Coming Out of the Dark

Cathy Trotta

Her life had become routine, and not a good one at that.  She was back to work full time at the District Attorney’s office, this time in a less dangerous position.  Her days were filled with the same mundane, routine endless amounts of paperwork and phone calls, and most of the time with no positive results. 

Since his illness and recovery, Father felt Vincent was still too weak to visit her on her balcony, and for the first time in their relationship, she was grateful.  Each night after work, Catherine visited Vincent and her tunnel family Below.  Their relationship was more relaxed in many ways than it had ever been.  Since he had declared that he loved her right before the illness overtook him completely, there was more intimacy between them.  They had still not crossed the final boundary that would take them from two separate individual souls to one complete soul, but at least now, Vincent was allowing them to kiss.  While the kisses were not soul searing passionate kisses, they were kisses just the same; one of the many things she had dreamed about for the past two and a half years.

After the routine of work and her visits Below, she would return home and try to immerse herself in work, reading…watching a long forgotten television show or movie…anything to prolong the time before going to bed.  She had tried bubble baths and lighting candles to push back the dark.  It has always worked when she was a child, but now nothing worked.  Nothing was stopping the dream.  Well, when she was honest with herself, it was a nightmare, the same one over and over again, every night; and it had been going on for months.

She debated about going to see Peter and asking him for something to help her sleep.  She didn’t want to answer all his questions, and she certainly didn’t want the lecture about how tired she looked and how much weight she had lost.  On several occasions, she had caught Father surreptitiously looking at her out of the corner of his eye.  He had tried to broach the subject of her health, but each time Catherine just smiled and told him it was just stress caused by all the adjustments to her new position.  The paternal side of Jacob Wells wanted to believe her, but the physician side of him knew that she was lying.  What he didn’t know, and what lurked beneath the façade, was just how much denial Catherine was dealing with on a nightly basis.

She was never quite sure how she managed to get through the day and fool everyone at work, especially Joe.  If he had any inkling that something was wrong, he never verbalized his concerns.  She even considered returning to the psychiatrist that she had seen when she was trying to come to terms with the knowledge that she might never have the “Happy Life” her mother had so desperately wished her to have.  No – she must work this out in her mind first, before she could tell anyone else.  She had deceived the entire Tunnel community, Father and the man that she loved more than her own life; but if she kept up the deceit, she knew the next one to suffer a mental breakdown could very well be her.

Tonight she decided to try a different approach.  She completed her work early, had a glass of wine, and took a hot bubble bath.  Catherine was very relaxed and crawled under the down comforter.  Within minutes, a deep sleep had over taken her.  Then it began just as it did every night.

She was back in the cave.  Back to the moment when Vincent raised his hand to strike her, the moment when the sound of her voice brought him back from the brink of insanity, and to the moment when her kisses brought him back from the brink of death.

She was screaming his name over and over again, but tonight she was screaming it out loud.  Covered in perspiration, she threw back the covers and sat up in bed.  Once the nightmare had begun, she was grateful that the bond had not returned to Vincent, but never as grateful as she was tonight.  She put on a robe and went out to the balcony.  Usually this had a calming effect on her because this spot had been their safe place, a place between their two worlds; but since the nightmare had begun, nothing had a calming effect anymore.  Catherine decided in that moment, that if she ever stood a chance of freeing herself from this perpetual cycle, she must tell Vincent the truth.  She had very few certainties in her life.  She was certain that their love would never die, that they were bound together for eternity; but would this revelation be the one hurdle that they would not be able to overcome?

Now the dilemma of how to tell him replaced the original nightmare of Vincent almost striking her.  During the day, it took every bit of concentration to finish the increasing large pile of work that continued to land on her desk.

Watching her stare absentmindedly out the window one gloomy afternoon, Joe was reminded of the time after her father’s death when he caught her doing the exact same thing she was doing now.  Joe knew someone close to her had been sick.  When she returned to work after the friend’s illness, he never asked her directly who had been sick or what the illness had been.

He cleared his throat several times, as he approached her desk, hoping not to startle her.  Slowly she turned away from the window - that distant look still on her face - then jumped when she saw Joe standing in front of her desk.

“Joe, how long have you been standing there?” Catherine asked with a nervous tone to her voice.

 “Not long, Radcliffe,” he replied.  “Look….” he started, unsure how to broach the subject. 

With a concerned look in her eyes Catherine asked Joe, “What is it?  Is something wrong?” 

“You tell me, Radcliffe.”

Trying to avoid direct eye contact, she started fumbling through the folders on her desk.  “Joe, I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.  What makes you think something is wrong?”

“You have the same look - the look of anguish you had after your father passed away.”

She tried to speak, but Joe held up his hand to silence her before she could make the objection he knew was coming.

“Look, Cathy, I know that someone very close to you was ill.  From the shape you were in when you came back from your leave, I’d say it was a rough road for both of you.”  He smiled, trying to ease the tension that hung in the air.  “You know, I didn’t get to be the ADA just because of my charming smile and my devilish good looks.”

Even though her eyes were downcast, Catherine had to smile at his comment.  “Why are you asking me these questions, Joe?  Why now?”

“Because, Cathy, you’re my friend, and it looks as though you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.  Even though you’re no longer one of my investigators, I’m still your boss, the one that reviews your work; and I have to tell you Cathy, it’s not up to the quality that I’ve come to expect from you.” 

Still trying to discourage this line of questioning, she stood up, put her hands flat on the desk, an affronted look on her face, and stared him directly in the eye.

“Mr. Maxwell.”  Her tone was sharp and bitingly hurtful. 

Stunned by the look in her eyes and the way she addressed him, he physically took a step back from her. 

She noticed this somewhere in her mind, somewhere behind the anger she was trying to maintain, and felt bad that she had to do this to a man she considered a dear friend.  Nevertheless, she would do whatever she needed to do to protect her secret.  To protect Vincent.

“Mr. Maxwell,” she continued,  “if the quality and quantity of my work is so unappreciated or not up to the standards required to work in this office, perhaps you should find someone who can live up to those standards.”  With that remark, she turned on her well-polished heel, grabbed her coat and briefcase, and headed for the elevator.  It was imperative she get away from the questioning stares that were now coming from everyone who had heard the exchange with Joe.

 Rita tried to block her path. “Cathy, are you okay?  Do you want to talk?” 

As much as it hurt to cut Rita off, she just looked at her and in a curt, cold voice replied, “No thank you, Rita.  It seems Joe and I have a difference of opinion regarding my work and my ability to perform my job to his standards, so I’m taking the rest of the day off before either of us says or does something one of us might regret.”  With that last remark, she brushed past the rest of the onlookers and headed to the elevators.

Repeatedly pushing the elevator buttons to no avail, Catherine was fighting back the tears that threatened to overflow at any moment.  She couldn’t take the chance of a confrontation with anyone in the building, especially someone from her office-so she decided to take the stairs.

On the sidewalk, the same gloom she had been watching from her window not only permeated her mood, but the darkness seemed ready to overwhelm her at any moment.  She was glad that the Bond wasn’t restored so Vincent wouldn’t sense her feelings.  One less thing, one less person she would have to put on a happy face for when her mood reflected just the opposite.

Even the threat of rain didn’t discourage her from walking, the destination unknown.  The only thing she knew was all the stress, all the lies, the constant deception was affecting her physically, as well as emotionally.  After this last confrontation with Joe, the tightness in her chest, which in the past she had ignored or put off as heartburn, was now so intense, Catherine found the closest place to sit down and catch her breath.

Providence - Something that is meant to be.  A smile appeared on her face at the memory of Vincent speaking those words when she was considering the move to Providence, RI.  When the tightness in her chest eased, she was able to get her bearings.  It was no surprise to Catherine that she had stopped…just across the street from Peter’s office.  Not knowing how she had been led here, whether through unconscious thought or Divine Intervention, she looked heavenward, gave a nod of appreciation and headed across the street to Peter’s office.

Catherine smiled as she reached for the knob.  Talking to Peter might finally give her some relief to her nightmare, or so she hoped; but she was certain it would help her better understand the chest pain.  The smile quickly dissipated as she entered the waiting room.  In all her visits to Peter’s office, she could never recall the waiting room being this crowded.  Approaching the receptionist’s desk, she was glad to see Julie on duty.  Julie had been Peter’s nurse when he first started the practice. With Peter and Julie both looking forward to retirement, Peter had downsized his practice, and Julie, eager for a change after all these years, took over the receptionist duties.  Catherine was glad for another friendly face.  It was then that she noticed a tall man with shaggy blond hair and blue eyes walking toward her.  A small smile came to her lips, thinking of how much he resembled Vincent.

The man smiled at her and continued walking to the coat rack and began putting on his coat.  Catherine was awe struck by how not only his appearance, but also his build, his walk, his entire being reminded her of Vincent.  Turning slightly to get a better glimpse of the handsome stranger, she watched as he put on his coat.  He caught her watching him, and decided to exaggerate his movements so that he could further impress this beautiful woman.  That all changed as he reached to straighten his collar.  That slight gesture was all that Catherine needed to flashback to the moment that Vincent almost struck her.  Her last word before she passed out and everything turned to black was “Vincent.”

As she struggled to open her eyes, she was aware of a bright light shining in them.  The first voice she heard was Peter’s, and the concern in that voice was evident.  Her throat was dry and parched.  Licking her lips, she attempted to speak.

“Peter,” she whispered hoarsely, “what happened?”  Relief was written all over his face and echoed in his voice.  “Peter,” she started again, “what happened?” 

A smile came to his face as he noticed the agitation in Cathy’s eyes.  He patted her hand for reassurance.  “Honey,” Peter said, “what’s the last thing you remember?”

A worried look crossed Catherine’s face and her eyes darted from side to side.  She became aware of her surroundings, the blood pressure cuff on her arm, the sticky leads on her chest, and the beeping machine measuring her heartbeat.  A look of panic replaced the worried one.  Her voice was suddenly stronger as she demanded, “Peter, what happened?”

Standing by the examination table, he preceded slowly so as not to frighten her even more.  “Cathy, you fainted in my office.”

“Fainted?” she asked with a questioning look on her face.

“Yes,” he said. 

That one word response worried her even more.  “Peter, is there something you’re not telling me?  Why am I hooked up to all these machines if all I did was faint?  It’s probably because I left work early without eating lunch.”

Now it was Peter’s turn to have a worried look on his face.  “Cathy, why did you leave work early?  Are you sick?”

Now not only did she have the dilemma of how to tell Vincent the truth about the night he almost struck her, she also had to figure out how to tell Peter about the nightmare and the chest pain she’d been experiencing for the past few months.

With the practiced patience of both a father and physician, Peter waited for Catherine’s response.  She could feel his eyes watching her every movement, and felt as if they were boring into her soul.  Her main concern was the feeling that if she confided in Peter before she did Vincent, he might view that as an act of betrayal.  As these thoughts were swimming in her mind at a dizzying rate, Peter was still sitting on the edge of the examination table, his hand on top of hers waiting for an answer.  She felt like she was hearing the objection in a marriage ceremony replaying in her head, “speak now or forever hold your peace,” so she decided to speak.

“Peter,” she began, “I want to tell you everything, but I need some time to compose myself, my thoughts.  Would you allow me some time, a few days perhaps?”

Since she asked for a delay before speaking to him, his suspicions were now confirmed.  Something had happened between Vincent and Catherine, and she was trying to figure out the best way to tell him.  Knowing how sharp her legal skills were, he was concerned that if he allowed her time to compose herself, this would also give her time to come up with a plausible story, something to satisfy him, but not the total truth.  The physician in him warred with the fatherly side of him before he responded

“I’m sorry, Cathy, but the answer is no. Whatever you have to say, I want to hear it now, regardless of how scattered or incoherent the thoughts might be.  My gut instinct says this pertains to Vincent.”  With that statement, he saw her flinch.  “I’m afraid if I give you the time you’re requesting that you will find a skillful way to skirt the issue.”  He picked up the phone and informed his nurse that he would be unavailable for awhile.  Then giving her a firm look he said, “Begin at the beginning, Cathy.”

Realizing for the first time that she was lying on a narrow examination table, Cathy tried her best to sit up so she would at least be eye level with her accuser.  At this moment, that was how she viewed Peter.  Trying to gain the upper hand in the situation, she decided to go a different route.  “Peter, if I’m going to be interrogated, I’d at least like to be disconnected from these machines and allowed to sit in a chair.  Heck, even the suspects I question get a cup of coffee.  It might be lousy coffee, but at least they are offered refreshments,” she joked. 

Because he had known her since birth, and since she had been entrusted with the secret of Below, he knew she was trying to avoid answering his questions.  With that in mind, he simply responded, “No.”

“No!”  Her voice was starting to rise, “But why Peter?  Why can’t I get off this table and sit in a chair?”

Very calmly, yet sternly Peter replied, “Cathy, your blood pressure is high and your heart rate is irregular.  Until you have something to eat and your numbers are back to normal, you are not moving from this table.  Do I make myself clear?”

 Knowing when to admit defeat, she answered, “Perfectly.”   

Peter picked up the phone again and asked Julie to order some food for himself and his patient.  As they waited for the food to arrive, Peter finished some paperwork on the little desk area he had set up in each exam room, while Catherine tried her best to look presentable.  A feat that wasn’t easy considering how wrinkled her clothes were from lying on an examination table.  She also tried to work out in her mind how best to explain everything to Peter in a way that would  not cause him to overreact or to do something foolish like admit her to the hospital or worse yet, tell Vincent something was wrong with her.

They made idle small talk over sandwiches and glasses of milk.  She had tried for coffee, but that idea was quickly dismissed with one nod of Peter’s head toward the monitors.  Peter sat in a chair near the examination table, hoping it would help her relax somewhat.  After they were finished, in a very soft voice Peter asked, “Cathy, now are you ready to tell me what’s really going on?”

With tears in her eyes and a nod of her head, she began the story.  No one, not even Father knew the truth of what had happened in that cave.  As she recounted the story, she could see fear in Peter’s eyes.  When she got to the part where Vincent raised his clawed hand to strike her, the look of fear became one of pure terror and he jumped out of the chair in which he’d been sitting.

In a strangled voice, he asked the question he dreaded hearing the answer to.  “Cathy, did Vincent strike you, or harm you in any way?” 

“Peter,” she asked, the sound of disbelief evident in her voice, “how could you even for one moment believe that Vincent would hurt me?  No matter what state I’ve ever found him in, he has never once harmed me in any way.  It’s just, in that moment he wasn’t himself and as soon as my voice penetrated into where ever he had gone, he collapsed.  Vincent would die before he would hurt me.”

With that statement, and not wanting to cause her anymore distress, Peter returned to his seat and proceeded in that familiar physician’s way.  “Well then, honey, if you weren’t hurt, tell me why you fainted?  Why is your heart rate irregular, why do you have those dark circles under your eyes, why have you lost weight?”  She smiled, trying to figure out which of his questions to answer first.  He relaxed upon seeing her smile.  She explained her fear of telling Vincent the truth, how it would affect him, how she was even afraid of confiding in him, fearing Vincent might see it as an act of betrayal, and finally, she told him in graphic detail of the nightmare and the different ways she had  tried to prevent it.

They both sat quietly, each contemplating what the other had just said. “Cathy, you have no choice, you have to tell Vincent the truth, and the sooner the better.”  Knowing that he was right but still trying to avoid the dreaded confrontation, Catherine asked if he had any other suggestions.  “Yes,” he replied. 

Curious she tilted her head just as Vincent was prone to do, an action that was not lost on Peter.  “What is it?” she asked full of enthusiasm.

“I could tell him for you.” 

Knowing Vincent as she did and realizing the damage that would do to him, with her head hung low so that her hair framed her face, she quietly responded, “No thank you, Peter, I’ll tell him.” 

Just the hint that someone would unintentionally harm Vincent was all the motivation she needed.  As quickly as she had dropped her head, she now snapped it back up and looked Peter squarely in the eye.  In her best courtroom voice, she addressed him.  “Peter, I appreciate all the love and concern.  I appreciate the friendly shoulder, the medical care, and advice.  Under no circumstances will I tolerate any interference in this matter.  It is my problem to resolve, and I will do so in a way in which I see fit.  Do I make myself clear?” 

He was relieved that she seemed more like the old Cathy and nodded his agreement.  Still in lawyer mode and not content with just a nod she said, “For the record, Dr. Alcott, I’d like to hear a verbal acknowledgement.”  He was not pleased when he realized she was serious about wanting that response.  It was evident in the tight lines around her mouth and the burning look in her eyes.

“Cathy, you know that I am bound by my physician’s code and would never reveal anything that has been discussed here.”  Her face softened slightly, as she answered.  “I’m aware of that, Peter.  However, you are more than just a physician to me or to the community Below.  You’ve stepped into my father’s shoes since his death, and I trust you with my life.  Please understand that I have to do what I think is best for Vincent, for myself, for us, our future.  For as much as I trust you with my life, he is my life, my world.  It is the absolute truth, Peter.  Without Vincent there is nothing.”  With that last phrase, she shook her head slightly; she saw the questioning look on Peter’s face.  “That was what I told Father that night as he tried to prevent me from entering that cave.” 

With his guarantee of silence, Peter unhooked all the machines and told Cathy that she could leave.  She thanked him for all his help, and as she went to hug him good-bye, he held her back for a moment.  Confused, she looked at him.  “Cathy,” his tone one of authority, “let me make something perfectly clear.  I have agreed to your conditions for now, but know this with the same certainly as you draw breath, either you tell Vincent and promise that you start taking better care of yourself, or I will break my promise and tell him…not just about your health, but about the cave as well.  Are we clear?”

 Knowing he was doing this because of the love he had for her, she nodded yes and then received her hug.  He gave her a prescription for a mild sedative and explained that in order to carry out the plans they had discussed, she needed to be in the right frame of mind, and for that she needed sleep.  She agreed and promised to check back in with him the following week.

Stepping outside, she was struck with the similarities between the weather and her mood.  During her walk to Peter’s office, she felt as if she were carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders, her steps heavy, and the weather gloomy.  Since talking to Peter and having something to eat, her mood was lighter, her step had a spring in it, and the sun was peeking out from behind the clouds.

Peter was correct that in order to deal with Vincent, she needed to be in a better frame of mind and needed to take better care of herself.  She stopped and filled the prescription and shopped for healthy groceries.  In doing so, she found herself actually hungry for the first time in weeks.  A hot shower would be the first order of business.  She always thought better in the shower.  It was actually how she had practiced some of her summations.  Since she felt as though explaining all this to Vincent would be in essence a summation, she decided to start practicing right away. 

Beating a hasty retreat from the office had prevented her from filling her briefcase with work as she usually did.  At least for tonight, she would be able to concentrate on just herself, her health, and well being - both mentally and physically.

Even though she had only eaten a few hours earlier, she decided to make herself a salad and plan her strategy.  Relief flooded her entire being upon seeing that the red light that indicated she had messages on her answering machine was not blinking.  After dinner, she took a legal pad from her desk and crawled into bed.  Seeing the events that took place in the cave in print, made her shiver even though she was under the covers.  Reliving this now would not help her sleep.  She took one of the pills Peter had prescribed and for the first time in weeks slept not only through the night but peacefully as well.

* * *

When the alarm sounded, she awoke feeling rested for the first time since before Vincent’s illness.  Pulling back the curtains and looking out the balcony doors, she smiled and shook her head when she realized that the sun was shining.  Turning and heading toward the bathroom, she spied the legal pad she had written on the previous evening.  She actually felt like her old self this morning, and even a glance at the words on that pad would start her day off on a bad note.  Never one to take chances, especially with anything that could reveal the existence of the Tunnel community, she took the legal pad to her closet and placed it under some clothes that she no longer wore, locked everything in a suitcase and placed it back in her closet.  The task completed she had only one thought, ‘Hot shower, here I come!’

Without saying a word, and with just a nod of agreement, Catherine and Joe went back to their business as usual relationship.  She still took every opportunity to visit Vincent, since Father insisted he was still too weak to visit her balcony.  The confinement was starting to weigh heavily on Vincent.  He was feeling trapped.  Catherine could see it in his movements, but she could also sense it, feel it in his behavior.  Then the question arose, could she feel the bond as well?

During one of her visits, she suggested a walk to the Mirror Pool.  Summer was beginning to fade and the night air had a slight chill to it.  She saw Vincent visibly relax as they sat together cuddled up on his cloak.  Unsure of how to ask about the bond, she decided, for once in her relationship with Vincent, not to beat around the proverbial bush trying to get an answer.  She would just ask.

He closed his eyes, enjoying their moment of privacy and togetherness.  Since Vincent had no choice but to stay Below, the rest of the community had been warned to leave him and Catherine alone during her visits.  He felt it was the least they could do for him, since somewhere in his lost memories, he was sure that some act of saving this community was one of the factors that had caused his breakdown.

Before asking him the question, she reached up and placed a kiss on his cheek.  His eyes opened slowly and a small smile crossed his face.  He turned his head to look at her and quietly asked the purpose of the kiss. “Vincent,” she began, “I love to kiss you, but I want to ask you something, and regardless of what the answer might be, I want you to know it won’t change how much I love you.”

Curiosity began to get the better of him, and he sat up and moved slightly away from her.  “Catherine, since I no longer have the bond to tell me what you are feeling, I must say that I am a little fearful of what this question might be.” 

Seeing a slight look of fear in his eyes, she moved close to him and reached up to hug him.  “Vincent, please believe me that you are reading more into this than the question warrants.”

She saw the fear leave his eyes and decided not to make him worry any longer.  “Vincent,” she began her voice soft and full of love.  “Since I’ve been here today, I’ve been able to sense the restlessness you feel, the tension in your body.  Is it possible, that even though you no longer feel our bond, that now I am able to feel it, even if it is very slight?”

Vincent asked himself; How can I answer this question and not hurt her feelings?’  He felt ashamed that he had in fact concealed this truth from her.  He looked at her, saw all the love in her eyes, and knew he could tell her nothing but the absolute truth.

“Catherine, you’ve always been able to feel the bond.”  A look of confusion crossed her face.  He continued, “I’ve always repressed the bond, so you couldn’t sense my feelings.  I didn’t want you to experience any of the anger or the ugliness that surfaces when you are in danger.  It would be too difficult to repress it only during those times, so I took the coward’s way out and suppressed it all the time.”  After his admission, he hung his head, his hair covering his eyes waiting for the inevitable, the thing that would after all this time send her away.

Inside her, a war of varying emotions was raging.  Anger that he would suppress the bond, hurt because he didn’t feel she deserved to feel all of his emotions, betrayal that he wouldn’t take her into his confidence after all they had been through.  It took her several moments to compose herself, and out of the corner of her eye, she saw only the frame of his hair.  After battling her own nightmare for the past several months, she could only imagine the pain that he must have endured.  Not just for the killing that he had done for her or the community, not for the life that he was forced to lead because of his appearance.  It came down to just one thing.  She couldn’t stand to see this warm, loving man suffer because of her silence any longer.

“Vincent.” As she started to speak, he still hadn’t raised his head to look at her.  She took his chin in her hand, and with a smile looked into those beautiful but sad blue eyes of his, those eyes that revealed everything that he had been unable to say to her until his breakdown in her apartment.  She saw his chest heave as he took a deep breath, and she knew he was expecting the worst.  That his fears had come true, that she was leaving him.  A smile crossed her face as he finally turned to look at her.  She took his hands, her hands actually, and kissed the backs of them before speaking.

“Vincent, I won’t deny that I’m hurt, angry, sad, or a myriad of other emotions that you would keep this from me.  Holding on to the anger, the feelings of betrayal, wouldn’t accomplish anything, now would it?  From the look in your eyes, you thought I was going to say that I was leaving, didn’t you?” 

A small nod was all he could manage. 

“Vincent, don’t you know by now that I will never leave you?  Nothing you could say or do would cause me to walk away from you.  Don’t you realize that without you, my life is empty, incomplete, only one-half of a soul?  The love I feel for you, the love we feel for each other will never diminish, it will only grow stronger with time.  However, for that to happen we have to be completely honest with each other, even if that honesty causes the other to hurt even for a short amount of time.  Do I have your word that from now on you will be totally honest with me, even if what you have to tell me causes me even the slightest pain?” 

The smile that crossed his lips was wide enough to show his canines.  Grabbing her and hugging her so tightly, she thought he might squeeze out all the air from her lungs; he did something he had never done before.  He kissed her with his entire being, so passionately that it left both of them gasping for air.  When they opened their eyes, the look in his had changed.  No longer was it one of sadness or fear, but one of joy, happiness and -- dare she think -- hope?

“Catherine, you have my word there will be no secrets between us anymore.  By making you this promise, I’m hoping that it will unblock some of the self-imposed barriers I’ve placed on myself.  Not just since meeting you, but throughout my entire life.”

Seeing the joy in his eyes, she knew that if she didn’t tell him the truth about what had happened in that cave and of her nightmare, then she would be a hypocrite and guilty of the same things of which she had just accused him.  She would make him that same promise, but not here, not now.  The setting had to be perfect.  She devised a plan, hoping to distract him so he wouldn’t realize she hadn’t made her promise of complete honesty at this exact moment.

“Vincent, has Father given you a time frame as to when you will be able to visit my balcony again?”  He had been waiting for her to make her promise as well, so the question caught him a little off guard.  A momentary flash of anger and suspicion crossed his mind.  It wasn’t like Catherine to be dishonest with him; her previous actions had never before caused him to be suspicious.  Deciding that he was just imagining things, he finally answered her question.  “Father thinks that two more weeks and I will be fully recovered.  What do you have in mind, Catherine?” 

Relieved that he hadn’t realized what she was doing, she proceeded with her quickly thought out plan. “Vincent, the night that “The Watcher” abducted me, we were planning to celebrate our anniversary in my apartment.  Do you remember?”  He nodded his head in agreement.  She continued on, “To celebrate your recovery and the declaration of our love to one another, what about dinner in my apartment on the night that Father says you will be released from your exile?”

He had to smile at her choice of words, even as he hesitated at the thought of being in her apartment once again.  The last time he had been there, he had been in the beginning throes of his breakdown.  The only positive thing to come out of that time was his ability to finally admit his love for Catherine, and that had seemed like a reward for all the anguish he was going through.  Wanting only to dwell on the future and not the past, he agreed to the date. 

Even though Catherine was a little apprehensive about revealing the truth to him, at least she would have the home field advantage.  She chuckled at that and thought, ‘I’ve really been around Joe too long.’ Vincent looked at her questioningly, and she recovered enough to speak. “That’s wonderful, Vincent.  I was just thinking, since I’m not much of a cook, and I don’t want to poison either of us with my attempts, it would probably be safer if I just pick up something”  They both laughed at her remark and went back to enjoying the warmth of the love between them while admiring the beauty of the night sky.

The next two weeks had two speeds for Vincent and Catherine as far as time was concerned.  It either flew by or crawled as they both waited with anticipation for their dinner date.  True to her word, Catherine went back to Peter’s office for her follow up examination a week after she collapsed.  He was pleased to hear that she was going to tell Vincent the truth, and was encouraged by the weight that she had re-gained and that she seemed to be back to her old self.  Together they decided that she would continue taking the sleeping pills until after her date with Vincent. Each night found her reviewing and sometimes revising her “summation” on the same tablet on which she had written that first night after fainting in Peter’s office.  Each morning the tablet was returned to the only place she felt it was safe, the locked suitcase.  After this task was completed, she would then practice the revised “summation” during her morning shower. 

Finally, it was the morning of their big date. She awoke feeling a little apprehensive, a little afraid, but knowing she would feel the same sense of relief that Vincent had when he told her the truth…relief that a burden was finally being lifted, just as it had been lifted from him, and would allow her to make the same pledge to him that he made to her.  The pledge that they would keep no secrets between them, no matter how small, large or painful they might prove to be.

Two weeks ago after the date had been set, she informed Joe that next morning that she would be leaving at noon that day, and nothing and no one was going to stop her.  The morning flew by and it was time to leave.  In her usual manner, she removed her purse from the drawer and got her coat from the rack.  Then she bent down to pick up her briefcase and stopped.  She decided that for once, the work could stay here.  What was happening tonight was her top priority, because, after all, her future with Vincent was at stake, and that was more important than anything that could possibly be contained in those files.  Catherine had already made it clear to Joe and Rita that she was not to be disturbed for any reason.  She had also informed her doorman of the same thing.  Grateful that they were both on the phone, she gave them each a quick wave and a smile as she headed for the elevator.  As she exited onto the street, she breathed a sigh of relief that no one had interrupted her departure.

* * *

Over the past two weeks, she had continued to visit Vincent Below as much as possible.  The more time she spent with him, the stronger the bond was becoming on her side.  Since the meals served Below were a direct result of the groceries the Helpers provided, there was not a lot of choice or imagination in their preparation.  Knowing this, she wanted to give Vincent any meal that he desired. They had discussed all the different options available in New York City, including Chinese and Italian.  In the end, the thing that Vincent wanted more than anything else was to have his own steak.  A simple enough request Catherine thought; and then thought again.  She had no knowledge about how to choose the best cut of meat or the proper way to grill a steak.  In the end, she did what she always did and ordered the meals from Tavern on the Green.  Having made the meal arrangements with the chef, Catherine asked that the food delivery take place around 8:00 PM.  Since it was almost October, the evenings grew dark earlier. Leaving work early had ensured that both she and the apartment would be ready on time. Vincent could wait in her bedroom or on the terrace while the meal was set out.  Now that she had taken care of all those details, she just needed to “rehearse” once more how she would tell him the secret that she had been keeping.

Satisfied with both her appearance and that of the apartment, Catherine began lighting the candles hoping to make Vincent feel more at ease.  Looking around these rooms reminded her of those three frightening days.  Of how she had come home from being Below to find him lying on the floor, covered in the glass from her curio cabinet.  How she had watched him fight with himself, and of the fevered dreams that seemed to engulf him.  She shivered at the memories and shook her head to clear them from her thoughts.  A gentle breeze came in from the open balcony doors.  She didn’t want to take a chance on the deliveryman and Vincent arriving at the same time.  However, as luck would have it that was exactly what happened.  Vincent stood on the balcony just outside her bedroom doors, knowing he must remain out of sight.  Giving him a quick kiss on the cheek, she closed her bedroom doors, taking every precaution to ensure his safety and went to answer the front door.  The food smelled delicious and everything had been prepared with meticulous detail.  She tipped the deliveryman handsomely and escorted him to the front door, then ran to the balcony so she could give Vincent a proper greeting.

“Vincent.” When she uttered that one word, whether his side of the bond still existed or not, it always caused a smile to appear on his face, his knees to buckle slightly and his heart to start beating faster. 

As she usually did, Catherine flung herself into his arms as though she had not seen him in weeks rather than days.  As he felt her arms go around his waist, he kissed the top of her head.  Wrapped in each other’s arms, he had one thought: ‘this feels like home.’  Almost as if she sensed his thought, she tilted her head back and they shared a kiss.  This was a different kind of kiss not passionate, but filled with promise.  With a smile that paralleled any light in the city, she asked if he was ready for dinner.  Still a little apprehensive about being in her apartment, he nodded and followed her inside.

During all her “rehearsals” for this evening, Catherine had gone over different scenarios in her head. While her main goal for the evening was to tell Vincent the truth, she was unsure about what should be discussed and when.  She wanted to do nothing to distract him from enjoying his dinner, so she had decided to keep the dinner discussion light.  They talked about the news from Below.  Even though she had been visiting on a more regular basis, she still enjoyed hearing about the day-to-day details of life Below.  She knew that at some point in time, she and Vincent would marry, and to have knowledge beforehand would prove helpful. 

Since she was no longer an investigator, her work consisted primarily of paperwork more than anything else.  Occasionally an interesting case or person would provide her with stories to tell Vincent.  Since he had never been so thoroughly involved with someone from the world Above before, the truth of the matter was that Vincent found just about everything interesting.  Things she took for granted provided him with a different outlook, things he had never dreamed of experiencing before Catherine came into his life.  The recounting of the antics of the Tunnel children never failed to bring laughter to both Vincent and Catherine.  Below he was an authority figure and could never show them his lighter side, so it was wonderful to share this with Catherine and he felt himself starting to relax.  Once again, Catherine felt and also saw this in him and was grateful.  She hoped it would make her task easier.  Together they cleared the table, and Catherine asked Vincent to light the fire while she brought them a pot of tea and dessert.  Vincent was infamous for his sweet tooth, and in wanting him to have the full restaurant experience, sans the restaurant, she had ordered a variety of desserts for him to sample.  His eyes looked like saucers when she brought them all to the table.  They took turns feeding each other samples, a very intimate gesture for Vincent, and more laughs ensued.

They sat in silence, each gazing into the fire.  Catherine knew it was now or never, so she bowed her head and said a silent prayer before proceeding.  “Vincent.”  The word was barely audible above the crackle of the fire.  He turned his head and looked at her, a smile on his face.  Catherine continued, “I know that you were probably curious as to why I didn’t give you my pledge of no secrets between us a few weeks ago.”  Even though he still could not feel the bond on his side, he could tell from her body language and the expression on her face that what she was about to say was causing her a great deal of discomfort.  Not wanting to add to that, he chose not to tell her how disappointed he had been at the time, but decided instead to encourage her, help her with what appeared to be something very  important.  He cocked his head to the side, an action that always caused a smile to appear on her face.

 “Catherine, I was disappointed at the time, but seeing the look on your face right now, it seems you have something to say to me, something that is or was causing you a great deal of distress.  Is whatever you have to say, the reason you couldn’t make the pledge?  Whatever it is Catherine, I want to hear it, and I want to help however I can,” Vincent answered, always ready to lend a hand, even if doing so would cause him to be the one who got hurt.

Not wanting him to see any fear in her, she smiled and sent her love to him.  Even though he couldn’t feel it, perhaps he would sense it; see it in the body language he had noticed before.  “Vincent,” she began again.  “I want you to promise me that you will wait till I finish before you ask me any questions.  I want you to remember above all else, that I love you with all my heart and the last thing I would ever want to do is hurt you, or cause you any unhappiness.  Do you believe me, Vincent?”  The sincerity and trust in his eyes almost crushed her resolve, but it also reinforced her belief in their love and that the truth needed to be told and told now. 

Starting the conversation with his name seemed to be too personal, at least for the moment.  Right now, she had to present her case, in a manner of speaking, and for that, she needed to act like an attorney, not a woman in love.  She needed to get her points across before she lost her nerve, and so, once again, she said a silent prayer and again attempted to start the conversation.  “The last time we discussed your breakdown.”  Just the mention of that time, that word, caused him to visibly flinch.  She noticed it, but knew she had to continue.  She repeated her last comment, “The last time we discussed your breakdown, you said you didn’t remember what happened after you left the hub and went into the cave, and that your memories of that time still haven’t returned.  Is that still true, Vincent?”  For a moment somewhere in his mind he felt as if he were on trial and couldn’t understand the reason for this question.  Since he had said he wouldn’t speak until she had finished, he just nodded.

The butterflies in her stomach had now turned to knots, but she persevered.  “Vincent, we could all hear you roaring.  The sound was so guttural, so intense, that it frightened all of us, especially Father.  When he saw I was determined to go to you, he tried to stop me.  I told him that without you, there is nothing; and I mean that with all my heart, Vincent.  You are my life, my world, and when I couldn’t find a heartbeat, I began screaming, ‘not without me.’  Then I began to kiss you, to will you back to life, back to me.”  His face remained neutral as she was speaking, and now he was beginning to feel uncomfortable.  “Before you collapsed, you were all over that cave, ripping your clothes to shreds, digging your nails into the walls.  When I entered, you didn’t recognize me, didn’t hear me calling out to you.  The madness had consumed you.  You did something that I know in your right mind you would never do.  I know that you would never hurt me, but, Vincent, you raised your hand to strike me.  It wasn’t until I screamed your name louder that you finally heard me, and then you collapsed.”  His lips, his body were drawn as tightly as a bowstring.  How could he have done something like that to her of all people?  Why did she tolerate him when he could barely tolerate himself after hearing this news?  She could see the drastic difference in him, and continued before he changed his mind and bolted out of the door. “Vincent, I have a confession to make. Please remember your promise to listen to everything I have to say.  For the past several weeks, I’ve been having nightmares about that night.  They got so bad, that while I was in Peter’s office, I collapsed.”  He started to speak, but she put her finger to his lips to prevent it.  “Peter wanted to know what was going on, why I had lost weight, and why I had fainted.  I don’t want you to feel that I betrayed you by confiding in him first, but I had no choice.  Please, Vincent promise me that you don’t feel betrayed?” 

What a remarkable women she was.  He could have killed her with one swipe of his claws and here she was worrying that he would feel betrayed because she had confided in her physician and friend.  Breaking his vow of silence, he simply stated, “No Catherine, I don’t feel betrayed.  You had to confide in someone, and given my weakened state, it couldn’t be me.  Since Father is too close to the situation, I’m sure you didn’t feel comfortable confiding in him either.” 

Relaxing slightly, she continued.  “Vincent, I couldn’t make the pledge to you until I told you this secret.”  Taking his hands in hers, she looked him directly in the eye and spoke the words he had waited two weeks to hear.  “Vincent, I give you my word that from now on I will keep no secrets from you, regardless of how small, large or how painful they might prove to be, no matter how much hurt they will cause either of us.  Do you believe me?”

“Yes, Catherine, I do believe you.”  Taking her into his arms and pulling her onto his lap, he hugged her tightly to him and then kissed her as passionately as he had that day at the Mirror Pool.  As they sat there in front of the fire, he felt a familiar sensation: a sensation that had been absent for months.  Although it was very, very weak, it felt like the faint stirrings of the bond.  The bond which had guided him to her in times of trouble, allowed him to feel her joys and fears.  Had her revelation been the trigger needed to cause its return?  Now it was his turn to offer a silent prayer of hope that this was indeed the case.  They sat this way for a while as she explained to him about all the different methods she had tried to stop the nightmare, the medication Peter had prescribed, and lastly how she had written everything down, and “rehearsed” in the shower what she would say to him.  He smiled, because now he understood why this had felt as if he were on trial.  His Catherine; how good that felt to say.  His Catherine, always prepared, the way any good attorney would be. 

Too soon, it was time for him to leave.  She escorted him to the balcony and in his arms, she felt lighter than she had in months.  After he left, she finished cleaning up the kitchen and got ready for bed.  A smile crossed her face as she put the bottle of sleeping pills in her drawer.  Tonight there would be no nightmare.  Tonight she would have no trouble sleeping - of that she was sure.  Catherine was on top of the world, her secret revealed, and she and Vincent had taken yet another step toward their future.

Their relationship, which in the past had been filled with drama and life or death situations was now lighter.  The drama was replaced with laughter.  The life and death situations were replaced with plans for their future.  Their future.’  Each of them, in their own way, marveled at how that statement, those words rolled around on their tongues. 

Vincent, tired of being in the tunnels for so long, took every opportunity to visit Catherine’s apartment.  Since their dinner date, his reluctance to enter her apartment had disappeared.  He now looked forward to being there.  To see how she lived, to look at the photo albums and to re-live the memories of her childhood.  Their time together was still measured, but each of them made a concerted effort to increase that time, whether that meant her not bringing work home a few nights a week or him refusing to be available to the entire community all hours of the day or night.  During this time, Vincent came to another realization.  The memories that were still lost to him, needed to be restored.  Although he had recovered completely physically, emotionally he still had some work to do.  They had coined these discussions “Therapy Sessions.”  Together, they decided not to dwell just on all the horrors that had occurred, but to incorporate good memories to counterbalance the bad ones.  During each visit, whether to her apartment or in his chamber, they went through all the killings, the danger, the jealousy, his feelings of inadequacy that she would be better off living a life Above with someone else, and his trying to send her away for her own good.  After each of the revelations, they both felt, as individuals and as a couple, that a catharsis was taking place.  The faint stirrings of the bond became stronger after each revelation.  This gave them hope that it would be fully restored in the not too distant future.

His memories were intact up to the point that “The Outsiders” appeared in the tunnels.  Vincent hadn’t realized it at the time, but looking back, this was probably when a crack in the wall that he so diligently maintained after the Other took over, had started to chip away.  What had affected him most in killing the intruders was the fact that a child had been involved.  The child had fought with all the hatred that he had witnessed in his life, and in looking back, that had disturbed Vincent the most.  After the child fled the Tunnels, they sent out search parties for him.  Catherine combed the streets Above and called various agencies, but he seemed to have simply vanished into thin air. After their “Therapy Sessions” Vincent would not only review his previous journal entries up to the time before the breakdown, he would sit and analyze everything he and Catherine had discussed that evening.  This went on for several weeks until they came to the actual breakdown and the fallout that occurred afterward.  He still chided himself that he had forgotten Catherine’s name.  Of all the people, the one who risked her own life to save his!  How could he have done that to her?  Sensing something in the bond while visiting his chamber one night, and determined from now on all the questions she asked would be direct ones, she asked, “Vincent, you seem troubled.  Will you tell me what’s wrong?”  A smile crossed his lips as he saw the love in her eyes combined with his pain that she was experiencing through the still faint bond they shared.

Since they had both agreed there would be no more secrets, he explained to her how deeply he had been affected seeing the description of her reaction when he didn’t remember her name, the pain in her eyes that she tried so desperately to hide, the reassurance she offered to him.  After he finished, he looked at her again, seeing her in a new light.  He no longer viewed her as someone to put upon a pedestal or to be worshipped, but someone who had earned the right to be by his side through good times and bad.  She had proven that no matter what life might throw at them, she would never waver, never falter in her belief in him, of their future together.  Perhaps it was time he did something about that.  He answered her in a different voice than she was used to hearing.  It was thick with emotion, sexier than usual.  “Catherine, I was just thinking about how much courage you have shown in your choice to stand by me.  The magnitude of that courage has never failed to impress me, even if I acted like a coward, or worse yet, a child, and ran away when things became too difficult.  I want to give you another pledge if I may?”  She nodded, too choked with emotion to speak.  “I promise you that I will no longer run from you if things get to be too uncomfortable for me, that I will stay and fight just as you have always done.  You could have run many times, Catherine, but you always stayed, always waited for me to return, even when I wasn’t sure myself if I should; and for that, I will be eternally grateful.  Do you accept my pledge, Catherine?” 

He looked into her tear-filled eyes and saw the words that she couldn’t speak.  The words that said I will love you forever, and I will always stand by your side.  Then she was hit with a hiccup from suppressing the tears.  They both chuckled and then she broke into a fit of giggles.  How he loved to hear her laugh!  It was so infectious it soon had him giggling, which was something he rarely did.  When they had composed themselves and her tears had faded, she fell into his arms, and gave him a very light kiss on the mouth. 

She then stood up so she was facing him and said, “Vincent I have waited so long to hear you say those words.  Thank you.”  Before he could reply, she continued. “I would like a handshake to seal the deal.” 

A little puzzled, but thinking it had something to do with the way they had been behaving; he agreed and shook her hand. 

He was amazed at the tight grip she maintained as she leaned into him until they were nose-to-nose and said, “Vincent, a handshake is as binding as any legal document you could sign.  If you back out on this deal, I will hunt you down to the ends of these tunnels.  Do I make myself clear?”  By the look of determination in her eyes and the grip on his hand, he knew she meant business. 

“Catherine, whatever else I may be, I am and always will be a gentleman.  I promised you I would never run away from you again, and I intend on keeping that promise.” 

“Good,” was all she said. 

In keeping with the lightness of the situation, he said, “Besides, if that handshake is any indication, I would never want to be on your bad side.”  They both laughed and sealed the deal again, but this time with a very passionate kiss.

The weeks leading up to Halloween (Saowen) seemed to fly by.  They still managed to squeeze in as much time together as possible, and still maintained the “Therapy Sessions.”  Catherine was learning as much from them as Vincent was.  As badly as he felt for forgetting her name, she felt worse for all the times she needed rescuing, thereby placing Vincent in both physical and emotional danger because of the choices she had made.  Catherine felt it was vital to apologize to Vincent for putting him in harm’s way and to tell him of the discussion she had with Father when Bernie Spirko was investigating her. 

“Vincent, now that your memories have for the most part returned, I need to tell you about something Father and I discussed when Spirko first surfaced.”  Intrigued he tilted his head to the side, knowing that Catherine loved this gesture and hoped it would help her relax.  The bond, though still tenuous, was thrumming with tension and emotions he didn’t understand.  What he couldn’t figure out was why she would be feeling fear. Certainly, it wasn’t because of him. 

“You know that before I told you about Spirko, I met with Father and told him what was going on?  I was hoping that I could discourage the investigation if I just kept stalling, kept lying to him, but I didn’t know that Paracelsus was behind everything, pulling the strings.  I told Father that I shared in the killings; saw the shame when you lost yourself, that perhaps I had been reckless, and deliberately put myself in danger knowing that you would come to me.  I’ve been thinking about this ever since we started our “Therapy Sessions,” Vincent, and I know that I promised no more secrets; but the truth is, I was too ashamed to tell you.  I was afraid that you would hate me, never want to see me again, forbid me in the Tunnels for what I had put you through.  Until you actually said the words, “I love you,” I had no way of knowing if you truly did love me.  I had told you several times before, and you never responded.  I felt in my heart that you did, but seeing the passion in the way you protected me, was the only true way I had of knowing your deepest feelings for me.” 

They had been sitting on her balcony floor.  She couldn’t look at him, and stood up to lean on the railing and look at the lights.  She needed to compose herself, to stop the tears spilling down her cheeks, and to prepare for the inevitable final good-bye she felt was coming.  Vincent sat on the floor, a flood of emotions running through his mind.  Now he understood the feeling of fear he had felt earlier.  He needed space to review all this, and he couldn’t do it with Catherine in close proximity. 

He stood up and went to the railing.  It took a few moments before either could turn to look at the other, but when they did; the love they saw in the other’s eyes was unmistakable.  If he chose to handle this on his own, as was his usual way, wasn’t that just like running away again, and hadn’t he promised not to do that anymore?  He chose his words very carefully before speaking.  “Catherine, I considered going back to the Tunnels and working this out by myself.  Then I felt that would be as if I was running away, and I promised you I wouldn’t do that again.  While I am stunned by your revelation, I can’t believe that you think I could ever hate you, or never want to see you again.  I know that some of the danger that surrounded you was not always of your own making.  You certainly didn’t bring the danger of the Tong, The Outsiders, or those boys that killed for fun upon yourself; I brought that danger to you.  As far as you not knowing that I loved you, for that I am truly sorry.  I have loved you from the first moment I saw you, the first moment you whispered my name, and that will never change.  My differences give me the ability to protect the ones that I love, no matter what the cost.  That is my burden to bear.  Mine and mine alone.  I know that our bond, once it is fully restored, will be different now that I have released my control of it and you can feel my emotions.  I know that, if the worst happens and I am forced to kill again, then you will also have to bear that burden; and for that, I am truly sorry.  Know this, Catherine, I will regret all the killings until the day I die.  However, they were necessary, to protect you and to protect my home and my family.  While I hope never to have to kill again, please know that if that is the only option to keep everyone safe, I will do it again willingly, and suffer the consequences of my actions.”  Looking deeply into her eyes, he softly asked if she had anything else to say on this subject. 

“No Vincent.  I’ve told you everything, and I am terribly sorry for all that I have cost you, and if you’ll let me, I’ll do whatever I can, no matter how long it takes, to make it up to you.” 

Wanting to lighten the mood, he held her away from him and reached out his hand.  She took his hand and shook it, knowing by the grin forming on his face that he was paying her back for what she had done to him a short time before.  Suddenly she was grinning like a schoolgirl with a crush.  “Counselor, by shaking my hand, you have given me your word, and that is as binding as any legal document you could sign.  Therefore, if you do not live up to your end of the agreement, I will hunt you down to the ends of New York City.  Do I make myself clear?” 

She nodded her head, and wanting to seal the deal in the same way as they had done before, she wrapped her arms around his neck, and rising up to her tiptoes gave him a very passionate kiss. 

* * *

Finally, it was Halloween night.  Catherine and Vincent had decided not to spend all of their time Above tonight.  They had enough drama in their lives this year between her abduction, the killings, and his breakdown.  They would spend time with the children, telling stories and carving pumpkins, and then go for a brief walk through the city.  Father had grudgingly agreed to this compromise.  She had brought her costume Below a few weeks before.  She had worn the same one for their first Saowen.  The memories of that night were bittersweet.  It was her first Halloween with Vincent, the first time they could walk Above together.  In all honesty, she had been a little jealous of the time he had spent with Brigit O’Donnell. It was also the last Halloween with her father.  As she walked across the park, the dry leaves swirled all around, a sure sign that winter and Winterfest would be here in no time.  A smile crossed her face as she remembered that night, and then she finally had an answer to a question that had been going round and round in her head for weeks.  She still had the smile on her face as she reached the big iron door. Vincent stood waiting for her, dressed in the same outfit he had worn that night.  “Catherine, on your way here I felt conflicting emotions in you.  Feelings of sadness, jealousy, happiness, and then it felt as though you had come to a decision about something.  Is that why you are smiling?’  She had promised to be completely honest with him, but she forgot to add the codicil about keeping secrets for birthdays or other special occasions involving gifts.  She would tell him that part later.  For now, she just told him that she had been looking for a solution to a problem she had been working on and that solution came to her as she was walking across the park.  They shared a brief kiss, and then, wrapped in each other’s arms, started the walk to the main hub and to the party.

After changing into her costume, she and Vincent walked into Father’s library arm in arm, something they ordinarily did not do, and the gesture didn’t go unnoticed by Father’s sharp eyes.  They also seemed more relaxed with each other, less guarded; more in love if that was possible.  Peter had decided to attend the party as well.  He followed Jacob’s gaze, and he, too, noticed the difference in the couple. They looked as if a great weight had been lifted from their shoulders.  He was especially pleased with how Catherine looked.  Not the costume, but the fact that she looked healthy again, and did he dare say she had a glow to her cheeks.  The ever-watchful physicians exchanged glances and both stood to greet the couple as they entered the library.

Always the gallant gentlemen, both Peter and Jacob kissed Catherine’s hand as she moved toward them.  Peter shook Vincent’s hand and patted him on the back.  Vincent and Catherine continued their new affection with each other, whether it was holding hands, touching the other’s arm or leg, or Vincent’s uncharacteristic move, placing his arm around the back of Catherine’s chair.  The talk centered on the children’s activities for the evening.  Father was concerned that Catherine’s costume might be ruined if she took to carving pumpkins or making caramel apples. 

She assured him that she had been wearing an apron, and remarked that she could not remember a Halloween she enjoyed as much as this one.  “Well perhaps just one other,” she thought as she gazed longingly into Vincent’s eyes.  A smile appeared on both their faces as if they were recalling a happy experience.  Both Father and Peter knew that they were remembering their first Halloween together, and the thought caused a slight shiver to run up Father’s spine.  Clearing his throat repeatedly was the only way Father could bring their attention back to the present.  Both apologized for their lack of attentiveness to the conversation at hand.  “When do the two of you plan on going Above, and how long will you be gone?”  He paused and they both waited for the inevitable warning they knew was forthcoming.  “You know I don’t like this idea, but the only comfort I find is that you promised you would not be out for more than two hours.  Is that still your intention?” 

Trying to hide their amusement, they both nodded their heads, afraid to speak for fear that laughter would consume them.  In an attempt to divert the conversation from the rest of their evening, Catherine mentioned the music softly playing in the background.  She had purchased a battery operated CD player so that she and Vincent could still listen to the music that they both enjoyed, the music that they usually heard from the safety of their music chamber, the music of which he had been deprived during his long recovery.  Vincent heard the music as well and was once again reminded of the incredible courage of the woman seated next to him, and vowed to himself to do something to honor her, something to ensure their future together.

A wistful look appeared in Catherine’s eyes and Vincent felt a slight stab of sadness through their bond.  With each of their “Therapy Sessions,” the bond grew a bit stronger, and silently he cursed the fact that it still hadn’t returned to its former glory, for he desperately wanted to know what was causing this sudden bout of sadness.  Then it hit him.  The last time she wore that dress, her date had been her father, and he realized at that moment how much his absence was affecting her.  In order to restore a smile to her lovely face, he made a quick decision and rose from his chair.  He walked to the other side of Catherine’s chair, bowed slightly, extended his hand, and said, “Catherine, may I have this dance?”  Caught off guard by this gesture, she smiled and said, “Vincent, I would be honored to dance with you,” and they proceeded to the middle of the chamber.  Jacob and Peter sat watching the couple, each mesmerized by the grace that Vincent exuded and the love that flowed back and forth between them, each recalling moments from their pasts when it had been them on the dance floor with the loves of their lives.  After the dance was finished, they walked the short distance back to the table, and in a soft voice, Catherine spoke to both Peter and Jacob.

“Gentleman, as I’m sure you are aware, the last time I wore this dress I was lucky enough to be my father’s date for the evening.  Since he is no longer with us, each of you is like a surrogate father to me.  Peter you have always held that role; but, Jacob, the more time I spend in these tunnels, the more my feelings grow, not only for your son and this community, but for you as well.  I hope you don’t mind?”  

Too overcome with emotion to speak, and not wanting to shed the tears that were welling up in his eyes, Father just nodded. 

“Good,” she continued, “then I would very much like to dance with each one of you before we go Above for our walk.”  She curtsied in front of Peter, held out her hand, and asked him to dance.

“It would be my honor, Cathy,” and they proceeded to the makeshift dance floor.  From all appearances, they were having a very pleasant conversation, while Vincent and Father seemed immersed in a very serious discussion.  Finished with their dance, they approached the table and heard Vincent tell Father that they would continue it after he returned from his night with Catherine.  Seeing the look of concern in her eyes, Vincent smiled.  She tested the bond verifying that nothing had been said or done that could spoil the rest of their evening, and nothing had.  Showing no favoritism, Catherine curtsied in front of Father, held out her hand and after a wobbly start by Father; they, too, made their way to the dance floor. 

Peter went to work on the plan that he and Catherine had just concocted.  He told Vincent that he wanted to verify that both his and Cathy’s recoveries were complete, and he wanted to discuss that in the privacy of Vincent’s chamber. 

Watching the couple on the dance floor, seeing two of the people he loved most in the world finally breaking all the barriers that had stood between them, finally content in each other’s company, Vincent hated the thought of missing even one moment of the magic that was now taking place.  He realized it would be easier to comply with Peter’s request rather than object, so with a nod of his head, Vincent stood and led the way to his chamber. 

Catherine and Father were quiet as they danced.  Catherine knew that she didn’t have much time before Vincent returned, and since the solution to her problem had only popped into her head on her way to meet Vincent, she had no time to “rehearse” anything as she usually did.  Deciding that the direct approach would be the most beneficial, she stepped away from Father so that they would be eye-to-eye.  This way he could not possibly doubt the sincerity of what she was about to ask of him.  Speaking in a voice barely above a whisper, she began “Father, I think you’ve come to realize that I will never leave Vincent, that I am committed to him, to sharing a life with him.  Do you believe me when I say this to you?”  Not sure where this topic was leading and not wanting to take a chance on missing any of the rest of the conversation, he only nodded and she continued.  “As you know, Vincent and I have been discussing our future together.  We have been working extremely hard to overcome all the obstacles that have prevented that in the past.”  She closed her eyes and said a silent prayer.  This next sentence would be the most important one of her life and she wanted to get it right the first time.  “Father, I would like your permission to ask Vincent to marry me at Winterfest.” 

Stunned would be an understatement for the way Father was feeling.  Looking into her eyes, he could see the love, the determination reflected there.  He had two choices.  He could either keep objecting and make everyone miserable, or he could give them his blessing and pray that they did indeed have their “Happy Life” together.  They continued dancing while Catherine awaited his answer.  Her nerves were beginning to fray.  Wanting an answer before Vincent and Peter returned, she was preparing herself for his refusal.  Even though only a few minutes had passed, it felt to Catherine like a lifetime.

So there would be no confusion in his answer, Father stopped dancing and took Catherine’s hands in his.  As he looked at her, he finally understood how deeply she loved his son.  In a flash of memory, he was reminded of the awful night she went into that cave and brought his son back to life.  How could he doubt, after all she had done for him and for this community, that she would ever do anything to break Vincent’s heart?  She wouldn’t.  In a voice as soft as the one she had used, Jacob Wells, tunnel patriarch, spoke.  “Catherine, isn’t it a bit unconventional for the woman to propose?” 

With a giggle, she replied, “Father, nothing about us or our relationship has been conventional, so why start now?  I know that I want to spend the rest of my life with Vincent and no one else.  He deserves everything I have to give; every happiness life has to offer.  Since I’ll be the one proposing, it takes the pressure away from him, and guarantees that I get my proposal.  That’s why this has to be a surprise.”  Seeing that she was holding her breath, he decided to make her wait no more. 

Kissing her softly on the cheek, he responded, “Catherine, you have my blessing, and I will keep your secret.” 

A very excited Catherine hugged him tightly and said, “I make you this promise Father.  You won’t be sorry.” 

Surprised at the strength contained in this petite woman, Jacob Wells felt just a little uncomfortable.  After the hug, she kissed him on the cheek. 

Peter and Vincent witnessed this scene as they reentered the chamber.  A little shocked, but very happy that they were still getting along, Vincent said nothing and approached the couple on the dance floor.  “Catherine, you look even happier then when I left.  Perhaps there is something you wish to share with us?”

 “No, Vincent, I do not wish to share what Father and I were discussing.  It’s a surprise and you and the rest of the community will have to wait till Winterfest to find out what it is.” 

Knowing it was foolish to argue with her, he conceded for the moment, and then said, “Catherine, it’s getting late.  If we want to go Above, we should leave now.”  Driving home his point, he added, “I don’t want to be late for my curfew.” 

Catherine couldn’t help herself.  Her elation over receiving Father’s blessing and the remark that Vincent had just made was more than she could handle, and she laughed aloud.  “Well Vincent, we can’t take a chance on you being grounded for breaking curfew, so we better leave.” 

The outraged look on Father’s face was priceless.  After hugs and handshakes, they set off for their walk in the world Above.

The couple took in many of the same sights as they did on their first Halloween.  It didn’t matter what they saw or didn’t see.  All that mattered was that Vincent could walk the streets of New York City, like any other man.  For this one night, this one small gift he was grateful.  When the original plans for Halloween were discussed, Catherine had suggested that Vincent escort her to her front door and come in for a drink.  As they walked through the lobby, he was nervous that someone would comment on his “costume.”  The people they encountered were so engrossed in their own festivities they didn’t give him a second look.

As they approached her door, Vincent stopped for a moment and just looked at it.  He had been in all areas of her apartment many times, but this was the first time he had seen what it was like from this side of the door.  Realizing what he was doing, Catherine just watched as he ran his fingers over the door.  She handed him the keys and gestured for him to unlock the door.  It took several attempts.  Keys were not something Vincent had much practice with, but he finally managed to open the door.  The apartment was a bit stuffy, so Catherine instructed Vincent to wait for her on the balcony while she poured their drinks.  Glasses of brandy in hand, they leaned on the railing and looked over the city, re-living their night together.  When it was time for him to leave, Catherine walked Vincent to the front door.  She wanted him to ride down in the elevator, and verified that he was sure he knew how to operate it.  He assured her he had watched her as they came up, and that he would be fine.  Before opening the door, Catherine said to Vincent, “It is customary to have a good-night kiss at the end of a good date, and I have never looked forward to a good-night kiss as much as I have been looking forward to this one.” 

She didn’t need to explain. Vincent knew exactly what she meant and replied, “Catherine, I would not want to end this wonderful evening by not fulfilling your every wish,” and took her in his arms and into a kiss that took her breath away.  Before she opened her eyes, he was gone, out the door, and into the elevator.  She raced to the elevator just in time to see a wicked smile cross his face before the doors closed, cutting off her view.  Without her knowledge, Vincent had decided not to take the elevator to the basement, as originally intended.  Since this was the only night of the year that he could act as any other man did, he walked through the lobby again, nodded to the doorman and exited through the front doors.  He then made his way to an entrance in the alley, and began the journey home.

It took only a moment for her to compose herself and race back into her apartment, change out of her costume and begin working on yet another summation.  This summation would bring the one thing her mother wanted for her most of all…a “Happy Life.”  While this was taking place above the streets of New York, below Vincent was walking slowly through the tunnels, a smile on his face, and humming a tune he had heard tonight while they strolled through the city streets.  Making any type of noise when he returned to the tunnels was completely out of character for Vincent.  Upon hearing the unfamiliar sound, Jamie who was on sentry duty, left her post to check for intruders.  Seeing that it was only Vincent, she just smiled as he walked past her.  Returning to her post, Jamie thought about the smile on Vincent’s face and knew it could mean only one thing.  His night with Catherine had been a success.

During his walk to Father’s library, Vincent was reviewing the conversation they had started earlier this evening and was now “rehearsing” the various conclusions to that conversation.  He shook his head and chuckled; Catherine was indeed rubbing off on him.  He had it all worked out and was prepared for any objections that might arise.  He knew Father would still be awake, waiting for his return, and was not surprised to see him seated at his desk, pretending to read, but actually trying very hard not to fall asleep. 

Father saw him out of the corner of his eye and said, “Ah Vincent.  I was wondering if you would actually make it back at the agreed time or if you would be late just to cause me added stress.  After that parting comment you made, I couldn’t be sure.”  Vincent chuckled again, kissed Father on the brow, and helped him from the desk to the large table in the center of the room.  Vincent told Father about his evening with Catherine; about the costumes they saw, and the sights and sounds of the city.  Vincent waited for the expected reaction when he told him that he had walked through Catherine’s lobby, not once but twice, and had taken the elevator to the lobby by himself.  A strangled cry came from Father’s throat accompanied with the repetitious warnings Vincent had learned to disregard many years ago.

A pot of tea was brought to Father’s chamber shortly before Vincent returned.  They both sat there quietly, waiting for Father to compose himself before he began to speak.  In a determined voice Father had heard him use only in reference to Catherine, Vincent started his own summation.  “Father, in order to get through this conversation, I would appreciate it if you would hold your comments or interruptions until I finish.” 

Father, feeling disciplined in the same manner fitting an unruly child, was too exasperated to speak, so he just nodded. 

“Thank you, Father.  As you know, Catherine now has a job that involves no danger to either of us.  Since my recovery, we have been working very hard on our relationship.  We have discussed our fears, our insecurities, and the consequences of our actions, along with our past and our future.  We both have come to realize that there is no future for either of us without the other, therefore, Father; for these reasons and more I am going to surprise Catherine and propose to her at Winterfest.” 

Unfortunately for Father, he had chosen that exact moment to take a sip of tea.  Knowing that Catherine planned to propose, and now knowing that Vincent wanted to do the same thing caused him to choke on the tea he had just swallowed.  Vincent jumped out of his chair and went over to pat Father on the back.  Father insisted he was fine.  “It just went down the wrong pipe,” he said and shooed Vincent back to his chair. 

Feeling that he was watching the wheels turn in Father’s head, Vincent sat waiting for the litany of reasons why this would never work, why it wouldn’t last, how they were different, and that Catherine was a woman of the world.  When Father finally spoke, it was Vincent’s turn to choke on his tea.  He was completely unprepared for the words he thought never to hear from Father’s mouth.

“Vincent, I think that’s a wonderful idea!  I’ve been watching the two of you for quite some time, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I could either be happy for the two of you and give you my blessing, or make all our lives miserable by continually objecting to your relationship.”  Father chuckled as he remembered thinking that exact thought when Catherine had asked for his permission earlier this evening.  “You are both mature, intelligent adults, capable of making your own decisions without any interference from me.” 

Vincent sat there too shocked to speak with eyes as wide as saucers.  Father continued, “However,” Here it comes, Vincent thought.  Lull me into a sense of complacency and then pull the sneak attack, typical move for Father. 

Trying to maintain his stern patriarchal image was difficult due to the look of complete and utter shock on Vincent’s face.  His medical training had prepared him for delivering bad news to people, and now he was calling on that same training to keep from breaking into laughter at the sight of his son’s face.  Resuming the conversation he said, “As I was saying, don’t you think Vincent that with Winterfest only a short time away and all the festivities that go on that night, that it might be too public an occasion for such a personal thing as a proposal?  Perhaps you might wait until New Year’s Eve and do it privately.  Personally, I couldn’t think of a better way to end a less than stellar year and to begin a new one.  Can you?”

 Father was offering suggestions for the best way for him to propose!  Vincent pinched himself to make sure he wasn’t dreaming…a move that didn’t go unnoticed by Father.  Still a little stunned, first by Father’s ready acceptance of the engagement, then by his suggestion, Vincent started to come out of his reverie and began to speak, very slowly.  “Father, your blessing means more to me than I could ever say.  I would still have proposed without it, but having it makes it so much richer, so much deeper.”  Father’s head was slightly bowed because for the second time that evening, Jacob Wells fought desperately to control the tears that were threatening to overflow at any moment.  What a spectacular man his son was, and yes indeed he was a man.

Vincent continued, “I have been blessed to have you as a parent.  I value your wisdom; count on your support through good times and bad.  Without you and this community, I’m not sure how my life would have turned out, or if I would have, in fact survived, at all.  Seeing you dance with Catherine tonight filled me with such joy.  To see two of the people I love the most enjoying each other’s company, meant more than I could ever express.  While I am no longer afraid to show my feelings about Catherine to the world as I once was, perhaps you’re right, and a more intimate setting might be the better way to go.  I’ll have to think it over, since I already had my heart set on a Winterfest proposal.  Thank you, Father, for everything.  I trust this will stay just between the two of us?”

Father agreed with his mouth, but his eyes looked like they wanted to ask a question.  Leaning in to kiss him good-night, Vincent whispered in his ear, “Yes Father, you may tell Mary, but absolutely no one else.  Do I have your word?”  Father stood up and stretched out his hand, shaking Vincent’s very vigorously.  Echoing Catherine’s words Vincent chuckled and said, “You know, Father, a hand shake is as binding as any legal document you could sign?”

“Yes Vincent, I’m well aware of that, and you have my word, that I will tell no one else but Mary, and I will make sure that she shakes on it as well.  Will that put your fears to rest?” 

Vincent smiled, nodded, bid his father good-night, and left the chamber.

Once he was out of earshot, Father released the pent up laughter he had been holding.  “Not bad for an old coot if I do say so myself.”  He then looked around the room making sure he hadn’t been overheard.  Mary entered the chamber with a puzzled look in her eye.  Since he was still standing, Father escorted her to a chair, and proceeded to relay all the events of the evening to her.  Her eyes were now just as big as Vincent’s had been earlier.

“Jacob,” Mary asked, “what are you going to do if he still wants to propose at Winterfest?”  He replied “Mary, let’s cross that bridge if and when we come to it.  Meanwhile let’s pray that my art of persuasion still works and he decides to hold off till New Years Eve.”  After he explained to her the legalities of the handshake, they stood, shook hands, and called it a night, each going their separate ways.

A sudden cold snap and an overflowing caseload had prevented Catherine from spending any time with Vincent.  Father and Mary were already on pins and needles waiting to hear his decision about postponing the engagement. 

Between the weight of this decision and not being able to spend time with Catherine, Vincent’s mood had become very sour; not even the children could cheer him.  As he was standing in the Chamber of the Winds one evening, feeling sorry for himself because he couldn’t be with Catherine, and then being angry at himself for feeling sorry for himself, that he couldn’t be with Catherine, in wandered Mouse.

 It was Mouse who finally got Vincent to smile and even to laugh.  In his innocent childlike way he asked Vincent what was wrong.  How could he answer Mouse’s question without giving away the reason for his mood?  One wrong word and the news would be all over the tunnels before he had even had a chance to ask Catherine this most important question.  In trying to explain the reason for his mood, he caught sight of Mouse, trying to stand still while trying very hard to wait for Vincent’s reply.  It then occurred to him that when he asked wasn’t important; all that mattered was that he asked.  He looked at Mouse and said, “Thank you Mouse, for helping me solve my problem.” 

Now Mouse was more confused than ever, and said, “Mouse didn’t say anything, Vincent.  How could I help?” 

Vincent replied, “Sometimes Mouse a look is worth more than a thousand words.” 

Pleased that he had been able to help his friend even though he didn’t really understand, in typical Mouse fashion, he responded, “OK Good-OK Fine,” and with that, the two friends left the chamber.

Later in the evening, Vincent strolled into the library and informed both Father and Mary, who were enjoying a cup of tea, of his decision.  In order to maintain the charade that he had started a few nights ago Father said, “Vincent, I think you’ve made the right decision.  I know that proposing to a woman is nerve racking enough, without all the witnesses around.  Have you thought about how and where you’re going to propose?  What about a ring?”

 A ring!  That thought had never crossed Vincent’s mind, and now the worried look started to reappear.  Realizing Father had made a major gaffe, Mary quickly jumped in to save the day.  “Vincent, do you know if Catherine has a favorite stone?  Perhaps she would like something other than a diamond or she may even have a ring of her mother’s that she’d like to wear.”  A silent thank you passed from Father to Mary as Vincent digested this bit of information.  “If you two will excuse me, I need to do some research on this subject.” And with his head bowed, Vincent left the library.

Mary composed herself before beginning her tirade.  “Jacob, what is the matter with you?  He finally made the decision to delay the proposal and you have to bring up a ring!  What would he use for money?  It’s not as though he can go into a jeweler and buy one.  I know he will want it to be extra special, but I don’t think you needed to put the added pressure on him.”  She took a sip of tea and sat back in her chair waiting for the explanation she knew was sure to follow.  While waiting for Jacob’s response,, she thought to herself, “Men! Always putting their foot in their mouth.” 


It wasn’t long before Father cleared his throat and then spoke, “You’re right, Mary.  I should have been satisfied with just the postponement and not said anything to Vincent about a ring.  We just got him out of one funk, and now he’s back in another.  I hope Catherine’s case doesn’t continue too much longer.  I can’t bear to see him like this.”

Back in his chamber, Vincent was pacing back and forth, banging his fists on any available surface.  That was how Catherine found him when she entered his chamber.  Wanting to surprise him, she had closed off the bond so he wouldn’t sense her approach.  She tested the bond, attempting to find out what was wrong, but all she felt was his frustration.  Opening the bond and sending him her love, he whirled around to see her standing there.  Without a word, he walked over to her, scooped her up in his arms and into a very passionate kiss.  After he set her back down, it took her a few moments to regain her footing because of his kiss.  Mentally she made a note to stop letting him catch her off guard like that. Vincent was now sitting on the bed, so Catherine walked over and sat next to him, putting her arm through his.  She waited a few moments then asked what had caused him such distress. 

Knowing that she would be able to feel if he was being dishonest, and that would be breaking his promise about keeping secrets, he decided to tell her the truth.  Sensing that this wasn’t anything life or death, and that it was more of a personal nature, she decided to tell him about the codicil for secret keeping. “Vincent, before you say anything, I need to tell you about a codicil to the secret pledge.”

More confused than ever, he tilted his head and looked at her.  Catherine continued, “I know we promised to always be truthful with one another, but there are certain things that are exceptions to that pledge.  For example, presents and surprises.  If we can’t keep those a secret then we’ll never have any surprises, now will we?” 

He smiled at her.  She always knew the right thing to say to make him feel better.  In that new sexier voice she had come to love, he said, “You’re absolutely right, counselor, what would the world be without surprises?”  With that comment, he pulled her closer to him and then brought them back to lie on his bed while he continued assaulting her with every type of kiss he knew, and some he had recently read about and wanted to practice.

* * *

It was Thanksgiving Day, always a joyous and noisy time in the tunnels.  Catherine had sent down enough food to feed an army.  She hated the thought of not having enough leftovers after a holiday. 

She had also sent down a note, telling Jacob that she needed to speak to him about her “project” and asked that he find a suitable distraction for Vincent.  Deciding that Mary’s chamber would afford them more privacy then the library, Mary asked the couple, along with Jacob, to escort her to her chamber.  She claimed that she wanted their opinion on the program for Winterfest.  Catherine smiled knowing that this was how the distraction would work.  After reviewing the tentative program of events, the two couples sat and enjoyed a quiet cup of tea after all the din of the dining hall.  As if it were a matter of life or death, Mary quickly said, “Oh my goodness!  I’ve forgotten all about the decorations that needed to be looked at for repairs.  I wanted the children to start working on those tomorrow. Winterfest will be here before you know it.  Vincent, I’m afraid you put them on a ledge in an empty chamber to keep them from being damaged.  Will you come with me and get them down, NOW?”  Vincent knew how much Mary prided herself on ensuring that everything for Winterfest was just perfect.  He stood and offered his hand and said, “Of course Mary.  It would be my pleasure.”  With that, the couple left the room.  Vincent’s back was turned so he missed the smile that Mary and Catherine exchanged.

 Knowing once again that their time was limited, Father decided that in order to keep the current plans intact, he needed to break his promise to Vincent.  He confessed to Catherine that Vincent had been persuaded not to propose at Winterfest.  She was shocked that he was confident enough to propose at all, and then smiled at the realization they were both on the same page in terms of their future together.  He also told her about his slip of the tongue involving the ring and how Vincent had reacted.

 “That’s why he was so upset that day,” Catherine thought.  Quickly and quietly, Catherine told Father about the chain of events that would lead to the proposal and handed him a note.  They had just finished their conversation when Mary and Vincent returned.  Informing Father and Mary that the couple wanted to work off their meal, they bid the older couple adieu and left for their walk through the tunnels.

Each caught up in their day-to-day lives, the month of December afforded very little time for Vincent and Catherine to be together.  Determined to keep the lines of communication open, even if they couldn’t be together physically, they vowed to be together in other ways.  Each day a letter was delivered to Vincent and Catherine arose to find hers with the morning paper or slipped under her door when she arrived home each night.  The words expressed in those missives sustained them both through those long winter nights.  The letters from Vincent conveyed the openness and new confidence he had found within himself and in them as a couple.  They each read and reread the letters from the other multiple times throughout the day and before they went to sleep each night.  Vincent put his letters in a safe place in his chamber while Catherine put all of hers in that trusty suitcase that contained all the other symbols of their relationship.  She prayed that in the not too distant future, she would be able to keep them in a safe place, in their chamber, far below the city streets.

Even though Catherine was not actually in the tunnels, her presence continued to be felt day after day, as the Helpers brought down a steady stream of presents along with various types of foods, music and a live Christmas tree.  Father raised his usual objections to all the lavishness.  He couldn’t let them in on the secret that he was a softie underneath that gruff patriarchal exterior or the fact that he was grateful for all that Catherine was bestowing on them.  Secretly, he was pleased that they would have such a bountiful Winterfest.  After the year they had endured and the reality that Vincent was almost lost to them forever, he felt they deserved it.  Of course, hiding all the presents was a task that must be handled by just the right person, so naturally, Father assigned it to Vincent.  He felt it would keep him busy and not give him time to dwell on Catherine’s absence.  Father, if truth be told, was bursting at the seams waiting for the big event.  The less Vincent was around, the less pretending he had to do, and he also didn’t have to put up with Vincent’s dour attitude.  Father had taken to calling him Scrooge under his breath.  He chuckled as Vincent left the library carrying yet another load of gifts and mumbling that the only present he wanted was Catherine.

Catherine had taken great care to ensure that everything was perfect for this day, just as she had done for their dinner date.  She had gone over all the events, including everything she wanted to say. However, with all the people she knew would be there, she had no guarantee of the outcome.  She “rehearsed” her summation one final time while she was in the shower and as she proceeded to dress.  While searching for her dress, she kept in mind that this was her engagement party; a smile crossed her face at the thought that after tonight she and Vincent would be engaged. 

A picture in a magazine provided the inspiration for her dress.  She took it to a dressmaker she had used in the past.  After reviewing the picture and the pattern, they selected the fabric for the dress. Catherine purchased extra fabric and sent it, along with the crystal and gold trimmed buttons she had found in an antique store, down to Mary, who was thrilled at the idea of making the vest for Vincent’s surprise engagement party.  The buttons were a perfect complement to her crystal.  Catherine had also sent down various types of fabrics with the express instructions that Mary make herself a new dress and Father a new shirt.  She wanted her new family to look as festive as she and Vincent would for the momentous occasion!

The finished product was exactly what Catherine had wanted for her engagement dress, tasteful yet festive.  She and Vincent would be adorned in emerald green brocade.  A heavier fabric had been chosen so it wouldn’t look out of place on Vincent.  The dress had a plunging neckline and was the perfect showcase for her crystal.  A satin sash around her waist complimented the full skirt.  After all, a full skirt would allow for movement while walking through the tunnels and dancing, and it would definitely be easier for getting down on one knee when she proposed to Vincent.  She grabbed her purse, making sure that Vincent’s engagement present was inside, and headed for the front door.  Before she turned off the lights, she looked around the apartment.  The next time she stepped through these doors, she would be engaged to be Vincent’s wife.  With a skip in her step, she headed to the elevator and toward her future.

With all the packages that had been sent down, Vincent was only slightly surprised when Mary informed him that he would be the recipient of a new vest.  Running his fingers over the design in the fabric and seeing the buttons she had chosen brought tears to his eyes.  They matched Catherine’s crystal.  She had thought of everything, which was so typical of her.  Even though all his clothes, including his cloak were made specifically for him, they were all made from remnants.  He had never owned something that wasn’t utilitarian in nature, something so elegant.  He was also thrilled with the new boots and trousers, which had been purchased to compliment his vest.  Catherine had asked that he wear the ruffled shirt she loved so much.  For the first time in his life he felt handsome, worthy of Catherine’s love, and he didn’t know how he was going to resist the temptation to propose; but he had it all rehearsed for New Year’s Eve, and come hell or high water he was going to stick to that plan.

He had arrived at the threshold a few minutes early and had a wagon nearby on the off-chance Catherine might have more gifts with her.  He shook his head while wondering if the stores had anything left on the shelves after all her shopping.  He felt her presence before the basement door finally opened.  How wonderful it was to have the bond back almost at its full strength!  Sticking her head through the door, Catherine instructed him to wait at the threshold, explaining she needed two hands to manage her dress.  In addition to wanting to see him in all his leonine glory wearing his new clothes, she also wanted to make an entrance.

He stood there as she descended the ladder, waiting patiently when all he wanted to do was take her in his arms and kiss her as if there was no tomorrow.  It had been entirely too long since they had seen each other. As she turned and stood in the beam of light, they both had the same reaction to the other.  Their breaths caught in their throats at their first glances.  Drinking in the sight of him, Catherine could stand it no longer and ran into his arms and that long awaited kiss.  This was the longest kiss they had shared, and it left them both breathless and a little weak in the knees. 

After a few moments, she stood back to really look at Vincent in his new outfit.  She let out a long slow sultry whistle and in her best Scarlett O’Hara voice declared, “Why Mr. Wells, I do declare!  I don’t think I’ve ever been witness to a more handsome or dashing gentleman than you are tonight.” 

He blushed, loving the compliments and the vivacity she exuded.  Having read “Gone With the Wind,” and keeping with the theme, he bowed and in his best Rhett Butler imitation said, “Why Miss Chandler!  I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a woman as stunning as you in all the land.” 

In a fit of laughter, they collapsed in each other’s arms.  The moment took a somber turn when Catherine felt a jolt thorough the bond.  Scared that he was changing his mind about the future she gasped, “Vincent, what’s wrong?”  No longer ashamed to express his emotions to her, he let the tears run down his cheeks…now she was truly afraid. 

The few moments that passed seemed like an eternity before he finally spoke.  “Catherine, your love has opened up the darkness in my life and taken me to places I had only dreamed of being possible for me.  I could spend the rest of my life telling you how grateful I am for everything you have done for me, and even then, it wouldn’t be sufficient.  I don’t say it often enough, and tonight will be a very hectic and noisy night, so I wanted to tell you before we join the others.  I will love you until the day I die, and even beyond.” 

Too choked up for words and wanting to get the evening under way, she suggested they head toward the Great Hall.  Before they left the threshold area, he went to the ladder and looked around.  “Catherine, no more gifts?  I was right; you must have left all the shelves in New York City bare.”  For his remark, he was rewarded with a slap on the arm and a kiss on the cheek before they proceeded to the Great Hall.

As they descended the steps candles in hand with the wind whipping all around them, Catherine had only one thought.  “Today December 23, 1989, is the day I become engaged.” 


Since they were the last to arrive, she had only a brief moment to kiss Mary, give her Vincent’s engagement present, to thank her for making the vest, and to compliment her on her new dress and Father’s shirt.  Handing her his candle, Vincent removed the large wooden plank from the door.  Once that task was complete, he held out his hand as he had done the year before and asked, “Can I lead you through the dark?” 

Her reply was the same, “There is no darkness Vincent, when you’re with me.” 

Watching the candlelight chase away the darkness, the story of its origins never ceased to amaze Catherine.  Since its inception, this community had endured many things, sickness, death, births, intruders, and the lack of food.  Through it all they had stood by each other, helped one another.  Looking around the table, she kept thinking about the changes in her life during this past year.  How grateful she was to be one of them.  By this time next year, she and Vincent would be married, and she would truly be a member of this wonderful family.  Vincent caught her excitement through the bond and Catherine just smiled as all the candles were lit and the candelabra raised.  Father proclaimed the official start of Winterfest, and with that, the festivities began.  The couple walked around talking to each resident, each Helper. 

The date for Winterfest had been chosen this year due to its proximity to Christmas, and Catherine had been invited to stay for the Christmas holiday.  In addition to the children receiving Winterfest gifts, they would also be receiving Christmas presents.  For a few children, it was the first time they had ever had a loving home, warm clothes, enough food, and their very first Christmas present.  This was another reason Catherine had made sure the gifts were plentiful.  They stopped to talk with Father and Mary, and Father thanked Catherine for the gift of his new shirt.  As she leaned down to kiss him on the cheek, she whispered in his ear, “Is everything ready?”  With a nod so slight, it was barely noticeable, and with a twinkle in his eye, he whispered in her ear, “Good luck, my dear.”

The time seemed to fly by as they ate, played games with the children, watched Sebastian’s magic tricks, and just enjoyed being together. After a few waltzes, the music changed and Vincent didn’t recognize any of the words or melodies.  Catherine explained that for the children’s enjoyment she had purchased some more modern music to be played on the portable CD player.  Little did Father know that she had purchased one for each of the children’s dormitories along with a year’s supply of batteries for each player.  Oh, was she going to hear about that one.

The modern music included a song by the group “Poison,” titled “Every Rose has its Thorn.”  As the next song began, she signaled to Father who was now standing by the musicians.  With a nod of Father’s head, the dance floor cleared and Vincent and Catherine were the only ones left on the floor.  Seeing his look of confusion, she whispered in his ear, that she had wanted a dance, a song just for the two of them. Since he no longer shied away from the spotlight, he took the opportunity to enjoy this dance.  The melody had caught his attention, but it was the words that made him think that this song was written just for them.  Catherine had known the effect it would have on him, so she had the song repeated.  This was the cue to bring a chair for Vincent, and for everyone to remain quiet.  This was the moment she had been waiting for.

Momentarily caught off guard by the silence and the chair, Vincent felt a bit apprehensive when Catherine motioned for him to sit down.  A moment ago, he didn’t care about being in the spotlight and now he was suddenly very nervous.  He was getting nothing from the bond, and realized Catherine was deliberately blocking it.  Before he could process that thought, she began to speak.

“Vincent, that song is called “Colour my World.” I chose it because the words describe how I feel about you, about our love, and what you mean to me.  Before you came into my life, it was full of things, but not with the things that mattered. By bringing me here,” she gestured to the community who were too entranced to breathe, “you gave me something I haven’t had in a very long time.  You gave me a family, a safe place, and finally you gave me the most important thing of all.  You gave me you - someone I’m connected to. We have endured much, Vincent, and I told you before that I know in the deepest part of who I am, we will continue to endure.  You are the man I have waited my entire life for, the man I know now that I deserve.  I almost lost you this year, and I don’t want to waste another moment, another day.  I want to love you for the rest of my life and beyond.” 

She got down on one knee, and taking his large hands in her small ones, said the words he never thought he’d speak, let alone hear coming from Catherine.  “Vincent Wells, will you do me the honor of becoming my husband?  Will you make our two souls one?”  Too stunned at first to answer, he shook his head wondering if he had heard her correctly.  A quick survey of the expectant faces around the room, told him that he had.  It was hard to speak since he was choking on the tears he was trying to suppress.  “Catherine, isn’t the man supposed to be the one to propose?”  She laughed at his comment. “Vincent, Father said the same thing when I asked for his blessing on Halloween night.”

“Halloween night!  Father you have known about this since then?  Is that why you talked me out of proposing?”

Chuckling, Father said, “Guilty, as charged, Vincent.” 

Not wanting him to shoulder the entire blame, Mary stepped in and told Vincent that she was the only other one to know that Catherine had planned to propose. 

While all this chatter was taking place, Catherine’s heart was beating fast waiting for Vincent’s answer.  Taking his chin in her hand, she turned him back to look at her.  “Vincent, it’s not polite to keep a girl waiting.  May I have your answer?” 

Standing up and pulling her up with him, he said, “Catherine Chandler, it would be my honor to marry you.”

He tried to kiss her, but she stopped him.  Again, he was confused.  “Shouldn’t this be sealed with a kiss?”  he thought.  Catherine walked over to Mary, who took something out of her pocket and handed it to her.  Thanking Mary, she looked at the item and smiled as she returned to face Vincent.  “Vincent, it’s customary to give a ring when one becomes engaged, but you and I have never discussed jewelry for you.  Am I correct in assuming that a wedding band would be the only ring you would wear?”  He nodded in agreement.  “Instead of a ring, I got you a different piece of jewelry.”  Opening her hand and revealing a thick gold ID bracelet, she handed it to him for his approval. “You see it has our initials along with two roses, one white, and one red.”  Turning it over, she indicated the date on the back.  It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen! 

He chuckled and said to her, “Catherine, you were fairly certain that I would say yes weren’t you?”  She put the bracelet on his right wrist, so it would be visible even when he was writing.

Not able to stand it anymore, he grabbed her and kissed her with every fiber of his being.  The onlookers were too stunned to comment, but that didn’t last very long.  Soon the whistles and cat calls started filling the room.  As the kiss ended, a shock went through both of them.  The bond was fully restored!  Grabbing her hand, Vincent led Catherine to the middle of the dance floor and soon the rest of the community and all the Helpers joined them.  It seemed everyone wanted to be on the floor with the newly engaged couple.  They stopped dancing in order to enjoy all the well wishes that were being heaped on them. 

Peter was the last one to congratulate the couple.  The tears were flowing as he hugged each of them.  He looked at Vincent and said, “Take care of her; she’s a very special lady.  Cathy, your parents would be so pleased that you’ve found true love.  I’m sure they are watching right now and enjoying the celebration.” 

Catherine replied, “Thank you, Peter for everything, for always being in my corner and for convincing me to tell Vincent the truth.” 

It was Vincent’s turn to speak.  “Peter I will make you the same promise that I made to Catherine’s father. I will protect Catherine, watch over her, and love her till my last breath.” 

All three of them were now openly crying and Peter took Vincent’s hand and said, “That’s all anyone could ever ask for Vincent, and I know that you mean those words from the bottom of your heart.” 

“I do, Peter, I do.” 

Trying to lighten the somber mood, Peter laughed and said, “Save it for the wedding, Vincent.”  They all laughed as the three of them went to take their places for the closing ceremony.

Everyone gathered in a circle, a gesture showing the world they were stronger together than as separate individuals.  To close the ceremony Father gave his traditional speech and concluded it with, “All Winter’s End,” and as Winterfest drew to a close for yet another year, Catherine and Vincent’s “Happy Life” had just begun.


No Man or Woman is an Island.  Those words were especially true regarding this story.  From its formation to its completion, two women assisted every step of the way.  They listened as an idea, rough in nature, took the form of a story.  They sat patiently through all its twists and turns.  They gave their valuable time to insert innumerable quotation marks and to make sure that continuity remained intact.  They gave praise and played Devil’s Advocate.  They encouraged when I wanted to give up, and angered me enough to keep me going.  They didn’t just give of their time, they gave of themselves, and this story is all the richer because of their contributions. 

They are more than friends, proofreaders, editors, they are family.

My Heartfelt Appreciation for all you hard work.  Thank you, Joyce Elliott & Tanya Hunt

A Special Thanks to Rusty Bader for sharing her sartorial knowledge.  Her suggestions ensured the proper fabric and accessories were selected for both Catherine’s dress and Vincent’s vest.


“Colour My World” 


As time goes on I realize
Just what you mean to me
And now, now that you're near
Promise your love
That I've waited to share
And dreams of our moments together

Color my world with hope of loving you