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In Triplicate
by T’Mara

 
Diana Bennett was annoyed. She had gone below in the hope of being able to talk to Vincent, to discuss her current case with him, and in the course of their conversation maybe drop a hint about something that had been bothering her for weeks – ever since she had received this year’s Winterfest candle, to be exact. Vincent had had little time for her today, though, something about the water pipes needing immediate fixing. He had asked her to either wait or come back later if she wanted his input and had left with some of the other men.

Since it was the weekend and she had no other plans, Diana had decided to pay a visit to Mary and see if maybe she could help her with anything. She felt a certain kinship with the older woman ever since she had discovered two years ago that Mary had deeper feelings for Father, who, despite caring deeply for the tunnel people’s mother figure, obviously was just as reluctant to give this relationship a try as Vincent was to explore his own feelings for her.

Mary, of course, knew about Diana’s feelings for Vincent and was also aware of the fact that Diana had guessed her own love for Father. The similarity of their situations with these two stubborn men had sparked a friendship between the two women despite their age difference.

Mary was therefore very pleased with Diana’s visit, even though she was busy mending socks and other torn garments. “You can’t imagine how the children always tear their clothes,” Mary sighed. “And with their work in the tunnels, the adults sometimes damage their garments as well. Of course, nobody wants to attend Winterfest with a hole in their pants or dresses…”

Diana forced a smile on her face at that thought. “If you stop your work for a while so that we can have tea together, I might be willing to help you later,” she promised. She did not see herself as a talented seamstress, but she was confident she could sew on a lose button or attach a patch of fabric over a hole in the elbow.

Mary was only too willing to take a break. She noticed that Diana was rather tense, and she had a feeling she knew why. After all, she was facing her own little problem regarding the upcoming Winterfest.

Once she had poured the steaming tea into two cups, Mary therefore faced Diana and stated dryly. “Vincent has not asked you yet to be his date for Winterfest and dance the first waltz with him.”

Diana blushed and nodded. “How did you know?” she asked embarrassed.

Mary shrugged her shoulders. “I guess because…” she paused, before adding, “like father, like son.”

“Oh no!” Diana gasped. “Father has not asked you either?”

Mary shook her head. “No, he has not.”

Diana got a little nervous. “Do you think,” she began hesitantly, “I mean… is it possible that either of them … or both… have asked somebody else?”

Mary laughed. “No, of course not,” she said. “I guess they just think that because they are the community heads they are exempt of this year’s special regulation, or maybe they think we will be there anyway, and should they want to join the dance, we’ll be waiting for them. They do tend to take us for granted,” she added with a sigh.

Diana nodded. That made sense, and left some room for hope that Vincent might dance with her after all. Still, it would be kind of awkward to attend Winterfest without a date. This year, Winterfest coincided with Valentine’s Day, and therefore it had been decided that people should attend as couples, unmarried ones having to ask members of the opposite sex to be their date for the evening and dance the first waltz with them. Mary and Diana had hoped for Father and Vincent respectively to ask them, but so far neither man had taken the initiative, and the celebration was only a few days away.

“I am not going to offer myself as a date to Vincent,” Diana stated. “If he wants me to accompany him, he’ll have to do the asking.”

Mary nodded. “I know,” she agreed. “I feel the same way about Father. Why do they both have to be so bone-headed? I know that you are the only one that Vincent might even remotely consider to ask, and there is no other lady that Father is closer to than me. I even suspect that they expect us to be there for them and play their dates, but they do not seem to get it that we might actually want to be asked.”

Diana thought that Mary was probably right. She was about to ponder what they could do to make the stubborn Wells men see the light and ask the all-important question, when Jamie stormed into Mary’s room.

“Men!” she exclaimed exacerbated. “Why do they never get it?”

Mary frowned. “Hello to you, too, Jamie,” she scolded the young woman. “What is it this time that Mouse has done to annoy you so?”

“Nothing!” Jamie seethed. “That’s exactly the problem. He hasn’t done it yet. He can’t open his big mouth and ask me to be his date for Winterfest. I bet I’ll be the only girl without a date! It will be totally embarrassing. Brooke and Rebecca have been asked, and Lena, even Samantha, and I heard William has asked Elizabeth. If at least Kanin were still in prison, then Olivia would be on her own as well, but as it is…well... I guess Narcissa might be alone.” She scoffed angrily.

Mary and Diana looked at each other, then burst into laughter. “Welcome to the club!” Diana stated.

Jamie looked from Mary to Diana, then back to Mary. “What do you mean?” she asked confused, then gasped as realization hit her. “Oh no! Not Vincent and Father as well!”

Mary nodded. “Oh yes, them as well. Apparently neither of them realizes that a lady wants to be asked and not be taken for granted.”

Jamie sighed. “I am not looking forward to Winterfest at all,” she complained. “I am even considering skipping it altogether.”

Diana smiled. “I have an idea…” For the next half hour the three women were sticking their heads together, discussing their plan.

*****

The day of Winterfest approached fast. Even though none of the three women got asked out on a date, they were looking forward to the event. They were going to teach certain men a lesson.

At the appropriate time they met with the other tunnel people and helpers at the tunnel leading to the Great Hall. All three had dressed up and looked their very best. All three made sure that they were seen by as many of their friends as possible. Nobody questioned the fact that the three ladies were standing together, seemingly without a date. After all, no man had dared asking Mary or Diana for fear of getting in the way of Father and Vincent, who were currently trying to get some order into the huge group of people eagerly waiting for the celebration to begin. As for Jamie, well, she was obviously waiting for Mouse who had just returned to his chamber, presumably to make sure that Arthur was comfortable, though everybody knew he would be picking up the raccoon and somehow smuggling him into the Great Hall.

Once the group started moving, Diana, Mary and Jamie used the general confusion to move towards the shadows and hang back. Once they were certain nobody had noticed their disappearance, they smiled at each other and headed back to Mary’s chamber, where they made themselves comfortable.

“Now we wait,” Mary said slyly. “Shall we make bets how long it will take them to realize we are not in the Great Hall and to come looking for us?” The two younger women giggled. “Serves them right,” Jamie said. “If Mouse wants to dance now, he can do so with Arthur!”

*****

In the meantime, the group of tunnel dwellers and helpers, lead by Father and Vincent had reached the Great Hall. Vincent opened the doors as always and the crowd poured in. Everybody was taking a seat. After having dropped off little Jacob with Olivia and Kanin, who had volunteered to watch the smaller kids, Father and Vincent purposefully strode towards the main table where they usually sat during the official ceremony. They expected Mary and Diana as well as a few other couples to meet them at the table. When everybody seemed to have settled down and neither Diana nor Mary had shown up, Father got nervous.

“Where can they be?” he asked Vincent. “I am positive I saw them earlier.”

Pascal, who was sitting next to Rebecca, smirked. “Missing your dates?” he asked. Knowing Vincent and Father, he had a suspicion what might be going on.

“They are not…” Father replied gruffly, then gasped. He had of course disregarded that stupid new rule to bring a date. He had not needed one in all those years, why would he have to have one this year? And should anybody force him to dance, he was sure Mary would be around.

Vincent’s eyes widened as well. Like his father he had not wasted one single thought on this new regulation of bringing a date. He did not feel like asking any woman ever again to attend Winterfest with him after that memorable one that he had taken Catherine, the one that had almost turned into a catastrophe thanks to the interference of Paracelsus. There also was no need for him to have a date. Diana would be there anyway.

Vincent and Father looked at each other. “You did not ask her either,” they stated almost simultaneously as realization sank in.

Pascal grinned. “Well, in that case, the ladies are probably sitting with whoever did ask them,” he stated the obvious.

Slightly annoyed, Vincent and Father glanced around the Great Hall, trying to spot Mary and Diana, when a visibly agitated Mouse, oblivious to the fact that his beloved raccoon, who was not supposed to come anywhere near Winterfest, was very visible in his arms, ran up to them.

“Mouse can’t find Jamie,” he announced worriedly. “Jamie is nowhere.”

Father patted him on the shoulder. “I see a pattern here, my son,” he told Mouse. “I take it you did not specifically ask her to be your date tonight either?”

Mouse seemed confused. “Jamie always with Mouse,” he stated. “Why ask her to be date?”

Father groaned. “Attention, everybody!” he made an announcement. “There is a change in programming. We begin with the feast. The ceremony will follow later, and the Valentine’s dance will conclude today’s celebration. I hope you are all hungry, for William has been cooking and baking for days!”

As everybody cheered and William and a few aides brought in steaming dishes, Father turned to Vincent and Mouse. “Now let’s go and try to find them and hope that they are not too mad at us…”

Mouse and Father went ahead, Mouse chattering about where Jamie could possibly be and why she had not wanted to come and celebrate Winterfest.

Vincent followed them silently. He had a lot to think about. He had known Diana for four years now and he valued her greatly as a friend. Her keen intellect and her no-nonsense, down to earth personality had left a huge impact on him. She was strong, yet sensitive, resourceful and empathic – and his son loved her. Was it possible that she had expected him to ask her to be his date? Could she have feelings for him that he had hurt by not asking her? And if so…would this be a problem for him?

“They can’t be that far away,” Father mused, “for I have a feeling they want to be found. They would not risk missing out on Winterfest just to teach us a lesson, would they?” What he did not say was that he hoped the ladies were all right, memories of another Winterfest where Narcissa had gotten gravely injured by Paracelsus haunting him.

“Probably one of the chambers,” Vincent guessed. “Of course they could be anywhere, but if they want to be reasonably comfortable and be found within a certain timeframe, that’s where they have to be.” For a brief moment he considered the possibility that the ladies might have gone to either his or Father’s chamber, then dismissed it. These were proper ladies. They would respect Father’s privacy and his.

Father nodded. “Let’s try Mary’s chamber first, then Jamie’s. If they are in neither one, then the guest chambers.”

They knew they were on the right way when they heard laughter coming from Mary’s chamber. Father entered without announcing his presence, Mouse and Vincent right behind him.

The laughter died down immediately and the three ladies looked up. “Is there a problem, Jacob?” Mary asked innocently. “Do you need anything from us?”

Father sighed. She was not going to make this easy for him. “I came to apologize, Mary,” he finally said. “And to officially ask you to be my date for tonight’s Winterfest. It was wrong of me to take you for granted and to hurt your feelings by not asking you sooner.”

Mary’s heart melted when she saw him so contrite. But she needed one more answer before forgiving him. “You need me for the ceremony,” she reminded him. “Is that why you are coming for me now?”

Father swallowed his pride. “That’s part of it,” he admitted, “but I will most likely be asked to open the ball tonight, and there is nobody else with whom I’d rather dance than you.” Mary beamed. It was maybe not exactly what she had been hoping for, but it was a start. She took Father’s arm. “In that case, I’ll come with you,” she said simply.

Mouse grabbed Jamie’s arm. “Come to Winterfest now,” he told her.

Jamie pouted. “I have no date,” she whined.

“Jamie is Mouse’s date,” Mouse informed her. “We dance!”

“I am not your date,” Jamie complained. “You never asked me!”

“Mouse ask now,” her friend assured her.

Jamie finally relented. “But next time you ask me before the event!” she instructed him.

Mouse nodded. “Will do,” he promised, “next time Mouse ask before. Okay good, okay fine.”

Vincent and Diana were the last ones in the chamber. “Will you follow your two friends’ example and kindly forgive me for not asking you sooner to be my date for tonight?” Vincent asked quietly. “I was not aware. I mean I thought we were friends…and you know about Catherine… I did not think going on a date together would be appropriate…” His voice trailed. “Diana, I value you highly, and I do care for you. It’s just…that thought is still so new to me. I cannot promise you anything, but what my father said to Mary is also true for me. Since I will probably have to dance tonight there is nobody I’d rather do it with than you. That is all I can offer you right now, but I do hope it will be enough for you. Enough to forgive the hurt I have caused you by not asking you in the first place, and enough to come back to the Great Hall with me now, as my date.”

Diana smiled. Just like Mary she might have hoped for more, but she knew that Vincent needed time. She suddenly understood what a huge step for him it was to ask her to be his official date, when the one and only time he had had a date at Winterfest it had been Catherine.

“Let’s go then,” she said, “they are probably already waiting for us!”

*****

Everybody cheered when the three couples entered the Great Hall. Father, Vincent and Mary, as well as Diana had been thoroughly missed. Only William groaned when he noticed Arthur safely tucked under one of Mouse’s arms.

After the official ceremony had finally been held, the dance began. Father and Mary opened the waltz, Vincent and Diana joined as the second couple, and soon everybody was dancing. Mary and Diana were both beaming in their respective dance partners’ arms, and both men caught themselves thinking that it was not such a bad feeling to hold this particular woman in their arms and that maybe… one day…

~~~

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