Chapter 5

 
-1-

 

Friday, December 22, 1989

 

One more time...just one more time around...

 

Catherine collapsed on the tunnel floor, breathing hard and streaming perspiration.    This was her third morning of using the running path Vincent had found for her. She should have been enjoying it, since she didn’t have to worry about traffic, exhaust fumes, muggers or stray dogs. She could run in peace and quiet.

 

However, she was so out of shape that after the first fifteen minutes she felt as if she would die. She sat on the ground, hunched over the sharp pain in her stinging lungs, as a familiar sensation of nausea rose in her throat. She took several deep breaths, fighting the urge to...

 

It was no use. She scrambled behind some rocks and gave in to dry heaves. Afterward, feeling thoroughly disconsolate and disgusted with herself, she trudged home. She had gone through the same sickening process when she first took up running many years ago, but she decided that if this was what it took to get back in shape, she would do it.

 

 

 

 

-2-

 

Christmas in the tunnels was a special time of sharing and quiet remembrance. Every year some of the helpers made the extraordinary effort of hauling a large Christmas tree Below to be set up in the dining hall. Tradition held that the tree would be decorated by the children on Christmas Eve, and immediately following everyone would bring presents and arrange them beneath the tree’s fragrant branches. Candles would be lit, carols would be sung, and each person in turn would reflect on the meaning of Christmas.

 

Catherine and Vincent had agreed not to exchange gifts this year, since their upcoming marriage would take up most of their time and resources. They also had decided that, since their son was too young to participate in the festivities, they wouldn’t buy presents for him either.

 

But Catherine still had most of the money Dr. Stewart had given her after she awakened from her coma. With the help of several people, tunnel dwellers and helpers alike, she decided to buy small gifts for the people closest to her: Father, Olivia, Mary, William, Rebecca...at least that was the idea.    However, by the time the shopping was finished, she wound up buying presents for everyone in the tunnels, including Vincent.

 
Catherine smiled to herself as she returned from her morning run, thinking how much fun Christmas morning would be. She cleaned up and headed back to her chamber, where she knew Vincent would be waiting for her. After breakfast, they had a meeting with Father.

 

Father paced his study, waiting for Vincent and Catherine to arrive. Earlier Vincent had told him they had something important to discuss with him. Vincent’s voice and expression had reassured Father that whatever the topic, it was good news.

 

He heard approaching footsteps and hurried to sit at his desk, feigning relaxation while sipping a cup of hot tea. Catherine and his son entered the study, and he greeted them with a smile. “You two look as if you have a secret,” he said. He waited to speak until they were seated across from him, but he stopped when he took a second look at Catherine. “Are you all right, Catherine? You look a bit pale this morning.”

 

Catherine and Vincent exchanged a wry look before she spoke. “I’ve been running, Father. I’d forgotten what hard work it is.”

 

“Well, don’t over do,” Father cautioned. “You’re still regaining your strength.”

 

“I’ll be careful,” she said.

 

Father smiled at her, then looked at Vincent. “Now what is so important that the two of you had to make an ‘appointment’ with me?” He watched with growing curiosity as both Catherine and Vincent avoided his eyes. Finally they looked at each other, and she nodded to Vincent.

 

“Father,” Vincent said, “we wanted you to be the first to know: Catherine and I are to be married.”

 

“Married?” Father’s initial shock was replaced by overwhelming joy. He rose from the table and walked around to the other side, where Catherine and Vincent also stood. “This is wonderful news. My dear children…” He hugged and kissed them, first Catherine, then Vincent. “I cannot think of any better news you could have given me.” After a few moments, they all took their seats.

 

“Have you set a date?” Father asked.

 

“January 12,” Catherine said, smiling.

 

“Your birthday,” Father said to Vincent.

 

“I will require no other gifts that day,” Vincent said. He turned to Catherine, and the love that passed between them warmed Father’s heart.

 

“We thought we would make the announcement at Winterfest,” Catherine said.

 

“A splendid idea,” Father said. “In the meantime, should I keep this news to myself?”

 

Vincent nodded. “We want it to be a surprise.”

 

“Let me know what I can do to help,” Father said.

 

“There is one thing you could do, Father.” Catherine’s voice was tentative. “Could you - would you give me away at the wedding?”

 

For a moment Father fought back tears, unable to speak. “My dear Catherine...nothing would give me greater pleasure.”

 

“Thank you,” she said.

 

“There are two other things we must ask of you, Father,” Vincent said. “I want Devin to stand beside me at the wedding. Do you have any idea where he is?”

 

Father looked troubled. “I’m not sure, Vincent. As you know, I heard from him a few months ago when he wrote to tell us that his friend Charles had died. His letter indicated that he decided to travel out into the world again.” He shook his head. “I will see what I can do. I know he wouldn’t want to miss your wedding.”

 

“There’s something else, Father,” Vincent said.

 

“Yes?”

 

Vincent looked at Catherine, who hesitated before speaking. “I’m...not even sure how to say this. I had - have - two very special friends in the world Above: Jenny Aronsen and Nancy Tucker. Joe tells me that Jenny moved a couple of weeks ago, but he doesn’t know how to get in touch with her.  Father...I know it may not be a good idea...but I very much want Nancy to be here for my wedding.”

 

Father leaned forward, his expression kind but concerned. “Catherine, do you realize what you’re asking? This could be difficult, not only for us but for your friend. As far as she’s concerned, you are dead.”

 

“Yes, I know. But still...it would mean a lot to me. Nancy was there for me at a bad time in my life. I told her a little about Vincent, just enough to make her understand how important he is to me. I’m sure she could be trusted to keep our secret.” She turned pleading eyes on Father. “Please...think about it.”

 

At that moment Father wanted to give her everything, but he kept his feelings out of his voice. “Of course, Catherine, I will give it every consideration. And in the meantime…” he spoke to Vincent “I will see if I can locate that wandering brother of yours.”

 

“Thank you, Father.” Vincent stood and assisted Catherine from her chair.

“Thank you both. You’ve made an old man very happy today.” The two smiled at him and left the study.

 

Father leaned back in his chair and sighed. How had these things come to pass? He closed his eyes, and his mind sent searching fingers into the past to pull in a memory of Vincent as a child. The tiny, helpless foundling had grown into a man, a father...a husband.

 

Father opened his eyes and smiled. He blessed the day Catherine came into Vincent’s life. Despite all the problems and heartache along the way, her love had opened a world for his son that Father never could have imagined.

 

 

 

 

-3-

 

That apartment building. As he hurried to their meeting later that evening, he reflected on how quickly Sybil had become a member of their family network Above. Official helper status had not yet been conferred upon her, but Vincent knew it was only a matter of time before this occurred. He had developed a fondness and admiration for this woman, who seemed determined to do whatever she could to help.

 

Sybil stood in the cold, dank passageway below the street and waited for Vincent. According to the illuminated dial of her watch, it was nearly ten o’clock. She was relieved to hear the sound of booted feet approaching. Fear of the dark was not a problem for her, but fear of rats was another story.

 

She saw the light of Vincent’s torch first, soon followed by the man himself. She called his name as he approached and touched his arm when he drew near. “Boy, am I glad to see you! This place gives me the willies.”

 

Vincent held the torch a little higher, casting a golden glow on the damp tunnel walls. “This path is seldom used.”

 

“How long did it take to get here?” Sybil asked.

 

“Less than twenty minutes. And the door to your basement is five minutes away. I wanted you to help me make sure I found the right place when I came last night.”

 

“O.K. I’m ready when you are.”

 

“This way.” Vincent turned and took a narrow tunnel to the left, and Sybil followed.

 

Sybil knew it was the right place the moment they arrived; she recognized the yellow light and the ceaseless swirls of dust motes dancing in the dim glow.    ”This is definitely it, Vincent.” She sneezed twice. “Excuse me.”

 

”We must take care with Jacob because of the dust.” Vincent grasped the door handle and leaned his ear against the cracked, peeling wood to listen. ”I hear nothing. We’ll look inside before leaving.” He handed the torch to Sybil and gave the door a steady push. Soon the door stood open wide enough for one person to pass through at a time.

 

Vincent took the torch from Sybil and they both entered the basement. It was exactly as Sybil remembered from earlier in the week. She glanced up at Vincent, who did not look pleased.

 

”This is terrible,” he said.

 

“I know.” She sighed. “But at least we can get everyone down here and out again without Lang ever figuring out where she was or how she got there.”

 

Vincent nodded, carefully holding the torch away from a giant spider web poised directly over his head. “We will make it a short meeting. I don’t want Catherine and Jacob exposed to the dust for long.” He turned to Sybil. “Has this woman contacted Diana again?”

 

“Diana saw her yesterday. She wants to meet with you here at ten p.m. on Christmas Eve.”

 

“Christmas Eve!” Vincent shook his head.

 

Sybil studied him. “You’re not just real crazy about this idea, are you?”

 

“No.”

 

“Neither am I. But the way we’ve got it planned, it’ll work out O.K. With the help of some of your taxi driver helpers, we can get Lang in and out of here without anyone suspecting a thing. And besides...I think Catherine needs this.”

 

“She does,” Vincent said. “It is hard for me to refuse her. She asks for so little.”

 

Sybil patted Vincent’s shoulder. “Maybe she has everything she needs.” She sneezed again, a loud explosion that sent her searching through her pockets for a handkerchief.

 

“We must leave,” Vincent said. He motioned Sybil through the door and then walked through himself, pulling it tightly closed. He accompanied her back to the juncture. She gazed up at the manhole, then back at Vincent. “Ten o’clock Christmas Eve?”

 

He nodded. “We will be there.”

 

She put a hand on one of the iron rungs leading up, then pulled away to give Vincent a quick kiss on the cheek. “In case I don’t see you for awhile...Merry Christmas.”

 

“Merry Christmas to you, Sybil,” he said as he watched her ascend. “And thank you.”

 

 

 

 

-4-

 

After Sybil called her that evening, a call that became a three-way conversation with Joe hooked up as well, Diana sat at her desk in her loft. She stared at her work wall, barely seeing the carnage depicted there in photographs, police drawings and her own notes. Her current case was one of her most baffling ever: a series of robberies involving some of the wealthiest families in New York. The perpetrators had indiscriminately killed thirteen people in their quest for money, jewelry and other items that could be exchanged for cash. The take so far was estimated at nearly half a million dollars.

 

Diana bent down and unhooked a piece of black electrical tape from the lower right hand drawer of her desk. She reached in and pulled out the file on Catherine’s murder case, as well as a large piece of masonry that had sat atop the file for many weeks. She carried these items into the living room and set them beside the blooming rosebush at the end of her couch. Then she sat on the floor and did nothing but stare at these three items for several minutes.

 

She planned to take the file and the piece of masonry, which was inscribed with Vincent’s name, with her the next time she visited the tunnels. She also would take the rest of Catherine’s belongings. Catherine never had returned to Diana’s loft to go through these things, so Diana had decided simply to bag them up and let Catherine decide what she wanted to keep.

 

The rosebush was another matter. She fingered a delicate bud growing at the end of one thorny stem. Within a few weeks the flowers would be lush and beautiful. How this had happened, she couldn’t imagine. They had begun greening up the day after Sybil’s last session with Catherine and Vincent...

 

Diana pulled her head up, her lips parting in an expression of wonder. The roses bloomed...Catherine and Vincent’s love was growing...different.

 

She pulled her legs up and rested her head on her knees. It was all so obvious and so romantic. They make love...the flowers bloom. Diana didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

 

She had done the right thing helping Catherine and Vincent by introducing them to Sybil, but it had been hard. And painful... Diana was making a conscious effort to kill her desire for Vincent, but she felt as if a part of herself was dying in the process.

What is it about him? She had asked herself this question so many times it had lost all meaning. Her feelings for him resisted neat labeling and definition. She was drawn to his power, his quiet strength, the decency that ran deep in his soul and enabled him to treat her with a kindness that only served to break her heart every time they were together.

 

In the midst of these thoughts, Joe’s face flashed through Diana’s mind.  She sat up, confused. Why should thinking about Vincent bring Joe to mind? They were so different...

 

No...they’re not that different.  In fact, appearances aside, they could be brothers.  

 

She sat with her hands folded in her lap and scanned the loft. It was a nice home she had made for herself, away from her alienated family, safe from the prying eyes and voices of the people she worked with, who admired her abilities but who also considered her an oddball. She soaked in the atmosphere of her self-contained little world and was surprised when a wave of aloneness swept over her. Not loneliness; she was seldom lonely. But God, she was so alone.

 

Abruptly she stood, possessed by a sudden urge to clean house. But when she looked around, all she saw was a spotless kitchen, living room, workspace...and she knew her bedroom and bathroom were in the same condition. She hadn’t always been this neat, but lately neatness had become a mysterious compulsion.

 

The only thing she could think of that could be - and really needed to be - thrown out was her old mattress, uselessly stored in the basement. She had managed to wrestle it down there on her own, but for some reason she was reluctant to touch it now. She could use a little help...

 

She grabbed the phone and dialed Joe.

Joe managed to violate several traffic laws and run at least five red lights in his hurry to reach Diana. Her phone call had come at 11:30, just as he was drifting down into a much needed sleep. He had listened, thrown the phone back in its cradle, tossed on some clothes and hurried to his car.

 

Now as he drove, he mentally replayed their short conversation:

 

“Joe! Joe, are you awake?”

 

“(he had mumbled something unintelligible) Diana?”

 

“I’m sorry it’s so late, but, Joe, I need you.”

 

That had brought him fully awake. “You need…what? What’s the matter, are you O.K.?”

 

“I’m O.K., I just need you to come over right away. Please...”

 

“Sure...sure! I’ll be right there!”

 

End of conversation; beginning of mystery. Diana had never spoken to him in this way before. In fact, it had never occurred to him that Diana needed anything or anyone. She was so irritatingly self-sufficient and independent. Thinking these thoughts, dodging in and out of traffic that was still heavy despite the late hour, he felt a little guilty at this touch of chauvinism in his attitude. But damn! He couldn’t help feeling this way.

 

Feeling what way? he asked himself as he parked at a sloppy angle in front of her building. He wasn’t sure he could answer himself. For all Diana’s prickly external toughness and no-nonsense manner, Joe suspected she had a vulnerable center. And it was the hidden gentleness of this maddening woman that kept Joe inviting her to dinner and taking her out whenever she had time, and kept him from hesitating when she called him out of bed so late at night.

 

He was startled to find Diana standing in the elevator, waiting for him in the lobby. He spread his arms wide. “Here I am!”

 

“Thanks for coming.” She opened the gate, and he walked in. He felt a rush of concern: she looked so tired and pale. He would really chew her out if he were her mother or her boyfriend or... Whoa! Slow down, buddy. Proceed with caution.

 

“Up or down?” he asked. She punched “B” in answer, and the elevator groaned into action.

 

They stared at each other, his sleepy eyes riveted to her hollow gaze. “Talk to me, Bennett.” His voice was soft.

 

She seemed to flinch, then spoke. “I need you to help me get something out of the basement. It’s...garbage. It needs to be thrown out.”

 

“0....kay.”     He nodded slowly, as if she were making perfect sense. “Trash pickup is tomorrow?”

 

“Monday.”

 

“You must really want to get rid of this...whatever it is.”

 

“Yeah.” She chewed her lower lip and avoided his eyes.

 

The elevator reached the bottom. They walked into darkness, and Diana switched on a tiny flashlight she pulled from the pocket of her baggy sweat pants. She shined the light on the corner, exposing her old mattress. “That’s it.”

 

“That’s it?” Joe moved closer to the mattress, examining the deep slash marks across one side. He turned to say something, but thought better of it. “You want to haul this out on the curb?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

He looked around. “There’s no light down here?”

 

She glanced at the ceiling. “It burned out, and I never replaced it.”

 

Once again he nodded. “O.K., well...grab a side and let’s start pulling.”

 

Several minutes later the mattress and the two of them were wedged in the elevator. The ride up to the lobby was silent. Joe didn’t know what to say and dreaded the responses his questions might provoke. When they reached the lobby, they dragged and pushed the mattress through the door, dumping it close to the curb. They stood on either side of the mattress, staring at each other.

 

“Feel better?” Joe asked. He put his hands on his hips and stared at her. A cold wind had blown up, pushing dead leaves and trash around in the gutters. The street was quiet, deserted except for the two of them.

 

She stared at him for a moment, then at the mattress, then back at him. “No,” she said. Her lower lip trembled and she bit it. “I don’t feel anything.”

 

Ignoring the warning sounds in his head, Joe stepped around the mattress and wrapped Diana in his arms. She barely leaned against him, her arms folded tightly across her chest. She didn’t return his embrace, but she did let him hold her.

 

Despite her silence, he sensed her tears and her anguish. Tenderness wrenched through him at the sensation of her body pressed to his. He could feel her shoulder blades and hipbones poking through the thick fabric of her sweats. For a moment he considered putting his coat around her, but he didn’t want to let her go.

 

He didn’t know how long they stood there, silent, he holding on to her and she accepting the comfort he offered. Eventually she pulled away. In the dull yellow glare of the streetlight her tear washed face was pale but calm.  She gestured toward the mattress. “Vincent did that.”

 

He nodded. “I thought so.”

 

“You must think I’m stupid to hang onto it for so long.”

 

He pursed his lips. “You’re not stupid.” Expecting to be rebuffed, he gently dried her tears with his fingers. “Everybody has problems. God knows you’re entitled to your share.”

The smallest suggestion of a smile touched her lips. “You remind me so much...you’re a pretty good guy, Maxwell, you know that?” She unceremoniously wiped her sleeve across her nose.

 

He pulled her into his arms again, their faces only inches apart. “It’s about time you figured that out, Bennett.” He pressed his lips to her cheek in a warm, gentle kiss, then stepped back. He started to say goodnight, but the words never left his mouth.

 

She was looking at him, really looking at him, and the expression on her face made it seem as if she were seeing him for the very first time. He thought some color was creeping into her face...a hint of warmth in her eyes... He stared in disbelief as she touched one thin hand to his face. He pulled in a breath and waited.

 

She started backing toward the door of her building. “Come with me,” she said in a small voice. Her gaze never left his.

 

“With you...where?” Joe was too confused to even guess what she meant.

 

“Upstairs.” She walked into her building, pulling him with her.

 

They rode the elevator to her loft without touching, without speaking, without releasing each other’s eyes for a moment. When they reached her floor, he waited while she slammed the elevator gate behind them, then turned to face him.

 

Joe was faintly aware of the dimly lit loft, the smell of a dying fire in the fireplace, a softly scented candle burning somewhere to his left. For the most part he saw only Diana, and he didn’t want to stop looking or take the chance that he might miss what was going on in her deep blue eyes.

 

She rested her hands on his shoulders, and a slight scent of perfume wafted toward him. Funny, he’d never noticed that before. God, she’s beautiful. He brushed a few strands of hair away from her face, feeling surprised pleasure when she closed her eyes at his touch. “Your hair is so beautiful,” he said in a husky voice.

 

She opened her eyes and stared at him as she unfastened her hair from its ponytail, tossing the small band on the floor behind her with an extravagant gesture. The move made him grin, and she answered with a tiny, glowing smile of her own.

 

She returned her hands to his shoulders. “Kiss me,” she said, making it sound almost like an order.

 

He placed his lips against hers. Her warm lips parted, and as she drew his tongue into her mouth he had the sensation of being pulled into her bodily. In the next second his hands were all over her, only touching at first, then growing bolder as the need to undress her, to look at her in the room’s soft golden light, grew more urgent.

She seemed as engrossed in exploring his body and unfastening his clothes as she was in the lingering kiss. By the time the kiss was ended, they stood half naked before each other, staring with unabashed curiosity.

 

Following a pull that was too strong to deny and too wild to explain, Joe knelt before her. He pressed his lips to the soft skin of her belly and gripped her tightly, lost for the moment in the heat and smell of her body. He heard her gasp as she wound her hands in his hair to pull him even closer. After a few seconds, she pulled him up to kiss him again, and together they wandered into her bedroom, hardly able to walk because of the need to touch.

 

They made love in the dark and were mostly silent, though once he thought he heard her say that she needed him. He didn’t know if he wished the words or if he was hearing his own inner voice speak to her as their bodies became one.

 

When it was over, she made him leave. He didn’t want to go, but she quietly, gently insisted that she wasn’t ready for him to stay the night. She seemed too stunned by what had happened between them to talk. She rode with him to the lobby, then kissed him and whispered goodnight as he got into his car. In the rearview mirror he could see her standing, still in a small pool of light, watching him drive away into the darkness.

 

Chapter 6