By ChicagoTunnelKid


This story appeared in the Calgary Conzine, 2015, Somewhere I Have Never Traveled: The Lovers’s Journey




Mr. Smythe peered over his glasses at the tinkling of the bell above his shop door. Wonderful, he thought. Another group of children to run rampant through the store pulling books off shelves and putting them willy-nilly about the place.


But on second look, he recognized this group of children. They had been in before, a rag-tag looking bunch, and in general, a bit odd. Odd because they were quiet, went to where the classics were located, seemingly stood in awe of the volumes located there, and lastly, because they were dressed unlike most kids today. Not that they were dirty or unkempt, far from it. Just that the clothes seemed anachronistic – a throwback to a much by-gone era.


Satisfied that all was as it should be, he resumed his study of the latest invoice. It was then, when his eyes were averted, that a book flew off a shelf and into the one lone discount bin that Smythe offered to his customers.


Brooke led her charges to the classics. It was always their first stop. The group would stand and scan the titles; some of which they had read, but many others they had not, although they were familiar with the authors. The rich leather bindings spoke of the reverence of the words contained therein. Occasionally, they would be overcome with curiosity, and would pull one from the shelf, carefully turning the book next to it down to mark the spot so they would not err in returning the book to its place. More than once a child was heard to remark that “Father should have this many bookshelves for his books to be in order.”


Brooke would open the cover and turn the page to find it was likely a first edition. She would scan the page and announce the year it was published. The little group would ‘ooh’ at such a long time ago, whether it was the early 1890’s or the 1950’s. Both equally sounded of ancient times to them.


The group consisted mainly of the younger children, with a few of the older to help guide the group. Brooke, being the oldest, was in charge, a rather large responsibility borne by her with grace and determination.  Rarely did she have to speak sharply to any of the children, as they were so well behaved Above. It was unspoken, but well known, by the children that a foray Above was a treat, yet a treat that came with obligations and a threat: to misbehave meant either the possibility of forgoing future trips, or worse, attracting notice and being caught up in the very less desirable child welfare system of the city.


A trip to Mr. Smythe’s book shop was a popular destination. All the children Below loved books. Books represented portals for their imagination, a way to go Above and beyond, safely. They recognized the quality of the books contained in the shop. These books resembled the ones in Father’s library. Without being told, they understood the price of the books was beyond their reach. But the enjoyment of looking at them was free.


Their visit was routine: first stop, the classics, then a loop around the outer edges, continue up and down the middle stacks, and end up at the discount bin. Not that they expected to find anything in the discount bin within their range of combined coins (either found or earned by turning in bottles and cans for re-cycling). But one never knew.


So it was on this day, having made the usual rounds through the shop, that they stood before the bin. Eyes widened as they saw a book lying on top of the pile. It stood out from the others: much thinner, larger, and with a paper cover.  Eric announced the title: Beauty and the Beast.


The author was more troublesome to pronounce: “Bin-net-tee Schro-ed-er” he guessed.


“No, Eric,” Brooke gently corrected. “It’s pronounced Bin-net Shro-der I believe.”


‘Look at that creature! Cool!” exclaimed Zach. “What kind of animal is that?”


“No particular animal, Zach. It’s supposed to be a beast, but unlike any we know,” Brooke explained.


“Hey, maybe since it’s such a thin book, it won’t cost very much and we could buy it.” Ellie seemed taken by the title. Any title of a fairy tale with ‘beauty’ in it bespoke a romance to her and she was old enough that thoughts of romance had taken hold of her fancy. She reached for the book and opened up the cover. There, in light pencil, was a price; $1.25.


“Everybody, pony up. How much have we got?” she inquired.


One by one, pockets were emptied. Many had only a used handkerchief to show for the effort, while others came up with a number of coins. The group sat on the floor and spread the coins out in front for Brooke to ante up.


“One dollar and five cents.”


So close. A group sigh filled the space between them.


Undaunted, Ellie piped up. “Since it’s a discount book, maybe Mr. Smythe (it never occurred to the children that the man in the store would be anyone other than Mr. Smythe) would let us have it for less.” Looks of disbelief met her suggestion. “I’m going to ask anyway.” Ellie was determined to get this book. Clutching the slim volume in her hands, she stood up and marched over to where Mr. Smythe stood. The rest of the group scrambled to catch up.


“Mister?” she inquired politely.


Mr. Smythe, bent over his stack of invoices, looked up into the face of a very determined young lady.


“Yes, Miss?” he responded, equally politely.


“This book is from the discount bin. Does that mean the price is less than what is written on the inside?”


Mr. Smythe was curious, for he did not write the prices of books inside on the book itself. Never would he defile a page, or insult a book, in that manner. He took the book from Ellie and opened it up. Sure enough, there in pencil on the lower right side of the page was ‘$1.25.’ Interesting, he thought to himself. For this price was much less than what it should be, in as much as the book should not be in the discount bin at all. “Ahem,” he cleared his throat, mostly for Kristopher Gentian’s benefit as for any need of his throat. Long accustomed to his co-owner, Mr. Smythe wondered what was afoot with Kristopher’s plan.


One does not run a book shop like Mr. Smythe’s without learning a thing or two over the years. One such insight is that no child would ask such a question if the child possessed the necessary funds. He looked at Ellie.


“Well, young lady, since it is in the discount bin, there would be a 30% discount off the price.” He watched carefully as Ellie did the math, and smiled as she relaxed. Good, he thought. I guessed correctly.


“Thank you, I’ll be right back with the money. I’ll take it!” she happily exclaimed. She turned to her friends directly behind her and collected the coins. Triumphantly, she placed them on the counter atop the book.


She looked up expectantly at Mr. Smythe. He sighed, and began counting the coins. “With tax, it comes to 92¢.” He made the necessary change and put the pennies back on top of the book. “Would you like a bag?”


“No, sir. That won’t be necessary. Thanks!” With the words barely out of her mouth, Ellie and the group disappeared through the door and spilled out onto the sidewalk.


“I hope you know what you are doing, Kristopher,” said Mr. Smythe speaking into thin air. “That little transaction cost me money.” Not that Kristopher would care, for he had little need for money these days. Despite himself, Mr. Smythe smiled that mischievous way of his, not in the least upset with the sale.



Vincent stood at the bottom of the ladder leading to Catherine’s storage room. He had arrived 15 minutes early, and peered upward, as if his stare would bring her down sooner. Eight days. Eight long, albeit busy, days had kept them apart.


Catherine worked like a demon, finishing errands and chores on top of finishing one case file before she would let herself go Below. When highly motivated, she did her best work. Catherine smiled to herself. Vincent definitely was motivation.


Keys stuffed into her jacket pocket, she drilled the elevator button impatiently. She had half a Saturday afternoon and all evening to spend with Vincent, and she wanted it to start now! She rang the elevator repetitively, knowing full well it wouldn’t get the elevator any sooner. But it felt good to do it, expelling some of her anxious energy.


The elevator arrived, doors opened, and she stepped in and pressed the B button. Please, oh, please, no one else get on, she begged. Prayers answered, the doors opened onto the basement and she walked around the corner to a stack of boxes. She looked around to make sure she was alone  Satisfied, she moved a few boxes, opened the door, stepped onto the ladder, and shut the door. In moments, two very strong arms lifted her off the remaining steps.


“Vincent!” The hug she gave him was felt through all his layers, both clothing and sinew. She gave good hugs. He returned it, nuzzling the top of her hair. They stood that way, haloed in the light, lost in the feel of each other and the beat of their hearts.


Catherine finally pulled back slightly, “Shall we go?”


“Must we?” questioned Vincent, holding her more loosely now in his embrace, and smiling slightly.


The look on his face said everything to Catherine. She smiled in return. “Well, for one thing, I think we’d be more comfortable in your chamber than standing here all night. Besides, I was looking forward to dinner with everyone.” She slid her arm from around him, pulling back as she did so that her hand ran down his arm until she took his hand in hers. She tugged him, and he reluctantly began the walk back to the hub.


As they neared the tunnel entrance junction by the park, they heard the chatter of happy young voices. The group of children was returning from their outing Above.


When they spied Vincent and Catherine walking ahead of them, they began running to catch up. Brooke brought up the rear, finally picking up little Ellen, a four year old, who had trouble keeping up. She smiled at the couple as she caught up.


“Hi, Vincent, Catherine.”


“Brooke, children. Where have you all been today?”  Vincent was prepared for the babble that was about to assault his ears, but he wasn’t certain if Catherine was familiar with children talking about their day all at the same time. Sure enough, it began.


“Vincent, Vincent, we saw a fire engine go by!” (Ellen loved the flashing lights and noisy sirens.)


“Oh, Catherine, I love that jacket, it looks great on you!” (Brooke was definitely becoming more aware of her appearance.)


“Eric almost got lost. He wouldn’t listen to the rest of us.” (Kipper hated when that happened.)


“I did not! I was looking at a man who was walking a cat. How many cats have you seen being walked like a dog?” (Eric was indignant at the false charge.)


“We went to a bookstore and we bought a book!” (Ellie was clasping something that could be a book close to her chest.)


“Yeah, we were kind of hoping you guys could read it to us for story night tonight.” (Zach was grinning, endeavoring to earn a favorable reply.)


“Yes, please.” Little Ellen piled onto the request, and finished it off by sucking her thumb in earnest.


All this Vincent took in with practiced efficiency. Catherine stood surrounded by the chattering children trying to look at first one, then another, always trailing behind the one actually doing the talking.


She laughed. “How do you do it, Vincent?”


He leaned next to her, whispered “Self-defense!” and he continued toward Brooke to lift Ellen from her arms. He swung the child up, securely wrapping her in his arms. Catherine sighed. She’d been supplanted.


“Everyone, back to the hub!” Vincent gave the order, and the children obeyed.


The small horde began walking. Ellen squirmed to be let down to follow. Vincent set her on her feet and gave her behind a soft pat to launch her on her way. Ellie was skipping, still holding the book tightly. “You will read to us, won’t you Vincent?”

“I believe it is Father’s turn for tonight’s reading. But, if you were to ask him nicely, perhaps he would trade with me, as long as Catherine is agreeable.” He watched as six pair of eyes trained themselves on Catherine. His look conveyed an apology, but he knew the children would be relentless. It did look like a thinner book, so they should have some time after to themselves.


Catherine knew no answer but “Of course!” was acceptable which was why she said it. Her look at Vincent spoke of a cost for this little transaction on his part which would be payable later.


“Great!” exclaimed the group. Ellie gave up her prize possession and thrust it into Vincent’s hands. “See you later!’ she hollered, running after the others.


Vincent glanced at the book in his hands. Catherine looked over, about to ask what book the children had selected, when she noticed Vincent. His stillness was pronounced. Not a hair was moving, not even breath was detectable. Something was seriously wrong.


“Vincent, what is it?”


His head slowly turned in her direction, but she was not certain whether he saw her or not. He shoved the book at her and walked off. She followed, trying to keep up. He seemed to gather speed as he went, until Catherine was running to keep up. They arrived at his chamber with Catherine a bit out of breath.


He walked over to the hutch on the far side of the chamber and stood, absently fingering some of the collectibles he had placed there.


Catherine stayed just inside the entry, giving him some space and time to recover. It was then that she happened to glance down at the book and saw the title: Beauty and the Beast. Oh, Vincent, she thought. What is an innocent fairy tale to others obviously means something very different to you.


Waiting for Vincent to talk to her when something bothered him was the hardest thing she was trying to learn. Her nature was to ask questions to mine for information. She had learned that was ineffective with Vincent, at least unless he was ready to talk. So she stood, quietly waiting, slowly agonizing about what he could be feeling.


After the longest five minutes of her life, she finally broke the silence. “Tell me, Vincent.”


He looked up at her then. His eyes swept his chamber, looking at everything and looking at nothing, until they returned to her. “I can’t read that book. They should not read that book.”


Catherine slowly approached him. She placed the book on his table as she passed it, until she stood before him. She gathered his hands in hers. “Why can’t you read that book, Vincent?”


He sighed deeply. “Because these children know me as Vincent.”


She contemplated his words. “Are you afraid they will see you differently afterwards?”


He looked at her. “I’m not afraid they will, Catherine, I know they will.”


He dropped her hands to go sit in his highback chair, leaning to one side in defeat.


She pulled a stool over close to his chair and sat on it. When she was settled, she asked, “How do you know?”


“Because it has happened before. You may not have noticed, but that book is the only fairy tale you won’t find in Father’s library.”


That Vincent couldn’t even say the name of the book didn’t escape Catherine’s notice. She sat waiting for him to continue.


“I guess I was a boy about eight when one of the children brought the book Below and wanted it read. It was Mary’s turn for story night. As she read it, all the other children turned to me, and shouted ‘Vincent, that’s you! You’re the Beast!’ And they teased me about who could be my Beauty, what kind of man would I turn into when the spell was broken.” He looked down at his hands that were picking at a seam of a patch on his pants. “The older boys, Mitch in particular, would taunt me that I would never get to change because there would be no Beauty for me.” He leaned his head back against the chair and released a breath. “It was not a good time for me. It was an omen of things to come.”


“Oh, Vincent, I’m so sorry you had to go through that.” She stilled his hands with a squeeze from her own.  “But that was then, when you were a young boy, unable to defend yourself or reason it through. But you are an adult now, capable of explaining the difference between a fairy tale and real life. Besides, I’ll be at your side. You won’t be alone this time.”


“I don’t want you dragged into this, Catherine. This is my life, not yours. Besides, the children will very likely question you, as well, assuming you are Beauty.”


“I beg to differ. This is our life. We are here for each other. And I’ve been in countless tabloids, shot, beaten up, and survived. I will live through this as well. Let me be your Beauty, Vincent. We can face this together.”


“I thank you for your support. Your beauty,“ he stroked her cheek lightly with his thumb before continuing, “is not in question. It would be easier if I just begged off the reading. I’ll feign a broken pipe or something.” He stood and walked to his armoire, staring at the carving on it as if it was new.


“Vincent, not reading it to them will only postpone the questions. It is their book. They will read it; if not tonight, then some other day. It would be better to read it with them, so we could interpret it for them in a way that would keep both the integrity of the story and yours. If you act comfortable about the book, they won’t take any special meaning from it.”


He paced between the armoire and his table as he listened to Catherine’s logic. Lawyerly logic, he thought. But she had a point, perhaps. Best to get it over. He sighed. Catherine heard the surrender in it, and stood up wrapping her arms around him from the back. “We can do this, Vincent, we can!”


“Then let us go for dinner, to fortify ourselves for what is to come.” He took her hand and led her out toward the dining hall, not sure he would be able to eat one bite. Catherine grabbed the book as she passed by the table.




Father placed his tray across from Vincent and Catherine. Long used to being an observer as a physician, he noted Vincent’s plate of food, pushed into interesting piles, but hardly eaten. Compared to Catherine’s plate, Vincent hadn’t eaten a thing. Something was amiss.


“Vincent, the children tell me you have agreed to take my place at Story Hour this evening. Ellie is most excited to hear it. She dashed into my chamber, startled me from reading by announcing the switch, and dashed off before I properly marked my spot in the book I was reading. Tell me, what book has the children so anxious?”


Vincent sat a moment, debating his wisest course of action. To tell, or not to tell, to borrow from Shakespeare. He sighed. “The children bought a book today when they were Above.”


“Always happy to have a new edition for the library. I’m surprised the children had the wherewithal to purchase it.”


“They claim it was in the discount bin and very reasonably priced.”


“And the title of this extraordinary bargain?” Father arched his right brow with the question.


Vincent couldn’t. He sat, inhaled, opened his mouth - and nothing came out. Catherine stepped in to help.


“It’s a fairy tale classic, Father: Beauty and the Beast.”


Father’s face blanched. “Is there no way to stop this folly?”


“Catherine just spent the last half hour convincing me that it must be done.” Father looked from Vincent to Catherine.


“Whatever for?” Father’s question hung in the air. For the first time in a long while, Catherine felt Father’s apprehension of her in Vincent’s life. This was one argument she needed to win, not just for Vincent, but also for the both of them.


“The book will be read, with or without him. And if he acts as if it is an interesting fairy tale, and not an indictment of him, the children will also. Plus, with both of us there, we can control their understanding of the story, and the awareness of the difference between a fairy tale and real life.”


“But they will never see me the same again.”  The statement lay in the air, with three pairs of eyes watching vainly to see if a breeze would chase it away.


“Vincent, the children love you. Most of the boys idolize you, and the girls seem quite smitten with you. I understand how you may feel that the worst could happen. But have more faith in the children’s love for you. Trust them to see the real you, not the imagination of some writer of a book.” Catherine clasped his hand between both of hers. She poured all her love into the squeeze she gave his hand.


He looked at her with a mixture of hope and sadness. One thing was certain – it would be different from the last time, for Catherine was by his side.



The children were chattering happily while they waited for Vincent to arrive. Some of the boys ‘fake boxed’ trying to show their physical prowess to others and to themselves. Ellie, alone, sat silent, a far away look on her face. She dreamed of the day a handsome young boy would notice her.


Catherine entered first, followed by Vincent, then Father. Welcoming cries washed over them, and Ellie popped up out of her chair to ask if Vincent remembered to bring the book. He nodded.


Vincent led Catherine to one of the two chairs that had been reserved for them. The littlest children sat on the chamber floor by their feet, and the older children (and a few other adults) sat around the perimeter. Vincent sat with the book on his lap, and then finally opened it and turned to the first page.


He hadn’t gotten through the second page, before the chatter began. “Beauty sounds too good to be true!’ said Kipper.


“I bet Father likes her – she’s a bookworm!” Eric contributed.


“Her sisters sound like turds!” Zach pointed out.


“Boy, that had to stink, becoming poor after being rich.” Brooke felt the sting the lack of pretty clothes might be after having been used to them.


Catherine thought it was time to get the ball rolling.


“Vincent, would you not like me if I suddenly became poor?” Catherine looked at him studiously.


“As I don’t like you because you have money, having none would have no effect on how I feel about you.” Vincent smiled slightly, catching on to what Catherine was starting.


“I know girls who like guys with money,” Zach offered, “and they never look twice at me, ‘cause I don’t.” Zach had reached the age when girls were no longer those undesirable beings, but hadn’t quite figured out what they were yet.


“How does that make you feel, Zach, when girls turn away from you just because you don’t have money? Catherine asked.


Zach looked down and mumbled, “Not very good.”


“Would you be any different in here,” Catherine placed her hand over her heart, “if you had a lot of money?”


Zach looked up at her. “No, I guess not. I mean, I’d still like the things I like, and do the things I do.” He sighed. “I would have better clothes.”


“Clothes don’t make the man.” Vincent looked at the children. “A man can wear the grandest, most royal of clothes and have a black heart.”


“Or a fickle one. Or a shallow one,” Catherine chimed in. “That’s the kind of hearts the men had who were no longer interested in Beauty’s sisters because of their misfortune. And, unlike her sisters, Beauty didn’t complain, she didn’t see much merit in those men her sisters liked. She worked on herself, treated people kindly, and read to improve her mind.” She looked at Vincent as she spoke the last, telling him the parallel between those men of the story and the men she had dated. She, too, chose to work on improving herself, Vincent’s faith in her leading the way.


“Shall we continue the story?” Vincent waited for their attention.


Vincent read about the father’s attempt to regain some of his fortune by taking a trip. Beauty’s sisters asked for gifts when the father returned; Beauty asked only for a rose. The father set off on his journey and encountered a bad storm on top of learning he had no fortune to reclaim. He found refuge in a castle, a magical castle that seemed unoccupied, yet all manner of treats were provided to the father – nice clothes, delicious food and drink, a soft bed. The storm passed, and as the father left, he spied a rose bush, and snipped off a rose thinking of Beauty’s request.


Vincent shifted uncomfortably in his chair. The Beast was about to make his appearance. Before he could start in, Catherine spoke up.


“What an interesting place the father found. How unusual – all sorts of comforts were available to him, yet, no one was around to provide them. Why do you suppose that was?”


Eric shrugged his shoulders. Zach offered nothing. Ellie spoke up, “What about magic? Maybe a magician lived in the castle and provided for weary travelers.”


“That could be,” Catherine replied. “Should the father be worried, do you think?”


A chorus of no’s resounded. “He should just enjoy it, like he did.”


“Let’s see what happens next!” Catherine invited.


Vincent resumed the reading. A dreadful cry resulted when the father cut the rose from the bush. A monstrous beast appeared, quite upset at the father’s behavior. He had provided everything to the father, rescued him from a bad storm, and he repaid the Beast’s kindness by cutting off a rose from his prize rosebush.


But the father didn’t know! He only did it as a small gift to his daughter! The Beast would avenge the theft with the father’s life, unless he returned with the daughter. The father had three months to return.


The Beast would not let the father return home empty-handed, however, and let him fill a chest with whatever he fancied to take with him. Fine clothes, gold, and jewels filled the chest when the father was finished.


“What do you all think of this Beast?” Catherine asked.


“What does he look like, Vincent? Can we see the picture?” Ellie wanted to know.


Vincent showed them the picture. The fur was spotted, like a leopard, the feet were the feet of an animal, but the hands looked human, although covered with fur. The head was not quite like anything the children had seen before. Somewhat the shape of a wolf, the head had long strands of fur around the muzzle that ran up the jawline to the ears. Of course, there were fangs in the mouth. The Beast was bedecked in a deep pink gown-like covering, with orange sleeves of a shirt worn underneath. Not exactly like himself, Vincent thought, but a number of uncomfortable similarities.


“Hey, he looks like an animal, yet he walks on his hind legs.” Zach scrutinized the picture. “He’s got claws and fangs. His legs look like animal legs yet he has hands. He’s kind of like a mixture of a man and an animal.” The words were no sooner out of his mouth than Zach realized what he said and whom he said it to. He looked up at Vincent with a mixture of horror and remorse.


Vincent felt the young boy’s pain alongside his own. At that moment, he understood what Catherine said about showing that the comparisons didn’t bother him. Whether the tension in the room lessened or escalated depended on the words he said next. “Yes, Zach, I have a few similarities to this beast, don’t I?”


“But you’re a man, Vincent, who just kinda looks animal-like.” Zach sought to repair his faux pas. “This dude is an animal, with hands like a man.”


Catherine cut in with another question, to move on and not dwell on the awkward moment. “What else do we know about the Beast?”


“He doesn’t look that mean,” little Ellen pronounced, being closest to see the book. “Would he really kill Beauty’s Daddy?”


“We don’t have enough information yet to know that,” Catherine pointed out. “So far, all we know is that he fed and sheltered Beauty’s Daddy, and then got very upset when he cut the rose off the bush. You know how you get so mad at someone, perhaps someone broke your favorite toy, and you might say something like, ‘I’m going to knock your block off!’? “ The children nodded. “But you really wouldn’t, would you?” Catherine continued.


They all agreed.


“Well, perhaps the Beast is like that. He’s just really upset at the moment.”


“Why do you suppose the Beast wants the father to bring him one of his daughters?” Catherine inquired.


“Maybe he wants to eat one!” suggested Ellen, shuddering at the thought.


“I think he’s lonely,” Ellie offered. “He wants someone with him in that castle, so he is no longer alone.”


“Can we make someone like us?” Vincent looked at the group. Catherine was pleased he felt comfortable enough to join in leading the discussion.


“Nah, I don’t think so,” Zach confidently stated. “They’re gonna like you or not. Keeping them prisoner would probably make them hate you for taking away their freedom.”


“Good point, Zach,” Catherine acknowledged.


“You know, if the Beast is so lonely, like Ellie suggested, that he would trade a man’s life for his daughter, that makes the Beast seem like a very bad character, doesn’t it?” Catherine looked around.


“But, Catherine,” Father replied, “it would be difficult for such a beast to meet people to befriend, let alone give them the opportunity to love him. Perhaps he was resorting to the only option he had left?”


“Father’s right. It isn’t like this Beast can hold tea at his castle and expect folks to show up.” Brooke stated the obvious, to earn a few giggles from the group.


“But to offer a choice between death and losing a daughter is a terrible bargain to strike,” Vincent looked at Catherine with sadness in his eyes. “There is darkness inside the Beast, otherwise he would not take such an option.”


Catherine looked at Vincent as she spoke. “There is darkness inside of all of us, isn’t there? When push comes to shove, don’t we all react in ways that aren’t typically like us?” She broke eye contact with Vincent to look around at the children and adults.


Pascal had been listening far in the back. He rose up to be heard.


“You threaten someone I love, and you’ll see the beast in me!”


Laughter was heard as some felt Pascal too small a man to act ‘beastlike.’


“It’s not about size,” he defended, “it’s about heart, danger, and stirring a passion inside you that you hardly knew was there. The next thing you know, you are going ballistic on someone.”


The statement hung in the air as a few of the adults thought that perhaps Pascal did have an experience to tell in this respect.


“Thank you, Pascal,” Catherine nodded. “That’s precisely my point. And we aren’t always aware of it until it is needed.”


“The Beast in the story seems to have had a lot of time to be lonely, and perhaps he sees this as his last hope?” Catherine asked the group.


“Let’s keep reading and find out.” Catherine relaxed a bit, having gotten by the looks of the Beast without anyone concluding directly that Vincent was a beast. And a rationale had been given, and taken, as to the Beast’s behavior.


Vincent told of the father’s homecoming, how glad the older daughters were for all the finery that the chest contained. Beauty was happy with her rose. He told them what happened, and Beauty said she would go. The father didn’t want her to, he wanted to return to meet his fate, but Beauty wouldn’t hear of it. Her father, with heavy heart, took her to the Beast’s castle.


The Beast provided for Beauty in every way imaginable. Her room had scores of books and musical instruments. Gorgeous dresses hung in her closet. Only at dinner would the Beast appear. The Beast asked her to marry him at dinner, and every dinner thereafter. She was truthful with the Beast – that his appearance upset her, yet she found him to be kind. But she would not marry him.


Every night was the same, until some months had passed. Beauty wished she could marry him, but she couldn’t, though she would always be his friend. Was that not enough? The Beast had to content himself with that, even though he was in love with her.


He wanted her promise to never leave. But the Beast had given her a magic mirror that let her see her father, whom she missed very much, and she had seen he was ill. She agreed to stay with him forever if he would allow her to visit her father one more time.


The Beast agreed, but told Beauty that if she did not return in a week, he would die of grief. The Beast gave her a magic ring so that all she had to do to return was to take off the ring.


“What do you think will happen next?” Catherine asked. “What do we know about the Beast that we didn’t know before? Ellen, what do you think?”


The little girl sat a minute, took her thumb out of her mouth and spoke. “I don’t think he would have killed Beauty’s Daddy.”


Catherine smiled. “Why? What do we know? Kipper?”


“Well, he was always nice to her, gave her everything she could ever want. He was very humble, claiming to be just a dumb beast. He really didn’t seem very scary after all.”


“Good summary, Kipper. Brooke, do you believe Beauty when she told the Beast she would always be his friend?”


“Well, she was honest with him. She told him she couldn’t marry him because of his looks. So we have no reason not to believe her.”


Brooke looked uncomfortable. Catherine looked at her. “Something else about Beauty?”


“Is that why you won’t marry Vincent? Because of the way he looks?”


Most of the adults gasped, trying not to, but not succeeding. Catherine stood momentarily stunned. What should she say? she thought quickly.


“First, Brooke, unlike Beauty, I think Vincent is very handsome. I’ve told him how beautiful he is to me, inside and out.” She smiled at him, and saw the apprehension and sadness in his eyes. “He gets embarrassed when I say that. But I don’t think he’s been told often enough. Vincent, you are beautiful.”


“Second, Vincent is not a Beast to me. Is he a beast to you?” She looked around at the children, and all were shaking their heads no. “I think Vincent is the best of being human with some extraordinarily unique qualities as a bonus that you or I don’t have. I feel so grateful to have him in my life.”


“Vincent’s the neatest!” Eric proudly exclaimed. Catherine smiled and nodded, and decided to go for broke.


“Third, unlike Beauty, I’ve not been asked to marry Vincent.” She looked steadily into his eyes, sending as much love through them as she could. “I hope someday to be asked, and it will be my joy to accept. Until then, we will find our path together with care.”


By now, Brooke’s head hung low, as she realized she probably shouldn’t have asked something so personal. She looked up at Catherine.


“I’m sorry, Catherine, Vincent. That was rude of me to ask. It’s really none of my business.”


“Sometimes we get curious about things, Brooke. Yes, it was a personal question. But I didn’t have to answer if I didn’t want to.” She smiled at the young girl. “Shall we see what happens to Beauty?”


Everyone nodded, and Vincent began to read. The week came and went, and still Beauty remained with her father. Beauty found she was missing the Beast and worried about him. She thought about how kind he was, and how he seemed to be suffering behind his kind eyes. In her absence, her sisters had married poorly. At least, Beast was kind and generous to her. She could do better with him than the husbands her sisters had. With resolve, she placed the magic ring from her finger on her bedside table and found herself again in the castle.


She waited for the Beast to appear at supper, and sat alone. The castle seemed strangely empty. She made her way into the gardens, by the lake, and there she found the Beast, looking dead, or nearly so. She tended to him, and begged him to live, promising that she would marry him. She had realized, when she thought him lost from her for good, that she had come to love him.


As soon as the words left her lips, music and fireworks filled the night. And Beauty watched as Beast transformed before her eyes into a handsome rich prince. He told her of a wicked fairy who had cast a spell on him. He must find one who could love him just for his heart or remain a Beast, and Beauty was that one.


Ellie sighed. She loved fairy tale endings where the girl got the prince. Eric raised his hand with a question.


“Yes, Eric?” Vincent asked.


“When you and Catherine do marry, will you turn into a handsome prince?”


Catherine loved that Eric accepted as fact that she and Vincent would marry. It gave her hope that it would be true. She was about to answer when Vincent stayed her with a gentle hand on her arm – a hand that traveled down her arm to clasp her hand in his.


“No, Eric. No spell will change me. I did not anger a wicked fairy. You all have heard the story of how I was found as a baby.”


He paused, and the children agreed, some piped up – “Behind St. Vincent’s Hospital” and “You were awfully sick for a while, but Father took care of you.”


“That’s right. So there will be no turning into a prince for me. But Catherine’s love has taught me:


For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings,

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.


Does anyone know who wrote that?” He looked from child to child. Finally, Brooke spoke up.


“That sounds like Shakespeare.”


‘You are correct,” Vincent gave a nod to her.


Now it was Catherine’s turn. “So what did you think of the story?”


Several choruses of ‘goods’ and a few ‘I liked it!’ rang out. Ellen said she liked Snow White better, because of the dwarfs. Ellie’s comment was how romantic it turned out to be.


Brooke spoke last. “I liked the point of the story.”


“What was that, Brooke?” Catherine held her breath hoping she got it right.


“That what’s important about a person is what’s inside, the heart. That it takes a good heart to recognize another good heart. That’s what Beauty learned.”


Catherine nodded.


Brooke stood up and scooped up Ellen. “Let’s go guys, time for bed.” As she passed by Catherine, she quietly said, “I understand, Catherine. About you and Vincent, I mean.”


Catherine smiled.



Father, Vincent, and Catherine left the library together. Father wanted a cup of tea before retiring, and Vincent and Catherine were heading to Catherine’s threshold.


“Catherine, my dear, you handled that brilliantly. If you weren’t already a lawyer, you could have a career as a diplomat. I propose from now on, anytime that book is to be read, you should be there.” He smiled warmly at Catherine, and kissed her forehead. “Thank you.”


Father split off toward the Dining Hall. Vincent and Catherine walked on, finally reaching the entrance to her basement. They stopped, and Vincent turned to look at Catherine.


“You’re awfully quiet, Vincent. You barely said a word during our walk here.” Catherine was suddenly nervous. Did he see the evening differently than she and Father? Did she go too far answering Brooke’s personal question?


He removed his cloak and spread it on the floor next to the wall, and gestured for her to take a seat, as he sat next to her. He sat quietly for a moment.


“Catherine, I know you didn’t want the children to think of me as a beast, as did I, yet there is more I have in common with him than I would admit in front of the children.”


Catherine’s desire to refute this statement took all she had to keep from responding. Vincent so rarely spoke about himself, his whole self, and she wouldn’t stop him now with a careless comment no matter how well-meant.


“There is a darkness in me ... that goes beyond what Pascal spoke about tonight. Beyond what I have ever wanted you to know, yet if there is to be hope for us, I must speak of it.”


He looked over at Catherine to judge her reaction only to see her face reflecting the loving acceptance of him she felt. The Bond gave him no sense of apprehension from her.


“The darkness in me is something I don’t even understand. I know that I must not allow myself to be pulled in too far, or I fear I will never be able to come back.” He’d said it. His head lowered as he waited for her thoughts, her reaction to what he said.


“Vincent,” she raised and turned his face to hers. “What you face to be who you are, I can only imagine. All I can do is love you, and help you any way I can. But I don’t know what that could be, unless you tell me.” She looked directly in his eyes. “Perhaps, our love is meant to be precisely so that I can be that help you need in those times of darkness, just as you have been that help for me.”


Vincent’s eyes closed in thankfulness and wonder that he had this woman, his Beauty, in his life. Maybe it was destiny that led him to find her that April night.


“You have such a generous heart, Catherine, to share your love with me, and your time with the children tonight. I know they appreciated your part in the reading of the story.” He stood and held out his hand to help her up. He gathered his cloak from the floor and deftly threw it around his shoulders.


She smiled; they were back to familiar ground. But she was grateful for the moments they just shared, and for Vincent’s willingness to talk about a subject so personal for him.


“So you did think the story time went well?”


“It went better than I had reason to expect,” he admitted. “I’m sorry if you were embarrassed by Brooke’s question. I should have answered her, but I was lost for words.”


Again, Catherine waited, for she knew there was more he wanted to say, and it was difficult for him to say it.


Vincent wanted her to know, needed her to know.


“I wanted to tell her that asking you to marry me is my deepest dream, one that whispers to me as I sleep. Then morning comes, and I know that we are not ready - no, I am not ready – for that step. Our worlds, our differences ... my differences, my darkness, still keep us apart.”


Vincent took her hand with his right hand, and brushed a lock of hair from her face with his left, letting his hand slide gently down her cheek.


“Know this, Catherine. Your love gives me the courage to keep seeking a path for us, a chance for us to be together. And I can’t tell you how much it meant to hear how you steered the children through a story that meant only pain to me in the past. Your courage to accept me as I am amazes me.”


He squeezed her hand slightly as he let go of it and turned to head back, Catherine watching as he left. He stopped. He walked up to her with deliberate grace. He tilted her head up with his hand beneath her chin, bent down and kissed her. He looked into her eyes as he said, “Thank you, Catherine.”


Again, she watched as he left. A bemused smile lit her face as she pivoted and walked toward the ladder. There was a definite waft of cold air as she got closer. Odd, she thought. I haven’t felt that cold ribbon of air since – since the last time Kristopher Gentian appeared at that warehouse. She hardly had finished her thought before the coldness dissipated. She shrugged. Must have been her imagination.


Before beginning the ascent up, she allowed her joy to bubble up from Vincent’s kiss, and hugged herself as she smiled broadly. His kiss had echoed the first kiss she had given him after spending time Below healing from her father’s death. Progress, she thought. Another step forward on their path. She climbed up the ladder, disappearing from view.


Kristopher watched Catherine go up and smiled at her joyful hug. He knew it was time that the book found its way down Below. He had faith his painting was their destiny. But even faith can use a nudge in the right direction.




Beauty and the Beast. Retold from the French by Anne Carter, illustrations by Binette Schroeder, 1986, Clarkson N. Potter, Inc./Publishers.


William Shakespeare “Sonnet 29”, 1598






With thanks to Cindy Rae