Far From Home
The day the woman woke from her eighteen-month nap, as George liked to call it, it caused quite a stir in the Aspen Valley Rehabilitation and Retirement Center; Aspen Valley to the staff and residents .
George was with her when it happened. Heíd spent nearly every afternoon for the last year and a half with her. He read to herÖjust about anything he could lay his hands on, from the local newspaper to Shakespeare and the classics. Heíd started reading Great Expectations almost two months ago, and something about it seemed to be getting through to her, but the nurses had asked him to limit his reading of it to a chapter a day.
It was a Tuesday in the middle of January, and he had reached Chapter 59, the last chapter. Heíd already decided that heíd read Oliver Twist next.
As usual, when heíd begun to read the womanís body relaxed, her breathing became deeper and more regular and her face relaxed into an expression that was almost a smile. He glanced up at her occasionally to check on her as he read.
"I took her hand in mine," he read, nearing the end, "and we went out of the ruined place; and, as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the forge, so, the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to meÖ" George hesitated and glanced up at the woman in the bed.
"I saw no shadow of another parting from her," she finished in a whisper.
George sat speechless as he watched her eyes open and move slowly to take in her surroundings. George grabbed his cane and using it and the arm of the chair he sat in he pushed himself to his feet and moved over to her bedside.
Her head rolled on the pillow, her eyes met his and he saw confusion there.
"Youíre not Vincent," she said in a whisper. "Whereís Vincent?"
"No, my dear," he said with a bright smile. "I donít know any Vincent, but Iím George, and Iím so happy to see you awake. If you can hold on just a minute, Iíll go tell the nurse. He turned and moved as quickly as he could toward the door. There he turned and looked back at her. "Now you stay awake, and Iíll be right back."
The nursesí desk was only a short distance down the hall but when he reached it, no one was there. He rang the bell on the counter and was soon joined by a nurse and an aide.
"Quick," he said heading back toward the room heíd just left. "Sheís awake!"
"Awake?" exclaimed the nurse as the aide sprinted past George. "Thatís not possible."
When she reached the room, she found out just what was possible. The woman was awake, or at least her eyes were open.
"She asked for someone named Vincent," George offered as he followed the two women into the room.
The nurse rushed to the bedside as the aide turned on a bedside lamp.
"Hello," she said with a smile as she hooked her stethoscope in her ears and prepared to take vitals. "My name is Nicole, Nikki to my friends. What is your name?"
The woman appeared to think for a moment then croaked, "CathyÖmy name is Cathy."
Nikki listened to Cathyís heart, took her pulse and checked her eyes with a penlight as the aide took her blood pressure.
"Where am I?" asked Cathy.
Nikki pushed a button and raised the head of the bed to about a forty-five degree angle and straightened the already straight bedclothes before she answered.
"This is Aspen Valley."
That seemed to satisfy her for the time being.
"Thirsty," she whispered.
"Sara, go get some water, no ice. Fill a pitcher from the dispenser in the hall, that should be about the right temperature," she told the aide, and then she turned George. "Mr. Corbett, would you do me a favor?"
"Of course," he said stepping forward.
"Go down to the nursing supervisorsí office and had ask Greta to call Dr. Rasmussen and tell him that his patient is awake."
"Consider it done, Nikki," he said as he limped out of the room.
Nikki turned back to her patient as the aide returned with the water.
Nikki poured some water into a class, put a straw into it and offered it to Cathy.
"Go slow at first," Nikki urged, holding the glass for her.
Cathy obediently sipped the water slowly. It felt so good going down her throat, cooling the dry rawness there.
"Do you remember anything?" asked Nikki as she set the glass back on the bedside table.
"Iím not sure," Cathy answered in a slightly stronger voice. "Everything is jumbled."
Nikki patted her hand. "Donít worry; Iím sure it will all clear up."
"What is Aspen Valley?" asked Cathy.
"Itís a rehabilitation and nursing care facility for people who need moderate to total nursing care due to age, illness or accident. The letters are the acronym for Aspen Valley Rehabilitation and Retirement Center"
"Why am I here?"
"Iím not sure what the original reason was, your doctor can tell you that, but you were in a coma."
The word struck terror in her heart, but she wasnít sure why. "For how long?"
"You arrived here on June 23rd, 1989, and youíve been here for just a little over eighteen months."
"Itís 1991?" Cathy looked horrified.
"January 12th," said Nikki. "What is the last date you remember?"
"Iím not sure," said Cathy as she moved her hands over the sheet in agitation.
"Do you know where you are from?" asked Nikki as she picked up the chart and started making notes.
Cathy thought for a moment and came up blank. "No, I can picture a lot of places, and I know Iíve been there, but I donít know where home is."
"You sound to me like you are from back East somewhere," commented Nikki.
"East coast, probably north of Virginia, you donít have a southern accent, but you donít sound like MassachusettsÖ" she glanced over at Cathy and then understood her question. "Aspen Valley Rehabilitation and Retirement Center is just outside the city of Boulder, Colorado."
Cathy nodded, as if accepting that as being as good a place as any to be.
Just then, George came back into the room. He was slightly winded from his walk. "The doc said heíd be here as quick as he can. The snow might slow him down some."
"Thanks George," Nikki said with a smile. "Can you stay with Cathy, and keep her company while I go check on Mrs. Nielsen?"
"Sure Nikki, Cathy and I are good friends."
Nikki smiled and left.
Cathy looked over at George. "We are?" she asked.
"As good as any you have in this place," he said with a grin. "Iíve been reading to you and talking to you almost every day since you got here."
"Thank you, George," she said with a smile as she tried to raise her hand to him. It fell back to the bed in a flop.
"Iím so weak," she complained.
"Not surprisiní," he said, reaching over to pat her hand. "Theyíve been doing physical therapy with you every day to keep your muscles from drawiní up, but you havenít had anything to eat, just what they can get though that," he indicated the feeding tube that was looped over the top of Cathyís gown and clipped there.
"Iím confused, George," she confided.
"That isnít surprisiní either," he said. "I overheard the doctor talking about you after you got here. It was a drug overdose that put you out. They seemed to think that you didnít OD yourself, but that someone tried to kill you. They found you near a car that had gone off a road and down a steep embankment. The car exploded and burned, you were probably meant to go up with it, State Police found traces of explosives in what was left of the car. You were thrown clear. Trucker saw the fireball from the road and he was the one who found you. He put out an emergency call on his CB and you were airlifted to the University Of Colorado Hospital in Boulder."
"You overheard a lot," she said.
"That last part was in the newspaper," he told her. "If you had any ID it was in the car and the car was stolen in Denver two days before. The papers called you Jane Doe, but the staff here has nick named you Janie. Iím glad to know your name, Cathy."
Nikki stuck her head in the door, and called to George.
"Dr. Rasmussen just pulled into the lot," she said. "Better say good night."
George leaned over and whispered. "Your Doc doesnít approve of me reading to you, so if you would just keep that part to yourself. OK?"
"Sure, George, and thank you."
George hurried out and Nikki came back in. A tall man in a heavy quilted jacket with snow in his hair came in a few minutes later.
"Itís really coming down out there," he observed as he shed gloves and the jacket and dropped them on the chair.
He held up his hands as he approached the bed. "Donít worry," he assured Cathy, "Cold hands are a diagnostic tool today, but Iíll try to warm them up a little before I use them; I wouldnít want to shock you back into a coma."
Cathy gave him a weak smile.
The doctor turned and opened the blinds next to the bed and Cathy was amazed at the view of the mountains and the snowfall.
"Youíve been awake for about an hour?" he asked, looking at Nikki for verification.
Cathy glanced at the clock on the wall across from the foot of her bed. "Almost," she said.
He leaned over and peered into her eyes. "Does anything hurt?"
"Everything, I just kind of ache."
"How well can you move?" he asked.
"Not very wellÖvery weak."
He took her hands, one in each of his. "Squeeze my fingers as hard as you can."
She did and the effort was exhausting.
"Could you tell how cold my hands are?" he asked.
"Icy," she said.
He moved to the foot of the bed and pulled the blanket and sheet away from her feet. He put his hands against the soles of her feet. "They still cold?" he asked.
"Push on my hands with your feet, as hard as you can," he directed.
She complied and pushed.
He covered her feet back up and moved back to the side of the bed.
"Your muscles are in pretty good shape, considering," he said. "The physical therapy staff here has done a good job. We should be able to get you back on your feet in five or six weeks; maybe less, depending on how hard you work."
He looked at the notes that Nikki had written on the chart.
"So, your name is Cathy. Is that with a C or a K? he asked.
"C, " she said without hesitation.
She shook her head.
"Anything just happen to start to roll off your tongue when you say Cathy, Cathleen or Catherine?
"Itís Catherine," Cathy put in. "Iím sure of that, but I canít come up with a last name."
"The nurse said you mentioned a Vincent? Who is he? Husband, boyfriend, brother, friend?"
She shook her head again. "Iím not sure, but from the way the name makes me feel, I think Iím romantically involved with him; husband or boyfriend."
Dr. Rasmussen could tell from her voice that she was tiring.
"I will be completely honest with you Cathy. There is no guarantee that you wonít slip back into a coma at any time, but the longer you go without that happening the better the chances are that it wonít. And you are alert and coherent now, that is a good sign. What you need to do now is rest, eat well to build your strength back up and do as much physical therapy as you can. The exercise will also increase the blood flow and might actually help you remember things. Once we are able to get you out of this room the change in scenery might jog something too. Iíll have someone move a TV in, that will help keep your mind active. If things go well, we will take the feeding tube out tomorrow afternoon and you can start eating."
"Thank you, Doctor," said Cathy, as her eyes drifted closed.
Things did go well, better than Dr. Rasmussen had expected, and about six weeks after Cathy woke, she was moved from the total care wing into a room in the residence wing. She was using a walker and insisted on walking from her old room to the new one. She still tired easily and hadnít remembered anything else, but she was feeling pretty good about everything.
While Cathy was making her way slowly from one side of the facility to the other, most of the senior staff was in a staff meeting in dining room.
"We are moving Jane Doe, AKA, Cathy, from complete nursing care to residence today," said Greta, the complete nursing care supervisor as she handed Cathyís file to Dee, the residence care supervisor.
Dee glanced over the file. "Are they putting her into the private room at the end of the hall?" she asked no one in particular.
One of the three physicianís assistants on the staff answered. "That is the only open bed in the unit. I told Max to take her there."
"Good," said Dee. It isnít the most convenient room but it is perfect for her, she will get plenty of exercise walking to and from the dining room and the physical therapy room. Rasmussen said sheís doing very well."
"I havenít seen her yet," said the PA. "Iíll look in on her later today." Since Cathy was no longer in need of close medical supervision her care and monitoring had been turned over to the nursing staff under the supervision of a physicianís assistant.
The nurseís aide and George were helping Cathy settle into her new room.
"The hairdresser will be here today," commented the aide.
"Do you think sheíll be able to work me in?" asked Cathy.
"She only had three names on her list, I can add yours if you like."
"Please. My hair is awful."
She had taken to pulling it back into a ponytail but it still hung halfway down her back. Out of the ponytail, it was almost down to her waist.
"You donít like long hair?" asked George.
"Not this long. I donít think Iíve ever worn it this long. I would think I would be able to do more with it, if I had. I kind of see myself with shoulder length." She pulled the end of the ponytail over her shoulder and looked at it. "And it looks like I used to lighten it too."
She made the same comment to the hairdresser as she sat down in her chair a couple hours later.
The hairdresser inspected the hair in question. "Looks more like you highlighted it. I donít have the supplies here to do that today, but if you like I can do it next week."
"Iím sorry, I donít have any money for the extras. They told me that you are paid by the facility to do the haircuts, but if a patient wants anything extra they have to pay for it themselves."
"That is how itís handled. If you decide you want to lighten or highlight it, just let me know the week before so I can bring what I need," she said as she turned the chair so she could lean Cathy back for the shampoo.
As she was combing Cathyís hair after the shampoo, she asked what she wanted.
"It looks like if you cut it about where the highlighting ends it will be the right length, just above my shoulders, no bangs. And when I wash it and dry it, it seems to fall into a natural part on the right side."
When she got back to her room and stopped at the mirror to look at herself. She ran her fingers though her hair and sighed. The hair looked right, one more step in the right direction. She went over to the small desk and turned on the desk lamp then she turned off the overhead light. She liked the lower level of light, it was more cozy and relaxing. She sat down at the desk and pulled out the journal that George had suggested that she keep.
The PA, Devin Wells, who had been assigned Cathyís case pulled her file and headed back for his office to look it over. He sat down at his desk, poured himself a cup of hot tea from the thermos heíd brought and sat back to read the file. It was facility policy that there was a photo of each patient and resident attached to their file, just so no one got anyone mixed up. The first thing he saw was the photo. It was of a sleeping woman She had a fading bruise on one cheek, but other than that, she looked fine. The thing that shocked him was that she looked just like Catherine Chandler. He went through the file, read the list of scars and other identifying marks then looked at the photo again. It was Chandler, he was sure of it. How in the world had she turned up 1800 miles from New York City at the scene of a car wreck, days after her disappearance? As he gazed out his office door, thinking, he noticed Cathyís friend George walking down the hall.
"George," he called, hoping the old guy wasnít too hard of hearing.
George turned at his call. "Hi Dev." He answered and turned toward the office.
"Hi, George. You have a minute to talk?" He asked.
George entered the room and sat in the chair next to the desk.
"Iíve just been assigned Sleeping Beauty as a patient and I was wondering if you know anything about her."
"Not much more than anyone else, but I was just heading to her room with these." He handed over several newspaper clippings that told the story.
Devin read the articles and jotted down a few notes on a note pad.
"So the accident was on May 18th, 1989," he mused out loud as he wrote.
Cathy had disappeared on Saturday, May 13th, only a few days before. Someone had wanted her out of the picture, but they hadnít wanted a body found, at least not in New York; and they had the means to move her all the way from New York to Colorado to the scene of a staged accident. It all fit with what heíd read in the New York papers right after her disappearance, and again later when John Moreno had been arrested.
"Yeah," said George as if in answer to Devinís statement. "They kept her at the hospital for a little over a month, but when it looked like she was going to stay in the coma the state moved her here."
"And I read in her chart that you visited her and read to her every day while she was unconscious. That was very nice of you, George." Devin remembered the stories Vincent had told him about her ten days Below right after she was assaulted. "Iím sure it contributed to her recovery, especially if you read things that were familiar to her."
"She said the same thing. She said that she knows that certain books and poems mean a great deal to her, but she just doesnít remember why. I was reading the end of Great Expectations the day she woke up and she says that it was very special."
"Thanks, George," Devin handed the clippings back to him. "Iíll just finish reading her chart then Iím going to see her."
George rose and headed for the door.
"Will you close that behind you, George?" asked Devin.
The door closed and Devin all but collapsed on his desk. Chandler, here; and alive and seemingly well, except for some holes in her memory.
He started to wonder if she really did have amnesia, or if she was pretending so that she could lay low. He wouldnít put it past her, she was a smart one, and she had to know that she was still likely to be in danger. If she recognized him when he went to see her later, heíd have his answer.
* * * * * * * * * *
George left and Cathy turned back to her journal. She tucked the clippings George had given her in the back and picked up her pen. Sheíd written only a few lines when she heard a knock on her half open door.
"Yes?" she called out, turning in her chair, she was in shadow to the man who stood in the door.
"Cathy. Hello. Iím the PA taking your case over from Dr. Rasmussen. He approached, holding his hand out. "My name is Devin Wells."
Cathy looked up at the man in the door as he stepped in. There was something vaguely familiar about him but Cathy couldnít put her finger on it.
"Do I know you? Mr. Wells?" she asked, "you look familiar."
"I donít think so," he answered with a smile.
He was hard pressed not to give in and tell her. He recognized the woman in the chair in front of him. Her hair was darker, she was painfully thin, and she looked older than her thirty-three years, but there was no doubt about it, she was the woman that his brother had been mourning the loss of for nearly two years. Heíd already decided not to mention anything to her, if she didnít recognize him, until heíd had a chance to think and come up with a plan.
"No, sorry, Cathy, you donít look familiar. Maybe I look like someone you used to know."
"Maybe," she agreed.
Devin went though his checklist with her in a mechanical fashion, he was anxious to get back to his place and go though the letters and other things that Vincent had sent him right after Cathy had disappeared.
* * * * * * * * * *
Devinís shift was over at 7PM, as usual he stopped at a diner on his way home and had a quick dinner and arrived home a short time later. He went right to the file drawer where he kept all his important papers. He pulled out a thick Manila envelope and dropped it on the kitchen table before he headed for the bathroom and a shower.
The phone was ringing when he got back to the kitchen.
"Hello," he answered.
"Hi Dev," came the slightly slurred greeting.
"Hi, Charles! How is everything?" He was happy to hear from his friend.
"Itís good here. We were having dinner at Dr. Alcottís and he suggested that we call you. I was afraid youíd be at work."
"I just got in a little while ago. How is everyone?" asked Devin as he moved around the kitchen preparing a pot of tea.
"Father is good. Vincent is better. Iím much better too. The operation Dr. Alcott suggested went well and I feel a lot better."
"That is fantastic, Charles. Iím glad you decided to do it."
"Me too, Dev."
They chatted for several minutes then Devin asked Charles. "Is either Father or Vincent there with you, Charles?"
"Both of them are," he said. "Would you like to talk to one of them?"
Devin hesitated for a moment then asked to speak to Father.
"Devin, itís good to talk to you. How are you?"
"Iím great Dad. Itís good to hear that the surgery went well."
"It went even better than Peter expected," said Father. "Charles is much more comfortable and can lie down to sleep again."
"Iím glad to hear that. Iíve been wondering how Vincent is. I havenít heard from him in a while."
"Better," said father after a pause. "He seems to be getting back to normal. I even asked him about it a few weeks ago and he said that he felt almost as if the Bond had returned. He says he occasionally has a fleeting feeling that Catherine is out there somewhere."
"I guess he hasnít given up."
"No, I donít think he ever will. But if it makes it easier for him, I guess we just have to accept it."
"I guess so, Dad."
He and Father spoke a little more then Father asked if heíd like to speak to Vincent.
"No, not tonight," he was afraid that if he spoke to Vincent, his brother would sense that something was up. He wasnít sure if it would be safe to let him know just yet, so he begged off. "I donít think so. If Vincent and I get on the phone we will talk all night and Peter will have to take a mortgage on his house to pay the bill. Iím planning a trip to New York in a few months, we will catch up then."
After saying goodbye, he hung up, fixed his pot of tea and then sat down at the table and spread the contents of the envelope on the table.
He set Vincentís and Fatherís letters aside and concentrated on the other things in the pile.
He spread the newspaper articles out on the table in front of him. Several had pictures of Catherine. He read them all and then Vincentís and Fatherís letters and the story was the same as he remembered. Heíd pieced it together from several sources.
Catherine Chandler had been working on a case for the DAís office. It was to be her last investigation before moving to the trial division. Sheíd received a call at home on a Saturday from someone who told her that they had the proof she needed to nail the people theyíd been investigating for months.
She set up a meeting with the caller then had gone Below to tell Vincent what was going on and to make sure that he wouldnít come after her, no matter what he felt. Since his illness only a few months before, sheíd become very protective of him. She assured him she would be all right, she was meeting the person in a public place and she was armed.
Her next stop had been her office, where she left a note for Joe. She told Joe where she was meeting her contact.
At one point just after dark on Saturday, Vincent had felt a sudden surge of fear from Catherine, then a sharp pain and then nothing. Heíd been frantic. He kept telling Father that he thought that she was unconscious and as soon as she regained consciousness and he could locate her, heíd go to her; but he never felt her regain consciousness. He went Above just before dawn on Sunday, but she wasnít in her apartment.
Joe had to go by the office for some files on Sunday morning. He found the note. Cathy had gone to Washington Square Park on Saturday to talk to someone about the investigation that Moreno had assigned her. He called Cathyís apartment. She didnít answer and he kept telling himself that she was OK. He used the Rolodex and phone on her desk and called her friend Jenny and when Jenny said that she hadnít heard from her in at least a week, he called Peter Alcott. Vincent had already talked to Peter and had told him what he knew and Peter came up with a plausible story for Joe.
He told Joe that he hadnít spoke to her but that heíd had a call from a friend that she was supposed to meet for breakfast. When she didnít show, the friend had been worried and had called him.
Both Jenny and Peter had asked Joe to let them know if he learned anything.
After he talked to Peter, Joe called Detective Greg Hughs and asked him to meet him under the arch in Washington Square Park.
Greg met him there and Joe took him to the statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi where Cathy had said that she was meeting her contact. They found nothing, but on closer inspection, they discovered broken foliage and found Cathyís purse with her gun still in it under a bush nearby.
Joe kept his word and called Peter and Jenny about once a week, but after the first couple of weeks heíd had nothing new to report. The papers had been full of the story for a week or so, splashing it all over the front page, then it was relegated to the one of the back pages then it had dropped off completely. New Yorkers had moved on to something new.
Everyone but Vincent had given up hope, but when Devin had last seen him, it seemed that even he had given up.
At first Vincent told him and Father that he knew she was alive; he was sure that he would know if she was dead. Father tried to convince him that in all likelihood, she was dead, but Vincent just got angry and left to search the city. After months of searching, almost nightly, he told Father that he felt that she was still alive but that she wasnít in the city, of that he was sure; she felt too distant and the Bond was quiet, like she was sleeping.
Devin had arrived home within days of Catherineís disappearance. Vincent hadnít really seemed to notice. During his travels, Devin had finished college and had a real diploma in his own name. Father was pleased when he said he was going to stay in New York and study medicine. He knew he was really too old to start medical school, but there was a growing demand for male nurses, so he decided to study nursing. Somewhere along the line heíd discovered a new specialty and had switched to it. Devin became a Physiciansí Assistant.
Not long after he graduated, he left New York for Colorado and a job. Charles had opted to stay Below, he was much more comfortable there among friends who never seemed to notice his appearance. Devin took a job at the Aspen Valley Rehabilitation and Retirement Center. Heíd wanted to work in a hospital, but PAís were a new concept and not widely accepted yet, so Aspen Valley was a good place to start. He was now amazed that heíd been working in the place for several months and Catherine had been lying in a coma in the other end of the building the whole time.
From what Joe had confided in Peter, Cathy had been on a case that had started out looking pretty cut and dried, but the deeper she probed the darker it got. He found files in her desk at home and was surprised to find that she was tracking down all kinds of corruption in the city government. Moreno was even implicated. Joe picked up the investigation where Cathy had left off and six months later Moreno was arrested. Even though he started talking a blue streak as soon as they started questioning him, the man that they really wanted, someone known only as Gabriel, got away. When the police simultaneously moved on his offices in the city and his estate on Staten Island, they had found both places empty. Literally empty; heíd had enough warning to move lock, stock and barrel.
Joe had hoped to find some trace of Cathy in one of the places, but they hadnít.
The case was closed. Catherine Chandler was assumed dead. Her estate was turned over to Peter Alcott who she had named as executor, but Peter hadnít done anything about having her declared dead. He was waiting until Vincent finally accepted it. Her apartment was still as she had left it. The police had been through it several times looking for clues; Joe had gone over to retrieve files, and Jenny had been there and cleaned out the refrigerator and pantry, had done all the laundry, cleaned up, put everything back where it belonged and boxed up all her plants to take home, then she locked up and left. Peter hired someone to go in and clean once a month, but the apartment stayed empty, except when Vincent visited. Sometimes he opened the French doors, she had given him a key, but he only went in one time and that was to retrieve Great Expectations from her bedside table and a photograph of her from the fireplace mantle.
Devin figured that whoever had tried to kill Catherine probably knew that she was still alive, but had left her alone because of the coma. Heíd heard about the comatose patient on the other wing. No one had expected her to recover. Eventually someone from the staff was going to mention the fact of her recovery to someone and the story was going to make the papers. Boulder was a good-sized city, but it still had a small town feel and the papers loved a good human-interest story. This was definitely one of those. He was going to have to talk to Catherine, and do it soon and then he was going to have to get her out of the center quickly. He knew she would be safe once he got her to New York and took her Below, but getting her there safely was going to be the hard part.
"On second, thought," he said out loud to the empty kitchen, "getting her to believe the story isnít going to be a piece of cake either."
He gathered all the clippings and letters and put them back in the envelope; then put the envelope in his briefcase. He considered his plan and decided that he was going to have to give notice at Aspen Valley so he could drive Cathy back to New York. Traveling by air would be risky, and any other public transportation would be too public. Driving would be the safest.
He also decided that he wouldnít be able to let anyone know that he was bringing her home. He had no way of telling if anyone was being watched.
Devin wasnít on duty the next day until midnight, but he went in so he could talk to Cathy after her Physical Therapy Session.
She arrived at his office and he invited her in and asked if sheíd like a cup of tea. He had a fresh pot on his desk.
She said yes and thanked him as she lowered herself into the chair next to his desk.
"You donít look like a tea drinker," she commented as she shoved the walker to one side.
"Habit I picked up from my family. My father is English."
He poured a cup and handed it to her. Before he sat down he locked the door of the office.
Catherine looked at him with raised eyebrows halting the teacup halfway to her lips.
"Donít worry, Cathy. I just need to talk to you privately, and the only way to ensure that is to lock the door."
"OK, Iíll listen," she said skeptically.
"Remember yesterday when you said that I looked familiar, and you asked if weíd met?"
"Yes," she said lowering the cup.
"I lied. I do know you, but I needed to think before I leapt and make sure that it was safe to talk to you. How much do you know about how you got here?"
She was looking at him with her mouth hanging open.
"You OK, Chandler?" he asked without thinking.
Her mouth snapped shut. "Chandler?"
"Your last name. You are Catherine Chandler. Cathy to most of your friends, but Catherine to a select few."
"You really know me?" she asked setting the cup on the desk.
"Nothing I just said rang any bells?" he asked.
"Nothing," she conceded.
"Maybe pictures would mean more," he mused. He opened the Manila envelope and pulled out some newspaper clippings that had photos attached. He folded them so that just the pictures showed and laid them out in front of her. One was of her at some charity function a short time before she met Vincent, the second was of her with her face slashed and stitched, and the last was of her at a press conference several months before she disappeared.
"How about these?" he asked.
Her fingers went to the scar in front of her left ear.
"I was slashed," she said as if in a daze. "They thought I was someone else."
"Thatís right. Anything else?"
She looked at the other pictures then shook her head.
"Iím not sure of the whole story, but from what friends in New York told me you were working on a case for the DAís office. You must have been getting too close for comfort because someone decided that you had to be stopped. Everyone thought you were dead. From what your medical records here say, I think you were supposed to be dead."
"Working on a case? Iím a cop?"
"No, you are a lawyer; an Assistant District Attorney and a very good one. One of the best investigators on in the Manhattan DAís office. Is any of this making any sense?"
She shook her head. "Iím sorry," she said.
"Donít be sorry. Itís possible that the drugs that you were given actually killed brain cells and that is blocking your memory or it could be a result of the crack you took on the head. You might never recover all of your memory, or it could all come back in a split second." He pulled everything but Vincentís and Fatherís letters out of the envelope and handed it all to Catherine.
"Read these. It can probably explain it better than I can."
Catherine read all the clippings then she went back and read a couple of them a second time.
"OK, I believe you," she said when she finally looked up, "but how do I know that you donít work for that syndicate that was mentioned in the articles? The people who were trying to kill me."
"I guess that is something that you are just going to have to trust; I canít really prove it. I really am a Physiciansí Assistant, and I have access to drugs right here in this facility that I could use to kill you and it would look like it was a natural death."
She just sat and looked at him skeptically.
"Look, I read in your file that one of the first things you mentioned was someone named Vincent. When Dr. Rasmussen questioned you about him and asked who he was, you said that from the way you felt when you said the name you thought you were probably romantically involved with him. Iím telling you that you are. Vincent saved your life several times and you actually returned the favor. The two of you are in love, there have been some obstacles to a relationship, but you were working through it. Vincent is my brother. Adopted brother, Iím actually a few years older; my father adopted him when he was only a day old, but Vincent and I couldnít have been closer if we were identical twins.
"Vincent was devastated when he was told that you were probably dead. He is about the only one who hasnít accepted it. Is any of this familiar?"
She shook her head again. "But I believe you. What you are saying sounds right. Something inside is urging me to trust you."
Devin breathed a sigh of relief.
"Thank God!" he said. "It is probably only a matter of time before the local press gets word of your recovery. We have to get you out of here before that happens. Whoever tried to kill you might still consider you a threat even without your memory, and you are a sitting duck here. Iíve come up with a plan that I think will work."
"What is it?" she asked.
"Dee told me that you have started walking outside every afternoon after lunch." At her nod he continued. "Starting tonight, I go on the midnight to noon shift. I came in today to talk to my supervisor and hand in my resignation if you agree to my plan. When I work that shift I never leave until about 1PM. Sometime tomorrow morning, I will slip you a key to my truck. It is the only red Ford pickup in the staff parking lot. Get in and crouch down as far as you can, or lay down on the seat. As soon as I know you are out there Iíll follow and take you to my place. I have rented a small house not far from here. It is kind of isolated, so you should be safe there for a few days."
"Then what? Will you put me on a plane and send me back home?"
"No, like Iíve said. Iím going to resign. Iíll tell them that I have an emergency back home and someone in my family needs my professional care. Iíll work through the end of the week and I plan to leave here on Saturday morning. Iíll talk to my landlady about the house tomorrow."
"How are we going to travel?" she asked.
"We will drive. We can probably make about 10 hours a day and be in New York by Monday evening."
"Thatís my home? New York City?"
"From what Vincent has told me, you were born and raised there. You traveled a lot with your dad, went to college at Radcliffe in Boston, and law school at Columbia. You have an apartment on Central Park West and a cottage on a lake somewhere in Connecticut."
"And my father?" she asked hopefully.
"Vincent told me that he died a few years ago and your mother died when you were a child."
She took it all in and didnít say anything.
"Does it sound like a plan?" he asked.
"It sounds like about the only thing I can do if I want to get my life back."
"Good! Remember Iíll slip you that key sometime tomorrow morning."
She agreed and he helped her up from the chair and handed her the walker.
"What will we do with the walker?" asked Devin as an afterthought. "I have a cover over the back of my truck and the walker wonít fit in the cab with you without giving you away."
"Iím almost to the point where I donít need it," she said. "Iíve only been using it after physical therapy because it tires me out so much. I go back to my room and rest and I donít need it for the rest of the day."
"Good, we can pick one up once we get out of this area if you think you will need it. We will stop and buy you clothing too, so donít try to take anything with you." He walked her to the door and unlocked it, but before he opened it, he turned to her. "Please be careful, Cathy. If you feel the slightest bit threatened, or anything, come and find me, or just go to the nursesí station and hang around. Itís too bad the patientís doors donít lock."
"Donít worry Devin," she said. "Iím sure it will be OK. Iíll keep my eyes open."
"Iíll be able to give you more background while we are traveling," he promised as he opened the door and watched her walk slowly up the hall using the walker as support.
He felt bad about holding back Vincentís letters, but he felt that sheíd been bombarded with enough information for one day. If she didnít remember Vincent before they reached New York he was going to have to find some way to tell her about him. He knew he and to take her Below. He didnít think sheíd be safe anywhere else.
Devin put the finishing touches on the letter of resignation that heíd written then he went to his supervisorís office to hand it over. After a short talk he went home and tried to sleep. He tossed and turned for a while but finally managed to get a little sleep.
* * * * * * * * * *
Wednesday morning brought snow flurries. Cathy didnít have PT on Wednesdays so she spent her morning getting ready to leave. Even though Devin had told her that she shouldnít take anything with her, she was determined to take her journal. Sheíd been keeping it since sheíd gotten strong enough to hold a pen. Sheíd written everything in it: the strange dreams, the fleeting thoughts and impressions. Maybe they would all fit together at some point and start making sense. She was sure that the only person who knew she was keeping the journal was George and that was because heíd suggested it and had given her the book.
She was restless, but she forced herself to sit still and conserve her energy. She opened a seam in the fleece-lined denim jacket that she wore on her walks and she slipped the journal inside between the back and the lining. Then she walked up to the nursesí station and asked if someone had a needle and thread so she could repair a seam in her jacket. Someone had a small sewing kit and was happy to lend it to her. When she got back to her room, she found a key on her desk. She tacked the seam closed again and returned the sewing kit to the nursesí station on her way to lunch.
After lunch, she passed the nursesí station on her way out. She was wearing her jacket and hat and was pulling on her gloves.
"Be careful, Cathy," called one of the nurses. "Itís still snowing and itís kind of slick."
"I will," she promised. "Iíll stick close to the building."
Once she was outside, she angled across the parking lot toward the staff lot. She found the red pickup and went around to the far side. A quick look around the parking lot showed her that she was alone and unobserved, so she used the key and quickly climbed into the cab. Snow covered all the windows so she didnít have to conceal herself; the snow took care of that. She locked all the doors and settled down to wait, hoping that Devin wouldnít be long. It was cold!
Devin was only a few minutes behind her. He got into the cab and made sure she was OK.
"Iím going to start the truck and turn on the heat, then Iím going to get out and clear the snow off the windows, youíll have to get down and stay down until we get out to the main road."
She nodded and lay down across the bench seat as he started the truck and got out.
It only took a minute to clear the windows. Devin slid back in and looked down at Cathy.
"Iíll let you know when to get up," he said then slowly backed out of the spot and drove carefully out of the lot.
He turned the truck out on to the highway. "You can sit up now."
She sat up and fastened her seatbelt then settled back and enjoyed what scenery she could see through the snow as Devin drove carefully down the highway. It took twice as long as usual to get to his house and by the time they got there, visibility was down to almost nothing.
"Seems like Mother Nature is on our side today," he commented as he helped her out of the truck. He kept a steadying hand on her arm all the way up the walk to the door. Once inside he took her coat and as he started to hang it up, he noticed the weight.
"I know you told me not to bring anything, but I had to bring my journal. Itís sewn into the lining of the jacket," she explained from the chair where she was sitting to remove her wet shoes.
"No one will notice that it is gone, will they?" he asked. "We want this to look like you just wandered off and got lost somewhere, not that you planned to leave."
"No one really knows that I was keeping it, except George. He suggested it. I didnít even tell the psychiatrist Iíve been talking to."
"Do you think George will mention it?" asked Devin.
"I donít know," she said in a worried tone.
"Maybe I can steer them in another direction when I go in at midnight and they tell me that theyíve discovered you are missing."
Devin gave Cathy a quick tour of the small house. It only had one bedroom but he told her that heíd put clean sheets on the bed the night before and she could have it. Heíd sleep on the couch for the next few nights.
"I was able to pick a few things up at the store and not appear too conspicuous. I got you a toothbrush, soap, shampoo and conditioner. I think it may even be what you used to use. It smells the same, anyway. You can use one of my T-shirts to sleep in and I put out a spare robe for you. It will be large but at least it is warm. Youíll have to wear the clothes you have on for a few days until we get out of town and can stop to shop. You can wash them before you go to bed so they will be clean in the morning.
Sharing a house with a perfect stranger wasnít as awkward as Cathy had expected it to be; but then, if Devin was telling the truth, he wasnít a perfect stranger. With Devin going off to work at midnight, and not getting back home until the afternoon she had the place pretty much to herself most of the time. When he wasnít at work, he was asleep and she spent most of her time in the bedroom watching TV, reading or writing in her journal.
When he came home Thursday afternoon he told her how the whole place was in an uproar about her disappearance. The staff had searched the whole building and then the grounds and then had called in the sheriff and they were still searching the area. Cathy said that she hoped no one would get into trouble over it. Devin assured her that since everyone had felt that she was competent, in spite of the memory loss, the medical staff had decided to give her free run of the place. No one would look to lay blame on anyone. They would probably just decide that sheíd walked down to the highway and hitched a ride somewhere because she was tired of living in the rest home. She hoped so.
When he got home from work on Friday he stayed just long enough to tell her that he was taking the truck into Boulder to have it serviced for the trip to New York and that he would be back in a couple hours. While he was there, he did a little shopping for the trip.
When he returned, Cathy helped him pack; they had dinner and retired early. Devin wanted to leave before dawn the next morning to minimize the possibility that someone might see her in the truck with him. He was going to head toward Denver to the interstate; they didnít have to go back anywhere near Aspen Valley Rehabilitation and Retirement Center, but he didnít want to take any chances.
Devin was dressed and had the truck loaded before he woke Cathy. She got up, took a quick shower and was ready to leave in about fifteen minutes.
"Iím sorry thereís no coffee," said Devin, as Catherine came into the living room still yawning.
"As long as we can get some once we are on the road," she said with a sleepy smile. "Something tells me that I havenít always been that quick getting dressed," she added as they walked out to the idling truck.
"I wouldnít know," said Devin as they buckled up. "But you did dress very fashionably and always looked very professional."
"You said that Iím a lawyer? How did I meet your brother, is he a lawyer too? A cop?"
"No, neither. I know you read the article from the paper about your disappearance in April 1987. He was the person who found you. The men who slashed your face and beat you up dumped you in the park and left you there. Vincent was walking in the park and saw them leave you. He was sure you would die of shock if he didnít do something, so he took you to his home. Our father is a doctor. He patched you up and you stayed with them until you were able to walk. Vincent took you home."
"We started dating after that?" she asked.
"Something like that, but not right away. He told me that he didnít see you again until the following fall, after youíd had the surgery to get rid of the scars from the slashing."
She sat quietly and Devin thought sheíd dozed off. They were approaching Denver when she spoke again.
"Do you think we could stop for that coffee?" she asked.
"How about I stop at a McDonaldís and run in and get us some breakfast. We are still too close to Boulder for my comfort. We can eat while I drive."
She nodded and started watching for some golden arches to direct Devin too.
They were feasting on Egg McMuffins while driving east on I-70 when a thought struck her.
"You know something strange?"
"What?" he asked glancing over at her.
"I know all kinds of things. I know history, geography, I can identify things and places in pictures, I know that we will probably stay on I-70 all the way into Pennsylvania someplace, and now that I think of it, I could probably find my way around New York City, but I canít remember anything about me personally, except my first name. When I think about being a lawyer, I know what a brief is, and all kinds of legal terms start swimming around in my head, but I canít make much sense out of it all."
"Iím sure that once you are in familiar surroundings it will all start coming back," Devin assured her. "I spoke to the psychiatrist that you were talking to back at Aspen Valley, and he seemed to think that the reason you disappeared was that while you were out walking Wednesday it suddenly all came back. He said that if that happened, it would be pretty overwhelming. He thinks you thumbed a ride and are heading home. He told everyone that he had been expecting some kind breakthrough like that, he just didnít expect you to react to it like that."
"Maybe you could tell me a little about me," she suggested.
"I mostly know what Vincent has told me, but I can tell you how we met," he said.
"Vincent didnít introduce us?" she asked in surprise.
"No, he didnít. I actually ran away from home when I was fourteen. I knocked about the world for the next twenty years running one scam after anotherÖ"
"Scam?" she asked
"Yes, I was a fraud," he admitted.
"But you were a very good fraud," she added with a smile.
He looked over at her quickly then back at the road.
"Where did that come from?" he asked.
"I donít know; it just seemed to fit," she said with a shrug.
Devin considered her statement then went back to his story. "I hadnít been in New York for twenty years. I had done just about everything; Iíd even practiced law for a while on the west coast, without benefit of a law degree, mind you. So I decided that in New York, I wanted to be a lawyer. I had sent a resume and my so-called credentials to the DAís office and they offered me a job. I lasted about two and a half days before you were on to me. You are a hard person to con, Chandler."
"You called me that before," she said.
"Like I said, itís your last name. While we Ďworked togetherí I called you Chandler. Everyone else called you Cathy. Your boss sometimes called you Radcliffe, because you went to college there. Vincent and Father call you CatherineÖ"
He trailed off when he noticed that Cathy appeared to be holding her breath.
"Whatís up Cathy?" he asked. "You can breathe anytime!"
"My boss, heís Deputy District Attorney Joe Maxwell?"
"Yes! Only thanks to the work you did before you disappeared, probably the reason you disappeared, he is now acting District Attorney. John Moreno was indicted not long after you disappeared. Any of that sound familiar?"
"No, but Joe Maxwell does. He has dark curly hair, brown eyes, has kind of a warped sense of humor and he eats strange things. Heís Italian on his motherís side. He called me kiddo too." She looked at him hopefully.
"Right on all counts," he said encouragingly.
"Can you tell me something else?" she asked.
"One of the first things the shrink told me when I took over your case was that it wouldnít be good for you to go too fast, it could put you into some kind of an overload," he said. "How about you tell me what you remember."
She leaned her head back and closed her eyes. She concentrated on the fleeting images of Devin that had flashed through her mind when she first saw him the week before.
"I see you. I have one picture of you in a three piece suit and another of you in jeans, a turtle neck sweater and leather jacket."
"I wore the suit when you first met me in the DAís office, and later, when you saw me in the park I was dressed more casually," he said.
"Joe called you JeffÖJeff Radler?"
"I didnít use my real name then. Mostly because I was only sure of my first name, I didnít know my last name was Wells."
"But you said that your father adopted Vincent," she said.
"Father adopted a lot of children. I grew up thinking that I was one of them. I didnít know I was his natural son until just a few years ago."
"Thatís strange," she commented.
"Not really," he said. "Youíll understand when you start remembering."
She rummaged around in the backpack that Devin had given her, took out her journal and a pen and started to write.
"What are you writing?" he asked.
"I think Iím just a little paranoid about forgetting and everything that Iíve remembered or dreamed Iíve written down, even if it doesnít make any sense."
"What have you written?" he asked.
She turned back to the beginning of the journal.
"The first thing is about Vincent. George told me that I asked for him right after I opened my eyes. I wrote that I told the doctor about how I felt when I said his name and that I thought I had a romantic relationship with him." She leafed through pages. "Iíve dreamed about candlelight, caves, a lion roaring, a clanking sound, about reading to children who were all dressed in strange clothing. Certain pieces of classical music seem to evoke feelings: Vivaldi, Moonlight Sonata, Griegís Piano Concerto. Itís confusing. Does any of it make any sense to you?"
"Yes, most of it does, but I want you to try to sort it all out before I tell you. Why donít you close your eyes and rest for a while. I think it will be safe to stop for lunch once we get to Kansas."
"How far do you think we will get today?" she asked.
"Iíd like to put at least six hundred miles between us and Boulder. I thought weíd stop somewhere around Kansas City, Kansas, tonight. Then around Columbus, Ohio, tomorrow and we should be in New York City by Monday. I want to time our arrival in New York so that we get there after dark Monday evening. We probably wonít leave Columbus until around noon or later. We can sleep in, have some lunch and then leave. That will put us in town sometime around 9PM."
"Why so late?" she asked.
"I donít want to make a conspicuous arrival. I know for a fact that you havenít been declared legally dead, and your home is still as you left it, but Iím not taking you there. Iím going to take you somewhere safe. Once I know that you are secure, Iíll contact Joe and let him know."
"What about Vincent?" she asked. "Wonít you contact him?"
"Iím taking you to Vincent. The safest place I know of for you to be is with him."
His words sent little butterflies fluttering in her stomach; she just wished she knew why."
Catherine leaned back and closed her eyes. The hum of the tires was mesmerizing and she dozed off.
They crossed the state line into Kansas while she slept and only a few miles beyond it she was woke by the sound of a siren and she felt the truck slowing and moving off the side of the road.
"Wake up Cathy," Devin called softly.
"Whatís going on?" she asked, coming instantly awake.
"I donít know, I wasnít speeding; Iíve been very careful of that." He glanced over at her. "Just go along with whatever I say, OK?"
"OK," she whispered.
A Kansas State Trooper got out of his car behind them and walked up to the driversí door. Devin rolled the window down. He already had his wallet out and was pulling out his license.
"Where you headed for?" he asked, as he took Devinís license and looked at it.
"New York, eventually," he said. "Cathy, honey, can you get the registration out of the glovebox?"
Cathy leaned over and rummaged around in the glove box until she found it. The handed it to him and he handed it to the trooper.
"Looks like everything is in order," said the Trooper, leaning over and peering across Devin at Cathy. "The Mrs?" he asked.
Devin nodded. "Just had our third anniversary," he said with a grin.
"Didnít mean to startle you, but I thought Iíd let you know that you have a tail light out on the right. Noticed it back there when you hit the brakes when that car pulled in front of you. I donít give tickets for that kind of thing, but the county deputies around here like to. Thereís an auto parts store at the next exit, about a quarter mile south of the interstate. Wonít take longer than thirty minutes out of your trip."
"Thank you," said Devin, Cathy could hear the relief in his voice. "Weíll take care of it."
The officer smiled, tipped his hat, walked back to his car, got in and drove off.
Cathy let out a breath she didnít even know she was holding.
"Wow," she said, with a nervous giggle, that was just a little disconcerting.
They took the troopers advice and found the auto parts store at the next exit. He was right, it only took about thirty minutes.
* * * * * * * * * *
"Father," do you have a moment?" asked Vincent as he entered Fatherís study.
"Certainly, Vincent," he took off his reading glasses and studied his son as he sat on the chair across the desk from him.
Vincent had lost weight over the months since Catherineís disappearance, or maybe it wasnít that heíd lost weight. Heíd never carried very much body fat, but he did so much physical labor these days, heíd probably just working himself down to nearly no body fat. His appetite had improved of late, he just didnít seem to be gaining any weight from it.
"What are you staring at Father?" asked Vincent. "Do I have dirt on my face?"
"No. I was just speculating as to whether those were gray hairs or if you hair has just gotten lighter."
"I think there are a few gray hairs," Vincent said. "But I didnít come here to talk about that. I had a strange dream last night."
"What kind of dream?" Father asked.
"Iím not sure, but it was very odd. I dreamed that I went up to Catherineís apartment. I was on the balcony and I saw someone moving around inside. I couldnít see who it was, just that it was a dark haired woman. She was turning on lights and fluffing throw pillows, as if getting the place ready for the arrival of guests. Someone knocked on the door and when she opened it, it was Devin. She greeted him and let him in as if she knew him."
"Anything else?" asked Father.
"Only one thing. There was a very large painting of Catherine hanging over the fireplace. It looked like her only it didnít. She was very thin and pale and her hair was darker, and she wasnít dressed as you would expect someone to be dressed who was sitting for a formal portrait. She was wearing jeans, a red turtleneck sweater and a denim jacket with a fleece lining."
"Do you think it was some kind of a premonition? Have you been feeling anything from the Bond?" Father had been humoring Vincent for so long about the possibility that Catherine was still alive, that even he thought that he might be beginning to believe it.
"Iíve been feeling her in the bond for over a month now. Not very strong, but she is there, I know it, but I havenít really been feeling any emotions until today. Itís been swinging back and forth between excitement and anticipation and what Iíve been feeling for the last month. Iím not sure what to make of it, but I feel that she might be on her way home."
"Now donít get your hopes up, Vincent," warned Father. "I would hate to see you disappointed."
"Father Iíve been in pain for so long that if I was disappointed, I donít think I would feel any different."
Father reached across the table and patted his sonís hand.
"I just hope that you are right, Vincent. I miss her too; we all do."
* * * * * * * * * *
They stopped at a motel just outside Kansas City. Over six hundred miles in just over ten hours and Devin felt like heíd been beat with a baseball bat. His truck was not built for comfort on long trips, but it was reliable and he knew it would get them there.
After they checked into the hotel, they walked across the street to a restaurant for dinner. After dinner, Devin suggested that they drive back to a discount store theyíd passed just up the road so Cathy could buy a few necessities.
In the store Devin pushed the cart as she picked things out.
"Funny, I know what size panties and bra I wear," she said as she dropped a couple of each in the cart, "but I donít remember my motherís name."
"Caroline," Devin said absently.
"Caroline?" she asked.
"Yes, Vincent told me it was Caroline, but I could be wrong."
She picked out a pair of jeans to replace the worn sweatpants she had on. She added a couple pairs of socks, a tailored blouse, a red turtleneck sweater, a nightgown, a bar of soap, deodorant, moisturizer, a hairbrush, blush, powder and a lip balm.
"Anything else?" asked Devin.
"With the toiletries you picked up before we left, I think Iím good. Maybe we should pick up some food and a cooler then we wonít have to stop for lunch in a restaurant."
"I think stopping will be a good rest, but a cooler and some drinks and snacks would be good."
In sporting goods, they picked out a small cooler then swung back through the other end of the store and picked up some sodas, canned juice and some snacks.
They were both exhausted by the time they got back to the room. Devin let Cathy use the bathroom first for her shower. When he came out, she was already in her bed and sound asleep. He was beat, and he knew that she had to be near exhaustion.
The alarm on his watch went off the next morning at 6AM, they ate breakfast at the restaurant across the street, and were on the road by 7:30.
Devin pushed it again; they were on the road for nearly twelve hours, but they made it to Columbus. They checked into a hotel; Devin picked one of the nicer chains, mainly because it had room service. While Cathy bathed and got ready for bed, he ordered dinner. It was delivered while he was in the shower and Cathy had just finished setting it out on the table when he came out of the bathroom.
"Smells good," she said.
"I hope you like it," he said. "I sounded good; beef barley soup, and roast beef sandwiches, with apple pie for dessert."
"Iíve done nothing but sit on my butt for the last two days and every time weíve had a meal, Iíve been ravenous!" she said with a laugh. "Iím going to get fat!"
"I doubt that," said Devin. "You were barely eighty-five pounds when you woke up, and the last weight I saw on your chart was ninety-five. I would estimate that when I first met you almost three years ago you were at least ten to fifteen pounds more than that. I donít think it will hurt you in the least."
"My hip bones do stick out a bit more than they should," she admitted.
"Iíll tell you one thing about my brother," added Devin. "He is about six feet two inches, and is well over two hundred pounds of solid muscle. The way you are right now, if he hugs you, you might break."
They ate their dinner and as they were enjoying dessert, Catherine brought up a question that had been bothering her for a while.
"Devin, can you tell me anything about my relationship with your brother?" she asked.
"What do you want to know?"
"Anything, really. Tomorrow Iím going to meet a man that Iím pretty sure that Iím in love with; you say I am, and that he loves me, but I donít even remember what he looks like."
"Youíve known him for almost four years. At first, Father didnít approve, but you won him over, although it wasnít easy."
"Devin, did Vincent and I live together?" she asked.
"No, you stayed with him a few times, but nothing more."
"Then we were intimate?"
"Um, I donít think so. At least from what I know about Vincent, I donít think so."
Cathy was surprised at that answer.
"Why not? I mean," she hesitated and blushed, "Iím pretty sure Iím not a virgin..."
"But Vincent is," interrupted Devin when she paused.
"He is? How old is he? For that matter, how old am I?
Vincent was born in 1955 so that makes him thirty-six. I think you will be thirty-three next September."
"And heís neverÖ?"
"Nope. He was in love once when he was about sixteen, after I left, but she went away to study ballet, and he didnít fall in love again until he met you, but boy did he fall then."
"I donít get it, Devin," she said.
"Vincent doesnít get out much," said Devin, thinking that heíd just made the understatement of the year. "He has a small circle of friends, but just never had any girlfriends. I mean heís known plenty of women, and has a lot of female friends, but heís just never been romantically involved."
"Is it because of religious reasons?" she asked.
"No, there are a couple of reasons. One was Father. He had a couple of bad experiences that rather soured him on women, at least as far as romantic involvement is concerned. That rubbed off on Vincent. Then there is Vincent himself. I told you he was big and heís very strong, but heís also very gentle. Even though Vincent can be the gentlest man I know; Father has always warned him about being careful not to hurt people. When he was a child, he would warn him about playing too rough and accidentally hurting the other children. He always tried to be very careful, but," he gestured to his right cheek, "sometimes, accidents happened."
"He did that?" she asked, staring at the scars on his face in horror.
Devin had hoped that revealing where the scars had come from would jar her memory, after all they would be face to face with Vincent tomorrow night, but they didnít, they only seemed to distress her.
"Devin, I have a large scar on my back. Would you happen to know where that came from?" she asked.
"That must have been when you were shot."
"Yes, you were shot in the back while you were on a case for the DAís office. Vincent just happened to be close by and got you to the hospital in time."
"One of the times he saved my life?"
"One of them," he said. "If you are as tired as I am, I think weíve both had enough of this tonight, but at least we donít have to get up before dawn tomorrow and we can take our time. We can talk some more tomorrow while we are on the road."
"Sounds good to me," she said with a tried smile.
"You go on to bed and Iíll put this outside the door." He started stacking dishes on the tray as Cathy went to brush her teeth.
* * * * * * * * * *
Vincent was stretched out on his bed staring at the ceiling when Father came looking for him.
"Are you all right, Vincent?" he asked.
"Yes Father. Why do you ask?" He looked across the room at the concerned man in the entrance.
"You werenít at dinner, and the children said that you cut story time short earlier."
"I just had a very strong sense of Catherine; that was all Father. I had to get away. I spent some time at the Mirror Pool then I came back to my chamber. I forgot all about dinner."
"What did you feel?"
Vincent sat up and swung his feet off the bed. "She suddenly felt so near. Not in the city, but so much closer than she has felt. I know she is somehow on her way home. I have a feeling of anticipation and I canít tell if it is mine or hers or both of us."
Father crossed the room and sat down on the chair next to Vincentís writing table.
"I just hope you arenít getting yourself all worked up for a disappointment," he said as Vincent swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat up.
"Father, I told you before. I can handle the disappointment; it wonít be any worse than what Iíve been going through since Catherine disappearedÖ" Vincent leaned forward and took Fatherís hands in his. "Catherine is on her way home; Iím sure of it. I havenít felt this kind of happiness since before my illness."
"But Vincent, you know what I always say."
Vincent cocked an eyebrow and looked at his Father. "You say a lot of things," he quipped. "What message are you trying to convey this time?"
Father chuckled, and continued. "Happiness has to come from within you. No one outside yourself can make you happy. If you canít do it for yourself, then no one can do it for you."
"I agree with you, Father, and before Catherine came into my life, I was happy. I was content, but it was the kind of contentment that comes with not really knowing what I was missing. Catherine arrived and it was like findingÖand I know this is very clichť, but it was like finding the other half of myselfÖmy soul mate. The Bond only proved to me that we are supposed to be together." He squeezed Fatherís hand, then got up and started to pace; not the agitated pacing of the last months, but a more relaxed, contemplative pacing. "If sheÖnoÖwhen she comes home, I donít intend to deny her anything she asks of me, Father," he said with surety in his voice. "If she wants to stay with me Below, I will welcome her with open armsÖliterally. I will give her whatever it is within my power to give herÖincluding myself."
Father took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Vincent was so sure of this, all of it, that he couldnít argue with him, not now.
"I pray that you are right, son," was all he said before he rose and left the chamber.
* * * * * * * * * *
Catherine was dreaming, only she didnít know it. As with most dreams, she thought it was really happening.
The dream started with her sitting at a long dining room table, it was dimly lit with candles, but it was far from romantic. She was arguing with someone else in the room, someone she called Stephen. The next thing she knew she had jumped up from the table and had jumped through a closed window, the glass shattering all around her. She ran as hard and as fast as she could across a lawn and into a wooded area. The man named Stephen followed her. She slipped on the dew-wet grass and rolled down a hill and Stephen was right behind her. He caught her and was strangling her when suddenly there was a roar like a lion and he was snatched off her. She woke screaming.
Devin heard her shouting, "No VincentÖitís over!" and was at her side in the time it took him to roll out of bed and cross the two feet that separated their beds. He sat on the edge of her bed and pulled her into his arms.
"Cathy, itís OK," he said, hugging her. "Itís just a nightmare. Wake up." He gave her a little shake, which brought her fully awake.
"Oh, Devin!" she gasped and started sobbing.
"What was it, Cathy?" he asked. "What did you see?"
She recounted what she remembered of the dream. "It sounded like a lion, Devin. How could it be a lion?"
She managed to calm herself and Devin handed her a couple tissues from the box on the nightstand.
He got up, went into the bathroom, returned with a cold, wet washcloth and wiped her face with it.
"Thank you Devin," she said with a tired sigh. "That feels good. Wow, that was the strangest dream, so detailed."
"Maybe it was a memory?" he suggested.
"A memory? And I was rescued by a lion? I donít think soÖBut it could have been symbolic. Maybe I saw my rescuer as something like that. Isnít a lion kind of symbolic of courage and power?" she asked.
"Among other things," he agreed. "The Turks say that a lion sleeps in the heart of every man. Now go back to sleep, we can talk in the morning. Do you want me to leave a light on?" He remembered Vincent telling him that Catherine was afraid of the dark.
"No, Iím OK. Good night."
* * * * * * * * * *
Vincent sat up in his bed, breathing hard, heíd just replayed the entire incident where heíd rescued Catherine the time Stephen Bass had kidnapped her and taken her to the house in New Rochelle. He hadnít thought of that in months, at least not since before his illness almost two years ago.
* * * * * * * * * *
Devin woke around nine the next morning. He had finished dressing and was just leaving the bathroom when Cathy started to stir.
"How are you this morning?" he asked.
"OK, I think. Iím sorry I woke you last night. That was the weirdest dream." She stretched and rubbed her eyes. "I think Iíll take another shower this morning. It might help get rid of the cob webs."
As they were loading the truck, Devin thought that Cathy looked more like her old self this morning than she had since heíd seen her that first day in the rest home.
She was still thinner than she should have been, but she was dressed more like she used to, in jeans and the red turtleneck sweater. Sheíd shampooed her hair and used the hotel dryer to dry it. It looked shiny and healthy. She even had a healthier glow in her face, although it might have been the combination of the blush and a reflection off the red sweater.
They checked out then went in search of a restaurant. They ate a leisurely meal. Before they left the restaurant Devin made a telephone call and they were on the road by 1PM.
"Who did you call?" she asked as they left the parking lot.
"A friend in New York. He has a fenced yard behind his business and lets me park there when Iím in town. Itís easier to park and walk , take a cab or the subway."
They stopped for dinner just outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
While they were eating Devin pulled out the manila envelope containing all his information on Catherine. He extracted Vincentís letters and handed them to her.
"What are these?" she asked, taking the stack of papers.
"Vincentís letters to me, starting with right after your disappearance. I wasnít home when it happened. I thought you might like to read them."
"Are you sure?" she asked.
"Yes, they are in chronological order, the oldest on top."
She started to read.
What impressed her most was the utter desolation that was conveyed in the letters.
The very first words of the first letter were: "She is gone, and I have no sense of her. I canít feel a thing, only my own pain."
Their dinners arrived and she ignored hers as she continued to read.
When she finally finished the last one there were tears in her eyes when she looked up at Devin.
"Oh, DevinÖI never dreamedÖAre you sure that the woman that he is talking about is me? What did I ever do to deserve that kind of love?"
"You love himÖunconditionally; in spite of his insecurities and fears," Devin said simply.
"Devin, how can I not remember him? How can I not remember a love like that? I donít deserve him if I canít remember it. Could I have changed that much?" Tears were over flowing now and she was ignoring them.
"Cathy, as far as I can tell, you havenít changed. You react the same way you did before, although I will admit to not knowing you extremely well. I canít tell you any more in here. Itíll have to wait until we are in the truck. So eat your dinner and weíll get back on the road.
Catherine didnít eat much, but she ate enough to make Devin happy.
The woman at the cash register did a double take when she saw her. Cathy didnít notice it, but Devin did.
"Excuse me," the cashier said, "arenít you Catherine Chandler."
Devin was surprised at how quick Cathy thought on her feet. She smiled at the woman. "No, Iím sorry, Iím not. My name is Caroline, Caroline Wells. Do I look like someone you know?"
"Well, now that I see you better, you do, but not a lot. She was a blond. She used to be a DA in New York and I testified at a trial she was prosecuting. Come to think of it, I think I heard that she was dead. Sorry, about that," the woman said with a smile.
"Thatís OK," said Cathy with a friendly smile, "Iíd rather be mistaken for a DA than someone who owes you money or something."
Once they were back in the truck she took a deep breath.
"How much longer?" she asked.
"Only a few more hours," Devin promised.
When they were settled and on the road again she demanded that he tell her the rest of the story heíd begun in the restaurant.
"You are going to have to suspend disbelief for a while," he told her. "This is a pretty fantastic tale.
"Once upon a time," he said smiling at her, "there was a group of people who banded together to help each other. None of them had much of anything, but together they had what they needed to survive. They had no place to live, so they found a place in some of the shallower tunnels off the subways and subbasements of buildings in Manhattan. A few of the more intrepid in the group started to explore and they found that below the manmade tunnels under the city were natural caves and tunnels. So they moved deeper beneath the city and they made a home."
He glanced over at her to see if she was remembering anything. She had her eyes closed and her face was expressionless, so he continued.
"I think the first people moved Below in the late 40ís or early Ď50ís and over the years it has grown from a small group of about ten or fifteen people to somewhere over a hundred. People come and go, some are born there and never leave; some join the community and stay, some stay only a short time. We have Helpers Above who do what their name implies, they help. They also bring people Below who need our help. They bring children who have been abandoned to the streets Below where they are nurtured and loved. The last time I visited, there were almost as many children as there were adults, most are orphans. I was born thereÖ"
"Was Vincent born there?" she asked.
Devin decided to take a chance and tell the story as he knew that she must have heard it.
"No, Vincent was a foundling. The wife of one of the founders of the community found him near the trash behind St. Vincentís Hospital; that was where he got his name. She took him Below to Father. At first Father didnít think he would live. It was a cold night in January, and he was only a few hours old when she found him. Father was sure that the cold had been too much, but they bathed him in warm water and got his temperature back up, then put him in a warm spot near a fire. One of the women was nursing her own child, and she volunteered to pump extra for Vincent. At first he wouldnít eat, he just cried; cried for days with hardly a stop, then suddenly he just quit. Father thought for sure that he was dead. I was very young, only about three, but I remember Father quickly unwrapping Vincent and checking him, but he was alive, just asleep. He slept for hours and when he woke, he started to eat. Over the next few weeks, there were a few more scares, but Vincent began to thrive and grow. He became a symbol and a rock for the community."
"Vincent is special," said Catherine, in a dreamy voice. "Heís differentÖIím not sure how, but heís beautifulÖ" she took a deep breath. "Devin, I remember a little. Not everything, but a little."
"Good, Cathy," he said. "I was trying to figure out how I was going to take you Below, but manage to keep Vincent away. How much do you remember?"
"Iím not really sureÖ"she paused to think. "I still donít remember what Vincent looks like, except that he has blue eyes. I think Iíve actually been seeing his eyes in my dreams since I woke up from the coma. I remember his voice. That was what kept me from total panic that first time I was Below recovering from the broken ribs and the slashing. He read to me. Mostly it was Great Expectations, but he also read poetryÖI remember being held. I feel so safe and secure when I think of that."
She leaned back and closed her eyes, lost in the images that kept flying through her mind. She must have dozed because when she opened her eyes again she was shocked to see where they were.
"Weíre in New York!"
"We will park the truck in about 10 minutes. The Helper who owns the lot I park in doesnít have a threshold so we will have to walk. Do you feel up to walking about ten blocks?"
"I think so. If nothing else the adrenalin will keep me going," she assured him.
"Good. I donít want to chance going Below through any of the shops owned by Helpers. Normally, I would trust everyone implicitly, but right now I want to keep the fact that you are back in town as secret as possible. We will use the threshold in the park. That only has one sentry and I will try to get to them before they announce our arrival. It isnít just that I want to surprise Vincent, although Iím really looking forward to his reaction, itís that I want to talk with Father before it is announced to the whole community that you are back. It might just be safer to keep it a secret from everyone to begin with."
She nodded as Devin made a right turn into an alley. He stopped in front of a gate with a sign announcing "Robbyís Garage---Deliveries Only." Devin got out and rummaged around in a stack of boxes until he found a key; then he unlocked the gate and pushed it open. He drove the truck through it and parked, then went back and closed and locked the gate.
"How will we get out?" Catherine nodding at the gate as she slid out of the cab of the truck.
"I know where he hides the building key. I told him that we might need to use the phone to call a cab, but as long as you are up to it, weíll walk. Cabbies tend to remember people who ask to be let out in the middle of Central park late at night."
She nodded as she pulled her backpack out of the truck. Devin pulled another out from behind the seat, then locked the truck. "Weíll send some of the kids back for the rest of the stuff later," he said as he unlocked the door to the building.
Inside, Catherine used the ladiesí room while Devin bought several cans of juice from the machine in the front.
"What time is it?" asked Catherine as they started walking.
"Almost eleven," Devin told her. "We should make the threshold before midnight.
They walked at a brisk pace for the first five or six blocks, then Catherine started to slow down.
"Do you want me to grab us a cab?" he asked with concern.
"No, Iím OK. I just need to slow down a little."
They slowed their pace. Once they were in the park Devin stopped and handed Catherine the can of juice.
"You didnít eat much dinner, this will get your blood sugar back up." he suggested. "Youíll feel better."
She drank the juice. "I do feel better. It isnít that much farther. Iíll make it," she assured him.
They made their way through the park to the culvert; they avoided the usual paths and used a more direct route across lawns and through wooded areas. It was almost another fifteen minutes before they reached their destination. Catherine had to stop and catch her breath again once they were inside the culvert.
"Father do you have a minute?" asked Vincent as he entered the study.
Father looked up to take in the spectacle of a disheveled Vincent out and about in his nightclothes and no robe.
"Is something wrong, Vincent?" he asked in concern.
"No, Father. It couldnít be more right," he said, smiling. "Sheís coming. She is very near. In the city, in the Park, I think."
"Catherine? Can you tell where?"
"No, the Bond isnít quite as strong as it was before she disappeared, but it is strong enough for me to tell that she is on her way home. I can feel the anticipation; hers and mine."
"You are sure she is coming Below?" asked Father.
"Yes, I donít think she would be in the park this late at night if she wasnít."
"Maybe she is at her apartment," suggested Father.
"No, Iím feeling her coming from a different direction. She is coming from the south, not the west," Vincent assured him.
"Then perhaps you should go changeÖwe will listen for the sentry to announce her arrival and then you can go meet her."
Vincent took the advice and went back to his chamber. He had just finished putting on his jeans and boots, when he felt a strong pull toward the park threshold. He hastily pulled a shirt on over his head, leaving the top buttons undone. He grabbed his cloak and was swinging it on as he dashed past the entrance to Fatherís chamber.
"Sheís coming to the park threshold," he called out as he ran past.
Inside the culvert, Catherine pulled off her backpack and let it drop to the floor. She leaned on the wall and then slid down to a squatting position. Devin rushed to her side.
"Are you all right?" he asked as he went down on one knee next to her.
She looked up and gave him a weak smile. "Iím OK, just suddenly very tired. It think that much touted adrenalin has worn off."
Devin rummaged in his pack and handed her another can of juice.
"Itís not that much farther," he promised. "About half a mile. Once you are back on your feet we can be there in ten minutes."
She opened the can and sipped at the juice. When she finished, Devin took the can and stowed it back in his pack.
"Better?" he asked.
She opened her eyes and looked back up at him with a smile. "Better. I think I can make it now."
Devin stood and helped her to her feet. He put his own backpack on, picked hers up then helped her to her feet.
He went over to the iron bar gate and pulled it open a few feet then pulled the lever in the niche on the wall. He had his arm around Catherine to help her over the raised threshold. The door opened completely to reveal a large, dark, caped figure standing on the other side.
Catherineís eyes were on her feet as she stepped forward. Devin caught sight of Vincent before she did. Vincent saw them just as the door opened.
"Catherine!" he gasped, stepping toward the opening.
At the sound of his voice, her head went up, and as soon as she saw him, she freed herself from Devin and launched herself across the threshold and into Vincentís arms.
"Vincent!" she cried as she reached him.
Devin calmly stepped through the opening, pulling the iron bar gate closed behind him. He tripped the lever on the inside to close the solid metal door then moved to lean on the wall opposite Catherine and Vincent.
For several minutes the only sounds were Catherineís quiet sobs, Vincentís soft, reassuring whispers and the tapping on the pipes.
Vincent finally lifted his head to look at his brother, leaning on the opposite wall.
"Thank you for bringing her home to me," was all he could manage.
Catherine finally dried her tears with a handkerchief Vincent gave her. She leaned wearily on him, but kept her arms tight around his waist, as if she was afraid that he would disappear.
The three started off toward the home tunnels and after only a few steps, Catherine stumbled.
"Catherine, youíre exhausted," exclaimed Vincent as he swept her up into his arms to carry her.
She didnít even try to protest, just sighed and snuggled her head into his right shoulder. Vincent led the way, carrying Catherine and Devin trailed along behind. When they reached the sentry post, Devin stopped to speak to the sentry and ask him not to announce their arrival and not to tell anyone until Father made the official announcement to the whole community. Rather be safe than sorry. He jogged to catch up with Vincent.
Devin followed Vincent into his chamber and dropped Catherineís backpack on a chair.
"Iíll just leave you two alone and go fill Dad in," he said as he started to go.
"Devin," called Vincent as he sat on the bed still holding Catherine. "Would you ask Father to come and check Catherine?"
"Sure, Vincent. Weíll be back in a few." He turned and left just as Catherine reached up to turn Vincentís face toward hers.
"I canít believe it," she sighed as his eyes met hers. "Everything has been so crazy. Itís hard to believe that Iím finally home."
"It will be hard for me to let you out of my sight again, Catherine," Vincent assured her.
"Donít worry, I donít have any intention of going anywhere. Devin said that as far as he knows, the people who were responsible for kidnapping me and trying to kill meÖ"
"Kill you?" Vincent interrupted. "Tell me, Catherine."
"I still donít remember all of it. I woke up from an eighteen-month coma in the middle of January, and it has taken a long time for things to come back. I didnít even remember you until just a few minutes ago."
"You didnít remember me?" Vincent looked shocked and she could hear the hurt in his voice.
"That isnít exactly rightÖ" she sighed wearily. "I remembered you. George said that I asked for Vincent seconds after I opened my eyes. I just didnít know exactly who Vincent was. When the doctor asked me, I told him that I wasnít sure, but from the way I felt when I said your name, I knew that I loved you." She caressed his cheek again. "I didnít forget you VincentÖI could never do that, I just didnít remember what you looked like, except for your eyes and voice. I kept dreaming of those. Devin told me that you have blue eyes, so I knew it was you in my dreams."
She briefly told him what she had learned from George and Devin, promising more after sheíd rested.
Vincent finally visibly relaxed. He closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath.
"I can hardly believe that I have you home again; back in my arms." He opened his eyes and looked down at her. "Catherine, I love you," he said simply.
"Oh Vincent, and I love you! More than anyone could possibly know. I missed you and I didnít even realize what I was missing."
Her words echoed what heíd told Father only a few days before.
Before he realized what he was doing, he had lowered his head and was kissing her. Catherine remembered enough to know that this wasnít exactly normal behavior for Vincent, but she didnít ponder it too much before she was lost in his kisses. For all that they were enough to curl her toes they were also innocent and all too brief. They heard Father and Devin in the tunnel outside the entrance and Vincent pulled away.
"Later, Catherine," he promised with a look that would melt a glacier.
"Catherine, my dear," Father was saying as he crossed the chamber, "welcome home."
Devin moved a chair closer to Vincent and Catherine and Father sat down. "Devin said that Vincent wanted me to take a look at you." He set his medical bag on the floor next to his chair. "Are you ill?"
"No, Father. Just very tired. Devin did all the driving but it is still a very long ride from Boulder, Colorado to New York City."
"You were my navigator," Devin pointed out. "We didnít get lost once in eighteen hundred miles."
"Yes, but we also didnít have to turn until we hit Pennsylvania," she said with a laugh.
Father took out his pocket watch and popped it open, then took Catherineís wrist in his fingers.
"Pulse is slightly elevated," he observed, after a minute.
Vincent and Devinís eyes met over Fatherís head. Devin smiled and winked, then Vincentís golden hued skin took on a distinctly reddish hue and he dropped his eyes to help Catherine out of her jacket.
Father pulled a thermometer out of his bag and held it out to Catherine who obediently opened her mouth. Then he pulled his stethoscope out. He put the earpieces in his ears and slid the chest piece up under her sweater from the bottom. He listened for a few moments then got up and moved around to her back and repeated the same procedure. He asked her to take a couple deep breaths. He moved back to the chair and sat down. He removed the thermometer, read it then handed it to Devin who automatically wiped it with an alcohol swab then put it back into its holder.
"Everything appears to be normal, Catherine," he said. "No fever, your heart is strong and regular, and your lungs are clear. Devin has updated me on your history, in fact he even managed to provide a copy of your chart from the hospital and the rehabilitation center. You are much too thin. He said that when you left the center last Wednesday you weighed only 95 pounds. I prescribe a few months of Williamís cooking and plenty of rest and light exercise and you will be right as rain."
"Thank you, Father," she said with a tired smile as she laid her head back on Vincentís shoulder.
"Weíll get someone to make up the guest chamber andÖ"
"Father," Vincent interrupted. "Catherine will be staying here."
Father looked at Catherine who nodded. "Besides," she added, "where would Devin sleep?"
"I thought perhapsÖ" Father started.
"Dad," said Devin, as she pulled his father to his feet and handed him his cane. "Cathy and Vincent have over a year and a half to catch up on." He picked up the medical bag and led the older man out of the chamber.
"Iíll get Catherine settled. Iíll go get her a snack and Iíll stop in your chamber for a few minutes on my way," Vincent called after them.
When the other two men were out of the chamber, Vincent looked down at Catherine. "Are you hungry, Catherine?" he asked as he rose and set her gently on the bed.
"A little. Maybe something light and some tea?"
"Do you need help getting ready for bed?" he asked.
"No, I think I can handle that," she assured him. "Are you going to bring a cot back for me?" she asked, remembering the nights sheíd spent on a cot as she watched over him after his illness.
"No, Catherine. Youíll take the bed." He turned and started toward the entrance, then he turned and looked back at her. "May I share it with you?" he asked shyly.
As tired as she was, she felt a thrill run though her body. "Oh yes, please, Vincent," she said with a bright smile.
He smiled shyly back at her and quickly left the chamber.
On his way to the kitchen he detoured into Fatherís chamber. He hugged Devin and thanked him again for bringing Catherine home.
"Iím sorry I doubted what you were feeling, Vincent," Father apologized.
"Donít worry, Father," said Vincent, "you were only trying to protect me and prepare me in case I turned out to be wrong."
"Ah, but it seems that Iíve made a lot of mistakes over the years all in the name of protecting you."
"It was done out of love, Father," Vincent pointed out as he moved to hug the older man.
"Will she be staying Below?" asked Father.
"We havenít discussed it yet," said Vincent.
"She will, for at least a while," put in Devin. "I donít think itís safe for it to be common knowledge that she is back. I was just going to discuss that with Dad. Everyone Below needs to know that they shouldnít talk about her return, not even with trusted Helpers. At least not until Iíve had a chance to go talk to Joe Maxwell."
The two other men nodded their understanding. Then Father tuned to Vincent.
"Will she be staying with you in your chamber the entire time?" he asked.
"Yes, Father, if she wants to, and right now, I can sense that she does," Vincent answered. "Do you remember our conversation?"
The one about you giving Catherine everything she wantsÖ" started Father.
"I think my exact words were: "I donít intend to deny her anything she asks of me. If she wants to stay with me Below, I will welcome her with open armsÖliterally. I will give her whatever it is within my power to give herÖincluding myself."
His eyes shifted from Father to Devin. Devin gave him a Ďthumbs upí and an encouraging grin.
"But you must go slowly," started Father, "Catherineís health is very fragileÖ"
"Oh come off it, Dad!" admonished Devin. "She isnít all that fragile. That is one of the strongest women Iíve ever met. Physically and emotionally. She came through everything in much better shape than I would have expected anyone too. The level of drugs in her system should have killed her, but it didnít. Being thrown from the car and the crack she took on the head should have finished her off, but it didnít. She lived, and sheís here; all because she loves you, Vincent. So my advice is to go get your midnight snack," he looked at his watch. "Well make that your 2AM feeding, then love your woman and sleep well."
Father was sputtering as Devin took Vincentís arm and escorted him to the chamber entrance.
"Go for it, Little Brother," he said as he patted a stunned Vincent on the back and shoved him out into the tunnel.
* * * * * * * * * *
Catherine retrieved her toiletries and nightgown from her backpack. She quickly pulled off her clothes and put on the nightgown. It was nothing like the silky, seductive things she used to wear but it was warm and comfortable. She put her toiletries on the shelf over the washstand next to some of Vincentís things. She poured water in the basin and washed her face, brushed her teeth then disposed of the water in the bucket under that stand. She was just settling on the far side of the bed when Vincent returned with the tray.
She took a sniff as he handed her a mug of tea.
"Um, smells delicious," she said. "Herbal?"
"Yes, the one you liked when you were first below." He set a plate containing a sandwich on her lap.
She looked at it before smiling and taking a bite.
"I love peanut butter and jelly," she said after she chewed and swallowed.
Vincent took his own plate and cup and sat on the side of the bed, turned toward her.
"Not just any peanut butter and jelly," he pointed out with a smile. "Itís Williamís homemade bread, crunchy peanut butter and homemade strawberry jam. The last from last summerís strawberries."
"Thank you, Vincent," she said around another bite. "Iím a bit of a closet peanut butter and jelly eater. I eat it either as a middle-of-the-night snack, or for breakfast on toasted bread." She ate quietly for a moment. "Things are coming back, and they are doing it in a natural flow. When I was washing earlier I remembered doing the same thing when I stayed here after you were sick. And just now I remembered that I love peanut butter and jelly."
The snack seemed to revive Catherine a little and she chatted and sipped her tea as Vincent went around the room putting out candles until only the one behind the stained glass window remained. He moved behind the screen where he changed into his nightclothes and brushed his teeth. When he came back out into the room, he was wearing a long nightshirt that went almost to his ankles and he carried his robe. He threw the robe over the back of a chair and sat down on the side of his bed with his back to Catherine. As he was taking off his slippers, Catherine reached out and touched his back. She could feel how tense he was and she rolled up to her knees behind him and started rubbing his back lightly.
"Catherine, Iím the one who should be taking care of youÖafter all youíve been through."
He turned and urged her to lie back down. He lay down next to her and pulled the blankets up. They were facing each other and Catherine reached up and touched his face.
"Even when I didnít remember what you looked like, I was afraid that Iíd never see you again. It was such a relief when Devin told me that he knew who I was and that he knew you."
Vincent reached out and pulled her into his arms and she burrowed into his embrace, rubbing her nose against the skin that was exposed by the open neck of his nightshirt.
"I felt so helpless," he whispered. "At first I didnít feel anything from the Bond, then I started feeling a little, but it was only what used to be there when you were asleep, then in JanuaryÖit was on my birthdayÖit suddenly felt as if you were awake. It was like when you were in California that time."
"I did wake up on your birthday," she told him. "I didnít realize it until just now, but it was January 12th, almost two months ago."
He held her tighter, and she sighed in contentment. "This is where I belong, Vincent. Iíve been so lost the last two months."
She slid her arms around his waist and pulled her lower body in contact with his. She felt, more than heard his quick intake of breath at the contact. She rubbed her foot across the inside of his ankle, then just let it rest there. He was just starting to relax into her embrace when she spoke again.
"Love me, Vincent. Please?" she whispered.
She felt his whole body go tense. "But youíre tired Catherine," he protested.
"Not too tired, Love. Never too tired for you."
"CatherineÖare you sure?" He drew back to look into her eyes in the semi-dark.
"Iíve never been more sure of anything in my life," she said, meeting his eyes steadily. "I love you and I want to make love with you."
"Catherine," he groaned as his lips found hers. This kiss was not the chaste one of earlier; this one was the kiss of a lover and Catherine pushed it to the limit as she opened her mouth and sought his tongue with hers.
He amazed them both with his boldness by sliding his hands up her sides and under her gown, stripping it off over her head, revealing her body to his hungry eyes.
He couldn't help but gasp at what he saw next to him. She was too thin, but still beautiful in his eyes. So lovely. So petite, yet strong and feminine. Her eyes invited him to continue.
Vincent smiled slightly. He rose to his knees never taking his eyes from hers and quickly stripped his nightshirt off over his head. He stayed there for a few moments, letting her look at him as he had at her.
Her hands itched to touch, but she held back, still nervous that she would send him into a panic.
He lay back down next to her and pulled her body close to his again.
Catherine closed her eyes and sighed as she had felt his warmth. She moved even closer, if that was possible. His left arm was under the pillow cradling her head and his right hand was exploring her back.
He couldnít believe the incredible softness. Heíd touched her bare skin before, her arm, her hand, her cheek, even her foot once when sheíd turned her ankle, but none of it compared with the skin that had been forbidden until now. His hand moved lower, over her bottom then to the back of her thigh, fingers curving in toward the inner thigh.
She opened her eyes and looked into his, not sure what she would see there, but his eyes were steady, the pupils dilated. He didnít look like he was on the verge of panic. It seemed right that their first time would be here, in his chamber. The place she had learned to trust him and love him, even before she had realized it.
Catherine reached toward his face, her fingers tracing his jaw; and she lost herself in his eyes.
He watched as she gazed at him, wondering just what she was seeing. He savored the sweet caress that she gave, even as he wondered what she was thinking. He knew her feelings, but her thoughts were still a mystery. Was she seeing a grotesque and deciding that she couldn't love him? Or was she seeing something else entirely, something that only she could see in him? Almost as if she knew what he was thinking, she touched his upper lip.
"You are so beautiful, Vincent," she whispered.
He copied her motion with his hand, running the backs of his fingers over her delicate features, knowing that this moment would be forever burned into his memory.
Catherine then moved her hand to the back of his head and pulled his face toward hers; just barely brushing her lips against his. "I love you, Vincent."
All he could focus on were the words that she had just spoken, and he knew that there was no going back. Ever. He would do anything and everything in his power to keep her with him and by his side for as long as there was life in his body. She held his heart in her hands, and he was determined to show her how much he loved her. For once in his life, words escaped him.
He touched her lips with his, lightly, then kissed her deeply. The kisses seemed to go on forever. Once he started, he didnít want to stop. He wanted to kiss every inch of her body. Down her neck to her chest, then to her breast. The kiss he dropped on her left nipple caused her to gasp, and he felt a surge of pleasure through the Bond. He opened himself completely to the Bond then, and let it guide him. The only thing that he found confusing was that everything he did seemed to give Catherine pleasure and he didnít really know where to start. As he suckled deeply on her breast, it was her moan that broke though his own haze of pleasure and made him direct his attention back to the Bond to make sure that he wasnít hurting her. All he found there was a vivid pink glow that only intensified as he moved his attention to her other breast.
When he finally managed to pull himself away from her breasts and back to her mouth, he hesitated before kissing her again.
"Are you ready, Catherine?" he asked hesitantly.
The question made Catherine open her eyes and look into his.
"Yes Vincent. Iím readyÖIíve been ready for a very long time. Weíve talked of love, now itís time to show each other how much we loveÖ"
He raised himself over her, supporting his weight on forearms and knees. He moved between her legs then kissed her again, while lowering himself to her body, showing her as she had said.
As he entered her, slowly, she kept her eyes locked with his; he held back a groan as he found himself inside the woman that he loved more than life itself. He had never dared to dream that this day would come. Suddenly all the emotion hit him at once, and he was powerless against it, to hold it back; his tears began to fall.
She knew exactly what he was feeling her tears flowed too. She pulled his head down and kissed the tears away then kissed his lips. She began to move beneath him, urging him on with gentle whispers and sounds. He gave himself up to the sensations, losing himself in the rhythm and the breathtaking woman who lay beneath him. His beloved.
Catherine was amazed by the man who held her. He was waking emotions that had slumbered for years. Love and an overwhelming passion seemed to be creeping from a small place in the back of her heart where she had hidden them, where she had carefully locked them away, denying them their place in her world.
Now they were escaping, and she marveled at her power of denial and self-deception. Sheíd always been amazed by Vincentís control, now she realized sheíd been doing it too. How she had kept this hidden for so long, she honestly did not know.
She too, was lost in the rhythm of their lovemaking. This was different from the somewhat selfish pleasure taken by other partners. If someone had asked her before how she believed Vincent would be as a lover, she might have said he would probably be slow, methodical and very careful, but he was anything but.
He started slow, but soon the pace quickened, and he loved her with everything he had, which came close to being too much for her. If somebody was to ask her now, at that very moment what he was like as a lover, she would describe him in one word: passionate. He didn't hold back, but at the same time each move was gentle and loving. Each move was electrifying and seemed to melt her from the inside, changing her physically as well as emotionally.
He tried to hold back as he felt the passion slowly building up within him, driving him close to the edge. He wanted their first union to be perfect in every way. He slid a hand down her abdomen to where their bodies joined, barely brushing her clitoris with his thumb. That was all it took, she keened, her back arching in a pleasure that took him with her to the very edge of oblivion. They reached that pinnacle together and his body shook and ached with the pleasure that seemed to flow from his body into hers, then back to him through the Bond, connecting them in new way. His head fell forward as hers arched back, and he buried his face in her neck, slowly thrusting, continuing their exquisite ecstasy as long as possible.
They both came back down to earth slowly. When he finally pulled his body from hers, she whimpered, feeling empty without him. He wrapped his arms around her, not wanting to lose any contact with her.
Catherine smiled as she felt his arms wrap around her body. He slowly maneuvered them so that they lay spooned together in the quilts. She stared at the arm wrapped around her waist. She slowly traced her fingers along it, combing them through the soft hair. She savored the strength in him, and the gentleness. His bicep flexed slightly as he gave her a soft squeeze; she marveled at the feel of it beneath her fingertips.
"Catherine," he whispered against her neck, his breath tickling her but at the same time sending sensual shivers down her spine.
He turned her in his arms, wanting to look her in the eyes as he said what he said, wanting her to know the truth of it. "I love you..."
She smiled, her hands moving to cup his face and draw him closer, their foreheads touching. "I know, Vincent...I've always known, even when you couldnít tell me. God, are we the two most emotionally backward people in the world not to have gotten around to this sooner?"
He smiled. He loved the sound of his name on her lips, and was amused by what sheíd said.
"Catherine, my love...I'm just glad that we did finally get around to it. And we made up for our slowness in a rather pleasant way, don't you think?"
She smiled at that, and stretched up, kissing him. She reveled in the way that he kissed her; it was never the same twice and she hadn't been disappointed so far. She pulled away reluctantly, and slid her arms around his waist, not wanting to move.
He looked down at her. "She has chosen me," he thought to himself.
Catherine lifted her eyes to his, and then gave him a sleepy, sexy smile that seemed to hint that she had something on her mind, something not quite pure.
"So," she said, her hand wandering down to his bottom and giving it a tiny squeeze. "What do you have in mind for the rest of our lives?"
"For the immediate future, I think sleep is what the doctor ordered," he said as he turned on his back and pulled her head down to his shoulder. He pulled the blankets up and tucked them securely around her.
"I do remember Father saying something about rest. We seem to have covered the Ďlight exercise partí," she said through a yawn. "We do have plenty of timeÖ"
She was asleep almost before she finished speaking.
"Only the rest of our lives," Vincent finished for her.
Vincent lay there smiling at the ceiling of his chamber. The woman in his arms was a marvel. What sheíd gone through for him, to come back to him. He didnít know what heíd done to deserve her, but he would surely spend the rest of his life earning the privilege of keeping her at his side.