!”


Catherine was really starting to worry now and went to his side. “No idea about what, Vincent?’


He sat back hard in his chair and shook his head. “No idea you had so much...wealth. Catherine, are you sure...are you sure that you want....”


Catherine climbed onto his lap and put her arms around him, effectively quieting him down. “What, Vincent? Am I sure that I want...you?  I’ve never been more certain about anything in my entire life. If I could give it all away to make you feel better, I would. I’d rather we decide what good we could accomplish with it instead. Do you still love me even though I’m filthy rich?”


She smiled and leaned her forehead against his. He looked into her eyes and then shut his and leaned forward to kiss her. Father cleared his throat and Catherine turned to him to smile. “Sorry, Father.”


She got up and started to hand him another sheet of paper. Father cast a worried glance at Vincent. “Oh, dear God, Vincent...she has more.”


Catherine giggled. “This one is not so stressful. This is the work I believe that we will need to have done on Peter’s house before we can move in. I need to hire men to do the work. I may as well hire men from Below or helpers. Just let me know who’s available and when.”


Father glanced at the list and smiled, then handed it to Vincent. Vincent glanced quickly over it. “Catherine, honey, I can do most of this work by myself.  The men Below will be happy to help, free of charge. There is no need to hire anyone.”


“Oh!” she blushed. “Well, then I’m finally done!”


Father laughed at her. “Catherine, you surprise me more and more every day. I can’t believe that someone who is so tiny can upend our world so quickly.”


“Father, is that a compliment?” She came over to kiss him. “I’m exhausted, Father. Thank you for dinner and for listening to me.”


Father kissed her forehead. “You, my dear, are a welcome relief from these sons of mine. You come here anytime you wish.”


Vincent smiled and stood to walk Catherine home, then followed her out the door.


**********


The walk home was relatively quiet. Vincent held her hand and marveled that someone like her could love someone like him. 


Catherine let out a big yawn. “Oh, Vincent, I’m so tired and I promised that we would try to be together once during the week. There’s so much happening that I’ve blown my promise, I’m sorry.”


Vincent, who had been lost in thought, blurted out, “Do you realize the amount of work you are saving the people Below? You have welcomed my entire family into our new home and put Father’s endless worries to rest. Catherine, I can’t repay you for all the joy you’ve brought to me and my family. Now, it’s only Wednesday. Why don’t I have William make us a dinner tomorrow night and we can have supper in the Chamber of the Falls?”


“Vincent, that sounds wonderful. Will you bring a blanket, too?”


“Of course,” Vincent smiled.


Catherine leaned forward and put her arms around him as they kissed goodnight. He brought her close to him and held her the length of his body. She could feel his manhood surge to life and she backed away slowly. 


“Tomorrow....” she sighed. She kissed him one last time and headed up the ladder. 


Vincent waited until his excitement wasn’t quite so visible, then made the long walk home.


********** 


At work the next day, Joe was blasted with a case that required top priority. He made every one of the top investigators stay late. Each lawyer had countless interviews to do with witnesses to a major drug bust in the local high school. The principal and faculty all had to be interviewed, as well as close to 400 students and their parents. 


Catherine sent a note to Vincent early, knowing there would be no way she could make their “date” tonight. She was disappointed but she knew Vincent would understand. 


She fell on top of the bed in exhaustion at 11:00 and never knew that Vincent came to check on her around midnight. He crept stealthily through the room and placed a rose on her nightstand. He leaned over and gently took her shoes off as well as her skirt. He picked her up and put her under the covers. He smiled at her as she snuggled under the covers. He leaned over and kissed her goodnight as she sighed in her sleep. He reached to turn off the light, then quietly slipped from her apartment. 


Catherine woke and looked at the alarm clock. She noticed the rose and knew Vincent was the one who “put her to bed” last night. She yawned and stretched and went to take her shower to get ready for the day ahead.


It was another hectic day and once again she was thinking about not being able to get Below. A break in the case came late in the afternoon and Joe let everyone go home for an early weekend. Catherine raced home, quickly packed an overnight bag, then showered and was headed Below before dinner. 


**********


Catherine walked into Vincent’s chamber and found him in a towel and Devin shirtless. They were changing clothes after their shower. 


She blushed and turned away. “Sorry...I didn’t mean to just barge in.”


Devin laughed as he put his shirt on over his head. “Hey, sis! Doesn’t bother me, I’ve got my pants on. Towel man over there is probably embarrassed, but I’m sure you’ve seen what’s under it, so he can stop blushing anytime. See you at dinner.”  


Devin kissed Catherine on the forehead as he walked out the door. Vincent looked at Catherine and smiled bashfully. “Hello, Catherine; let me get dressed and we can leave for dinner.”


Catherine walked up and put her hands to his chest. He bent his head to kiss her and she took the corner of the towel in her hands. “What if we skip dinner, get rid of this towel and find something better to do?”


“Catherine, the sentries have already reported that you are here. There is no way that we would get beyond a kiss before we are….”


A voice from the corridor interrupted him. “Vincent, need help...show Mouse how to....” 


Mouse stopped and looked at the ground when he saw Catherine in Vincent’s room and Vincent standing in a towel. Catherine giggled and Vincent scowled, then he grabbed his clothes and went to get dressed. 


Catherine walked over to Mouse. “Hi, Mouse. Are you working on a big project?”


Mouse rolled his eyes. “Yes, always am...Have to run electric from Peter’s house...I mean your house to kitchen. William’s very angry, told Mouse not to get in his way.”


Catherine tried to figure out what William would be so angry about and why Mouse needed Vincent’s help. 


Vincent came out fully dressed and looked over at Mouse. “Mouse, when did you try to get the measurements for the electrical wiring?”


“Father just told Mouse...Mouse went to go do right away...Can’t make Father wait.”


Catherine smiled as Mouse just explained his dilemma; no wonder William was upset. Vincent looked at Mouse with all the patience in the world. “Mouse, perhaps you should wait until after dinner hour has passed and the kitchen is quieted down until you begin measuring.”


Mouse thought about it and it finally dawned on him why William was upset.  He nodded his head in his shy manner. “Mouse got in way...should wait until less busy...won’t make mistake again.” He turned and ran from the room.  


Catherine smiled at Vincent, then moved to kiss him. “Where were we?”


Vincent kissed her forehead. “Headed for dinner; come.” 


Vincent extended his hand and Catherine pretended to pout but let Vincent lead her to the dining hall.


********** 


Catherine was whisked away by Mary, Olivia, Lana, Rebecca, Sara and Jamie the second she entered the room. A tray of food was placed in front of her as they bombarded her with questions and ideas about the wedding. 


Catherine ate heartily and laughed at the way the women volunteered for every detail. She was never so overwhelmed with helpers before. Samantha came up and handed her a paper and a pen. She scribbled all of the ideas down and answered all their questions. She was shocked at the end of dinner when there were very few details that hadn’t been handled. She knew that each of the women who took on tasks was reliable and would not let her down. 


Catherine smiled at everyone. “Wow! You ladies are amazing! I can’t believe we just planned my whole wedding in less than two hours! I could hire a wedding planner and pay him thousands of dollars and not get this kind of result.” 


Catherine’s demeanor changed and she got very quiet. Her eyes filled with tears and as a few escaped and ran down her cheeks, she looked at the ladies surrounding her. “I wish I could express to you how much it means to me that everyone is doing all they can for Vincent and me. I know this will add a lot of extra work onto some of your days and I want to thank you now for all the time you will be putting in on this wedding. I wish my parents could be here, but since they can’t, I want you all to know how much it means to me to have Vincent’s family welcome me as you all have.” 


Mary came, sat beside her and put her arm around her. “You, Catherine, are just as precious to us as Vincent. I don’t want you to ever feel like you are imposing on us. We are happy to help in any way we can. You’re right about one thing, Catherine. Family takes care of family.”


Catherine smiled through her tears, then looked over at Vincent. She knew he would be concerned because she had gotten weepy. She shook her head at him to indicate that she was all right and then started to eat some of the dessert that was placed in front of her. 


Catherine sighed in contentment. “All I have left to do is catch Jenny up on the plans we made.”


“Oh, dear! She won’t be upset that we didn’t wait for her...will she?” Mary asked, immediately concerned.


Catherine patted her hand. “Not at all, Mary; Jenny doesn’t know enough about this world yet to really help me. Besides, she is going to be swamped helping me decorate Peter’s house.”


Catherine felt Vincent walk up behind her. She looked up at him as he placed his hands on her shoulders. “Father has indicated that the changes you suggested have been approved by the council. If you wish, we can announce our new living arrangements.”


Catherine nodded and Vincent turned to address the room. “Everyone, please! Can I take a moment of your time to announce some wonderful news?”


Cullen whispered to Devin, “Damn, did I lose the bet?” 


Devin elbowed him and Father shot them both a very disapproving look.


Vincent took a second to look at Devin with a question in his eyes, then shrugged and continued, “Catherine and I are planning on living in the house that once belonged to Peter. We are moving in it as soon as the renovations can be made.”


He took a second to let his family applaud the news. “Please! Along with us acquiring the house, Catherine has decided to put in a commercial laundry facility for the world Below in our basement. We will also need to run electrical lines from our new house to the kitchen, where we will be installing commercial refrigerators and freezers.” 


The tunnel community exploded with cheers and excitement. 


Father had to stand and get everyone to quiet down. “We have a lot of work that needs to be done before this can happen. The crews will have to work on their current chores as well as taking on the new chores for these installations. I will leave it to Vincent to coordinate a schedule. It will be extra work for the entire community, but we all stand to benefit from its rewards.”


Vincent nodded. “Father is right. Anyone who can give of their time, please see me and I will accommodate you as best I can. Now, tomorrow Peter is leaving to go out of town for a month. Catherine and I will go into the home to inventory the furniture. I have good news for the Stevens family...Peter is donating whatever furniture we don’t want to the world Below. Your entire family can move into the new chambers and you will each have your own beds by the end of the weekend.” 


Karen Stevens gathered her children close to her and began to cry tears of joy. Sara came and sat next to her as Greg, her husband, stood and looked at the community. “I can’t thank you all enough for taking us in. It’s hard to believe that not long ago we had no home and no hope. Now we have a place to stay and a future. Vincent, I’m an electrical engineer by trade. I would love to head up the project to get power to the kitchen. I can start right now if you want....”


Vincent came and grasped him by the shoulder. “I would like for you to handle the project, Greg, thank you. Spend the weekend getting your family settled in and perhaps you can start on Monday.”


Mouse and Cullen came up and spirited Greg away to ask questions and make plans. Vincent turned to Catherine as the dining hall was filled with voices.


Vincent held his hand out to her. “Come, we should try to sneak away.”


Catherine giggled and took his hand. Of course, they were bombarded by people and it was another hour before they were able to get away. 


They ran to Vincent’s chamber to try to get some peace. Devin was sitting in a chair reading a book when they walked in. Vincent groaned and Catherine giggled up at him. 


Devin rolled his eyes. “I bet you two are trying to find a place to be alone, huh?”


Vincent nodded. “It had crossed our minds.” 


“Why don’t you use the guest chamber tonight and I’ll stay here? No one will bother you there because they’ll think I’m in it.”


“Devin, thank you.” Catherine smiled in relief.

 

Vincent nodded in agreement, grabbed a favorite book and started to leave. Catherine impulsively turned to Devin. “Devin, Vincent and I asked Jenny to meet us at Peter’s tomorrow to see what kind of furniture we should shop for; would you like to come too? I could use your opinion when we’re shopping.”


Devin thought for a moment. “Yeah, Cathy, it sounds like fun, thanks.”


“Okay, let’s say about 10:00?” Catherine took Vincent’s hand and the two headed to the farthest guest chamber.


********** 


Vincent barely had the cover over the door of the guest chamber when Catherine leapt into his arms. He grunted as she impacted with his chest and pushed the air from his lungs, but he quickly recovered when he discovered she had already removed her shirt. Vincent reached behind her and undid the clasp of her bra, exposing her breasts to him. Her nipples sprang to life and he ducked his head to capture one in his mouth as he moved to the bed. He set her down and as she leaned to peel off her jeans; he quickly shed his clothing. He was hopping on one foot trying to remove his last boot when she threw her panties at his head and hopped underneath the covers. He joined her there soon after, and their coupling was long and satisfying. He panted as he rolled onto his side and pulled her close to him. 


Catherine sighed and snuggled down. She played with the hair on his chest as he watched her with amusement in his eyes. He always hated his chest because it had so much more hair than anyone else’s. He loved the fact that it didn’t bother her and he gasped as she found his nipple and moved close to take it in her mouth. It was a new sensation and he found he liked it. 


Catherine’s hand moved below the covers and quickly had him aroused and ready to go again. She climbed up on his chest and held herself over him, placing her breasts within inches of his mouth. He didn’t disappoint her and quickly took one of her nipples into his mouth. She groaned as he reached up to caress the other breast and then he switched nipples and gave the second one equal attention. 


Catherine groaned and slid down his body as he guided himself inside of her. She gasped in pleasure as he filled her and they quickly established a rhythm that drove them too soon over the edge. This time she collapsed on top of him. He held her close as their heartbeats returned to normal. 


Vincent broke the silence. “I thought we were going to try to be less...enthusiastic on weekends?”


Catherine was close to sleep and sighed in agreement. “Maybe when we’re eighty; I love you, Vincent.”


“I love you, Catherine.”


They held each other as they drifted off to sleep. 


Vincent woke Catherine again with a dream. Once again, she quieted him and he went back to a deep sleep. She made a mental note to ask him if he remembered what the dreams were about. This was twice he had a nightmare that woke her up. She wondered if he had others when she wasn’t there.


Catherine went back to sleep and Vincent woke her early in the morning. 


“Catherine? Honey, it’s time to get up soon.” 


Catherine sighed. He had just called her “honey” again. She was beginning to like hearing it from him. She stretched and looked up at him. “Morning, sweetheart.”


He smiled down at her. “We should go to the bathing chamber before it gets too busy.”


Catherine agreed. “Okay, grab a lantern and I’ll meet you there. I have to....”


Vincent interrupted. “There’s one across from the chamber.” 


They threw on robes and headed to the warm spring-fed pool. Catherine ran into the bathroom and quickly relieved herself, then met Vincent. He was already in the water when she climbed in next to him and sank into the water with a sigh of contentment.


Vincent was wetting down his hair when Catherine took the shampoo and started to lather his hair. He rinsed it and she added conditioner. She turned her back to him and he did the same for her. While her conditioner was on she rinsed his out, and then rinsed her own. 


Catherine caught her breath as she looked at Vincent. With a playful gleam in his eye, he approached her with a bar of soap. He lathered it up in his hands and brought them to her shoulders. He let them fall down her arms as he gently rubbed her skin. He made more lather and worked inward towards her breasts. He watched as the foam slid downward, revealing the hardened nipples to him. He quickly rinsed the soap off and took one of the nipples into his mouth. 


Catherine gasped and pulled his head down closer to her breasts. He reached his fingers between her legs and brought her to readiness quickly. She wrapped her legs around his waist and he entered her in a swift stroke. They rode the waves and soon climaxed as Catherine clung to him in the water.


“You don’t play fair, Vincent. I didn’t get to wash you.” 


“Next time, sweetheart.” Vincent kissed her, quickly washed his body and headed for the towels. 


Catherine quickly washed herself and then walked to the edge of the pool where Vincent stood holding out a towel for her. He wrapped her in it and they headed off to finish drying and change their clothes before the tunnel air could chill them.


Catherine shrugged at the lack of hair dryer and towel-dried the dampness from her hair, then ran a comb through it. Vincent came up and looked at her hopefully. 


She nodded and sat him on a chair and combed through his hair. “You like it when I comb your hair, don’t you?” 


Vincent hung his head shyly. “When you did it at the cottage that first time, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I had forgotten how nice it felt to have someone comb through my hair and play with the strands. I hadn’t had that done since I was a little boy.”


Catherine hugged his back. “I bet Mary did that for you when you were a little boy, didn’t she?” 


Vincent nodded. “She always had me sit on her lap. Back then I was much more rambunctious and my hair was always such a mess. I used to cry at the pain combing caused and Mary would sing to me as she worked out the tangles. Her singing usually put me to sleep and she would lead me groggily to my bed and tuck me in.”


Catherine smiled at his memory. “Forget it! I’m not singing to you, but I’m glad Mary was such a good mother to you. It’s nice to have someone that cares that much about you.” 


Vincent stood up, took Catherine’s hand and led her to the dining hall.


**********

 

Surprisingly, not many people were around when they entered the room. Catherine and Vincent made up a tray and went to sit when Jeffery came out from the kitchen carrying a big tray.


Vincent looked over at him. “Good morning, Jeffery. Your load looks heavy; perhaps you should get help. Where are you taking it?”


Jeffery blushed and looked at Catherine. “I’m really strong, Vincent. I can handle it. Besides, I’m only going to Father’s with it; it’s for him and Devin.” 


Vincent looked at Catherine, who nodded. “Jeffery, why don’t I carry your tray for you and you can assist Catherine in carrying our tray?”


Jeffery had a look of relief flash across his face, then he quickly assumed his false bravado. “Well, okay, if Catherine needs the help.” 


Vincent took the heavy tray and left. Catherine looked at Jeffery as he picked up their tray; she put her arm around his shoulders. “Thank you, Jeffery. I’m sure glad I won’t have to carry that tray with the weight of Vincent’s food on it.”


Jeffery smiled back and gloried at the feel of Catherine’s hand on his shoulder. “No problem, Catherine. It’s not too heavy for me.”


Catherine let him pull ahead as he walked closer to the library. She was certain the tray had started to get heavy and he was rushing to set it down.


She walked in and saw that Vincent had relieved Jeffery of the tray. Jeffery was waving his arms around and Catherine knew it was to get the blood flowing through them again. 


She ignored it and gave him a big hug. “Thanks again for the help.”


“You’re welcome,” he mumbled, clearly embarrassed. He left quickly.


Father called out to her. “Good morning, Catherine. You’re here early today.”


Catherine blushed and looked desperately at Vincent. “Father, Catherine spent the night in the guest chamber.”


Father looked confused. “But they’re all filled....”


Devin piped in. “I let her use mine. I bunked in Vincent’s chamber again.”


Father nodded, poured his tea, then began to smile. He realized his boys had tried to cover up for one another once again. He thought of all the times growing up when they quickly covered for one another and he thought nothing of it. Since Devin’s return, he had been able to see them as adults and was starting to see through their ruses. Neither of them had actually lied, but neither of them had told the truth. He knew Vincent had spent the night with Catherine. 


Everyone began to eat and Father looked at Catherine. “That chamber gets colder than some of the other ones. I hope you were comfortable.”


Catherine was buttering her toast and answered distractedly. “Vincent’s so warm when he sleeps; I just stay close to him.”


Devin choked on his bagel as Vincent blushed profusely. Catherine’s eyes flew to Father, who sat there chuckling with amusement.


Catherine giggled with him and soon everyone relaxed. Catherine finished what she could of her breakfast and handed the other half of her bagel to Vincent. Vincent frowned but took it from her.


Catherine looked over again at Father. “Father, Vincent and I are going to inventory Peter’s furniture today. Devin offered to help and then he and Jenny and I are going shopping...you’re welcome to join us if you’re not busy.”


“Thank you, my dear, but I must decline. I thought of coming up with a plan to go along with your ideas for a scholarship fund for the children. We have nine children who will all be college age in less than five years. I want to formulate a plan for Vincent to look over and then present it to the children.”


Vincent nodded. “That’s a wonderful idea, Father. As their teachers, we know when to push and when to allow for mistakes. I’m interested to see what you come up with.”


“Well, you three have a good time.” Father dismissed them and went to his desk to work on his plans.


**********


They walked to Peter’s house and let themselves in through the secret door. 


Devin looked around the lower level. “Hey, guys, this place is great. I’d forgotten how cool it was here.” 


Vincent smiled at him. “So, you do remember coming here? I wondered.”


“I didn’t remember much until we walked in that hidden door. What was the girl’s name...Susan...right?” Devin asked as he scanned his memories.


Vincent nodded and Catherine smiled at him. “Susan and I used to be good friends. It’s amazing to think she knew all of you and me at the same time.”


“Wow!” Devin said as he continued to walk around the rooms. 


Catherine grabbed a legal pad and pen and started to take notes. Devin and Vincent measured out the rooms’ sizes for her and called out numbers. The doorbell rang and Devin looked out the front window while Vincent walked to the kitchen. 


Catherine sighed and made a note to come up with a way to let the people inside know if it was a friend at the door or someone else. Vincent couldn’t spend his time running to the kitchen to hide. 


“It’s Jenny!” Devin called out loud enough for Vincent to hear. He went and opened the door to let Jenny in.


“Hi, Devin! I didn’t know you would be here.” Jenny leaned in and gave him a friendly kiss. 


He returned the kiss and then moved to close the door behind her. 


Jenny smiled, then set down her big bag and hugged Catherine, then hugged Vincent when he came back into the room. She turned in his arms and looked at Catherine. “Well, let’s get started. I can’t wait to spend your money!” she said as she winked at Vincent. 


She walked over and she and Catherine looked at each room and its measurements. They decided to critically assessed each piece on each floor and write down a few maybes regarding furniture. 


“This is going to be easier to go from top to bottom. Let’s go all the way up,” Jenny said. Catherine agreed and the guys followed behind as the girls bounced ideas off of one another. 


They came to the third floor and found the master bedroom and a good-sized room next to it. Catherine looked out the window and saw the backyard shaded by a big tree. She handed Jenny the pad and paper.


“Peter’s taking the bed and his dressers, so everything else in here can go Below. Vincent, can we knock a hole in this wall and install a sliding glass door and a balcony? We can make it private and have the fresh air blowing in our room each night. And let’s knock out this wall and make this a master bath with a Jacuzzi tub and a shower stall. We can have his and hers sinks with a big mirror over it and over here could be two huge walk-in closets and….”


Devin was laughing as Jenny furiously tried to keep up. Vincent smirked and shook his head as Catherine went on and on. Jenny looked at him sternly and shushed Devin as she wrote down the things Catherine was saying. Devin walked over to the odd pieces and put a chalk mark on them. He could tell the movers that anything that had a chalk mark could be brought Below.


Catherine realized they had stopped and came back to stand by them. “Vincent, don’t you like my ideas? I really would like a bathroom on this level. I suppose we don’t have to have walk-in closets....”


Vincent kissed her forehead. “Catherine, I don’t own that many clothes. One dresser should be plenty for my things....”


Catherine looked at Jenny. “Clothes,” was all she said, as Jenny wrote the word on the paper. 


They went to the other room on the floor. It wasn’t huge but Catherine pictured it as a future nursery. “Jen, nursery....Vincent, all the furniture in here can go, too!”


Devin quickly chalked all the furniture and followed the other three down a level. 


On this level there were four bedrooms. Three of the bedrooms had bed sets in them. 


Catherine turned back. “Devin, all three bedroom sets can go.” 


The fourth one was Peter’s office. It was the biggest out of all of the bedrooms and Catherine called out. “Jen, computer room...desks, chairs, computers....”


Catherine suddenly got worried. “Vincent, you’re not saying anything.”


“How could he?” Devin laughed. Jenny elbowed him and he grabbed his ribs.


Vincent chose to ignore him. “Catherine, I agree with all the choices you have made. If I disagree, I promise to tell you.”


She nodded as they made their way back to the first floor. She looked into one room and it had floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with books. Catherine wondered why Peter didn’t use this as his office. She looked at Vincent, who nodded. “Jen, office. File cabinets, computer, desk, seating area.”


Catherine looked at the living room furniture. It was in excellent condition but faded from age. “Devin...you’re up!” 


Catherine walked into the formal dining room. She could picture herself and Vincent and three kids gathered around it for a Sunday meal. It was a beautiful antique table with claw feet and sturdy chairs. She looked up at Vincent who nodded once again. 


Jenny smiled. “It’s a keeper, right? God, it’s gorgeous! Put a nice white lace table runner with a big bowl with some decorative flowers and some candles....”


Catherine giggled. “Less talking, more writing!”


“Slave driver,” Jenny joked as she made notes. 


Catherine looked inside another room. It was small and she figured out it was probably the old parlor.


Devin came up to her. “Hey, this is just a thought. Why don’t you knock out this wall and make this a part of the living area and you could section off this area over here with some floor-to-ceiling pillars and make it the formal dining area. It’s closer to the kitchen and....”


Jenny interrupted him. “Devin, that’s a wonderful idea. You could probably add a fireplace over here. Isn’t this the outside wall?”


Devin jumped up in glee. “Good idea, babe, and we could add a thick mantel to set off the front of it....”


Catherine came over to Vincent and gave him a big hug. “Should we try to stop them?”


Vincent shook his head. “You started it, Catherine. I’m afraid your enthusiasm has rubbed off on them.”


“My enthusiasm...is only for you.” Catherine reached forward and he lowered his head and kissed her. She deepened it and he pulled her into his embrace.


“Get a room!” Devin teased.


Vincent blushed and Jenny saved him. She had walked to the door and picked up her bag and walked over to the couches. 


“Hey, Vincent, I brought along some magazines you can look at. Maybe you could give Catherine some idea as to what style of furniture you like.”


“Good idea, thanks, Jen. Come on, sweetie.” Catherine grabbed Vincent’s hand and dragged him to the couch opposite Jenny’s.


Devin came and sat next to Jenny and thumbed through the magazines. “Vincent’s only interested in the bedroom furniture, right, big guy? As long as it’s sturdy….”


He “oofed” as Jenny’s elbow made contact with his ribs again. He sat back and watched as Catherine and Vincent talked over the catalogs. 


Jenny was scribbling furiously again and he wondered what she was writing. He sat up and peered over her shoulder. She had made a complete list of all of the furniture that was to go Below. On another sheet she was writing all the ideas Catherine had talked about as well as lists of items they would need to purchase. 


As she bent forward, her hair blocked his view and he brushed her hair out of his way and moved in closer. She turned her head to look at him and her face was right next to his. He looked into her eyes then down at her lips. He was slowly moving his face closer.


“He’s going to kiss me,” Jenny thought. 


Catherine interrupted when she called out to Jenny, “I’m going to make some tea, want to help?”


Jenny followed her into the kitchen. “What are you doing? He was going to kiss me!” she whispered.


Catherine held her head down. “Jen, I know. I saw. That’s why I interrupted. Jen, I love Devin. He’s a wonderful guy, but I don’t know if he’s going to stay around. I don’t want to see you get hurt.” 


“Oh...wanderer, huh?”


“Big time, Jen! Just be careful, okay?”


Catherine hugged her and they quickly made the tea. They walked mugs back and handed them to the guys. “Vincent, Jenny and I are going to go shopping this afternoon. Devin, are you still coming?”


Devin shook his head. He had an idea why Catherine interrupted him and he couldn’t say he blamed her. He liked Jenny and didn’t want to hurt her. She was a great friend to Catherine and Vincent and deserved more than a one-night stand. “No, you two go ahead. Vincent gave you an idea of what he likes. I’ll help the guys start to move this furniture.”


Catherine and Jenny finished their tea and, with lists in hand, headed out the door. 


**********


Vincent went Below and tapped out a message. Every available man came and in true tunnel fashion everyone got to work and in no time at all there were tons of furniture piled on the floor in the basement. Mouse had made a cart as soon as Vincent asked for it and was quickly piling things on it as the other men helped him stack. Two men pulled and two men pushed the cart as they got it nearer to the home tunnels. They unloaded it in a passage way and went back for more. 


Four other men brought the furniture to the Stevens’ new chambers or to the storage chamber for future use. The women who weren’t covering on sentry duty cleaned the furniture and helped the younger girls make beds with fresh linens. 


The third floor rooms only had Peter’s bedroom furniture left in it and that was quickly dismantled and taken to his study. The study also had Peter’s desk still in it. All of the other furniture was Below, except for the items they were keeping on the first floor. Devin showed Vincent how to use a vacuum while he carefully stacked odds and ends into boxes that he found in the basement. 


That was about all they could do today, and they made a list of supplies they would need to start the projects Catherine talked about. They headed down for a late lunch.


**********


Catherine drove to a favorite shopping center of hers. She had excellent taste and really didn’t foresee a problem in finding furniture to furnish the house with. She had told Jenny on her way over all about their plans to have rooms for the kids to transition into as they went off to college. 


The two women grabbed coffee mugs and headed through the store. Catherine spotted various bedroom groupings that she thought would work well. Jenny snapped pictures as she promised and Catherine walked up and down the hallways as she compared sets. She finally narrowed it down to six different sets. She wanted Vincent to choose them with her. She was sadly disappointed that she hadn’t found a master bedroom set. 


She walked over to the office department and looked over the desks they had for sale. She quickly picked out one for the kids’ computer room and wanted to order six of the same kind. She had Jenny take pictures and write down the serial numbers from them.


“Jen, I think I might find someone to fix my Dad’s old desk. I always loved that thing and if it can be refinished....”


“That’s a good idea, Cathy. It would certainly be better made then some of these!”


They popped over to the kitchen department and Catherine found two sturdy kitchen tables that each came with six chairs. She again had Jenny take pictures to show to Vincent. 


The camera flashes had drawn the attention of the salespeople and finally one woman couldn’t stand it any longer. “Hi, I’m Sally. Can I help you?”


Catherine smiled at her. “Right now, I’m just looking. We’re taking pictures for my fiancé to look at before I make a final decision.”


“Good idea! If I can help you at all, just ask.” 


The woman started to back away when Catherine called her back. “Is that all the bedroom furniture you have?”


Sally stepped forward again. “Well, no, actually we have some in back that the men haven’t been able to move up front yet. What are you looking for, exactly?”


Catherine started to describe it. “I want a king-sized wooden bed with two hutches on either side of the headboard. I’d like the headboard to have a lighted mirror and shelf and….”


“Miss, I have just the thing!” Sally interrupted. 


They followed her to the back room and she walked them through aisles of furniture until she stopped in front of a huge sheet. She grabbed the end and pulled it down. It fell to the floor and exposed exactly the type of furniture Catherine had described.


“Oh, Cathy, it’s beautiful. Vincent will love it.” Jenny snapped a picture. 


Catherine agreed. “I’ll take it. Don’t let anyone else even look at it! The only problem is I can’t have it delivered for two...maybe three weeks.”


“Not a problem, Miss. I’ll have the guys box it up and tag it with your name,” Sally said.


Catherine and Jenny walked back out and headed to see the living room furniture. Catherine quickly narrowed down the entertainment centers and Jenny took pictures of the two different ones. 


They looked at all the couch and loveseat groupings and Catherine fell in love with one that looked very sturdy and the colors in it were perfect. She had Jenny take a picture of it, just in case. Jenny found a set in the back of the store and Catherine liked it as well, so Jenny took another picture. 


Catherine turned to look for the salesperson. “Sally, will you be here tomorrow?” Catherine wondered.


Sally nodded. “Yes, I work from 8:00 to 4:00.”


“My name’s Catherine Chandler and this is my friend Jenny Aronson. Can I have your card? I plan on talking to my fiancé tonight and I’ll come in first thing in the morning and order what I want.”


“Sure! I’ll be glad to help you out,” Sally said as she handed her a card.


Catherine and Jenny left, pleased at what they had accomplished. They dropped the camera off at a one-hour processing place and stopped at a restaurant for a salad.


Catherine smiled at Jenny. “That was fun, Jen. I can’t believe how much I got done this week!”


Catherine proceeded over salad to tell Jenny all the wedding plans that her family Below had come up with. Jenny marveled at the ideas. She knew she would never have come up with ways to decorate the Great Hall. She loved the sound of the plans and told Catherine she agreed with all of it.


They finished their lunch and exited the restaurant.


Catherine turned to Jenny. “Hey, Jen? Why don’t we shop for all the rest of the stuff next weekend? We can get an earlier start and by then Vincent will have helped pick out furniture and we can come up with some type of color scheme....”


Jenny shook her head in agreement. “I was thinking the same thing myself. Why don’t we go show Vincent what we came up with for furniture ideas?”


Catherine smiled. “Okay...then we can bombard him with color choices.”


She and Jenny giggled, then started the drive home.


***********


Catherine and Jenny entered the house and saw that there was furniture missing. 


Jenny turned to Catherine with a smile and incredulously asked her, “They’ve already started moving the furniture?” They heard banging coming from above. “Let’s go find out….”


She led the way to the second floor. A quick look around proved their theory correct. All of the bedrooms were empty of their furniture. Peter’s office was intact but the desk was covered with sheets and there was a pile of boxes stacked in the corner.


The banging continued one floor up, so they headed up another flight of stairs. They walked into the master bedroom where Vincent and Devin were demolishing the wall Catherine had asked about. Vincent was so engrossed in his work he had never “felt” Catherine’s return. 


Catherine leaned over his shoulder and gently kissed the nape of his neck. She sputtered at the grimy residue that coated her lips and Vincent jumped in shock as his hammer slid and smashed onto the top of Devin’s hand.


Devin jumped up, grabbed at his hand and yelped in pain. Jenny rushed to his side and took his hand in hers. 


Catherine ran from the room and headed to the kitchen where she quickly grabbed some ice from the freezer. On her way out, she saw the kitchen towel and grabbed it as well. She ran up the steps and breathlessly walked into the bedroom.


She saw the three of them gathered close around Devin. The men were covered in a thick dust from their demolition project. Vincent’s head was down as he assessed the damage he had inflicted on his brother and Devin was flinching in pain from Vincent’s probing. Jenny’s arm was around Devin’s back trying to offer him comfort.  


“There doesn’t seem to be anything broken....” Vincent concluded.


Catherine sighed in relief and turned to Devin with tears in her eyes. “Devin, I am so sorry!”


Vincent looked at Catherine, then Devin. “It’s my fault the hammer slipped.”


Jenny took the bag of ice from her and placed it on Devin’s hand. She wrapped the towel around it to keep the cold from escaping. Devin hissed as the impact of the ice registered on his tender hand. He looked up at Catherine, ready to make one of his witty replies, when he saw how upset she was. He took mercy on her.


“No biggie, Cath...Vincent’s been working me like a dog all day, I needed a break.”


Catherine smiled at his attempt to lighten the mood as Jenny jumped in to take control. “Why don’t we go sit in the kitchen so Devin can keep his hand on ice? Maybe we can make some tea....”


Vincent had walked to Catherine’s side and put his arm around her to comfort her. He knew how badly she felt that Devin had gotten hurt. “Good idea, Jenny.” 


As Jenny kept her arm around Devin’s back and led him from the room, Vincent took Catherine’s hand and they exchanged looks of surprise at the closeness that was growing between Jenny and Devin. Vincent shrugged as he led Catherine and they followed behind the couple.


Jenny sat next to Devin in the kitchen and washed his face and arms with a washcloth. Catherine quickly made tea as Vincent cleaned up in the bathroom. 


Devin was soon feeling better and turned to Catherine. “So, how’d the shopping go?”


Jenny answered first. “We narrowed it down to our favorite choices and now have a ton of pictures for Vincent to look at.”


Devin looked at her quizzically and Catherine rushed to explain. “I wanted Vincent to be able to help me make the final choices.”


Devin smiled at her consideration of Vincent, then turned to tease him. “Looks like you’re still stuck furniture shopping! Welcome to married life!”


Jenny pretended to elbow him and they all laughed. Devin looked from one woman to the other. “Well...where are these pictures?”


Catherine hadn’t wanted to seem insensitive to Devin’s pain, but Vincent nodded and Jenny ran to her purse to retrieve the pictures.


They quickly placed the pictures around the table. Vincent was overwhelmed by the choices. Below you were given furniture because you had a need. There was never any consideration given to decorating patterns. Furniture was meant to be functional. Now, Catherine wanted him to choose furniture that would reflect a certain style. 


Devin sensed Vincent’s uncertainty. He picked up the two pictures of different couches and showed them to Vincent. Then tried to offer what little advice he knew about decorating. 


“Here, Vincent, see the colors in these couches? You could paint the walls with any of these colors and it would accent the furniture. This couch is the one I like the best,” Devin said as he handed him a picture. “When it’s cold outside, Catherine will have plenty of room to snuggle up against your big butt and you won’t be squished. Another good feature is when you make her mad and she boots you out of the bedroom, you can sleep down here, see how long it is? Your furry feet won’t hang off the end!”


Jenny caught her breath. She assumed Vincent would be offended at Devin’s jokes. Vincent rolled his eyes but took the picture Devin offered. He appreciated Devin’s help. He knew he was discreetly trying to offer him his advice. His jokes were a way to keep the attention off of Vincent’s lack of expertise.


He compared the two couches, then looked over at Catherine. He handed her a picture of one of the couches. “I like this one the most, but if you prefer….”


Catherine shook her head. “I liked both of them but this was my first choice as well.”


She took the picture and set it off to the side. The rest of the furniture was handled in much the same way. Someone would point out suggestions for decorating ideas and Vincent would offer his opinion on the choices he was presented. Not surprisingly, Vincent and Catherine agreed on most of it. 


They quickly furnished the living area. The three extra bedrooms were furnished with complete bedroom sets.


“Why all the beds, Catherine? You and Vincent have some news to share?” Devin wondered. 


Catherine explained her ideas on helping the older kids Below get assimilated to the world Above. 


Devin nodded his approval, while Jenny gushed, “Oh, Catherine, that is just great. You and Vincent are both so caring! You’re going to make wonderful parents some day.”


Catherine smiled and looked over at Vincent. She winked at him and he blushed and looked down.


Devin shook his head. “Not without a bed set for the master bedroom. I can’t believe you forgot that room, Cathy. So easily forgotten...Vincent...you must not be very good in....” 


“Devin!” Jenny screamed as Vincent blushed an even deeper shade of red.


Catherine rushed to Vincent’s defense. “Actually, Devin, I already picked out a bedroom set. I wanted to surprise Vincent with it. It’s his reward for being so...satisfying.” She smiled coyly, then laughed.


Vincent’s jaw dropped open in shock. He couldn’t believe they were sitting here discussing his sex life. Jenny laughed and grabbed Vincent’s hand. “When you see what she picked out, I’m sure you’ll be able to keep her...satisfied for a long time.”


Vincent had enough. He grabbed a legal pad and pen. “Before we discuss our bedroom set and its uses, maybe we should make a list of things that we will need to renovate the house.” He proceeded to write, “Tub, shower, sinks, vanity, toilet, drywall, screws, drywall mud, paint, trays, rollers, brushes....”


Devin tried to look at the paper. Vincent, being left-handed, blocked his view.  “If you wrote with the proper hand, I could see the list and add to it….”


Vincent rolled his eyes yet again. He had lost track of the amount of times Devin had said that to him over the years. He moved his hand away to let Devin see. 


Devin nodded, then added, “Don’t forget tile, grout and sub-flooring, and we’ll need electrical and plumbing, but I’ll leave that up to Cullen and Greg to handle.” 


Devin looked over at Catherine. “Cathy, I’m gonna be laid up for a few days until this hand isn’t so tender. If you have time tomorrow, why don’t we go and pick out some fixtures for the main bathroom? Maybe you can pick out some paint colors as well....”


Catherine looked at Vincent, who nodded in agreement. “If you have the time, Catherine, it would be a good idea. Winter is the best time for those Below to accomplish any extra projects and there is a lot to be done. We need to get this finished soon before the pipes start thawing Below and we are busy with the water problems that occur.”


Catherine nodded. “Okay, I’ll try to get the stuff ordered tomorrow and you can install it at any time. I’ve never picked out fixtures before; you’re sure you don’t mind coming with me, Devin?”


“Nope! Sounds like a plan. How about you, Jen, want to go with and help pick out floor tile?” Devin asked.


Catherine turned to Jenny and nodded her head eagerly. Jenny laughed. “Okay, okay...I’ll help you spend more money! Don’t forget I want to shop for the fun stuff, though. I think it will be way more interesting to get bed linens, curtains and pillows then toilet seats and faucets!”


“Deal!” Catherine giggled. “Hey, Jen...that just gave me a good idea. Vincent and I can look through one of those department store catalogs and see what kind of colors we want to go with.”


“Well, on that note, I think I will go down and see if my Dad needs some company. Vincent, you have a good time picking out throw pillows,” Devin said as he rolled his eyes and Vincent tried not to laugh. 


Jenny stood up as well. “Yeah, Cath, I think I’m going to get going too. I’ll come here tomorrow...say 10:00?”


“Okay, sounds good. Thanks.” Catherine nodded and went to stand to walk Jenny out.


Devin motioned for her to sit. “I’ll see Jenny out. I think Vincent is anxious to look through those catalogs, aren’t you, buddy?”


Vincent scowled at him, then looked down. 



**********


Catherine sat back down next to Vincent as Devin and Jenny left. 


“Vincent, I’m sorry I’m being a pain in the butt. I just want to include you in on all the decisions. I want this to feel like your home as well as mine. I should have asked you if you wanted to be involved. I just assumed....”


Vincent leaned over and kissed her. She returned the kiss, gently pulled away and smiled at him.


“Catherine, I appreciate that you are asking my opinion on everything. I want to be a part of it. I just wish I had some ideas to even offer you. When you live Below, you grow accustomed to only having what you can find or is given to you. There are no choices to be made. The things in my chamber I have mostly because they were gifts from other people. I couldn’t purchase them nor could I refuse them when they were given to me. Until I met you, they represented all of the people in my life who showed me they thought about me, cared for me. There was never any thought as to whether or not something coordinated with the rest of the items.”


Catherine nodded, stood and moved to sit on his lap. She put her arms around his neck and looked in his eyes. “Vincent, I’m sorry. I never even thought about how the things Below were acquired. I guess I never realized that you took what was available, that you didn’t have choices.”


“But, Catherine, now I do. I have choices to make because of you. I have the chance to live in a beautiful house with wonderful things surrounding me because I was fortunate enough to meet someone like you. I love you, Catherine, with everything that I am.” 

 

Catherine’s eyes welled up with tears as he pulled her close. He tenderly kissed her and then stood and carried her into the living room. He sat down with her on the couch and held her in his arms.


“Vincent, I love you, too.”


She kissed him deeply, then sighed and pulled away. Vincent looked at the catalog lying on the coffee table in front of them. He sat Catherine down in the crook of his arm and leaned forward to get the catalog.


“Catherine, I’d like to look through this with you. Do you feel up to it?”


Catherine scooted forward. “You’re not just saying that?” She looked into his eyes and saw his sincerity. 


Vincent looked at her mischievously. “No, I don’t want to lie in bed with pink fluffy ruffles surrounding me,” he teased.


“Hey! You better be nice or I’ll do our room in pastels!” Catherine teased back.


They bent over the catalog and soon picked out almost all of the bed linens, bathroom linens, and accent pillows for the couches. It was late when they finished, so Catherine and Vincent went Below for dinner.


**********


Vincent went to the bathing chamber, promising to return shortly. Catherine went to the dining hall to wait for his return. She spotted seats at Father’s table and headed in that direction, stopping to chat along the way.


She visited with everyone on the way over and finally made it and sat down. “Good evening, Father.” She looked over at his stew. “Mmmm....That smells good!”


Father nodded. “It is very good. You must have been busy today for you to be here so late.”


Devin looked up from his bowl. “Didn’t she tell you? She made Vincent furniture shop with her.”


Father choked on his water. “You what?!”


Catherine rolled her eyes. “Father, Devin failed to mention that it was from the safety of Peter’s kitchen.”


“Oh, yeah, sorry, I forgot that part.” Devin smiled, although he didn’t look the least part ashamed.


Father threw him an angry glance. “Devin, I don’t know why you persist in trying to give me a heart attack...”


Vincent walked up and interrupted him. “Excuse me, Father. I’d like to take Catherine to get our dinner.”


Catherine took his hand and walked away giggling. They made their trays and soon returned to Father’s table.


Father looked up at them as they sat. “So, Catherine, Devin has explained that you and Vincent shopped through a series of photographs that you took of the furniture. That was an ingenious idea.”


Catherine nodded. “Thanks, Father. Jenny actually thought of it and it seems to have worked out well. I’m going back tomorrow to buy everything.”


Father cleared his throat. “Speaking of buying, Catherine, you know that the men are starting to work on the projects...I was wondering if you could bring some money to us so that they may purchase the materials they need?”


Father looked down, seemingly embarrassed. Catherine was horrified. “Oh, Father. I’m so sorry! How could I have been so stupid?  I had all these bright ideas but I didn’t think of how you were to pay for stuff. Today’s Saturday and the banks are closed until Monday....”


Vincent rushed to reassure her. “Catherine, Gus has been a helper for over 20 years. He owns the hardware store; it won’t be a problem at all for the men to purchase whatever they need. You can pay him whenever you get a chance.”


Father was nodding. “That’s right, Catherine. I merely meant to point out that we would be in need of cash shortly.”


Catherine sat quietly, taking bits of her stew, pondering how to handle the money situation. “I can set up a regular checking account, then pay the bills as they come in. Each night I can pay them and one of the children can take them the next day to the helper. Devin, I need another name to put on the account. I could wait for Peter but if you....”


Devin held up his hands. “Catherine, I’m not sure if I’ll be around all the time. Why don’t you use Jenny? She would do it, I know it.”


Catherine looked at Father for approval. He nodded, then looked over at Devin. “You’re leaving us again?” 


Devin merely shrugged and looked away. He didn’t want to commit to anything. “I’ll be here for the wedding, that much I can promise you. Before the wedding or after the wedding is the unknown....”


Catherine glanced at Vincent, who shrugged and continued to eat his stew. They finished their dinner and headed to Father’s library where the children were performing a last-minute play they threw together.


**********


Catherine sat next to Vincent on a chair. He put his arm around her and drew her close. She snuggled down as they enjoyed the antics of the children acting out scenes from Robin Hood. Everyone clapped as they finished their performance.


Vincent and Catherine sauntered back to the guest chamber. They quickly undressed and went to bed, where Vincent opened a book, intending to read to her. 


Catherine placed her hand over his. “Vincent, if we work hard, we can be in our own place in less than a month. How amazing is that?”


Vincent smiled at her. “It’s pretty amazing.”


He began to read and Catherine settled into a peaceful sleep. He closed his book and snuggled up behind her. He gathered her into his arms and soon fell into a deep sleep. 


It was dawn soon enough and Catherine woke first. She knew she had slept through the night. “Damn!” she cursed.


Vincent stirred, woke up and turned towards her. “Catherine, what is it?” 


“You let me fall asleep!” she accused. 


Vincent closed his eyes again and sighed. “Honey, you were tired. You needed your sleep.” 


She groaned. “I needed you! It’s the weekend, it’s our time to...you know.”


Vincent smirked. “Yes...I know. Perhaps tonight I will come to your apartment so we can...you know. I can leave before dawn.”


Catherine snuggled back up against him. “Or we can...you know...now, and then again tonight.”


Vincent laughed and moved over her. They were soon locked in a rhythm and racing towards an end. They exploded together and collapsed in a frenzy of kisses.


Catherine caught her breath first. “Vincent, each time we get better at...you know.”


Vincent blushed and carried her to the bathing chamber. They washed each other much the same as they did the day before. Once again, Vincent held a towel open for her and they dressed and went to start their day.


**********  


They ate a quick breakfast and Vincent left early to get to Peter’s to do more demolition. Devin walked in and ate a quick breakfast and he and Catherine started to make the walk above. 


“Oh, no, I didn’t think to tell Jenny where to meet us,” Catherine exclaimed.


Devin put his arm around her. “Thank your future brother-in-law for handling that yesterday. I gave her directions to Gus’ store. We could go to a big chain store, but I think Gus can get you a better product. It may take a few weeks to come in, but there’s plenty of work to be done before we’re ready for it anyway.”


Catherine nodded and they made their way to the store.


**********


Devin introduced Catherine to Gus. Gus was a stout middle-aged man who had a jovial personality. They had both heard of one another but hadn’t had the opportunity to meet. Jenny walked in soon after and Devin introduced her as well. 


“Hey, Gus, Catherine and Vincent bought Peter Alcott’s place. They are doing some renovations there and we need a ton of stuff.”


Devin handed Gus the list of items they needed so far. Gus glanced through it, then up at Catherine. She was worriedly chewing her lip. She hated being out of her element.


“This isn’t too bad, sweetheart. Let’s tackle the big stuff first,” Gus said as her led them through the store. 


Catherine was amazed that the store had a complete back section with bath fixtures set up in it. She quickly spotted a huge two-person Jacuzzi tub. 


Jenny ran her fingers along it and marveled at its size. “It’s perfect, Cathy!”


Catherine looked at it critically. “I don’t know, Jen. You do know how big Vincent is, right?”


Devin swooped Jenny up into his arms. She squealed with delight as he set her down inside of the tub. He settled in next to her and put his arm around her. He reclined against the back and pulled her to lie against him. “See, plenty of room!”


Catherine laughed and then judged the leftover room. Jenny and she were close to the same size and Devin was only a few inches shorter than Vincent. Vincent, of course, had broader shoulders but Catherine didn’t see that as being a problem. She turned to Gus. “Does it come in another color?”


Gus laughed. “You don’t like the blue? Me neither. It’s only for display. It comes in every color under the sun.”


Catherine was relieved. “White, please. Well, wait...you do have a shower stall that is extra large that comes in white, right?” 


Gus walked her around the corner. He showed her several that would suit her needs. Devin took Jenny’s hand and pulled her along. “Come on, take a shower with me.”


He pulled her into the first shower and it was more than adequate. He grabbed her hand and led her into a medium-sized one and they stood facing each other. They were only inches away and Devin caught his breath as he looked into her eyes. Catherine wanted to get them separated. She saw they looked cramped and told them to come out.  She ordered the bigger stall and the tub in white.


Gus took them to the toilet section. Catherine never realized there were so many choices. Devin sat on each one and played around as Catherine and Jenny giggled at his antics. Catherine chose one and Devin agreed on it.


They walked over to the tile section and Catherine poured over the various tiles. She chose white. She knew she could bring in colors with her towels and rugs. 


Jenny found the perfect vanity and Catherine agreed, then added very decorative bowls to it. 


Gus had to go and help another customer, so Devin helped her pick out quality fixtures. “You know, Cathy...sometimes it’s important to buy quality and now’s the time to spend it. If you buy a cheaper grade of faucet, you’ll have troubles.”


Catherine looked at the ones he recommended and picked out shower heads and faucets for the tub, shower and vanity.


Jenny headed over to the mirrors and quickly called Catherine over to see one she liked. Catherine fell in love with it immediately and added to her list.


Gus walked up as the girls were headed to the paint department. Devin said he’d meet up with them as he and Gus shopped for all the other things on his list. 


Jenny and Catherine sat down with tons of colors for the walls in the whole house. Catherine brought out the pictures of the furniture. She and Jenny went room by room and picked out colors. Gus came up and helped them to decide what kind of finish they wanted. He took all the samples and sent one of his workers to mix the paint. 


Jenny went to go find Devin as Catherine walked to the front of the store with Gus. She talked to him about the finances of the world Below and he agreed to a payment plan. He would send the bill Below with whomever bought the stuff and Catherine could write him a check once a week. 


As they walked up, Devin noticed the section of doors. He started to look through the displays and called out to Catherine. “Chandler, don’t forget you need to pick out one of these.”


Catherine walked over. “That’s right. Thanks, Devin.”


Devin explained to Gus what they were doing with the wall in the bedroom. He showed them a catalog that had a beautiful sliding glass door that came with various shades of tinting. Catherine agreed for safety purposes that it would be perfect and ordered one. He wrote up her order and handed her a copy. She paid him and he promised the stuff would be delivered in about three weeks.


Catherine turned to him again. “Gus, do you know where I can buy commercial-sized laundry equipment and refrigerators?”


He smiled at her. “Right here! I can order anything you need. We sometimes do remodeling for schools or churches. I have a distributor that can get you what you want.”


Gus dug through his desk and pulled out a catalog. He handed it to her and she flipped through the pages. Devin and Jenny walked up and he peered over her shoulder. Catherine explained to Gus what she needed them for and he helped her pick out the ones he thought would work the best. Catherine agreed and handed the catalog to Devin so he could check on the water requirements and the power needed for the machines. He agreed with her choices. 


She order two huge refrigerators along with two huge walk-in freezers. She ordered four triple- load-capacity clothes washers and six dryers. Gus said they would arrive in two weeks. Catherine took the bill and promised Gus she would get to the bank and open a checking account and get him a check immediately.


They left satisfied with accomplishing so much. 


***********


Gus had promised to deliver the paint in two to three hours, so Devin headed to go and help Vincent, while Catherine and Jenny drove back to the furniture store. 


Catherine sat with Sally and showed her picture after picture of everything to order. Sally gasped as the list went on and on. 


Sally handed her the completed list and Jenny and Catherine poured over it to make sure they hadn’t forgotten anything. Sally was waiting for them to get to the page with the total. She thought that Catherine would gasp and decide to get some furniture now and some later. Catherine pulled out her charge card and Sally went to run it through. Catherine signed for the charge and Sally handed her the receipt. 


Sally looked at her signature. “Okay, everything should be here within four weeks. Do you want it all delivered at the same time, or do you want it to be delivered as it comes in?”


Catherine thought for a moment. “Keep it all and deliver it at one time, please. We’re renovating and should be finished by then.”


She and Jenny left the store and headed for home. 


************
  

Catherine and Jenny entered the house with lunch in hand. Jenny went to the kitchen to unpack it and Catherine headed upstairs to see what was going on.


She walked into the master bedroom and couldn’t believe how much was done. Vincent had the wall completely gone and Devin and he were cleaning up the scraps of leftover waste. 


Catherine looked down and realized that the carpet was being ruined. Devin saw her eyes and followed her train of thought.


“Yeah, I noticed that too!” he said. “Come here....”


Devin motioned for her to follow and took her to the far corner of the room. He pulled up a corner of the carpeting and exposed hardwood floors underneath. 


“They look like they’re in good condition....” he began.


Catherine gasped. “Oh, Devin, they look like they’re in wonderful condition.”


He nodded. “While Vincent was playing around with this wall, I checked the other bedrooms and they all have hardwood floors as well. Their carpeting is in passable shape but now that the furniture is gone you can see where it’s faded from sun....”


Catherine smiled. “Let’s just pull it up. We can always put area rugs down if it feels too cold. What do you think, Vincent?”


Vincent stood up straight and smiled. “I think I like whatever idea you come up with. Right now I’m...hungry,” he announced shyly.


Devin laughed. “You’re always hungry.”


Catherine turned and called back over her shoulder, “Jenny and I bought lunch. She’s getting it ready now.”


Vincent and Devin cleaned up, then headed for the kitchen. The friends ate a lunch of soup and sandwiches; Vincent wolfed down his sandwiches and Catherine offered him the other half of hers. He took it shyly, then ate it as well.


Devin finished his meal and looked at Catherine. “Hey, Cath, you’re going to have to order a dumpster to be delivered here. The guys said they can work here starting Tuesday morning and we’re going to need a place to dump this stuff. That plus all the carpeting that needs to be pulled out and the waste from the wall your fiancé here just made....”


Catherine laughed and promised to order one first thing in the morning. Devin suggested that she tell them it would be here for awhile. With the holidays coming up, he was unsure of how much they would accomplish this week.


“Holidays? How could I have forgotten Christmas?” Catherine exclaimed.


Jenny giggled. “Gee, I wonder how? Could it be that you have a lot on your mind?”


Jenny announced she needed to leave. Catherine nodded and stood up with her. “I need to start going through things and packing to get the place ready for the painters. I promised Peter I would have everything freshly painted and steam cleaned.”


Devin promised to wait for the delivery man Gus was sending over and Vincent announced he would stay with Devin and try to get more work done. 


Catherine walked over to Vincent and kissed him goodbye. 


“See you tonight,” Vincent promised.


She smiled at him. “I’ll be waiting,” she said as she turned and said goodbye to Devin and followed Jenny out the door.


**********


Catherine went home and began sorting through her closets. She had an unbelievable amount of clothes she didn’t wear anymore. Most of it was work clothes, so she boxed them up for a woman’s shelter she knew about. This shelter fitted women with outfits so they could go out on job interviews. Most of the clothes were in excellent condition. Some items just didn’t fit her anymore and some items were inappropriate for working with the people in her office. They were expensive designer clothes and Catherine hated the thought of flaunting her wealth in the DA’s office where most of the people were just trying to make a decent living. 


She went through her wardrobe of sweatshirts and sweaters and boxed up the ones she no longer wanted for the women Below to go through. She clearly marked each box, then put all of the boxes into a corner of the living room. 


She looked at her curio cabinets and shrugged. “May as well get this done,” she thought. And so her day was spent. Luckily, she was not one to collect a lot of knickknacks. Most of the items she had were given to her as gifts. The ones that were given by old boyfriends she quickly packed and set aside for donation. Some of the things she had belonged to her mother. She would make certain to find a special place for them in her new home.


Catherine worked until well after dark. She hopped into the shower and put on a matching lingerie set. She sat on her couch under a blanket and waited for Vincent to arrive.


She was just starting to doze off when she heard his knock. She ran to the balcony as he let himself inside. He reached out and gathered her into his arms and pulled her close. 


“Mmmm….You feel good, Vincent,” she said as she snuggled against his chest.


Vincent chuckled at her. “You feel good as well, Catherine.” 


They started to walk towards her couch and he glanced over at her pile of boxes against the far wall. “You’ve been busy.”


“I just thought as long as I have the time, I would start getting things out of here. There is so much to do. I feel awful asking the men Below to do all this extra work. Maybe I should hire someone to paint my apartment.”


Vincent rushed to assure her. “Catherine, your place is small enough. Kanin, Cullen and Greg could easily paint it in a few short hours.”


Catherine nodded, then sighed. “Well, Father needs to let me do something special for everyone when this is all over with.”


He kissed the tip of her nose. “That would be appreciated. Maybe we could have a big house revealing party after we move in.”


Catherine jumped up at the mention of their house. “Look what I did today.” She walked over to her table and brought him a diagram of the house. “Everything is clearly labeled and the paint choices are listed in the individual rooms. I thought if they finished all of the renovations first, we could start painting right after that.”


Vincent marveled at the diagram. He studied it and pointed out a few things she had missed. “This will help, Catherine.”


He set it off to the side and a huge yawn escaped from him. Catherine smiled and stood offering him her hand. “Come on, Vincent. Let’s go to bed and I’ll read to you for awhile.”


He took her hand and followed her to the bedroom. He quickly peeled off his clothes and climbed into bed next to her. She read the first four chapters and he soon fell asleep. She smiled, knowing how tired he must be. She turned off the light and snuggled up against him and soon fell asleep.


**********


Catherine woke the next morning to find Vincent gone. He had left her a note and said he would be thinking about her.


She got up and headed to work. She was soon lost in her cases and stopped only to make the necessary phone calls for the home improvement projects. 


The children Below, like the children Above, were off of school for the holidays. Vincent and some of the men put in as much time as they could getting the plumbing and the electrical ready for the new bathroom. They decided to wait until the day after Christmas to tackle the sliding glass door project. They knew that once they committed to it, it had to be finished in the same day.


Christmas was spent Below with all their friends. Catherine had gone overboard early in November and made sure that every person had at least one new sweater or sweatshirt and a new coat, hat and mittens. She had worried for weeks how to filter it in, but with her new agreement with Father she relished the joy her gifts had brought. 


The children gushed over the games and puzzles she had purchased. They were to be kept in the library for everyone’s use. The children didn’t care; normally they had games and there were pieces missing, so they had to work around it and create a different game. 


Some of the older residents were given an extra gift of a blanket. They were designed specifically to keep body heat in. This was certain to help with the more arthritic members. Sometimes the dampness of the tunnels became too much to bear. The new blankets would help.


She had given William permission to have free rein at the grocery store and for the first time in years there were leftovers in abundance. He would be able to send the men to work with meat stews and soups for a nutritious midday meal.


Father declared this one of their best Christmases and sent a grateful smile over to Catherine.


**********


The next two weeks found Catherine swamped at work. The holiday spirit was over and they were flooded with cases. She often worked late and didn’t get home until well after Vincent was already Below. She hated to bother him when it was so late. She had seen all the progress they made during the last few weeks. She was amazed at the craftsmanship that was wasted Below. These men were talented at what they did. If they hadn’t fled to the world Below, they could be charging top prices for their work. She knew Vincent must be exhausted. She and he had started communicating through notes left at Peter’s. 


Halfway through the next week, Catherine had had enough. It had been almost three weeks since she had seen Vincent for more than a stolen moment on the balcony or the threshold. She left work early to go to Peter’s house. She entered through the front door to a flurry of activity. She squeezed past boxes of supplies and made her way upstairs. 


Vincent and Devin were maneuvering the shower stall into place. Vincent had the bulk of the weight and was shifting it into place with his knees. Devin stopped when he spotted Catherine. He looked at Vincent and nodded his head in her direction. Vincent turned with a question in his eyes. He broke into a grin when he saw her standing there. Catherine rushed forward and jumped into his arms, oblivious of the dust and grime covering him. He hugged her close to him. 


Devin discreetly left the room. “Hey, I’m going for something to drink,” he called back over his shoulder.


Catherine backed away and Vincent lowered his head to kiss her. She moaned and moved in closer and he deepened the kiss. He finally pulled away when he started getting aroused. He didn’t want to have to hide himself if someone came into the room and with a house full of workers it was a certain possibility that someone would pop in soon enough.


“God, I’ve missed you!” Catherine exclaimed. 


Vincent smiled at her shyly. “I’ve missed you as well, Catherine. Why are you here? Didn’t you work today?”


Catherine nodded then turned from him. “I did, but I’ve missed you so much lately. It’s been weeks since...well, you know...and with your birthday coming up, I thought we could plan something special.”


Vincent nodded shyly. “We are so far ahead on our projects, I thought I would have everyone take the weekend off.”


Catherine smiled. “You have accomplished so much. I couldn’t believe it last week when I saw the doors to the balcony done and today I walk in and they’re finishing up the fireplace.”


“Yes, and the bathroom will be finished in a few hours,” he offered. 


Catherine looked at him and realized for the first time the lines of fatigue in his face. “Vincent, you look so tired...just how many hours a day have you been putting in here?”


Devin walked in and handed Vincent a drink as he stood there blushing guiltily. “Too many; he’s here first thing every morning and sometimes works three or four hours after the rest of us have quit!”


“Vincent!” she cried in dismay.


Vincent shrugged in indifference. “Catherine, I just wanted to make sure we stayed on target. The furniture is scheduled to arrive next Thursday. We need to have everything finished by then. I think after tomorrow we should have the place cleaned up and ready to paint. That is why I suggested this weekend off. We can paint on Monday and refinish the floors on Tuesday.”


Catherine nodded but still looked upset. Devin came over and put his arm around her. “So, on Tuesday, if you can rent a van, we can move Peter’s furniture to your house and your stuff either here or Below. While we’re doing that, the painters will come in and get your place painted. Friday you can put the finishing touches on for Peter.”


She looked up at him in wonder. “Finishing touches?”


He laughed. “Yeah, we do functional; it’s your job to do pretty! Oh, and you’ll have to stay Below Tuesday and Wednesday because both places will overwhelmed with fumes.”


Catherine nodded in understanding. “Wow, this is really happening! This time next week we’ll be living here!” 


She smiled as she walked over to Vincent and hugged him tightly. “I just hope you’re not sick of this place by the time we move in.”


Vincent kissed her lightly. “If you’re here with me, I don’t think I’ll get sick of it.”


Devin finished his drink and stood up. “Come on, you can kiss her all you want this weekend. Let’s get this bathroom done.”


Vincent nodded, then turned to Catherine. 


“Don’t worry about me, Vincent. I think I’ll go see Father. I’m sure he has some bills for me...”


Devin’s laugh from the other room interrupted her. He peeked around the corner. “You should see the stack...it’s pretty tall!”


Vincent kissed her forehead. “Catherine, go. I’ll meet you Below for dinner.”


Catherine left and quickly looked into each room on each level. She was still amazed at the progress they had made. She smiled at all of the men as she made her way to the kitchen. 


**********


She made her way Below and was surprised to find a room, well-lit, with plumbing ready to be hooked up to the washing machines. There were long tables built there for folding clothes and baskets on wheels for transporting them. She walked through the tunnels and looked at the newly mounted conduit. They had done a wonderful job concealing it and making it look old. She saw few people in the tunnels as she made her way to the library.


She walked in and found Father reading a story to the children. She quietly sat in a chair in the back of the room and waited for him to finish. When he did, the children started to mill about and then Eric finally noticed her.


“Catherine!” he screamed excitedly.


The children rushed to her sides and gathered around her. She greeted them all and answered all of their questions until Father shooed them out the door. They groaned until she assured them she would be spending the weekend Below. 


Father smiled at her. “Catherine, my dear, come sit down, it’s been ages since we’ve seen you.”


Catherine nodded. “I know, we’ve been so busy at work and Vincent has been so tired. I didn’t want him to take any time away from his sleeping.”


“Yes, well, he assured me they would take this weekend off. He said he feels there may be only a few more solid days of work and it will be completed. You must be very anxious,” he smiled.


Catherine nodded again. “I’m anxious for it to be over. I have so much to thank everyone for.” 


Father took her hand. “Catherine, you’re family, and family does for one another, not another word about it.”


Greg Stevens chose that moment to walk in. “Father, I have another bill for you.... Oh, sorry, Catherine. I didn’t know there was anyone in here.”


Catherine smiled at him. “Hi, Greg, it’s good to see you. How did the kids like their new beds? Is everyone settled in?”


Greg looked at Catherine with tears in his eyes. “Catherine, if only you could know how happy my family is each night. Jessica even started to sleep through the night again.”


Catherine squeezed his arm. “Oh, Greg, that’s wonderful!”


Father cleared his throat. “So, Greg, you have another bill? Do you anticipate having to purchase much more?”


Greg shook his head. “Nope, this should be the last of it. It was a little pricier that I thought because we had to be careful how we hid it, but it’s definitely going to be better in the long run.”


Catherine turned to him again. “So you’re almost ready for the appliances?”


Greg nodded. “Yep, they come on Wednesday, I think. We’re hauling everything through your house. It’s the safest location with the least amount of tunnel to travel.”


Greg handed Father the invoice for his latest purchases, then excused himself to go back to work. Father looked at the invoice and with a sigh got up and walked over to his desk. He grabbed a file folder and opened it and slipped the paper inside. 


Catherine noticed what he did and with a smile called over to Father, “You may as well give it to me...I have to see it sometime.”


Father hesitated, then turned and with a sigh walked with the file back towards Catherine. “I’m afraid this has been quite an expensive endeavor.”


Catherine looked at the invoices and looked up puzzled. “Father, for what has been able to be accomplished, I don’t think this is expensive at all. Besides, Margaret would be happy knowing her money went to such a great cause.”


Father nodded. “Yes, but it’s still a hard pill to swallow. Margaret is supporting a world she spent so little time in....”


Catherine leaned over and covered his hand with hers. “Margaret is supporting the man she loves, the man she vowed to spend the rest of her life with. She would have been able to do that if it wasn’t for her father. I find it ironic that, in the end, you and the world you built are benefiting from his money.”


Father chuckled. “Well, when you put it that way...”


Catherine laughed as she reached into her purse, brought out the checkbook and wrote a check. She placed the check inside the folder, then closed up the file. 


Father looked at her uncertainly. “Catherine, Vincent is taking this weekend off and I know you’d like to do something special for his birthday, but the children have come up with a play honoring his life. They had planned on performing it on Saturday after dinner as a surprise birthday present for him....”


Catherine guessed where this was leading. “...And you’d like to make sure that Vincent and I are here so the children will be able to give him their gift?”


Father nodded and smiled shyly. 


“Father, I’ve missed Vincent terribly these past few weeks, but we would never disappoint the children. If you can promise us some time alone late in the evenings then I will make Vincent stay Below this weekend. I was hoping to be able to just have him lie around and relax.”


“Thank you, Catherine. And I believe relaxing is just the thing Vincent needs. He has been working himself much too hard lately. I know he’s exhausted; rest will do him good.”


Catherine nodded. “Father, do you know if William is planning anything special for Saturday’s meal?”


Father shrugged. “You’d have to ask him that yourself, my dear.”


Catherine got up and left the library with a promise to return.


**********


As she walked the tunnels, she greeted people and made small talk. She walked into the kitchen and she and William discussed a meal and dessert for everyone. He promised to get everything on her list once she said she was paying for it. The pastries she wanted to order for everyone would save him hours of baking time. The roasts and vegetables would take no time to prepare and he could give his kitchen staff a break to spend time with their families. 


Everyone had pulled together to allow the men time to work on the project; if the men were off this weekend then the women should certainly be given time off too. Catherine’s suggestion had just allowed this to happen. William looked at her gratefully as she left.


Catherine headed to Mary’s chamber where she and Sara were repairing clothes for some of the boys. Catherine begged to be able to help, so Mary handed her a needle and thread and a patch. Catherine reached into the basket and drew out the pair of pants on top. She started to patch the holes, then grew frustrated because the material was so thin the stitches wouldn’t hold. Sarah noticed her frustration and told her to grab a bigger patch to get her to a stronger area of the material. 


Catherine did and it helped. “Mary, do you have to repair these often?”


Mary chuckled. “With all the men and boys we have Below, it seems like it’s a never-ending struggle.”


Sara was chuckling as well. “You have Zack’s pants. They come in for repair almost as much as Vincent’s.”


Catherine grew quiet as they talked about the various people and rated who was the hardest on clothes. Catherine was trying to think of ways to make a suggestion without offending anyone when Sara spoke and gave her an opening.


“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were sent bolts of denim one day?” Sara said dreamily.


Mary chuckled again. “I don’t think these old hands could sew denim anymore. But just think of how much longer their pants would last.”


Catherine cleared her throat. “May I make a suggestion?” 


Mary and Sarah turned to her. Mary nodded her head. “Of course, dear.”


Catherine lowered her eyes, unsure if what she said would be accepted. “I would like to purchase two, maybe three, pairs of jeans for everyone.”


She looked up shyly, then rushed on when she thought they were going to object. “Mary, we have the money, and just think about how much sewing time will be saved. The clothes will last longer and can even be handed down as they’re grown out of. I’d be more than happy to balance it out by purchasing something for the older ladies who may not want to wear pants. Please, Mary. Father and I have reached an understanding now. Margaret had left a healthy sum of money and I, too, have plenty to cover the meager amount it would cost....”


Mary interrupted. “Catherine, if Father approves of the expenditure, it would be a lovely gesture. It would save us hours of sewing each week and we could concentrate more on the little ones.”


Sara smiled at her as well. “Catherine, your generosity to all of us is overwhelming.”


Catherine shook her head dismissively. “Mary, would you get me a list of everyone’s sizes and I can get it to Connie? Maybe she could order the jeans this week....”


Mary went to a little drawer in her end table by her bed. She took out a notebook and brought it over. “Catherine, everything you need is in here.”


Catherine set down her sewing and looked at the notebook. She took a sheet from the back and recopied the sizes. “Mary, what should we do about the women and girls?”


Mary and Sara went person by person through the list. Most of the younger girls would be ecstatic to be able to wear jeans. Some of the older women would be given warm flannel gowns and some of the women like Jamie and Rebecca would be glad to wear jeans. 


Catherine tucked the paper into her pocket and handed Mary back her notebook. She decided to add extra pairs of each size to handle any emergencies, like the Stevens family. 


Rebecca walked in on her way to dinner and waited for the ladies to join her.  They all left and made their way to the dining hall. 


***********


Catherine entered and looked around for Vincent. She ended up sitting at a table with all the women who wanted a chance to tell her about their individual progress on her wedding plans. She smiled as she realized that everything was falling into place nicely.


At the end of dinner, the men finally walked in. None of them had bothered to clean up and all of them looked exhausted. The woman rushed to their sides and sat them down, then ran for their trays of food. They visited with them and Catherine looked around for Vincent. He still hadn’t come back. She walked up to the table of men. “Devin, do you know where Vincent is?” 


Devin gulped down his milk and looked at her. “Yeah, I think he said something about going to his chamber first. He started work a good two hours before us this morning; maybe you should take him a tray?”


“Thanks, Devin, I will!” 


Catherine made up a tray and piled it full of food. She walked to Vincent’s chamber, wondering what condition she would find him in.


She walked in as Vincent sat on the bed with one boot on. He held the other in his hand while his head hung low. Catherine realized he was asleep as she quietly set the tray down on his table. 


She sat down next to him on the bed and he didn’t even stir. She reached behind him and put her hand on his back and started caressing him. “Vincent? Vincent, sweetie, wake up!”


Vincent stirred at her voice. “Vincent? Can you make it over to the table? You should try to eat before you fall asleep....”


Vincent sighed, then sat up straighter and looked at her, his eyes glassy and bloodshot. “Okay...I am hungry.”


He got up and walked over to his table. He dug into his food with gusto. She wondered if he was even able to taste it. He finished quickly, then walked over to his dresser. He dug out fresh clothes then turned back to her.  “Catherine, I’ll be back shortly.”


She nodded and he headed to the bathing chamber. A half an hour later she went to look for him. She found him clean but asleep on the side of the pool. 


She held up a towel and called to him. “Vincent, let’s get you to bed.”


He jumped at the sound of her voice and obediently got out of the bath. She dried him off then helped him get dressed and led him to his bed. She covered him up and read to him until she heard his soft snoring. She kissed him on the forehead and blew out the candles and headed for home.


**********


Catherine went to work the next day and was buried again in paperwork. She finally left after 6:00. She stopped by her new house and saw that what Vincent had said came true. All that they needed to do was paint. She left to go to her apartment to pack an overnight bag and then headed Below.


She was walking when she spotted a familiar figure coming her way. She smiled at him as he came up and kissed her. “Vincent, you look rested.” 


He nodded. “I slept well. I’m sorry I fell asleep last night....”


Catherine shook her head. “Don’t be silly, you were exhausted. How many times have I fallen asleep on you?”


He chuckled softly. “A few.” He took her overnight bag and put his arm around her shoulders as they walked towards his chamber. 


They dropped off her case, then headed for the kitchen to see if they could scrounge up something to eat. They were surprised to find so many people still there eating and visiting with one another.


The food was put away, but quickly William produced two trays he had warming in the oven. They thanked him, then walked to join their friends. They ate and visited with everyone around. Children were filtering in and soon the place was abuzz with community members. 


Everyone was tired but no one wanted to leave the companionship they were experiencing this night.  It was past midnight when parents with sleeping children started to leave; couples who had been apart for so long started to leave as well. Catherine yawned and Vincent took her hand, said their goodbyes, then headed to his chamber. 


Catherine changed into a gown and Vincent put on his nightclothes. They climbed into bed together and another yawn escaped from Catherine. 


Vincent kissed her, then ended it too quickly. “Rest now, we have all weekend to be together.”


He gathered her close and Catherine soon fell asleep. He watched her for awhile, then soon fell asleep as well.


**********


They slept until late in the next morning. Catherine had been watching Vincent for over twenty minutes when he finally began to stir. He slowly opened his eyes to see her staring at him.


“Good morning, honey. Happy Birthday!” Catherine greeted him.


He smiled as he rolled over. “It’s happy already because I woke up and you were here.”


Catherine snuggled next to him and they finally had to get up to go to the bathroom. They dressed and then walked for awhile, then enjoyed a leisurely brunch in the dining hall. The children begged Vincent to read a story to them and Vincent announced they were to go to the library in a half an hour. Word had gotten out and adults were filtering in as well as most of the children. Soon almost all of the community was gathered around. 


Vincent was handed a new book that had recently been published. Jenny had sent it down for just such an occasion.


Vincent read until he got hoarse and Catherine took over so he could rest his voice. It was a spellbinding book and Catherine read as much as she could when Devin came to her rescue. He, too, read many chapters and Father came over to finish the book. 


It had taken several hours of reading until the book was finished. Everyone got up to stretch their legs and some ran to the kitchen to get a meal started. William had taken advantage of the peace and quiet to organize Vincent’s birthday celebration. William made an announcement that dinner would be early tonight so lunch was going to be a light meal. 


Catherine and Vincent strolled the tunnels hand and hand and talked with all of the friends they met along the way. They made a decision and walked to the Chamber of the Falls. Vincent sat back against a rock and Catherine sat between his legs and leaned up against his chest. 


They made small talk all afternoon and just savored their time together. Vincent realized they had been there for hours. He and Catherine walked quickly back to the home tunnels. They had less than an hour before dinner and they decided to take baths and clean up before dinner. 


They walked into Vincent’s chamber and grabbed their clothes. They were about to walk into the bathing chamber when Vincent realized Devin and Father were in there already. Disappointedly he turned to Catherine. 


“Vincent, I already know. I can hear them. I’ll just walk to the women’s bathing chamber and meet you back here.”


He nodded as she reached up and kissed him on the cheek, then headed out the door. With a sigh, he headed to take his bath.


**********


Father and Devin stopped talking immediately as Vincent walked into the room. He wondered what it was they were discussing that he couldn’t hear. He pretended he didn’t notice as they tried to grasp for a subject to talk about.


He took mercy on them and came up with a topic. “That was an enjoyable book we read today.”


Father and Devin stumbled over each other to answer. “Yeah.” “Yes, it was very good!” they said simultaneously.


Vincent rolled his eyes. “I’m glad Jenny sent it down, it was a good recommendation.”


Devin nodded while Father answered, “Yes, I need to make sure I thank her personally. I’ll have to mention how well everyone liked it.”


Devin decided to make his escape. He leapt out and grabbed for a towel when he noticed something fall from it. He smiled as he held it out and showed them a turquoise lace bra. 


“Father, please tell your women to pick up after themselves!”


Father sputtered in embarrassment. “Devin, how dare you suggest that I....” He stopped and smiled when he realized that Devin was teasing Vincent. 


He looked over at Vincent, who was deep red with embarrassment. 


Devin continued on, “Father, if it doesn’t belong to one of your women, then whose could it be? Who would bring a woman in here to share a bath with them….Vincent? Does this perchance belong to Catherine?”


Devin tossed it and it landed on Vincent’s head, the cup of the bra covering his mouth. He removed it and held it in his hand. He hung his head until Father warned Devin away.


Vincent looked up at his father. “I’m sorry, Father. Catherine and I used this chamber once and she must have left it here. It….”


Father laughed. “Vincent, I wasn’t always an old man. I do remember what it was like to wash with a woman in my arms. Forget it, please.”


Vincent looked at him gratefully and changed the subject. “Father, when everything has settled down, say in a few weeks. Catherine and I would like to have a house party and invite everyone from Below. It will give us a chance to thank everyone for all their efforts.”


Father nodded. “Yes, Vincent, that sounds like a fine idea. Just coordinate it with William so he doesn’t cook that day. It’s been years since I’ve been to Peter’s. It will be interesting to see the changes you’ve made.”


Father made to get out and Vincent rushed to his side to offer his hand. Unfortunately, it was the hand that held Catherine’s bra. Father chuckled as he switched hands. Vincent followed him out, then went back to his chamber to wait for Catherine. 


She was already there and changed when he walked in the room. He walked over to her and handed her the bra. 


“Devin found this after it dropped from his towel. Father saw it and insisted it didn’t belong to any of his women.” 


Catherine giggled. “I’m sorry, Vincent. I remember stuffing it into a towel so it wouldn’t get wet.”


Vincent got dressed and looked at Catherine with lust in his eyes. He approached her when a call came over the pipes requesting his immediate presence in the dining chamber. 


He emitted a low growl and Catherine giggled again. “Later!” she said as she kissed him quickly then steered him from the room.


********** 


William waited for Vincent and Catherine to make their entrance before they began to serve dinner. Everyone exclaimed over the wonderful dishes, which just happened to be all of Vincent’s favorites.


Cullen screamed out from across the room. “Vincent, you can have a birthday every day if it means we get to eat like this!”


Everyone laughed as they enjoyed the festive dinner. Father sat back and rubbed his stomach. “William has certainly outdone himself this year.”


Vincent agreed as he looked at Catherine. “Yes, and I wonder how he managed to get all my favorites on such notice.” Catherine blushed and looked down and continued to eat.


After dinner, the children ran to the front of the dining hall. The grown-ups moved to the back as Samantha announced that they would soon be getting underway. 


Vincent looked over at Father for an explanation, but he quickly looked away. The lights were dimmed as the play began. 


Brooke came out on stage and announced, “Vincent, this is your life!”


There was a baby dressed in rags underneath a sign that read “St. Vincent’s Hospital.” A woman (Brooke) dressed in torn clothes was searching through the garbage when she found the bundle, then quickly bought it Below. 


Father (Zach) took the bundle and went to the “hospital chamber” where he examined the baby. (It was actually a doll that they had altered the features on.) The baby cried on and on. Mary (Kristen) rocked the baby one day and he fell asleep in the chair. Father came in and saw the baby smile and knew he would survive.


A four-year-old Vincent (Little Cathy) ran into Mary and sat on her lap, pretending to have a hurt knee. Mary rocked him as she told him stories.


An eight-year-old Vincent (Eric) played with a ten-year-old Devin (Kipper). They wrestled in the mud and pretended to be Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Devin went away and Vincent played with Lisa (Samantha). They skipped through the tunnels and held hands. 


Everyone had been enjoying it so far, but when “Lisa” came out, Catherine held her breath. Of course, no one knew of the personal problems Vincent faced growing up, so everything the kids performed was innocent. Catherine sat back, relieved. Vincent squeezed her hand, understanding how she felt. Father noticed the exchange between them and was grateful once again that Catherine was there. 


A sixteen-year-old Vincent (Seth) sat with Father and beat him at chess. He also began to teach the younger kids’ classes. They “aged” Seth by giving him longer wigs to wear. He read passages of Shakespeare to everyone and grew even taller. 


The lights dimmed and Seth could be seen carrying a long bundle into the tunnels. He took the bundle to his chamber and Father came in and unwrapped Catherine (Amanda). They wrapped her face up and Vincent read to her. Catherine unwrapped her face and soon met Mouse (Eric) and saved Father and Vincent from a cave-in. 


Catherine and Vincent exchanged plastic necklaces, and at Winterfest, Catherine found out who Paracelsus (Kipper) was after Mouse disarmed the bomb. Paracelsus took off and Mouse chased him.


Catherine and Vincent stood in their wedding gowns and a few months later Catherine held the baby in her arms.


“The End” the children announced as they stood together to take a bow.


The audience erupted with applause. Vincent clapped as he shyly held his head down. “Thank you, children, it’s like you were there with me.”


William came back into the room. “Normally when it’s somebody’s birthday, we have a big birthday cake. But I’m sorry, Vincent…. You won’t get a cake this year.”


Groans and gasps could be heard around the room. Father looked at William, alarmed that this had happened. “Please, let’s just sing anyway!” William begged.


As the community sang, children from the kitchen poured out with trays laden with pastries of every size and shape. They were exquisitely decorated and were made by one of the top pastry chefs in New York. Catherine knew Vincent had a sweet tooth and decided to indulge him. 


Each table was given more than enough and people dug in with gusto to sample the treats. Mary tasted one and immediately knew that she would have to speak to the children.


“Children, these are not like regular treats. They are very rich and if you eat too many they will make you sick!” she warned.


The children nodded their heads solemnly and listened to her speech. Vincent listened as well and looked on guiltily as he swallowed his fifth treat.


“Catherine, these are wonderful,” Father exclaimed as Devin nodded in agreement.


Presents were brought to Vincent.  He exclaimed that the play was enough but he oohed and aahed over all the gifts the children had given him.


Mary and some of the other ladies had knit him some warm socks, Father gave him a book that Jenny had found for him and Devin gave him a bottle of cologne.


It was late as the party started to break up. Vincent thanked everyone again for their wonderful gifts and thoughts. He and Catherine said their goodbyes to whomever was left and made their way to his chamber.


**********  


Catherine looked up at Vincent, then down at the floor. She was embarrassed to admit she didn’t have his gift ready for him.

“Vincent, your gift was supposed to be a night spent in our new bedroom, but with my work schedule and the renovations....”


Vincent kissed her forehead. “Catherine, you have given me so much already. You are the only thing I need.”


Catherine went to the table and handed Vincent a card. He looked at her mysteriously as he opened it. It was a beautiful card from a wife to a husband; the verse inside spoke of her undying love. Vincent was moved to tears as he held her tightly in his arms.  


He hadn’t noticed the discreetly changed signature that Catherine had signed her name over. Catherine stepped back, showed him the card and pointed out the change. Vincent looked at her with a question in his eyes.


“Vincent, I found this while I was packing and knew it would be a perfect gift for you. This card was given to my father by my mother a few weeks before she died. It is her signature hidden underneath mine. 


Vincent stared at the names and realized that Catherine had cleverly changed the name from Caroline. He looked at her wondrously. Catherine giggled. “I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. I got pretty good at it.”


She grew serious again. “Along with this card my mother gave my father this….” Catherine handed Vincent a medium velvet box, then continued with her story. “It belonged to her father and was given to her on his deathbed to give to the man she would spend the rest of her life with, the man who would love her for the rest of time. When she got sick, she forgot about it, and as her time drew near she realized that she had never given it to him. She had her friend find a card and she gave it to him on the night of their 16th wedding anniversary. Two weeks later, she was gone. My father told me the story and gave it to me when I turned 21. He said he thought I was responsible enough to make sure it went to the right person...I never found that person until I met you.”


She looked down as he opened the box to reveal a spectacular man’s silver watch that was inlaid with diamonds. He blinked as it sparkled in the light from the candles. “Catherine, it’s beautiful...I...I don’t know how to thank you.”


Catherine smiled and kissed him as she took the watch from the box and slipped it on his wrist. “Years from now you can give it to our daughter to give to her fiancé.”


Vincent admired the watch, then smiled down at her as he drew her close. “Catherine, it is a dream I don’t dare have, but one I will do my best to fulfill.”


He gathered her in his arms and kissed her passionately. She returned his kiss with fervor and he swept her up and carried her to his bed. Vincent stepped away and put an unlit lantern in the hallway and came back to the bed. Catherine had already shed her clothes and was under the covers waiting for him. 


He quickly undressed and moved in next to her on the bed. He stayed up on his elbow and hovered over her as her kissed her again. She put her arms around him and gently caressed his back as they deepened their kiss. 


Although they were anxious, they spent time exploring each other’s body. Each time one hovered too close to the edge, the other would pull back, bringing them down from their heights, effectively drawing out their lovemaking. 


They did that for quite a long time, until it became almost painful and neither could wait any longer. Vincent deepened his strokes and sent them cascading over the edge. 


He collapsed on top of her and when he went to move she clasped her legs around him and held him tightly.


“Not yet, Vincent!” she begged.


He lifted himself up on his arms to relieve her of his weight, then leaned down and kissed her. She sighed and he moved off to her side. 


Catherine snuggled up to him. “Vincent, that was wonderful; somehow it seemed...different.”


He looked at her and she lifted her head to look into his eyes. Something in the bond led him to understand what she meant. He thought of their lovemaking, then nodded in understanding. “Yes.” 


She smiled at him. “It seems like we...connected on a different level.”


He nodded. “Yes, like a magical plane where only you and I existed.”


“Yes, that’s it exactly. I wonder if we can make it happen again?” she giggled. 


She leaned over him and kissed him as she let her hand slide lower on his body. She gently caressed him until he was ready to enter her. They made love again. They didn’t reach that same plane, but both of them fell into a satisfied sleep.


The next morning, Catherine woke to find Vincent getting dressed. She knew he was already bathed as his hair hung damply on his shoulders. 


“Good morning,” she smiled.


Vincent came and kissed her forehead. “I didn’t mean to wake you. I thought I’d go see Father before breakfast.”


She nodded. “Give me fifteen minutes and I’ll meet you in there. Maybe we can all breakfast together.”


Vincent left and Catherine hopped out of bed, quickly grabbed a change of clothes, then headed to the bath.


**********


Vincent walked into the Library to find Devin and Father having tea, talking about the latest baseball scores. Vincent sat down and made himself a cup of tea and waited for them to finish.


Devin looked over at him. “Good morning, Vincent, how was your birthday present from Catherine?”


Vincent looked at him in surprise. “You knew?”


Devin chuckled. “Yeah, she used me as a size chart. We just added a few links to accommodate your hairy butt...um...arms.”


Vincent rolled his eyes as Father looked over at him. He shyly lifted the cuff of his sleeve and showed Father his present.


Father gasped. “Vincent, that’s a Rolex! A vintage Rolex!”


Vincent shrugged; designers meant nothing to him. “She gave it to me because it was given to her father by her mother. I didn’t ask who made it.”


Devin chuckled again. “Rolex is a well-known company, Vincent. They’re known for their quality craftsmanship. That watch...costs a mint!”


Father smiled. “Well, either way, it is a beautiful watch. You should treasure it.”


Vincent nodded. “I’ll treasure it because it was a gift from Catherine.”


“Vincent, your brother and I were getting ready to go to breakfast soon, would you and Catherine like to join us?” Father asked.


Vincent nodded. “Catherine and I discussed it earlier. We were wondering the same thing. She’s bathing and promised to be done shortly.”


Devin chuckled. “Hope she doesn’t leave anymore of her underthings behind. Father almost had a stroke.”


Vincent blushed and Father smiled but reprimanded Devin. “I’m sure Catherine didn’t mean to do it.” 


Catherine walked in the room and responded. “Do what?”


Devin blushed and Father responded quickly. “Didn’t mean to make us wait; are we all ready to go to breakfast?”


Vincent rose, took Catherine’s hand, then led her from the room as Father and Devin followed.


**********


They ate a leisurely Sunday morning breakfast and visited with everyone in the community. Vincent thanked the children again for making his birthday so special. 


Father received an urgent telegram and stood to address the room. “Everyone, please! I have just received word from Peter Alcott. His daughter Susan has given birth to a beautiful baby girl. She was 7lbs. 12 oz. and they have decided to call her Sharon Elizabeth after her grandmothers.”


The room applauded and conversations started flowing about various helpers and the births of their babies.


Catherine turned to Father as he sat down. “Father, is that all it says?”


“It does go on to say that mother and baby are doing well and that the father is already wrapped around his daughter’s finger,” he chuckled. “Oh, it does say he is staying another two weeks before he comes home. He said to contact him if anything is needed.”


Catherine relaxed in her chair. She was happy that Susan and baby were doing well. She was also happy that Peter wasn’t coming back so quickly. It would give the workers a chance to slow their pace and not exhaust themselves again. She would make certain that everything was done, but that extra two weeks was a welcome relief.


Catherine and Vincent excused themselves to go on a leisurely stroll. 


************


Vincent held her hand and they ended up heading towards their new home. They walked inside and marveled at the difference the changes had made. Catherine was grateful they were so close to the end. Vincent assured her that a full day of painting was all that was left to do. 


Catherine moved to him and put her arms around his stomach. “Vincent, this time next week we’ll be living here together!” 


Vincent kissed her and drew her close. “It will be nice to have a place of our own.”


They walked through each of the levels and Catherine dreamed about one day filling the bedrooms with their own children. She wondered if last night seemed so different because she had conceived a child. She secretly hoped it was true; she wanted to share her idea with Vincent but didn’t want to disappoint him if it wasn’t true, so she kept it to herself.


They made their way back to the tunnels and ended up at the Chamber of the Falls again. They spent a leisurely afternoon reading and talking and discussing their future.


Catherine revealed that as long as Vincent didn’t mind, she was going to continue working, but she was going to ask Joe to take her out of the field. She didn’t want to be in danger anymore and she didn’t want to jeopardize Vincent’s newfound peace.


Vincent sat quietly. He didn’t want to influence her decision one way or the other. He promised to support her no matter what she chose to do.


After awhile, they got up to walk to the dining chamber. It was almost dinner and they knew they would be missed.


**********


They enjoyed their meal with the community. Some of the children were wrinkling their noses at all the new vegetables they were being exposed to. With Father relaxing the purse strings, the helpers had been sending more and more fresh fruits and vegetables. 


The fruits, of course, were well received, but the spinach and brussel sprouts left something to be desired. Catherine giggled when she noticed Vincent pushing them underneath a pile of mashed potatoes.


Devin noticed the direction of her gaze and couldn’t help himself. “Father, Vincent’s not eating his brussel sprouts!”


Vincent blushed and Catherine giggled even harder. She took her fork and stabbed it into the one sprout he had left on his plate. “Thank you for saving this for me, honey,” she said as she popped the whole thing into her mouth. 


Devin looked at her in amusement. “What about the one hidden in the mashed potatoes?”


Vincent uncovered it and Catherine smiled at him. He put it to his mouth and ate it in one bite. He took his glass of milk and drank the whole thing down to wash away the taste.


Father shook his head and rolled his eyes. “That’s a good little boy, Vincent. Devin, I see you, too, have one buried in your potatoes....”


Vincent grinned as Devin grimaced and followed his brother’s example.


Mary giggled as Father patted Devin on the back. “Devin, you did a good job as well. Now you boys may go and get yourself a serving of dessert,” he said.


As Vincent got up to leave, Devin shoved him, causing Vincent to sit down heavily. He rolled his eyes as Devin made his way to the plates filled with brownies. Vincent got up and took his and Catherine’s trays back to the kitchen. 


After he left, Catherine laughed even harder. “Has it always been like this between them?”


Father nodded his head while Mary continued to giggle. “Oh, my dear Catherine, this is mild compared to how they used to be,” she laughed.


After dessert, they visited for awhile and Catherine said that regrettably she needed to get home.


She and Vincent said their goodbyes and he left to walk her home.


***********


On their walk, Catherine held his hand and squeezed it affectionately.


“Vincent, I’m sorry I need to leave so early. I’ve fallen a little behind on my work and I’m hoping to take off on Thursday when the furniture is delivered.”


He looked at her with a mischievous grin. “That would be advisable, since I probably shouldn’t answer the door.”


Catherine snorted in surprise at his joke. She wrapped her arms around him and gave him a huge kiss! She was so happy that he had finally started to accept himself as he was. Being able to make light of it was a step in the right direction.


She released him and they continued on their way. When they got to the threshold she turned to him with a feeling of melancholy. 


Vincent chuckled softly. “I understand, Catherine. I feel the same way. The memories we have from this one little spot of dirt are...incredible.”


Catherine nodded with tears in her eyes. “I know; I can’t wait to live with you, but I never want to forget how it all started.”


Vincent held her close and she melted in his arms. “I wish we could have had one more night on my balcony...and in my room,” she said through sniffles.


“Perhaps we can, Catherine. Peter isn’t due back now for two more weeks. There’s no rush to paint tomorrow or Tuesday. Instead of you staying Below, I’ll come above. We’ll have that last night.”


Catherine threw her arms around his neck. “Thank you, Vincent!”


She released him and made her way up to her apartment, while Vincent made the trek home.


**********

 

The next day at work, Catherine arrived early once again. Joe came over to her and had to pull her away from her files.


“Can I talk to you...privately?” he asked when he finally got her attention.


Catherine sighed and marked her place in the deposition, then looked up. “Sure, Joe. Your office?”


He nodded and she followed him into it and shut the door behind her. Joe was playing with his rubber band, so she knew he had something troublesome on his mind. 


He looked over at her and took a deep breath. “I know this is personal and none of my business, but I thought you and I were friends so....”


Catherine nodded; she was leery, but Joe was right. They were friends. “So...what is it, Joe? What do you want to ask?”


“Someone saw you in the hardware store with Jeff Radler. He said you two seemed awful...chummy. Look, Cathy, I don’t want an explanation. I know I don’t have a right to one, but when Jeff left here so quickly, I had him investigated. The guy is bogus. Jeff Radler is a 78-year-old man who lives in Des Moines, Iowa. Whoever you were with is not Jeff Radler. I just want you to be careful. This guy isn’t on the up and up. I don’t know what kind of a line he handed you but....”


“Joe….” Catherine interrupted him. “I know who Jeff Radler is. I found out about him when he worked here. I told him I wouldn’t expose him if he left immediately.”


“You what?” Joe asked incredulously.


Catherine sighed. “I found out who Jeff really is…. Deep down inside, Joe, he’s a decent guy.”


Joe shook his head in disgust. “What the hell was she thinking?” he wondered. He looked over at her. “So, this is the guy you fell in love with? You’re going to marry a con artist?”


Catherine gasped. “What? Wait, Joe...no. You’ve got it all wrong. Jeff, I mean Devin, is a friend of my...fiancé’s. He was helping me rehab a house I bought.”


Joe’s jaw dropped at her news. “You bought a house?”


Catherine blushed as she realized she had never told him. “It happened kind of suddenly. Peter Alcott sold me his home and bought my condo from me. I’ve been working on it at night for a couple of weeks now. In fact, I was going to ask for Thursday off. I have furniture being delivered and I need to be there.”


Joe was hurt. He thought they were better friends than this. She had a life that didn’t include him and that was just fine. “Yeah, whatever, Radcliffe. Take off whatever time you need.” 


Joe turned back to his desk and waved his hand dismissively. “We’re done in here...you can go back to work.”


Catherine grimaced at the pain she had unwillingly caused. She went to speak but knew there were no words of comfort she could offer. She turned and left his office.


Catherine poured herself into her work. Occasionally she saw Joe across the room and flinched at the abruptness of his earlier dismissal. “Well, what do you expect?” she thought. She had gotten engaged, bought a house and now she had dropped a bombshell about protecting a former crook. She shrugged off her bad feelings, knowing she would do something about it later.


Catherine worked hours after closing. She hadn’t even looked up from her desk in almost three hours. Joe came over on his way out the door. 


“Hey, Chandler, call it a night. I’ll walk out with you.”


Catherine glanced at her watch. “Damn, Vincent would be showing up in less than a half an hour,” she thought. 


“Okay, Joe. Thanks.”


She quickly grabbed her purse and followed him to the elevator. He was silent and she struggled for a topic to break the ice. “So, how about those Yankees?”


Joe looked over at her, then broke into grin. “Radcliffe, do you even know what sport the Yankees play?”


She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, baseball!”


He started to laugh and shake his head. “You are aware that it’s January, right?”


Catherine was caught and she knew it. She started to giggle. “Draft picks?” she attempted. 


Joe started to laugh even harder. “Cathy, it’s okay, really. I know you’re a private person.”


Catherine smiled at him as the doors opened. “Thanks, Joe.”


They walked out the front doors and Joe let her take the first cab. She waved goodbye as he walked to another cab that had pulled up.


**********


Catherine rushed home, only to find a note had been slipped underneath her front door. It was from Vincent, telling her about unexpected delays. He said it would be too late by the time he finished and that he was very sorry. Maybe they could reschedule. 


Catherine sighed in disappointment. She went to her kitchen and opened her fridge, then grabbed a yogurt cup and a spoon. She ate it leaning against the kitchen counter, then threw it away on the way to her bathroom. She was going to take a shower and read until she fell asleep.


She was showered, changed and covered up in bed when her phone rang. “Hello,” she greeted.


“Hi, Cathy, it’s me.”


“Hey, Jenny. What’s up?”


“I was wondering if you wanted to go shopping on Wednesday. I thought with your furniture coming on Thursday, you might want to get your house put together.”


Catherine thought for a moment. “Well, if I go in early I could probably leave by 4:00. How’s that sound?”


Jenny smiled. “Good, I’ll meet you in front of the store at 4:15. See you then!”


“Bye, Jen, thanks!”


Catherine hung up and decided to go to bed.


********** 


The men from Below had finished painting the entire house by three. Vincent stayed late to clean up everything and ensure that first thing in the morning they would be able to refinish the hardwood floors and be done. He smiled at how nicely the house had come out. He liked the colors that were chosen and couldn’t wait to see the magic Catherine performed with the finishing touches.


He fell asleep that night missing Catherine terribly. The next morning he woke up and headed back to their house after breakfast. 


Many of the men showed up a few hours later and helped Vincent with the other bedrooms and the dining room, study and hallways. They were done by noon and headed Below. 


Greg was putting the final touches on the “laundry room.” He couldn’t wait to see the faces on the ladies when they had all the clothes washed and dried and back to their owners within three or four hours.


**********


Catherine got to work late because she had to rent that van for the guys to move her furniture and then paint her apartment.


At noon, she opened her sandwich to discover a note from Vincent. He sent word to Catherine that the floors in the house were done and that she shouldn’t go there today. He also sent his love and hoped to see her later on.


Catherine smiled and immersed herself in her work. She put in another long day, knowing she would be leaving early tomorrow. 


She went Below and had dinner with Vincent and then they retired back to his chamber. Vincent promised to wake Catherine before dawn so she would have time to get ready for work. Catherine fell asleep while Vincent was reading to her. He turned out the lights and joined her in slumber.


**********   


Vincent got Catherine up early as promised and she flew through the tunnels with an apple for breakfast. She made it to work and raced through her cases. Joe was going to bring her more when she begged off, reminding him she wouldn’t be in tomorrow. 


Later that afternoon, she caught a cab and was five minutes early meeting Jenny. They shopped until they dropped, then headed over to Catherine’s new house. Vincent had told her by today that everything would be ready.


Jenny and Catherine walked in and went room to room admiring the beautiful changes that had occurred. They walked and put the bed linen into the various rooms they would go into. 


Catherine couldn’t wait for the furniture to come tomorrow. Jenny and she decided to head Below to try to rustle up some food. William had never disappointed her in the past and he didn’t disappoint her now. He quickly heated bowls of stew and served them warm bread he made that had just come out of the oven. 


Jenny sat down and Catherine brought her a tray, then got hers and sat down across from her. No one was in the dining room and they chatted about wedding plans. 


“Speaking of a wedding, where’s Prince Charming tonight?” Jenny wondered.


Catherine thought for a moment and smiled. “On his way here.”


Vincent walked in, followed by Devin. He came over to Jenny and hugged her where she sat, then kissed Catherine gently on the lips. “Good evening, ladies.”


Devin came and sat next to Jenny. “Hi ya, stranger! Haven’t seen you in awhile.” 


They made small talk through the rest of dinner. It centered mostly on the change in the weather. They made comments on the unseasonably warm temperatures and talked about the thunderstorm warning in effect for the coming days. Catherine commented that she hoped it held off through the furniture delivery tomorrow. Jenny finished her stew as William came to retrieve their dishes. “William, that was absolutely wonderful.”


William smiled. “Thanks, Jenny. It’ll stick to those skinny bones of yours. How about you, little one? Did you finish yours?” he asked as he turned to view Catherine’s bowl.


Catherine nodded as she ate the last spoonful. “Thanks, William. It was as good as always.”


William chuckled. “How about some dessert?”


Devin perked up and answered for them. “Sure, they want dessert; bring it out. They want milk too.”


Vincent bowed his head to hide his smile. William looked at them suspiciously, then went into the kitchen to bring out two slices of chocolate cake. Jenny and Catherine each took a few bites before pushing it away. Devin and Vincent swooped in to finish what they couldn’t. 


William walked out and reprimanded them both. “That was for these two little ladies! You gorillas had yours earlier!”


Vincent flushed guiltily as Devin rushed to defend them. “William, your stew was so good they ate every bite. Each of them had a few bites of cake and couldn’t eat another thing. Vincent and I just didn’t want to see food wasted. You know how Father hates that.”


William harrumphed and walked away, and the girls broke into a fit of giggles after he was gone. 


Jenny stood and said she needed to get home. Catherine rose to walk her back when Devin jumped up from his seat. “I’ll see that she gets home, Cath. Go relax with Vincent.”


Devin left with Jenny and Catherine and Vincent exchanged looks, then headed to his chamber. 


**********


Catherine went to take a bath and relax and was surprised when Vincent came in by her. “I thought you took a bath earlier?” she asked.


Vincent chuckled. “I did. But it was with Devin; hardly the same thing.”


He sat down and leaned back against the wall of the pool. He put his arm against the back and she snuggled into his embrace. They sat that way for awhile and Vincent suddenly yawned. 


Catherine quickly washed her hair and then her body. “Come on, Vincent. Let’s get to bed.”


They rose, toweled off and headed to bed. They settled in and Vincent yawned again. “I’m sorry, Catherine.”


“Oh, Vincent, I’m the one who’s sorry. You’ve worked so hard lately. I’m glad it’s finally over. The furniture will be in place tomorrow and we can take our time making it comfortable. You can rest tomorrow and see it later at night. Wow, our first night in our new house. I can’t believe it!”


Catherine scooted up on the bed and pulled Vincent’s head to her chest. She gently caressed his back and ran her fingers through his hair as he fell off to sleep.


She didn’t mind waiting to make love again. Tomorrow night they would be together in their new bed.


***********


Catherine woke early and stopped by the dining chamber. She kissed Father on the cheek and grabbed a banana on her way out the door. As he spread jelly on his bagel, Father shook his head and muttered to himself, “If that girl ever gets pregnant, I’ll have to tie her to a chair to get her to eat a decent meal!”


Catherine raced to get to her new house. A half an hour after she got there, Gus arrived with three delivery men. He quickly assured Catherine they were all helpers. The men hauled the laundry equipment in first. They entered through the back door and straight through the hidden door. Gus promised to hook up the laundry machines as the men went back to haul in the freezers and refrigerators. Greg, Mouse, Kanin, and Cullen were all there to help haul the kitchen appliances. 


They waited and as Gus’s delivery men came down the steps, the men from Below relieved them of their burden. Gus’s men took a break as Devin, Mark, Kevin and Vincent came to help. Gus stayed behind and finished hooking up the laundry machines. 


Within two hours, everything was in place and hooked up, ready to be used. 


Gus came upstairs and Catherine gave him a quick tour of the house. She thanked him continually for all his advice. He checked out the sliding glass door he had recommended and the fixtures in the bathroom. He was satisfied that everything was installed and working properly.


His men came up and Catherine walked him to the front door. She impulsively hugged him and as he turned to leave, he almost walked right into Jenny.


Catherine smiled at her in surprise. “Jenny, what are you doing here?”


Jenny giggled. “Are you kidding me? I took the day off. I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”


She came in and handed Catherine a box of bagels from her favorite bakery. Catherine led her into the kitchen and poured them fresh cups of coffee. They had just finished their bagels when the front doorbell rang. 


Catherine jumped up and headed to the door. She saw the big truck through the windows. When she opened the doors four burly men greeted her. She stepped back, a little intimidated by their size. 


The roughest-looking one stepped forward. “Good morning, Miss. I believe we have some furniture for you?” he smiled.


Catherine giggled with delight. This hulk of a man had the sweetest disposition. “Who does he remind you of?” she thought.


“Yes, I’m glad I’m your first stop,” she answered.


One of the men in the back chuckled. “Miss, you’re our only stop. This truck is filled with just your stuff.”


Three of the men walked back to the truck while the other man, probably the supervisor, stayed in the doorway. “Miss..”


“Please, call me Cathy,” Catherine interrupted.


The man smiled. “Okay, Cathy, my name’s Jimbo. If you could just direct us as we come in as to where you want the stuff, it would save us from setting stuff down then picking it up. I can tell you that the master bedroom furniture is coming in first.”


Catherine nodded. “Third floor, straight ahead.”


Jenny walked up and heard what was going on. “Hey, Cath, I’ll tell them where to go, you head upstairs and tell them where to put the stuff.”


Devin walked in with a cream cheese bagel in his hand, a cup of coffee in the other. “Morning, everyone, need any help?”


Catherine kissed him on the cheek and giggled. “No, but thanks for asking; you can tell Vincent that the men are normal, we’re perfectly safe and not to worry.”


Devin giggled. “Actually, this was all my idea. Vincent and Mouse are working on some plumbing stuff.”


The men came in with their first load. Catherine ran up ahead of them and showed them the master bedroom. Two more trips and everything was in the room and they were setting up the bed. 


They left and Catherine went to the second floor. They worked in twos and each set of men brought in a different bedroom of furniture, so two rooms got done at one time. The third bedroom’s furniture was brought in as Jimbo assembled the beds in each of the rooms. The three workers brought in the mattresses and box springs and Jimbo assembled the desks in the computer room. 


“Got a lot of kids, huh, Miss?” Jimbo chuckled.


Catherine hesitated for a minute, then shrugged. “No, my fiancé is a teacher. We’re doing this so he can tutor from home.”


Jimbo laughed. “Wow, you’re a brave woman to allow kids in your home. This place is beautiful. You picked out some of the nicest furniture we have.”


Catherine smiled at him. “Thanks, you have some quality pieces. It made the choices pretty easy.”


Jimbo shook his head. “Yeah, well you still gotta know what to buy to have it all work. You should see the stuff people try to mix together.” He pretended to shudder as Catherine laughed.


It wasn’t long before Jimbo had the pieces together. Catherine followed him downstairs and gasped that the living room was almost completely assembled.


“Wow, you guys work fast!” Catherine marveled as she turned to him.


Jimbo smiled at her. “That wasn’t fast; it took us almost three hours. Your steps slowed us down. I’m guessing my guys are hurrying because their starting to get hungry. We started loading the truck pretty early this morning.”


Catherine thought quickly. “Can I buy your crew lunch?”


Jimbo looked down shyly. “Wow, he is like Vincent,” she thought.


“We’re not supposed to accept tips, Cathy,” Jimbo explained.


Catherine shook her head. “It’s not a tip! I’m just buying your lunch.”


Catherine ran to her purse and dragged out a hundred dollar bill. She held it in the air in front of Jimbo. He looked over at his crew and they stood there trying to decide what to do.


Catherine sighed. “Look, if I bought lunch it wouldn’t be fast food. Doesn’t a nice thick juicy steak with a big baked potato swimming in butter and sour cream with a side of corn and a fresh loaf of bread sound good?”


Two of the workers moaned and Jimbo grinned. “Okay, you win! I can’t argue with that logic. Thank you very much, Cathy.”


He took the money and they said their goodbyes. Catherine looked down at her watch. “I shouldn’t have talked about food. I’m hungry, is anyone else?”


Devin and Jenny both nodded. Devin was the first to ask. “Should we go Below or out?”


Jenny shrugged and Catherine finally said. “How about Below? I might be able to have lunch with Vincent.”


Catherine locked up the house and the three made their way down.


************


The lunch room was packed with people. It seemed liked everyone from the community came for lunch at the same time. 


William was in his glory and talking about all of the food he was planning on ordering. People put in suggestions for future meals and he mentally kept their ideas in the back of his head.


Sara shyly came over to Catherine to ask of it was all right for them to begin washing clothes today. 


Catherine looked at Sara, confused at her suggestion. “Sara, these machines belong to the community. You never have to ask me to use them. They’re yours to be used as needed. If you come by after lunch, I’ll show a few of you how to use them and then you can show the rest.”


Sara smiled and walked away. Jenny shook her head. “These people are always so careful not to offend one another or take advantage in any way. It’s amazing, with all the problems that individuals have faced, that everyone is still so supportive.”


Catherine nodded and Devin looked over at her. “With this existence as it is, there’s not a lot of room for greediness. Everyone has to work hard to make the community work.”


Jenny smiled as she continued to eat. Catherine looked at Devin. “Do you have any idea where Vincent is?”


Devin had just taken a big bite of food, so he shrugged his answer to her. Father walked up and greeted Jenny and Catherine.


“Has your furniture been delivered yet?” he wondered.


Catherine nodded. “Yep, everything’s here and in place. Jenny and I are heading up to make up beds and decorate a little. Tomorrow I’ll order the computers and they should be ready for classes in no time.”


Father shook his head in wonder. “The kids are so excited. We’ve had a hard time keeping them from asking you about them. Maybe we’ll start on Monday.”


Catherine nodded. “That’s fine, Father. Do you know where Vincent is, by any chance?”


Father shook his head. “Last I heard he was working on something with Mouse. I’ll send word to him that it’s safe for him to go home at any time.”


Catherine and Jenny said there goodbyes and went back home.


********** 


Catherine ran into the kitchen as her phone was ringing. It was the furniture company making sure everything was satisfactory. Catherine hung up and she and Jenny walked into the living room. 


Jenny took the wrappings off the throw pillows and arranged them neatly on the couch and loveseat. Catherine put out some of the knickknacks that had belonged to her mother for decoration.


They headed upstairs and each of them took a bedroom and made up the bed with new linen and hung the curtains. Catherine finished first and as she passed the bathroom she popped in and put up the towels and soap dispenser and laid a rug on the floor, then headed to Jenny’s room. 


Jenny was putting the last sham on a pillow. Catherine admired the room, and when Jenny finished she peeked at the room Catherine had completed. 


They did the third room together while they laughed and talked. They looked into the computer room and realized they only had to hang up curtains. That was done quickly, then they headed upstairs.


They walked into the master bedroom and admired the beautiful bed set again. Jenny helped her put the linens on the bed and then they hung the curtains.


Catherine walked into the bathroom and quickly put up the decorative towels and rugs. Jenny folded the towels for everyday use and stacked them under the counter. Catherine filled the soap dispensers and put the toiletries in the medicine cabinet.


They walked down and sat on the couch together, exhausted…but the good kind of exhausted.


“Jen, thanks for all your help. It would have taken me twice as long to get it done.”


Jenny smiled. “Hey, the house looks great. You and Vincent can relax tonight.”


Devin walked in as she was finishing her sentence. “Ha, who are you kidding? They’re going to breaking in that bed!”


Catherine rolled her eyes as Jenny giggled. Devin joined in the laughter and sat next to Jenny on the couch. He turned to her and turned serious as he looked into her eyes. “Hey, Father wanted me to make sure you knew you are welcome to join us for dinner.”


Jenny looked down at her hands, trying to decide what to do. She wanted to go Below to spend more time with Devin, but she was unsure of where it was going with him. She looked at Catherine, who shrugged helplessly. 


She decided and looked at Devin. “Um...could you tell Father thanks?  I have some last-minute work to do tonight because I took off today and....”


Devin smiled and touched her hand. “Hey, no biggie, I understand. Well, I’m heading down to bathe before dinner. I’ll see you down; bye, Jen.”


Devin got up and left and Jenny looked miserable. Catherine thought she would stay out of it until Jenny came to terms with her own feelings. Jenny sighed and got up to leave.


“Cathy, I really do have some paperwork to get done. I’ll call you, okay?”


Catherine nodded. “Yeah, Jen, I understand. I’ll talk to you later.”


Jenny left and Catherine walked to her kitchen. Sara knocked lightly on the door and Catherine went down to teach her how to use the machine. 


Sara gasped at how many loads fit in one washer at one time. Catherine smiled as she helped Sara load the three washers and start them. Catherine explained how to use the dryer and told Sara it would be at least 40 minutes before the washer was done; she may as well head for the dining chamber and get something to eat. 


Catherine and Sara walked to the dining area and Catherine went over to sit with Father. She hadn’t seen Vincent all day and he wasn’t here now.


With a sigh, she turned towards Father. “Father, do you know if Vincent is coming to dinner?”


Father smiled at her. “Yes, he was finishing up his bath when I left him. He and Mouse worked on a new plumbing system today. Mouse is concerned with the unusually warm weather and the storms that are predicted. I fear that we may have a flood down here soon. Of course, they’re just trying to be prepared.”


Catherine looked off in the air and smiled. “Never mind, he’s almost here.”


Vincent walked in and immediately came over by her. He placed his hand on her back, then bent down to kiss her. He sat down in the seat next to her. “Hello, Catherine, Father said the house is ready....”


She smiled at him.  “Yes, it is. It looks great. Jenny helped me get all of the bedrooms and the bathrooms ready.” She studied his face and noticed the lines of fatigue had appeared again. “It looks like you could use the bedroom right now, you look exhausted!”


He shook his head. “A little. Are you hungry? Shall we go and get some dinner?”


Catherine nodded and they made their way to get trays of food. They came back and sat with Mary and Devin, who had both joined Father at the table.


They ate their dinners and visited with one another. Mary left and Devin cleared his throat to speak. “Hey...um...I think I may take off for a little while.”


Father looked upset, but Vincent merely nodded. “Where will you go?”


Devin shrugged. “Around.... I promise to be back in time for the wedding.”


Father’s eyes dropped to his hands. “When will you go?”


Devin hesitantly replied, “Tonight...in a couple of hours.”


Catherine reached out and took his hand. “Devin, why don’t you get a good night’s sleep and leave in the morning?”


The dining chamber suddenly fell silent. An emergency “all quiet” was sent out across the pipes. A few long seconds followed before an alarm was sent. Pipes had burst in the lower tunnels. All available people were asked to respond. 


The chamber exploded with a flurry of activity. The men jumped up and started to leave immediately. Some of the older boys left to take over sentry duties as Mary, Sara, Lena and some of the older girls started taking charge of all the children.


Vincent stood and sent his Father a reassuring look. “Father, I know. I will be careful. Devin, take care, you’ll be missed.” 


He bent to look at Catherine, regret clearly showing in his eyes. He leaned over and kissed her, then whispered in her ear, “I may be late, but I’ll see you at...home. I love you.” 


He kissed her again and left as Devin caught up to him. “Hey, I can delay my leaving. I want to help.” Vincent clasped him on the back and the two brothers took off running.


The chamber had emptied out some. Mary, Sara and Lena rocked confused babies that had been “dumped” on them by hurried adults. The older kids had taken the middle-aged kids to their chambers to supervise baths and read them stories. 


Catherine looked at Father for guidance and he chuckled. He had been about to tell her she wasn’t expected to help, then realized the futility of his gesture. 


“You can help William clean up this mess that was left. I need to head to the library to organize the troops, so to speak. I fear we may be in for a long night.” 


**********


Father left and Catherine realized that the room had cleared out. She walked over to the farthest table and started stacking dishes and silverware. After each table was cleared she walked the dishes into the kitchen, where William rinsed and stacked them next to the sink. She finished and came into the kitchen with the last load. 


Catherine realized he was alone in the kitchen. There were normally five or six teenagers working with him. “William, who’s going to wash all these dishes?” 


William turned back to her with a sigh. “That would be me, unfortunately. This always happens when we have an emergency down here. The kids are needed to help with the little ones.”


Catherine walked over to the sink. “Can you show me what to do? I mean...I know how to wash dishes; where do you get the hot water and rinse water and....”


William interrupted her. “The water’s heating up over the fire. I’ll pour the hot water into this tub with the soap, then add cold water. This second tub will be your rinse water. Wash, rinse and stack them up on this rack. I’ll try to get them dried, but I need to start on coffee and some quick meals. This is going to be a long night.”


Catherine nodded, rolled up her sleeves, then settled to the task at hand. She couldn’t believe the amount of dishes one meal generated. She scrubbed the plates clean and stacked them in the huge drying rack. 


She glanced back at William and realized he was busy cooking over the fire. With a sigh, she grabbed a towel and began to dry the plates and stack them on the clean counter next to the rack. When that was done she went back to tackle the cups and bowls. Again, she dried all the dishes and stacked them neatly. She was starting to run out of counter space.


William came over and silently poured more hot water into each of the tubs. He set down the kettle and quickly put away the dishes, then walked back over to the fire. Catherine smiled and shook her head, then dug back into her job. She washed all of the silverware and started on the trays. William came over and dried the silverware, then stacked them into their containers. He started drying the trays but quickly dropped the towel and ran over to the fire. Catherine finished washing and then dried the rest of the trays. 


She turned around and faced William. “Is there anything else I can do?”


William looked over his shoulder at her. “Do you mind wiping down the tables out there?”


Catherine grabbed a clean towel and went to the task assigned to her. She came back in soon enough. “All done; what else can I do?”


William sighed. “I can’t think of anything, Catherine. Thank you for all your help; you saved me a lot of time.”


Catherine shrugged. “I wanted to help. I wish there was more I could do....”


William nodded. “Why don’t you check with Mary? I bet they have their hands full with the babies; they would probably appreciate some help.”


Catherine nodded, then walked through the tunnels to the nursery. Mary and Sara were trying to bathe babies and get them ready for bed. Lana sat in a rocker with two clean babies trying to feed them both at one time. Several other babies sat in cribs crying for attention.


Catherine walked up. “What can I do?’ she begged.


Sara looked up at her. “Go sit in a rocker and I’ll bring you this baby and a bottle.”


Catherine did as she was told and Sara put the baby in her arms. “Hi, Luke, are you hungry?” she cooed. She rocked Luke as she fed him. Mary came over with Juliet. She placed her carefully in Catherine’s other arm. “I’m sorry, Catherine, but….”


Catherine interrupted. “It’s fine, Mary. I wanted to help.” She looked over at Lana, who smiled at her. Catherine mimicked the way Lana was holding the two babies and how she kept both bottles in their mouths. She awkwardly did it as she rocked away. 


Sara finished another baby and took Matthew from Lana’s arms. She burped him on the way to his crib. Lana stood up and put little Cathy in her crib and went to the table that Sara was just at. She picked up Justin and grabbed a bottle and went back to her rocker. 


Mary finished her baby, and she and Catherine copied Sara and Lana’s routine. Catherine went to grab baby Brittany. Sara left to check on how the older kids were doing with the younger ones, while Mary grabbed the last baby. She quickly bathed him, and the three sat rocking the last of the babies. 


Mary smiled at Catherine. “Thanks for your help, dear. It went much faster than usual.”


Catherine nodded her head. “You’re welcome. I would have been here sooner but I washed the dinner dishes and got here as soon as I could.”


Lana looked over at her. “That was nice of you to help William wash, he hates that part and that’s a lot of dishes.”


Catherine chuckled. “Well, he was busy cooking for the workers, so I washed and dried. He helped me put them away….”


Mary gasped and interrupted her. “You washed and dried all of the dinner dishes by yourself? I can’t believe you finished them so quickly.”


Catherine shrugged and placed Brittany on her shoulder and lightly patted her back. A burp soon came and Catherine walked her to her crib, placed her in it and gently covered her up. Lana was next to her with Justin and followed the same ritual.


Mary sighed. “Well, that’s done; you ladies should get some rest.  Lana, can you come back in the morning?”


Lana nodded and Catherine turned to Mary. “What about me?” 


Mary shook her head. “Tomorrow’s Friday, you’ll be working.”


Catherine waved her hand dismissively. “This is more important. I’ll go home and call my boss and tell him there’s been an emergency....”


Mary shook her head again. “The men will get the pipes fixed. Everything should be back to normal tomorrow. Why don’t you check with me in the morning if you want?”


Catherine agreed and walked to her new home.


***********


As she walked, Catherine grew melancholy. She had hoped to be making this walk with Vincent. “Oh, well,” she sighed.


She walked past the washing machines and stopped. She could see that no one was able to switch loads of clothes. Catherine emptied the machines and moved everything to the dryers. She noticed the mounds of dirty clothes piled in the corner and started new loads in the washers. 


She went up and took a shower and put on her new lingerie. She decided to read and wait for Vincent to come home. After an hour and a half she changed into sweats and a t-shirt and headed to the laundry room. She emptied the dryers and placed the clothes on the folding tables.


She again emptied the clothes in the washers into the dryers and then started the last loads of wash. It was mostly towels and blankets, and Catherine knew with the men being cold and wet these would come in handy. 


She walked back to the folding table and folded the clothes into neat stacks and left them on top of the tables.


She walked back into her home and instead of heading to bed, made some tea and sat and watched a movie on TV. She dozed off and woke when the TV sent a continuous whine through the air, indicating they were done telecasting for the night. 


Catherine glanced at the clock. Two hours had passed and with a sigh she went to the laundry room again and repeated the earlier routine. The last loads were now in the dryers.


Catherine yawned and decided to head up to bed. She snuggled down in the sheets in her sweats and t-shirt and quickly nodded off.  She awoke four hours later and Vincent still wasn’t home. She wondered if he fell asleep Below or if he was still working. She began to get worried and threw on a warmer top and headed Below. 


She stopped in the laundry room on her way to see Father and folded the blankets and towels that were in the dryers. All of the laundry was now cleaned and ready to be distributed.


***********  


Catherine walked into the library and was shocked to see the council in the middle of a meeting so early in the morning. Father acknowledged her and she came and quietly sat by his side as she listened in on the meeting. 


The talk revolved around the immense amount of work on hand. They needed to come up with a better schedule so the men that were working could take longer breaks and get some much needed sleep. 


Mary admitted the women were stretched thin and that the teens were helping immensely. She was upset but knew the kids were going to have to work much longer hours to cover the rest of the community’s jobs.


An exhausted William said he could use some extra hands in the kitchen. He also needed to get more food sent from Above.


Father decided he would send word to some of the helpers. Many of them had teenagers who could possibly fill in and help Below.


Sara worried about the amount of laundry that had piled up overnight. “Father, I had so much laundry to do yesterday and now that the men have all gone through a change of clothes already....”


Catherine cleared her throat and all eyes turned to her. “Um...I finished the laundry that was there last night. Everything’s folded and ready to go to its home.”

Mary shook her head. “Catherine, you moved into your new house yesterday and then you washed all the dinner dishes by yourself, helped put three babies to sleep and went home and washed four days worth of laundry? Dear, when did you sleep?”


Catherine blushed. “I...I thought I’d wait up for Vincent. I dozed a few times and each time I woke up, I changed loads of clothes. It was no big deal….”


Father covered her hand with his. “It is a big deal, Catherine. You saved us hours of work. Thank you.”


Father sighed. “I will do what I can to get help sent. In the meantime, everyone will have to help as much as they possibly can.”


Catherine volunteered to go to speak with Stan at the grocery store. She kept it to herself, but she was hoping to arrange for Stan to send Below already made dishes like meatloaf, lasagna and maybe Italian beef for sandwiches. This should help William get some rest.


The members nodded and started to leave to go to their various jobs. Catherine turned to Father, worry clearly evident on her face. “Father, is it that bad?”


Father nodded and looked at her. “Yes, with the unusually warm weather we’ve had several pipes have leaks, and with the storms yesterday some of the tunnels are severely flooded. The men are exhausted but finally making headway on stopping the water and removing it from the areas.”


Catherine questioned him further. “How much damage has been done?”


He sighed again. “The entire 5th level had to be evacuated. Several of the families had to be relocated and are now bunking together again....”


“Father, don’t forget, I have three empty bedrooms above for people to use....”


Father looked at her gratefully. “Thank you, Catherine. I’ll keep that in mind. Now, I bet you’re wondering where Vincent’s been, right?”


Catherine lowered her head shyly. “The thought had crossed my mind.”


Father shook his head. “Devin came up an hour ago. Vincent was making sure that everyone got to leave before he did. I’m hoping he comes home to rest soon.”


Catherine nodded. “I know he’s pretty tired, I can feel it in him.”


Vincent walked into the door of the library. He was soaking wet from head to toe and covered in mud. His normally tawny hair was caked with thick chunks of dried mud. He smiled weakly at Catherine and then turned to his Father. 


“The leaks have finally been stopped. They are diverting the water and it’s draining quickly. If we don’t get anymore rain today, it should start to dry out soon.”


Father nodded. “That is good news. Why don’t you go bathe and try to get some sleep.”


Catherine jumped up. “Go, Vincent. I’ll make a tray and we can go home and you can eat there.” She suddenly worried that in his exhaustion he wouldn’t want to do that right now, so she immediately countered with, “Unless you’d rather just sleep in your chamber....”


Vincent, always concerned for Catherine’s feelings, even in his current state, looked at her and smiled. “Catherine, I would love to go home with you and get some sleep. I’ll be done in twenty minutes.”


He left and Catherine turned to Father and began to speak. Father shook his head. “Don’t say it. Vincent looks at that as his new home. He’ll rest better knowing you’re near. Besides, I want him away from here for awhile. At your house he can’t hear the messages on the pipes and try to help. He needs rest. Now, go and see if William can make him a tray.”


Catherine nodded. “Thank you, Father. It helps knowing you support us.” Catherine walked to him and kissed his cheek, then left to go to the kitchen.


Vincent met her there and together they walked towards their home. 


**********


When they neared it, Vincent hesitated and shook his head. “Catherine, I should be carrying you over the threshold....”


Catherine giggled and reached for his hand. “Vincent, I think we would stand a better chance if I carried you. Next time, you can carry me. You need to eat now and then we need to get you up to bed.”


They sat at the table together while they ate their breakfast. Vincent finished, then he and Catherine headed upstairs. 


He walked into their bedroom and gasped. “Catherine, it’s beautiful.” He ran his hand over the wood, admiring its texture and color. “I only wish I had the energy to....”


Catherine ran up and caressed his back. “Tonight! Right now you sleep. In your dresser over there…I bought you some new nightclothes, sweats and t-shirts....”


Vincent looked in his drawer and grabbed a shirt. “Catherine, a t-shirt?”


Catherine smiled. “Vincent, the house is heated. I thought you’d be too hot in regular shirts.”


Vincent nodded and stripped his shirt off and laid it on the chair next to the bed. He slipped the soft brown t-shirt on over his head. Next he took off his jeans, then slipped into his lounge pants. He stretched and yawned, then pulled back the covers and fell into bed. 


Catherine came out of the bathroom in long flannel pajamas. Vincent looked over at her in surprise. “Are you coming to bed, too?”


Catherine stood on the side of the bed and yawned. “Yes, I didn’t sleep very well last night. I thought I’d take a nap. Will I keep you awake?”


Vincent was on his side and almost asleep. “No, come,” he said softly. Catherine climbed in next to him and he drew her into his arms. 


“Catherine, I love you,” Vincent mumbled.


“I love you too, Vincent.” Catherine looked up at him and he greeted her with a soft snore. 


She snuggled in and soon fell asleep. She slept for almost two hours before she woke up. Vincent had rolled over and was facing the other way. She quietly slipped from the bed and grabbed her clothes and went to the lower bathroom. 


She changed her clothes and called into work. She couldn’t believe it was only 10:00 in the morning. She told the receptionist she wouldn’t be in today but to tell Joe she would come by later to pick up files she needed and work at home over the weekend. 


She jotted a note to Vincent, then left to go to see Stan. 


************


Stan was happy to see Catherine until she told him why she was here. He told her he would take care of everything. He would have his boys deliver food Below now and then he would take down cooked food later this afternoon.


Catherine thanked him and headed over to the department store she had ordered all the clothes from. Connie told her everything was in and that she would deliver it to Catherine’s new house by 2:00.


Catherine quickly went through the store and added some more items to the order. Connie promised to send the bill to Catherine and not Father.


She walked across the street to the electronics store and ordered six new computers. The guy was so shocked he dropped his clipboard. Catherine asked if they could be delivered tomorrow and they man assured her they would be there by 12:00.


She walked to work and headed to Joe’s office. She entered and as usual was greeted by a dart hitting the wall next to her face. “Hi, Joe, sorry about this morning, I had a plumbing problem at home.” She winced only slightly. It was sort of the truth.


Joe shrugged. “No biggie. It’s actually kind of slow around here. You get moved in all right?” 


Catherine nodded and smiled. “Yeah, I did. Thanks for asking. Well, I’m just here to pick up any work....”


Joe interrupted her. “No work, like I said. It’s been slow. See you Monday?”


Catherine nodded and left.  She picked up a few more odds and ends then headed home. She quietly entered the house, not wanting to disturb Vincent.


 She walked upstairs and realized he was gone. She looked at her watch and sighed. He could only have slept four and a half hours.


She headed to the kitchen and read his note explaining how he woke up and headed Below to see what the progress was. He signed it “P.S. I love the bed!”


She looked at the clock again and then decided to call Connie and tell her to leave the stuff inside her back door. 


She picked up the phone to call when the doorbell rang. She answered the door and it was the delivery men from Connie’s store. The piled everything into her kitchen and left. Catherine blew out her breath at all the boxes of stuff. She knew everyone Below was already overwhelmed, so she started dragging boxes to the steps and pushing them down one at a time.  


She shrugged when the first one tumbled all the way down. It was only clothes, it was not like they would be damaged. She sent the rest of the boxes tumbling and then followed the last one down. 


She got to the end of the steps and picked up the boxes, then unloaded each of them onto the laundry tables. She separated them by sizes and broke up the boxes. She wished she could distribute them, but she knew she would need someone’s help. 


She turned and made her way through the tunnels. She stopped into the kitchen but all seemed to be going well in there, so she headed to the nursery. Lana was there alone and everything seemed to be under control. 


Mary walked in and Catherine explained how the clothes had all come in. They were stacked in the laundry room waiting to be distributed. Lana agreed to stay in the nursery and Catherine and Mary went to label the clothes for distribution. 


They worked well together and soon had them separated by families first, then the boy’s dorms and girl’s dorms and finally the individuals. 


Sara walked in with Jamie pushing a huge cart filled with dirty laundry. They started the washing machines and then helped deliver everyone’s new clothes. 


Catherine followed Jamie and the two caught up on things that had been going on. They completed their deliveries and headed to the dining chamber. Jamie went to sit with Rebecca and Catherine walked to get her tray. 


She turned with her food tray and made her way to Father’s table. On the way over, her eyes took on a glassy look and a sharp pain shot through her temples. Catherine dropped her tray and fell to her knees, holding her head. Father flew to her side and put his arm around her. Mary rushed over and the others looked on in concern. 


Catherine gasped for breath and Kanin came over and picked Catherine up off the floor and set her on the nearest table top. Father grabbed her hand and felt her pulse. Catherine grabbed her leg and winced. Then suddenly, it all stopped. 


She shook her head to clear her thoughts. She sat and looked at Father incredulously. “I’m fine, I...oh, my God! No! Father, it’s Vincent! Something’s happened to him!”


Father thought Catherine was in shock. He started to talk to her when an alarm came over the pipes. There was a mudslide and Mouse, Cullen and Vincent were trapped. 


**********  


The community jumped into action. The men and older boys flew from the room. The older residents stayed with the children. Father sent Kipper for his medical bag and they all went to the accident site. 


The task before them was daunting. Not quite as bad as the rock cave-in, but in some ways more dangerous. Mud was unpredictable and gave way easier. They would have to shovel the mud and haul it out.  


Pascal informed them that Cullen had sent a message from the other side of the mud pile. He and Mouse were okay. He had a broken wrist and Mouse had a broken arm. 


Vincent was a different story. He was unconscious and wouldn’t respond. The wall he was walking next to gave way and he had been hit by a beam. He was trapped underneath another beam that lay across his chest and there was a third beam lying across his upper thighs. 


Catherine grabbed Father’s arm as Father looked at Pascal with horror in his eyes. “Pascal, ask him to check Vincent’s breathing pattern.”


Pascal tapped the message and in a few minutes Cullen responded that he was breathing but with shallow breaths. 


Father nodded, then thought. “If they have a lantern there, tell them to lift Vincent’s eyelids and tell me what his eyes look like.” 


Pascal relayed the information and a few minutes later he responded again. “Mouse says that when he opens Vincent’s eyes, the black center gets smaller. Mouse got scared and backed away.”


Father sighed. “Tell them that is what is supposed to happen, there’s no reason to be afraid.”


He turned to Catherine. “There’s not much we can do until we get to them. Did you feel the hit when Vincent did? Is that what happened earlier?”


Catherine nodded with tears pooling in her eyes. “I just felt a rush of intense pain and then a pain in my leg, then nothing....”


Father cradled Catherine in his arms as she cried. Devin came running onto the scene. “Oh, no! What’s happened? Is Vincent…?” 


Father shook his head. “No, he’s been knocked unconscious and he has a beam lying across his chest and legs.”


The men had already set up a line and they were shoveling through the mud and wheel-barreling it out. Devin tossed off his coat and grabbed some of the older teens. They started to place beams they found lying around into the side of the mudslide. Devin hoped to be able to get to the top and create a big enough hole to be able to get to Vincent. 


Devin scaled the muddy wall and someone handed him a shovel. He pulled the shovel towards him and sent mud sliding downward. He continued until he saw light come through from the other side. 


He looked down. “I’m through; it’s about six feet wide. I’m going to that side to see if I can get Vincent out from under these beams.”


Jamie scaled the wall. “I’m coming, too.”


She grabbed a shovel and followed Devin through the hole. They slid down on the side farthest from where Vincent was. Greg and Kanin soon followed.


They quickly assessed the damage while Jamie checked out Mouse and Cullen’s injuries. “Do you guys think you can get up the side of the mudslide if I put beams in as stairs?”


Devin, Greg and Kanin checked out the beams that were lying on Vincent. Working together they were able to remove the one across his chest. Vincent gasped for breath and moaned but never woke up. 


Greg and Kanin started digging to find the end of the beam that lay across his thighs. Devin checked Vincent’s vital signs and tapped them over the pipes to Father. 


Father nodded, then sent Zack to get a blanket. “Pascal, tell Devin that a blanket is on the way. He is to cover Vincent with it. I don’t want him going into shock.”


Pascal sent the message and Devin responded by ordering a stretcher to carry Vincent. Father sent Matthew and Walter to go and bring the stretcher. 


Catherine paced relentlessly. She finally sighed and looked at Father. “I have to go over there.” 


She quickly scaled the wall and slid down the other side. She saw that she couldn’t help Vincent and would only be in the way of what was happening so she helped Jamie with the last of the beams. When that was done, Catherine took Cullen by the good arm and Jamie took Mouse and they walked them up the side of the mud. 


Cullen peeked his head out and Daniel raced up the side to help him through the hole and down to the safety of the ground. He ran back up and helped Mouse the same way.


Father came over and assessed both of their arms. They did both have breaks. He sent them with Mary and Sara. Mary would know what medicine to give them and how to make them comfortable until Father could get to them to set the breaks.


Catherine had let go of Cullen and raced to Vincent’s side. She caressed his face and tried to get him to respond to her. 


Kanin had taken the last patch of mud up and the beam across his legs shifted slightly. Vincent moaned and rocked his head back and forth in pain.


“Shhhh, it’s okay, Vincent, they’re trying to get you free, it won’t be long now,” Catherine cooed as she continued to caress his face. 


Vincent calmed down until the three men lifted the beam. Vincent roared in pain and gasped for breath, then fell unconscious again. Catherine grabbed for his hand and tried to get him to wake again, but it was no use.


Father’s head shot up when he heard Vincent roar. “Pascal, find out what’s going on.”


Pascal tapped the message and Jamie answered. She told them they had removed the beam from Vincent’s leg and that Vincent had woken up, then passed out again. 


The workers were finally breaking through. They had a section cleared that a man could walk through, but not one big enough for a stretcher to fit through. 


Father got up and trudged through to Vincent. He did as much as he could for him as the men continued to furiously dig through the remaining mud. 


Matthew and Walter ran in with the stretcher and Zack with the blanket. The men eased Vincent onto the stretcher as he moaned in pain. 


Catherine quickly covered him up and looked up at Father. “There’s nothing you can give him for pain?” she begged.


Father shook his head. “Catherine, it hurts us all to see Vincent this way, but you already know his body chemistry doesn’t allow him to take painkillers.”


Catherine nodded and let her tears escape as she held Vincent’s hand. The rest of the mud had been cleared away and Devin, Kanin, Matthew and Walter each took an end of the stretcher. Vincent was hoisted up and he again moaned in pain. Catherine walked alongside the stretcher and held Vincent’s hand. 


The men took him quickly to the hospital chamber. Father followed behind and amazingly kept up with them. 


He stopped to look at Cullen and Mouse, who both insisted he take care of Vincent first. Father ran to Vincent. Mary had removed his clothes and placed a sheet over his body. Father ran his hands over Vincent’s thighs. 


He sighed and turned away. “It’s times like this I wish I had an x-ray machine.”


Catherine looked at Father. “Peter’s office is still at my house; would he have one?”


Father shrugged. “Possibly. But even if he did, we would have to get Vincent into his office.”


Devin tapped Catherine lightly on the arm. “Come on, let’s go check.”


***********


Catherine nodded and she and Devin took off at a dead run, with Jamie close behind. They made it to Catherine’s and raced through her house. Devin picked the lock on the offices and ran from room to room. 


“He’s got one! Jamie, send word to Father. He’s got one!” Devin exclaimed. 


Jamie ran Below to send word over the pipes while Devin and Catherine cleared a space to put Vincent’s stretcher. 


Devin went Below to see if he could help carry Vincent. He met Kanin, Matthew, and Walter. Greg was there, too, taking Devin’s place. The men followed Jamie, and Devin assisted Father on the steps. They carried him through the house and followed Catherine to the room. 


Father came in and shooed them out of the room. He took several x-rays and he and Devin developed them together. When they were done, Father put them up to the lighted holder. He showed Catherine the places where Vincent had breaks. Each femur had a deep fracture as well as several ribs. His lower right tibia was broken and his shoulder was dislocated. 


Father looked through Peter’s office for supplies. He found what he needed, then turned to Catherine. “Cathy, Vincent is going to be laid up for weeks. I can set his breaks here or I can do it Below. He will have two full leg casts and his ribs will be taped. The ribs will be healed in a week or so, but the legs.... Do you have any idea where you want Vincent to stay during his recovery?”


Catherine looked unsure. “Father, I don’t know what to say. I want to take care of Vincent but I know how far we are from you and the others. If he should need anything....”


Devin came up and put his arm around her. “If you keep Vincent home, I’ll move in for the length of his recovery.”


Father nodded. “That’s generous of you, Devin. Catherine, I can easily make the walk once a day to check on Vincent. I know he will have countless visitors whether he’s here or Below. It’s up to you.”


Catherine looked over at Vincent, then back to Father. “Father, I want him here, but I’m afraid to choose for him. I....”


Vincent weakly whispered, “Catherine.”


Catherine gasped and leapt to feet and bent over him while Father and Devin stepped forward. She took his hand in hers. “Vincent, I’m here. It’s okay.”


Vincent whispered again, “Stay...here.”


Catherine smiled through her tears. “Yes, Vincent, I’m staying here. I won’t leave, I promise!”


Vincent frowned. “No...me.”


Devin nodded. “Hey, buddy, you want to stay here to recover, Vincent? Is that it?” 


Vincent didn’t answer, so Devin turned to Catherine. “I think he wants to stay here.”


Father nodded. “I think so, too.” 


Vincent whispered, “Yes.”


Catherine held Vincent’s hand while Father took care setting Vincent’s legs and plastering them. Devin assisted and Vincent’s legs were soon covered in thick casts. 


Vincent had moaned a few times but never said a word. Father sighed and turned to Catherine. “We have to put his shoulder back into place. You may want to leave.”


Catherine shook her head, but Devin came over to her. “It only takes a few minutes and...Cath, you don’t want to see it.”


Catherine nodded and left the room. Devin motioned for Kanin to come in and together they prepared Vincent. 


Father looked at both of them. “Okay, are you both ready? On three...one...two...three.”


Devin and Kanin both pulled but the snap couldn’t be heard over Vincent’s roar. He again gasped for breath and then passed out. Since Devin and Kanin were both there, Father set Vincent’s ribs. 


Father kissed Vincent on the forehead. “I’ll be back in the morning, son. Devin, I’ll leave it to you to see that Vincent gets settled in. I’ll be in the hospital chamber setting Cullen and Mouse’s breaks.”


Father left and Catherine walked in. Devin called over to her. “Cathy, he’s already unconscious again. Look, if you want, we can get him over to the sink there and get his hair washed and his hands and feet cleaned up.”


Catherine smiled; finally, something she could do. She ran upstairs and brought down shampoo and soap and a washcloth and towels. Devin had pushed him over to the sink. He was relatively clean for being caught in a mudslide. She quickly and efficiently washed his hair twice to get out all the mud, then grabbed the washcloth and scrubbed his hands and claws clean and then quickly checked other problem areas. She toweled dried his hair and hands and Devin went to get the men to carry him upstairs to their room. 


The men struggled up the steps but he was soon in his bed and resting comfortably. Catherine covered him up and turned on a dim light at the side of the bed. 


She followed Devin down the stairs. Catherine told him to choose any room, then showed him the one with the queen-size bed. Devin smiled and told her he was going Below to get his clothes and that he would be up later. 


Catherine walked up to her room and checked on Vincent, then headed to the shower. She came out dressed in sweats and a t-shirt. She wanted to be available to do anything Vincent needed. She slid in next to him and gently kissed his cheek. He stirred and sighed then went back to sleep. 


She watched his breathing pattern for awhile. She convinced herself he was sleeping comfortably before she drifted off. 


************  


The next morning, Catherine woke before Vincent. She slipped from the bed and got dressed and headed to the kitchen. Devin was up and making coffee.


She smiled as she walked into the room. “Oh, Devin, that coffee smells wonderful.”


Devin turned to greet her. “It should be ready in a few more minutes. How’s Vincent?”


She shook her head. “Still sleeping...I don’t think he moved once all night.”


Devin shrugged and turned towards the sink. “Well, I don’t have to tell you how he is...you know he’ll probably sleep all day. If you have anything you need to do….”


Catherine interrupted him. “Nope, the computers are being delivered by noon. After that, I’m free all day. Um...Devin?”  Catherine blushed, embarrassed to ask the question. “How will Vincent go...to the bathroom?”


Devin ignored her embarrassment and was about to answer her question when a knock came at the hidden door. Father walked into the kitchen with his medical bag. 


“I overheard the question; would you like me to answer it?” he inquired.


Catherine nodded, so he continued, “I came to check his condition. I want to hook him up to an IV to keep him hydrated and nourished. I will insert a catheter until Vincent is fully awake. Mary will come every day to empty its contents and monitor his output. If I know Vincent, he’s probably going to be like this for the next week.”


Catherine nodded and Devin stood to walk with his Father. “Father, there are three flights of steps. Let Catherine carry your bag and I’ll help you upstairs.”


Catherine followed behind as Devin led them to their bedroom. Father gave a cursory glance around at the beautiful bedroom, then sat in a chair next to the bed and assessed Vincent’s condition. He nodded as his son looked like he expected. “He’s resting quite comfortably.” 


He took an IV bag from his case and quickly had Vincent hooked up. He looked around and realized he didn’t have an IV stand. Devin raced down to Peter’s office to look for one while Catherine held the bag in the air. Father discreetly blocked Catherine’s view as he put in the catheter. Vincent moaned but never woke up as the bag was quickly filled. Father immediately changed it and the new bag was hidden under the bed. Devin came up and placed the IV onto the stand. 


Catherine held Vincent’s hand and caressed his cheek. Vincent seemed to relax and go back to sleep. Father touched her shoulder and motioned to go out the door. 


Once in the hallway, he turned to her. “He’s resting comfortably again; let’s go have some breakfast.”


They walked down the steps to the second floor. Catherine turned to Father. “Would you like to see the rest of the house? I wanted to show you the computer room; the computers are coming today and Jenny and I can probably have them hooked up by Monday.”


Father nodded and Catherine showed him the three bedrooms as they passed down the hall. He took in their subtle beauty. He knew the furnishings were expensive but everything was tastefully decorated. He marveled again that she would so easily welcome others into her home to make their lives easier. 


He walked into the computer room and gasped. There were six desks lined up along the walls and a huge work table in the middle of the room. Classes could easily be accommodated here without overcrowding. He smiled and shook his head in disbelief. “Catherine, I’m grateful that you and Vincent would put the education of our children over the privacy you must crave in your first home.”


Catherine smiled, “I’m just glad the children will be able to get the education they need to compete in this world.”


Devin called from the landing of the steps. “The kids are here with our breakfast trays.”


Catherine held onto Father’s arm as they walked down the steps. They met Devin in the kitchen; he was pouring coffee for himself and Catherine and hot water for tea for Father. Catherine uncovered their trays and set the lids on the counter. They all sat down and ate their meal. Catherine offered her extra sausage to Father and Devin. Father leaned back and rubbed his stomach and declined her offer. Devin took them all and wolfed them down. 


Father took a sip of tea and turned to Catherine. “Monday is only a day away. If you’d like I can come up with a schedule for people to sit with Vincent during the day. Everyone is begging to put in a shift. You can work and take care of Vincent at night. William has offered to send meals whenever you request, so you just need to let us know when.”


Catherine thought about his offer for a moment then shook her head. “Father, I do have a lot of work to do. If everyone is so willing, I would be happy to take you up on the offer.”


Father nodded. “It will mostly be Mary and Sara until Vincent wakes up. Then we can have others keep him company when he is a little better.”


Devin jumped in. “What about me?”


Father looked at him. “I thought you were leaving....”


Devin shook his head. “No, not now; I’ll stay until Vincent’s on his feet.”


Catherine reached and covered his hand with hers. “Thank you, Devin. I know Vincent will feel better with you around.”


Father rose and promised to be back later that night. Devin walked him down and carried the trays to the kitchen. They were bombarded with questions as they got close to the central tunnels. Father assured everyone that Vincent was doing as expected. 


************


Meanwhile, the front doorbell rang and Catherine escorted the delivery men to the computer room. They set the computers on the floor, unboxed them and connected the wires. 


“I can’t believe you did all this. Thank you,” Catherine exclaimed.


The taller man shrugged. “You paid for the service, ma’am. Would you like us to take the boxes?”


Devin walked into the room with a smile. “No thanks, I’ll take care of them.”


Catherine shrugged, then led the men out to the front door. She tipped them and as they left Jenny came up the walk smiling brightly. “Hey, that was good timing, huh?”


Catherine smiled and gave her a hug. “You betcha. You’re here earlier than I thought.”


Jenny shrugged and took off her coat. “Yeah, well I got done earlier with that project, so I’m here. Let’s fire up those computers.” 


Jenny followed her up and was surprised to find Devin in the room. “Hi, Devin, how are you?”


Devin nodded. “I’m doing good, Jenny. You look...well.”


Jenny nodded and Catherine turned to her. “Well, pick a computer and start installing. I’m going to run up and check on Vincent really quick.”


Catherine left and Jenny turned to Devin with a question in her eyes. Devin related the whole story and Jenny gasped as tears sprang to her eyes. 


“Devin, is he going to be all right?” 


Devin nodded. “My brother’s got a hard head and amazing healing powers. He’ll be fine in a couple of weeks.”


They got to work and Catherine soon joined them. Each of them completed the installation of their computer’s software. It took a few hours to get everything installed and the friends headed down for lunch.


William had thoughtfully sent up trays and they enjoyed a hot lunch. 


Jenny sighed when she was full. “I could get used to someone cooking every meal for me. I wonder if Father would let me give up my job and move Below full time.”


Catherine giggled. “You’d be bored within a month. You argue too much with publishers to enjoy the peace and quiet of the tunnels.”


Jenny nodded. “There’s a lot to be said for a good argument. Well, I need to head home. I’ve got some last-0minute paperwork for that opening on Tuesday.”


She and Catherine walked to the front door. “Cath, call me if you need anything, okay?”


Catherine nodded and Jenny looked at her. “Promise?”


Catherine laughed and pushed Jenny towards the door. “I promise.”


Jenny left and Catherine headed back to the kitchen. Devin had gone to check on Vincent and Catherine walked the lunch trays Below to the kitchen.


***********


She walked into the dining chamber and was flooded with well wishers. She told them much the same story as Father had. She promised to let everyone know the second Vincent was awake.


She turned to leave and was approached by Kanin and Cullen. They asked for the keys to her apartment. They were heading there tomorrow with Greg and Mouse to move furniture and the rest of Catherine’s belongings. 


Kanin followed her home and got the key from her and peeked in on Vincent. 


“Hey, Vincent, it’s Kanin, you get better soon...we’re all pulling for you!”


Catherine thanked him and Kanin left and promised to keep her informed of their progress.


She walked up to her room and sat on a chair next to Vincent. She held his hand and talked to him about everything under the stars.


The hours passed and she and Devin had dinner together. After dinner, Catherine went to take a shower while Devin stretched out on the couch to watch TV. 


Catherine decided to go to bed early and she cuddled next to Vincent and read out loud until she fell asleep. 


The next day was the same routine. Devin and she ate meals together and Catherine either read or talked to Vincent.


***********


Catherine awoke early Monday morning and went to work. She put in a full eight…almost nine hours, then headed home. Either Devin, Mary, Sara or Father sat with Vincent during the day. Catherine came home and showered, then ate her dinner, talking or reading to Vincent.


This routine went on for twelve days. Finally, one night as Catherine closed up her book to go to sleep, Vincent whispered to her, “Catherine...drink.”


Catherine ran to the bathroom and got a glass of water. She cradled Vincent’s head as she touched the glass to his mouth. “Vincent, go slow, just little sips.”


Vincent sipped in the cool water, then sighed in relief. “Thank you.”


Catherine smiled through her tears. “Oh, honey, you are so welcome.” 


Catherine leaned over and tinkled the bell next to Vincent’s side of the bed. Devin came up and looked at her. “He’s awake!” she smiled.


Devin walked over to the chair. “Hey, Vin. It’s Devin. You really awake?”


Vincent blinked his eyes for the first time. “Yes,” he whispered.


Devin smiled. “Well, it’s about damn time. I’m sick of waiting on your furry butt. Do you know how worried everyone’s been?  It’s just like you to claim all the attention all the time.”


Vincent smiled and closed his eyes. Catherine looked at Devin thankfully. She knew Vincent would be worried about putting everyone out and Devin just made it okay. “Vincent, should I send for Father?” Catherine asked.


Vincent had already fallen back asleep. 


Devin assured Catherine that he would tell Father that Vincent woke up and asked for water then fell back asleep. He left and Catherine snuggled up against Vincent. She took his hand and, for the first time in almost two weeks, his fingers closed around hers. She sighed and fell asleep.


************


The next morning, Catherine woke to find heavenly blue eyes looking at her. She smiled up at him, noticing that his eyes were clear and focused.


“Hi, sweetheart, I missed you,” she whispered.


He smiled back at her. “Me, too.”


Catherine shifted onto her shoulder and carefully kissed his cheek. She laid her head into the crook of his neck and he reached up and cradled her face in his hand. He gently raised her head so he could look at her. 


“I love you, Catherine,” he whispered.


Catherine sighed. “Oh, Vincent, I love you, too.”


Ten minutes later, Father was sitting next to Vincent on the bed. Vincent was wide awake by then and Devin had him propped up by pillows.


“So, tell me, how do you feel?” Father demanded as he checked Vincent’s vital signs, legs and ribs. 


Vincent shrugged. “Alive, grateful.”


Father shook his head. “You know what I meant. Are you in pain? Do you have a headache or double vision?”


Vincent shook his head. “My ribs are healed; my head and vision are fine. My legs...well, you tell me?”


Father looked at him seriously. “Vincent, this is the worst break you have ever sustained. Both of your femurs have fractures in them. Your right leg’s tibia was fractured as well.”


Vincent grimaced. “How long?”


Father sighed. “Well, it’s been almost two weeks already...with your body chemistry, another three to five weeks. Then another four to six weeks of therapy after that. Unfortunately, Vincent, you have broken major bones. They require a lot of healing time.”


Vincent’s head fell back against the pillows as he calculated. “That’s the end of February or the beginning of March. Father, I can’t stay in these casts that long. What about the Spring rains and the flooding? My wedding day! Will I be walking well enough by my wedding?”


Father thought for a moment, not wanting to issue any false hope. Catherine dared not breathe until he spoke. He finally looked up. “With a lot of really hard work, I think you will make it on time. It’s up to you to do as you’re told.”


Catherine rushed to reassure him. “He will, Father, I promise.”


Devin walked over. “Yeah, me, too, I’ll work his butt off.”


Father nodded then smiled. He made to get up when Vincent, with surprising strength, held his arm. “Father, Cullen and Mouse, are they all right?”


Father smiled and patted his hand. “Yes, Mouse has a broken arm and Cullen a broken wrist. They’re both doing fine.”


Father looked over at Devin and Catherine and asked them to leave the room a moment. They did and he turned back to face Vincent. “Do you think you can use a bedpan?”


Vincent nodded, so Father removed the catheter. He called Devin and Catherine back into the room. 


“Everyone knows the routine. He may have food but start out with a soft diet. I will have William send him a tray three times daily. I would imagine that he will be driving you crazy asking for popsicles. He may have as many as he wishes providing he limit his intake at least until tomorrow.”


Catherine smiled at Vincent, wondering if he was a bad patient. He looked at her innocently as Devin caught the look that passed between them. “Don’t buy it, Catherine. In three days he’ll drive you crazy.”


Catherine giggled and Father left the room smiling.


***********


Vincent spent the weekend getting stronger. He learned how to take care of his bathroom needs and his appetite returned with a vengeance. Catherine and he read together and watched TV together. 


Devin had normally emptied the bed pan, but one afternoon Catherine came in to find it had been used. She nonchalantly took it to the bathroom, emptied it, rinsed it and brought it back for future use.


Vincent looked down, embarrassed and ashamed that she had to take care of that part of his care. Catherine shook her head, looked at him, then quietly spoke. 


“Vincent, when I have a baby, you’re going to see a lot of things I won’t particularly want to share with you. Some things are just human nature; we have to learn to not be embarrassed by them.”


Vincent saw the reasoning behind it and soon nodded. He looked up at her gratefully, then opened his arms to her. She climbed into the bed and gingerly sat next to him, careful of his tender ribs.  


He held her close. “You’re right, Catherine, thank you. I wish I could do something more than sit on this bed.”


Catherine giggled. “Vincent, it’s going to be a long recovery if you’re bored on the third day.” Catherine sat up and looked at him. “Vincent, how would you like me to clean you up? I could have Devin sit you in one of Peter’s wheelchairs and we could push you into the bathroom and get your hair washed and new linens on the bed? What do you think?”


Vincent nodded. “Catherine, I didn’t want to complain, but I have felt pretty...grubby since I’ve awakened.”  


Catherine went to the bathroom to get everything ready, then ran downstairs to enlist Devin’s help. Devin jumped up and went to Peter’s office and soon returned with a wheelchair. 


He carried it up and put it next to the bed. Vincent wiggled to the edge and because of his great strength was able to use his upper body to get into the chair. Devin offered more emotional support than anything and Vincent sat there proudly. 


Catherine marveled at his ability while Devin laughed at him. “You look like the cat that ate the canary. Hey, Vincent...You got into a chair by yourself, you didn’t find a way to secure world peace.” 


Vincent ignored him. He was pleased that he had been able to accomplish this with no help. It gave him a feeling of independence. 


Catherine wheeled Vincent into the bathroom. She stripped off his shirt and gave him a towel. Because he was tall he could lean his head over the back of the chair and she was able to wash and condition his hair. She wrapped his head in a towel and washed his upper body with a washcloth and soap and water. She reapplied the warm wet washcloth until she got all of the soap out of his fur. She towel-dried him and ran to get a new shirt. She helped him slip into it, then she let down his hair. She combed through it and then brought out the hairdryer to dry it thoroughly. 


Vincent rolled himself out while Catherine ran to change the linens on the bed. Vincent was actually able to help her and they finished the job quickly. He rolled his chair to the side of the bed and put on the brakes. 


Catherine called Devin, who came in and supervised. Vincent did it alone, but after he was safely on the bed, he collapsed in exhaustion. 


Devin smiled as he lifted Vincent’s legs and helped get them on the bed. “Vincent, don’t get discouraged so early. You’ve only been awake a few days and you were able to do that by yourself! In a few more days, your strength will be back and you’ll be able to do all kinds of things.”


Catherine agreed. They left Vincent alone for awhile so he could take a nap. 


*************


Jenny called and talked to Catherine to get the latest update. Catherine told her everything that had happened and Jenny promised to come and visit one night.


Catherine hung up and called the number Peter left. “Hi, Susan. It’s Cathy. Congratulations! How are you?”


Susan told her all the new baby stuff that mothers like to tell and then related the horrors of labor. Catherine laughed and sympathized with her friend. She wondered if she would be the same way when she had a baby. 


Ten minutes later, Catherine finally got to the reason she called. “Susan, I’m really happy for you. Um...hey, is your Dad around, by any chance?”


Catherine waited until Peter came to the phone. “Hi, Peter,” she said.


Peter smiled. “Hi, Cathy, is anything wrong?”


Catherine giggled. “How’d you guess?”


Peter chuckled. “Well, I’ve been gone six weeks and this is the first I’ve heard from you. Is everything okay with the house?”


“Yes, Peter, the house is great. I can’t wait for you to see it. Actually, Vincent was hurt in a mudslide. He broke both femurs and his tibia. He’s in casts and resting comfortably upstairs. But we’ve had to take liberties with your medical practice. We broke in and Father used the x-ray machine and we needed an IV stand and a wheelchair.”


Peter sounded worried. “I don’t care about that. Thank God you and Vincent talked me into keeping my practice there. I never realized that Jacob could benefit from its uses as well. How long was Vincent out this time?”


Catherine smiled that Peter knew him so well. “Almost two weeks. He woke up briefly Friday night, then went right back to sleep. Yesterday he was wide awake.”


“And today he’s starting to recoup some of his independence,” he chuckled.


Catherine laughed out loud. “You know him too well, Peter.”


“Cathy, look, I’ll be home by Wednesday. I’ll swing by and check on you two and you can give me the keys to my new apartment.”


Catherine agreed and said her goodbyes.


*************


A few hours passed and Father came to check on Vincent. He said he saw no reason why Vincent couldn’t move on to solid food and he had William send up four trays.


Devin and Catherine each carried two dinner trays up the stairs. As long as Vincent could have real food, Catherine wanted to eat her dinner with him. Father followed behind. Vincent was sitting up in bed reading when they came in. 


Father gave him a brief medical examination, then they sat and ate their dinner.


Father looked over at Vincent. “Vincent, your family Below is anxious to see you, especially the children. I thought that if you were up to it tomorrow, the children could come and visit and you could perhaps read them a story.”


Vincent sat quietly for a minute. “Father, what if Devin ran and brought me my books and I held classes from now on here. I could easily handle the literature classes as well as English and history. Maybe you could take over math and science?”


There would be a constant flow of children through her home. Father looked over at Catherine for approval. “Oh, Vincent, that’s a wonderful idea!”


Father smiled at her generosity. “Very well, I’ll arrange it with Mary. She can bring the little ones in the morning for their first lesson. The middle-aged kids can come by themselves after lunch and the teenagers can come after 3:00?”


Vincent finished his meal first and Catherine offered the rest of hers. He ate it as he commented on Father’s ideas. “Father, that sounds like a good schedule. Have Mary bring the little ones a snack and we can watch a show called Sesame Street on TV. It’s a show with young children in it and they learn things from funny puppets.”


Father chuckled. “Vincent, I know what Sesame Street is.”  


Vincent looked over at Catherine with a shy smile on his face. “Catherine, do we have any of that mint chocolate chip ice cream?”


Catherine laughed at him and kissed his cheek. “Tired of popsicles?”


Vincent smiled. “No, popsicles are for the daytime, ice cream is for the nighttime.”


Catherine stacked everyone’s dishes and headed towards the door. Devin took the trays from her and walked them down the steps. She went ahead into the kitchen and took out the ice cream. “Devin, do you want some?”


Devin chuckled. “I would never turn down ice cream.”


Catherine smiled. “You and Vincent are two peas in a pod. What about Father?”


Devin laughed harder. “Who do you think the third pea is?”


Catherine shook her head and dished out three big bowls of ice cream. She set them on a tray and dug out different toppings and put them on the tray alongside a can of whipped cream and a bowl of cherries.


Devin’s mouth watered as he carried the tray upstairs. He set in on the bed closest to Vincent, and the three Wells men dug in. Catherine giggled hysterically at them fighting over toppings. They each finally sat back and enjoyed their treat. 


They were laughing like three little boys when Vincent innocently looked at Catherine. “Do you want my cherry again?”


Devin choked on his ice cream and had to leave the room; Father looked at the floor as Catherine blushed a deep crimson red.


Catherine mumbled and shook her head, “Um...you eat it, Vincent.” 


Devin came into the room and sat back down. He didn’t dare look up as he tried to finish his dessert. Vincent was confused but quietly ate his ice cream. 


He was starting to look tired, so Father got up to leave and Catherine took the dirty dishes and walked him down to the kitchen. They said goodbye and Catherine made her way back to her bedroom. 


She stopped in the hallway when she overheard Devin explaining the meaning behind giving away one’s cherry. She hesitated, then made a noise to indicate she was coming up. 


She walked in the room as Vincent looked down and blushed. Catherine ignored him and grabbed her pajamas and headed to the bathroom. Devin excused himself and was gone when Catherine came back out. 


She sat on the bed and applied hand lotion while Vincent watched her. She finished, then scooted in next to him. He put his arm around her and held her while they fell asleep.



*************** 


Catherine woke the next day and headed to work. Vincent’s day was filled with teaching the children. The children loved the break in routine and Vincent loved that they filled his days with activity.


Once again the children thrived under his teaching. Devin even started teaching some of the older ones computer classes. They quickly picked up everything he taught them. He hoped in time they could teach the younger ones the basics of operating the computers. 


Catherine came home at night and had dinner with Vincent, cleaned him up, then spent the night with him in bed reading or discussing his school work.


This went on five more weeks. It was the 10th of March when Peter came in with four men from Below to get Vincent to his x-ray machine. Father came along and he and Peter developed the pictures and marveled at Vincent’s healing abilities. They declared that his casts could come off.


Peter got out his saw and soon removed the two casts. Vincent’s legs looked healed and Father and Peter gently maneuvered them around to see his mobility. 


Vincent never flinched, so the men carried him back upstairs and laid him in his bed. Father and Peter came up with exercises and a routine that Devin could help Vincent with. 


Devin bought some free weights that he could add for resistance. Vincent did anything they asked him to do for double the repetitions they wanted. 


Catherine and he kept the same routine except that Vincent worked out three to four times a day. By night he was exhausted and usually was sound asleep in bed before Catherine came in, though he always held her in his sleep.


This new routine went on for two weeks. Vincent was finally able to stand and walk on his own and he and Devin decided to surprise Father and Catherine.


One night, Father came up to have dinner with Vincent. Catherine and he walked into the room at the same time. They saw the empty bed and looked at one another. Devin opened the door to the bathroom and Vincent shuffled out the door by himself. 


Father smiled widely as Catherine ran to his side. She hugged him fiercely and Devin secretly pushed against Vincent to steady him. When Catherine pulled away, Devin backed off. Catherine walked next to Vincent on the way to the bed. He sat down heavily and sighed as he swung his legs around.


“Vincent, you’ve made wonderful progress. Devin, keep up with the therapy and he’ll be up and down those steps in no time.”


Devin walked to Vincent’s walk-in closet and pulled out a set of three stairs that Cullen had made from wood. “He does pretty good on these. Tomorrow we might try the real ones.”


Catherine gushed and threw her arms around his neck. “Oh, Vincent, you’ll be a hit at the wedding.”


Vincent smiled. “The wedding is in three weeks. I wish I could have helped more in the preparations.”


Catherine shook her head. “I’ve been meeting with the ladies Below this whole time. Everything’s set. You concentrate on walking and getting better!”


They ate their dinner and talked about the wedding day. Father was amazed at all the preparations that had been done without the disruption of chore schedules. Devin told him a lot had been accomplished because Vincent took the kids out of their hands for so long every day.


Catherine turned to him. “See, you did help!”


Father left and Devin watched TV downstairs. 


************


Catherine and Vincent got ready for bed and Catherine, as usual, snuggled up against him. Vincent became aroused as she wiggled in close. He bent down to kiss her and she responded immediately. 


Vincent pulled away. “Catherine, I don’t think I can do anything yet.”


She shook her head. “I didn’t expect that you were up for that yet, no pun intended.”


Vincent chuckled. “I know it’s been forever, but what would you think about waiting for our wedding day?”


She sighed and moved away a little. “It would make it special, wouldn’t it?”


They snuggled close and Vincent soon fell asleep. Catherine lay there holding her stomach. Her stomach had been upset all day; suddenly she slipped from the bed and raced to the bathroom, where she vomited her whole dinner.


She washed her face and brushed her teeth and went back to bed. In another hour she ran to the bathroom again and repeated the routine.


“Ugh,” she thought. “I can’t believe I caught that stupid office flu!”


She went to sleep and slept fitfully. The next day she was weak but feeling fine. She went to work and put in an extra long day. So many people were out with the flu that everyone who was still able to work had to do as much as they could. 


Catherine was eating dinner at her desk when she suddenly ran for the bathroom. She came out and Joe caught her at the door. He looked as miserable as she did. “Go home, Cath.”


She nodded. “You, too, okay?”


They each went to their desks and packed up files, then headed to the elevator together. They stood and wondered why the door wouldn’t shut until Catherine finally pushed the first floor button. Joe leaned on the wall and Catherine struggled to stand. The elevator came to a stop and Catherine stumbled against Joe. They held onto each other as they made their way to the street.


She went home, said hello to Vincent, and took a hot bath. Devin had brought tea up and Vincent helped her get into bed.


She smiled over at Devin, then looked at a concerned Vincent. “I’m fine. The whole office is off with the flu. Joe brought me a burrito for dinner. If I don’t eat anything spicy again, I should be okay.”


Catherine drank her tea then settled down to sleep. Vincent rubbed her back and she fell into a dreamless slumber. 


************


The next day she felt fine again, so she headed to work. Catherine ate toast for breakfast and for lunch she had yogurt and a banana. She was doing wonderfully until late afternoon when someone came in with a pizza and the aromas wafted her way. Once again she ran to the bathroom and vomited her meal. She wiped her face and went back to work. Because there were even fewer workers today than yesterday, she put in four more wretched hours of work even though she vomited twice more. Like the previous day, she and Joe walked out together, miserably trying to support the other.


Catherine walked into their bedroom and Vincent was changing the sheets on the bed. He took one look at her and walked over to her immediately. He lifted his hand to her forehead as if she was a child and felt for a fever. She didn’t feel warm but she looked horrible. She was very pale, with dark circles under her eyes.


He shook his head. “Catherine, you look quite ill.”


She sighed and shrugged it off. “I’m fine. Where’s Devin?”


Vincent turned Catherine to him and helped her take off her jacket. “You’re not fine and Devin is Below helping Father. It seems they have a flu epidemic down there.”


Catherine nodded as she sat down on the bed. “Everyone in New York must have the flu. How bad is it?”


Vincent shrugged. “Last I heard there were five adults and nine children in the hospital chamber.”


Catherine gasped. “That many! Oh, Vincent, they could probably use help!”


Vincent shook his head. “Sweetheart, not from you, I want you to take a warm bath, get into bed and sleep. Are you hungry?”


Catherine waved her hand and grimaced at the thought. “Ugh...Please don’t mention food. Should I run Below and get you something?”


Vincent walked over to her and helped her take off her skirt and slip. “No, Kipper brought me a tray earlier and he left one in the kitchen to be warmed for you.”


He took her hands in his and led her in the direction of the bathroom. He gently slapped her in the butt and shooed her inside. “Get ready for bed while I finishing changing these sheets.”


She turned around with a question in her eyes. “Vincent, I just changed those sheets, why are you changing them again?”


He grimaced. “I was having a reading group today with some of the young children when Nicholas got sick in my lap. Little Thomas was sitting next to him and when the contents splattered on him he got sick also....”


Catherine slammed the door in his face and ran to the toilet. He could hear her retching and felt horrible for her. 


He turned to the bed and finished changing the sheets. He could hear her start the shower and it wasn’t long before she was out and drying herself off. Vincent knocked, then entered the bathroom with a warm nightgown. He helped her into it and guided her to the bed. Like the night before he rubbed her back until she was able to go into a deep sleep.


************


Catherine woke up the next day to see sun streaming in the windows. “Oh, no, I’m late for work!”


She got up and held onto the bed as a wave of dizziness came over her. It passed and she headed to the bathroom. She stood in front of the mirror for a minute to assess how she felt. 


She was doing okay. A little weak, but she thought she could go in for awhile. She quickly showered and dried her hair. She was starting to feel better already. She went to go and change when Vincent came in from the hallway. She stopped for a minute, stunned that she hadn’t wondered where he had been. 


Vincent carried in for her a tray with a bagel and cream cheese, fruit and coffee. He looked over at her critically, then nodded. “You look better.”


Catherine took one of the grapes off her plate and popped it into her mouth. “I feel better, thanks. Did you go downstairs and come up all by yourself?”


Vincent smiled. “Well, I’m not ready to be timed yet, but I managed it stopping once on the second floor.”


Catherine hugged him tightly. “Your strength is returning quicker than I expected. What are you going to do today?” 


Vincent looked at her. “Well, you look like you’re dressed for work, so if you’re going into the office, I think I will go Below to see if I can help in the hospital chamber.”


Catherine sat on the bed and ate her fruit, then half of her bagel. “Good idea; you won’t tire yourself out, will you?”


He shook his head as he took her other half a bagel. “Father wouldn’t allow me to, and if I need to, I can always stay in my old chamber for an hour or so...no, I won’t tire myself out.”


Catherine nodded then kissed him goodbye. “Okay, I’ll see you tonight. I love you.”


Vincent called out his love to her back as she left, then went to get dressed to head Below.


************


To Vincent, this was the worst case of the flu epidemic he had ever seen. Six more adults and eight more children had come down with the virus overnight. The hospital chamber was filled, so Father started moving people around. The babies and toddlers who were sick all went to one chamber. The men and boys went to the boy’s dormitory chamber, and the women and girls went to the girl’s dormitory chamber. Every time another person got sick, they were sent to the proper chamber.


Father knew that everyone at this point had been exposed. He sent families back to their chambers and told them to call for help if needed. Every available adult was sent to do laundry duty or kitchen duty. William was making soup in huge pots for people who were finally able to keep something down.


The laundry room was packed with linen and clothing that had been soiled throughout the night. The new washing equipment came just at the right time. They would have never been able to keep up on linens with the old system.


Vincent spent almost all day emptying buckets and putting cool washcloths on foreheads. As usual, he seemed immune to the effects of the flu. His strength held out for most of the day and when he grew tired he sat in a chair in the hospital and read loudly so all could hear him. 


His voice had the desired effect and most of the children as well as several adults finally fell asleep. Father was standing up and stretching out a kink in his back when he suddenly lunged for a bucket. When he was finished, Vincent guided him to his chamber and put him to bed. Father fussed and Vincent covered him with a warm blanket and extracted a promise from him to stay in bed.


Once Father became ill, Vincent knew he would have to stay Below and help as much as he could. The hospital chamber was reserved for the worst cases. Luckily, Devin and Mary still seemed okay, and between the three of them, they hoped they could make it through the long night ahead.


Olivia and Lana were taking care of the nursery, Brooke and Jamie were taking care of the women and girls, and Greg and Kanin were taking care of the men and boys. Several people floated wherever they were needed.  


Catherine came Below after work and talked with Sara and Kim about the flu epidemic. They were folding sheets and changing loads as they told her about all of the people who had come down with the sickness. She shook her head in sympathy. She told them it was just as bad up Above.  She helped them fold sheets and promised Sara she would stay and help Kim so Sara could deliver the fresh linen. Sara left, and Catherine and Kim caught up on the latest news. Kim listed all of the people who were ill and Catherine wondered how to help. Kim sighed and told her all they could do is let it run its course.


They were folding another batch of sheets when Sara came back. She told Catherine that Father was sick and that Vincent had sent word that he would be staying Below. Catherine nodded and helped them change loads of laundry. The linen was finally done and Catherine promised to run down and change loads to get the rest completed tonight. She told the ladies to go and rest for tomorrow. They thanked her and left and Catherine headed to her kitchen.


She dug out the contents for a salad and soon had her dinner made. She took it into the living room and turned on the TV. She ate her salad and watched the news. It was followed by a favorite game show and Catherine guessed along with the contestants. When the show went off, Catherine took her bowl to the kitchen and washed it in the sink. She headed Below and switched loads of clothes then folded the ones that were dried.


She sat at her kitchen table and went through some work she had brought home. She worked for an hour and a half, then headed Below to switch another load of clothes. She chuckled when she thought of what the flood combined with the flu epidemic was going to do to her water bill. She decided to pay the first one so that Father wouldn’t decide that it was a big mistake.


Catherine looked up and saw a familiar figure heading towards her. She smiled at Vincent as he came into the room. He placed a huge load of laundry on the floor and turned to kiss her. 


“Hello, Catherine. Are you better?”


She nodded. “I’m okay; how is everything going?”


He shrugged. “As well as can be expected; you’ve given me hope maybe it won’t be a long recovery.”


She sighed as she finished folding the last of the clothes. Vincent helped her sort through them to get them to go to the correct chambers. They put them in baskets then onto the cart for transport.


Catherine came up and put her arms around him. “So, Sara said you’re staying Below tonight?”


He shook his head. “Things seem to have quieted down for now. I’ll probably take another look around and then check on Father then come home.”


Catherine looked up at him in concern. “Is Father in bad shape?”


Vincent chuckled. “Like everyone else, but he insists on fighting to try to prove otherwise.”


He kissed her nose, then pushed the cart to deliver the clean clothes. Catherine headed upstairs once again and decided to watch TV until Vincent came back. An hour later she headed back down and for the last time switched loads of clothes. She had the last loads in the washers. She would stay up another hour to put them in the dryers, then fold them in the morning before work.


She accomplished that, then stopped in the kitchen, grabbed a handful of pretzels and went back to the TV show she was watching. Vincent came in and sat down next to her. They watched a medical drama and he was fascinated by the terminology they used. 


He told Catherine they would have to invite Father to watch it with them one night. Catherine agreed, then leaned against Vincent and soon fell asleep. 


Vincent shook her gently awake. “Catherine, I can’t carry you up the steps yet, you need to get up and go to bed.”


Catherine yawned and opened her eyes. “Okay, are you coming, too?”


He nodded, then followed her up to the bedroom. They quickly changed and were both soon fast asleep. 


************


Catherine and Vincent both woke very early the next day. Catherine changed for work and Vincent headed Below, telling her he would handle the laundry on his way past the machines. 


Catherine went to work and was not surprised that no one was there yet. She made coffee and Joe ambled in a half an hour later. He had a box of doughnuts and set them by the coffee machine. 


He poured himself a cup of coffee then came over to her. “Looks like me and you are the only poor saps that didn’t get that damned flu. Thank God the crooks seem to have gotten it too or we’d be in real trouble.”


Catherine chuckled then went to peek at the doughnuts he brought in. She chose one and grabbed a napkin, then headed back to her desk. “I don’t know, Joe, we both looked like death a day or two ago. Maybe we’re just healthier than the other ones.”


Joe pointed to her hand. “That’s hardly a piece of fruit you got there, Chandler. It’s not quite on the same scale as chocolate cheese doodles, but it’s close.”


Catherine looked up at him and tried to hide a smile. “This one has fruit filling….”


“Ha! Not the same thing, Cathy.” Joe walked away and went to his office.


Within an hour, Catherine had vomited her doughnut. She shrugged it off to too much grease and continued to work. She had a bag of pretzels around 1:30 and held them down fine. She was fine until it was time to go home. 


She was trying to catch a taxi when a nearby restaurant’s smells floated her way and her stomach jumped. She ran to a garbage can and gagged. With a sigh, she caught a cab and headed home.


************


Peter came Below to help Vincent with his patients. It took a few days but everyone seemed to be on the mend. Most people were onto soft food and some were back to normal. Father continued to fuss, but Peter demanded he stay in bed one more day.


Peter and Vincent headed towards their home and Peter turned to Vincent. “I meant to tell you both how much I love what you’ve done to the place. Sharon always wanted a bathroom upstairs; I don’t know why we never did it.”


Vincent smiled. “Well, when Catherine puts her mind to something, it usually gets done. I try not to stand in her way.”


Peter laughed and clapped him on the back. “Son, that attitude will keep you married for a long time.”


Vincent and he entered the kitchen. Catherine was just heading upstairs when they entered. She waited until they came into the living room and looked over at her. When she saw Peter was with him, she whipped around and hopped down the stairs. She took a few steps and the color drained from her face as her vision blurred. She stopped and Vincent lunged for her as she crumpled into his arms. 


Peter ran to his side. “Vincent, can you carry her to the couch?”


Vincent had already swung her into his arms and he walked over and placed her on the couch. 


Peter shoved a pillow under her feet and patted her face gently. “Catherine, honey...wake up! Cathy!”


Catherine’s eyes fluttered. She opened them and looked surprised to see herself on the couch. She furrowed her brow in confusion. “How did I get here?”


Peter looked at the color returning to her face. “Vincent carried you. Cathy, are you okay?” 


She nodded weakly. “I think so...did I pass out?”


Peter looked at her grimly. “Yes, you did. Have you been eating?”


She shrugged. “Off and on.”


Vincent knelt down next to her and worriedly looked at Peter. “She was sick two nights in a row. We thought it was the flu....”


Peter looked at Catherine. “Is that the only time you’ve gotten sick?”


She looked down guiltily. Peter looked at her sternly. “Catherine Chandler! I want the truth from you!”


She sighed. “No, I’ve gotten sick a few times at work. Joe gave me a burrito one night and this morning I had a greasy doughnut. But I’ve kept other meals down just fine. I think I’m just tired.”


Peter narrowed his eyes and looked at her. She did look like all the other flu patients and she did look tired. “Okay, Vincent, I want her in bed early tonight. No excuses! Get a good night’s rest! Are you taking your vitamins?”


Catherine nodded, so Peter continued, “Okay, good girl, you eat something, okay? No more skipping meals.”


Peter went out through his office and Vincent helped Catherine upstairs. He got her settled into bed and came back to the kitchen and warmed her up some soup. 


He took it to her and she sat in bed and ate almost all of it. He took the tray away and Catherine yawned and fell back on her pillows. Vincent climbed in next to her and read to her until she fell asleep. 


Vincent sat back and wondered if they would ever get married. The wedding was in two weeks and first he got hurt and now Catherine and the world Below was sick. Everything was conspiring against them. He sighed and cuddled up next to Catherine. It wouldn’t do any good to worry about it.


************


Catherine got up the next morning and vomited again. Since it was Friday, she called off. The receptionist told her Joe had called off already, too. Catherine chuckled as she hung up the phone. 


Vincent came out of the bathroom. “It there something about the flu that amuses you, honey?”


Catherine smiled. “No, Joe’s home sick, too. He was just telling me how we both escaped being sick.”


He looked at her, came over and pushed her back into the bed. As he covered her up, he reprimanded her. “You are resting today or I’m calling Peter.”


She nodded weakly as she closed her eyes. “Okay, boss.”


Catherine slept away most of the day. She was sick twice more and went straight back to bed each time. Vincent came in to check on her around 5:30 at night. 


She smiled to him through the dim light in the room. “I’m up, Vincent. You can come in.”


He opened the door widely and walked to the bed. “How are you feeling?”


She thought for a minute. “My ribs are sore, but I’m okay. I want to take a shower, I feel disgusting.”


Vincent shook his head. “No, you’re not strong enough yet. I’ll run you a bath if you want?”


She shook her head vigorously, then moaned, “You’re probably right. Bath it is.”


Vincent left and started the bath and Catherine came in and disrobed. He helped her settle down and she sighed as the water closed around her. 


He got out towels and then headed for a fresh nightgown. He set all of it on the countertop. “Catherine, would you like to try some soup?”


She shook her head. “No...Wait, yes! If I don’t eat, you’ll never let me out of this bed.”


Vincent frowned but headed for the kitchen. He warmed up some soup then headed back to the bedroom. He knew the water had to be getting cold so he went in and helped Catherine get out of the tub. 


He frowned when he lifted her. He still wasn’t up to full strength but she felt a good ten pounds lighter. He wondered if she had gotten sick more than she admitted to. If she didn’t eat better meals this weekend, he would insist Peter examine her. 


He knew that the wedding was in two weeks and the stress of the last-minute preparations would be enough to send her over the edge even more. Catherine allowed Vincent to towel her dry and help her get dressed. She leaned against him, suddenly weak. He picked her up and carried her to bed. 


She almost refused to eat but the aroma enticed her to try a few spoonfuls. It was good and she was surprised when she ate the whole bowl.


Catherine pushed the bowl to the side and picked up a book, intending to read for awhile. Vincent took her tray from her. “Catherine, I’m going to run these trays back to the kitchen and chat with Father for awhile. Will you be okay?”


She nodded and continued reading. “I’m fine, sweetheart. I’m not going anywhere.”


Vincent left and headed Below.


************ 


He dropped off the dirty trays and talked briefly with William. Luckily William had never gotten sick and he assured Vincent everything was coming along nicely for the wedding.


Vincent checked in with Mary and Sara in the nursery. They, too, reported that things were rolling along. Amazingly, the flu epidemic hadn’t really affected anything.


Vincent walked into the library. He was surprised to see Peter there. Peter had just checked on the last of the patients and he and Father were visiting. 


Peter turned to Vincent. “So, how’s our little patient. Is everything okay?”


Father looked worried, wondering if Vincent had gotten sick, but Vincent shook his head. “Not me, Father. Catherine. And yes, Peter, she’s doing better. I think.”


Peter looked confused. “You think? Either she’s doing better or she’s not.”


Father looked directly at his son. “Vincent, tell us.”


Vincent sighed. “Tonight she wanted to take a bath. When she was done I reached in to help her get out....” He blushed and stopped.


Father grunted. “And....”


For Catherine’s sake he went on. “She felt lighter. Much lighter.”


Father waved his hand. “Vincent, she was bound to lose a few pounds with that last flu, it was certainly a bad one....”


Vincent interrupted him. “No, Father, it was more than a few pounds.”


Peter and Father leaned forward together. “Son, how much do you think she lost?” Peter asked.


Vincent shrugged. “At least ten, maybe twelve.”


Peter gasped and Father continued on. “Vincent, are you sure? Ten to twelve pounds for someone of Catherine’s size is a significant amount of weight.”


Vincent nodded. “Father, I still don’t have all of my strength back. I actually expected to struggle a little, and when I had no problems lifting her I knew she had lost weight.”


Peter nodded. “I agree, now that you mention it when I examined her, I never thought about how skinny she was. When she woke up and her color returned, I didn’t think about it until just now.”


Father’s eyes flew between the two men. “What do you mean, woke up?”


Vincent sighed. “I forgot to tell you, Catherine fainted yesterday. Luckily, Peter was there and she woke up quickly.”


Father looked over at Peter. Both were wondering the same thing. Peter looked at Vincent and spoke, but Vincent had shot up straight in his seat and was oblivious to them in the room with him. He was looking off into the air, curiously staring at nothing. 


Father spoke to Vincent. “Is it Catherine? Does she need you?”


Vincent looked at him distractedly, then down at his hands. “No...I...don’t know what it was...I...just felt....”


Vincent shook his head to clear his thoughts. “Never mind. I’m sorry, what did you say, Peter?”


Peter smiled. “I said if Catherine isn’t better in a few days, I want to take some blood. We don’t need her sick for the wedding.”


Vincent and Father agreed and Vincent left to go home. Peter looked at Father and they both nodded. “I’ll get the blood work done either way.”


**********


Vincent climbed in bed and took the book from a sleeping Catherine. He covered her up as she snuggled into the covers. He held her and suddenly the feeling came over him again. He looked around the room and searched for...something. With a shrug, he put his head down on her shoulder and fell asleep.


Catherine woke the next day feeling better. She ate oatmeal and fruit and got dressed. She and Vincent walked Below and visited with Father. They talked and laughed while Father discreetly examined her from afar. She had lost weight and the dark circles under her eyes were evident but faint. She very well could be getting over the flu. He decided to leave it up to Peter to get her blood work done.


Catherine and Vincent visited with the rest of the community at lunch. Everyone who had a responsibility promised that things were going along without a hitch. The wedding plans were well taken care of.


The couple headed home and Catherine called Jenny and talked to her for over an hour. She and Vincent sat and watched a movie and Vincent ran to the dining chamber and brought up their dinners.


They ate together and Vincent kept a close eye on what she ate. He was pleased that she had finished almost everything on her plate. They headed to bed for an early night.


Vincent was getting ready for bed and the strange feeling washed over him again. Catherine looked over at him with concern. “Vincent, what is it?”


He shrugged and continued to change. “I don’t know, Catherine. I keep getting this strange feeling….”


Catherine looked at him, confused. “What do you mean? Are you getting sick?”


Vincent shook his head. “No...I...it’s hard to describe.”


Vincent climbed into bed and Catherine and he read to one another. They soon fell asleep.


************


Catherine was fine and everything was back to normal. They worked through the whole week and spent the last weekend before the wedding Below. They had a massive meeting with everyone involved and went step by step over the whole ceremony. 


They were satisfied with everything and Jenny and Catherine headed up to their house. They were talking about their dresses and Jenny turned to Catherine and laughed. 


“I was never so happy in my whole life when I got my period last week. I was dreading the thought of wearing my dress and having that to deal with; how about you?”


Catherine chuckled, then got serious. She tried to remember the last time she had a period. She went month by month backward and looked at Jenny excitedly. “Oh, God! Jenny! I haven’t had my period since the end of December!”


Jenny’s jaw dropped open. “Cathy, are you sure? Are you really, 100% positively, absolutely sure?” 


Catherine had tears in her eyes when she looked at Jenny and nodded. “Yeah, Jen, and I know what night it happened. It was Vincent’s birthday!”


Jenny thought quickly. “Well, how can we find out for sure? Let’s run a block over and get a pregnancy test from that convenience store and come home and take it...no wait...you should do that with Vincent, not me...I mean take the test, not go to the store...I mean...Damn!”


Catherine started to laugh. “I know what you mean, Jen.” The friends started jumping around and hugging one another when Vincent and Peter walked in. They looked at one another then ran to Peter.


Catherine and Jenny each grabbed one of his arms and started dragging him to his office as an amused Vincent followed behind. They were both talking so fast Peter couldn’t understand them.


Finally he dug his feet in. “Okay, that’s it!” he shouted. Both women immediately shut up and Catherine came to her senses first. She walked over and took Vincent’s hand in hers and looked into his eyes with a smile on her face. She addressed Peter but looked at Vincent.


“I’m sorry, Peter. Jenny and I were just talking and I realized I haven’t had my period since December. We got kind of excited and....” Catherine stopped when what she said registered on Vincent’s face. 


He grabbed her to him and held her tightly and they cried tears of joy together. Peter came over and gently pried them apart. “Come on, you two, there’s one way to find out for sure.”


Devin walked in at that precise moment. “Find out what?” 


Catherine looked over at Devin. “I may be pregnant. Peter’s going to do a test.”


Devin jumped up in the air. “Woo Hoo!  I’m going to be an uncle! Wait till Dad finds out Vin, he’s gonna bust!”


Catherine looked at Peter. “Can you wait until Father gets here to do the test?”


Peter nodded and Devin ran Below to send word to Father. Father left immediately, thinking he may already know what he was being summoned about.


Father walked over and he and Peter began the test. Peter collected the blood and Father put a bandage on Catherine’s arm. Peter also handed her a cup and sent her to the bathroom. 


Catherine left alone and the others sat and waited. Peter turned to Vincent. “Vincent, this is an awful lot to get excited about, I don’t want you to be disappointed....”


Father nodded and continued, “Missed periods often happen with the onset of stress and weight loss, something Catherine has experienced a lot of lately.” 


Vincent shook his head. “Medicine will only confirm what I already know. Catherine is carrying my child. That’s the strange feeling I’ve been having. It’s my son reaching out to me.”


Devin laughed. “Oh, so now you know she’s pregnant and she’s having a boy!”


Vincent shrugged. “I can only tell you what I know. Catherine is pregnant and the child is a boy.”


Catherine walked in as he finished talking; with a smile she walked into his arms. “I believe you, honey, but next time you better give me a girl.”


Father and Peter went to retrieve the urine sample, then conducted the test together. They looked at each other excitedly as the results became evident. They tried to put on their best poker faces but neither succeeded as they came into the room. 


One look at them told the four people what they needed to know. Vincent gathered Catherine in his arms and kissed her thoroughly as Jenny leapt into Devin’s arms. He held her tightly and discreetly kissed her as they spun in a circle. 


Father and Peter pounded each other on the back like they had something to do with it and then everyone finally descended on the couple to offer their congratulations. 


Catherine thanked them for their well wishes by vomiting in the closest garbage pail. Vincent held her hair as she relieved herself of her dinner. He grimaced to think he was the cause of her sickness.


Devin noticed his guilt and laughed. “Vincent, if you feel bad about her vomiting because of something you did, you’ll never make it through her labor.” 


Catherine smiled weakly as she leaned against Vincent. Peter and Father both looked at her. Father spoke first. “Cathy, you said your last period was at the end of December, so that would put you at three months already. How long have you been sick?”


Catherine thought. “Just this past week when everyone else had the flu.”


Peter shook his head. “Cathy, you probably didn’t have the flu, it was most likely morning sickness.”


Catherine nodded and Father held her hand. “Have you felt any type of movement like a small flutter or a tickle?”


Catherine thought, then shook her head, but Vincent nodded. “I have, the other night when I was with both of you and several times since then.”


Vincent put his arms around Catherine’s waist and settled them close as she gasped. “Father, I felt something! I really felt something! The second Vincent’s arms came around me....”


Peter laughed. “Catherine, as long as we’re here, how would you like an ultrasound?”


Catherine turned to Vincent and he nodded. Peter left to set it up and Devin and Jenny tried to leave so the couple could be alone. 


“No, please stay!” Catherine pleaded. “You two have been through everything with us, please be a part of this!”


Devin and Jenny both looked at Vincent for confirmation and he smiled, then nodded again. Peter wheeled the machine into the room and Catherine climbed up on the table. Father dimmed the lights and everyone moved in close to see the screen. 


Vincent held Catherine’s hand as Peter brought the wand close to her. He rubbed it around her abdomen until he found what he was looking for. Father gasped at the beautiful sight and Catherine and Jenny cried out. Vincent and Devin looked at one another in confusion.


Peter caught their exchange. “Vincent, Devin, see right here...here is the head and here’s the body and arms and....”


Devin interrupted. “What is that pulsing spot?” he asked as he pointed to the screen.


Father looked up at his son and smiled. “That’s the baby’s heart beating.”


Devin stepped back in awe. He reached for Jenny’s hand and squeezed it. She smiled at him and looked back at the screen.


Peter sent a look to Father. Father nodded then turned to Vincent. “Vincent, touch Catherine’s belly for a second.”


Vincent looked at him with a question in his eyes but did as he was told. He reached out his hand and spread it on her abdomen. The baby floated towards his hand and everyone gasped. Hidden behind the first baby was another heartbeat. Peter maneuvered the wand around and managed to get better pictures. This baby looked just as healthy as the first one.


Catherine’s eyes filled with tears as she looked at the screen and then at Vincent. “Thank you so much, Vincent. Thank you for giving me our babies.”


Vincent bent over and buried his face in her shoulder as he, too, began to cry. Jenny and Devin discreetly left and Father and Peter packed up the equipment. Peter left a towel for Catherine to clean with and the two new grandfathers left the room.


The four headed to the living room to wait for the couple to come out. Ten minutes later, Vincent and Catherine came out, eyes red and swollen from crying. They came and sat on the couch next to everyone and Catherine cuddled under Vincent’s arm.


Peter and Father instantly became doctors. They flooded Catherine with nutrition information and Vincent and she listened intently. Peter had weighed her before her test and informed her that Vincent was correct about Catherine’s weight loss, although she had actually lost thirteen pounds. 


Catherine gasped and Father warned that with two babies to feed she would have to double to triple her intake of calories. The two babies had already drained Catherine of pounds she could ill afford to lose. She must keep up her strength for the babies.


They promised to come up with a nutritional diet for her to follow. Vincent and Catherine asked that no one be told about the pregnancy. They would announce it at the wedding next week. Catherine yawned and embarrassedly looked down at her feet.


Devin took it as a hint and Jenny jumped up at the same time. Devin offered to show Jenny home and they left. Peter issued a prescription for prenatal vitamins, then left, and Father headed Below as well.


Catherine basked in the glow of Vincent’s love as he held her close. “Vincent, I think I’m still in shock. I don’t even know what to say. I’m just so thankful and happy and....”


He nodded and smiled. “And excited and scared and...and Catherine, I love you, so much so, it is almost painful right now.”


She looked at him with all the love in the world shining in her eyes. “I know, Vincent. I love you, too.”


Vincent kissed her forehead. “You need your sleep, let’s go up to bed.”


He rose and reached a hand out to her to help her up. She stood and when he took his first step he stumbled slightly. She grabbed his arm to steady him. “Vincent, are you okay?”


He nodded and moved his leg around, testing its strength. “I think I overdid it today. I just need to rest it.”


She shook her head. “It doesn’t help that you keep carrying me around all the time. Come on, let’s help each other up the steps.”


They walked over and began the long trek up. By the time he walked the flights of steps, Vincent’s leg had a definite ache to it.  He rubbed it absently as he watched Catherine get ready for bed. She noticed him rubbing it and went into the bathroom, grabbed a container of medicated rub and came and sat next to him. She put some on his leg and massaged it in as he laid back and moaned. The heat soon had his muscles relaxed and she went to wash her hands. 


She came back and slid in bed next to him. He quickly drew her to his side. “Thank you, Catherine. It feels better already.”


She leaned her head back and kissed him. “You’re welcome, and I want you to try to take it easy this week. The wedding is going to be a long day for you....”


He kissed her back and interrupted her. “For both of us, love. Come, let’s try to get some sleep.”


They snuggled down and Vincent held her protectively around the abdomen. As soon as his arms came around her, one of the babies would move. They smiled as the bonding with their children grew.


***********


The week flew by. Catherine was sick a few more times, mostly in the morning and mostly at work. Joe looked at her quizzically a few times, but said nothing. Catherine plugged along and when Friday came, she went to leave work early when Joe called her into his office. She looked at him quizzically as she walked in, wondering what he wanted to say.


Joe motioned for her to take a seat. “Cathy, I’m going to do something and I’m not sure you’re going to be happy about it, nevertheless I’m doing it and I want you to know ahead of time.”


Catherine looked at him with dread; she was worried he was going to ask her to work this weekend. “Joe, I can’t work this weekend....”


He raised his hand to stop her. “No, that’s not it.”


He sat on the corner of his desk and looked at her. With a sigh, he continued, “I’m moving you out of field investigations to the trial division of the department.”


Catherine was stunned and wanted to argue, but instead sat back and rethought her future. This idea was actually something that had briefly crossed her mind after she and Vincent started sleeping together. She hoped to one day have his baby and knew she couldn’t continue in her line of work. 


Joe noticed her silence and saw she was thinking about the option. “Look, Chandler, you told me you were getting married and I assumed your fiancé couldn’t have been thrilled about the dangerousness of your current job. And now....”


Catherine looked at him and nodded and he continued. He looked directly at her with narrowed eyes. “And now...well...it’s none of my business...but I....”


Joe blushed and Catherine prompted him, “You what, Joe?”


Joe shrugged. “Look, Cathy, I got a sister that has three kids...I’ve seen all the signs before.”


Catherine looked at him suspiciously, then it dawned on her that he suspected she was pregnant. “Joe, I can’t believe you!”


Joe held up his hands in defense. “Hey, I only put two and two together. If I’m wrong, I’m sorry but....”


Catherine interrupted him. “No, Joe, that’s not it...I mean, I only found out for sure myself just recently. How did you....”


Joe shrugged. “Like I said, my sister’s had three kids. I’ve seen it all. When your flu bug wasn’t like anyone else’s and you only got sick at certain times of the day or when someone brought in some obnoxious smelling food....”


Catherine grinned. “You make a good detective, Joe. I didn’t even realize, I mean, once I took the time to calculate, then I knew but....”


Joe nodded his head. “So, how far along?”


Catherine smiled. “Three months.”


Joe’s jaw dropped and then he went on a tirade, arms waving wildly as he paced the room. “Three months! Are you crazy? You need to take better care of yourself. No more burritos for dinner. In fact, no more dinners here, you get your butt home and eat a decent meal with your fiancé. You should have gained weight by now and you’ve lost what...like ten pounds. Man, Chandler, I don’t know what you could have been thinking...no more investigations for you starting Monday. Your butt’s in the office, don’t even think of objecting.”


Catherine giggled as Joe finally lost steam. She rose up from her seat and walked over to him. “Joe, you’re a good friend. Thanks for caring.” 


She kissed his cheek and gave him a hug. His arms came tentatively around her. He returned her hug and then she slowly backed away. 


He walked away and headed behind his desk. “So, are you trying to head out of here early? The big day must be tomorrow, huh?”


Catherine blushed and looked anxiously at the floor. Joe saw and reassured her. “Hey, Cathy, it’s really no big deal. I understand, I really do. I was shocked when no one in the office even knew about it. No wonder you’re my top investigator, these dunderheads couldn’t figure anything out. Hey, if you want to take off some time next week, just leave a message on my machine, okay?”


Catherine nodded, then smiled and left for the day.


************


She stopped off at home and headed Below. Sara was doing laundry and Catherine helped her fold clothes. They chatted about last-minute details and Catherine headed to see Father.


She walked into the library and Peter was sitting there. Father was holding a baby in his arms. Vincent got up and came over to lead her towards a woman who had her back turned towards the door. 


“Look who’s here for the wedding....” Vincent said as he walked her in front of the woman.


“Susan!” Catherine exclaimed as the woman stood and hugged her warmly.


“Hi, Cathy. You look great! Congratulations on your wedding. I bet you’ll make a beautiful bride.”


Catherine gushed. “Oh, Susan...I can’t believe you were able to make it. I can’t believe you traveled with this precious little bundle!”


She walked over and Father readily handed her to Catherine. Catherine marveled at the precious little girl she held. Her eyes welled up with tears and she looked over at Vincent. He smiled and nodded. He knew she couldn’t wait for their children to come and neither could he. “Susan, little Sharon is so beautiful!”


Susan smiled and Peter gushed, “She looks just like Susan did as a little girl.”


Father chuckled at him and shook his head. “Another generation, Peter. Where has time gone?”


Susan sighed as Sharon began to fuss. “Cathy, we can visit tomorrow. I’m afraid I need to get checked into a hotel before it gets too late.”


Catherine gasped. “A hotel? You can’t stay in a hotel! Why don’t you stay with us? We have plenty of room. You can have your old room back and we can borrow a crib from the nursery....”


Susan laughed. “Okay, okay...if you’re sure?”


Vincent chuckled. “We’re sure. We would be honored to have you stay with us. I’ll go get a crib and bring it home.”


Vincent left and Susan took the baby. Peter grabbed her diaper bag and Catherine led them to her house. Susan loved the changes that had been made to the house and commented on how great the house looked. 


She giggled when she saw her old room. “I didn’t remember having walls; they were always covered with posters and ribbons.”


Vincent came in behind them with a crib and some sheets for the baby to use. Susan handed him the baby while she and Catherine made up the crib.


Catherine turned around to see Vincent staring longingly at the little girl. She watched as the little hand surrounded by pink clothing grasped Vincent’s clawed finger and wrapped around it. He was mesmerized as she looked up at him and cooed. 


Catherine came and stood next to him and smiled into his eyes. Vincent’s eyes grew wide as the baby’s face wrinkled up and he felt her filling her diaper. It wasn’t long before she started to cry so Susan changed her and put her to sleep in her crib.


She turned to her two friends. “You two will make wonderful parents someday. I don’t know of another couple who are more deserving of being parents than you.”


Catherine hugged her. “Thanks, Susan. We should let you rest.”


Susan nodded and Catherine and Vincent left her room.


They headed up to their bedroom and Vincent looked over at her and smiled shyly. “Catherine, tomorrow night we will come up here as man and wife.”


Catherine walked into his outstretched arms. “Vincent, I can’t wait to be your wife, to belong to you fully in every sense of the word. I can’t wait to present you with your child and to hold a part of both of us in my hands.”


Vincent kissed her deeply and they broke apart panting heavily. “Catherine, I don’t know if I can wait one more day….”


She giggled at his anguish. “We waited two and a half years, we can certainly wait...” she looked down at her watch, “27 or 28 more hours.”


Vincent shook his head. “Perhaps I should sleep in my chamber tonight. Besides, I’m not supposed to see you in the morning, right?”


Catherine cocked her head to the side, contemplating missing his presence in her bed. “That’s a superstition I don’t believe in. A year ago we said we knew we could endure anything and we will. C’mon, let’s go to sleep.”


Catherine turned from him and got herself ready for bed. She glanced at him as he stood uncertainly in the room. With a sigh, he also got ready and slipped in next to her. 


They fell asleep but were woken three hours later by a baby crying. It didn’t last long and they soon went back to sleep. Four hours later the baby cried and woke them up again. 


Catherine giggled as Vincent sighed. She pretended to punch him in the arm. “Someone better get used to be woken up all night. It won’t be long before our babies will be here and it will be us doing these nighttime feedings.”


Vincent put his arms around her and pulled her to him. “Our babies will be angels who sleep through the night.”


Catherine gave a very unladylike snort. “Vincent, honey, wake up, you’re dreaming.”


He chuckled and tightened his arms about her. They soon fell back asleep.


***********


It was the day of his wedding! Vincent woke up and headed Below. Despite what Catherine said, he still wanted to try to keep the tradition. 


He walked into the library and found Father and Devin having breakfast. They waved him in and pushed a tray of food towards him after he sat.


Vincent became puzzled and looked towards them for an explanation. “How did you know I would be here to eat this morning?”


Father and Devin looked at one another as if they shared an inside joke. Devin looked at his brother with a twinkle in his eye. “I would guess that Sharon woke up off and on all night and cried for attention....”


Vincent nodded so Devin continued on, “That woke you and Catherine up. Catherine, being pregnant and all, is probably still sleeping. You, on the other hand, are too excited to sleep and came down here to find some sympathy and because of tradition; you didn’t want to see your bride before the ceremony.”


Vincent blushed that he was so easy to predict. He shrugged and started to eat his meal as the two men chuckled at him.


Father worriedly asked Vincent about Catherine’s health. “Vincent, how has Catherine been feeling? Has she continued being sick?”


Vincent nodded. “Yes, but she said only a few times. She has tried to stick to the diet you and Peter recommended. She’s having a hard time with the portion sizes; I think they’re overwhelming to her.”


Father grimaced. “I thought she might. After this weekend has passed, I will put her on smaller and more frequent meals. This will help combat having to eat so much at one sitting, but she will definitely have to promise not to skip any meals.”


Vincent pushed his tray away as he nodded. “Father, Catherine was concerned about her weight loss as well. She hadn’t realized she lost so much. Her appetite was gone from what she thought was the flu and that combined with the babies taking so much nutrition from her....”


Father nodded. “Yes, yes, that is why Peter and I had hoped to be able to know immediately when Catherine became pregnant. We wanted to monitor her weight and nutrition from the beginning, now we will have to be particularly cautious about Catherine’s diet. One baby is a lot for a woman to have to nourish and Catherine has two. That, combined with the fact that your fiancée is one of the busiest people I know and often forgets to eat....”


Devin chuckled. “So, in other words, you and Catherine need to become like an old married couple. You need to stay home at night and eat good meals and rest on the couch and watch TV. No more gallivanting around on dangerous missions to rid the world of criminals.”


Father gasped. “Is Catherine going to continue to work?” 


Vincent shrugged. “Father, we only just found out. Catherine and I haven’t had a chance to discuss what she is planning on doing about work yet.”


Father shook his head. “Well, that must be done immediately. Catherine cannot be chasing criminals into buildings at 2:00 in the morning anymore. She must rest and take care of herself.”


Devin laughed again. “Good luck with that conversation.”


Vincent grimaced. He hoped Catherine would see the logic behind the argument, but he would never discourage her from doing what she wanted to do. 


Cullen, Kanin, Mouse and Greg came into the library. They announced they were heading to the Great Hall to help the women with the decorating. Devin and Vincent quickly got up and followed them out.


************


The men walked into the Great Hall and were met by Sara, Mary, Rebecca, Jamie and Greg’s wife, Karen. The rest of the morning was spent putting the finishing touches on the Hall. The decorations transformed the barren hall to a beautiful tropical-like paradise. Catherine had ordered hundreds of flowers to be placed around the room and an archway to serve as the altar.


The archway was ivy-covered, with red and white roses intertwined throughout its greenery. There were candle holders discreetly hidden so that the archway could be lighted with votives safely nestled in decorative etched glass cups.


Each table also held a full bouquet of red and white roses.  There were also boutonnières for Vincent, Devin, Father, Peter and Luke, the ring bearer, to wear, as well as a wrist corsage for Jenny, Mary and little Cathy, the flower girl. Catherine’s bouquet was simple but elegant. 


The group worked well and the decorations were completed with plenty of time to spare. Everyone decided to grab a quick snack. The ceremony would begin in three hours. 


The Hall was closed up until the first group of people would be lead down in about two and a half hours.


The workers all converged in the dining chamber and snacked on the pre-made sandwiches William had put out. Vincent looked at the food and grimaced. His nerves were starting to get the better of him and his stomach was too upset to think about food right now. Devin ran to tell Catherine that everything was in order in the Great Hall.


************


Devin walked into their house and straight up to the bedroom. He knocked and Jenny let him into the room. He looked for Catherine and didn’t see her, then looked at Jenny with a question in his eyes. Just then he heard retching from the bathroom and grimaced. 


Jenny nodded and walked over to him. “That’s the third time this morning. Poor thing, I can’t tell if its nerves or if those babies are doing a number on her.”


Susan knocked on the door and came into the room. “Good morning, how’s everything going?”


Devin and Jenny looked at one another and Catherine came out of the bathroom looking pale and sick. Susan ran to her side. “Oh, Cathy! Don’t tell me you caught the flu for your wedding day!”


Catherine weakly smiled. “Okay, I won’t tell you.” She sighed and looked at her friend. “Besides, it’s not the flu...it’s morning sickness. Susan, I’m three months pregnant.”


Susan looked at her sympathetically. “I’m so happy for you. This is a horrible day for the baby to wreak havoc with your stomach, though. Come, lie down and I’ll get you the remedy that always worked for me.”


She handed Devin baby Sharon and ran to the kitchen. She found crackers and some calming type of tea. She quickly made the tea in the microwave and headed upstairs. 


Catherine was on the bed with a cold rag on her forehead. Susan sat next to her and told her to nibble the saltines. Catherine shook her head. “Susan, I don’t think I can keep them down.”


Susan pushed her into it. “Cathy, trust me. Lie back and nibble on the crackers.”


Catherine did so and about ten minutes later felt a little better. She nibbled on a few more crackers and took sips of the tea. In twenty minutes, she felt like she could get up. 


She began to sit up and Susan warned her to take it easy. Catherine sat up and propped herself up on pillows. She blew out a gust of breath. “Susan, I feel much better, thank you.”


Susan smiled. “My Dad told me about it. It helped me through many mornings.”


Peter knocked on the door and entered the room. He had a new box of saltines crackers with him and a cup of tea from a popular coffee house. He looked over at Catherine, then at Susan, and smiled. “I charge for this advice and you gave it away for free.”


Susan laughed as Peter came in and kissed her, then turned to Catherine. “I thought your stomach might be getting the better of you this morning. Sorry I’m late in getting here.”


Catherine smiled. “Susan came to the rescue, but thanks for teaching her the methods. You can still bill me if you want,” she giggled. Catherine looked around at her friends. “Well, I should head Below to see how everything’s coming along.”


Devin stepped forward and handed Sharon to Susan. “That’s why I came up. I wanted to tell you, the Great Hall is done. It looks beautiful.”


Catherine nodded and Devin got a devilish twinkle in his eye. “My brother, however, looks as wonderful as you, so I think I’m heading back down to calm his nerves.” 


Devin looked at his watch. “We’ve got a little more than two hours before the ceremony. If I get him in the bath, his furry butt may be dried by then,” he chuckled.


Jenny elbowed him and everyone laughed. Devin kissed Catherine on the forehead, then headed out. Peter followed Devin after promising Catherine to meet her in Mary’s chamber in time to walk her to the Great Hall.


Catherine headed for the shower as Jenny headed for the other bathroom. Susan took Sharon and put her down for a nap. 


Jenny finished her shower first and headed to the master bathroom. Susan came in and she and Jenny did each other’s hair and nails. Catherine had decided on a long soak in the tub and finally came out as they were finishing up. 


Jenny and Susan sat her in a chair and pampered her while they did her hair and nails and a pedicure. Catherine gratefully munched on soda crackers and tea. She was starting to feel better and didn’t want to overdo it too soon.


They were finished and had an hour before the ceremony. The girls headed down to Mary’s chamber where they would be getting dressed.


**********


Meanwhile, Below Devin and Peter had gone into the library. Father was sitting there as Vincent paced the room. He whirled around as they came in.


Devin laughed at the look on his face. “Ha, you look great there, Vin!”


Vincent scowled and ignored him. “How’s Catherine?” he asked Peter.


Peter shrugged, not wanting to upset Vincent. Devin had no such qualms and teased Vincent. “Well, she’s losing her breakfast because she’s carrying those babies you decided to leave inside of her.”


Father shot Devin an angry look. When Vincent looked distraught, Peter hastened to reassure him. “Susan averted the crisis with some saltines. Catherine was much better already when we left.”


Vincent nodded and Devin came up and put his arm around him. “Vincent, you know I was only trying to lighten the mood here. I’m really happy about the babies, you know that.”


Vincent clasped his brother’s hand. “I know, Dev. Thanks for trying. I just feel so guilty that she has to go through this.”


Father chuckled. “You and every other man alive that’s ever been in your shoes, Vincent; six more months is a long time to feel guilt. This is a magical time; enjoy it, and don’t worry so much about it.”


Vincent nodded and Devin grabbed him in a headlock. “C’mon, I promised Catherine to have you dried off in time for the wedding and with that hairy butt of yours, we should start right now.”


Vincent chuckled as Devin pulled him from the room towards the bathing chamber. Devin kept up an easy banter throughout the bath and Vincent began to relax.  


They headed to their chamber and began to dress for the ceremony, which was less than an hour away. Devin wore a suit and Vincent was to be dressed in a tuxedo. The only thing he knew how to put on was his shirt and pants. He felt like a child as Devin dressed him the rest of the way. Father and Peter came in and marveled at how elegant they both looked. 


Peter was shocked at Vincent’s appearance. “Vincent, you look wonderful. How did Catherine ever convince you to wear a tuxedo?”


Vincent blushed as Devin chuckled, “She didn’t. This is our surprise to Catherine. She thinks Mary made Vincent a new vest. I went out and got him a tux and Mary altered it for us. Wait until Catherine gets a load of this guy!”


Father shook his head. “Devin, that was kind of you to do that for your brother, and Vincent, you do look quiet remarkable...so distinguished.”


Devin laughed hysterically. “Yeah, well, twenty minutes ago he looked like a drowned cat.”


Father rolled his eyes as Vincent ignored him and fumbled with his buttons. Father came over and helped him with the top buttons and Peter helped with the tie. 


He turned to grab his jacket and stopped and looked off into the air. Devin looked worried and Father touched a hand to Vincent’s back. “What is it, son?”


Vincent looked over at Peter. “Peter, perhaps you could go and see how Catherine is doing. I feel a wave of...sadness...no, melancholy...maybe about her.”


Peter nodded as he left and headed to Mary’s chamber. Devin, Father and Vincent headed to the Great Hall. The ceremony was to begin in less than a half an hour.


************


Everyone had gotten dressed and Catherine was the last one to be put into her gown. She stared at herself in the mirror, standing there dressed in her mother’s wedding gown, and a feeling of complete sorrow flooded through her. She wished her mother and father could have been here to help celebrate this day with her. Her mother had wanted her to have a happy life and Catherine had one now. She was about to marry the man she loved more than life itself. He gave her two babies that were growing inside of her at this very moment, and Catherine couldn’t have thought of a happier time in her life.


Tears rolled down her face as the women tried to comfort her and draw out from her what she was so desperately feeling. Catherine shook her head and looked at the women who were so important to her.


“I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m crying. There is nothing I want more than to see Vincent and become his wife. I’ve waited for this moment for three years; I can’t believe I’m crying for no reason whatsoever.”


Mary put her arm around her and comforted her. “Sweetie, sometimes your hormones will do crazy things with your emotions. It’s okay to cry.”


Catherine cried harder. “No, it’s not; Vincent’s going to know and think something’s wrong.”


Peter walked into the room and Catherine pointed at him. “See! I bet Vincent sent you, right?”


Peter flushed guiltily, then covered it up. “No, I said I’d meet you in time to escort you to the hall. Cathy, what’s wrong?”


Catherine sniffled and shook her head. “Nice try and nothing’s wrong,” she mumbled.


Peter nodded at the woman who was once just like his little girl. He remembered how she spent time with them after her mother died. He often tried to get her to explain her feelings and she always mumbled that nothing was wrong. He took a chance on what she was feeling. “I bet you’re wishing your mom and dad were here, right?”


Tears welled up in her eyes again and she nodded and sniffled. He took her chin in his hand and raised her tear-filled eyes to look into his. 


“Catherine, that is your mother’s wedding dress, and she will be here with you, walking next to you all the way down the aisle.” 


Peter reached into his pocket. He drew out a long thin box. “Catherine, you know your dad and I each had only children that were daughters.” When Catherine nodded, Peter continued. “Well, your dad and I had a safety deposit box together. In this box were the things we had given our wives that we cherished the most. It was an understanding that when our daughters married, we would give to them those things in the box that belonged to their mothers. Susan received her things two years ago. Today, I brought you the things that belong to you.”


Peter handed Catherine the long box. She gasped when she opened it to reveal the strand of pearls she remembered her mother wearing at special occasions. Next to the necklace was a matching pair of earrings. Catherine’s eyes welled with tears again as Peter took the strand of pearls and fastened it around her neck.


“Your father gave these pearls to your mother as a gift on their wedding day. He wanted you to wear them on your wedding day as well.”


Catherine smiled at how perfectly they lay on her neck and how wonderfully they accentuated the neckline of the dress. She unclipped her earrings and put in the ones that belonged to her mother. When that was done, she sat back to look at her reflection.


Peter put both hands on her shoulders. “You look so much like your mother, Cathy. I know she would have been extremely proud of you. Your Father would have given Vincent a hard time at first for trying to take away his little girl, but they would have become great friends.”


Catherine giggled at the thought of her dad and Vincent spending time watching TV on a Sunday afternoon. “Peter, I don’t know how to thank you for always being there for me. My parents made a wonderful choice in friends. I’m so happy that my fill-in dad is you.”


Peter chuckled and hugged her. “C’mon, we need to get you to your anxious fiancé.”


The ladies had discreetly left them alone and now flooded around Catherine doing last minute repairs to her hair and make-up. They soon left and made their way to the Great Hall.


**********


The ladies walked into a back room and straighten up the slight damage the wind had done to their hair. Devin ran the flowers back and the girls slipped them onto their wrists. 


The community Below and the helpers from Above quieted as music began to play. Everyone found their seats and the ceremony was set to begin. Father had walked to the back of the room and escorted Mary up to the front where Vincent and Devin were waiting. 


Devin delayed for a second, then walked back to Jenny; he reached out and took her hand in his. He raised her hand to his lips and kissed her as their eyes met. He escorted her up the aisle, holding her hand warmly in his. 


Luke was at the back of the room and little Cathy and they set out together. Cathy dropped petals on the ground and Luke smiled nervously behind her. Suddenly he saw his dad and ran, stopped, and threw him the pillow. 


“Catch, DaDa!’ he squealed. Kanin grabbed the pillow in mid-air and assessed that the rings were still fastened. He whispered in Luke’s ears and Luke looked over at Vincent and grinned and nodded his head. Vincent smiled and encouraged Luke to come to him. Luke ran to Vincent, then went back and grabbed the pillow from Kanin and ran again to Vincent. Vincent grabbed him and kissed his cheek, then handed him to Devin. Devin tickled him and Luke squealed again. Devin put him on his hip, shushed him and Luke quietly settled down.


Little Cathy had stopped when Luke went off on his own. Lana encouraged her and she once again walked forward and dropped petals on the floor. When she got to the end of the aisle, she saw that she still had a lot of petals in her basket so she turned the whole thing upside down and let them fall in a big pile in front of her. 


She turned to Vincent and proudly handed him the empty basket, proclaiming loudly, “All gone, Vincent.”


Vincent bent over and kissed her, then whispered in her ear and she walked over by Jenny, who had her hand outstretched to little Cathy.


The crowd was giggling at the antics of the kids and soon settled when the familiar wedding march started. 


Everyone’s eyes turned to the back of the room as Catherine entered. Her dress was off the shoulder and had a form-fitted bodice that narrowed at the waist then flared out and cascaded past the floor. The design accentuated her tiny waist. The pearls she wore on her ears and neck accentuated her delicate shoulders and flawless skin. Catherine smiled at Vincent as he gasped at her beauty. 


Devin put a hand on his shoulder. “Breathe, little brother.”  


Vincent took a breath and smiled at Devin. He turned and watched Peter escort Catherine to him. Catherine looked from side to side and smiled at people until she got halfway up the aisle. She noticed that Vincent was not in the outfit they had planned but in a new tuxedo. 


She was amazed that it fit him like it was made for him. She knew Mary had to have altered it because it fit him like a glove. The jacket accentuated the broadness of his shoulders and the pants made him look even taller, although they fit snugly and showed the musculature of his legs. She smiled at him, acknowledging she noticed the change. Vincent smiled shyly under her gaze. 


She stood in front of him, and Father Kevin asked Peter who gave this woman to this man, and Peter responded. “I do. In front of God, I stand today as a representation of this woman’s parents.”


Peter kissed Catherine and went to sit next to Father and Mary. Vincent reached for Catherine’s hand. It was cold and she was shaking nervously. The second Vincent’s hands closed around hers, she sighed in relief. She was where she belonged. He squeezed her hand and she smiled at him and they walked the few steps left together to stand in front of the priest. 



**********


Father Kevin smiled and started his speech. 


“Years ago, when I was still in seminary school, I was brought Below by my mentor, a man who taught me what it was to be a real man of God. We came Below to bless a child who was not expected to make it through the night. I effectively watched a man I deeply respected fall apart trying to pray for the life of an unusual child. The child was blessed and even given last rites because his health was so precarious. Father Paul asked God to call back this child into his fold so that the child would no longer suffer.


“God, however, doesn’t make mistakes, and he sent his strength to the young child. The child made a miraculous recovery and thrived under the care of his family and friends. He grew up surrounded by the love of a community. He was educated and far exceeded what most people would consider a normal education. He became a scholar and a teacher to children that the community welcomed in. 


“Everyone that met him loved him, yet he kept a part of himself hidden away and buried beneath years of feelings of inadequacy. Three years ago tonight, a tragedy brought to him a woman who would transform his life. This woman saw this man and fell in love with him despite whatever differences he sees in himself. 


“Although the world above and the courts of law would never recognize this union as a valid marriage, their marriage will be recognized in the highest court, in the eyes of a higher power. We are gathered here today to witness the union of this love, to bring together this man and this woman in holy matrimony.”


Father Kevin smiled down at Catherine and Vincent. “I believe Catherine and Vincent have chosen to recite their own vows.”


Catherine nodded and turned to Vincent. It had been decided that he would go first. Vincent held Catherine’s hands in his own. He still marveled at the way she felt they looked normal together. 


“Catherine, my life was another life before I met you. It was one filled with family and friends but also an intense aloneness that often threatened to swallow me whole. Three years ago, when I found you in the park and nursed you back to health, I never thought that you would ever be more than an acquaintance or possibly someone whose life I had touched briefly. I never thought I’d fall in love with you. I never thought to have someone like you in my life. It was an impossible dream I would never allow myself to have, a dream I never thought I had a right to have. Yet, as the years went on, you made me believe in myself. You made me believe that we could have that impossible dream. You showed me what it meant to love unconditionally. You have changed my life completely and without you there would be nothing. And now here I stand, living that impossible dream. In front of God and our family and friends, I am pledging my love to you. I will love you and take care of you and our children always.”


Vincent was so emotionally choked up he couldn’t go on; tears fell from his eyes and she lifted his hands to her mouth and kissed them. Catherine sensed he was finished; she had her vows made but they flew out of her mind as he spoke. She sniffled and cleared her throat. Vincent blinked the tears from his eyes and looked at her.


“Vincent, my life was another life before I met you. I, too, was loved by family and friends. I, however, was surrounded by wealth and influence. I was also surrounded by people that I trusted only to find out they were with me because of my wealth. One night, one of those trusted people left me to my own devices, and that one night changed my entire life. That night a complete stranger reached out to help me where I lay, beaten and bruised. A stranger that didn’t know who I was or what I had. You found me and took me in, not even knowing if I could be trusted. You brought me to your magical world and cared for me, nursed me back to health and gave me the strength to go back into the world that had beaten me down. Eight months later, it was you who found the strength to reach out to me, a person you didn’t really know. I can’t imagine the strength it took you to come and see me, but I thank God every night that you did. We formed a bond and a friendship that for me grew to love within a few short months. It took you, however, a little longer to allow yourself to come to terms with that love.” She chuckled as he bowed his head shyly.


The audience, which had been crying through most of their vows, chuckled and Catherine continued, “Vincent, I’ve loved you since the first time I felt you were in danger in that cave-in. We have been through so much together and I can’t imagine loving anyone the way that I love you. You too, have changed my life completely and without you there would be nothing. And now here I stand, living that impossible dream. In front of God and our family and friends I am pledging my love to you. I will love you and take care of you and our children always.”


Catherine smiled and started to cry herself. Vincent put his arm around her and held her close. Father Kevin stepped forward and Devin handed him the rings. “These rings have had a long tradition of a binding love. Vincent, please take Catherine’s ring and place it on her finger and repeat the words.”


Vincent did so and said the words, “With this ring, I thee wed.”


“Now, Catherine, you may do the same.”


Catherine took Vincent’s ring and placed it on his finger. “Vincent, with this ring, I thee wed.”


Father joined their hands and then covered them with his own. He said a soft prayer and then loudly addressed the room. “By the power invested in me by the Catholic Church of New York and in God’s eyes, I pronounce you husband and wife. Vincent, you may kiss your bride.”


Vincent drew Catherine to him and held her gently. He gave her a long kiss, oblivious to the wolf calls of Devin and Cullen. He released her and Father Kevin turned them to face everyone. “Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you Mr. and Mrs. Vincent Wells.”


***********


The room exploded and everyone cheered. The chairs were quickly moved back to the tables as everyone rushed forward to congratulate the couple. 


The food was uncovered and people took it upon themselves to eat whenever they wanted to. The band started playing and an hour later Vincent insisted that Catherine and he be allowed to eat. Devin forced them to a table and trays of food were brought to them. 


Catherine was starving and dug into her food. “This is just one of the perks of having you know every one of my feelings. I didn’t think we would ever get to eat.”


Vincent chuckled, kissed her, then fed her a piece of carrot. The band decided to take a break and everyone gathered around with Vincent and Catherine while they sat in their chairs and listened to their family and friends relate memories. Catherine giggled at Devin’s endless tales of daring as Father grew white, hearing for the first time the grueling stories. She was delighted to hear so much about Vincent’s childhood.


Peter came up and related his stories about Catherine, and Vincent chuckled to think about the little girl she once was.

 

Susan came up and cleared her throat. “I have a neat story that will tell you how destined to be together Vincent and Catherine always were. It happened when I was a little girl. I think I was almost seven. I caught the chicken pox and my parents were having a big social gathering. No one would be able to bring their children because I was sick and I was feeling pretty down. I sent Vincent a letter begging him to sneak up to my room and play with me during the party. Vincent, of course, being almost seven as well, thought nothing of it and came up. We played a game of Monopoly and I grew tired. Vincent read to me and I guess I fell asleep because he woke me up by putting a little girl in my bed. Vincent whispered to me that she had wandered in and had fallen asleep as he read. I held the girl and told her to go to sleep and then told Vincent to run. He took off and the girl asked me who he was. I told her she was dreaming and she went back to sleep. I’d forgotten that story until my Dad recently related it to me. The ironic thing is that only one child came to the party that night. The babysitter fell through at the last minute and since that child had actually already had the chicken pox and was, in fact, the one who I had caught it from a few weeks before, she was allowed to come. Vincent, that sleeping little girl who you picked up and put into my bed...was Catherine.”


The audience gasped. Vincent shook his head in wonder and Catherine looked up at Vincent and grinned incredulously. She searched her memory but couldn’t come up with any recollection of that night. She had just been too young.


“Peter, are you sure?” she asked.


Peter nodded. “Positive. When Vincent related that story, I was flabbergasted. I told Susan and she said she remembered it was you. I thought of the guest list and knew it couldn’t have been anyone else.”


Susan turned to Vincent. “Do you remember what the girl looked like, Vincent?”


Vincent shook his head. “I remember her lit up in the moonlight. That’s how I first saw her. Then I got so scared I just reacted.”


Peter handed Vincent a picture. It was a picture of a young girl but she was looking down coloring in a book. “That’s her, Peter. I remember that outfit with the little doves on it.” 


Peter smiled. “I took this that night. That little girl had been coloring in a chair most of the night. Look at the next picture.”


Vincent handed the picture of the little girl to Catherine. He looked at the next one to see a picture of the little girl in the same outfit sitting on a woman’s lap. The woman was in costume but looked amazingly like Catherine. The man was a younger version of Catherine’s father. Vincent gasped as the truth was revealed. 


He handed the picture to Catherine, who gasped as well. “That’s me and my parents!”


Devin came over and teased them mercilessly. “So, even then you were picking her up and carting her around.”


Everyone laughed and started talking about how ironic it was. Vincent stood and took Catherine’s hand. He led her to the stage and everyone turned to listen to them.


“Catherine and I have an announcement to make. We just found out recently that Catherine is pregnant with twins and is due in about six months.”


The room exploded once again and the people rushed forward to offer their congratulations. The band started playing again and Vincent guided Catherine to the dance floor for their first dance as husband and wife. 


He held her closely and they swayed to the music, oblivious to everyone around them. 


They spent the next few hours dancing and visiting with everyone.


Catherine threw the bouquet and an embarrassed Jenny caught it. She smiled and Devin came up and danced with her.


It was close to midnight when Catherine couldn’t take it anymore and Vincent and she said goodnight to the partygoers.


************


They walked towards their home and at the threshold Vincent swept her into his arms and carried her up the three flights of stairs all the way to their bedroom.


Catherine was tired but needed Vincent’s love even more. They made love several times throughout the night and the next day. Devin brought them trays of food and left them at their bedroom door. Vincent suspected it was him but didn’t really care, he would thank whomever it was later.


The newlyweds stayed in bed for over four days. They finally came out and went Below to visit with their family. 


Life had finally settled down and would be quiet for them until the birth of their twins.



THE END