(Note: Some characters and events within this story were originally created in
 "Lost and Found" which may be found on Tunnel Tales.)

 by Joanne Grier

An eerie quiet drifted over the pipe chamber as they prepared for the change of shifts. It had been a busy day, with several emergency messages; and the staff was mentally exhausted, eager for the evening shift to assume their duties. Pascal relayed the day’s activities to the night shift supervisor and wearily made his way toward the communal dining room. 

He detoured in through the kitchen and grabbed a cup of coffee, ignoring William’s loud shout that the kitchen was still closed, and wandered to the far end of the room knowing he was less likely to be disturbed there. He sipped his coffee and tried to allow the stress of the day to roll off his shoulders. His thoughts were jumbled as he reviewed the day and momentarily wondered if he was getting too old to handle all of this. He was approaching his thirty-fifth birthday, and he had been in the pipe chamber since he was born. He found his temper was shorter; and he had been grumpier during the last month, which certainly wasn’t like him. Maybe he needed to think about taking some time off.

(Who do I think I’m fooling?) He was grumpy and out of sorts because Erica had returned to the tunnels after a four year absence. His heart hammered in his chest at the mere thought of her name. So far, he had avoided her for the most part, just catching quick glimpses of her at meals; and he hoped to keep it that way, allowing him time to work through his feelings. 

Her appearance had stirred up all his old feelings, the adoration and love he had for her and his profound regret that he had never been able to clearly express his feelings, to ask her to marry him. He ached when she and her family had abruptly departed the tunnels because he had thought they had the start of something special. He remembered the days in the old piano chamber, playing music with Vincent and Erica. 


Pascal looked up, his vision blurred as he looked into clear gray eyes, and his heart began to hammer loudly. “May I sit with you? I’ll understand if you prefer I don’t.” 

He suddenly stood, unable to ignore a lifetime of manners drilled into him by his own mother and then by Mary. He walked around the table and held a chair for her.  

“Thank you,” she said. 

Then he returned to his own seat and openly stared. His emotions warred within, and he didn’t know whether he wanted to jump and run or if he wanted to gather her into his arms and kiss her until they no longer had breath. Positive she could hear his heart pounding, he willed himself to take slow, even, deep breaths. 

“I realized coming home would be complicated, but I honestly didn’t think facing you would be this difficult. There were many nights during that first year when I cried myself to sleep because I missed these tunnels so much, and I thought I’d die from missing you and Vincent. I never meant to hurt you, but I know that I did. You wouldn’t have gone to such lengths to avoid me since my return if I hadn’t wounded you.” Tears stained her lashes and she swallowed repeatedly as she fought to control her quivering voice. “I’ll understand if you can’t forgive me, because leaving without speaking directly with you was unforgivable.” The tears she had sought to control spilled down her cheeks as she stood. “Please know that I did miss you so very much.” 


The increasing noise in the dining room suddenly penetrated his thoughts, and he realized how long he had been sitting. He collected his empty cup and slowly made his way to the kitchen, depositing it in the sink after rinsing. He grabbed an apple, leaving the area as rapidly as possible. Meeting up with any of his friends was something he simply couldn’t tolerate today.

Resolutely, he made his way to the great falls, seeking the solitude that soothed him in the craggy rocks above the falls. He climbed, finding his favorite place where three boulders converged to form a large opening. The rocks were worn smooth forming an almost perfect cradle where he could lie with his legs extended while still having an open view of the cascading falls.

Thoughts whirled within, creating a loud cacophony of sounds that destroyed his sense of inner peace. He recalled the first shy innocent kiss he had shared with Erica and his joy in knowing that she had never been kissed before. (Why hadn’t she tried to contact me in the intervening years?) Recalling her words, he could find no logic between the prolonged silence of the last four years and her admission of hurting him. It was very late when he left the falls and made his way to his sleeping chamber. He undressed, slipped beneath the quilts, and prayed that sleep would release him from his inner turmoil.  

Groggy from lack of sleep, Pascal resumed his command of the pipe chamber at eight o’clock. He consumed countless cups of tea and aspirin as the day wound to a close. At the end of his shift he headed to the library hoping to find Jacob alone. “Jacob, are you busy? I need a private word with you.” 

“Pascal, it’s good to see you. Do sit down and tell me how I may help.” 

“I’d like it if you could arrange the schedule so that I could have some time away. Say four or five days. I’d like to spend some time at the hidden lake alone.” 

“Is there anything I may do to help? I hope you know that I’m always ready to stand in your father’s stead. Your father was a dear friend, and if I may help you, his son, I sincerely hope you will let me know.” 

“Thank you, Jacob. It would help if you would just arrange the schedule. I’d like to leave tomorrow or the next day at the latest.” 

Jacob glanced quickly at the schedule book, flipped a few pages, and made a note. “If you could wait until Wednesday I should have everything cleared. You seldom ask for time so I don’t see any problem.” 

Pascal left the library heading for William’s office and once there he presented his request for enough food to last four days. William reviewed the list and agreed to have the supplies ready early Wednesday morning. “I’m happy to see you taking a break from your duties. We all need some down time, away from the everyday burdens of our jobs. Wish I could get away to join you.” 


After slipping the food package into the large backpack, Pascal settled the pack comfortably over his shoulders and onto his back. He had only gone about a mile when Vincent appeared from one of the side tunnels. “Would you object if I walk along with you for a while?  I’m headed to the next level where Cullen’s gang is working.” 

His keen sense of empathy and their long years of friendship made Vincent aware of Pascal’s unhappiness and his reluctance to talk. They walked along and Vincent told him about the expansion of new chambers on the next level, his conversation light and easy requiring no answer.  As they reached the next level, Pascal paused.  

“If I may be of assistance, don’t hesitate to send a message. Your well-being is important to me.” Vincent offered his hand and left Pascal to continue onward alone. 

It was late Wednesday afternoon when he reached the hidden lake and set up camp. He collected enough firewood to last him a couple of days and began to prepare his meal. William had packed a small frozen meatloaf large enough to provide him three meals, so he set about burying the foil-wrapped treat in the burning coals to bake. Three hours later he feasted on the delicious meatloaf, a baked potato, and a piece of cherry pie. He opened his book and began to read until his thoughts turned reflective, and he settled into his sleeping bag, watching the subtle light shifting within the vast cavern. 

He awakened abruptly. Erica filled his dreams as vitally as she had four years ago. He remembered the hours spent with her as the children worked to complete the Lost and Found course. The sweetness of that time haunted him. The adoring way she looked at him and how she had made him feel like a hero. Slowly his love of the Lost and Found course had returned after Erica left, and he again found joy in preparing the children to be skilled and self-reliant. He continued to be proud that the course he had developed had prevented any of the children living Below from becoming lost within the warren of tunnels. 


Vincent purposefully headed toward the table where Erica sat consuming her meal. “May I join you?” 

“Oh, hi. Please sit down.” 

“Are you getting settled in comfortably within your new chamber? If you need anything, please let me know, and we can raid some of our storage facilities to make up for what might be lacking.” 

“I brought a few things down with me and what is in the chamber is certainly more than adequate. I’m sort of glad our old chambers had been given to others, as I think the memories would have overwhelmed me. It would have been far too large for just one person.  Could we walk?” 

Vincent stood and took her arm, escorting her into the passageway. They walked seemingly without direction; and as they wandered, Vincent showed her some improvements that had been made to the hub area. They took several twists and turns and then arrived at an area that was familiar to Erica. 

“Is the piano still here?” 

“Yes. So far no one has wanted the Maitland’s old chamber, so we just left the piano here, as it would be an engineering feat to remove it to another area. I clearly remember the struggle we had to bring it in.” He shook his head and then offered a shy smile. “Some of the children practice here, and I find myself using it, too. I have fond memories of our time in that chamber.” 

“Do you think Father would allow me to move in here? I have thought about how I could serve the community since my return and I thought perhaps I could give piano lessons. The other room would be a perfect sleeping alcove. The main chamber could be a combination living area as well as a studio for lessons.” 

“There aren’t many families living in this area. Wouldn’t you be lonely? The Johnson’s live further along the main passage, and the Canfield’s are located at the last junction we passed. I believe Kanin will have two more chambers ready in this passage within a month or two.” 

“Right now the solitude would be perfect. There are personal issues I need to resolve, and the absence of immediate families would be a gift. Our mutual need for solitude is one of the things we continue to share in common,” she offered with a sad smile. 

Vincent noticed her sadness, the sense of despair that surrounded her. “You know, baby sister, time hasn’t diminished our friendship, and if I may help, I hope you won’t hesitate to ask.” He took her hand as they left the chamber, “Come, let’s find Father and see if we can’t arrange for your move.” 


Pascal quietly stood at the entrance and then silently moved away. The addition of furniture and personal items clearly indicated that someone had moved into the Maitland’s old chamber during his absence. His feelings were mixed, as he had become accustomed to using the chamber when he wished to escape from everyone. It was a place of solitude, and it was also a source of happy memories. He had kissed Erica in that chamber. He picked up his backpack and trekked toward the pipe chamber and his own sleeping chamber. 

His thoughts were still conflicted, but in some small way, he felt a spark of peace. He had survived four years without Erica; surely he could continue to survive now that she had returned. His heart had hardened in the intervening time, and he had accepted that he would live and die alone in this world his father had helped to establish. His family name wouldn’t continue, but the heritage of all his father and he had taught to the children would survive. 

The days became weeks, and while he occasionally saw Erica in the dining hall he didn’t seek her out. He nodded if they passed, but he made no effort at conversation. Purposefully, he arranged his schedule to take his meals late, and so far it had worked; he didn’t have to see Erica at all. 


He met up with Winslow, and together they headed for the bathing chambers. Each of them had been involved in dirty projects, so they wanted to swim and refresh themselves. 

“It’s been weeks since we’ve had an opportunity to talk or just share time. The work schedule has been hectic to say the least. Last night I was literally falling asleep over dinner, I was so exhausted.” 

“I know what you mean. The pipe chamber has been bedlam as people are trying to master some of the newer codes. This week is the final week of classes for the six-year-old children, and it’s a combination of excitement and tears of frustration.” 

“I ate breakfast this morning with Erica. I was surely sorry to learn of the tragedy that happened to her family after they went Above. I’m glad she adhered to the promise she made to Fielding to return to us.  I’d hate to think of her all alone in Arizona.” 

“What do you mean alone? Gerald and Fielding are still living there, aren’t they?” 

Abruptly Winslow whipped his head around to stare openly at Pascal. “Gerald died nearly three years ago; he was killed by a drunk driver. He was the reason they pulled up stakes and moved to Arizona so quickly. Remember how sick he was for months before they moved, and Peter had been telling them they needed to get him out of here because of his respiratory problems? Peter spoke to a friend of his in Arizona, and he offered Fielding a job if he could get his family there in forty-eight hours, or else the job would go to someone else. Peter loaned Fielding the money for plane fare.” 

“I swear I knew nothing about this. It was only a couple of days before Erica returned that I learned she was coming back. I didn’t know anything about Gerald, or that his health was the reason they left so quickly; and I certainly didn’t know Fielding had died!” 

“Jacob mentioned it at the last council meeting when he sought approval for Erica’s return. If I recall correctly, you weren’t at that meeting,” Winslow offered as they continued to walk to the pool. “And I suppose you don’t know that Erica has moved into the old Maitland chamber and is now giving piano lessons? Do I have to tell you every piece of news? You are the master of the pipes, ya know!” 

“No, I didn’t know about the move or the lessons. I thought she was living in section C of level two, her name’s on the hangtag at that location in the pipe chamber.” 

“Maybe after our swim I need to come over to the pipe chamber and go over the hang tags just to compare what you have with who’s actually living there. I don’t get it! How can you be pipe master and never know what’s going on within twenty feet of your work space? It used to be you knew everything. You never told what you knew, but we all knew you were aware of every message that went out. Lately, I have to tell you everything!” 

After their swim, Winslow was as good as his word; he trailed Pascal back to the pipe chamber and methodically went through all the hangtags and made a few corrections. “It’s been years since I worked in the pipe chamber, but I think maybe I should volunteer for a few hours weekly just to keep you on your toes!” Winslow grinned at his friend, gave him a playful punch on the shoulder and bid Pascal goodnight. 


“Erica, are you here? It’s Mary, and I have brought you a new student.” Mary stood holding the hand of a young boy whose red hair fell forward over his eyes. 

“Hello, Mary. Please come in. I’m so pleased to see you. Who is this handsome young man?” 

“Erica, may I introduce you to Adam Dixon. Adam, this is Erica, who will become your piano teacher.” 

Mary took a seat while Erica began her introductory speech to the eager six-year-old. Mary withdrew her mending from the small bag she carried and, after searching diligently, began to look around at the floor. “Erica, would you have a needle? I seem to have misplaced mine.” 

“My sewing kit is on top of the bureau in the sleeping chamber; you will find some there.” 

Mary took her seat again, extracted a needle from the sewing kit, and began her endless chore of mending. It had been a while since she had listened to beginner piano student discourse; and knowing she was likely to be asked questions, Mary listened very attentively. Adam had talked of nothing but learning the piano for weeks, and Erica was delighted by his enthusiasm. 

“I’ll see you Wednesday and Friday for an hour after your last class. Do the music students still get out of classes at three, Mary?” 

“Yes, Erica, that’s the same schedule we have maintained for years. It gives the music students the opportunity to attend their music lessons or practice while still having the same amount of leisure time as the rest of the children. Come along, Adam, I’m sure Father will wish to hear about your first lesson. Thank you for the use of your needle. I’ll see you in the dining room later.” 


“How is our newest piano teacher doing?” Vincent was genuinely pleased to find Erica seated alone in the dining hall. He slipped into the seat opposite her and gently squeezed her hand in greeting. “You have been the object of much discussion by my students, as they are thrilled that you are teaching some popular music as opposed to strictly the classics.” 

“I can snare more of them with pop tunes than I can with Chopin, then after I get them hooked, I sneak him in.” Her smile was bright and her eyes were sparkling. “I’m so pleased with all my new students, and they all seem so eager to learn. Do you feel that way, too? You’ve been teaching for so long, it hasn’t gotten routine, has it?” 

Their conversation became animated as they discussed the pros and cons of teaching, the benefits they derived, and the rewards they received in watching the students grow and learn. 

They had been talking for over an hour when Catherine joined them. Catherine sat quietly enjoying the give and take of watching two dedicated teachers expound on the theory of attracting and holding the attention of the easily bored student. The conversation revealed another side of Vincent’s character that she didn’t often get to see, and she was thoroughly enjoying herself. 


Pascal sat in the boulders lost in thoughts of Erica and all he had learned from Winslow. (How is it possible that I didn’t know any of the things Winslow told me? Where has my mind been these last four years? Was I filled with such bitterness and despair that I have ignored everything that transpired around me? What else have I missed?) 

The thermos of tea was long gone when he became aware that Vincent had joined him. “Have you been here long? I wasn’t aware of you until moments ago.” 

“I could see you were lost in thought, so I’ve just been sitting quietly awaiting your return.” 

“It seems I’ve been doing that a lot lately. Winslow just told me about Gerald and Fielding dying. I didn’t know anything about it. How could I have been so absorbed that I missed something of those proportions? It makes me question where my mind has been during these intervening years.” 

“Don’t be so hard on yourself. The years since Erica went Above were difficult for you. We all do things to survive…” His voice caught and then became softer, “When we are dealing with our own wounded hearts.” 

Pascal looked at Vincent with new compassion as the truth of his statement settled within his mind and heart. “I remember how helpless I felt to ease your pain when Devin left our world. Everything I thought to say seemed such a cliché and without comfort or value.” 

“But when you did speak, you spoke from your heart. It took years before I was able to come to terms with his leaving. You were always there for me; giving space when I needed it, while silently affirming your support and friendship.” 

“You knew about Gerald and Fielding?” 

“Yes. Erica sent a letter to Father asking if she could return and explained why she wanted to come home.” 

“Why didn’t you tell me?” 

“She asked that it not be mentioned in general except for getting council approval. I don’t believe you attended that particular meeting. She indicated she would rather tell people in her own time and way after she returned.” 

Pascal stood, pacing frantically, his face contorted in rage, and he began to swear loudly. He continued pacing and swearing until his pain was spent. “She must hate me, because the one time we spoke she didn’t mention it.” 

“Erica is changed. I don’t think it is only the loss of her brother and father; something deeper has changed her. She hides it, but I have seen it lurking in her eyes. There is a quiet desperation about her that was never there before. Her peace and confidence is missing.” 

“The one time I spoke with her, which was right after she returned, I noticed she was withdrawn, her posture different, and she didn’t look me directly in the eye. I admit I wasn’t polite; she caught me unaware, and I was defensive.” 

“Your feelings for her, have they changed?” 

“I honestly don’t know. I’ve spent the last four years being angry that she left without a word, that she literally disappeared off the face of my earth and I was left to grieve. You know how much I loved her; for her to have left without a word, well, it crushed me.” His hand brushed through his thinning hair, an outward sign of his frustration. “I’ve never been all that self-assured as a man where women are concerned; and when she left, all the confidence she gave me vanished.  I survived on bitterness and loathing for the first two years, withdrawing into my own world.” 

“I was aware of your grief; but each time I reached out, you violently pushed me away. It was obvious that you were in pain, but you refused all help. After a time, I realized that no matter how deep our friendship or how much I love you, I couldn’t heal you; that was something you had to do alone.” 

“Apparently it isn’t a job I did well, if at all! I don’t think I ever stopped to consider the last four years from Erica’s point of view, which surely doesn’t speak highly of me as a person.” 

“You’ve always been fair. I’ve seen you bend to be objective in your dealings with the whole community. Perhaps now that you have the facts you were missing, you will have a more impartial view of Erica and your relationship.” 


Pascal began to work in the pipe chamber only for his prescribed shift and also began to take a regular day off each week. He spoke to Jacob, simply telling him he needed more consistent time away from his duties, the same as others did. He would no longer be available to cover the extra shifts of others, who, for whatever reasons, needed to be excused from their assigned duty in the pipe chamber. 

He spent weeks alone in deep concentration, thinking through his feelings of the last four years. He realized how he had shortchanged himself and the community by withdrawing, mentally and spiritually, from all those whom he held dear. 



“Erica, its Pascal. May I come in?” 

Slowly the heavy drape was drawn back, and Erica stood simply staring at the man she thought she would never see at her chamber entrance. Her mind filled with questions and her heartbeat quickened. “Won’t you come in? I have some water on for tea. Would you like a cup?” 

The old upright piano, with all its memories of their shared past, stood opposite the entrance. There were several colorful rugs, retrieved from the world Above, to add warmth to the cold stone floors; and two comfortable chairs graced the area near the smaller chamber opening. A steamer trunk served as storage chest as well as a coffee table. A small desk and two bookcases completed the area.  Family pictures were tucked in on various surfaces. Overhead were two chandeliers filled with Rebecca’s large candles, providing sufficient lighting. 

“Thank you, but no. I finished my tea before I left the dining hall. You’ve turned this into a very warm and homey place. May I sit down?  If you aren’t busy, I would like to talk.” 

“No, I’m not busy, and yes, please do sit down.” She retrieved the kettle from atop the warming brazier, which also provided heat to the chamber, and added the hot water to the small tea pot on the tray. She carried the tray to the trunk and took the chair next to Pascal. 

“I’ve come in hopes of making peace with you, to end the gulf in what was formerly a warm, caring relationship. It was only very recently that I found out about your father and Gerald. I wanted you to know how sorry I am. And I wanted to apologize for my behavior all those weeks ago when you came over to speak to me. I was less than gracious, in fact, I’m sure I was totally rude.” He glanced at the wall, unable to continue looking into her sad eyes.  

“In the months after you left, I kept to myself. I did my job, but that’s all. I couldn’t bear for anyone to talk about you. I’ve felt I was buried alive; my heart beat, but my mind had died. Vincent tried to help but I ignored his efforts, pushing away his friendship and caring. I had no idea of why you left so suddenly, and I was desperately unhappy, felt dejected and angry. I sealed myself away, leaving only a body that worked automatically but was devoid of all feelings.” His voice trembled and then faded into silence. 

“But I left you a note! You mean you never got it? I left it here on the old piano, as I was sure you would come here when you found our chamber empty.” 

“I did come here to escape but never found a note. All that was here was the piano, four folding chairs, some scattered ashes and a couple of half burnt cigarettes.” 

Tears filled her eyes as she openly stared at Pascal, her complexion suddenly very pale, her shoulders shaking. “Then that’s why I never heard from you. In my note I gave you the address where we were to live. I sent you four letters, pouring out all of my fears, but you never answered. Daddy said that some of life’s lessons were hard and perhaps I needed to accept that your feelings had changed since we left.” 

His voice rose in anguish as he spoke. “But I never got any letters! Where did you send them?” 

“Mr. Wilson’s house, the one we had used for years when we needed an Above-ground address.” 

Pascal grimaced as his face filled with rage. “Mr. Wilson died in a house fire two weeks after you left. Oh, God, it has all been for naught, so senseless.” His voice broke and his fist came down violently as he struck the steamer trunk, causing the tray and china to rattle. 

Erica sat in stunned silence, unable to comprehend the enormity of the situation. She trembled and her whole body began to shake as the terrible realization of the trick fate had played. Suddenly, she began to laugh, the laughter growing in volume and quickly turning to hysteria, the sound filling the chamber as it echoed. Her eyes darted around the room, tears streaming down her face as her hysteria grew to soul-wrenching proportions, and madness seemed to consume her. 

Pascal quickly grabbed her as her fist sent the china flying. He pulled her into his lap, holding her tightly against his chest as her hysteria increased. His mind was numbed by agonizing pain that threatened to consume him. He could think of nothing to console her and he only knew that he must prevent her from injuring herself. She continued struggling against him, but he simply tightened his grip against her consuming rage. 

He lost all sense of time as he sought to protect her. She tried to break free, but he gently caught her hand, pinning it between their bodies, as her other hand pounded and pushed against him trying to break free. Slowly, her keening stopped, and she slumped against him. He gathered her into his arms and carried her into the dimly lit sleeping chamber, placing her gently on the bed and drew the quilt over her. Long after she had fallen into a deep sleep, he continued to sit holding her hand, and it was then his own tears fell for all their lost dreams. 

The candle had gutted out long ago and still he continued to sit. The light from the piano room candles was still bright, and he was grateful for that, recalling how fearful Erica had always been of the dark. He remembered her fears from those long ago days when they had been children together and she had become lost in the warren of tunnels. Slowly, he released her hand, withdrew a candle stub and matches from his pocket, and lit the stub. He didn’t want her to be frightened when she awoke. 

Two hours later she opened her eyes and he smiled. “Good morning. How are you feeling?” 

“You stayed here beside me all night?” 

“Of course, I couldn’t leave you to awaken alone after what we learned last night. There’s no way I could allow you to remain alone, especially after your tears. I thought about how fate and circumstances had combined to spoil what might have been a beautiful relationship. And based on what I have felt for you all these years, I had to stay. I’m so sorry about Fielding and Gerald. It must have been difficult for you being all alone and having to deal with their passing. I’m so sorry. I know how much you loved and adored them.” 

“Gerald died instantly from his injuries, and I’m thankful he didn’t suffer. Daddy survived the crash, but his injuries were so severe there was no hope that he would recover. He lingered for almost two weeks, but I was grateful that they put us both in the same room. The staff was so sweet. They arranged our beds so we literally were side by side with our heads facing each other.” Tears streamed down her face as she talked. “They knew Daddy wasn’t going to last, and they tried to give us as much time together as possible.” 

“You were in the crash? How badly were you hurt?” His hand automatically went out to hold hers, and his voice reflected the new sorrow that filled his heart. 

“I was in the hospital for almost four months. As far as my injuries, I’d rather not talk about them now, except to say that the scars run deep. When the end was near, Daddy made me promise that I would return home to the family who loved me. I made the decision to bury him next to Gerald and that I would be buried here, next to momma. It seemed to be the only fair way to handle it. It’s hard, knowing Daddy and Gerald are so far away. I always hoped we’d all be entombed here where we were a family and happy.” Her voice ended in an explosive sigh and tears stung her eyes. 

“I’m so sorry I wasn’t there to help you. It’s impossible, I’m sure, for you to understand how I couldn’t be aware of any of these things which happened. Physically my body was in the pipe chamber, but I had built up such a wall, nothing registered in my mind or heart.” 

Her hand stroked down the side of his face, trying to convey her caring and concern. “But I do understand. I didn’t contact anyone here, not even Vincent, during those years after the accident.” 


After muttering his apologies for being late, Pascal assumed his duties as pipe master. Within an hour, others assisting in the chamber realized it would be to their advantage not to speak to Pascal, and they left him strictly alone.  

Erica had also struggled through the day, finding she had to consciously work to keep her mind centered on her students. She was relieved when the day ended and she was free of her teaching duties. Gulping two aspirins, she curled into the chair and freed her emotions allowing the tears she had fought to be released. It was later that Vincent found her quietly sobbing, curled into a ball with her arms wrapped tightly around her legs. 

Tenderly, he lifted her and settled her on to his lap, his arms holding his childhood friend gently as she cried. He didn’t question, he simply surrounded her with his encompassing love and strength, cradling her within his strong arms, taking her pain and sorrow within himself. Her sobs broke his heart, but as he had always done, he ignored his discomfort and sought only to ease her throbbing pain. 

He felt her impotent rage, the bitterness and anguish that consumed her. Continuing to hold her, he allowed the presence of his arms surrounding her to convey his caring, assured in his knowledge that now was not the time for words. Long after the tears had ceased, her breathing came in soft hiccupping starts, she still trembled. Furiously she wiped at the large circular wet spot on his vest where her head had rested. Frantically, she again rubbed trying to vanquish the wetness.

Vincent’s hand reached out to entrap her fingers. “It’s all right, it will dry.” He continued to hold her calmly and steadily as her breathing returned to normal. “Would you like to talk; or, if you prefer, I shall just continue to hold you until you feel stronger.” 

Again she placed her head against the solid strength of his shoulder and after some minutes tried to give voice to the chaos within her mind and heart. Vincent listened to the discord of disjointed words and phrases, the renewed bouts of tears, until all the pain and bitterness were expunged and he knew what had transpired with Pascal. He sharply felt the pain of his two childhood friends. 

“Pascal has been hurt, and there are things which now make any relationship impossible. He talked about his bitterness, and I saw that in him, how he has changed and how skeptical he is. Maybe it would be best if I leave and go back to Arizona to be near Daddy and Gerald. At least if I were there, I could tend their graves. I could be buried alongside them. Mommy would be alone here, but she is surrounded by friends, and Mary would still tend her grave.” 

“Perhaps it would be wiser to wait and give the situation here some time before you make a decision about leaving us.” 


Sleep was elusive that night as she tossed and turned trying to resolve her problems. Should she go back to Arizona and try to get her old job back or should she stay here? Her thoughts whirled as she tried to find resolution. Two more days passed without finding answers to her problems. She continued with her piano lessons, and it took all her efforts to be mentally alert with her students and not to feel that she was short changing them.  

Pascal appeared suddenly asking if he could walk with her. “These past days have been difficult in coming to terms with everything and to find some meaning in what happened to your note.” 

Together they left the dining hall and headed toward the Great Falls. “Do you still use the old niche as your place of solitude?” He nodded and smiled that she remembered that special place. “Would you and the others object if I also used it?” 

“I don’t think Vincent would object. We don’t frequent it as often as we did when we were teens still filled with the angst of life.” He took her hand as they entered the passage that would take them to the niche. “Do heights still bother you? I remember you were slightly nervous in the beginning when we’d all troop up here.” 

“After Denver, I’m no longer bothered by heights. And if I remember correctly, once I was positive that I was safe here, I got so I almost enjoyed it. Looking out over the falls and the cathedral ceiling was breathtaking.  I often came in the summer months when the light from the chimney openings filled the area with the brightest sunlight and just lay here fascinated by the view.” She settled into the alcove and scooted over, patting the seat in silent invitation for him to join her. 

He settled beside her and was surprised when she turned on her side. “Do you mind if I cuddle against you?” 

His voice failed him, and he cleared his throat once before he could speak, “No, of course not. We have been friends for forever.” He slipped his arm around her shoulder as she settled more firmly against his body, her head cradled against his chest, and her hand resting against his heart. 

“You and Vincent are my closest friends. There are things that happened that I know, for my own emotional well-being, need to be discussed. I’ve heard all about Vincent and Catherine since I’ve been back, but I haven’t heard about you. Have you found someone that you love, someone who is special to you? Have you married?” 

Pascal’s eyes clearly revealed his apprehension at her question, and he was slightly shocked at her intimate query. 

“Childhood friendships change when the individuals fall in love and that love brings a new person into the relationship. I’ve seen and read so much concerning how long friendships fade, and I don’t want that to happen to us. I’ve spoken to Catherine, and I think she realizes that I’m not a threat to her relationship with Vincent. If there is someone you love, I want to meet her and establish a good relationship with her, too, as I don’t want to lose your friendship.” 

Pascal felt his face warm, and he hoped he wasn’t blushing at her intimate words. 

“While I knew coming home would bring painful memories, I also knew those memories would be bearable because of you and Vincent. I’m not sure I could stay without the ongoing support of your friendship.” 

His arms tightened around her drawing her against his work-hardened body. Without conscious thought, he allowed his heart to speak. “I was in love with you when you left. No one has replaced you in my heart. I’ve loved you since I was twenty years old and I still love you.” 

 “All those years we were both alone thinking the other no longer cared. What a waste.” Fresh tears streamed down Erica’s face. Her eyes were drawn to his mouth. “I dreamed of doing this,” she whispered as she kissed him. Her lips were soft as Pascal returned her kiss and then deepened it, claiming what had captured his heart all those long years ago. His arms tightened, he angled his head, changing the kiss to taste all that had been denied. Breathlessly, they drew apart only to seek again the pleasure of which they had been deprived. 

Slowly they drew apart, their hearts pounding loudly, and they sought to simply breathe. “I thought I’d die alone. Nothing touched my heart since you left; my life and world were empty without you. I was thrilled you were coming home, but feared how difficult it would be seeing you again. I was afraid you had found someone else in Denver.” His voice trembled slightly betraying the well-spring of emotions that consumed him. 

“I went out a few times in Denver, but they paled compared to you; and I knew it was senseless to date when my heart lived beneath the ground in New York.” Her eyes filled with amazement and wonder as she looked deeply into his dark eyes. “To know after all these years you still love me, my heart feels like it will burst.” 

Her hands touched his face gently tracing the contours of his beloved face. Her lips mapped his features, and she remembered when she had first done that shortly after their first kiss. 

Sighing, she settled against his chest. The steady thrumming of their hearts settled around them in a joyous song of love. 

“I decided I had to know if you had found someone else, because I wanted to become friends with her like I am becoming friends with Catherine. I didn’t want there to be a barrier of jealousy that would spoil the deep friendship we share. I didn’t expect to hear you say you still loved me.” 

“Since you had the courage to ask, I had to have the courage to express that love.” His smile lit his whole face, “To know that you still care, that you still love me, fills me with joy.” 

Her fingers traced his face as she gathered her courage and tried to compose her face to say what she must. “There are things I must share with you, things which won’t be pleasant or easy for you to hear. Things which will impact how...if...we move forward, things I am honor bound to tell you, for they will affect you and any future we might have together. We need to be assured of privacy while we talk. I’d prefer that we talk in my chamber.” 

“If that is what you wish, then we shall go there.” They slipped out of the niche and began the walk to her chamber. He was concerned about what she could possibly have to say that she felt would impact their lives. He was puzzled, nervous and filled with dread. 

From the torch that burned, Pascal lit the candle stub he removed from his pocket and entered Erica’s chamber ahead of her to light several candles, pushing back the darkness. He took the lantern and placed it in front of the drawn tapestry that served as the door to her chamber to assure they would have privacy. 

They settled facing each other on the small sofa that replaced one of the chairs she surrendered to the nursery. “It’s cowardly of me, but I’d feel better if I could hold your hand while I speak. I know what I must say will be difficult for you to hear. 

“When I woke up following surgery I was wrapped in a sea of bandages and plaster. If it hadn’t been for the medics, we would have all died at the crash site. The fireman literally cut the car from around us, leaving parts of it in our bodies, as the metal’s pressure against the arteries was the only thing that kept us from bleeding out.” She watched as Pascal paled, his eyes swimming with tears and she felt the increased pressure of his hand within hers. Swallowing repeatedly, then slowly, she picked up the threads of her story sparing him none of the details. “The first time I saw myself naked I actually got sick to my stomach and threw up I was so horrified. It’s gotten easier over time. They suggested I consider plastic surgery because the scars are large. 

“I know how much you want children, what continuing your heritage means. The accident stole that. I can’t give you children. When I decided to come home, I didn’t think the degradation of my body would be an issue. You see, I thought some other lucky girl would have claimed you, and since I knew I still loved you, this carnage,” she gestured with her hand, sweeping it down her body, “wouldn’t matter, as I knew I’d never love anyone except you, and that you would never need know what happened. 

“I never dreamed that you would still love me. But because you do, this wreckage is a problem. It was wrong of me to ask what I did, but I was terrified of losing your friendship because your wife wouldn’t want you to be friends with a woman you once loved. Now I’ve brought something heinous into your life.” Tears streamed down her face, gliding down her throat as she sobbed. “I should have never come back, I shouldn’t...” 

His mouth abruptly cut off her words. His arms encircled her, drawing her tightly against his chest, and he continued to kiss her, wanting and needing her to be only aware of his mouth and the love that flowed into her as he claimed her. Their tears mingled and still he continued to kiss her, breathing fire and life into her screaming lungs. All the pain dissolved under the onslaught on her mouth, showing and telling her of the depth of his love. 

Slowly, he eased away, aware of how tightly he was holding her, suddenly fearful that he might be causing her delicate body pain, and he allowed his mouth to become gentle. “Whatever happened to your body doesn’t matter. I love you and want you to be my wife. I’ve never wanted anything more than to spend my life with you.” 

She sobbed against him knowing she had to make him understand all he was abandoning with his declaration. She wanted nothing false between them, and she prayed her courage wouldn’t fail her. “You can’t throw away your chance to be a father. All you ever talked about were the things you would teach your children, how you longed to share your heritage. You would be denying that if you stay with me. You need someone who can give you children and a rich, full life.” 

He eased her away bringing his arms to rest against her shoulders. “I need only you. I’ve been half alive since you left, and I am whole only when we are together. We’ll be a family and we’ll have children. Abandoned children come to us, and one of them will become our child, the child of our love.” 

“I can’t deny you the privilege of fathering a child. You need to forget me and find someone who can give you children.” 

“You may as well ask me to stop breathing. I love only you and want a life only with you.” 

“But, you…” 

“No. It will either be you or it will be no one! You possessed my heart since we were teens; nothing will change how much I love you. While you were gone I went through the motions of living. I worked, ate, slept, and did all that was expected of me, but inside I was dead because my heart lived only with you.” 

She wiped the tears that streamed down her face. Standing she took his hand and tugged, pulling him to his feet, and walked into her bedchamber. After lighting several candles, she sat on the bed and then patted the space beside her. “You need to know what you are getting, the abomination I live with daily.” 

Her hands lifted the edge of the tunic she wore, pulling it over her head. “No, you needn’t do this.” His voice was whisper soft as he tried to still her fluttering fingers. She pushed away his hands, drawing away the warm thermal shirt and she stood. Painstakingly, she removed her skirt and slip then turned her back to him as she released the bra and stepped from her panties. Filling her lungs, her hands going quietly to her side, she turned. 

He stared, his eyes took in the whole and then slowly his vision focused on the massive scar that ran curving across her flat stomach, ending abruptly leaving two inches of clear skin within the thatch of pubic hair. An equally large scar snaked down her right hip ending just below her kneecap. Along her right shoulder were thick surgical scars. Where her right breast should have proudly stood was a depression of sunken multi-directional scars, thick and thin, bearing brute testimony to the visceral damage that happens when steel ravages tender flesh. His eyes returned to her face, seeing clearly her pain and her shame. Gently, he allowed his hands to touch her hip, and he drew her into the vee of his legs. 

She looked in terror unable to comprehend what he must be thinking of the carnage before him. 

Tenderly, he brought her closer and softly began to pay homage to her body. Across her scared belly lightly he kissed each intersecting line, his voice filled with reverence as his lips languidly swept across her quivering flesh. Incredibly slowly, he tenderly laved each surgical scar, kissing his way to her kneecap and then he began again making his way across her shoulder. 

His mouth moved like soft, delicate butterfly wings sweeping across her flesh, incredibly slowly as he moved. She felt his long eyelashes sweep against her skin, and her audible sigh seemed to echo in the stillness. 

Instinctively, he knew the evisceration of her breast still hurt, shamed and embarrassed her. Tenderly, his mouth paid homage; lovingly his lips claimed each inch of the scarred tissue until her flesh was wet with his delicate ministrations. Tears streamed unbidden down her face as the scope of his enduring love washed over her wounded body and soul. His mouth cleansed the pain that haunted her, renewing her spirit and making her whole in the light of his love. 

Gently her arms encircled him, drawing him closer until his face pressed against the deep depression that had once been her breast. He continued to lovingly kiss the scar tissue as he reverently caressed her. Slowly, he lowered her to his lap seeking her mouth. He worshipped her with his lips as he told her of his love. “I love you, Erica, and I’ll never love you more than I do at this moment.” 

Releasing one hand, he searched beneath the pillow and his hand closed over her nightgown. With incredible gentleness he slipped the gown over her head and eased her arms into the sleeves, lifting her enough to allow the gown to pool beneath her hips. Still holding her he stood, bent and swept the quilts down and laid her tenderly against the sheets. He toed off his boots, slid in beside her, and brought her to rest against his chest. He held her through the long purging as she wept for herself, the family she had lost, and for the children she could never give him. 

He clearly heard the third round of the night shift sentries reporting all was quiet, and he automatically calculated the time. He flexed his fingers trying to restore his circulation, but he made no move to ease his arm from beneath Erica’s head. She had finally fallen into a deep sleep, her body snuggled against him, and he had held her through the night. 

At six o’clock he heard William’s message that coffee was on, and reluctantly he eased from the bed. He either had to report to the pipe chamber or have John cover his shift. Looking down at the evidence of tear strains on Erica’s face, he made his decision knowing he could not leave her to awaken alone. Swiftly, he pulled on his boots, stepped into the passage and tapped a message asking them to notify John he needed to fill-in for him today. 

When she awakened, Pascal made tea and they talked quietly for the rest of the afternoon. The more they talked, the more Pascal realized how fragile Erica was emotionally and physically and didn’t press her for additional information, simply allowed her to speak of what she wished.  


Entering the passage that led directly to the bathing pool, Catherine hoped she wasn’t too late to find Erica there.  She called softly but heard no reply. Thinking maybe Erica might be swimming, she called more loudly. She walked onward, and just as she was about to turn back, she saw Erica. Hearing her name Erica turned and immediately grabbed for a towel. 

The sight of Erica’s nude body caused Catherine to gasp in horror and she rushed forward. “Erica, my God, what has happened to you?” Seeing the look of repulsion registered on Catherine’s face Erica’s eyes rolled back and she fainted. Catherine reached her side and for a few moments she could only stare at the disfigured woman. Pushing aside her feelings, Catherine checked her pulse, moved to straighten Erica’s body, covered her with the towels that lay nearby and began to chafe her wrists. 

“Just lay still, don’t try to move or sit up just yet. Give yourself a few minutes then I’ll help you.  Are you cold?” 

Erica glanced down at her body and sighed, thankful she was covered. “I’m sorry I’m causing you a problem.”  

Catherine slipped her arm beneath Erica’s shoulder and eased her into a sitting position then she took off her jacket and placed it around Erica’s bare shoulders. “No, don’t apologize. I startled you.” They sat in silence for several minutes. “Erica, I’m sorry about what I said. Seeing this was such a shock. Normally I’d never react with such poor manners.  I hope you will accept my apology for my rudeness.” 

Erica stared as she remembered all the kind and caring things she had heard about Catherine since she returned home. “It is a repulsive sight, I know. It’s my body, and I still have trouble looking at it. I don’t think I’ll ever accept the humiliation and disgust I feel when I see the way I am now.” 

Catherine kept Erica’s hand in hers as she calmly asked, “If you would like to talk, I’m willing to listen, but don’t feel you need to say anything. Please know that if I can help you in any way, I will.” 

The warmth and compassion of Catherine’s caring touched Erica, and she slowly began to tell her of the accident. 

Catherine’s face was awash with tears. “Oh, Erica, I’m so sorry, so sorry.” Catherine’s arms eased around Erica as she cried, holding her gently as she sobbed for all that had been taken from her. Erica’s eyes were swollen almost shut when her tears ceased. Gently, Catherine helped her to dress and then supported her as they walked to her chamber. 


The library was empty when Erica entered. She spent several minutes just chatting with Father before she told him that she was going Above and expected to be gone for four or five hours. He was curious but refrained from asking, instead wishing her safe journey and reminding her that she should alert the sentry before she left. 

Upon reaching the surface she quickly reviewed her notes on how to reach her destination, which buses she would need to take. She had traveled about the city in Denver but compared to the noise level and the thousands of additional people in NYC, she was slightly nervous as she stepped aboard the bus. Luckily, she found a seat on the curb side of the bus so it was easier for her to keep track of the streets as they whizzed by. Reaching the correct corner, she exited the bus and began to walk. 

She gave her name, took a seat and was prepared to wait, as she was early for her appointment. Much to her surprise, she heard her name being called after only ten minutes, and she followed the young lady inside the office. 

“Erica, how good it is to see you. Jacob told me you were returning. You left us a gangling teenager, and you have returned a beautiful young lady.” Peter embraced another of the tunnel babies whom he had helped deliver. “I’m sure this isn’t a social call, so tell me how I may be of service to you.” 

From her purse she withdrew a heavy folded envelope and passed it to Peter. “This will explain everything.” She stared out the window of Peter’s office as he read the contents of the envelope and carefully avoided looking at his face. Only when he turned the last sheet of paper face down upon his desk did she look at him. His facial expression hadn’t changed but his eyes were filled with sorrow. 

“I promised Dr. Knolton I would bring these to a doctor as soon as I got settled.” 

“I’m glad you kept your promise and came to me. Let me ring for my nurse, and we’ll get you into an exam room and begin.” He buzzed for his nurse, gave his instructions, and Erica was escorted out.  As the door closed, Peter lowered his head into his hands, and he sat there trying to regain his control and composure. He shook his head, picked up the stack of papers and began to re-read Erica’s medical history. 

He was stoic, compassionate, and professional as he examined Erica’s ravaged body. She had left them with the healthy pristine body of a teen, and she returned with a body that had been subjected to twisting, grinding metal that had chewed her flesh and had required multiple surgeries to repair the damages. After completing his exam, Peter asked his nurse to help Erica dress and he would speak to her in his office. 

“Would you tell me about how this happened?” 

“We had finally been able to afford a car and were on our way to shop for groceries. We were about two miles from the store when this man struck us head on, flipping the car. He spun out of control and then hit us again rolling us down an embankment. He was drunk and didn’t even get hurt. Gerald was killed instantly and Daddy and I were mangled in the wreckage. It took nearly two hours for them to cut us out. Two of the medics somehow managed to crawl far enough inside that they able to help us while the firemen cut away parts of the car, leaving the pieces that were embedded into us where they were to prevent our bleeding to death. I don’t remember them getting us out of the car or anything until I woke up in the hospital room with Daddy. Dr. Knolton insisted that we be placed in the same ICU room, as he knew Daddy wasn’t going to recover. 

“My breast was nearly detached but the metal stopped short of cutting through the ribcage. The way it was lodged stopped all the bleeding but the nerves and tissue in the severed parts were dead because of lack of blood by the time they got us out and were so badly mangled they couldn’t attempt to re-attach.” 

She stopped talking, fighting to control her wildly fluctuating emotions. Peter poured a glass of cold water, tapped a pill into her hand, “Swallow this.”  

Obeying Peter was second nature to her and she automatically swallowed. “There were multiple surgeries over months. Daddy died about two weeks after the accident. His injuries were profound.  I was in rehab for a long time, learning to walk again. Dr. Knolton said I might need further surgeries on my leg, and he suggested I should consider plastic surgery to remove the scars and perhaps consider breast reconstruction.” 

“If you do decide on plastic surgery, I can certainly help you in selecting a doctor. I also know several excellent orthopedic surgeons, if surgery on your leg becomes necessary.  How are you doing on your medications? Do you need refills?” 

“I’ll need refills within a couple of weeks. Peter, could you suggest a good attorney and a bank? The man who hit us was extremely wealthy and before he went to prison, he settled the lawsuit privately out of court. I need an attorney to handle all the legal matters, taxes, and arrange to put the money to work. I’m hoping you know an attorney, who is also a Helper, as I want to use some of the money to help the community.” 

“Have you met Catherine? Vincent’s Catherine? She’s an excellent attorney and also a Helper.” 

“Yes, I have met her. I have a letter of credit from my bank in Denver, but I want to get everything transferred here.” 

Peter checked his personal phone list and wrote down both Cathy’s office and home phones. “Is there a particular reason you came to me rather than seeing Jacob?” 

“I knew you would be more current on all the procedures that were done to me and would have the names of other doctors if I need them. And to be honest, I’d feel funny about having him examine me.” She gestured downward at her body. “I was seeing a psychologist in Denver, and he felt I had made some progress in dealing with the trauma. He felt it might be wise if I continued with therapy here. I don’t want people Below to know what I’ve gone through, simply because I don’t wish to continually have to discuss it or have it be the topic of conversation. Only Pascal knows.” 

“If I may suggest, I think it would be wise to simply tell Jacob that you had seen me because I’m current on a problem you have. If there were a problem, he would notify me and would simply make you comfortable until I could reach you. Jacob will understand. I have a few other private patients Below, so you won’t be the first. Why don’t you let me phone Cathy and see if she has time to see you today while you’re Above?” 

“That’s very kind of you, thank you.” 

He picked up the phone and seconds later he was connected. He explained that Erica was in need of her services and asked if it were possible for them to meet. After he hung up he wrote down an address and handed it to her. “Cathy asked you to come to her office, and she has about an hour she can give you today. Just ask for her. Keep in touch and if there are problems, don’t hesitate to reach me either here or at home.” He hugged her and then walked her out. 

The meeting with Catherine went far more smoothly than Erica had expected. She told her briefly about the settlement she had received and that she wanted to use some of the money to help the tunnel citizens. Erica reiterated that no one Below except Pascal knew the details of the accident that had claimed the lives of her brother and father. 

Catherine asked several questions, making notes on a legal pad, and explained it would take a couple of weeks to get everything set up. “Together we’ll come up with a plan that will allow you to help the community secretly. I’ll let you know when we need to meet again Above.  And please know that anything you say is bound by attorney-client privilege.” 

“Catherine, I want to thank you. I appreciate your time, and you have made this amazingly easy.” 

“It’s my pleasure. If there is anything else I can do to help you, please don’t hesitate to ask. While my experience wasn’t like yours, I do understand about the mental scars from trauma. I was attacked, my face slashed, and I was thrown out in the Park.” A small smile teased at the corner of Catherine’s generous mouth. “In fact, I can now tell you my attack was the pivotal point in my life. If it hadn’t happened, I never would have met Vincent, and he changed my life.” 

As she stepped off the bus, Erica thought about what Catherine had said about her attack. She hoped she could hold on to that thought as she continued her own healing. 


Erica continued with her teaching, and weekly she ventured Above for her appointment with the psychologist Catherine had recommended. For the first month she felt it was a waste of time, as she did nothing but cry; but slowly she was able to speak more calmly about the accident during the weekly sessions. 


Pascal was continuously aware of Erica’s grief and her struggle to come to terms with all that had happened. He remembered what a loving and caring couple his parents had been, and he wanted the same type of relationship with Erica. He knew if he was to have that same connection with her, he had to intelligently understand her experience; but more importantly, he had to emotionally comprehend the total trauma that had damaged her body had also ruined her perception of herself.


He became a regular visitor to the upper regions of the library chamber seeking information on physical trauma. When he had exhausted the few resources available to him, he borrowed a jean jacket from one of the pipe students and pulled on his one pair of unpatched jeans and left the tunnels. After a couple of false turns, he acclimated himself to the streets and walked up the steps of the main branch of the New York City Library. Finding what he needed, he settled into a chair and began to read. 

He read for three hours, making notes on things he wished to research further. Checking the nearby clock, he realized that if he didn’t hurry he would be late for his pipe code class. 


“Hey, Erica, wait up.” Turning, Erica saw Winslow rushing toward her. The gentle man enveloped her in a warm hug. “It’s good to see you. If you aren’t rushing to a class, I wondered if you’d have lunch with me. Pascal’s having a meeting so I thought I’d see if I could have the privilege of your company. It’s been a couple of weeks since we talked.”  

“I’d like that very much.” Taking his hand, together they joined the throng of citizens eager to find the source of the tantalizing smells coming from the area of the dining chamber. 

Vincent saw his two friends and joined them to share the delicious soup William was serving.  

Winslow smiled broadly as he finished his first spoonful of the soup. “I’ve been smelling this for the last two hours, and it thoroughly exceeds the dreams of my stomach!” 

As they continued eating Vincent, was delighted to see that Winslow had lost none of his charm with Erica. He had her smiling and laughing throughout the meal. There had always been a special bond of friendship between them since Winslow had become thirteen-year-old Erica’s math tutor; and with his help, she had aced her courses. Their laughter echoed over the din, and many heads turned as their shared joy rose to a higher volume. 

Together the trio left the dining hall and headed toward Erica’s chamber. As they reached her passageway, they bid her goodbye and headed back toward their respective jobs. 

“Let’s do this again. Erica needs to laugh more, and I haven’t laughed so much at lunch in a long time.” Winslow’s voice held the caring and love he had for Erica as he continued, “There is still a deep sadness about her that seems to be beyond mere grief. I want to help her in any way I can.” 

“I’m sure Fielding knew that her tunnel family would care for and help her. With our love, hopefully we can help make our baby sister whole again. Shall we try again tomorrow at lunch?” 


The large, fur covered hand was extended and Winslow grinned at Vincent and knew the same secret pact they had shared as children to protect and guard the members of their gang had just reasserted itself, and together they would do all that was necessary to help their baby sister to heal. 


Vincent passed the nursery chamber and heard Erica’s voice as she softly sung to the child she was rocking. The sound of her voice made him smile as he walked on toward the Falls. As he reached the Falls, he heard the sounds of rocks breaking. He knew of no construction work in this area and his curiosity drove him to hurry. 

He reached the small opening just prior to the entrance that opened onto the rocky cliff he and the others used to view the Falls. Stepping into the softly lit cavern, he saw Pascal with a sledgehammer, flailing away at the rock wall. With each stroke he swore and cussed, using words that Vincent was unaware Pascal knew. He stood silently until Pascal paused, bent over, leaning heavily on the hammer gasping for breath. 

“Is there anything I may do to help?” 

“No!” Aware of how harsh his voice sounded, Pascal turned to face his oldest friend. “Thank you, but no,” he offered in a softer tone.  “I’m just working off my frustrations and anger.” 

Momentarily stunned, Vincent stared at his friend before he spoke. “I’ll be at the overlook if you’d like to join me later after your work-out is over.” He turned on his heel and left the small chamber. As he settled on the cliff’s edge, he heard the continuous sounds of the hammer slamming into rock. The sounds continued for over an hour before it stopped, and he was again surrounded by the tumultuous sounds of the falls. 

Pascal dropped down beside him, breathing hard and wiping his red face free of sweat with his handkerchief. After a prolonged silence Pascal looked at Vincent and sighed. “Come on. Let’s go to the pool; I stink of sweat. While I bathe, could you get me some clean clothes? I’m supposed to pick Erica up in the nursery.” 

Together they easily jogged down the passage, parting company as Vincent headed toward Pascal’s chamber for clothing, and Pascal entered the pool. The water eased over his sweaty body, and he began to feel his tight, tense muscles relax as the water soothed. The pounding of the rocks had helped ease his frustrations and anger. On his most recent trip to the city library, he had searched for and found the articles written in the Denver newspapers about the accident that had killed Gerald and Fielding and the subsequent trial. He now knew all the details about the drunken playboy who had escaped injury. As he read the clippings, he once again saw Erica’s maimed body as she had stood before him shamed and afraid. It had taken all of his self-control to remain silent within the confines of the library as his rage roiled inward. 

Quickly, he had exited the building, running down the steps to Fifth Avenue; and he turned into the first alley he found. There he vomited until there was nothing left inside him. He walked on until he found a spot between two dumpsters, crawled in and sat there until his stomach quieted. Tears continued to stream down his face as he cried for all that was taken from Erica, and he realized anew the enormity of the task of helping her to heal. 

The whole time he had swung the sledgehammer, he had seen the face of the playboy before him, and he imagined his fists pounding into him until his face was beyond recognition. From deep within, he found that he now totally comprehended the rage that drove Vincent to kill to protect his family when the tunnels had been invaded. He knew without doubt that if he were to meet that drunken playboy, he would kill him, and smile as he watched him die! He could literally see the face that now haunted him as he mentally drove his fists repeatedly into the smashed features. 

He climbed out of the pool, toweled himself dry and dressed. Picking up the towels, he joined Vincent, returned the unused towels to the storage locker, and slung his wet towel over his shoulder. “May I walk with you? I’d like to say hello to Erica, and I haven’t seen the nursery children today.” 

They continued on is silence and just before reaching the nursery, Pascal stopped. “You look fine.” The gentle voice caused Pascal to exhale loudly as they resumed walking. Quietly, they slipped into the nursery and silently walked into the inner chamber where all the children were sleeping. Erica was rocking one of the toddlers, and with profound gentleness, Vincent picked up the not quite sleeping child and began to walk, rocking and whispering softly. He smiled at the infant who was patting his cheek and nodded to Erica. Pascal took Erica’s hand, and they left Vincent, secure in the knowledge that the child would soon fall asleep under the spell of Vincent’s hypnotic voice. 

As they reached the outer chamber, Pascal thought he heard a soft whisper coming from the nursery. For a brief moment he paused then his mind heard the sound again, “Love is the truth that will guide you.” He was positive it was Vincent’s voice he heard. He smiled to himself, as he had never doubted Vincent’s ability to dwell within the hearts and minds of those whom he loved. 


Later that night, after escorting Erica to her chamber, Pascal wandered through the tunnels into the deeper regions, knowing he still needed time alone. He had done what his conscience had known was right, but he knew that he needed time to mentally come to grips with all that had happened to Erica. There was no doubt within his mind of his enduring love for her, but he wasn’t sure of his deeper feelings about not being able to have children of his own. Wisely, he realized that his attitude toward the carnage done to her body would be the key to their future relationship and happiness. His shock had been great, and he was aware that Erica had expected scorn or despair when she bared her body to him. Her bravery in baring her ravaged body was something he knew had required great courage on her part. He could never have envisioned from mere words the scars and physical damage. 

As he walked, his thoughts turned deeper as he knew he must come to her honestly and openly. The horror of what had happened, lying in the wreckage knowing Gerald was dead and seeing pieces of metal embedded into her flesh must have been a psychological nightmare. And being in the same hospital room with Fielding, knowing he was mortally wounded and that each second might be the last, surely must have left severe emotional scars. 

Suddenly it dawned on him, if she had been in the hospital all that time, Gerald and Fielding had obviously been buried without her in attendance. To have been buried without anyone to mourn their passage was shattering to him.  

As he walked, he was totally unaware of the tears that streamed down his face. At the next passage, he turned left, going down to the level where the last traces of the ghostly voices from the chamber of the winds could be heard. The sounds were eerie, and few ever ventured there. As a boy, he had been fascinated by the voices, wondering where within the vast city Above were the people who belonged to the ghostly sounds. 

He found a spot that gave him a clear line of vision and settled into the dirt. He remembered how beautiful Erica had looked as a teen when they had all gone swimming; how in love he was with her shapely body and the dreams he had of what lie beneath those two pieces of cloth. His vision blurred, the bathing suit gone, and he once again saw all that had been done to her body – the heavy scaring, the marks that had been created by all the sutures used to close the wounds, and the deep depression that had once been her breast. His hands covered his face as his body silently shook. Unable to control himself or his agony, he cried out as he allowed the anguish and horror to be released. 

Time ceased as he sat there sobbing for the degradation of what had happened to Erica and all that it had robbed from their life together. His tears became more intense when suddenly he felt a lone, strong arm slip over his shoulder and he found himself pulled against a muscular chest. 

There were no questions. Vincent simply sat in the dirt alongside his dear friend and held him as he sobbed. And he knew that when Pascal’s pain ebbed there would be no embarrassment between them. Pascal had been the one who had held him when he had sobbed for days after Devin had disappeared. 

Pascal tried to speak but only the heartbreaking keening of soul-shattering pain continued to pour from his body. Vincent’s strong arms held him and he felt the lonely desolation of agony that surrounded his friend. Some hours later, Vincent passed his handkerchief to Pascal, and they continued to sit in silence. “If you need a listening heart, you know I shall be there for you, or both of you if you wish it.” 


Upon leaving the dining hall, Erica asked if Pascal would mind detouring past the library, as she needed to speak privately with Father. Not wishing to intrude, Pascal waited in the passage as she walked into the library.  

Quietly, Erica told Father she had decided to use Dr. Alcott as her physician of choice because he was current on her medical problems. Father was neither shocked nor upset by this news; he calmly accepted her statement. “If anything should happen to you, I will do what is needed to make you comfortable as well as notifying Peter. He has several patients within the tunnels, and it has never been a problem. He and I work things out for the well-being of the patient. I do appreciate your telling me, and I’ll note it on your medical card both here and in hospital chambers.” 

“Thank you for being so understanding.” She chatted for a few more minutes and then went to rejoin Pascal. 

By unspoken agreement they returned to Erica’s chamber and settled on the sofa. “I informed Father that Dr. Alcott is to be my personal physician. The fewer people who know about what happened to me, the better I will feel. People would be kind, but I would be uncomfortable if everyone knew. I don’t want to be the object of their pity.” 

“I can surely understand. I’d probably feel the same way if it were me. There are certain things I don’t mind people knowing; but like you, I am essentially a private person. You, Vincent, and Winslow know me completely, but others only see what I want them to see.” 

The hours passed quickly as they continued to talk. Pascal spoke of his plans for the coming week when the four-year-old children would have their first experience at seeing the pipe chamber. Afterwards they would return to their pre-school class and instructions would begin on teaching them to code their name and the word “help” on the practice pipe. 

“It’s late; I should let you go back to your chamber.” Her voice was wistful ending in a soft sigh. 

Carefully he leaned to kiss her. “If you would allow me, I’d like to stay with you again, holding you through the night as you sleep.” His voice was a bare whisper as his eyes caressed her face. “Having you in my arms would simply fill my heart with joy. But if you prefer to be alone, I will certainly understand.” 

Her heart hammered, and she was positive that it was visually pounding enough for Pascal to see. Tears stained her lashes, and as she spoke, her voice was shaking with emotion. “I was so scared you wouldn’t ever want to touch me after you saw my body. I thought perhaps it was only pity. You are so honorable, but I don’t want to hold…” 

“Erica, I love you,” he firmly stated as he interrupted her. “If I never touch your body, we would still have more than many couples. If we had been married and this had happened to you, I couldn’t turn from you. You have experienced something harsh, mind-changing, and it requires time to heal. I want to give you that time, but I’m selfish enough to say I like holding you in my arms.” He paused wanting to say what was clearly within his heart. “You returned expecting to find me married and to spend your life alone.  You could have ignored your feelings, pretended you no longer cared, and we wouldn’t have spoken of all this. I’ve never known you to take the easy road. 

“I still love you, but know that we can’t rush. There is too much trauma and pain involved. I don’t think you are ready for a serious relationship with me or any other man. You still need to heal emotionally and physically.” 

“Dr. Alcott said he could find a plastic surgeon if I want to have the scars removed or buffed and maybe reconstruction. I don’t know; I have mixed feelings about it. The thought of another surgery terrifies me. I don’t know if I can do it, but the thought of living with this abomination is equally terrifying.” 

“You need to consider what would be best for you. If plastic surgery would make you feel better, then we’ll find the money. I’ll go Above, get a job, and we’ll save for the surgery.” 

Her hand stroked his face as his words melted the fears that consumed her. His simple honor was clear. She was his woman and it was his responsibility to provide for her. Her hands continued to stroke him, her lips trembling as she tried to express the multitude of thoughts, the love that whirled within as his love continued to wash over her. 

“Your understanding is more than I ever conceived possible. I’m ashamed of how I felt about coming home. The selfish side of me wanted you to be alone so I could still dream about a life with you. But then I’ve felt so guilty and depraved in having such thoughts. The selfless part of me wanted to find you married and surrounded by your children, because I knew that would fulfill all your dreams.”  

He heard the pain and sorrow that echoed in her voice as she revealed her deeper feelings. “I, too, had similar thoughts. Part of me wanted you to see me and realize what you had abandoned. So, you see, our feelings aren’t that much different. 

“We need to move carefully, allow ourselves time to adjust to the changes, speak openly and honestly so that later we don’t accidentally hurt each other.” 

Her arms tightened around him as she brushed her lips across his. They both realized the weeks and months ahead would be filled with difficult moments. “I’m certain if we go with love and care, we will come through this with a deeper love and respect. I love you so much, Erica; and whatever we need to do, I’m willing to work hard so that we can have a happy life.”  


As the weeks passed, the community became accustomed to seeing Erica and Pascal together, and they were thought of as a couple. Often times they were together with Vincent and Catherine or with Olivia and Kanin, and it became common to see the couples together. 

Erica continued to go Above weekly to see Dr. Grafton, the psychologist that Catherine had recommended. The sessions with him were difficult in the beginning, but she knew that when she returned, Pascal was waiting for her, offering his strong support. Slowly, she began to become emotionally stronger and her smile had returned. 

“Father, do you have a few minutes? There is something I would like to discuss with you.” 

“Erica, my dear, I always have time for you. Come sit and tell me how I may help.” 

“I would like to arrange to have Gerald’s and Daddy’s bodies disinterred and brought back here to have them entombed in the catacombs near Momma. Would the council object? The idea of them in Arizona with no one to tend their graves, away from me and those who loved them breaks my heart. I wasn’t even there when they were buried.” She wiped the tears that clung to her lashes as she stared expectantly at Father. 

“I’ve never had such a request, but I certainly will speak to the Council. I personally have no objections, and we do have a Helper who owns a funeral home so I think it would pose little, if any, logistical problems. May I speak in your behalf or do you wish to address the Council yourself?” 

“I’d be grateful if you would speak for me. I still have problems in speaking about them, and I fear I would become too emotional; I couldn’t explain how much this means to me.” 

“I will consider it an honor to speak in your behalf. We have a Council meeting tomorrow, and I will add your request to the agenda.” 

When the Council met, they were unanimous in their agreement that Erica be given approval to have Gerald and Fielding brought home. Father sent a message to Mr. Browning and asked that he come Below at his earliest convenience. 

Erica met with him in the empty dining hall and worked out the arrangement. Mr. Browning was surprised when Erica wrote out a check to cover the costs, but he didn’t bat an eye when she explained that it was insurance money.  

Several weeks later, the tunnel community gathered at the Mirror Pool to pay their final respects to Gerald and Fielding. Father’s voice trembled as he tried to express his feelings. “Fielding and Maria came to us early, when we were still afraid of footsteps in the dark. But her generous heart and his wide, easy smile soon managed to disperse the darkness with their own personal light. Gerald was born within these tunnels, bringing joy and happiness as we watched him grow from infancy to a delightful young boy, eager to serve and always willing to help. Our hearts ache that Gerald and Fielding were taken from us far too early, but we rejoice that Erica has returned home to us. The burden of their passing is made easier now that their earthly remains have been brought home to reside with their beloved Maria.” 

Father stepped forward placing his personal message of love into the flames, then offered his hand to Erica as she stepped forward.

“Goodbye Gerald, I miss you. I remember how proud you were when you finally passed your Lost and Found course. Your token from finding Vincent is now my prized possession. I miss you, Daddy. I am so blessed in having had you as my father and knowing your generous love. I know Momma is happy to see you again. I love you so much.” The flames brightened as they consumed her message. 

Pascal stepped forward. “Know that I will guard and protect Erica now as I did when we were all children. She will always be safe with me. She will never be alone, and I shall always love her.” He slid his message into the fire and stepped to place his arms around Erica. 

One by one Vincent, Winslow, William, Mary and the others came forward to honor Gerald and Fielding. After the ceremony was over, all the mourners made the long trek to the catacombs, and there Winslow replaced the temporary stone that had been used to mark the grave with the one he had carved bearing their names. 


Over the weeks since Erica returned, the community consciously became aware that, unlike Vincent, Pascal no longer maintained an open door policy at his personal chamber. He began to establish limits for intrusion upon his after-work hours; a policy he wanted to have firmly in place when he and Erica married. He was aware of the invasion upon Vincent and Catherine’s private time by the citizens, knew that he, himself, had been guilty of that; and he strived to correct this policy within his own world. 

As he and Erica entered his chamber, he automatically placed the lantern in the passage leading to his entrance and drew the heavy rug that served as his door over the access. They settled on the sofa, and Pascal sighed as he toed off his boots. “It’s been a very long day, and I didn’t manage more than ten minutes off my feet all afternoon.” 

“If you are too tired, I can wait until tomorrow to talk. It doesn’t have to be tonight. I know how hard you work.” 

“No, I’m never too tired to talk with you.” He settled more comfortably, drawing her into his arms. 

“I’ve been trying to think of a way to tell you this, but I couldn’t decide on a way that wouldn’t be a shock to you. I’m sure you have been curious as to how I was able to arrange to have Gerald and Daddy’s remains returned home and how I am paying for my mental health counseling.” 

“Well, at first I was curious, but then I figured it had been insurance money that you used.” 

“It wasn’t insurance money. The man who hit us settled the lawsuit out of court before he went to prison. It was a considerable amount of money, even after the lawyer’s fees, and it is all in a bank, here in the city. My lawyer asked for and received five times over what his expert surgeons said reconstructive surgery would cost, plus suing for pain and suffering, mental anguish as well as loss of income from Daddy and the potential lifetime earnings for Gerald.” 

Pascal’s eyes widened as he tried to comprehend all Erica had said. He honestly had no concept of what lawyers were able to obtain in such a wrongful death action lawsuits. 

“You’re saying you’re rich?” 

“I guess you would have to say that. I don’t really want the money, not for myself. I want to use most of it to help our community, get some of the things that would ease the strain we place on our Helpers to assist us, and I want the money to go toward helping the children have the best possible education.” 

“I don’t know what to say. I’m speechless.” 

“I’ve hoped that you could help me think of ways to use the money without it becoming known that I actually have it. Some might feel that with money, we shouldn’t live here. I never want to leave our home.” 

“Does anyone else know about the money?”  

“Catherine does, because she helped with the transfer of funds, setting up the bank accounts, and the payment of taxes. She allowed me to use her address for tax purposes. Peter knows, because he directed me to Catherine in the first place.” 

“Then perhaps she could help with your plans to assist with the children’s education. I’ve always felt that she does more than what she ever admits as far as helping us is concerned.” 

“There is something else I have to tell you.” Her eyes filled as she took his hand. “Catherine also knows what my body looks like. She came searching for me at the bathing pool and saw me as I was getting out. When I saw the look on her face, I fainted. She also encouraged me to see Dr. Grafton to help with my healing.” 

He lifted her face from his shoulder and lightly kissed her as he smiled. “I’m happy that you will have another sounding board. Catherine has such an understanding heart.” 


Pascal lingered in the passage, aware from the sentry alert that Catherine was on her way to the main hub. He also knew that Vincent was still teaching, so he hoped to have a few minutes alone with Catherine.


“Pascal, what a pleasure it is to see you. It’s been too long. Are you well?” Her whole face brightened with her radiant smile as she grasped his hand in welcome. Her face was flushed a delightful shade of pink, an indication that she had been walking rapidly. 

“Catherine, may I have a word with you in private? Some place where we won’t be interrupted or overheard?” 

“Of course. Where do you suggest?” 

“It’s not far to my chamber, and we would have privacy.” 

“Then let’s go there. Tell me how have you been?” 

As they walked Pascal told her about the new beginning pipe class for the four-year-old children, the joys and frustrations they were experiencing in learning to code their name and the word help. Once they settled onto the sofa in Pascal’s chamber, he immediately came to the point. 

“I wanted to thank you for everything you have done for Erica – helping her with her settlement and recommending a psychiatrist. I’m grateful she has you to discuss the trauma done to her body. It helps for her to share with another woman.” 

“Oh, Pascal, I’m only too pleased to be a listening ear for her and to help in any way I possibly can. I had heard about Erica many times before she returned, and she was obviously a special favorite of the community. Vincent spoke with such fondness of his baby sister; and when she returned, I was so pleased that I could finally put a face to the name I had heard so often. And I was so delighted when we met that she wished to be friends. If there is anything more I can do for her – or for you – I hope you won’t hesitate to ask. My situation was different, but I do understand what Erica is going through. I’m pleased she is seeing Dr. Grafton.”  

“He is making a difference. In the beginning, she came home in tears, and all I could do was hold her,” he offered shyly. 

“There are more times than you know, Pascal, when simply holding the person in pain is what they truly need and want. The warm contact of another body holding you tightly can ease and heal far more than words. Don’t ever discount the importance of holding Erica as she heals and after.  Grief is shared more profoundly when in the arms of your beloved.” 

“I want to do everything possible to aid in her healing. I’ve loved her since I was a teen and thought I would die of grief when she left the tunnels.” 

Catherine reached out, taking his hand within her own. “Loving can be a journey with many twists, but ultimately it is worth everything and more. The joy is far greater than any sorrow. It is beyond measure. I know that’s the truth.” 

Pascal stared openly at Catherine, realizing anew the intensity of her love for Vincent and all of his uniqueness. She understood the complexity of his dear friend as few others did.  He hoped her wisdom would aid him in his love of Erica. 


Pascal continued visiting the city library, determined to learn all he could that would aid him in comprehending all that Erica faced. And when his frustrations and anger became too great, he returned to the same cave by the Great Falls to beat away his pain against the stone.  

He sat on the high cliff having settled there after another one of his most violent sessions of smashing the walls into shambles of broken stones. 

“Your strength is growing stronger,” the gentle voice stated as Vincent eased down beside him. “Kanin will probably soon be asking you to abandon your beloved pipes in favor of joining his chamber-building crew.” 

Pascal smiled because he knew Vincent was aware of how much he hated breaking stone, the deep bone-jarring trauma to his body with each stroke of the hammer. They had split many stones together as teens, as it was a tunnel rite of passage for the boys as they grew to manhood. 

“Sometimes sanity is only maintained when physically exhausted.” 

Vincent chuckled at Pascal’s words. “And next, you the non-believer, will be telling me that Shakespeare did know everything!” 

“He did! You told me so countless times, and you never lie!” 

“Are things becoming easier for you? I have observed you are a little more peaceful.” 

“You can say that when I’m sit here sweating, red-faced and so whipped I couldn’t fight off a flea?” The smile on Pascal’s face was bright as he laughed. Vincent joined in his laughter and the joyful sound rolled across the huge cavernous space. 

“I have been remembering things my father told me about loving someone. He said it was the most rewarding experience, but also the most challenging. He said you had to love deeply enough to let go with joy, knowing that in the end, the love always returned more immense and wondrous than you ever imagined. 

“He also said that loving my mother was beyond all he ever expected…and more difficult than his father told him it would be. She was his world; but like all humans, she came with foibles and idiosyncrasies that would test a saint. Their problems often seemed insurmountable, yet, together, they persevered.” 

“Your father was very wise. As teens we thought being in love would solve all our problems. But as we mature, we realize that in loving a person it is only the beginning as we grapple to understand all that the word encompasses. It is the good and bad, right and wrong, joy and sorrow, passion and abstinence, health and illness, plenty and want that is the ongoing challenge but the love always gives life its enduring joy.” 

Although Vincent said nothing further, within his own mind he heard the one word that summed it all up. “Catherine.” 

The silence grew lengthy as both men were lost in thought of the women they loved and the responsibilities to their loving. 


The next time Erica went Above to meet with Dr. Grafton, she arranged to meet Catherine for lunch at Mr. Pei’s. Upon arriving they were escorted to booth at the rear of the restaurant where Mr. Pei always set his tunnel friends. It was near the kitchen and wasn’t popular with other patrons, but it was preferred by the tunnel families, as it afforded them more privacy when they talked. 

“Catherine, I’d like to begin helping the community, using some of the settlement money I received. Here’s a list of some of the things I would like to do.” 

Unfolding the paper, Catherine quickly read down the list. “You’ve been busy, I see,” she said with a smile.  

“I’ve been quietly observing where we needed help and also ways to improve things. One of the things I see is that our children are lacking in some skills that will make them more employable if they elect to live Above. The boys are taught woodworking and they know how to be a stonemason. The girls are taught sewing and practical nursing, but they need a certificate for that from a recognized school Above to gain employment. 

“I know that electric typewriters are the trend and that manual typewriters are on the way out. I thought if we could get several manual typewriters, they could be used to teach typing to the children, which is a good skill for them to know. I also thought if we could secure automobile engines from wrecked cars, teaching mechanics would offer another skill for the boys or even the girls.” 

“These are great ideas. I wish I had thought of them myself!” Catherine grinned joyfully, then grabbed Erica’s hand enthusiastically. “I’m almost positive that Kanin has automobile skills, as I remember a conversation where he was talking about his teen years and working on his family’s car.” 

“If not, perhaps one of our Helpers could teach such a class.” 

As they ate, they continued to discuss ways to ease some of the shortages Below without anyone connecting the gifts to Erica. “I’ve worked out arrangements with other Helpers,” Catherine offered casually, “who have allowed me to purchase items of need, but the actual donations were made by that other person. Not strictly above board,” she smiled openly, “but it does allow for needs to be met without my enduring one of Father’s lectures.” 

“Catherine, on a more serious note, I have a favor to ask of you. I would like to have a consultation with a plastic surgeon about my body, but I’m too terrified to go alone. Would you go with me?” 

“Of course, just let me know when and where and I’ll be there.”

“I wasn’t going to consider it, but Pascal and I are much closer. He knows about all the scars and how disfigured my body is. Now I think I have to consider the intimate side of our relationship, so I at least want to hear what a surgeon would have to say about reconstruction and removing some of the heavy scars. The one thing that no doctor can fix is my inability to ever give him a child,” sadness filled her eyes and she blinked rapidly.  “All of our lives, Pascal has talked about ‘when’ he has children and how they will carry on his heritage.” 

Catherine reached over, taking her hand and squeezing, “There are always children Below who need parents. Pascal would be a perfect father and you would be an ideal mother.” 

They continued to talk of ways to help the community as they completed their meal.  

After thanking Catherine for the delightful lunch, Erica went to her appointment with Dr. Grafton, and afterwards, she paid a visit to Peter’s office to obtain his recommendation of a plastic surgeon. “I can give you two names, and I can tell you they are the same two names I recommended to Cathy following her attack in the Park. There are none finer in the city.” 

“Could your office arrange for an appointment for me?” 

“Of course, I’ll have my nurse phone, and if necessary, I’ll speak to the doctors to see that you are given an early appointment. I’m glad you have decided to investigate this option.” 

Thanking Peter for all his assistance Erica went back to the reception room while his nurse telephoned. When she left ten minutes later, she had an appointment scheduled in twelve days and a list of what she should bring to the appointment. 


After leaving the plastic surgeon’s office, Catherine invited Erica back to her apartment where they could talk in private about all that had been said during the meeting. “I wish Pascal were here so we could all talk together,” Erica said wistfully. 

“I can arrange that,” Catherine happily offered. She telephoned Peter at home, asked him to tap a message to Pascal via the pipes located in the tunnel beneath his home. He readily agreed and wished them a happy evening. 

Catherine ordered pizza, knowing it was a favorite of Pascal’s and something that wasn’t available too often within the tunnels. Within the hour, Pascal arrived, and Catherine immediately made him feel at ease within her home. Over their dinner, they discussed the mountain of informational material Erica had been given. Catherine spoke candidly concerning her own surgery, discussing her fears and her recovery time. 

As Peter had prophesied, the surgeon indicated after examining Erica that corrective surgery would be lengthy, and three separate surgeries would be required. He frankly stated that her new body would be a long way from perfect, but he felt certain he would be able to obtain at least a 60% overall improvement of her appearance. 

After quietly listening for thirty minutes, Pascal finally spoke. “Are you certain this is what you wish to do? You’ve spoken of being fearful of more surgeries.” 

“I still have some fears, but slowly the fears are beginning to disappear, thanks, in part, to my therapy with Dr. Grafton. It’s been a long road, and I feel more peaceful. I’m able to speak more easily about Gerald and Daddy without bursting into tears. Right now I just want to have all the information so I’ll know what I’ll be facing in terms of the surgery. And I wanted Catherine to go with me as extra ears, but I wanted you here so we could openly discuss this. I felt Catherine could help answer any of our questions from the point of someone who has had corrective surgery.” 

Erica turned on the love seat so that she was squarely facing Pascal. “I very much want to be beautiful in your eyes on our wedding night.” 

Pascal stared for several long minutes, swallowing repeatedly until he found his voice. “If tonight were our wedding night, you would be beautiful in my eyes, because your beauty shines from within.” He leaned over, gently kissing her, completely forgetting that Catherine was in the room. When he looked up he saw tears brimming Catherine’s lashes, and she was smiling happily. 

Vincent and Catherine became constant companions with Erica and Pascal in the weeks before the first surgery. Vincent was aware there was something going on, but refused to use his empathic powers to invade the privacy of his friends. Shortly before the first surgery was scheduled, they reached a joint decision to share the nature of Erica’s surgery with Vincent. 

While Pascal was Above with Catherine on the day of the surgery, Vincent sat high above the great falls silently praying for his baby sister and the man who loved her so desperately. He prayed the surgery would be successful, and he expressed his gratitude for the depth and strength of Pascal’s enduring love. 


A year slowly passed, and two of the necessary surgeries had successfully been completed. The tunnel citizens became accustomed to Pascal’s new schedule and were growing comfortable with the strict schedule of hours he worked in the pipe chamber and when his office was open. They now never invaded his privacy while he was in his chamber. He continued to give unstintingly to the community, his smile was always there, and he was always willing to help others; but he allowed nothing and no one to interfere with his time with Erica while she recuperated from her surgeries. 

It became equally known that when Vincent was with Erica, he allowed only Catherine to interrupt their time together. While she recovered, Vincent and Pascal took over her piano lessons in addition to their other duties. When she was first allowed up, it was not unusual to see Pascal or Vincent carrying her the four feet from her bed to the living area of the chamber. Finally, it was Peter’s stern admonishment that made the two knights cease their pampering and allow her to begin regaining strength in her legs.

Everyone smiled whenever the couple passed them in the tunnels. The light of their love shone around them warming everyone with its glow. Mary’s smile was constant when she saw the combined happiness of her two grown, adopted sons stroll the passageways with their chosen ladies. Even Father found himself smiling when he passed Pascal and Erica, his heart suddenly lighter in the open joy he saw visible on their faces. 

Between the surgeries, Erica worked secretly with Catherine and several other Helpers to arrange that some needed items found their way Below. Six dozen army surplus blankets arrived, as did several new pickaxes and shovels. Father was delighted beyond words when two cases of multi-vitamins arrived just before the start of winter. 

A great fury of activity occurred when the son of a long-time Helper came to call upon Father, stating he felt he had been neglecting his tunnel duties and offered to provide and would also teach classes in automotive repair. He had three engines stored in his garage, and he would be happy to donate those if Father could provide the labor to bring them down. He laughed as he said his love for working on motors was well known within his family and every year they gave him tools for his birthday, so he surely had more than enough to share with the new students Below. 

William was especially joyful when a wide variety of foodstuffs began to appear regularly. He had become an expert at making do and turning little into hearty meals. He was now in his glory as he had enough food that he now could offer larger portions, and his beloved pies became a weekly staple on the tunnel menu. 


Pascal began preparing for the final phase of the Lost and Found course for the older boys as Erica returned home from her third and final surgery. During the day he worked with Vincent and Winslow as they plotted the course Vincent would lead the children over. Each night, as soon as his relief arrived, Pascal grabbed clean clothing, made a quick trip to the bathing pool, and immediately went to Erica’s chamber. Often upon arrival he found Vincent or Winslow there ahead of him, reading or simply talking with Erica, helping her to ease the hours until his arrival. As soon as he arrived, the perfunctory excuses would be made and after kissing Erica goodnight, her brothers would leave. 

He settled onto the edge of her bed and simply smiled. “Since there seems to be a lot of kissing going on here, mind if I get in on the action?” His kiss was long and gentle, as he was aware of her fragility and her newly-healing body. 

“How are you feeling?” 

“Weak and sleepy, I’ve had such trouble staying awake today. Livvy and Luke came to visit, but I kept falling asleep.” 

“You know what Peter said. It’s your body’s way of saying it needs more rest. This is your first week home after spending your first four days out of the hospital at Catherine’s. You’re just impatient, as you were after the first two surgeries.” He leaned forward, kissing her forehead and again smiled. 

“I hope tomorrow you and Vincent will allow me to sit on the sofa while you give piano lessons. I miss the children and love seeing them practice their music.” 

“We’ll see how you’re feeling then before any decision is made. Would you like some tea?” She nodded, and he went into the living area to brew the tea, collect the cups and the cake William had sent. As they sat drinking their tea, they heard Peter’s greeting from the passage. 

“How’s my favorite patient doing today?” Peter smiled as he shed his coat, then opened his bag. “Go ahead and finish your tea.”

After drinking their tea Pascal collected their cups and then excused himself to settle on the sofa to wait until the exam was over. Later he heard his name being called, and he re-entered the bedroom. Peter was smiling as he spoke. “She’s healing nicely, no sign of a fever, and things appear to be right on schedule. Are you seeing that she does her leg exercises twice daily? And following all the other instructions of Dr. Nichols? 

“I don’t want you, Vincent, or Winslow carrying her around. Her leg will only become stronger with continuous use. I know all of you mean well, but you aren’t helping.” 

“If you had two brothers as big as Winslow and Vincent, you’d know what a battle I have in getting them not to carry me.” She laughed as she talked, but both Pascal and Peter saw the love for her two brothers that shone brightly in her eyes. “It’s like talking to a stone wall!” 

“You have your first post-surgery appointment with Dr. Nichols next Monday,” Peter stated. “I’ll pick you and Pascal up on the Park drive at nine, as I know Cathy has a court date.” 


Mary and Olivia scurried about collecting appropriate items from their store of patterns and fabrics. Olivia had sketched a design that Erica approved, and the search began for fabric for her wedding dress. She didn’t wish to have an “above” style dress but wanted something that represented her tunnel heritage. Mary found an aged piece of lace for her veil, that once laundered, had a lovely ivory patina and looked beautiful against Erica’s delicate skin.  

Together the members of the tunnel sewing circle worked tirelessly on creating the perfect dress with soft, long sleeves that ended in Juliet points. Tiny stitches were lovingly sewn into the aged fabrics, and as they stitched, the ladies told stories of their own tunnel weddings. Their shared laughter and joy echoed within the chamber. Catherine was overjoyed she had been asked to participate. Her smile was radiant as she listened to the stories about her adopted family and she learned of their wedding traditions. 

While the ladies stitched, Kanin, Winslow, Vincent, and Cullen began the arduous task of creating a new chamber for Pascal and Erica. Both of their current chambers were too small for two people and the accompanying larger size bed. Pascal wished to bring along three of the pieces of furniture from his current chamber that his father had crafted. Kanin carefully measured those pieces and made certain the new chamber would be large enough to accommodate them. 

After a long day breaking rocks and finally free of the dust and pebbles that clung to his hair, Vincent emerged from the bathing pool and headed for the Falls. As he had anticipated, he found Pascal sitting with his back against the wall, a thermos of tea beside him. “How’s the work going?” 

“It’s going smoothly so far. Kanin thinks it will be another month before both the chambers are complete and we get some of the more jagged edges smoothed and create some shelves. Then Cullen’s woodshop gang will be in to install the sconces on the walls and hang chandeliers.

“How was Erica’s latest check-up with Dr. Nichols?” 

“He said she was healing nicely. He also said the first sets of scars were fading, becoming less noticeable as they age.” Pascal sighed as he settled more comfortably against the rock wall. 

“You’ve been exemplary in your support throughout all the surgeries and in the previous days. Your faith has sustained her through it all, and your dedication to Erica speaks highly of the depth of your love and your character.” 

“I kept remembering things my Dad said about being supportive, even while his heart was breaking when Mom became ill. They are my idols as to what love, partnership, and marriage mean. Every time I became upset by what that drunk did to Erica, I had to get away. Take out my frustrations and anger on the rocks.” 

“I know. That formerly small cave behind us has gotten considerably larger while you beat out your demons. Just last week as I was walking Catherine home, she said how proud she was for all you have done to help Erica heal.” 

Pascal blushed. Catherine’s compliment made him proud, as he knew what a struggle he had endured to surmount several issues, particularly that he would never have children of his own. 


“I’m so scared, Catherine, I haven’t looked at myself since Dr. Nichols released me. When I have taken my baths, I’ve kept my eyes closed because I didn’t want to lose hope that Dr. Nichols had been correct about the improvements. I’ve told myself I should look so I can prepare Pascal – the wedding is only three weeks away. He’s so loving and wonderful, and I want to look beautiful when we make love for the first time.” 

“You are already beautiful in his eyes. He saw you at your lowest point, and Dr. Nichols removed much of the damage. I’ll wait in the bedroom while you look.” She leaned over, giving Erica a reassuring hug and then closed the door. 

Erica stood looking at her reflection in the brightly lit bathroom of Catherine’s apartment. Slowly, her hands moved over the buttons on her blouse, then she removed it. She took a deep breath, hoped it would calm her nerves, and began to undress. She stood with her eyes closed for several minutes, then allowed her eyes to open, focusing on the image in the mirror. 

She could only stare, and then she began to loudly sob. She heard Catherine’s knock as she continued sobbing as she stared at her reflection.  

“Erica, are you all right? Erica?” 

“Oh, Catherine!” She reached for the doorknob and pulled the door open as tears continued to cascade down her cheeks. 

Catherine stood there, happy tears wetting her face, as she smiled. “Erica, you look lovely.” 

“I expected it would be better,” her hand brushed down her body, “but I never dreamed I would ever look like this again!” She continued to stare at her reflection. 

Catherine quietly closed the door and moved toward the balcony. She stood looking out over the lights as her happy tears continued to fall. Basking in the moonlight, her thoughts turned to Vincent; and she sent her love winging to him, knowing he had felt her earlier alarm and how uneasy he would be. Quietly, she whispered into the night, “Your baby sister is beautiful.” 

Catherine and Erica sat on the loveseat as Erica softly talked of all she was feeling. “I still can’t get over the change, even though I stood naked in your bathroom for over an hour.” Her voice trembled as she tried to control her emotions. “Part of me wants to run home and immediately show Pascal how I look.” 

The smile on Erica’s face was catching and Catherine began to giggle. “I hope you don’t do that in the middle of the pipe chamber! Although I’m sure Pascal would enjoy it. 

“I want to make this offer, but you are under no obligation to accept. If you would consider it, I’d like to offer you my cabin in Connecticut for your honeymoon. It’s about a two and half hour drive, and I’d also loan you my car. I can call the caretaker, and he could open the cabin and stock the kitchen. You do drive, don’t you? If not, then I’ll arrange for a car and driver to take you. It’s very secluded, there’s a lake, and the wildlife is incredible. It is a perfect honeymoon spot, romantic and isolated. The sunsets off the back deck are breath-taking, and the stars are bright, filling the night sky and blinding in their beauty.” 

“Oh, how that’s so sweet of you. It sounds perfect and wonderful. I’ll certainly mention it to Pascal and then let you know our decision.” 


The tunnels were filled with the excited voices of many Helpers and citizens as they all converged on the Great Hall for the wedding. William had outdone himself in creating a wedding cake that would be talked of for many years. No one wanted to staff the sentry posts or the pipe chamber, as all of Pascal’s friends wanted to witness his wedding. Thinking of no other way to maintain security, Father finally decided that a lottery draw of names for duty was the only equitable solution.

Rather than risk hurting the feelings of any of her friends, Erica decided she would have no attendants and was pleased when Winslow and Vincent agreed to serve in her father’s place. Catherine arrived early wishing to assist in helping Erica get dressed. 

Pascal shifted nervously as he stared expectantly toward the entrance of the Great Hall. As soon as the music began, he straightened, standing very erect when Erica came into view. His hand went to his heart which he was positive was going to jump out of his chest as he saw how beautiful she looked with both her arms draped within the muscular arms of Vincent on her left and a beaming Winslow on her right. 

From behind him Pascal heard Father’s whisper, “Breathe,” and he took a deep calming breath. The smiles of their guests grew as the trio moved up the aisle and came to a halt. Erica stepped forward as Pascal offered his hand. 

“Dear friends, we have gathered today to bless the union of two of our citizens who have expressed their sincere wish to be joined. They have grown up within our home, and it has been our great pleasure to see them mature from toddlers to adults within our family. 

“We are here to witness the exchange of their vows as they join our community as husband and wife. There are few, if any here, who have not shared in the joy of seeing their love, grow and blossom. It has been a blessing to have shared in their ecstasy, and our own hearts have grown lighter as we observed their love become deeper. 

“Who giveth Erica to be joined to Pascal?” 

 Winslow and Vincent stepped forward and jointly their voices rang out, “On behalf of Erica’s family, we stand united as the brothers of Erica’s heart to give her hand to be joined to that of our brother Pascal.” They each kissed Erica on the cheek and then took their places in the seats beside Catherine and Mary. 

“If you will join hands…” Father waited as Pascal took Erica’s hand in his. “Do you promise before God and this company to honor and love each other, to be ever faithful in mind, body, and spirit, and to cherish each other all the days of your life?” 

Pascal looked deeply into Erica’s eyes as he responded in a strong, clear voice. “I will.” He then placed a ring upon her finger. 

Erica stared into Pascal’s eyes, swallowed, and triumphantly said “I so promise with all my heart.” 

“Then you may now kiss your bride.” 

As Pascal kissed his wife, a loud wave of applause and happy voices joined in cheering the joyful couple. The sound grew in volume until it became a mighty roar that echoed within the vast hall. 

Blushing and smiling they turned to face their friends and we were greeted by a plethora of smiles that stretched the entire length of the Great Hall. The receiving line was quickly formed, and the blissful couple was soon engulfed in a sea of warm hugs and kisses. The smiles, laughter, and merriment continued for hours as the tunnel community joyously celebrated. 

In a small group of friends standing a few yards away from the happy couple, Catherine, Vincent, Winslow, Mary, and Father stood. Each time they looked at Pascal and Erica, Vincent and Winslow broke into carefree smiles. “She’s truly happy, and she has healed,” Winslow offered to no one in particular. 

“Yes,” Catherine replied, “she truly has, and I’m certain much of her healing has to do with Pascal’s steadfast love and the constant, ongoing support of her two brothers. The support, in all the hundreds of ways you have shown it, helped to heal her as much as Pascal’s love.” 


The limousine turned into the lane and wound its way up the mile-long drive. In the distance they saw lights from the cabin shining in welcome. After carrying their luggage inside, the driver tipped his hat and turned to leave. “I’ll pick you up here two weeks from today. Enjoy your holiday.” 

Together Erica and Pascal looked around the first floor of the warm and welcoming cabin. There was a supply of wood stacked and ready for a fire to be built. And in the kitchen they found a well-stocked refrigerator and an assortment of canned goods tucked within the cabinets. “It’s totally beyond what I thought a cabin would be. I thought it would be more rustic.” 

“Catherine said her father wanted the quiet of the country, but that he enjoyed the comforts of city living as did her mother, so when he had the cabin built, he included all the comforts they were used to in the city.” Erica smiled as she took Pascal’s hand, and they ventured onto the deck that wrapped around the back of the cabin. 

They stood staring at the dark night sky, and overhead a carpet of stars winked. Erica’s gentle sigh echoed in the stillness, “It’s so breathtaking. It’s superior to the night sky in Denver.” 

After exploring the rest of the cabin, Pascal took their luggage into the first floor bedroom. They settled on the sofa before the fire place. Pascal’s arm enfolded her, and her head rested against his chest. “I didn’t know it was possible to feel so happy and at peace.” He smiled down at her, placing a gentle kiss against her forehead. 

“We haven’t talked about tonight. I don’t want to rush you as you are still newly healed. If you wish to wait to begin our physical relationship, please don’t hesitate to speak. We have a lifetime ahead of us. I won’t rush you.” Pascal’s voice was strong, but gentle as he spoke of wishing Erica to be comfort with him. 

Erica lifted her head and kissed him with all the love and longing she felt. “I spent an hour naked staring at myself in Catherine’s bathroom. I simply couldn’t believe how different I look now after all the surgeries. I wanted to rush home to show you,” she giggled. “I don’t want to wait; I want to erase the memory you have of how I use to look.” 

He took her hand and together they stood and crossed the floor to the bedroom. The gentle glow of the moonlight bathed the room in softness, and the light from the bedside lamp chased away the dark edges of the shadows. Together they turned down the bedspread, carefully folded it, and lay it upon the cedar chest. Then they folded the blankets back. 

“You go ahead, and I’ll go use one of the other bathrooms.” Pascal removed his night things from his suitcase and left the room. 

Nervously, Erica retrieved her gown and robe, found the small cloth sack that contained her toilet articles, and walked into the bathroom, closing the door behind her. She started the bath water and found the bath salts that smelled like wild flowers. Catherine had given them to her, after she had admired the scent during the time she spent recovering in Catherine’s apartment. She added a small capful to the water and gracefully sank into the fragrant water. 

Later she exited the bathroom, finding several lit candles glowing softly on the bedside tables. Pascal was stretched out on one side of the bed, his eyes following her movements as she removed her robe. Reaching across the bed, he took her hand. “You look so beautiful.” His eyes glistened as he pressed a gentle kiss to her hand. 

She eased onto the bed, her body trembling as Pascal took her into his arms and settled her firmly against his body. Gently, he held her and slowly her body ceased to quiver. His voice was soft and soothing as he spoke of his love. “The first time I kissed you, I thought my heart would stop, it was beating so fast. Later that night as I lay in bed, I could still taste how sweet your kiss was.”  

“I, too, lay awake after that kiss. I felt so changed, suddenly aware of a thousand new feelings within my body since the moment your lips touched mine. It took forever for me to go to sleep, and I kept touching my lips, remembering how yours felt against mine.” 

Their voices became softer, more hesitant as Pascal began to kiss her and allowed himself to gently stroke her body. Her murmurs became sighs of delight as he continued to kiss her, moving from her lips to her neck and shoulders. 

“Oh, my love, I don’t want to wait. I want to show you my body, to feel your hands upon me.” Her voice quivered with the deep emotion she felt.  All the months, the pain of each surgery was past, and this was the moment she had dreamed of as she healed ─ to be reborn in Pascal’s eyes. 

His smile was soft and gentle as he helped ease her gown up, sliding it upward until he could slip it from her body. She lay there quietly and only the slight trembling beneath her hands as they touched gave evidence to her nerves. He rested on his elbow as he allowed his eyes to view her. His mouth opened but no words were uttered as his eyes glistened with moisture. His eyes spoke silently of his ecstasy, devotion, and love as they traveled from her face down the length of her body. 

The massive scars were gone, replaced by softened lines that gave mute evidence to the past. The sunken depression, which had formerly been her breast, was nearly smooth with only a faint lingering redness. He could still see the suture lines that ran across her shoulder, but they were no longer thick and heavy. The longest scar that had traveled down her hip to her kneecap had been buffed and softened, and while it was noticeable, it still gave silent evidence of how badly damaged her leg had been. 

Tears cascade down her cheeks as she witnessed again the powerful love that radiated from within Pascal’s dark eyes. Tenderly he moved so that his body rose over hers; and then, with exquisite slow, gentle movements, he began to pay loving homage to her.  

His hands and his lips became his voice as he worshiped at the shrine of her body. The callused hands lovingly stroked, each finger mutely spoke the song of his love. She felt his long lashes sweep against her sensitive flesh as he tenderly kissed the area where her breast had proudly stood. Continually his lips soothed the area, and her voice rose in loving sighs to acknowledge his adoration. 

Repeatedly his mouth returned to kiss her, taking her on a joyous adventure as he deepened each kiss to explore her mouth more fully. As he kissed her throat her hands tugged at his clothing, urging him to disrobe so that she might feel his warm skin upon hers. 

Eagerly her hands set the shirt of his pajamas flying as she covered his chest with kisses. Together their hands slid the pants down his body and he kicked them away. Timidly her arms encircled him, pulling him close and closer still until he covered her. He tried to rise aware of her newly healed body, but her arms tightened around him. “No, I want to feel you, all of you touching me.” Her voice was exquisitely soft, throbbing with need as she sought to feel his body more fully. 

His arms slipped beneath her shoulders and he rolled onto his back, settling her length fully upon him. Her radiant smile delighted him as she wiggled against him until her lithe body matched his perfectly. “You feel wonderful, I’ve dreamed of this.” 

He smiled softly at her words, delighted to know that she, too, had dreams of their making love. “This is much better for you. It’s too soon for my weight to rest fully upon you. I don’t wish to cause you pain.”

“Lying like this is like heaven. Feeling you beneath me could never be painful; it could only be beautiful.” 

They continued to touch, free of the restrictions they had imposed as she had healed. The joyous sound of their voices softly echoed, mingling with the delicate night sounds of the woodland creatures. 

Pascal was a tender lover, aware of her virginity, and his wish to give her only joy as their bodies became one.  Her cry of pleasure as she climaxed beneath him brought tears glistening in his eyes. And, when his voice joined hers in rhapsody, her tears of joy stained her face. 

Later he lay awake, her body curved firmly against him, and her leg thrown possessively over his, Pascal smiled into the darkness. As a young man he had envisioned his wedding night, but his dreams were nothing compared to the rapture he had felt this night. This night had been beyond all his dreams. 

He remembered when he had first become aware of girls, his bewilderment as his body grew and changed, and his awakening sexual feelings. And, he remembered that long ago day when his father had sat with him high above the Great Falls and talked very openly about sex, men, and women. He smiled as he remembered and how surprised he was when, one day, his father had asked Winslow to accompany them. 

The words weren’t as clear in his mind as they had been, but he remembered the profound love in his father’s voice as he gave credence to Winslow’s questions as he did his own. It wasn’t at all strange to Pascal that his father had included Winslow, who was an orphan, in this discussion. Winslow had eaten and slept far more nights than they could count as a member of his family.  

Pascal paused in his reminiscing as Erica stirred beside him, turning with her so that he lay spooned against her back. Automatically his arm slid over her, gently bringing her closer to his body.  As he noticed the faint coming of dawn, the subtle shift of the bedroom shadows, Pascal thought of the last two years and the journey it had been for both of them. He had grown as a man, and he knew that he owed much to the steadfastness and love of Vincent and Winslow. The weeks and months had been soul searching, and although he had despaired, his brothers had always stood shoulder to shoulder with him and Erica. As he had struggled to overcome his remorse that he would have no child of his own, Vincent had supported him without asking questions. Winslow’s great strength had resolutely met Erica’s grief and steadily helped to bring her back into the light. 

His gentle sigh caused Erica to stir in his arms, and she turned to face him. “Good morning, dear husband,” she offered sleepily as she placed a kiss against his chest. His heart soared at her greeting. 

“What a wonderful sound to awaken to. I think I could become very accustomed to hearing that each morning.” 

“Momma said that every morning to Daddy, and it always made me feel so blessed and loved.” 

“Then, dear wife, they shall become our greeting. With those words we shall re-pledge our love daily for the rest of our lives.” 


The End