Eye of the Beholder

Janet Rivenbark

 

A "what if"story.

What if Vincent was the norm and Catherine was the one who was different? This was inspired by an episode of the original Twilight Zone TV series. The name of the Twilight Zone episode was also Eye of the Beholder.

At one point, I hit a wall and couldnít seem to get it right. Sonia Solis gave very good advice and helped to get the ball rolling again. Thank you, Sonia!

 

Barbara Holmes looked down the table at the doctors of The Family Health Group. Vincent Wells was taking his turn at running the weekly meeting and he had called a break while she helped Dr. Tony Carelli connect his laptop to the projector so he could give a presentation.

Barbara had worked for this medical group for close to a quarter of a century, but this particular mix of physicians was probably the one she liked working for the best. They were an eclectic group in appearance and age. They were all dressed in styles reflecting the era in which they had been born; from Peter Alcott and Jacob Wells who were the oldest and most formal to Tony Carelli and Jacobís son Vincent, who usually wore jeans and knit polo shirts.

All of them were attractive, but she found the younger Dr. Wells to be the easiest on the eyes, as did most of the women in the office. Vincentís unusual golden beauty and blue eyes set him apart. Most people had medium brown to black hair, fair to dark skin and dark eyes. She decided that Vincent must take after his mother because he looked nothing like his father who had more typical darker coloring.

All the men in the room wore their hair long, but Vincent was the only one who didnít tie his back. He wore it loose, only tying it back if a medical procedure required it. He carried a strip of leather in his pocket for just that purpose.

Jacob, the oldest of the six was a family practitioner. The next in age was Dr. Peter Alcott an obstetrician/gynecologist. He was sixty, but looked younger. He and Jacob had been friends since Peter had begun his residency and Jacob had been the Chief resident at the same hospital. When Peter finished his residency, he and Jacob had both been invited to join this group. Over the years, as the older members retired others had come in to replace them.

Peter and his younger counterpart, by about twenty years, Dr. Alton Stanley, were discussing a patient.

The two family practitioners in the group were both sitting quietly. Jacob was idly drumming his blunt claws on the shiny table top, and the other, Dr. Benjamin Carter, who had a new baby at home, appeared to be dozing.

Vincentís counterpart in the Pediatrics field, Dr. Anthony Carelli was nervously stacking and restacking a sheaf of papers as Barbara set up the laptop.

She finished with the laptop and the first slide of Tonyís presentation was up on the flat screen on the wall. She nodded that it was ready to go as she left the room. Vincent rapped the tabletop with his knuckles and called the meeting back to order.

"Tony has one more thing before we adjourn," Vincent announced, glancing over at Tony.

"Um, yes," said Tony. "I do." Tony was a shy, quiet man, much more at ease with his young patients than with even his colleagues. He handed Vincent one of the papers from his stack, then passed the rest down the table.

At Vincentís nod, Tony started to speak.

"I had a lot of reading to catch up on when Talia and I got back from our cruise, and I found an interesting article on Anomalous Births in one of my medical journals. Theyíve been happening all over the world. The numbers cited in the article prompted me to do more research on the subject.

"I think weíve all heard about them," he continued, "but if you are anything like me you havenít paid a lot of attention. I was surprised to learn that the births have been increasing in number and I thought it might be a good idea to give Peter and Al a heads up in case they havenít already seen the articles. The papers I just passed around have a list of the articles that Iíve seen in medical journals and on-line. I would imagine that you guys," he nodded toward Peter and Al, "might be the first in our practice to see any of these, but it would probably be a good idea if we are all up to speed on the subject."

"Has any research been done?" asked Vincent, looking up from the sheet on the table in front of him. Heíd seen some of the articles mentioned but hadnít paid a lot of attention.

"A little, mostly on the Anomalies that have been born here in the States. One article said that some born in third world countries have either been considered godlike or demonic."

"What can you tell us, Tony?" asked Jacob.

"Just some generalities." He clicked the mouse on the table in front of him and the slide changed to show some graphs. "The births have been happening for at least the last fifty years that we know of, but have been increasing in number of late. The statisticians arenít all that sure if there are really more births, or if it is just that more babies are born in hospitals so the reporting is more accurate. For the most part, the babies are smaller. The most obvious differences at birth are the facial features and the lack of claws."

Tony clicked the mouse again and the slide changed to show two babies; one normal and the other an Anomaly. Peter leaned forward in his chair and studied the photos closely.

"The babies are smaller and usually grow into smaller adults," Tony continued. "Their bodies are pretty much hairless except for their heads and pubic areas. The males do tend to develop a little more body hair as they mature, but not the generalized body hair that the rest of us have; the texture is different, coarser and curlier, although the hair on their heads tends to be softer than ours. Their teeth are different; their upper and lower canines are much shorter, almost even with the other teeth. I would have thought that they wouldnít be meat eaters, but they apparently are. They are physically weaker, and their immune systems donít seem to be as strong, they heal much slower. Their heart rates are faster and blood pressures and respiration rates higher. The chemical makeup of their blood is slightly different."

"Are these spontaneous mutations?" asked Al.

"They seem to be," said Tony.

Vincent noticed Peterís interest in the photo and had caught a slight undercurrent of tension from the man.

"What is it Peter?" he asked.

"Might be nothing, but about thirty years ago, while I was still a resident, I delivered a baby that looked a lot like the one in the photo. At the time we didnít even know if there was a problem. The other obstetric resident and I decided that it was probably a birth defect," he said thoughtfully.

"Did you keep any records?" asked Jacob.

"There was a file; the mother was one of my private patients at the hospital and not from the clinic, but she didnít come back after her six week checkup so I lost track of the family. Her husband and I had known each other slightly in college. I remember that I did make extensive notes in the file, but I didnít keep copies of any records from that time. They all belonged to the hospital."

"Do you remember anything in particular?" asked Tony.

"Only that the baby was perfectly formed. At birth the only noticeable differences, other than vitals, were the smooth upper lip, minor differences in the skull formation and the lack of claws. Since normal babies donít start developing the allover body hair until they are a few months old I didnít note anything about that. I remember that the other attending wanted to do a full body x-ray, but I talked him out of it, not wanting to bombard a newborn with radiation, even if it would have been a small dose. When the mother came back for her six week checkup she didnít bring the baby, and beyond my usual inquiry about how it was doing I didnít ask anything else."

"Was it a boy or a girl?" asked Vincent.

"A little girl. She weighed slightly under six pounds."

"And you never saw her again?" asked Jacob.

"No, we tried to hold both the mother and child in the hospital a few extra days for observation and a little more study, but she insisted and we released them both. She seemed concerned that the child would be taken from her and wind up living in a lab somewhere, subjected to testing like some kind of a lab animal. She was fiercely protective. Even more so than the father; she seemed to have some idea of what was going on."

"Do you remember their names?" asked Vincent.

"The family name was Chandler; the father was Charles, but Iím sorry to say that I donít remember the motherís name or what they named the child. I do remember when it was and that it was one of the first birth certificates that I signed as the attending physician. Iíll check to see if I kept any records, I might have put something in my journal."

"Why donít you do that, Peter," suggested Al. "Maybe we can follow up and find out how she fared."

Peter nodded and made a note on the paper in front of him. He looked up and directed a question to Tony.

"Are they able to reproduce?" he asked.

"So far they have been. Originally, naturally, all the Anomalies were born to normal parents, but some Anomalies have been pairing up with other Anomalies and the ones who have had children have all had children like themselves. There have been a few instances where an anomaly has married a normal individual and they seem to be showing a roughly 75% chance of any children being normal. There have been a few preliminary genetic studies and some small genetic differences have been discovered, but overall, genetically, they are almost the same as us."

"And you think that we need to be concerned about this?" asked Ben.

"Yes, I do," said Tony. "There have been quite a few Anomalies born here in New York City in the last year. The articles I read said that the abnormalities in the fetus are slight, but can sometimes be detected in ultrasounds. There are skull and a few skeletal differences; if you arenít looking for them they might not be noticed, but if you know what to look for they are quite obvious. If you see anything unusual on an ultrasound it would probably be a good idea to do more tests. In some places where there have been more of the births, medical practices and clinics have been offering counseling to the parents just as they do for parents who are expecting a child with a birth defect of some kind. Many of the parents have been choosing to terminate the pregnancy rather than have a child with these differences."

Alton looked up from the paper on the table in front of him. "And is that a good or bad thing?" he asked.

"In my opinion, as a pediatrician, itís a bad thing," said Tony. "These people are of normal intelligence, and have no real defects except the things I mentioned; it is mostly their appearance. They can live a normal life; it is just that right now there are so few of them that they are considered freaks. One of the articles I read speculated that there may have been more of them born over the last few decades but that parents felt compelled to hide them, or possibly even dispose of them as they do in some of the less advanced countries."

"What are they, Tony?" asked Vincent. "Does anyone have any idea?"

"The studies havenít really determined anything concrete yet except that genetically they are almost identical to us. They are still working on the complete genetic code. Some small activist groups are really up in arms about it, saying that in the 21st Century, we should be able to find things out more quickly. They obviously donít understand how the scientific community works."

"I read an article a few months ago that said that it seems to happen randomly. There doesnít appear to be any kind of an environmental or any other cause," observed Vincent. "People are probably frightened that it could happen to them."

"So you think we should develop a protocol for our practice?" asked Ben.

"Yes, I do. None really exists yet; we would be forging our own paths here. Our government is urging that the Anomalies be tracked medically, but nothing more. Some governments have gone so far as to suggest that they all be rounded up and quarantined, as if they have a contagious disease," said Tony with a shake of his head.

"Do you think our government is heading in that direction?" asked Jacob.

"I doubt it. The ordinary man on the street isnít even aware of what is happening. One article I read was written by the Surgeon General and it advocated integrating them into society. Like I said, they are of normal intelligence, the main biggest differences are their appearance. All it would take is for everyone to get used to the way they look."

"Are there any real numbers?" asked Peter.

"One of the articles said that less than one quarter of one percent of the US population at this time," said Tony.

"I think our population is something like 308 million, so that would probably put the number at something like 75,000 to 80,000 in the US alone. That is a substantial number. Iím surprised we havenít seen any in our practice," said Vincent. "I donít have any appointments this afternoon, I was planning to go to the gym, but I think Iíll stay here and do some research. We should probably all do some in the areas where it affects each of our specialties and be prepared to work on a protocol for our practice. Counseling for parents who find out that they are pregnant with an Anomaly, medical treatment protocols, all of it. We are starting from square one; we need to be familiar with what is normal for an Anomaly...how drugs affect them. What if we have a patient who is an anomaly who needs a blood transfusion? Is blood from the blood bank compatible?"

The others at the table nodded agreement, Vincent adjourned the meeting and everyone went back to work.

Vincent spent the afternoon at the computer in his office reading and printing reference material to share with the other members of the practice. He found answers to a lot of his questions.

He was studying a photograph of a male Anomaly then glanced up at the full length mirror that hung on the back of the door across from his desk.

They donít appear to be that much different, he mused. Two eyes, two ears, one nose, one mouth, one head, two arms, two legs, same genitalia, internal organs in all the right places and functioning nearly the same. Their vision, especially night vision, and hearing arenít as acute, but their IQís fall within normal ranges. Their dexterity seems to be better, since they donít have to deal with claws.

He held his right hand up next to the computer monitor as he clicked on a photo of the hand of an Anomaly. Much smaller hands, even the males. Might prove useful in doing fine work like assembling small components. He looked from his own hairy, clawed digits to the bare one on the screen. They had something like vestigial claws on both hands and feet, but they didnít grow the same, they were thinner and didnít naturally come to a point. Most of the Anomalies appeared to keep them short. And they probably donít have to wear latex gloves while preparing food. He chuckled as he remembered his one attempt at the age of eight, at helping their cook make pies. The fine hairs sticking out of the pie crust hadnít amused his father.

Vincent looked at the clock on the wall. It was getting late, if he hurried he would have just enough time to run from the office through the park and home before it got too dark. He felt he needed the exercise after an afternoon of sitting in front of the computer monitor. He didnít mind doing research or reading, but he much preferred to be active. He stacked the papers from the printer on the corner of his desk and went to his private bathroom to change into his running clothes. He often ran to or from the office, weather permitting, when he didnít have time for the gym. He stopped at the receptionistís desk on the way out.

"Isnít it a little late to be running, Dr. Wells?" she asked when she saw he was in his sweats and running shoes.

"I should be home before it gets dark," he said with a smile. He knew his father had hired this particular woman with match making in mind. She was the type of woman who usually appealed to him, and they had indulged in a mild office flirtation. She was intelligentł articulate, pretty and a bit more petite than average. He had overheard his father telling Peter that he hoped that she would bring out the family building instinct in his younger son.

Jacob had been trying to convince his son to find a wife since he joined the practice two years before, but it was easier to talk about than to do. Vincent was thirty-five and Jacob considered that a good age to marry. Jacob had been married three years by the time he was thirty-five. Vincent didnít have anything against marriage or the woman sitting at the desk in front of him. It was just that she wasnít the right woman; he hadnít met the right woman yet; not one he could really connect with. Heíd had a few girlfriends, but none of them had worked out.

He smiled at the pretty dark-haired woman. "Iíll see you on Monday, Ally." He waved as he left the office.

He stretched on the steps in front of their offices then walked briskly for a couple of blocks to warm up. It was getting toward the end of September, but theyíd had some unusually cool weather the last few days and the leaves in the park were beginning to turn. Fall was definitely in the air.

He broke into a leisurely trot as he approached the park. Once across the street and on a path he picked up speed until he was covering a lot of ground with his long stride.

He could run this route through the south end of the park in his sleep and as he approached the playground near where he usually turned and crossed the street, he slowed back to a trot. That was when he felt a sudden jolt of fear and pain and heard the sounds. He knew the fear and pain werenít his, but was used to occasionally connecting empathically with his young patients. He was pretty sure that the feelings were connected with the sound, and it sounded like that gang of kids had found something new to torture. Heíd chased them off and reported them to the police several times in the last few months, but the police couldnít do anything unless they actually caught the boys red-handed. From what he could feel, one of the boys may have been injured, would serve him right, but he was a doctor. He headed toward the sounds and broke into the clearing with a muted roar.

There were six teenage boys, holding an assortment of sticks and rocks. They stopped what they were doing abruptly and scattered, running off through the trees surrounding the clearing.

Vincent looked to see what they had caught this time and how much damage they had done. He had rescued several squirrels and a dog from them in the last few months. This time it looked like their victim was of a larger sort. Probably a homeless person, but from the size it looked more like a child; that might explain why heíd connected empathically. The person was huddled on the ground in what looked like a blanket; his head covered with part of it.

He walked over and knelt beside the figure.

"Are you all right?" he inquired. "Did they hurt you?" he reached into the pocket of his jacket for his cell phone. "Iíll call an ambulance."

That brought a response from the figure.

"Please, no ambulance; no hospital!" begged a feminine voice.

"Then please let me make sure that you arenít seriously hurt," he urged, as he reached for the hood of what turned out to be a heavy woolen cloak. "Iím a doctor," he added.

The figure cowered and tried to move away from him but he heard a quick intake of breath and a quiet moan. "No, please!" she pleaded as he touched the hood.

He could feel the fear radiating off the figure in waves, but he still wasnít prepared for what he saw when he pushed the hood back. He was stunned at the frightened face that stared back at him. Large gray green eyes full of tears, long light brown hair falling over those eyes, bare, fair skin. The skin above her mouth was smooth and had only a slight indentation where normally the philtrum was more of a groove. She had a well formed lip, and full lower one, well defined noseÖit was one of the Anomalies that heíd just spent the afternoon researching.

He recovered from his shock quickly. "Are you hurt?" he asked.

"NoÖno. Iím fine," she answered, then promptly fainted.

Luckily he knew what normal vital signs were for an Anomaly from his afternoon of reading. His first touch on her wrist to take her pulse told him that his empathic connection with her was stronger than usual, but he ignored that in favor of more conventional means of ascertaining her condition. Her heart rate was a little elevated, but the pulse was strong, respiration also elevated but slowing to normal. Her skin was slightly clammy, could be shock. Her eyes reacted normally to the light. He considered calling an ambulance, but something stopped him. He hesitated a moment then pulled the hood back over her face and tucked the cloak around her. Snagging a backpack from the ground he picked her up and stood. The house he shared with his father was only a couple blocks away and he headed there. It was the dinner hour and it was a quiet neighborhood. He quickly crossed the street and luckily didnít meet anyone.

He couldnít reach the keys in his pocket so he jabbed at the doorbell with his elbow and waited impatiently for his father to answer.

Jacob opened the door and was surprised to see his son on the stoop carrying a bundle in his arms; a bundle that was shaped like a person. Vincent pushed past him and kicked the door shut before he started up the stairs.

"What in theÖ.?" began Jacob.

"Not now, Father," said Vincent as he reached the top of the stairs and turned left toward the guest rooms. "Bring your bag and come up. Sheís hurt."

The elder Dr. Wells snatched an old fashioned medical bag off the foyer table and followed his son up the stairs. Vincent was settling his patient on the guest room bed when he arrived.

"If sheís hurt, why isnít she in a hospital? Why did you bring her here?" he asked as he joined Vincent in the guest room.

"Youíre not going to believe this, Father," said Vincent as he pulled the hood away from the figureís face and undid the cloakís clasp at the neck.

Jacob was momentarily startled, but instinct took over as he checked vitals.

"Her temperature is 97.6, heart rate is 62, blood pressure is 122 over 77 and respiration is 14, said Jacob when he was finished. "Is all that normal?"

"Nearly so. Her temperature is a little low, but norms do vary. She may also be a little shocky or chilled from being outside. Her BP is good; I donít think there is any internal bleeding; according to everything I read on-line this afternoon those are normal readings. She may have just fainted from fright."

"What happened?" Jacob motioned for his son to lift the girl so he could pull the covers on the bed down.

"That gang that Iíve told you about before. It looks like theyíve graduated from squirrels and dogs to people."

Before Vincent lowered her back to the bed he removed the cloak. She was wearing a simple black velvet dress that buttoned down the front and lightweight leather shoes. From the quality of the clothing he could tell she wasnít likely homeless.

"We need to remove her clothing to see if there are any injuries," said Jacob.

Vincent was ahead of him and was examining her head before he moved to the neckline of the dress where he began to unbutton the buttons.

"She has a small lump on the back of her head. The kids only had sticks and rocks, nothing very heavy, although I did see one get in a pretty solid kick."

He removed the dress as Jacob pulled off her shoes. She only had on plain cotton panties and a bra under the dress, no slip. They could see a bruise starting to form on her right side just at the bottom of her rib cage.

Vincent probed it gently, trying not to notice how smooth and soft her skin was. "Nothing appears to be broken. Her color seems to be returning to normal, so I doubt that there is any internal damage."

"Didnít Annalisa leave some clothing in the apartment upstairs?" asked Jacob.

"I think she did," said Vincent as he started to pull the covers over the girl.

"Perhaps our patient would be more comfortable in a nightgown," Jacob suggested.

"Youíre probably right," Vincent agreed, "although Annalisa is at least six inches taller and a good 30 pounds heavier than this girl. It will swallow her."

Jacob left the room and Vincent stood staring down at the girl, no, young woman, he corrected himself. She was beautiful, he had to say that. He hadnít seen that in any of the photos he looked at on-line, but he saw it in this woman. The connection that heíd sensed with her when he first touched her was still there and even in sleep he could feel a sadness. It made him wonder what had happened to her.

Jacob returned a few minutes later with a cotton nightgown, robe and a pair of slippers. Vincent was still standing by the bed staring as if mesmerized. "I hope that you are looking from a clinical point of view and not a voyeuristic one," he commented as he helped Vincent put the gown on her.

"Purely clinical, Father," Vincent assured him, wondering himself, why he found her so beautiful.

"Now what?" asked Jacob as they both stood looking down at their patient.

"Now, I guess we wait until she wakes up and we help her get to wherever she belongs," said Vincent. "Why donít you sit with her while I shower, then Iíll stay with her until she wakes.

Jacob agreed and Vincent went off to shower and change. He was back a few minutes later dressed in jeans and a sweater, carrying a book.

"I was just getting ready to heat up some soup and make a sandwich when you arrived. Would you like some?" asked Jacob.

"Yes, Father. Thank you," said Vincent as he pulled an easy chair over closer to the bed and sat down.

"Iíll bring a pot of tea too," he said as he left the room.

While he waited, Vincent hung up the womanís dress and the cloak. He searched the backpack hoping to find something to tell him who she was and where she belonged. The pack contained only practical things: a few changes of underwear, toiletries, a little food, some money, a locked metal document box and a few trinkets. In the bottom he found a well worn childrenís book. The bookplate in the front said "From the Library of Caroline Thompson" and the copyright date was 1958; no wonder it was a little shabby. He put everything back and set the pack on the bench at the foot of the bed.

Vincent tried to read, but his eyes kept straying back to the girl on the bed. He remembered her luminous eyes, swimming in tears, the flawless skin that seemed to glow. Some people might consider these Anomalies freakish, but he found this one strangely beautiful.

It was well after midnight and he was dozing in the chair when she woke.

"Excuse me?" her voice was soft but it woke him.

He quickly moved to the bedside and picked up her wrist to take her pulse. He could still feel a slight undercurrent of sadness and a little fear, but she was working hard to control both.

"How are you feeling?" he asked automatically.

"My head hurts, so does my side and I have to go to the bathroom," she told him bluntly.

He helped her to sit up then she swung her legs over the side of the bed. She used his arm for leverage and pulled herself to her feet. She swayed a bit at first then took a deep breath and steadied herself.

"The bathroom is there," he pointed out.

She made her way across the room, a little wobbly at first. Holding the long gown up so she wouldnít trip, she made it without mishap.

While she was in the bathroom he pushed away his natural reticence and probed the connection. What she had said was true; the only discomfort was a headache, and mild ache in her side. He was sure she wasnít badly injured.

When she came out a few minutes later, she looked better; she had washed her face and combed the tangles out of her hair.

"Everything all right?" Vincent asked, just to make sure.

She looked at him questioningly.

"Iím a doctor," he explained. "No blood in your urine or any other problems? Those boys were doing their best to inflict some major damage, and at least one of them kicked you hard enough to bruise."

She sat on the bed. "No. No blood. Iím just a little sore," her hand went to the bruise on her side, "and my head hurts."

"You have a small lump on your head, but there doesnít appear to be a concussion. What do you usually take for pain?" he asked.

"Acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, anything really," she answered.

Vincent left and came back with two tablets and a glass of water.

"Thank you," she said politely before she took the tablets and swallowed them.

Vincent sat on the chair across from her.

"May I ask you a few questions?" he asked.

"Go ahead." She expected the questions to be about her, the way she looked, but was surprised when they went in another direction.

"Is there anyone I can call for you? Family, friends?" he asked.

The mention of family brought back all the pain of the last week and her eyes were suddenly full of tears again.

The pain blasted through Vincent as he grabbed a tissue and handed it to her.

"Iím sorry," she said with a sniffle. "I donít have any family, and Iíve never made any friends."

"No one?" he asked in amazement.

"No one," she said, wiping her eyes. "My mother died when I was ten, Grandmother died almost eleven years ago and my father died a little over a week ago. Only a few other people even know about me."

"Your family kept you hidden?" he asked incredulously.

"What else were they supposed to do?" she asked. "Look at me. Iím different, hideous. I was an embarrassment to them."

"Are you Caroline?" Vincent asked.

"Caroline?" Catherine was puzzled. "No that was my motherís name."

"I went through your pack to see if there was anything to identify you. That name was in the book," he explained.

"That was my motherís book. My name is Catherine," she told him.

"CatherineÖ"

His voice was soft and gruff at the same time. The way he said her name made it sound beautiful, like a caress, she felt a shiver go down her spine. She only wished she was as beautiful as he made her name sound. She wondered if he always talked that way, or if it was because it was the middle of the night and everyone else in the house, if there was anyone else, was asleep.

"Where were you going, Catherine?" he asked her.

"Away. I couldnít stay in my home any longer. I called Daddyís office. I said I was the housekeeper. The secretary said that the apartment was to be sold. I knew that if I was found I would wind up in a freak show or a lab somewhere; Mom had always been frightened of something like that happening. I decided that maybe I would do better outside the city in the countrysideÖI honestly donít know what I was thinking," she hung her head, her hair falling forward and hiding her face; Vincent could feel her despair.

"Sometimes when we are under pressure we donít think clearly," he tried to reassure her. "Isnít there someone I could call for you? Someone must know about you. You must have some relatives somewhere."

"I had a nanny after my mother died, but she left when I was fifteen and we never heard from her again. If I have any relatives, I donít know about them. Daddy never told anyone about me. You have to understand, he loved me, but he couldnít let anyone know I existed. He was afraid that I would be taken from him."

She was beginning to get agitated and he reached out and took her hands to reassure her. His touch calmed her immediately.

She looked up into his eyes. They were blue and sheíd never seen anything that beautiful.

"What did you do?" Vincent asked her.

"Do? What do you mean?" she asked.

"Work?"

"Work? Nothing really. Daddy, Grandmother and Mamie, the nanny, educated me. Daddy was fond of saying that I had a very good mindÖand that it was too bad I couldnít work with him." She smiled at the memory. "Mostly I just kept house for Daddy; cooking, cleaning, laundry, and when I wasnít doing that, I read. Daddy had a large library and was always bringing new books home."

Vincent nodded and stared off into space wondering what heíd gotten himself into and what he was going to do now.

"You said you are a doctor?" she said. "What is your name?"

"Iím sorry," he apologized quickly. "My name is Wells, Vincent Wells. Iím a pediatrician. I live here with my father who is also a doctor, a general practitioner. His name is Jacob Wells. We have a group practice with four other doctors."

She looked around the room. "What time is it? I should probably be leaving," she said starting to rise.

"No, you shouldnít leave yet. Stay at least until we are sure that there has been no permanent damage," he told her. "If you were hospitalized they would keep you for at least twenty four hours for observation."

"I wouldnít want to impose," she began.

"Itís no imposition!" he assured her. "Maybe we can figure something out for you while you are here. Things are changing somewhat for people like you, you know. You arenít the only one of your kind."

Her eyes went round in surprise as she shook her head, disbelievingly. "There are others? Daddy never told me."

"We were discussing it at the office today," he glanced at his watch. "Well, I guess it was yesterday, but in the last year there have been at least twenty five anomalous births in New York City alone. There are Anomalies all over the world; have been for at least the last fifty or sixty years."

"Is that what I am? An Anomaly?" she asked, her voice sounding bitter.

"People are fond of labels," he told her. "It helps them keep things and people in what they think of as their proper places. People like you are known as Anomalies, at least here in the States."

"Does anyone know why?" she asked.

"No one has been studying it long enough to have any answers," he told her, "but you arenít alone. There are others, just not so many that seeing them on the street is commonplace yet."

"Do you think it ever will be?"

"That depends on what happens. Like all the struggles in the past for equal rights, someone will have to become an advocate and the general public will have to accept your differences."

"And until that happens, what do I do?" she asked bitterly.

"I donít know what you should do, but I do know what you shouldnít do," he told her.

"You donít think my plan is a good idea?" she asked, sure that was what he meant.

"Have you ever been outside the city?" he asked her.

"Iíve rarely been outside our apartment," she admitted.

"New York is a very large metropolitan area; it is many miles before you would come to any place that could remotely be called Ďcountryí, and even if you reached it safely, how would you live? You would need food, shelter, clothing. Winter is coming on and you would never survive in what you have."

She slumped on the bed and rolled over on her side with her back to him. "I donít know what Iím going to do. No one will hire me to work for them; they would probably all react like those boys in the parkÖ"

Her comment put an idea in Vincentís mind as he rose and went to pat her shoulder reassuringly. "You should try to rest now," he told her. "Iíll speak to Father and maybe between the two of us we can come up with something. Try not to worry about it right now."

She rolled over onto her back and looked up at him. "Why would you do that? You donít even know me."

He shrugged and smiled at her. "Weíre doctorsÖItís what we do, we help people."

He reached the door of the room when she spoke again. "Thank you Dr. Wells," she whispered.

"PleaseÖcall me Vincent."

He left the room and closed the door quietly behind him. He went to his room on the third floor. He was intrigued to note that he could still sense her feelings, even with the distance between them. That was unusual. Normally, he would lose his connection with his patients when he left the room. He knew when she finally went to sleep but he spent the rest of the night tossing and turning restlessly.

~~~~~~~~~~

Vincent was up early and in the rooms on the top floor going through the things that Annalisa had left. He didnít find much that would be useful, only some sweats, t-shirts, socks and another nightgown. Before he went downstairs to fix his breakfast he stopped at Catherineís room to leave a stack of clothing on a chest just inside the door with a note:

Catherine,

Please join me downstairs in the kitchen whenever it is convenient for you.

V.

Vincent was at the table drinking tea and crumbling a blueberry muffin when his father came in a short time later.

"How is she?" asked Jacob as he joined Vincent at the table.

Vincent pushed the teapot and the box of muffins toward his father as he gathered his thoughts.

"Medically speaking, she seems to be fine. She woke a little after midnight. She got up to go to the bathroom; she was pretty steady on her feet after she was up for a minute or two. She said there was no blood in her urine. She doesnít seem to have sustained any real injuries. I gave her something for her headache and she went back to bed."

"Then she can be on about her business today," said Jacob.

"That is the problem. She has nowhere to go. Her father recently died. Heíd been keeping her hidden in their home. She knows no one and there are no relatives that she is aware of. She had to leave her home because it was going to be sold. I gather she may have been born at home or in a clinic and may not have been documented."

"Did you tell her that she isnít the only one of her kind?" asked Jacob after a sip of tea.

"I did, but she found it hard to believe. I guess we wonít overcome a lifetime of conditioning in one conversation. Even if she did believe me, I would hesitate to let her go on her own."

Where was she going?"

"To the countryside. I got the impression that she has absolutely no idea of what the world is really like. She seemed to feel that she would be able to live off the land or something. When I pointed out that winter was coming on and that sheíd need shelter, food and warm clothing, she just gave up."

"Why do I have a feeling you have an idea?" asked Jacob with a wry smile.

"Well, yes, I do, kind of. Since Annalisa married and left us, we havenít had a housekeeper or cook, and frankly, Iím getting rather tired of living on canned soup and sandwiches and doing my own laundry."

"You think this young woman could fill that position?" asked Jacob.

"Yes, and by the way, her name is Catherine. Catherine said she kept house and cooked for her father, sheís been well educated and is intelligent. At the very least she could stay and work for us, bank her salary and we could help her prepare to face the real world."

"You always were one for bringing home the birds with broken wings and the sick puppies," Jacob said with a shake of his head.

"What do you think, Father?" Vincent asked, ignoring his fatherís comment.

"Well, if she agrees, it does sound like it would be mutually beneficial. Youíll be here for the next three days and will be able to familiarize her with the job."

"What about you?" Vincent asked.

"Have you forgotten?" asked Jacob. "Ben and I are going to that medical conference in Boston. I wonít be back until Sunday."

"I had forgotten," said Vincent. "Then it is all right with you if I offer her the job?"

"Yes it is. It should work out. I just hope sheís a decent cook."

Jacob finished his tea and stood. He patted his sonís shoulder and moved toward the kitchen door. "Iím meeting Ben at Grand Central, so Iíll be going. You have a good weekend, Iíll see you Sunday."

Vincent was clearing the dishes and knew when Catherine woke. His sense of her was still strong. She tentatively entered the kitchen not long after. She was wearing a pair of Annalisaís sweatpants, a t-shirt and was in her stocking feet; everything was many sizes too large and made her look like a little girl wearing her big brotherís clothing. Luckily the sweatpants had a drawstring at the waist and elastic at the ankles. The t-shirt hung to mid-thigh.

"Good morning Catherine," he greeted her. "How are you feeling? Headache gone?"

"Yes it is. What time is it? Thereís no clock upstairs."

"It is early, not even 8AM. Would you like some breakfast? Iím afraid that all we have is tea and muffins."

She sat at the table and he put a clean cup, a fresh pot of tea and a plate of muffins in front of her.

"Thank you," she said then she bit into one of the muffins.

Vincent poured two cups of tea and sat back to watch her eat.

She finished the first muffin and started a second one. It was obvious that sheíd missed a meal or two recently; it was no wonder she fainted the evening before. He berated himself for not noticing and offering her something when she woke during the night. When she finished the second muffin she picked up the tea and sipped it.

"I spoke to my father this morning before he left for his medical conference and we agreed that it would be a good for all concerned if we offered you a job," he began.

"A job? I donít know if that is possible. I donít exist, at least not legally. If you are planning to offer me the opportunity to work for room and board, maybe," she told him.

"Actually, we need a housekeeper and cook. We had one until a few months ago, but she left when she got married. You said you did that for your father."

She looked interested. "I did, and I liked doing it."

"Annalisa had an apartment on the top floor; her own suite, a bedroom, bath and sitting room. You can have the same rooms. There is a computer up there with internet access. You do know how to use a computer, donít you?"

"Iíve used a computer, but we didnít have internet access," she admitted.

"I can show you how to use the internet," he told her. "You probably wonít want to go out to shop for groceries or anything else, but we can set it up so you can do all that on-line and have it delivered to the house. We have a household account with a debit card that you can use on line, and I can set up another account for your personal use to put your salary in. Iíll talk to someone about your legal status and in the meantime, Iíll set everything up in my name with the understanding that it is yours. What do you think would be a fair salary?" he asked.

She thought for a moment. "I have no idea," she said with a slight laugh. Iíve never had more than a few dollars at a time; I have no idea what things cost or what my work would be worth."

"Why donít we start with what we paid Annalisa?" He named a figure that meant absolutely nothing to Catherine, but sounded generous. "Iíll go out and set it all up as soon as the banks are open. Iíll deposit an advance in your account so you can buy anything that you need. In the meantime why donít we go upstairs and Iíll show you the rooms."

He led her out to the screened porch on the back of the house and up a metal spiral stair that ran all the way from the first floor to the fourth, giving access to the porches on each floor.

"Is this the servantís stairs?" she asked.

"No, at least I donít think they were intended for that," he said with a chuckle. "Just a convenience put in by the previous owner of the house. They were a real godsend when I was a growing teenager. Every time I had a growth spurt, I would stay ravenously hungry; Father said I was impossible to fill up. I used these stairs many times to go to the kitchen for a midnight snack. The cook we had then hated when anyone went into her kitchen after sheíd cleaned it up at night. I learned to make my snacks, clean up after myself and take the food back to my room on the third floor, but she always seemed to know, she just wasnít sure who to pin the crime on, me or Father. Father understood and covered for me."

Catherine was very pleased with the space on the fourth floor. The spiral stair led right up to a balcony that was six feet deep and stretched the entire width of the back of the house. She even had French doors that opened onto the balcony from the bedroom and the sitting room. She would have access to the balcony and a walled back yard, both with something sheíd never had in her fatherís home: sunshine and the opportunity to be outside day or night. Her father had always insisted that she stay inside, and out of sight. If he took her out at all, it was at night in the car with tinted windows. The bedroom, bath and sitting room took up almost half the converted attic with the other rooms either empty or used for storage.

"The house is so large," she commented. "Daddy said that our apartment was large compared to a lot in New York. Daddy had his own study, but it seems small and cramped compared to this. I had my own room and a private bath, but it was nowhere near the space in these rooms."

"Itís one of the older buildings, built in the late 1800ís. It was a boarding house in the 1920ís before someone turned it into separate apartments. When the owner before us bought it in the late 1950ís, he restored it to the original floor plan. My parents bought it in 1975, and Father had it renovated again just before my mother died. Weíve done a few things since then. The kitchen was done just three years ago."

While she settled into her new rooms and explored the house, Vincent left and went to the bank to set up the accounts. On his way home he stopped at a small neighborhood market to buy groceries and he paid the ownerís son to help him carry everything back to the house in his wagon.

When he got back she was in the kitchen inventorying the pantry and freezer. It took him three trips to carry all the bags to the kitchen.

"I probably should have done this before you left, but I think you shopped pretty well. With what you got and what was already here I should be able to put together enough meals for almost a week. If you can show me how to order groceries on-line Iíll be able to order for myself next time."

Catherine was a very organized and a quick learner; by the time Jacob arrived home on Sunday evening, she already had a schedule set up with Vincent and was settling into the new job.

"So how is it going?" asked Jacob after Catherine said good night and went upstairs to her room.

"Very well," said Vincent. "She is an excellent cook. She found Annalisaís recipes on the computer upstairs. She has never used the internet, but she knows how to use a computer. I gave her the debit card for use to order things for the house, and I set up a personal account for her salary. I showed her how to order on line and how to access her account. We talked a little and she is certain her birth was never registered, and her father once told her she has no legal identity. Iím going to have to talk to a lawyer about her status, but I think Iíll wait until she is more at ease with us. With the way Iíve set everything up, any time she needs anything for herself or the house she can just order it and have it delivered. I advanced her some money so she could order clothing that fits and other necessities."

"How is she handling her fatherís death? You said it was recent."

"She said that he died just a little over a week ago. She wasnít even able to attend the funeral. She came down both yesterday and this morning with red eyes from crying, but I think it is good for her to have something to do. She has really thrown herself into this."

Jacob nodded. "I hope that we will be able to help her. It will be nice to have some good home cooked meals again; especially nice to have them waiting for us when we get home. I think Annalisa spoiled me."

"She spoiled both of us," agreed Vincent.

~~~~~~~~~~

The next few weeks went very well. Catherine worked very hard to fit in and do a good job. She missed her father, but she found that both her employers were very easy to get along with and to please. The elder Dr. Wells was a little standoffish and formal at first. It was as if he wasnít quite sure how to treat her. It made her a little ill at ease, but she treated him with warmth and respect, and he eventually relaxed and unbent a little making her feel more comfortable.

Vincent was another story. From the very first, sheíd felt comfortable with him.

Jacob met Peter for dinner once a week and Vincent and Catherine ate alone. She enjoyed the time she spent with him. She especially enjoyed the talks they had. She had explored some of the links that Annalisa had saved on the computer; most of them were news sites. She also read the newspaper every morning after Vincent and Jacob left for work. She was quickly becoming very familiar with what was going on in the world and Vincent was pleasantly surprised when she brought up the articles from the newspaper and asked about them.

It took a few weeks, but she eventually found the courage to Google "Anomalies" and found a wealth of information about others like her. She learned that in most places they would still draw stares on the street but as more people learned about them the less likely they were to have problems. There was one small town in Northern California that had a population of around 500 with at least 150 of them Anomalies.

Less often, Vincent would be out for the evening and Catherine and Jacob would have their dinner together. One of those rare evenings Vincent was out at a fund raiser. Catherine was cleaning up after the meal and Jacob was reading the paper at the table.

Jacob looked up from the paper at the young woman rinsing dishes and putting them in the dishwasher. He was getting used to her appearance.

"Catherine, I was wondering something, my dear," he said without preamble.

"What is that Dr. Wells?" she asked as she dried her hands on a dishtowel and turned to face him.

"Are you happy here?"

Catherine leaned back on the counter and thought for a moment as a smile brightened her face.

"Yes, I am; very happy. Iím surprised that I am. I mean, I miss Daddy, but you and Vincent have been very kind to me. I feel useful, Iím learning about the world and Iím providing for myself and that is more than I would have ever thought I would do."

"You have fit into our household very well," Jacob told her with a smile. "Vincent and I are both very fond of you."

Catherine found a blush rising to her cheeks, times like this she wished even more that she was like everyone else and not subject to broadcasting her emotions so vividly.

"Iím very fond of the both of you too," she admitted in a low voice.

"And I suspect much more so of Vincent," said Jacob softly after a moment of hesitation.

She didnít quite understand what Jacob meant, but she had to admit that there was something about Vincent that made her feel all giddy and tingly at times. And she would occasionally look up and find him watching her; those times she swore she felt his eyes on her.

She just nodded and started to turn back to her work.

"You do know that it is impossible, donít you?" said Jacob firmly.

She turned back with a questioning look. "What do you mean?"

"You and Vincent can never be together. Friends, yes, but nothing more."

She was puzzled by what he said but she agreed readily enough. "I never expected to be anything but friends," she told him.

"That is good," approved Jacob. "I knew you were a bright young woman."

Catherine turned to finish the dishes; Jacob rose, said good night and left.

Later, still puzzled over what Jacob had said, she headed up the stairs to her room. She changed into her nightgown and crawled into bed with a well worn copy of Jane Eyre from the library downstairs.

Was Jacob referring to a romance? she wondered as she settled back against the pillows and opened the book. Like Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester or Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy in Jane Austenís Pride and Prejudice? I wouldnít dream of it, she told herself. Or would I?

Catherine knew she had been very sheltered. Her father had never even hinted that life held anything more than what she was experiencing or what sheíd read. Catherine knew that there was more, but had read only the classics. Her idea of a romance never went beyond a kiss, and in the books she read, they were rare. She had heard of TV, but there wasnít one in their house and she never listened to the radio. She listened to her fatherís music collection and it was mostly classical, in fact, she didnít think there was much in it that had been written after the mid-50ís. Everything she saw or experienced was filtered through her father. So far her journeys into the internet had included only shopping for necessities both personal and for the house. Sheíd never gone beyond the few sites that Vincent had bookmarked for her that first day and the news sites that Annalisa had saved. Aside from the one incident when she was seventeen, one that she preferred not to think about, sheíd had very little interaction with anyone but her father and her nanny.

Her exchange with Jacob made her wonder.

Vincent showed her how to use a search engine, and every time she was on the computer for the next few weeks she would search on specific terms. She discovered Wikipedia, and it became one of her main sources of information.

~~~~~~~~~~

Thanksgiving week was busy. Catherine discussed dinner with Vincent and Jacob and they decided on a traditional turkey. Catherine was up late Wednesday night making pies and then up again early on Thanksgiving making sure everything went well.

At the end of dinner they were all groaning and Jacob was declaring that heíd just eaten the best Thanksgiving dinner heíd ever had. Catherine and Vincent were cleaning up and doing dishes when Jacob stuck his head in the kitchen.

"Iím meeting a friend for a walk in the park," he said. "Would you like to come with me, Vincent? I know I need to walk off that dinner."

Vincent looked at Catherine then back at his father. "I think Iíll stay here and help Catherine. Enjoy your walk."

"You donít need to stay, Vincent," she told him as she took the serving platter he was holding. "I can finish up here."

"Iíd rather stay with you, Catherine," the tone of his voice made her look up, and the look in his eyes and the slight smile on his lips warmed her all the way to her toes.

Jacob returned about an hour later to find Catherine and Vincent in the living room watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving on TV.

~~~~~~~~~~

Jacob retired early leaving Catherine and Vincent in the kitchen making turkey sandwiches.

"I was so sure when we finished dinner this afternoon that I wouldnít want to eat again until at least noon tomorrow," he told her as he sliced turkey, "but I swear this bird has been sitting in here calling my name for at least the last hour."

She laughed. "Itís been the pumpkin pie that has been calling me. I love pumpkin pie and I use my motherís recipe."

He built sandwiches as she cut pie and put large wedges on plates. He watched as she slathered so much whipped cream on hers that it almost hid the pie.

"How can you even tell there is pie?" he teased. "Itís lost under the whipped cream."

"I also love whipped cream," she pointed out needlessly, "and donít even mention chocolate." She put the pie on the table as he finished the sandwiches and carried them to the table and sat down.

"On my last birthday, Daddy stopped at a deli and picked up a chocolate pudding pie with a graham cracker crust. It was topped with sweet whipped cream and when he got it home he drizzled caramel syrup over the top. It was the most delicious thing I ever ate."

"I can feel my teeth rotting just thinking of it," he said with a laugh. "When was that?"

"Last July. I turned thirty and Daddy said that it deserved something more than the ordinary birthday cake."

In the two months that heíd known Catherine heíd become used to sensing her feelings constantly running just below the surface of his. After the first couple weeks she had settled in. He would sense the occasional feeling of sadness, he assumed she was missing her father, but most of the time she was content. Now was the first time that he had felt true happiness from her. He couldnít keep himself from smiling.

"What are you smiling about, Vincent?" she asked as she joined him at the table.

"Your memory. Itís a happy one, I think," he answered.

"A very happy one. Daddy spoiled me terribly," she said with a wistful smile. "I miss our talks. We discussed the books we read; he told me stories about my mother, his family and hers."

"What kind of books did you read?" he asked.

"Everything I could get my hands on. Daddyís passion was history, so there were a lot of history books in his library and Dickens, Austen, Bronte, Wells." She looked up with a sudden thought. "Are you related to H.G. Wells?" she asked.

"I donít know," he told her. "I never thought about it. Iíll have to check. I do like science fiction."

"The only thing we didnít share," she continued, "was my love of Shakespeare. Daddy just didnít get it."

"Now that is one thing that we share," Vincent pointed out. "I love Shakespeare."

"His sonnets are so beautiful," Catherine said softly. "I especially love Sonnet 29."

She surprised him when she started to recite.

"When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state 
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate, 
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope, 
Featured like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope, 
With what I most enjoy contented least; 
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state, 
Like to the lark at break of day arising 
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings." 1

"That was lovely, Catherine," he told her. The feelings that he had sensed from her as she recited had been strong and he had let them engulf him. When she was finished, he found it hard to speak. "Is that how you feel?" he asked.

"I always felt as if that particular sonnet said exactly what I felt, except for the last lines. Thereís never been anyone or anything that made me forget and let me think that."

"Perhaps you could read to me sometimeÖor I could read to you."

The thought of him reading to her made her smile. In the time sheíd been there she had occasionally made up reasons to ask questions of Vincent, just so she could listen to his voice as he answered her.

"Mom and I used to read together," she told him. "We were reading Great Expectations when she died. I never finished it."

"Perhaps we could finish it together," he suggested. "That is, if it isnít too painful."

"No, I would love it!" she told him..

"Why donít you take tomorrow off," Vincent suggested later as they were leaving the kitchen. "I donít think youíve taken a day for yourself since you got here."

"I donít really need a whole day off," she protested. "None of the days that I put in are that long. A few hours first thing in the morning, then I take some time for myself. I do most of the work after lunch, and all my evenings after dinner are mine."

"Then at least sleep in tomorrow. Father is planning to, and I know I will. Donít bother with breakfast. There are bagels and muffins and I can scramble eggs."

"What about lunch?" she asked.

"Father is meeting a colleague for lunch, and Iím not sure if I will be here. Iím meeting someone at the gym for racquet ball and sometimes we go to lunch afterward. Iíll call you and let you know," he told her.

~~~~~~~~~~

When she woke a little after 8AM the next morning, she felt completely decadent and slightly guilty for sleeping past 6AM on a week day. But there was still laundry and dusting to be done so she got up, dressed and went downstairs.

Vincent called around eleven to let her know that he wouldnít be there for lunch but would be home by dinner.

She made herself a sandwich and ate it while she finished the book sheíd been reading then she went back down to the laundry room in the basement to finish the laundry.

She pulled one load out of the dryer, and when she finished she added it to the things she had folded the day before. Most of it was Vincentís so she put it all in a laundry basket, putting a few pieces that were Jacobís on top.

She was preoccupied with what she should fix for dinner. Theyíd eaten a huge holiday meal the day before and both men were having lunch out, so she decided that a salad and an omelet might be nice. She stopped in the kitchen long enough to make sure there were enough eggs before she took the laundry upstairs.

She went to Jacobís room first and put away his things then she went down the hall to Vincentís room with his. She was putting undershirts in the dresser drawer when she heard a sound behind her. She looked up into the mirror and saw Vincent standing on the other side of the room in the open bathroom door in nothing but a towel.

She couldnít help but stare, sheíd never seen a manís bare chest before, and wasnít sure how to react. She was flustered as their eyes met in the mirror. They both stared for what seemed like forever before she realized what she was doing.

She dropped the laundry basket and almost ran to the door.

"Iím sorry," she said, not meeting his eyes now. "I didnít realize you were home. Iíll just finish putting that stuff away later."

She escaped into the hall and quickly made her way up to the fourth floor. Once in her room she leaned against the door with her hand on her chest over her heart.

What made my heart suddenly start to pound so hard? she wondered. And it suddenly seemed to be very warm; too warm.

Vincent chuckled and shook his head as he crossed the room to the dresser where Catherine had dropped the laundry basket.

She has no doubt never seen a half naked man before, he decided as he finished the job Catherine had left when she dropped the basket and ran. I guess now we are even, he thought as he remembered the first night she was there and heíd examined her.

~~~~~~~~~~

The end of December would mark Catherineís three month anniversary in the Wells household. She decided to celebrate it by buying herself something pretty. She also wondered if it was appropriate for her to buy her employers Christmas gifts.

She browsed through several of the clothing sites she had bookmarked until she found one that had some lovely feminine nightgowns and robes. She found one that she loved at first sight, it was ivory silk; yards of ivory silk. The gown was full with a peasant neckline and no sleeves and the robe that went over it was also cut full with the same neckline. It tied at the neck and had long sleeves. Sheíd been learning the value of money and although it was expensive, it was on sale and at half off she felt it was a good deal. And after all, what else would she spend money on?

That purchase made she went on to find small gifts for Jacob and Vincent. She knew that Jacob was an avid, if not proficient chess player, so she bought him a book written by a great chess player. Vincent was more difficult. She had an idea of what he liked. She knew his taste in music and books, but she wasnít sure of what he already had. Then she remembered seeing him writing in a book one evening. She asked him what it was and heíd told her that it was a journal. Heíd been keeping one for years. She thought that if she could find a nice one, it might make a good Christmas gift.

After a short search she found the perfect journal. It was almost the size of a piece of letter paper and the cover was hand stitched soft glove leather. There were 200 pages made of high quality cotton paper. What really caught her eye were the embossed initials on the front cover. She didnít care how much it cost, it was perfect.

The packages all arrived a week later and she couldnít wait to try the gown on. She took it upstairs, took it out of the package and hung it up so the wrinkles would fall out of it. Sheíd never had anything that was silk and the fabric was softer than anything she could have imagined.

Christmas was only a week away and she wrapped the two gifts sheíd bought and placed them under the Christmas tree that was in the living room. She was feeling good, looking forward to the holiday when she went back to the kitchen to bake some Christmas cookies.

Around lunchtime she suddenly felt sick to her stomach. She had no idea why, and the feeling passed very quickly, even before she had time to think about finding something to take for it. As soon as the feelings passed, her mind went immediately to Vincent and she was sure that her feeling had something to do with him. She almost picked up the phone and called his office to check on him.

When Jacob got home at 6PM she could tell from his face that something was wrong.

"Dr. Wells, whatís wrong?" she asked. "You look upset. Can I get you something?"

She took his coat and hung it up as he put his medical bag on the hall table.

"A brandy would be nice, my dear," he said as he followed her into the study he shared with Vincent.

Catherine went over to the small bar cabinet in the corner and poured him a snifter as he relaxed in an easy chair.

"Vincent wonít be joining us for dinner," he told her. "There was an emergency. The son of an old friend was involved in an accident. The child has been his patient since he was born; he was seriously injured and Vincent has been at the hospital all afternoon. I expect he will stay until the child is out of danger."

She wondered if that explained what sheíd felt earlier. "Iím sorry to hear that," she said as she headed to the door. "Dinner will be ready in about twenty minutes," she told him as she left.

Worrying about Vincent made her uneasy and she wasnít able to eat much. Jacob didnít notice, he seemed distracted by something himself.

Jacob decided not to wait up for Vincent and went up to bed at his usual hour. Catherine waited a little longer downstairs, puttering around in the kitchen before she went up to bed.

She showered and put on the new gown and robe without really thinking, but as she walked from her bedroom into her sitting room she felt the way the silk moved against her skin. It was so luxurious and sensuous. She resolved right then to order more silk nightgowns and maybe even some silk bras and panties. Sheíd seen some of them on the same website where she purchased the nightgown and robe.

She picked up the book she was reading and made herself comfortable in an easy chair in her sitting room. It was after 10PM when she heard a car door slam downstairs. There were voices then the sound of a car driving off. She was on her feet and down two and half flights of stairs by the time Vincent got inside the front door. She hesitated on the landing and looked down at him. He was wearing his coat over his hospital scrubs and looked as though heíd had the worst day of his life. She could see his pain; almost feel it.

Just as she stopped on the landing he looked up and all he could think that she looked like an angel standing there in her white gown and robe with the faint landing light behind her.

"Your father told me..." she said as she started down the last flight of stairs.

All Vincent had to do was open his arms and she flew down the stairs and into them intent on nothing more than comforting him.

She wrapped her arms around his waist and he clung to her for a long time. Finally she pulled away a little and led him into the study to the sofa. She helped him remove his coat then pushed him gently until he sat down. She went to the bar in the corner again and this time she poured straight bourbon into a glass, after a thought she made it a double. When she carried it back to him he was leaning forward, elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. She shoved the coffee table back a little and sat on it in front of him.

When he raised his head she realized he was crying. Sheíd never seen a man cry.

"He didnít make it," was all he said.

She put the glass into his left hand then took his right one in both hers and drew it up to her face and rubbed her cheek on the hairy fingers.

"Iím so sorry," she said with tears in her own eyes. "Your father told me about the accident, but he seemed to think the child would be OK."

"We thought so too, but he suddenly took a turn for the worse and was gone before anyone could do anything." He took a long drink from the glass and leaned forward cradling the glass in his hand.

Catherine dropped his hand and leaned toward him, resting her hands on his knees; willing her strength into him.

Three more swallows and the glass was empty, and he appeared to be relaxing. "Would you like some more?" she asked taking the glass from him.

"No, Iíd better not. I didnít have any dinner," he said as she set the glass on the table and dropped to her knees in front of him.

"Would you like something to eat?" she asked. "I made roast beef for dinner. I could make you a sandwich."

"No, I couldnít eat right now." He dropped his face back into his hands.

She reached up and took his hands in hers, pulling them away from his face.

"It wasnít your fault," she told him firmly.

"What good is it being a doctor if I canít even save my best friendís only child?"

"It wasnít your fault!" she said again, this time squeezing his hands for emphasis. "It wasnít anyoneís fault. Iím sure no one would ever think any differently, including the childís parents."

"How would you know?" he asked rather harshly. "You canít know. I should have been able save him! Now he will never grow up; his parents wonít have the joy of seeing him do all those things that parents look forward to seeing their children do...first day of school...graduation...wedding..."

"But they had the joy of having him for the time that they had him. They loved him and he loved them; that love will never die. We never lose the love; it stays." She looked into his eyes. "Sometimes I can still feel Daddy. It is like he is right next to me telling me that everything will be all right. Heíll always be my Daddy and that little boy will always be their baby." She cradled his face between her hands. "Vincent, you canít blame yourself. There doesnít always have to be someone to blame."

He looked into her earnest eyes for a moment before he turned his head slightly and kissed her palm. He pulled her up from her knees and onto the couch next to him. "How did you get so wise?" He tugged her closer and slipped his left arm around her waist. She snuggled closer putting her free arm around him, hoping that the closeness would help.

She was quite content to sit and hold him, when she noticed he was leaning away from her. He let go of her hands, put one finger under her chin, tipped her head back and kissed her.

Catherine froze. What was she supposed to do now? This was exactly what Jacob had not wanted to happen, she was sure of that, but it felt oh so nice, even if she didnít know what to do next.

Vincent pulled back and looked down at her.

"Youíve never been kissed, have you?" he asked.

"Well, DaddyÖ"

"But never like I just kissed you."

"No, never."

Vincent groaned slightly then leaned back on the couch pulling her along with him until she was sitting on his lap, cradled against him.

"All right. We will talk about that later, just stay here for now and let me hold you."

She did just that and not long after she felt his breathing even out and she knew he was asleep. He never drank much and bourbon on an empty stomach was a good sedative. He would probably be more comfortable in bed, but she didnít have the heart to wake him. She slid carefully off his lap then managed to get his shoes off and his feet up on the long couch. He slid down onto his side with his head on a sofa pillow. She pulled a throw off the back of a nearby chair and put it over him. After she put out all the lights she tiptoed up the stairs and to her bed.

He was still asleep on the couch when she went down to fix breakfast the next morning. She made a pot of tea and poured him a cup before she woke him.

"Are you feeling OK this morning?" she asked after he stretched and she handed him the cup.

He took a sip and looked at her. "Iíll make it, I guess," he said. "Thanks for being there last night," he said. "I needed that."

She nodded shyly. "Would you like some breakfast?" she asked.

"Thank you. Iíll shower and change, and be back down in a little while," he said as he rose.

She followed him out of the study and as she passed the bottom of the stairs he turned to her.

"CatherineÖlast night, when I saw you on the stairs when I came in. You were lovelyÖabsolutely breathtaking." He turned and disappeared up the stairs as she stood at the bottom of the stairs gazing up after him, dumbfounded.

A man actually called me lovely! She wondered if he really meant it.

She was just taking the toast out of the toaster and putting it on the plates with the eggs when Vincent and Jacob walked into the kitchen.

"What happened?" Jacob was asking. "I thought he was going to be fine."

The two men sat and Catherine put a plate in front of each of them.

"Iím not really sure, but the neurologist said that the blow to his head must have been worse than we originally thought. He suddenly had a seizure and before we knew it he was gone. We tried to resuscitate but nothing worked. The hardest thing Iíve ever done in my life is tell David and Jamie that their son was dead."

The two men sat at the table. Jacob ate well, but Vincent barely tasted his.

"I called the office and asked Ally to reschedule all my appointments. There werenít many, I was only scheduled for this morning. Iím going to call David and then I think Iíll go for a run."

Catherine was in the laundry room sorting laundry when Vincent came looking for her later.

"Did you talk to your friend?" she asked.

"Yes. I apologized for not being able to do more."

"Oh, Vincent, it wasnít your fault," she repeated her words from the night before. "You said yourself that even the neurologist didnít catch it. You canít blame yourself for this," she dropped the laundry and went to stand beside him.

"MaybeÖI donít know." He leaned his head back, holding back tears.

The connection between them had been wide open all morning and he knew that she wanted to comfort him. She slipped her arms around his waist and hugged him. His arms came around her and he pulled her tight against him.

Before she pulled away a few minutes later she glanced down to see that he had on his running shoes.

"Are you still planning to go running?" she asked dubiously.

"Yes, why?" he asked.

"It snowed after you came in last night. It is slippery outside, be careful."

He looked out the window into the back yard at the snow that he hadnít noticed until now. "Maybe youíre right," he agreed. "Maybe a trip to the gym would be better."

"And you will be able to use the steam room or get a massage," she suggested. "That should help you relax."

"Thatís a good idea," he said with a slight smile.

He finally let go of her and turned to leave.

"Will you be back for lunch?" she called after him.

"If you will make me one of those roast beef sandwiches you mentioned last night, I will be," he answered.

"Whatever you want. There is plenty left; and there was apple pie for dessert."

"Iíll be back around noon," he called just before she heard the front door close.

She smiled sadly as she watched him leave.

As Vincent worked out at the gym his mood steadily improved. He did what she suggested and had a massage after his workout. When he left the gym, he wasnít happy, by any stretch of the imagination, but he did feel better. Catherine just finished setting out lunch when he came in.

They were both silent through much of the meal, then finally Catherine couldnít stand it any longer. She had to ask.

"Did you mean what you said this morning?" she asked.

"What did I say?" he asked, his brow wrinkled.

"About me being lovely when you saw me last night?"

"Yes," he answered her. "You are always lovely."

She just sat and stared at him.

"You donít believe me, do you?" he asked.

"How can I? I see myself when I pass a mirror. I see how different I am, how ugly," she protested.

"Catherine, different doesnít necessarily mean ugly. There are so many things about you that are beautiful. Your eyes, your skin, your hair, your body, and especially your spirit. All of those things are beautiful; all of you is beautiful," he told her. "Inside and out."

"ButÖ"

"No buts, Catherine. You are a beautiful woman. I donít know how anyone could ever look at you and think anything but that. Iím surprised that the first time you were ever kissed was last night when I kissed you."

"Iíve never known anyone before," she told him as she hung her head. "My father, my nanny, Daddyís part time chauffeur, Grandmother, Mother and Mr. Coolidge; they are the only people Iíve ever known. Iíve seen others, but they are the only people who ever saw me until that day I left my home, the day you found me."

"Who is Mr. Coolidge?" asked Vincent.

"Daddyís partner. They met in college." This was the first bit of information sheíd shared about her background; although Vincent had to admit he hadnít asked. He questioned his motive for not asking. He was afraid that if he helped her find family or friends he might lose her.

He reached across the table and took her hand.

Catherine saw the look in his eyes and drew away and stood up just as Vincent leaned toward her.

"Maybe you shouldnít kiss me again," she said.

"Why not?" he asked.

"You just shouldnít," was the only answer she gave.

"But you enjoyed it when I kissed you last night," he said. He knew she had, heíd felt it, even through her confusion and shock.

She picked up their plates and took them to the counter.

"You donít know that," she said firmly. "I didnít say that."

"Sometimes I can tell," he told her as he walked up behind her, took the dishes out of her hands and turned her to face him.

"There is something I should probably tell you, Catherine," he said.

She took a deep breath and looked up at him. "What?"

"I have this ability. Iíve had it all my life. For a long time I thought everyone had it. I can sometimes touch a person and know what they are feeling at the time. It doesnít happen with everyone. Most of the time it is just with my patients, and it is very helpful there, because sometimes children have a hard time explaining how they feel. Father calls it an empathic connection. When I met you, I noticed that I had that connection with you too. But after a while I found that I donít need to be touching you; I can stay in touch with your feelings at a distance. I keep it in the back of my mind most of the time. After I realized it was there all the time, I managed to push it below the surface. I donít want to invade your privacy, but I canít help it. It is just there."

"I donít understand," she said. He could feel her confusion.

"I knowÖ Catherine, I feel the things youíre feeling, when you do."

"How do you mean?" she asked.

"Just know that itís trueÖand that your pain is my pain. Sometimes almost as if we are one..." his voice trailed off.

She took a moment, trying to understand what heíd said.

"You can feel what I feel?" she asked.

"When you are feeling it, yes," he answered, "if I allow it in. Strong feelings will sometimes break through. Like yesterday evening; I let my guard down and I could feel everything you were feeling."

"I may have felt something from you," she told him, "yesterday morning, I suddenly, for a very short time, felt like I was going to be sick. It was about the time your father said you found out about the accident. "It didnít last long."

"I was wondering about that. It is sometimes so strong for me that I wonder if it goes both ways."

She backed away from him a step. "Iím going to have to think about this," she told him as she quickly turned and left the room.

He could feel her confusion, but he knew that it was better that he had told her. He didnít like withholding the truth. He just hoped that she wouldnít feel that he was invading her privacy and it wouldnít affect their relationship.

~~~~~~~~~~

Catherine was very quiet for the rest of the day. She didnít say much. Vincent thought that he understood why; he could feel the thoughts churning through her mind, even if he didnít know what she was thinking.

After dinner Catherine cleaned up the kitchen then went up to her room. She showered and put the ivory gown on again and was in her little sitting room when there was a knock on the door. It was Vincent.

"Can we talk?" he asked.

"Of course." She waved him toward the sofa, but she remained in the wing chair opposite it.

He sat then cleared his throat a bit nervously.

"First of all, this connection I have with you. I can tell you want to ask more questions."

She spoke hesitantly at first. "You said that you can shut it down?"

"That is one way of putting it; I canít shut it down completely. The best way of describing it is that I push it into the back of my mind. It is almost as if I can feel another heartbeat that is not quite in sync with mine. I feel that and I know you are there and you are well."

"I can accept that...I think. You arenít reading my mind, just feeling my feelings, and then only if you feel something strong enough to break through the barriers youíve put up."

"That is a good way of describing it," he agreed, "or I can actually open the barriers and check on you."

She was quiet for a long time before finally looking up at him again.

"What did you feel when you kissed me last night," she asked.

"I felt the pleasure of you kissing me," he said with a smile.

"No, I mean from me?"

"Iím not sure. I wasnít really concentrating on the connection, but I think I felt confusion, but Iím pretty sure that I also felt pleasure from you."

He rose from the couch and went over and knelt in front of her. In this position his face was level with hers. He leaned forward and kissed her, only their lips touching.

"And?" she prompted.

"I think you liked it," he said, smiling again.

She nodded. "And what did you feel?" she asked.

"I enjoyed it; Iíd like to do it again."

He leaned in and kissed her again, concentrating on the connection this time; he held her head gently between his hands and teased her lower lip with his tongue. She opened her mouth slightly to gasp. His tongue slipped in to explore the insides of her lips and her teeth. She tentatively touched the tip of her tongue to his before he backed away and broke the kiss. They were both breathing a little harder.

"What did I feel that time?" she asked.

"You really enjoyed it," he told her, "as much as I did."

She nodded. "I felt it with my whole body that time," she told him breathlessly.

"Where?"

"Where?" she repeated. "All over. I felt like I wanted to be closer to you and I had a funny, feeling right here." She balled up her fist and placed it low on her abdomen.

He sat on foot stool. "I felt it too," he told her.

She didnít look at him; she studied the binding of the book sheíd been reading. "It was kind of overwhelming," she admitted with a blush.

He relaxed on his stool and closed his eyes, as he began to recite:

"She walks in beauty, like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies;

And all that 's best of dark and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes:

Thus mellow'd to that tender light  

Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,

Had half impair'd the nameless grace

Which waves in every raven tress,

Or softly lightens o'er her face;

Where thoughts serenely sweet express

How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,

So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,

The smiles that win, the tints that glow,

But tell of days in goodness spent,

A mind at peace with all below,

A heart whose love is innocent!"2

Catherine was captivated by the words. She knew the poem, but sheíd never heard it like that before. She couldnít find her voice for a moment.

"Love?" she whispered, almost to herself.

"A possibility." His voice was just as quiet. "We have grown very close."

She didnít answer and wouldnít meet his eyes. She was thinking, again, of what Jacob had said.

"Catherine." He spoke again in a more normal voice after a moment. "Iím going to ask you some questions that just might sound a little silly, but I want honest answers, not what you think I want to hear," he said after a momentís hesitation. He was a little concerned about the answers he was going to get.

She nodded tentatively, wondering where he was going with this.

"How much did your mother or your dad tell you about the birds and the bees?"

"Birds and bees?" she asked, confused.

"Itís a euphemism for sex," he told her.

"Sex? You mean as in male and female?"

"No, that is gender. I mean sex as in something you do rather than something you are." He looked at her for moment. "You really are confused about what Iím talking about, arenít you?"

"Iím afraid so," she told him.

"Did your dad ever tell you where babies came from?"

She shook her head. "Iíve never seen a real baby; I never thought to ask."

"Do you have periods?" he asked her bluntly.

"Yes, once a month."

"Do you know why you have them?" he asked her.

"My nanny said that it was my bodyís way of cleansing itself once a month."

"Oh lord, looks like Iím going to have to start from scratch." He stood and started for the door. He turned and looked back. "I have some books downstairs that I recommend to parents of teenagers. They might be helpful to you. Iíll be right back."

She heard him go down the stairs and then a few minutes later she heard him on his way back up. When he came back in the room he had three slim volumes in his hand.

"I want you to read these," he placed one book in her hands. "This one first, it will explain about your periods. Then this one," he handed her a second book, "it explains how the female body works. It also explains sex and how it works." He handed her the third book. "Then I want you to read this one. It explains the male body. The last two also explain how the male and female bodies fit together. When you are done reading them, you can ask me any questions you want. Now Iím going to bed."

He left and Catherine could tell from his body language that he was frustrated and exasperated. She just couldnít decide if he was exasperated with her or someone else.

The next day was Saturday and Catherine knew that Jacob would be up early to catch a plane for a trip to the west coast to spend the holiday with his older son Devin. When she had offered to get up with him, he told her that he was leaving the house at 5AM and that she didnít need to get up. He would get some breakfast at the airport. She knew she could sleep in so she decided to read the books that Vincent had given her before she went to bed.

The one about periods was almost what her nanny had told her about it. Some of it was new but not all. When she finished it, she felt that she had a pretty good idea about what was going on and where babies came from. But the second book knocked her theories all over the place. She was shocked and at the same time fascinated with the whole process. This was supposed to be pleasant? Sheíd had one experience in that arena and it had been far from pleasant.

Her father had fired his chauffeur, Mr. Martello, when he found out that Martello had been taking the car out late at night without permission. Martello, or Marty as everyone called him, was trying to impress a girl. A few days after he was fired, Marty had showed up at the door late in the afternoon while her father was at work. Heíd been very polite at first, just saying that heíd come to drop off the keys that heíd forgotten to give her father and he wondered if she knew when her father would be sending his final pay check. She had no idea so she told Marty to wait while she went to call her father at his office and ask.

Marty had followed her into her fatherís study, but before she could get to the phone, heíd grabbed her around the waist. She hadnít even known enough to be frightened at first. He was speaking softly, but it was what he was saying that finally sunk in and frightened her. He had pushed her to the floor, ripped off her skirt and underwear, spread her legs and had forced himself into her. Sheíd never even known that anything like that was possible and sheíd felt as if she was being ripped apart. The pain had been excruciating, and there had been blood.

It hadnít taken long and Marty left right after. Catherine was still lying on the floor when her father returned home about an hour later.

She had scrubbed and scrubbed but the blood had never come out of the rug. It hadnít been much; it was camouflaged by the pattern, but she knew it was there and it seemed to jump up at her every time she entered that room.

Her father had never said much about it when she told him what had happened, although heíd been very angry. He had seemed relieved when she had started her period a week later. Now she knew why.

She found the book that explained the male body even more interesting. She took all the books to her computer and Googled some of the terms used, and found out even more. She also learned the word for what Marty had done to her: rape. She also learned that the sex act, under different circumstances, was supposed to be pleasant, more than just pleasant from what some of the articles said.

When she went to bed, she was convinced that there was no way it could all work. Books always used the best case scenario, so she just knew that it didnít really work that way.

She didnít wake the next day until almost 10AM. She was shocked that sheíd slept that long. She jumped out of bed, washed, brushed her teeth, dressed and rushed downstairs. The house was empty. Vincent had been there earlier. He left a note telling her that heíd gone to see David and Jamie and that he would be home sometime in the afternoon.

Catherine erupted into a flurry of activity; she felt the need for activity to keep up with her flying thoughts. After a quick breakfast, she took the opportunity to clean the whole house a little more thoroughly than usual. In spite of the cold, she opened windows, stripped beds, dusted places she didnít usually dust, swept, vacuumed and mopped. All the while her mind was moving as fast as her body. She had just finished cleaning on the second floor and was carrying the laundry basket full of sheets and towels down to the laundry room when Vincent came in.

For the second time in only a few days he looked up to see a vision on the landing, only this time the visionís hair was falling out of the pony tail she had pulled it back into, she had a smudge on her face, and she was a little winded from the exertion.

"Hello, Catherine," he said as he removed his coat. "You look like youíve been busy."

"Just taking advantage of your father being out of the house to do some catching up," she said as she came down the stairs toward him. "Did you have lunch?"

"Yes, I ate on my way home. Thank you."

Can our conversation get much more stilted? he wondered.

"Will you be eating dinner at home tonight?" she asked, as she passed him with the loaded basket.

Yes, it can, he answered his own question.

"Yes, but donít do anything special. We could have something delivered," he suggested.

"Iíve thawed something, I was going to make that meatloaf that you like," she called back over her shoulder.

"That sounds good," he told her. "Maybe we can order something tomorrow."

He heard something that sounded like an affirmative as she went through the swinging door into the kitchen. He hung up his coat and went into the living room where he turned on the radio and picked up a book heíd been reading. He was just settling comfortably onto the sofa when Catherine came into the room carrying a glass of lemonade. She set it on the table next to him then turned to leave.

"Catherine." She stopped abruptly but didnít turn. "Please stay for a moment."

She turned and he motioned for her to sit. She took the chair across the coffee table from him.

"Did you have a chance to read any of the books I gave you?" he asked.

"I read all three of them and I looked some things up on the internet," she told him.

"Thorough," he commented. "Do you have any questions?"

"Yes, but you probably canít answer them," she said.

"Try me," he said, confident that he could.

"They arenít really about the information in the books. I was just wondering why no one saw fit to tell me any of it before."

"Maybe your father was trying to protect you," Vincent suggested.

"Protect me from what?" she asked.

"He probably felt that you might never have the kind of life where any of that information would be of any use, and he just didnít want to burden you with it."

"As in, I canít miss what Iíve never heard of, but Iím not the only one of my kind. Daddy knew that, he had to. If there are others out there like me..." she trailed off uncertainly.

"He would still want to protect you. You are his daughter, he loved you. Maybe he felt that he would just cross that bridge if he ever came to it."

"I suppose," she said wondering what the incident with Marty had been if it wasnít that bridge. She started to rise.

Vincent could sense an undercurrent of hurt and confusion, but didnít know if it was because of him or something else. "Did you have any questions about what you read?" he asked.

She sat back down and looked at him skeptically. "I read it all, but I have a hard time believing that any of it really works that easily."

Vincent swallowed back a laugh. "Well, sometimes it doesnít. There are always missteps and not everything goes perfectly all the time; especially not at first, but generally, things eventually fall into place."

She looked at him and hesitated before she spoke again. "Some things I read on the internet said that it was pleasant, but I just canít figure out why people would want to do that. It just seems so...odd."

Vincent pictured the books in his mindís eye. They were written for children just entering puberty, and not much was said about love or desire or how the act felt. They just went into the biology of the male and female bodies; maybe they hadnít been the best choice for a woman of thirty.

"Well, there is one thing that the books didnít mention," he told her.

"Whatís that?" she asked leaning forward a bit.

"What you read on the internet is true, it is pleasureable," he said. "And when people are in love it is something that they like to do together, for each other."

Catherine looked at him skeptically. "And that is how babies are made?" she asked, remembering the parts that had explained about sperm and egg and how the fertilized egg implanted.

"Pregnancy doesnít happen every time, and there are ways to avoid a pregnancy, so people can do itÖ by the way, it is also called Ďmaking loveíÖwhenever they want to, just because it is pleasurable. Maybe I can find some other things for you to read, that will explain it in a more adult fashion," he suggested.

"I think I can probably find what I need on-line," she told him, as she rose to leave the room. "Amazon had a whole list of books, and I think I will order a few."

"What kind of books?" he asked.

"Some looked like they were text or reference books. One was called The Joy of Sex. Others were more along the line of novels."

She left the room and he sat back and took a sip of his lemonade.

"I hope she doesnít get the wrong kind of books," he said under his breath.

~~~~~~~~~~

Christmas arrived. Catherine and her father had always celebrated, but it had always been a quiet family time. Before her motherís death, it had been more fun; her grandmother would come and stay from Christmas Eve through New Yearís Day. After her mother died, her father had seemed to be at a loss about what to do and how to do it. But her nanny had taken over and got them through it until Catherine was old enough to take over.

This was her first Christmas without her father and she was determined that it wouldnít affect Vincentís Christmas, but his holiday had already been darkened by the death of his friendsí son.

On the pretense of putting clean shirts in Jacobís suitcase before he left, she had also slipped in the gift sheíd got him.

The slight tension between Catherine and Vincent eased and a few days before Christmas she asked Vincent if his family celebrated on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning.

"Both, actually," he told her. "On Christmas Eve we would invite friends over and weíd all get together for an informal meal, usually a buffet and then after the children went to bed the adults would exchange gifts. Christmas morning was for the children. Devin and I usually woke before dawn and it took everything in us to stay in bed until the sun came up. Finally, we would hear someone in the kitchen and weíd smell breakfast so we would know it was safe to get up and go down. Father always made us eat breakfast first. I think he just liked prolonging the agony." He laughed at the memory. "Now Father and I usually have dinner out on Christmas Eve; Annalisa always cooked a traditional dinner on Christmas day."

"You and your brother were close," she observed.

"The closest. Heís almost four years older than me, but he never treated me like a pesky little brother. I wish he lived closer."

"Are you going to be home Christmas Eve?" she asked.

"I donít have any plans to be anywhere else. You donít have to do anything fancy," he told her.

"I thought Iíd fix pot roast for dinner on Christmas Eve. I bought a small ham for Christmas day. Iíve memorized my motherís recipes and thought Iíd use some of them; unless there is something that youíd specifically want."

"No, nothing. Ham sounds good."

The next evening Catherine started into the living room and was surprised to see Vincent on his hands and knees going through the packages under the tree.

"Are you looking for something?" she asked.

He turned and smiled at her. "No, I just found it." He held up a package wrapped in green tissue paper. "This is for you."

She smiled at him. "While you are down there, the one with the red metallic paper and the gold bow is for you."

He picked up the gift she indicated and stood. She hadnít moved from the doorway and he walked over to her. He surprised her by leaning down and kissing her lightly on the lips.

She started and took a step back. "What was that for?í she asked.

"You were standing under the mistletoe," he pointed at a sprig of dried green vegetation that had been taped to the molding of the door frame.

She laughed and stepped around him into the room. "I didnít know that was there. Did you put it there?" she asked, eyeing him suspiciously.

He smiled at her. "Guilty," he admitted as he handed her the green tissue paper wrapped gift. He looked down at the other gift in his hand. "You didnít have to get me anything."

"I know I didnít, but I wanted to." She told him as she sat down. "Open it."

"Ladies first."

Catherine was surprised to find that she was nervous. Her hands shook slightly as she unwrapped the gift. She opened the box to find a beautiful crystal pendant on a gold chain. She held it up to the light and watched as it spun slightly.

"Itís beautiful, Vincent!" She was embarrassed by the urge to cry.

"Iíve had the crystal since I was a boy. Father took Devin and I on a vacation when I was twelve. We took almost a month and we spent a couple of days in Arkansas where we toured a crystal cave. I found this crystal there. I have a friend who makes one of a kind jewelry. He made it for me. You can wear it or hang it in the window to catch the sunlight," he said before he leaned forward, took it out of her hand and slipped the chain around her neck.

She looked down at it for a moment then laid her hand over it and looked up at him.

"Thank you, I love it," she told him.

He opened his gift and was surprised at the beautiful journal.

"And with my initials!" he exclaimed. "I have first editions that arenít this beautiful! Thank you, Catherine. I will treasure this."

~~~~~~~~~~

Catherine spent a lot of her free time over the next few months educating herself, not just about sex, but about life in general. She realized that her father had left out a lot and she was avid to find out what she had missed. She read voraciously. She ordered books on-line and she raided her employersí library for any kind of book that she could understand; she even read a few that she didnít understand that well.

She found out that it was possible to get a college degree on-line. She considered talking to Vincent about finding a way for her to do it, but decided to wait.

She also watched television. There was one in her private sitting room but she hadnít used it. She started checking listings and watching everything from sitcoms to National Geographic specials. She watched the news every night before she went to bed. She would also pick Vincentís brain whenever possible. They would spend hours talking about everything from politics to the latest fashions. The both enjoyed the conversations, especially when they wound up debating opposite viewpoints.

As spring neared she felt as if she was almost caught up and that she had a pretty good idea of what real life was all about. She still didnít think she would ever really take part in it to a great extent, but at least she had a better idea of what the world outside the Wellsí home was like.

As the weather warmed in the spring, Catherine started spending more and more time on her balcony in the sunshine. This was a new sensation. Vincent had come out looking for her one afternoon and found her reading. She was squinting in the bright light and when he came home from work the next day he brought her a pair of sunglasses. He also warned her to be careful that she didnít get sunburned. She didnít have the protective covering that other people had and she would be more susceptible to burning. After that she wore a large floppy hat and only spent short periods in direct sun. She read at the end of the balcony that was shaded.

Nighttime was another story. She would spend hours on the chaise staring up at the stars; sometimes she fell asleep there.

Vincent didnít kiss her again. She was beginning to wonder if it had ever really happened at all. She watched movies, TV and read plenty of books since and in most of them kisses seemed to eventually lead to more...more kisses at least, sometimes sex. She supposed that heíd regretted the kisses and had decided against taking it any further once he found out that she didnít know anything about it.

Catherine often envied both Jacob and Vincentís ability to get by on little more than six hours sleep a night. Her father had been the same. They would often go to bed after midnight and rise the next morning at 5:30 or 6:00 bright eyed and chipper. If she didnít get at least eight hours she felt useless the whole day. She learned that it was a trait she had in common with most other Anomalies.

It had been one of those nights. She had become engrossed in a novel and before she knew it, it was after 1AM. She was always up at 5AM on weekdays so she could make breakfast. Her alarm went off as usual and she managed to drag herself out of bed and get dressed. She was putting the teapot on the table and stifling a yawn when Vincent came into the kitchen.

"Didnít you sleep well, Catherine?" he asked as she put his breakfast in front of him.

"What there was of it," she said with another yawn. "I was reading and lost track of time."

"What were you reading that was so interesting?" he asked.

"A romance novel; historical romance. I think they are commonly known as Ďbodice rippers.í They certainly do seem to contain a lot of that," she said as she joined him at the table with a cup of tea.

Vincent was in mid sip when she said Ďbodice ripperí and it caught him off guard. He inhaled his tea and choked. Catherine jumped up and grabbed the dishtowel and rushed to his side to pound him on the back with one hand and mop up the spilled tea with the other.

"Are you OK?" she asked with concern when he finally stopped coughing.

"Iíll live," he croaked, as he mopped his streaming eyes with his napkin.

"You didnít get any tea on your clothes did you?" she asked trying to see. "It will stain if I donít take care of it right away.

Vincent looked down at his shirt and jeans. "My jeans appear to be unscathed but the shirt was in the line of fire."

It was a light blue knit, exactly the color of his eyes, there was large tea stain on the front.

"Hurry and take it off. If I donít get it while it is still wet, it will never come out."

Vincent pulled the shirt off over his head and handed it to her. She carried it to the sink grabbing a bottle of white vinegar out of a cabinet on her way. She filled the sink with cold water and poured in about half the vinegar. She put the shirt in the sink and after making sure it was completely wet she left it to soak and went back to the table.

"What made you choke?" she asked as she sat back down. Then she looked up at Vincent sitting there shirtless, and she almost choked.

"Well, apparently laughing and trying to drink tea leads to aspirating said tea. Not a good thing. It just sounded so funny to hear you refer to a book as a Ďbodice ripperí, I just couldnít keep from laughing."

She smiled a little, trying not to stare. "I take it that it isnít the generally used term." She giggled and put her hand over her mouth. "Iím sorry, itís just that you look like a cover of one of those books."

He looked at her with his head tilted to one side. "What do you mean?"

"Sitting there with no shirt. You usually donít eat breakfast like that."

e He He looked down at his bare chest. "No, I donít think father would approve, but if you like the books..." he started with a twinkle in his eye.

"Well, Iím not sure that I like them," she admitted with a laugh, "and when it comes to learning about real life, they really arenít that much help. The history isnít even always that accurate, but they are sometimes quite riveting. The things that the heroines go through are amazing. I mean Iíve read about rape, but these women are, for all intents and purposes, raped, yet they seem to wind up enjoying it and falling in love with their rapists. It doesnít make sense." She was picturing MartyÖno way!

Vincent picked up on the change in her feelings as she spoke. She had started out sharing his amusement, but had ended with something that felt a lot like disgust. He was a little concerned about what disgusted her.

"That is certainly true," agreed Vincent. "Those books arenít a good depiction of life. They are meant as entertainment only. Rape isnít even about sex, it is more about domination and violence. It has historically been one of the most degrading things that a man can do to a woman and is an assault on and an insult to not only to the woman but to her male relatives."

Catherine had been looking at Vincent as he talked and at his last words her eyes went wide with surprise.

"What is it, Catherine?" he asked as she hurriedly got up and went back to the stove.

Her feelings had changed again...this time to surprise.

"I just heard your father. Iíll get his breakfast served," she answered; evading what she knew was his real question.

Jacob entered the room, putting a stop to any further discussion of the subject.

"Vincent?" his father inquired, eyeing his bare chest.

"Tea incident," said Vincent. "Catherine made me take off my shirt so the stain wouldnít set."

When both father and son were leaving the kitchen thirty minutes later, Vincent carried his cup to the counter and set it down next to the sink. He leaned over and whispered. "You canít avoid it, we will talk later." With that he was gone.

Catherine spent the rest of the day doing the usual chores around the house. When Jacob came home he told her that Dr. Alcott had requested that Vincent be on hand when he delivered a patientís twins. If all went well, he thought he might be home around 10PM. After dinner, Catherine fixed a plate for Vincent and left it in the refrigerator. She left a note on the hall table telling him it was there.

She went up to her room, bathed and got ready for bed. She had quite a wardrobe of pretty, feminine gowns and robes by now. She chose one, put it on and went out on her balcony to enjoy the stars.

She dozed off and woke later to a light rain; she rose and was headed inside when she heard Vincent call up the stairs to her.

"Just a minute," she called down. "Itís started to rain, Iíll come down there."

Knowing the conversation she was about to take part in, she didnít want to do it in her room, it just seemed too private. And with the rain, the balcony was out of the question. But his balcony was sheltered from the rain and if she needed to she could escape back up the stairs if the conversation got too intense.

"Did you get wet?" he asked as she reached the bottom of the stair. He noticed that she was wearing the crystal heíd given her for Christmas. He wondered if she wore it all the time.

"No. I fell asleep on the chaise and the first drops woke me. I was just on my way in."

"It was so quiet up there, that I thought youíd gone to bed before I heard you moving around." He offered her a seat and she sat on the small loveseat. He remained standing near the rail. She couldnít help but admire the picture he made. He was wearing pajama pants and a loosely belted bathrobe. The robe gaped open a little and there was that resemblance to the covers of some of the Ďbodice rippersí again. She smiled, trying to hide it with her hand.

"What are you laughing at?" he asked, curiously.

"Not laughing, just thinking," she told him.

He was quiet and she could tell he was gathering his thoughts. "This morning at breakfast, when we were talking about your books and I made a comment about rape, your whole expression and demeanor changed. I felt something in our connection that Iíve never felt from you before. What was it?"

"What did it feel like?" she asked, evading his question.

"Iím not sure...It felt a little like disgust and it was almost as if a light bulb went on like it does over a cartoon characterís head when they finally understand something."

She hesitated. She wasnít sure what to tell him, but since she knew she couldnít really hide the truth from him, she decided she might as well tell him everything.

"It happened to me," she told him in almost a whisper.

Even though heíd suspected it, he was still taken aback by her simple, almost unemotional statement.

"You were raped?" he asked as he moved to sit next to her.

She nodded and didnít take her eyes off her hands.

"How? I thought you said you never met anyone but the people you mentioned."

"It was Daddyís chauffeur, Mr. Martello. I actually didnít know that what he did had a name until I read what you gave me and started looking things up. That was one reason I thought it was odd that people would want to do that, since it hurt so bad. Then after Iíd read some more, I found out that when it was done the way he did it, it was called rape. Daddy had just called it an Ďassaultí. But when you said what you did this morning, I figured out why Marty did it."

"What did I say?"

"That it was an insult to a womanís male relatives. That is exactly what he was trying to do. I donít think that Marty actually ever really saw me as a person, more like a spoiled lap dog that belonged to his employer, but in spite of it heíd always been nice to me. Heíd worked for us since I was about eleven, but when I was seventeen Daddy found out that heíd been taking the car out late at night without permission and he fired him. About a week later, I was at home alone when he showed up. He said that heíd come to return some keys and ask about the back pay Daddy owed him. Iíd known the man for years, so I didnít think anything of letting him in while I went into Daddyís study to call him at work. I never got to the phone. He caught up with me as I was going into Daddyís study and he did it right there on the floor. He slapped me a couple of times to make me shut up and while he wasÖdoing it, he kept saying things like: There you are, Mr. C, sirÖhow do you like that? So protective of your little freak. I was still huddled on the floor, my clothes torn when Daddy came home from work later. My lip was bleeding and I had bled when he raped me. Iíve never seen Daddy so livid. If Marty had been there at that moment, I think he would have strangled him with his bare hands."

As Catherine told the story, her voice remained totally detached, as if she was talking about someone else, until she got to the very end, but Vincent could feel the undercurrent of emotions that she wasnít showing. When she finished she covered her face with her hands and allowed one sob to escape. "It hurt so bad," she whispered as Vincent gathered her into his arms. "I thought he was ripping me apart!"

"Oh, God, Catherine," he whispered into her hair. "Iím so sorry."

"I was so shocked when I found out that it is also considered an act of love," she said later as she dried her tears with the tissue he gave her. "I canít believe that it is supposed to be pleasurable." She drew back and looked up at him.

"It can be," he assured her, "when you are a willing partner." He looked almost as anguished as he had over the death of his friendís son. He brushed a tear off her cheek with his thumb. "Iím just so sorry that you had to go through that. And I hope you realize that what he did was nothing like what making love really is. Rape is an assault, an act of violence."

"And youíve done it?" she asked shyly.

"Made love?" At her nod, he continued. "Yes, I have. I havenít been promiscuous, but Iíve had some experience."

"Do you want to do it with me?" she asked again, in an even quieter voice as she dropped her eyes.

"Sometime...if you will allow it...when you are ready, but now that I know what has happened, I wonít rush you." She was surprised when he gathered her back into his embrace and she felt him drop a kiss on the top of her head. "Catherine, I love you, and I will never do anything to hurt you, in any way."

She was so surprised at his admission that she drew back with a gasp and looked into his eyes. "Love?" she began.

"Yes," he said and bent and kissed her lightly.

"I donít think it is a good idea," she said warily.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Loving me. Iím different."

"I can see that, but I love your differences. It happened..." he paused and looked at her consideringly. "What would you say if I said I want to marry you?"

That came as such a shock that Catherine jumped up and moved toward the stairs.

"That is definitely not a good idea!" she said adamantly. "Besides, I canít marry you, Iím not even real."

"You are real." He followed her to the stairs. "Your book says so."

"My book?" she didnít understand.

He closed his eyes recalling the story from his childhood. "It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.3 Luckily, you still have all your hair and your eyes, and you arenít shabby, but you are decidedly Real."

When she didnít answer, he continued. "I have a friend from college who is a minister, he would perform a ceremony. It might not be recognized by the state of New York, but we would be married in the eyes of God, at least until we determine your legal status."

Catherine leaned against the rail on the stair, her back to him. "Iíve been reading on the internet..." she told him. "There are people who donít consider beings like me to even be people. One woman is very vocal about it; she calls us animals, and says that the people who have been involved in relationships with Anomalies..."she never liked the word. "...are engaging in bestiality...sex with animals. She is advocating that we be banned from doing things that people normally accept as God given rights. She doesnít want us to be educated; wants us all sterilized at an early age so we wonít reproduce. She stops short of having us all destroyed, because she says we could be Ďusefulí as servants; in other words: slaves." She was more emotional than heíd ever seen her.

Vincent rose and went to her. He gently placed his hands on her upper arms. He tried to project calm to her, he wasnít sure if the connection would work that way, but he tried.

"Catherine, Iíve read those things too, but not many people agree with her, and most of those who do are members of her very small and obscure religious sect, more of a cult really." He turned her around so he could see her eyes. "Look at me Catherine."

She reluctantly raised her head so she could look up at him. "But what if there are more people who think that way than we know of? Marrying me could ruin your career, your whole life. I know how much you love what you do..." she hesitated then suddenly rushed on when an idea occurred to her. "I could be your mistress. That way you could keep it a secret and I would never embarrass you. I could just stay here, out of sight, like I always have."

"Wait a minute!" he ordered. He still held her arms in his hands and he almost gave her a shake when sheíd mentioned embarrassing him. "Catherine, I donít want a mistress," he told her. "I want a wife, and I want you. If you donít have a birth certificate, we will just find a lawyer who can make it right. Iím a pediatrician; Iíve seen plenty of adopted children get amended birth certificates years after they are born. Iím sure that something like that can be done for you too."

She looked into his eyes and the hope he saw there and felt in their connection nearly broke his heart.

"Do you think so?" she asked. "But you want to marry me, not adopt me."

"We know who your parents are, Iím sure we can come up with the proper documents." He pulled her into his arms and held her tight. "There is bound to be some precedent somewhere for this. We will work it out; I promise."

He tilted her face up to his and kissed her.

She was totally lost in that kiss when they were both surprised by a gasp, and angry words.

They looked up to see Jacob standing in the open door from Vincentís room to the balcony.

"Vincent, what do you think you are doing?" he demanded angrily, as Catherine pulled way, and ran up the stairs. As she was on her way up she heard the answer.

"I was kissing Catherine, what about that didnít you understand?" Vincentís tone was as angry as his fathers.

By the time Catherine reached her room, she was out of breath and her face was flaming with embarrassment. She closed the doors to the balcony, leaning her forehead on the cool glass as she tried to catch her breath. She could still hear the voices from downstairs. Either they were still on the lower balcony or they hadnít closed the doors when they went inside.

"I will not have you seducing a servant, Vincent," she heard Jacob say angrily.

"Seducing a servant? Father! My God, what century are you in? You sound like one of Catherineís romance novels. Besides, you know better than that. Catherine is more than a servant; she is a member of this family, at least to me."

"And I suppose you want to make that an official family membership." Jacob stopped and took a calming breath. "Really, Vincent," he continued in a calmer tone. "You canít be serious about this woman. You are a respected physician; you canít begin a relationship with someone like Catherine. I agree that she is a very sweet girl, but she isnít a suitable wife."

Vincent interrupted his fatherís speech. "Father, you canít really believe that. You were the one who taught me to be the person I am, and now you are saying that someone isnít suitableÖThat is justÖ."

The door below hers slammed shut and she couldnít hear more than a muffled rumble after that, but the argument went on for at least another ten minutes before she heard the door to Vincentís room slam.

She crawled into bed and let tears overcome her. She hated that this had happened. She had caused this strife between father and son. She tried to think of some way to make it right, and the only thing she could think of was to leave. If she was no longer there, then Vincent and his father would no longer have anything to argue about, she reasoned, not realizing just how skewed that reasoning was.

After his father stormed out of the room, Vincent paced for several minutes trying to calm his anger. He could tell that Catherine was hurt; he wanted to go to her, but didnít think it would be the best thing to do, not until his anger cooled. He was afraid that if he tried to comfort her with their emotions running so high, it might lead to more and he felt that she just wasnít ready for that yet.

~~~~~~~~~~

The next day was Saturday and everyone in the house usually slept later; even Catherine, but not this Saturday. An hour before dawn she rose and dressed. She put on the cloak sheíd worn the night Vincent had found her, packed her backpack with a few essentials and tiptoed down the stairs. She stopped in the kitchen long enough put a couple bottles of water and some granola bars in her pack then she slipped out the back door. She made her way across the yard and let herself out the gate and into the alley. Sheíd studied maps of the city and knew how to get to the park. Sheíd read about homeless people in the city living in the park. She figured that there she could fade out of sight until she got her bearings and came up with a real plan.

It was mid morning and she was sitting at the base of a tree studying a map when she saw a woman walk out of a large drainage culvert and come straight toward her. As the woman approached, Catherine took in her appearance. Her hair was covered by a colorful scarf that she had wrapped around her head and her skin was the color of dark chocolate. This woman was another like herself, another Anomaly. Even from a distance Catherine could see the cataracts that clouded her vision. She was dressed shabbily but was not dirty; she carried a basket over one arm and held a red and white cane in her hand.

She stopped directly in front of Catherine and if she hadnít known that the woman was probably totally blind from the cataracts, she would have moved away. As it was she just sat still, thinking the woman would move on.

"What are you doing there, Child?" the woman suddenly asked in a lilting accent. "You are quiet, but not so quiet that old Narcissa doesnít know youíre there."

"Iím sorry, am I in your way?" Catherine asked as she scrambled to her feet.

"No, Child," the woman said with a smile, "I was looking for you."

"Looking for me? How did you know I was here?" Catherine picked up her pack and was preparing to go find another resting place.

"The shells told me you were here. They said to look for the pale girl with the bare skin. She would be next to the tree," the woman reached out and patted her arm. "Now come." She turned and took Catherineís arm quite companionably and urged her toward the culvert. "It rained last night and the ground is wet. It will rain more today then you will be wet."

"Where are you taking meÖ." began Catherine.

"Narcissa, call me Narcissa," the old woman told her. "Iím taking you to my home Below."

For some reason Catherine wasnít afraid of the old woman. She felt comfortable with her. She was also quite numb from the sleepless night and the shock of Jacobís reaction to finding his son kissing her.

Narcissa led Catherine into the tunnel and after a short walk they came to a large square junction where two other tunnels went off at angles to the one they had come in by. Narcissa turned and led her into the one to the left. She turned and ran her hand over a ledge. She found what she wanted and a heavy metal door slid into place.

The tunnel started to slope down after a short walk. About ten minutes in, there was an opening on the left side of the tunnel they were in and Narcissa unerringly turned into it. It opened onto the top of a long spiral stair inside what looked like a wide well. They walked down a couple hundred feet and took another turn through a door on a landing. The stair continued on and Catherine couldnít see the bottom.

"How deep does it go?" she asked Narcissa.

"Very deep. Iíve never been all the way to the bottom. Going down would be easy enough, but coming back up would be more difficult," she answered simply. "My home is just around the corner.

The tunnel was short and dead ended in a large room, Narcissa called it a chamber. The area around the small fire was well lit with candles and lamps on the table and in stands.

"What is this place?" asked Catherine looking around at the rock walls.

"This is my home," Narcissa repeated.

"But why do you live down here?"

"You know, Child," she said as she put down her basket and cane. "We are alike, and you know how those like us are treated Above."

"How can you tell?" she asked.

"Iíve learned to see with more than just my eyes, Child," she said. "Now, I think you need to eat something."

Narcissa started to bustle around the chamber just as any sighted housewife would do.

Over the next few days, Catherine had many conversations with Narcissa. They would talk for a time then Catherine would try to decipher what Narcissa had said. The old woman was sometimes fond of speaking in riddles but other times, what she said was very clear.

It was especially clear when she told Catherine about the other people who also lived Below.

"There is a whole city here Below," she told Catherine. "Iím not really part of it, but they like to think that they take care of me." She chuckled.

"Are they all like us?" asked Catherine.

"Most of them," Narcissa answered. "They all live here because it is safe for them. They take care of each other. You would be welcome if you choose to stay."

The morning after Catherineís first night Below, Narcissa was moving around chamber as if she was looking for something.

"Can I help you with something, Narcissa?" Catherine asked.

"No, Child. It is just my way of tidying up. I touch everything and make sure it isnít out of place. I do it every day. It keeps the chamber neat, and I remember where everything is so I donít trip over anything."

She finished her circuit of the chamber then she went to sit on a stool near the fire.

"Tell me about your young man," she began.

"I donít have a young man," Catherine said.

"Then who is Vincent?" asked Narcissa. "Is he a pet that you call out for in your sleep?"

"Well, he isnít my young man," Catherine told her.

"Then whose young man is he?"

She knew Narcissa wasnít going to give up, so she told her the whole story.

He has a connection with you, you say...a Bond?" Narcissa asked.

"He says that he does. He says he feels what Iím feeling."

"I think that he wonít be letting you get away from him so easily. The Bond will guide him to you."

"But Narcissa, it would never work. Iím not suitable to be his wife," Catherine argued.

"Not suitable...what is not suitable? You love him, he loves you. Suitable is not part of it."

"You call the connection a Bond," said Catherine, trying to change the subject. "Why?"

"Because that is what it is. Some people, the lucky ones find the person they are meant to be with; their soul mates and they bond for life. Your young man has bonded with you and you with him. Do not fight it, you were meant to be together."

"What if I donít go back?" she asked defiantly. "What if I decide to stay here with you, or join the community in the tunnels?"

"They will welcome you," Narcissa told her, "and you will be useful to their society, but I doubt that you would ever be happy. Think Child, do you think you could be happy, living like this?" she waved her hand indicating the chamber. "Living the rest of your life in a cave, hiding from the sunlight? I think not. You would shrivel and die like a rose deprived of the sun. The choice is yours, but you need to consider all the consequences of the decision you make. Stay here and no one will be happy; go back to your young man and walk with him in the sunlight and you both will be happy."

Catherine had a lot to consider, but she still didnít think the best decision would be to go back.

~~~~~~~~~~

Vincent woke about 9AM on Saturday morning and when he got to the kitchen he was surprised to find that Catherine hadnít come down yet. He made a pot of tea and was pouring himself a cup when his father entered the kitchen.

"Good morning, Father," he said stiffly then he went back to reading the paper.

"Vincent," Jacob acknowledged with a nod as he got a mug from the cabinet and joined Vincent at the table.

Neither man spoke then Jacob finally broke the silence.

"Catherine isnít down yet?" he asked.

"No, but she had a traumatic day yesterday. She may not have slept well, and it is Saturday."

Jacob nodded and picked up a section of the paper that Vincent had finished with.

Both men sat there until the tea was gone and they had finished the paper. Neither said any more than necessary.

"Iím going up to dress," said Vincent as he rose and left the room.

When he got to his floor, he decided to go on up and check on Catherine. He probed the connection and he could tell she was awake, but she didnít seem as close as she should. He was concerned, it was after 11AM.

He knocked on her door and there was no answer. He knocked again, louder, still nothing. He thought...hoped...she might be on her balcony, so he opened the door and looked in. Her bed was neatly made, but she was nowhere in sight.

It didnít take him long to figure out that she was gone; it explained the feeling of distance. Her hooded cloak and backpack were both missing. There was no note, so he had no idea where sheíd gone. He didnít know who to be angrier at, her for taking off, his father for upsetting her so badly that she would do this, or at himself for not going to her when his father had stormed out of his room the night before.

"Damn, damn! DAMN!" he almost roared as he bounded down the stairs. "Father," he shouted as he rushed back into the kitchen. "Catherine is gone!"

"Gone?" the old man looked confused.

"Yes, gone!"

"You canít think that I had anything to do with it," he defended himself.

"You upset her last night, I could feel it. Now I have to figure out where sheís gone and bring her home before she finds herself in trouble."

He stormed out of the kitchen leaving his father in a surprised stupor behind him. Vincent charged back up the stairs to dress so he could go out in search of Catherine.

As he was dressing, he wondered if his connection with Catherine could help him find her. Sheíd been upset; he could feel it. Heíd felt her hurt and panic, and that is what had angered him as much as his fatherís cruel words had. Now he sensed the difference in the connection, one caused by distance, but could he use that to find her?

He sat on the side of his unmade bed and closed his eyes. The connection was there, and there was the feeling of distance that he sensed when he was in the office. Vincent concentrated on the other heartbeat. It was very faint, and the only way he could tell it wasnít his own was that it was distinctly faster than his. Closer to what he knew was normal for Catherineís.

In spite of that or maybe partly because of it, he walked the city all day, until it was too dark to see. Several times during the day, he felt as if he was closer to her, but then she seemed to drift away again. He didnít know if that was because he was moving or because she was.

Vincent searched the city all day Sunday too. This time he was sure that she wasnít on the move, she had settled into one place, but he just couldnít home in on where she was. Once, he was sure that he was going to walk right up on her; she seemed so close, but all he could see was the trees and the grass of the park.

By Sunday evening he still had no idea where she had gone, but he kept going back to the park. Heíd been all over it and everything between the house and the park. Heíd never known that this one small part of the city had so many nooks and crannies, but he was sure she was still in the city, and somewhere in the park. He wasnít completely sure why he was so sure, but their connection seemed to keep pulling him there. He searched until well into the night.

"Really, Vincent," his father said on Monday morning, "you canít be serious about this."

"About what, Father?" he asked as he bent to retie the lace of his running shoe.

"About taking time off work to look for Catherine."

Now it was Vincentís turn to look at his father as if he was the one who had lost his mind.

"Why wouldnít I be, Father? She could be in danger out there. What if she runs into that gang of boys again or someone else who is even more dangerous? There are a lot of narrow minded people in the world. Some of them donít even consider the Anomalies to be people. They could kill her and to them it would be nothing more than killing vermin." He pulled a light jacket off the rack as he passed on his way to the front door. "Tony said heíd cover for me for a few days."

"And if you donít find her?" asked his father.

"Iíll just keep looking until I do."

Before he left the house this time he went into the study. He remembered Catherine mentioning that her fatherís partnerís name was Coolidge. He went to the computer and did a search on business names with Coolidge in them. There were none that included Thompson, but there were three Coolidges: Coolidge Ophthalmology, Bennett and Coolidge Veterinary Practice and Chandler and Coolidge. And ophthalmologist didnít seem right, and if Catherineís father had been a veterinarian he was sure that she would have mentioned it or mentioned family pets, so that left Chandler and Coolidge. He remembered her quoting Martello: There you are, Mr. C, sirÖhow do you like that? That had to be it. He looked at the listing. It was a law firm. He recognized the name; heĎd heard of it. He dialed the number. On a hunch he told the woman who answered that he wanted to speak to someone about Catherine Chandler.

He was surprised to have his call routed directly to Mr. Coolidge.

"Dr. Wells, this is Jay Coolidge. My secretary said that you were calling about Charles Chandlerís daughter Catherine."

"You know Catherine?" Vincent asked.

"I havenít seen her since she was a child, but Iíve known her since she was a baby, Dr. Wells. You know something about her?" Coolidge sounded a little wary.

"Yes, Mr. Coolidge. Iím not really sure where to startÖI found Catherine in the park several months ago. Sheíd been injured. I wanted to see that she got to a hospital, but she didnít want to go. She fainted so I took her to my home. Both my father and I are doctors. Catherine has been working for us as a housekeeper. Just recently she told me a little more about her background. She mentioned your name."

"I knew Cathy quite well when she was younger, but as I said, I havenít seen her in a few years," Mr. Coolidge told him. "Iíve been looking for her since September. Has she been with you the entire time?"

"Yes, she has. She told me that she had to leave her home because her fatherís estate was being liquidated and she wouldnít have a place to live. She said that her birth was never registered and she has no legal identity, so she was not his heir."

"I was afraid of that," said Coolidge. "She called here and talked to someone who was just filling in for my secretary and she got the story wrong. When she told Cathy that the estate was going to be liquidated and everything sold, she passed along incomplete information." Mr. Coolidge hesitated. "Is she still with you, Dr. Wells?"

"No, she isnít. I was hoping she might have contacted you. There was a misunderstanding and she left without letting us know where she was going."

"Do you think you could come to the office, Dr. Wells? Before I tell you any more of Cathyís story I think you need to show me some proof that you actually do know her."

"I understand, Mr. Coolidge. I can be there in about thirty minutes, would that be all right?"

Coolidge agreed and Vincent hung up then called for a taxi. While he waited he ran up to Catherineís room to see if sheíd left any personal items behind. As he stood in the middle of her sitting room looking around he noticed her motherís book on the end table. He snatched it up and ran downstairs just as the taxi pulled up.

When he reached Chandler and Coolidge, he was escorted straight to Jay Coolidgeís office.

The two men shook hands, sizing each other up. Coolidge was probably around sixty; he looked worried. He must have seen something in Vincent, because he smiled and told him to have seat.

Vincent handed the book to Coolidge.

"Catherine had this book with her when I found her. Iím surprised she left it behind when she left."

Coolidge looked at the spine of the book then opened it and looked at the bookplate. "I am too. She must have been extremely upset to go and leave her motherís book behind. This was Catherineís favorite bedtime story when she was little. I remember Caroline reading The Velveteen Rabbit to her. She wanted the same story every night. Charles told me that she never wanted anyone else to read it to her after Caroline died."

"She was upset," Vincent told him. "Obviously more than I thought she was."

"What upset her?"

"A number of things. We talked and she told me that sheíd been raped when she was seventeen," started Vincent.

"Yes, I remember that incident. Charles and I discussed it. I finally talked him out of pressing charges. I was pretty sure that it would turn into a circus, I just couldnít see putting Cathy through that, not after going through what sheíd already gone through."

"What do you mean by circus?" asked Vincent.

"I didnít want the man to get off without being punished, but I just couldnít see him being convicted. That was thirteen years ago and at that time, very few people were even aware of people like Cathy. It would have been a long road, and in the process, she would probably have been subjected to all kinds of indignities and I didnít really see us winning it. The only precedents I could find were in other states and in those cases the defense council had each raised the question as to whether the victim was even a person. I thought it would be better to let it go and let her heal rather than keep it in the forefront of her mind for years to come. It took some talking, but Charles finally agreed."

He leaned back and looked at Vincent. "No one living knows about that incident except me, Catherine and Martello and now you. Iím going to take a leap here and trust you...but that isnít entirely my intuition. I checked you out before you got here. I know you and your father are respected physicians, and I know one of your partners."

"You do?" asked Vincent in surprise.

"Yes, Peter Alcott; he, Charles and I were in college together and Peter and I were pretty good friends. Then Charles and I went off to law school and Pete went to medical school. Peter was Caroline Chandlerís obstetrician. He delivered Catherine."

That took Vincent by surprise. "He did mention something," he told Coolidge, "but I never dreamed that he was talking about Catherine. I remember now that he did say the childís family name was Chandler."

"Well, when she was born, it wasnít clear what was wrong with her," Coolidge told him. "None of us had ever heard of anything like that. For the most part, she was almost normal looking, except for the smooth upper lip and she was small. The real differences werenít apparent until she started to get older."

"She told me that she didnít have a birth certificate, but she was born in a hospital and Peter said he signed a birth certificate for the child he delivered..."

"She has a birth certificate, and her father saw to it that she will be well taken care of. I donít understand why he never told her what was in his will; it would have saved us all a lot of heartache. I canít imagine what she has been going through. She is lucky ou found her. Do you have any idea where she is?"

Vincent told Coolidge about Catherineís original plan. He told him that he felt that she was in the park somewhere and that he was sure he would find her. Heíd be in touch.

Vincent went straight to the park from Coolidgeís office. He was convinced that she was there somewhere; he could feel it, but with over 840 acres to cover he knew it could take him a while.

He started at the northern end of the park and searched, going back and forth and spending as much time off the paths as he could. It took him three days to work his way from one end to the other. It was late Wednesday afternoon and he was on a path heading from the south end of the park. Heíd just turned on 65th street and was heading back toward Central Park West when he heard someone call out.

He turned to see an oddly dressed woman walking across the grass toward him. She carried a red and white cane but didnít use it. On closer examination he saw that she was an Anomaly. An old one; proof that the births had been happening for quite a long time.

"Did you call me?" he asked as she approached. It had been a long time since someone had called him young man.

"Yes, young man, I did," she said. "What is your name?" she demanded.

"Wells, Vincent Wells," he supplied without thinking.

"As I thought," she said with a satisfied smile. "You must come with me."

"I mustÖwhy?"

"To find what you seek, that is why," she told him then turned and started walking briskly away.

Heíd seen the cataracts. How did she walk with so much surety?

"Who do I seek?" he asked after a short sprint to catch up with her.

"The young woman called Catherine. She is Below."

"Below?"

"There is a city below this city. Many of those you Above call Anomalies live there. She hasnít found refuge with them yet, she is still my guest, but they know of her, and they will welcome her. If you donít hurry, she may find the lure of otherís like herself too hard to overcome. Now she calls out for ĎVincentí in her sleep, but if you let her stay too long she might be lost to you completely."

The woman kept moving steadily and Vincent followed, helpless to do anything else.

"What is your name?" he asked after they started down a long winding stair.

"They call me Narcissa," she said.

It was like a maze; Vincent wondered how an old blind woman ever made her way around down here without falling down the stairs or getting hopelessly lost.

She led him unerringly to a large open room. He saw Catherine curled up facing the wall, asleep on a pallet near a raised stone hearth where a low fire burned.

He turned to see the old woman apparently watching him from just inside the door.

"Thank you, Narcissa."

Vincent crossed the stone floor and knelt next to Catherine. He didnít notice when Narcissa left and melted into the shadows outside the door.

"Catherine?" he said putting his hand on her shoulder.

She moved a little and her brow creased.

"Catherine, wake up. Iíve come to take you home."

"What?" she rolled over and stared up at him blearily. As she woke he felt first her surprise then what felt almost like panic.

"No," she said scooting away from him. "You canít! I left because I didnít want you and your father to fight any more; not about me."

He moved closer, putting his hand on her arm.

"Catherine, we argue all the time. We always have. It is nothing. He has a habit of flying off the handle and I have a habit of getting defensive when he does. Itís an old routine left over from my teenage years. We are fine now. We are speaking and he realizes that he canít and shouldnít even try to tell me what to do."

Catherine sat up and leaned against the wall. "But what he said is true. Iím not suitable. You need a woman like you. Someone who can give you beautiful children and be the wife you deserve."

"I think I can make my own decisions," he said softly. "And the first requisite for suitability is that I love her. Without that, there is nothing. And I love you, so that is the first hurdle. The second is finding out if you love me; you never did say."

She looked at him and even if she hadnít said it, he would have seen it in her eyes and felt it in their connection. "Yes," she whispered.

"Then come home."

"But what about your father?"

"Forget Father. He is just a crotchety old man," Vincent said with a wave of his hand.

Catherine almost giggled at that. "He is not," she defended. "Heís really very sweet."

"When he isnít yelling at me about seducing the serving wench," he said as he settled down next to her and put his arm around her.

"Serving wench," she snorted indignantly.

"I was just checking to see if you were listening," he said pulling her into his arms and holding her. "Before we do anything else, I need to tell you something."

"What," she was curled into his body, savoring his warmth.

"I talked to your fatherís partner, Coolidge. Heís been looking for you since you disappeared last September. He couldnít tell me everything, but he told me a lot and one of those things was that you were given bad information. Part of your fatherís estate was being liquidated, but I gathered that it was so that you could be taken care of. From what Coolidge said, I got the impression that you are a rather wealthy young woman. We will call him first thing in the morning and make arrangements for you to talk to him."

"But how could that be, I donít exist."

"Mr. Coolidge says you do. You have a birth certificate; you were born in a hospital. I even found out that you were delivered by one of my partners. He and your father were college friends. Now please Catherine, come home."

"What about Narcissa?" she asked suddenly.

"She can come with you if you want," he promised.

"But where did she go? For that matter, how did you find me?"

"Narcissa found me in the park and brought me down. She seemed to know who I was."

"I think sheís a little psychic or something. She uses cowry shells to tell the future or to find answers. She told me you were searching for me and she was going Above to get you. I didnít believe her."

He stood and pulled her to her feet.

"Weíll go find her and thank her. Weíll ask if she needs anything. I was serious; if she wants to she can come back with us..."

"This old woman doesnít belong Above in a fancy house," Narcissa said as she reentered the chamber.

"But Narcissa, it would be more comfortable than here," Catherine said. "Warmer."

"No, Child. Iíve been here most of my life. No need for me to go traipsing off now. You just come and visit me once in a while. Just go to the junction and bang on the pipes. Iíll hear and come for you. Now, Iíll lead you out so you can go home." She picked up Catherineís cloak and pack and handed them to her.

When they got to the junction Vincent tried to give Narcissa some money.

She just laughed at him. "What use do I have for money?" she asked. "No one will sell me anything and I already have all that I need. Now you two go on home. Itís nearly dark, you wonít be seen."

She turned and walked back the way they had come.

"How does she do that?" Vincent asked as they stood and watched her go.

"I donít know, but she is amazing."

Vincent helped Catherine settle her cloak around her shoulders and pull the hood up over her head.

Jacob was in the study when they got back to the house.

He rushed out into the hall and when he saw Catherine standing next to Vincent he smiled in relief and went to hug her.

"Thank God youíre safe, my dear," he told her. "Will you ever forgive me for what I said? Vincent has made me see my error and he is right. I need to keep my nose out of his and your business. Iím glad to have you home." He kissed her cheek and headed toward the kitchen. "I think Iím going to have some tea. Will you join me?"

"Not me, Dr. Wells," Catherine called. "I want a hot shower. I feel like Iíve been cold for a century." She started to climb the stairs.

"Catherine," Vincent called after her. She turned to look down at him. He could feel her weariness, but she was happy. "We will talk in the morning. You rest now."

Catherine had a lot to think about. Everything Vincent told her had come as a huge shock. Not that her father had actually made plans and provisions for her, but that sheíd ever really believed that he wouldnít have; and that she was likely wealthy. Even though she hated to be away from Vincent, right now she needed to be by herself.

In her bathroom, she pulled off her clothing and stuffed everything into the hamper then turned on the shower. Sheíd washed during the time sheíd spent with Narcissa, but she hadnít had an opportunity to bathe. Narcissa had told her that the lower tunnels, where the rest of the community lived, had hot springs for bathing, but in the part of the tunnels where Narcissa made her home she was lucky to have cold water close by. Sheíd missed bathing and hot water. The shower felt wonderful. She washed her hair then scrubbed her body. She felt grimier than she actually was. She didnít really want to get out of the shower, but eventually the hot water would run out so she finally forced herself to get out.

She wrapped a towel around her head then used another to dry her body. She applied the baby lotion that sheíd grown fond of then she blotted as much water out of her hair as possible. Pulling the hair dryer out of the cabinet she plugged it in and began drying her hair. While she did it, she glanced at her reflection in the mirror, something she didnít do often. She was surprised to see that all the time sheíd been spending in the sun on the balcony had lightened her hair in places. The blond streaks in the brown give an overall lighter and more golden look to the hair that flowed over her shoulders.

As she bent and moved while drying her hair she watched her naked body in the mirror. Vincent had said she was beautiful and sheíd never been able to see it, but now, looking at herself with a more objective eye she could see some of what heíd said. Her skin was very fair and a lot like the babies sheíd seen in photos, soft and unmarked. Her newly washed hair was a different texture than a normal personís. Vincentís hair, like everyone elseís was the texture of raw silk. It was sometimes hard to manage, but hers was soft, like baby hair. The conditioners that normal women used to make their hair soft made hers even softer.

She finished with the dryer, put it away then walked out into the bedroom to get her nightgown and robe. The light here was softer and she caught sight of herself again as she passed the cheval mirror in the corner near the dresser. Her skin did have a luminous quality; maybe it had something to do with all the baby lotion she applied every morning and night.

She pulled her favorite nightgown out of the drawer and pulled it over her head. The soft blush color giving her skin even more of a glow. She shook her head at herself in the mirror. If I donít watch it, she thought, Iíll become vain.

The room was warm so she didnít bother with the robe. She picked up a book and went into her sitting room to curl up on the sofa and read for a while. Concentration was difficult, her mind kept drifting to the conversations sheíd had with Narcissa. Sheíd told Narcissa about the connection Vincent had with her and Narcissa had given it a name. Sheíd called it a Bond, and Catherine thought that it had fit perfectly. It was more than just a connection, it was a Bond. She finally gave up trying to read and went to bed.

She fell asleep quickly but woke some time later from a dream. It wasnít a nightmare exactly, but it hadnít been a good dream. She dreamed that she was still with Narcissa and that she was looking for Vincent who was lost in the tunnels Narcissa had told her about.

When she woke all she could think of was that she had to go and make sure that Vincent was in the house and that everything was all right.

She slipped out of bed. A glance at the clock told her that it wasnít all that late, but the house was quiet so she knew everyone had gone to bed.

She went down to Vincentís room via the stair from her balcony to his. She would just peek in through the windows in the French doors and assure herself he was there.

When she arrived, the bedroom was dark and she couldnít see anything, so she opened the door a little and stepped inside. The moonlight from outside splashed brightly across the bed, showing her Vincent as he slept. She was so struck with the beauty of the man in front of her that she didnít realize that sheíd taken several steps into the room until he opened his eyes and looked at her sleepily.

The dream came back vividly and all she wanted was to be held, and at his sleepy inquiry she surprised both of them with the request she made.

"Can I stay with you tonight, Vincent?" she asked timidly. "I missed you, and I just want you to hold me."

Vincent could feel her fear and need and didnít even have to think about his answer. She was a vision, a dream, standing there in front of him and he wasnít about to turn down her request. He slid over in the bed and held up the covers, inviting her in.

She ran lightly the rest of the way across the room and slipped into the bed next to him, cuddling close into his warmth, as if she couldnít get close enough. He wasnít wearing a pajama shirt; just the pants and she rubbed her cheek contentedly against the soft hair on his chest. He tucked the blankets around them then wrapped his arms around her and pulled her even closer.

"Was it a bad dream?" he asked sensing her need to talk.

"Kind of," she told him. "I dreamed I lost you and I woke needing to see you."

He kissed the top of her head and held her until he felt her body begin to relax. The connection had gone quiet and he thought sheíd gone to sleep. He was surprised when he felt her lips touch the center of his chest over his heart. She kissed her way across his chest and up his neck to his jaw. He could sense her feelings changing and it was affecting him; he was worried that his bodyís reaction to her would frighten her so he stayed as still as he could. He was more than surprised when he heard her soft words.

"Love me, Vincent. Please."

Not sure heíd heard her right or that he understood her meaning correctly if he had, he kissed the top of her head. "I do Catherine. I love you."

She pulled back and then scooted up a little so that both their heads were on the pillow. She touched her nose to his.

"No Vincent. Iím asking you to make love to me," she whispered.

He probed her feelings and was surprised to find a passion as deep as his. He couldnít have been more surprised if sheíd suddenly sprouted a second head, or if all her hair had turned purple.

"Are you sure?" he questioned.

She nodded and he could see her shy smile. "I love you and I want to show you how much," she told him.

"Catherine, and I love you, but please donít do this just because you think I want it. Do it because you want it."

"I do want it Vincent...I want you. Doesnít the Bond tell you that?"

"Bond?"

"That is what Narcissa called it, and it felt right to me."

It did feel right and so did her request, but he knew he had to go slow. Vincent backed away from her a little bit and propped himself up on his left arm.

"Catherine, most of your knowledge of love making comes from your Ďbodice rippersí..." He still had to smile a bit when he said that.

"No!" she interrupted. "Iíve done other research. Iíve read all kinds of novels and I subscribed to Netflix and have been watching movies on the computer, and then there are always the movie channels on cable. Iíve seen all kinds of things, and some of it was pretty graphic." The only light in the room came from the moon outside, but he could tell that she was blushing. "Iíve learned that it isnít always rough and tumble; it can be sweet and tender."

"And is there anything in particular that you had in mind?" his tongue was firmly in his cheek as he asked; it was hard to keep from laughing...not at her, really.

"Vincent, please," she thumped him lightly on the chest. "Donít laugh at me, I know Iím stupid when it comes to this sort of thing, but I canít help it."

Vincent, chastened, gathered her into his arms and hugged her. "Iím sorry, I wasnít laughing at you, just at the idea that there are still innocents like you in the world...and after all your research, Iím rather worried that I might not live up to your expectations," he added half seriously.

"Vincent, I want you to teach me. Do what you like; I mean..." she hesitated then rushed on, "whatever pleases you, and teach me."

"But I want you to be pleased too," he told her.

She snuggled and kissed his shoulder. "Thank you."

They lay like that for a few minutes as he considered his next move, finally, his decision made, he spoke. First he asked a question.

"Catherine, about the Bond; I have a question."

"What is it?" she asked, looking up at him.

"Does it go both ways?" he asked. "Do you have any sense of me?"

"I donít really know," she told him. "I think itís possible. I felt things I thought came from you occasionally, but not often."

"A Bond is an excellent way of describing it."

They lay quietly for a while then Vincent spoke again.

"Catherine, Iím going to start simply. Iíll start by touching you and let you get used to the way me touching you feels and what feelings it stirs in you. We will do only what you are comfortable with. If you want me to stop at any time, just tell me. If I do anything that makes you uncomfortable in any way, I want you to tell me that too, and I will stop. Will you do that?"

She nodded and whispered "Yes."

"Then I want you to roll over onto your stomach in the middle of the bed."

She did as directed and Vincent pushed the covers aside and moved to sit near her feet. He began with a gentle massage starting at her feet, pushing the nightgown up as he worked. By the time he reached mid thigh, she was as limp and relaxed as a ragdoll.

He pushed the hem of the nightgown up a little further then spoke.

"Catherine, may I take your nightgown off?" He thought it might be a little easier for her if he did it while she was lying on her stomach and was less exposed.

She hesitated only a moment before she raised her hips and helped him pull the silk gown off over her head.

Vincent didnít dwell on the beauty before him. The Bond told him that she was relaxed and trusted him completely and he started to relax. He continued the light massage up the backs of her thighs and to her bottom. He pointedly avoided touching her in any way that might be construed as sexual, not yet. He stuck to the large muscles of her legs, bottom and lower back. His massage of her lower back brought a slight groan.

"Did I hurt you?" he asked, he hadnít sensed any pain, only pleasure, but he hesitated anyway.

"No, it feels good. Iíve spend several nights sleeping on a thin pallet on a rock floor, Iím stiff and sore all over; this feels wonderful!"

He resumed the massage and continued up her back to her neck and even gave her a short scalp massage; an excuse to run his fingers through her luxurious, silky hair.

"Turn over," he directed, as he moved back to the foot of the bed.

He was surprised when she didnít hesitate or seem at all self conscious of her nudity, then it dawned on him: the room was dark and she couldnít see him nearly as well as he could see her. He thought that he should probably let her know he could see her.

"You are beautiful, Catherine," he told her.

She froze in the middle of moving to a more comfortable position. "You can see me?" she asked. He couldnít see her blush, but he could feel the sudden heat radiating off her body and her feeling of embarrassment.

"That was one of the things that I learned during my research," he told her. "People like you donít see quite as well in the dark as people like me."

He captured her hands as they began to move to cover strategic areas.

"Donít!" he told her. "You are beautiful. Your skin almost glows in this light; it looks like alabaster."

He could tell she was still blushing, but she relaxed with her hands back at her sides.

This time when he finished with her feet and calves, he straddled her legs as he moved up her body. He counted himself lucky she couldnít see well in the dark, since his thin cotton pajama pants did very little to hide his arousal.

He massaged her upper thighs and hips, skirting around the pubic area. He avoided her breasts when he reached her torso. He even massaged her hands, kissing the palms before laying them on the bed.

He massaged across her upper chest and then up her neck to her face, feeling the muscles relax under his fingers.

When he finished he hesitated before he leaned forward and kissed her, his body suspended over hers, but not touching.

Catherine was so relaxed that sheíd almost fallen asleep, but his kiss woke her. When it ended, she sighed.

"I feel like Sleeping Beauty, being awakened with a kiss," she said.

"We can stop if you like. You are very relaxed and are already half asleep." He moved from his position straddling her hips to lie beside her, his hand resting on her stomach.

"Uh, uh," she disagreed. "That was so delicious that I want to know what else there is."

She touched his hand where it rested on her stomach then she slowly slid her hand up his forearm, deliberately running her fingers through the thick hair.

Her action and words drew a groan from him, which he quickly stifled; thinking that she might misinterpret it he rushed to explain.

"Iím sorry, that wasnít what it sounded like..." he began.

"I know," she said, almost giggling, "I think you liked what I just did, or maybe what I said. You like to be touched as much as I do."

"It was both," he told her, moving closer and smiling down at her. "I liked what you said and I loved the way you touched me. I think that was the first time you have ever touched me like that."

"Weíve kissed," she pointed out.

"But youíve never deliberately caressed me in any way; I liked this.

Her hand had stopped near his elbow, now she continued up his bicep, across his collarbone, up his neck to his cheek, eliciting another groan of pleasure as he turned his head and kissed her palm.

He bent to kiss her again, but it did nothing to distract her from the sensation of his hand moving up from her stomach to cup her left breast. He continued to kiss her as he kneaded the firm flesh gently, and when he brushed his thumb over the nipple a bolt of sensation shot from the point of contact straight to that spot low in her stomach. She would have drawn her knees up, except that he had laid his right leg over her thighs; all she could do was squirm.

"Do you like that?" he asked, pulling away to look down at her.

She placed her hand over his, afraid that he would remove it from her breast.

"Oh, yes! Iíve never felt anything like that before."

He didnít move his hand, but he bent his head to her other breast. He kissed the nipple and licked it lightly, causing her to tremble. The trembling became even more violent as he finally took the nipple into his mouth and sucked gently.

Her groans of pleasure became whimpers, and then finally a heartfelt "Oh, my God," almost made him laugh.

"Now you are laughing at me again," she said when she regained her composure.

"No, Iím not laughing at you. Iím just happy that you are enjoying what Iím doing. Sex isnít supposed to be serious all the time. It is supposed to be pleasurable and fun. The only thing sobering and serious about it is that you have entrusted me with your first time."

"But this isnít my first time, as you put it," she argued.

"Yes it is. I told you before, that other time wasnít love making, it wasnít even sex. It was an act of violence. Your father called it an assault and that is exactly what it was; the worst kind of assault. This is your first time. We will make love, and we will be equal partners, both giving and receiving," he assured her.

He kissed her again then moved back to her breasts, giving each equal attention until she was nearly squirming off the bed.

He knew she was aroused. Normally, Catherine had her own special scent. She didnít wear perfume but the baby lotion she used blended with her own unique scent to make a very pleasant combination. Catherine aroused made it even more potent; he could almost taste it.

As he kissed and nibbled and sucked at her breasts, his right hand had slipped beneath her shoulders, and even though he kept his nails blunted because he worked with babies and children the feel of him kneading the skin of her back was very erotic. Now his hand left her back and moved purposefully down her body to rest low on her stomach again. He moved the leg he had put over her thighs to free her left leg.

He drew back a little to look at her again. The sight took his breath away. Her hair was tousled, and her face was flushed. Breath puffed from her slightly open lips. He lightly kissed them.

"Iím going to touch you," he told her.

"Youíve been touching me for the last hour," she told him. "Itís wonderful."

"I mean Iím going to touch you more intimately." His hand moved lower until his little finger just touched the hair between her legs. "Here. I want to make sure you are ready and that you enjoy this."

Her eyes opened a little wider and she nodded hesitantly, catching her lower lip between her teeth.

"I told you I wonít hurt you," he reminded her. "If you feel any discomfort I will stop."

She nodded again, slightly.

"Close your eyes and relax," he told her in a soothing tone and he moved her left leg, slightly rotating it and bending it at the knee a little.

When his hand came down and cupped her, she nearly came up off the bed.

"Iím sorry, you just startled me," she rushed to explain. "I know I was expecting it, but I wasnít expecting it to feel like that."

"Like what?" he asked, not moving his hand.

"Nice," she whispered as he began to move his fingers slowly and carefully, exploring her. "So nice," she breathed as her eyes drifted closed again."

She concentrated on his fingers and the sensations they were causing. She was a little embarrassed when he encountered wetness and she started to apologize.

"No, Catherine," he said firmly, dropping a quick kiss on her lips to silence her. "This is good." He rubbed his fingers around a little, spreading the moisture. "It means that what Iíve been doing has felt good, you are aroused. Your body is making itself ready for me. Didnít any of the novels you read or movies you watched mention this?"

"Well, yes," she admitted, "but I didnít realize it would be so much."

"That is a good thing, Catherine," he assured her as his fingers found her clitoris and he started to rub lightly in a circular motion. It wasnít long before she was squirming and breathing hard again.

He stopped, causing her to whimper in protest. He dropped his head down close to hers.

"Iím going to do something that might shock you, but it shouldnít hurt, I just want you to relax."

She nodded, her lips closed tight on a whimper, she didnít want him to stop what heíd been doing, but up to now, whenever he quit doing something it was only to begin something better; she trusted him.

He felt her nod, and taking a tight grip on his own control, he took a deep breath and slowly slid his finger inside her, trying not to think about how it would feel to fill her with another part of his body.

Her gasp and moan didnít sound like pain and he didnít feel anything like pain in the Bond, but he stopped and asked nonetheless.

"Did that hurt?"

"No," her voice caught on a sob. "It feels...it feels...God, I donít know how it feels, but it is wonderful."

He kissed her as he started rotating his thumb on her clitoris, and moving his finger in and out slightly; mimicking what was to come. It was only seconds before she climaxed. Her body went rigid, her legs clamped together, trapping his hand, and her low moan was the most erotic thing heíd ever heard. Some women screamed, others made no sound, but Catherineís moan almost had him climaxing right along with her. He could feel her inner muscles contracting rhythmically around his finger and could only imagine what it would feel like around his erection. And the Bond; he couldnít describe what the Bond was conveying to him.

He held her tightly as she settled back to earth. Kissing away the moisture that leaked from her eyes.

"Iím not crying," she whispered after a few minutes.

"Yes, you are," he told her as he continued to kiss her face, "but itís normal."

"That was normal?" she asked. "Is it always like that?"

"We can only hope," he said with a chuckle, "some times are better than others."

"But you didnít..." she hesitated, not sure what to call it. "Did you?"

"No," he told her, kissing her again, "not yet. We will take care of that when you are ready."

She took a deep breath, and looked up at him. She could just make out his eyes in the darkness. "I think Iím ready," she said hesitantly.

Vincent rolled over onto his back and worked his pajama pants off. He was glad heíd elected to leave the lights off this first time. He was in such a state that he was sure that the sight of his erection would have frightened her. He moved to his knees and gently pushed her legs apart before positioning himself between them.

He leaned over, barely letting his body brush hers and kissed her lips. He lingered there, exploring her mouth before he began a slow journey to her breasts. His attentions there had her breathing heavily and squirming again in only a few minutes.

He moved back up her body so he could watch her face.

"Open your eyes, Catherine," he told her as he reached down and positioned the head of his penis at her opening. "I know you canít see me well, but I want to see your eyes; the Bond will let me know if you are all right."

The feel of him just touching her, almost had her sliding up the bed, but only part of her wanted to do that. The other part wanted to be totally possessed by him and to give him the pleasure he had just given her. She opened her eyes and gazed up at him.

The trust he saw there and felt in the Bond almost undid him.

"Relax," he whispered as he gently nudged forward. He was surprised to find very little resistance. She trusted him and had relaxed.

He continued to push slowly forward until they were joined completely.

"Ah, Catherine," he moaned as he let some of his weight settle onto her.

He was surprised when she wrapped her arms around his torso and her legs around his thighs pulling him even closer.

"You feel so good," she gasped as he began to move slowly in and out.

Catherine was trying very hard to relax like Vincent had told her. She was doing a pretty good job until he began to move. The feelings he was creating in her body were almost the same as the ones that sheíd felt before when he had used his hand. Only this was more. She had felt filled before, but now she felt full, wonderfully full. She wanted him to move faster and wanted him deeper, she moved under him urging him on.

Again, she climaxed before he did. And she wrapped herself around him even tighter; he followed her only seconds later. This time their moans mingled.

The feel of her rhythmic contractions around him was the most satisfying experience of his life. He decided that what heíd heard about sex becoming love making only when you do it with someone you love was true, very true.

It took several minutes for them both to recover; Vincent finally found the strength to roll off her. He knew he weighed at least twice what she did and he didnít want to crush her, but she let him go reluctantly. He pulled her over so she could rest her head on his chest.

Catherine was the first to recover enough to speak.

"Oh, my," was all she could manage.

"Is that all," he asked in an amused tone, "just Ďoh myí?"

"I...I donít have the words," she said.

"And I donít have the strength," he said.

"It was good?" she questioned, not looking up at him.

"What do you think?" he asked.

"Iíve never felt anything like that, and it happened twice. After the first time, I didnít think it could happen again, or that it could be better, but it did happen again and it was better."

He chuckled at that. "Ditto," he said.

Her head bobbed up at that and she looked at him. "Ditto? Is that all? Just Ditto?" she asked copying his tone from earlier. Even though she thought his climax had been right behind hers, now she was worried that it hadnít been what she thought it was, at least not for him.

"I meant that there is no way Iím going to come up with a better way of saying it. My brain has ceased to function. Let me recover and Iím sure Iíll be able to come up with something more poetic; Iím usually better with words than this."

She giggled and lowered her head back to his chest where she rubbed her cheek against him. "Yes, you usually are," she agreed.

They lay there for a few more moments, their breathing and heartbeats returning to normal, sweat drying on their bodies.

"Iím curious," Catherine began.

"Still?"

"Not that!" she exclaimed. "Iím curious about what you felt from me through the Bond."

"Oh that." He hesitated, thinking about it. "Itís hard to describe. It was very intense and very chaotic, and I have to admit I wasnít paying a lot of attention to that once I knew that you were all right.

Vincent slid out from under Catherine and moved to the side of the bed.

"Iíll be back in a minute," he said as he headed toward the bathroom.

He closed the door behind him and turned on the lights, he used the rheostat to dim them. Then he put the plug in the tub drain and turned on the spigots. After adjusting the temperature he stood and watched as the tub filled. There were going to be some sore muscles, among other things, later and a soak in a hot bath would probably help.

His private bathroom had an old fashioned claw foot tub and a shower until a little over a year ago. At that time Vincent had decided to sacrifice a little storage and enlarge his bath. Heíd installed a Jacuzzi tub, big enough for two and a large shower stall with multiple shower heads and a bench. He remembered his fatherís reaction when the workmen had wrestled the large tub into the house and up the stairs.

"Itís huge, Vincent," heíd commented. "It will cost a fortune to fill it."

"Donít worry father," he told him with a reassuring smile. "I wonít be using it all that often; once a week at most. When I was in the show room I sat in nearly all the tubs there. The sales woman got quite a laugh. What I was trying to avoid was the same problem I had with the old tub. It is kind of hard to relax and unwind in a tub when my knees are up under my chin. This one was perfect; I can actually lean back, stretch out my legs and relax."

Father had been dubious, but gave up his protest.

At first he had used it about once a week, but as he got busier at work it had tapered of. He seldom used the tub of late, and had occasionally wondered if installing it had been an expensive mistake. Now he was glad heíd bought it.

Once the tub was filled, he turned off the water and went back into the bedroom to Catherine. She had fallen asleep and woke as he gently picked her up and turned toward the bathroom.

"I donít want to go back to my room," she protested sleepily. "I want to stay with you."

"Donít worry, my love," he told her as he lowered her into the hot water. "Youíll stay with me. I just thought youíd like to soak those sore muscles you mentioned earlier. We will both sleep better if we arenít sticky and sweaty, and the bed isnít torn up." She settled onto the ledge on one end of the tub with a happy sigh. He pushed the button to turn on the jets. "Iíll be back in a few minutes. Donít fall asleep and drown."

She opened her eyes and smiled sleepily up at him. "Your hair looks like you just came in out of a hurricane," she told him.

"Must be a lot like yours then," he said with a smile as he handed her an elastic band that he used to pull his hair up when he showered or bathed and didnít want to get it wet. She pulled her hair into a ponytail and he left and closed the bathroom door behind him.

Catherine settled back into the hot, bubbling water with a contented sigh.

In the bedroom Vincent quickly straightened the bed. Those months of making his own bed between the time of Anneleiseís departure and Catherineís arrival had given him plenty of experience and it only took him a few minutes to remake the bed and turn the blankets and sheets back invitingly.

Back in the bathroom he surprised Catherine, who had been dozing, by joining her in the tub.

Vincent smiled at Catherineís startled look.

"Itís big enough for two, and I thought you might like your back washed."

She smiled and turned so her back was to him. He picked up a sponge and started soaping it up.

"Youíre spoiling me," she said as he started rubbing the soapy sponge over her back.

"Youíve been spoiling us since youíve been here, I think itís about time you had your turn."

After several minutes with the sponge, he set it aside and started rubbing his hands over her wet skin. When they slipped under her arms to reach around and cup her breasts she let out a faint "Mmmm!" of pleasure.

He pulled her back and let her rest against his chest as his hands roamed over the front of her body. The Bond was telling him she liked his hands on her.

Up to now, Catherine hadnít done much touching. She just wasnít sure what to do with her hands; sheíd been so aroused that she had all but ignored anything else. She started moving her hands up and down his thighs, at the moment the only part of his body she could easily reach. She rubbed her hands down the outsides of his legs. On a whim she decided to move her hands to the insides on the way back up. After several minutes of those caresses, during which his hands stilled and he just cupped her breasts, she decided she wanted to kiss him.

He felt almost as if he was literally Ďfeeling what she felt.í He could feel her hands on his legs, but he could also feel the texture of the hair on his legs under her hands, as if they were his hands. He knew when she decided she wanted to kiss him.

She moved away a little then turned to face him. He helped her; draping her legs over his. They were face to face, chest to chest. Where they had been in almost total darkness before, there was some light in the bathroom and she could see his face. Sheíd never seen a look like that on a manís face before. His eyes were closed, and his head was leaning back on the wall behind him; he was totally relaxed. When she turned, his hands had fallen away and now rested at his sides. He looked almost as if he was asleep.

She moved closer and placing her hands on his shoulders, she kissed him. She took her cue from the quietness of his body and began her own exploration.

The water was deep, coming up to about mid-chest on him. She could just barely see his nipples through the soapy water. She moved her hands down from his shoulders to rub her palms over those nipples. She explored them with her fingers and was surprised to find them as hard as hers. She slipped her hands around to his back and pulled herself closer. She was surprised again, when she found that he was erect. He groaned as she pressed her body against him and his arms went around her, holding her even tighter.

"Again Vincent?" she asked in surprise.

"Yes, if it is all right with you," he said opening his eyes and looking down at her. "Does that surprise you?"

"A little," she said. "Everything I read said that it usually takes a little while for a man to recover. It hasnít been very long."

"Iíve been wanting you for a very long time," he told her before he took her lips in a deep kiss. She felt his erection growing even harder against her. She whimpered as she began to rub against him.

"Catherine," he said, pulling his lips from hers, "will you touch me?"

The request startled her; he could feel that. What he didnít know was that it wasnít because she didnít want to, but because sheíd been thinking the same thing, and was wondering how she would go about asking him if she could touch him. Her surprise turned to pleasure as she closed her eyes and moved back far enough to slide her right hand down between them. She captured his erection between her palm and the soft skin of her stomach, and stroked gently.

She couldnít believe the pleasure that simple gesture gave him; she could see it in his face.

She continued to stroke softly and explore the shape with her fingers. She moved her other hand down and with it she stroked down to the round globes suspended beneath his penis. She wanted to say something, but her mind refused to cooperate and supply any words.

She brought the thumb of her right hand up and stroked the top of his penis; one article sheíd read called it a Ďheadí. She traced the slightly flared shape.

Suddenly, his hands came up from where they had been resting and he grabbed her wrists and pulled them away from his body with a strangled, "Stop!"

She had been concentrating on what she was doing, using his body language as a guide. Her head came up and she looked into his blue eyes.

"Did I do something wrong?" she asked, almost in tears. "Did I hurt you?"

Realizing what she was thinking, her gathered close.

"No, nothing like that, but the feelings were so intense; it felt so good that I was about to climax, and I donít want to yet. I want to love you again, and hold you while you climax."

"But you did that for me, earlier," she protested. "Donít you want me to give you pleasure like that?"

"Not tonight. I want us to do this together tonight. We have our whole lives ahead of us for that, but tonight I want us to do it all together."

He placed his hands under her bottom and lifted her slightly. A small shift placed the head of his penis at her opening again, and with a deep, satisfied groan, he allowed her to slide down onto him. She echoed his groan with her own.

Vincent moved forward in the tub crossing his legs and she wrapped her legs around him, holding him close.

This time their movements were more subtle than they had been in bed earlier; subtler, but no less erotic. She felt every inch of him, much deeper than before, but even so, she wanted him even deeper and pulled him closer with her arms and legs. Her whimpers became moans as they moved together in perfect rhythm. He abandoned his attention to the Bond in favor of the sensations flooding his body. Her climax hit her like a tsunami, and he was right behind her, tumbling with her.

They clung to each other, breathing hard, for several minutes.

"I think I might just sleep for a week," she told him as they finally drew apart.

"As long as you do it in my arms," he told her, dropping a kiss on her shoulder.

They were both very quiet as they finished their bath, got out of the tub and helped each other dry off. Before she left the bathroom, Catherine took her hair out of the ponytail, picked a hairbrush up off the counter and ran it through her hair a few times; all without once looking at herself in the mirror.

Vincent watched all this, then walked over and stood behind her.

"You are very beautiful, Catherine," he said quietly, but firmly.

Her head came up and her eyes met his in the mirror.

"Youíve said that before," she said with a smile. "Those we love are always beautiful in our eyes."

"You arenít beautiful because I love you," he told her. "You are beautiful because you are. Look at yourself." He gestured at the mirror.

"I did earlier this evening," she told him, still avoiding her reflection.

"And what did you see?"

"Light brown hair, with blond streaks, fair skin, grayish green eyes," she summarized for him.

"Thatís all?" he asked.

"OK, I can see why you might find some things about me attractive," she conceded. "I have soft skin, my hair is very soft. Iím healthy, and my muscles are toned, but Iím small and my arms and legs are short..."

When she started her criticism of herself he stopped her. "Someday you will see what I see," he promised. His hand slid down her body and rested on her flat stomach. "It might take a child to prove it to you. All parents think that their children are beautiful. If I give you a child and it turns out to look like you; what then?"

She shook her head. "I donít know, Vincent," she admitted. "I would love it, but if I ever become pregnant, I will pray the whole time that it looks like you."

He sighed, and hugged her. "Well, I suppose that will just be something we will have to work on."

Later, cuddled together in bed, Catherine gave a sigh of deep contentment. "I love you Vincent." She drifted off to sleep with a smile on her face.

~~~~~~~~~~

Vincent woke from a dream the next morning only to find that he still held his dream in his arms. Catherine was curled with her back tucked snuggly against him. She was soft, warm and she smelled good. He burrowed his nose into her hair and breathed deeply. She wiggled and snuggled closer, nestling her bottom closer to him. His body instantly reacted. He nudged her hair away and kissed her neck.

"Umm, I love being kissed awake," she said, trying to get even closer.

"I love kissing you awake," he murmured then kissed her again.

Catherine wiggled around and rolled over, slipping her arms around his waist. She started at the middle of his chest and kissed her way up to his mouth. She nibbled his lower lip then kissed him. She loved his mouth; so different from hers, but they fit together so well. He took over the kiss then moved down her body to her breasts. Catherine arched into him and buried her hands in his hair holding him to her.

She rolled all the way over onto her back and was pulling him on top of her when Vincent heard a familiar step outside the door. He turned his head just in time to see the door handle turn and the door start to open. He rolled back to his side and pulled the blankets up in an attempt to preserve Catherineís modesty; Catherineís instinctive moves accidentally pulled the covers over her head. She was trying to unwind herself when Vincentís father rushed into the room.

"Vincent," he gasped, out of breath from his rush up the stairs. "She has gone!"

"Whoís gone, Father," Vincent asked as Catherine settled down to listen with the covers still over her head.

"Catherine is gone! I was surprised when I went down and she wasnít in the kitchen. I put the kettle on and made a pot of tea, but when she still didnít appear, I went up to her room. Her bed has been slept in, but she isnít anywhere in the house!" Father dropped into a chair inside the door and tried to catch his breath. "Sheís left again," he added.

"No, Father," Vincent said, quietly, "she hasnít left."

"Then where is sheÖhow do you know?"

"Because she is here with me, Father."

Catherine worked a hand up out from under the covers and waved it toward where she knew Jacob was.

"Good morning, Dr. Wells." Her voice was muffled by the covers, but he heard her.

"SheísÖOh myÖwell," he sputtered. "UmÖwell, I guess Iíll just go back downstairs." He quickly left the room.

Catherine was giggling when she pushed her way out from under the covers.

"I think we surprised him," she said, giggling. "Is he all right?"

"Heíll recover," he assured her. He kissed her then sat up. "As much as I donít want to leave you," he said with a smile, "I think I should probably go downstairs and talk to him."

Vincent got up and reached for his robe.

"Try to get some more sleep. Iíll talk to Father and be back in a little while." He kissed her again and left the room.

Downstairs Vincent found Father sitting at the kitchen table staring into his cup of tea.

"Father," he said as he went to the cupboard and got a mug. "Are you all right?" Vincent sat down across from him and poured a cup of tea.

"Huh?" Jacob looked up. "Oh yes, quite. I was just a little surprised, thatís all."

"Father, I told you yesterday that we plan to be married," Vincent told him.

"Yes, yes, I know, but I didnít expect you to take her to your bed quite so quickly," he said. "I assumed she was a virgin."

"Just to set the record straight Father, I didnít take her to my bed," said Vincent with a smile. "She came to me, and she wasnít a virgin, at least not physically."

"Thereís a difference?" Father asked sarcastically. "I thought virginity was a physical state."

"She was raped when she was seventeen," Vincent told him.

"Oh, Iím sorry to hear that." Father was flustered again. "But you say she came to you? I would think that being raped at such a tender age would have put a damper on her libido, and I would think that you would have had more control."

"Father," Vincent rose. "Iím sorry you disapprove of our rushing things, but we love each other and are already committed to each other. Now or later, it makes no difference. "

Jacob rose and placed the cup in the sink, hesitating a moment before turning back to Vincent. "Iím sorry, Vincent," he said. "Youíre rightÖit really isnít any of my business." He managed a smile. "She is a wonderful young woman and I wish you happiness."

He was putting on his suit coat when Catherine entered the room. Vincent held his hand out to her and she went to him.

"Iím sorry I didnít get here in time to fix you breakfast, Dr. Wells," she said.

"No, no, my dear," Jacob said with a smile, "Vincent is right. You arenít our housekeeper; you are a member of this family now." He walked over and kissed her cheek. "And please, no more formality. No more ĎDr. Wells.í Call me Jacob."

"Iíd prefer to call you Father if that is OK?" she said.

"I would be honored," he said, a smile brightening his face. "Itís time I left. Donít worry about breakfast; Iíll get something on my way to work."

Father left and Vincent pulled Catherine into his arms and kissed her.

"Are you hungry?" she asked when he finally allowed her to lean away from him.

"Yes I am," he said with a mischievous glint in his eye.

"For food, Dr. Wells?" she asked, smiling as she backed away from him.

"Food? Well, yesÖI guess so. It might be a good idea to eat something. We do have to keep our strength up."

She laughed at him and went to the refrigerator. He followed her and she loaded him down with a carton of eggs, a package of bacon, a block of cheddar cheese, butter and English muffins. He carried it all to the counter and she followed with the pitcher of juice.

"I see we are going to throw the healthy diet out the window this morning," he said as she watched her putting strips of bacon on a baking sheet to put in the oven.

"Iím hungry," she declared. "I worked up an appetite."

They worked together well in the kitchen. She put the bacon in the oven and started on the eggs while he shredded cheese and toasted the muffins.

Later, while they were eating, Catherine brought up something sheíd been thinking about.

"You said that my fatherís partner, Mr. Coolidge, has been looking for me?"

"Yes, I talked to him and heís been looking for you since he first heard about your fatherís death. He asked me to let him know when I found you."

"Have you talked to him yet?" she asked.

"Iíll call him this morning," he told her.

"Can I talk to him?"

"Of course. Do you want to talk to him on the phone, or do you want me to ask him to come here. He said he would."

She took a deep breath. "I think Iíd like to go to his office."

Vincent looked across the table at her. "Youíre sure?" he asked. "That will mean a cab ride there and being among people. Iím sure you could wear your cloak, but it would be warm on a sunny day like today."

"If you donít mind being seen with me, then Iím sure I can take itÖespecially with you by my side," she told him with a tremulous smile.

"Catherine, I will be proud to be seen anywhere with you!" he told her. "In fact, if you feel like it I know of a wonderful restaurant where we can have lunch."

"A restaurant? Really? Iíve never eaten in a restaurant before," she exclaimed as excited as a child at the thought of a trip to the amusement park.

"Another first?" he commented with a wink.

"Among many," she said, smiling back. "And I hope you are responsible for all of them."

~~~~~~~~~~

"The cab is here," Vincent called as Catherine was putting the finishing touches on the tiny bit of make-up she decided to use. Sheíd had to break down and use the mirror; she wanted to know exactly what everyone would see when they looked at her. She ran down the three flights of stairs to the first floor and Vincent took her hand as they left the house.

"Is it far?" she asked as she slid into the back seat of the cab.

"Not very," Vincent told her before giving the driver the address of their destination. He then turned and put his arm around her and pulled her into his side. Catherine glanced up and saw the driver looking at her in the rearview mirror. She met his eyes boldly and raised her eyebrows in question. It was a tactic sheíd heard her father talk about, one that heíd used in court when cross examining witnesses. The driverís eyes slid away and he concentrated on the traffic for the rest of the trip.

"Do I look all right?" she asked as he helped her out of the cab when they arrived. "I didnít really know what to wear. All I have are jeans and t-shirts and a couple of nice outfits that I bought to wear for special occasions."

Vincent knew that she didnít want the stock "you look fine" answer so he took the time to really look at her. In his opinion she always looked fantastic. His eyes swiftly traveled from the top of her head to her feet then back up to her eyes. She was dressed simply: black, soft leather flat shoes, gray slacks with a wide black leather belt, a simple silk blouse in dark teal, and she carried a gray cashmere cardigan over her arm. Her hair was in loose waves on her shoulders and he could tell sheís put on just a little bit of makeup. She didnít own a purse, so sheíd asked him to carry a few things in his jacket pocket.

He smiled. "You really do look perfect; very businesslike and not a bit out of place."

She looked around at the people who hurried past. A few glanced at her and registered surprise at her appearance, but no one stopped and stared. "Well, if I wasnít in New York City, where I hear nothing surprises anyone, I would be inclined to disagree with you about the Ďnot a bit out of placeí part," she told him with a smile as they turned toward the building and he took her hand.

They had the elevator to themselves and Catherine was chuckling as the doors closed.

"Did you see that woman?" she asked Vincent. "She acted as if I had something contagious and couldnít get to the door to the stairs fast enough. She referred to a woman whoíd been waiting for the elevator when they had walked up.

"I was afraid youíd be hurt by her reaction," he told her.

"Not at all. She wasnít being malicious," Catherine told him. "Sheís just never seen anyone like me before and it startled her. If more of us come out of hiding and are seen in public, then people will get used to seeing us. I donít intend to stay hidden away any longer. I want to see all the things New York has to offer, the museums, the theaterÖthe restaurants."

The receptionist stared for a moment when they walked up to the desk, but when Catherine smiled at her she smiled back.

"Catherine Chandler and Vincent Wells to see Jay Coolidge," Vincent told her.

"Heís expecting you, Dr. Wells," she told him, her smile broadening when she looked at him. "Go right in."

Vincent thanked her and they turned. Mr. Coolidge was waiting outside his office next to his secretaryís desk when they got there.

Catherine was surprised at the warm welcome and hug she got from the man.

"I havenít seen you since you were little," he said as he ushered them toward his office door. "Youíve grown into a beautiful young woman, although you still arenít very big."

Catherine looked at him skeptically, and he smiled.

"Catherine, beauty is in the eye of the beholder," he told her, "and I behold a beautiful young woman before me."

"Thank you Mr. Coolidge," she said, sincerely.

"Please, call me Jay; you too, Dr. Wells." He turned to another man in his office who was rising from a chair. "This is my son Mark. Heís a junior partner here."

Mark stared openly at Catherine and Vincent could feel dislike rolling off him in waves. Pleasantries were exchanged, which Mark took no part in. He just sat in his chair with his arms crossed and watched.

"So, now to get down to your main reason for this visit," said Jay. He handed a heavy Manila envelope across his desk to Catherine. "That has copies of everything that we are going to go over; itís just for your records." He opened his folder. "A synopsis of your fatherís will is very simple. He left everything to you. He did leave orders that the apartment was to be sold, but that was only so that you could pay cash for a smaller place somewhere. He thought it would be easier for you that way. He wanted me to find you something smaller in a building with security so you wouldnít have to deal with a staff or any other issues.

"The apartment has been sold, and all the furnishings and your belongings are in storage, you can go through it all and decide what you want to keep and Iíll arrange to have the rest sold."

He handed her a sheet of paper. "That is a list of all your accounts and assets with a total at the bottom. Please keep in mind that the total is only an estimate. The numbers change quickly so I tried to keep the estimate on the low side. In the envelope is a list of all the websites with usernames and passwords so you can access more up to date information.

The dollar amount took her breath away and she had a hard time finding her voice.

"You said that that this is a low estimate?" she asked after she cleared her throat several times.

"Your father was a shrewd investor," Jay told her. "In addition to that," he nodded at the sheet in her hand. "You also own fifty one percent of this law firm. I had a professional take a look at everything a couple weeks after your fatherís death and his report is in the envelope. Iím prepared to offer you what he set as fair value for your fatherís part of the firm. After youíve had a chance to take a look at the report let me know if you are amenable and Iíll draw up the papers."

"Iím sure that it is all just fine, Jay," she told him. "My father trusted you and always spoke very highly of you. I trust you, so Iíll give you my verbal agreement to the sale right now. I only have one question."

"What is that?" asked Jay.

"What do you plan to do about the name of the firm? Iíve read that a lot of law firms keep the name of the founding members even when there are no longer any members of the family in the firm." She glanced at Mark.

"That is a decision that can be made at the time of the actual sale. We can let our clients know of any changes. I donít think that dropping the Chandler will have any effect on our business if that is what you decide."

"I think it would be a good idea," Mark finally spoke up, and the sound of his whiney voice grated on Catherineís nerves. "Charles hadnít been extremely active in the months before his death. He hadnít taken on any new accounts in a couple of years."

"His old ones were more than enough to keep him busy," Jay added. "Iíve only taken on two new ones lately myself. That is one of the perks of being a founding partner of the firm. We can let the junior members do all the hard work." He smiled and looked from Catherine to Vincent. "Do either of you have any questions?"

"Vincent and I are engaged. How do I go about having him put on all these accounts?"

Before Jay could speak, everyone in the room plainly heard Markís comment. "I guess some people will put up with anything if there is enough money involved."

Catherine sensed Vincentís tension as he started to rise; she reached out and grabbed his wrist.

"Mr. Coolidge," Catherine was clearly directing her words at the younger Mr. Coolidge. "Your comments are not welcome, nor are they needed, and I, frankly, do not remember anyone here asking for your opinion."

Vincent could feel her shaking, but wasnít sure if it was anger or her own audacity in speaking as she was. He felt it was equal measures of both.

Catherine looked back at Jay. "Jay, would you please ask your son to leave?"

"Mark," Jay turned to look at his son. "You heard the lady. Iíll talk to you later."

Mark rose and again he made no attempt to keep them from hearing his comments.

"Lady," he snorted. "Thatís a matter of opinion."

Catherineís hand tightened on Vincentís wrist again, but he made no move to rise this time.

Jay was shaking his head when they both looked back at him after Mark closed the door behind him. "I canít make any excuses for my son. Sometimes he opens his mouth and stupid just falls out. Most of his bigotry is due to the fact that he spent a lot of time with his motherís father growing up. That was my fault. His mom and I divorced when he was quite young and she moved back in with her folks. I didnít spend as much time with him as I should have."

Vincent cleared his throat and looked over at Catherine then back at Jay.

"As Catherine said, we are to be married. We havenít set a date yet, but Mark has a point, maybe you should draw up a pre-nuptial agreement for her."

Jay looked at Catherine, considering, and Catherine just look bewildered.

"What is a pre-nuptial agreement?" she asked.

"It is just an agreement that says that anything you owned before your marriage will remain yours during the marriage and after if the marriage should not last," Vincent told her before Jay could elaborate.

"First of all, I intend our marriage to last," she told him.

"So do I, Catherine, butÖ"

"But nothing! All my worldly goods I thee endow! Isnít that the way it goes?"

"Well, actually, that is part of the groomís vows, butÖ"

"I told you! No buts! Everything I have is yours, and I want you to benefit from it; I want our children to benefit from it."

Vincent could tell she was upset by this and he took her hands and started to speak, but Jay surprised them both by interrupting.

"Catherine, perhaps Dr. Wells is right." He held up his hand as she started to speak. "Hear me outÖYour father was very meticulous in the way he wrote his will. Due to your differences, he wasnít sure exactly where you would stand legally in the future.

"When you were first born he wasnít aware that there were more people like you. He and your mother thought that you were the only one and that it was just a genetic defect of some kind. He worried that once he and your mother were gone that you wouldnít have anyone to look after you. Later, he learned that you werenít alone and that there were others. Then he had new worries; that people like you, the Anomalies, would not be given full rights under the law; that some people out there would find a way to strip them from you.

"Your fatherís will was written in language that goes with assumption that you have all the rights of any other person in this country. We could word this pre-nup in the same way. If it is something that you would like to do, we could use it to start the ball rolling toward legal guarantees that no one would ever be able to deny you or anyone like you their full rights under the law. In the law it is called setting a precedent. I even know a few politicians who are already leaning in the direction of introducing legislation that would guarantee your rights. Mark is just one small example of some of the feelings out there. Some base their ideas on their so called religious values, and theyíve been around for the longest and are the most firmly established. Luckily, the bigots are a very small minority; most people donít really know enough about Anomalies to have an opinion."

"I think I see where you are going with this, Jay," she said shrewdly. "If I keep complete control of my inheritance, and especially if I use it in a way that benefits society, then it will go a long way to showing everyone that Anomalies are people too."

"Precisely!" said Jay, pleased that he didnít have to spell it out for her.

"But I want to be sure that people like me benefit too," she told him.

"By all means. You might even fund some research."

Vincent and Catherine left the building an hour later with Jayís promise to join them for dinner the following week to talk about what she wanted to do.

"Now, how about that lunch," Catherine asked after Vincent hailed a cab and helped her in. "Iím ravenous."

The owner of the little Italian restaurant met them at the door and escorted them to a private table in the corner. He smiled pleasantly at Catherine and talked to Vincent as if theyíd been friends for years.

"And this came for you about half an hour ago." He put a white paper bag on the table next to Vincentís plate.

"Thanks for taking that delivery for me." He turned back to Catherine who was studying the menu with great delight. "Mr. Russoís son and I went to medical school together. He made sure that neither of us starved to death when we were in school and later when we were interns."

After they were finished ordering and were happily sipping wine, Vincent opened the bag and took out a blue velvet box. Catherine watched with interest.

"I was hoping that Iíd have these with me when I found you, but the jeweler just couldnít have it done in time. They called me this morning while you were in the shower." He opened the box and slid it across the table toward her. "They were my motherís, I had them resized. I hope you will wear them."

Catherine looked at the diamond in an old fashioned gold setting with a matching gold wedding band.

"They are beautiful," she said as she slid her left hand across the table toward him. "Will youÖ?"

He took the engagement ring out of the box and slipped it on the ring finger of her left hand. It fit perfectly.

"How did you know the size?" she asked.

"I found a ring in your room when I was looking for something that might give me some idea where you had gone," He told her with smile, then he lifted her hand and kissed first the back then the palm. She curled her fingers around the kiss and gave him a smoldering look.

"Just you wait until we get home, Dr. Wells," she promised.

Epilogue

Vincent found his wife on the sofa in the living room with her feet up when he returned from work. He leaned down and dropped a kiss on the top of her head before he spoke.

"How did the interview go today," he asked.

"The dean was surprised that I was pregnant," she said as she patted her very prominent tummy with a laugh. "He seemed a little nervous until I assured him that I had at least another month before little Jacob makes his appearance."

Vincent chuckled. "He must be a single man; they are usually the most nervous around pregnant women." He sat on the sofa next to her putting her feet into his lap. "What did he have to say about your application?"

"He was impressed with all my test scores, and with the essay I wrote," she said with a smile. "He was a little put off by my age at first, but after we talked, I think he began to understand. He is recommending that I be accepted as a rising Junior and assures me that if I apply myself I can knock out two years of prelaw in a little over one year. I just have to carry extra classes and take summer classes. I told him that it will depend on circumstances after the baby is here, but that Iím going to try to do that. He says law school usually takes three years, but it can be done in less time...Iíll try."

"You donít have to be in a hurry, Catherine," Vincent protested.

"Iíve waited a long time to join the real world," she protested. "Iím kind of in a hurry to get started. Besides, when I decided not to sell all of my share of Coolidge and Chandler, Jay said that heíd like to come up with a division that would take court cases for people like me. The sooner Iím out there showing everyone what I can do, the sooner we will be able to guarantee equal rights for Anomalies."

Vincent leaned forward and gathered her into his arms and lifted her into his lap.

"You have come so far in such a short time," he said with a shake of his head. "I am so proud of you and I know your father would be too."

She slipped her arms around his torso and cuddled into him. "I would never have been able to do it without you. Dad gave me the education and a beginning, but you picked up where he left off. If you hadnít found me in the park that day I donít know where I would be right now...I donít even want to think about it." She gave a shudder and hugged him tighter as tears began to roll down her cheeks. "Damn pregnancy hormones," she said with a sniffle as she scrubbed at her cheeks.

"Then donít think about it. Just think about now, and the future. When you think about the past just remember the good," he told her as he kissed away her tears.

 

 

  1. Sonnet XXIXóWilliam Shakespeare, Sonnets  

  2. She Walks in Beauty--George Gordon Byron, Lord Byron. 1788Ė1824

  3. The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real--Margery Williams