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Classic Round Robin

Chapter 9
Valerie

Mouse gave one dumbfounded look at Vincent’s retreating back and scooted up to Catherine, offering his arm to her with an apologetic look. She managed a wan smile for him and took his arm. A few at a time, the other Tunnel folk and Helpers followed them into the Great Hall.

By the time they entered the room, Vincent had reclaimed his hand from Helen and was coming back to Catherine. Helen seemed not to notice; she stood in the room, looking around the dimness with the light of cherished memories in her eyes.

“Catherine, I …”

“Sssh,” she said, exchanging Mouse’s arm for his after giving Mouse’s a grateful squeeze. “Later.”

In silence, the rest of the Tunnel denizens and Helpers moved past them, toward the huge table barely visible in the few candles lighted for safety until the ceremony was complete, when all the candles would be ablaze. The silence was part of the ceremony, but there was a different feel to this silence, Catherine thought. The people broke around Helen as waves break around rocks, giving her a wide berth with a few annoyed – no, angry – glances.

But she doesn’t know, Catherine wanted to say. She had been hurt and angry when Helen took Vincent’s hand (and took him away! another voice whispered) but the logical part of her lawyer’s mind insisted that Helen had no way of knowing that she had broken the unwritten Winterfest rule that Vincent and Catherine led the way into the Great Hall, together.

It was just a dream.

And she’s wearing the same damn dress she had on in the dream!

Coincidence.

Oh, yeah?

“Catherine?” Vincent said, so low that no one else heard him.

Somehow they had made their way to their seats and Catherine had missed half of the Winterfest speech. She gave him a quick smile and squeezed his hand to reassure him, and forced herself to pay attention, and when Vincent tipped his candle to light hers, she saw the love in his eyes.

See? Just a crazy dream. He’s not going to dump you, Radcliffe.

“Radcliffe”? Why did her inner voice suddenly sound like Joe? Catherine bit her lip to stop the half-hysterical giggle that bubbled up in her throat, and tipped her candle to light Mouse’s.

Helen sat several seats away, between Cullen and Sebastian, who, Catherine could tell, was bursting to start telling his wild tales to a brand-new person.

He’s been involved from the beginning. Why doesn’t he remember her?

Well, Father didn’t, either, or only dimly. And Sebastian didn’t live in the Tunnels. He had a far better excuse for not remembering her than Father did.

The ceremony concluded, and the elder boys cranked the chandeliers high to cast light over all the room, while younger children scurried around lighting candelabras and torches. William and his assistants brought out the steaming dishes, and the party began. And as Catherine had suspected, Sebastian wasted no time in cornering Helen so he could start spinning yarns. Helen gave Catherine a good-natured grin, evidently recognizing that she was had, and settled in to listen.

“You were miles away during the ceremony,” Vincent said quietly, handing her a laden plate and a cup of tea.

“I was listening to the voices arguing with each other,” Catherine said, smiling up at him. “The logical voice insisting that Helen didn’t deliberately kidnap you earlier, and the emotional one demanding my just retribution for such an unforgivable act.”

Vincent smiled back, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “Which voice won?”

“It’s a standoff,” she said, finding a seat and balancing her plate on her knees. She was surprisingly hungry, and William’s delicious cooking was hard to resist at any time, but particularly so at Winterfest, when he always strove to outdo the previous year’s delicacies.

“I apologize that I didn’t –“

“Vincent,” she stopped him with a look, “please don’t worry about it. She caught you by surprise, and I really don’t think it was deliberate. She was so excited she got carried away, and she doesn’t know … about us. Besides,” she shook her head, “I’m being very unreasonable and, well, jealous. Like a seventh-grade girl. Blaming you for something I dreamed you did. It’s, well, crazy.”

“Perhaps not,” he said, looking across the room at Narcissa, who was talking to Father.

Catherine followed his look and frowned. “What are you talking about?”

“I suspect Narcissa had something to do with the dreams.”

Catherine froze with a fork halfway to her mouth. “What? How?”

“I don’t know … yet.”

Catherine looked at Narcissa again, who was smiling and nodding at something Father was saying. Catherine knew that Vincent believed Narcissa had a sort of second sight, and she also knew that Father dismissed the very idea as ridiculous. She herself was keeping an open mind. But to believe she could control, or even engineer, another’s dreams … two people’s dreams … that was giving Narcissa a lot of credit. And it was more than a little frightening to think about.

“Why would she do something like that? Could she do something like that?”

Vincent shook his head. “I intend to talk to her tonight and find out exactly what is going on.”

He had unconsciously let some of his anger at the seer show, and Catherine was taken aback. Vincent usually looked on Narcissa with love and respect, both for her age and her wisdom, and she had never known him to be angry with her.

“Tell me,” she demanded.

He described the scene in Narcissa’s chamber and told her about Zurie’s “message” to Narcissa. Catherine listened, forgetting to eat.

“What could need to be ‘set right’?” she asked. “Didn’t Zurie and Helen leave of their own free will?”

“No one remembers,” Vincent reminded her. “They barely remember that they once lived in the Tunnels.”

“I remember,” Narcissa said behind them, startling them both. They had been so absorbed they hadn’t seen her approach.

Vincent’s brow creased – he was still angry – but he moved over on the settee to make room for Narcissa. She sat down and turned her face up to him. Catherine always marveled at how Narcissa managed to give the impression she could see perfectly.

“What do you remember?” Catherine asked. “Tell us. I don’t understand why you would send such a terrifying dream.”

Narcissa leaned forward and patted Catherine’s hand. “Child, I am sorry you were frightened. Zurie’s message was to gain your attention – and Helen’s – in a way that would make certain you both responded.” She raised her wrinkled face and beckoned and, looking behind her, Catherine saw Helen nod and come their way. “You must both hear,” Narcissa said to Catherine.

How did Narcissa know where Helen was?

Helen pulled a chair up close to Catherine and sat down, and Vincent reached a hand to Catherine. The feel of his warm hand squeezing hers steadied her. Helen saw this gesture and the loving look that passed between them and began to understand what she’d missed seeing earlier.

“When Zurie left us,” Narcissa began, “it wasn’t by her own choice. She would have stayed if she could. Your mother, child,” she said to Helen, “had the Gift.”

Helen opened her mouth to ask, and Narcissa raised a hand.

“Let me tell it my way.”

Helen nodded and Narcissa continued.

“Zurie could see the fates of anyone she loved, and she loved us here Below very much. It became too difficult for her, knowing who would fall ill, who would die, whose heart would be broken, while living so close as we do, here where one cannot go far enough away for some peace from the constant impressions of others’ thoughts and feelings.”

“Is that why you live apart, Narcissa?” Vincent asked quietly, suddenly seeing something he had not fully considered before.

“Yes, child. It is not far enough to completely shield me from those with strong power, like you, Vincent, but gives me some peace from the others. Zurie,” she added, “had much greater powers than mine. So … she went away, because it was too hard to stay. And she left only dim memories behind for that reason. Those left behind, if they remembered, would continue to appear in her dreams. She could not control her powers,” Narcissa said to Vincent, “as you and I can.”

“I?” Vincent was stunned.

“Yours are not the same,” she said. “You sense only strong emotion at the moment your loved one feels it, and most of your power is concentrated in this one,” she touched Catherine’s knee with a smile, “though you sense others at times as well.

“When Zurie’s mother passed over, and told Zurie on the other side that Helen had shown no sign of having the power, though it is usually passed from mother to daughter, Zurie let me know I must find a way to lead Helen home to us, for this is her home,” Narcissa said gently, now patting Helen’s arm. “Helen has no other family. We are her family, though we have been apart. I knew that if both dreamt of each other in a way that would frighten them into action, they would find one another, and eventually Catherine would bring Helen home. I knew of no other way,” she concluded regretfully. “I am sorry, my children, that I have caused you anguish.”

“Do you have this power, Helen?” Vincent asked.

She shook her head. “Sometimes I can guess when a friend is sad, or wants someone to talk to, but nothing like what Narcissa described.”

“Helen was so young when she left here, that she wouldn’t remember the Tunnels or know how to find this world again, unless someone brought her here,” Catherine guessed.

“But Narcissa,” Vincent said, puzzled, “you almost never get involved in such things. What prompted you to this time?”

“Zurie was my dearest friend, Vincent,” Narcissa said. “Death did not change that.”

All three of them were silent for a moment. A friendship that transcended death? Power that allowed that friend to contact Narcissa from beyond the grave to see that her daughter was reunited with her family Below?

Finally, a little pale, Helen asked, “Why did it take so long? Mom died when I was very little, and my grandmother died four years ago.”

“Your grandmother sent you here, to the city, to make this possible, child,” Narcissa said. “But the passing of the years means nothing on the other side, so … it was some time before Zurie could reach me and make me understand what must be done.”

“Now what?” Helen directed this to Vincent.

“Now, you are one of us,” he said. “You always were. If you should need refuge, you will find it here. You become a Helper, and assist when and if you can, and we will do anything for you that we can. We are family.”

“And I,” Catherine said, with a warm smile for Helen, “have a dear, new friend with whom I can gush about Vincent.”

He reddened, and both Catherine and Helen laughed.

The musicians began tuning up, now that most people had finished eating, and Catherine turned to Vincent. “You owe me a waltz.”

“Indeed I do,” he said.

“And Vincent,” she added, “if you want to dance with Helen, too, I promise not to behave like a seventh-grade girl.”

He laughed heartily, and when Helen looked confused, he said, “I shall let Catherine explain that to you while I tell Father what we have learned … and tell the musicians that we must have two waltzes,” he added wickedly as he rose and walked away.

Vincent and Catherine had their waltz as she had wished, in front of the entire community, who tried to pretend they weren’t watching them dance, and he also had one with Helen. In her blue dress, she did look just as Catherine had dreamed, but this was a happy occasion, and Catherine felt not a twinge of jealousy. There was no reason at all for that.

After the revelry was over, Vincent walked her back to the threshold – Helen had left early, because she had to work the next day, and was escorted home by Peter – and as they paused there with the light spill coming from the sub-basement door, Vincent pulled her close ... and kissed her.

“So, a happy ending after all,” he said softly into her hair.

The End