One More Thing by Catherine Edwards



“Father, have you seen Catherine?”

Jacob Wells looked up from the flurry of activity around him and regarded his eldest son.  He took off his spectacles and polished them absently on his cloak.

“I thought—“ he began.

“Father!  Kit’s hogging all the string!  I’m trying to tie my packages, but he’s not sharing—“

“I am too sharing!  You took enough string for six packages last time!  If I didn’t hog the string, there wouldn’t be enough to—“

Up and down the line of children, work stopped as they looked toward the burgeoning argument.

Vincent appeared behind the two arguing boys, looming suddenly like a golden wraith.  Feeling his presence, the boys whirled around, then gulped and grew quiet.  But despite his imposing bulk, Vincent’s rebuke was gentle.

“This is a time of friendship and sharing,” he said softly.  “You should find a way to show that to each other before you think of taking messages Above.”

“Yes, Vincent.”

“Sorry, Vincent.”  Dylan looked toward Father.  “Sorry, Father.”

Vincent’s warm hands came down on their shoulders and they smiled.  Watching, Father’s distracted air left him and he regarded the boys fondly.

“Kit, why don’t you and Dylan take a break?  I think I heard William was making cinnamon rolls….”

“Oh boy!”

Thank-you, Father!”

The boys were off before the words had finished rolling off his tongue, and five other faces looked hopefully toward their benevolent taskmaster.

“All right, then,” he chuckled.  “Off with the lot of you!  But don’t pester William, or he’ll have your heads.”

“You mean he’ll have your head,” Vincent teased, “for sending the ravening hordes down to his kitchen.”

Father snorted.  “William lives to feed the ravening hordes,” he insisted.  “I don’t care how much he fusses and grumbles.”

“Speaking of…have you seen Catherine this morning?”

Father shook his head, counting packages.  “No—not this morning.  Didn’t she go to work?”

Vincent shook his head.  “I don’t think so,” he said.  “She’s said she was taking the day off.”  He tried to keep the incredulity out of his voice.

Father looked thoughtful.  “Well last night she said she had one more thing she wanted to do at work.“

“Last night?  At supper?”

The older man nodded.  “I hope it’s not that custody case.”  Catherine often shared the details of her cases in the District Attorney’s office, wanting a sounding board and a safety valve for the pressures inherent in her line the work.

‘No—they resolved that yesterday,” said Vincent.

Father looked surprised.  “Yesterday?  But I thought she said they couldn’t reach an agreement yesterday.“

Vincent nodded.  “They didn’t reach an agreement at the meeting, but she went back out.”

“Last night?”  Father’s surprise turned to concern.  “But it’s the first night this fortnight she’s gotten to come to supper.”

“I know,” said Vincent wearily.  He straightened his shoulders, trying to ease some of the tension in his frame.  “I think it’s been longer than a fortnight.”  If there was a complaint in there, it was all but smothered in compassion.  All but….

“Catherine is a woman of strong feelings,” said Father.  “She cares a great deal about her work.”  He did not quite know what else to say, but he was rewarded with a flash of pointed canines.

“I have occasion to know,” Vincent responded, grinning smugly. He walked to the arching doorway.  “I think I’ll see if William needs any help wrangling the starving masses.”

Father laughed and called after his retreating back.  “Bring one back for me!”

 

It had been over a week since the first surprise.

Chloe could not count the times she had looked at that shoebox—looked at it and wondered about it and wanted to know what was in it, but she had never looked.  Not once.  Never looked, never touched it, never.  Trust me, he had said.  And she had.

But now—now!—the box was on the bed and he was nodding to her and holding out his hand to her, inviting her in.

“Jerry—what are you…?”  She stopped and smiled at him, not sure what to make of the expression on his face.

“Chloe, come here—I…I want to show you something.”

She looked at him, her brows knitting together in bemusement.  “Are you sure?”

Jerry hesitated for a fraction of a second, then nodded.  “I’m sure,” he said, and put one hand lightly on the lid.  The shoebox was old, the cardboard darkened with age, but the box was pristine and he touched it almost as though afraid that what it contained was magical—or dangerous.

Chloe walked toward the bed, reaching out to touch his dark, tousled curls.  He needed a haircut—again.  He was so careless of his appearance, so unpretentious and gentle, Chloe thought.  A good man.  A humble man.  He looked up in surprise when he felt her caress, and he smiled, though his eyes remained somber.

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to,” Chloe said, wanting him to see that it was true.

“I do want to,” he said.  “I always meant to….”  He trailed off, his voice wistful.  “I think it’s finally time.”

“If you’re sure,” she said, worried for him.  At this, he flashed her a quicksilver smile, his eyes suddenly brightening.

“I’m sure,” he said.  “Trust me.”

 

Mary was counting mittens.  “I’ve got 37,” she said.  “How many do you have?”

“I have 28,” said Jamie.  “Wait—did you mean pairs or individual mittens?”

“Individual mittens,” said Mary.

“Then I’ve got 56,” Jamie corrected.  “How many do we need?”

“Oh, I think this will be enough,” said Mary.  “I just want everyone to get a new pair for Winterfest.”

“You’d probably better count on two new pairs for Mouse,” Jamie said.  “What he doesn’t lose, Arthur chews a hole in.”  Raccoons were notorious for liking the salt on anything containing human sweat.  “Do you still want the old ones back?”

“Of course.  We’ll patch them or re-knit them and send them back out with the next bunch.”

“Are we putting peppermints in them this year, or chocolates?”

“Well, given that we’ve got two who’ve just gotten their braces off this year, I thought toffee might be more to their liking.”

“Ooh!  Toffee—as in Ruth Ann’s homemade toffee?”

“Yes.  She’s whipping up a batch today.”

Jamie’s mouth watered at the thought.

“What else?” she asked, looking around.

“Well, I was going to go sort linens.  We’ve got a big crowd coming this year.  I want to be sure we can make up all the guest rooms.”

“Do you want help?” Jamie asked, but Mary shook her head. 

“No.  You know how small that cavern is.  But I may want help later, getting the beds made.”

“Okay,” said Jamie.  “Then I’m going to go down to the Pipe Chamber and check on Pascal.  You know how he gets this time of year!”

“As busy as popcorn on a skillet?”

“I know!” Jamie laughed.  “I know.  He’s so worried someone might try to contact us to come back and need new directions.”

Mary nodded.  The ways changed often, for safety’s sake.  “Why don’t you stop by the kitchen first?  I’ll bet he forgot to pick up his lunch.”

“I will,” she laughed.  “He probably did.  And if he remembered his lunch, I’m sure he won’t mind a snack!”

She walked out into the hallway, almost colliding with Vincent.

“Oh!  Hello, Vincent,” she said, pulling up short.  They smiled at each other.

“Hello Jamie,” Vincent returned in kind.  “Have you—have you seen Catherine this morning?”

“Not today,” Jamie said, then frowned.  “In fact, not this week.  I heard through the grapevine that she made an appearance at supper last night, but it was an unconfirmed sighting,” she teased.

“She was there,” Vincent said, and did not add the he was not, having gone on to his preordained duty before she arrived to sit, sup and dash.

“I haven’t seen her today.”  She grinned cheekily.  “Have you lost her?”

“Not yet,” Vincent said enigmatically.  “I have brave hopes of having a meal with her sometime this month.”

“Burning the candle at both ends, is she?”

“An entire box of candles,” Vincent said, and smiled faintly.

“Well, Winterfest is coming.  She’ll have to stop for that, won’t she?”

Jamie went on her way, but later she would remember that Vincent had not answered her at all.

 

The letter was sent, the plans made, and still, he had not told her everything.  Telling the first part had not been easy, but this would be harder still.

“But why didn’t you tell me?” Chloe had asked.  “I would have kept your secret.”

“It wasn’t my secret to tell,” he had said, and she nodded, giving in.

“I know,” she’d said.  “I know that.  It’s just…it’s just so much to get used to.”

“It was a lot to get used to,” Jerry said.  “Food when I was hungry, bed when I was tired, someone there when I was lonely.  Things I had never had, things I had never known.  I—it saved me, Chloe.”

“But it sounds so…so strange.  So much like a….”  She had floundered for the right word.

“A fairy tale?”

“No.  Yes, I—maybe,” she’d conceded at last.  “It does sound like a fairy tale—part of it anyway.”

“Well, it certainly had a happy ending,” Jerry had said, and kissed her.  Chloe answered his kiss and her arms twined around his neck.  This was real.  This wasn’t a fairy tale.  This was the man she loved.  The man she thought she knew.

But did she?  Could she?  When so much of what he’d said had been untrue.

“Mommy!  Mommy,” a thin, piping voice had accused.  “I want a hug, too!’

Laughing, they’d broken apart and Jerry had scooped the little girl high into his arms, snuggling her and pressing kisses against her petal-soft cheeks while she had giggled and tried to wriggle free.

“Well, how about a hug from dear ol’ Dad?!” he’d teased.

“Mommy!  Mommy, save me!” the little girl had giggled.  “A big, furry monster is trying to get me!”

After another moment of horseplay, Chloe had lifted her daughter from her husband’s arms and kissed her, too.

“Phew!” her mother had said.  “Emily—you are sorely in need of a bath.  Where’s your brother?”

“In his room.  He’s building a store out of blocks.”

“What kind of store?” Chloe had asked, smiling.  “What’s he going to sell there?”

“He’s not going to sell things,” Emily had intoned seriously.  “He wants to give things away!”

Just like his father,” Chloe had said, and smiled at them both.  Maybe she hadn’t known everything.  Maybe she didn’t know everything.  Maybe she never would.  But Jerry had told her and—more than that—had offered to show her.  The least she could do was go and see.

Jerry sighed, remembering.  He felt her eyes on him as she leaned in the doorway of their room.

“At least let me buy the children new coats,” she said.  When he turned to look at her, she tried to smile, but it was undercut with worry.

“They don’t need new coats,” Jerry said, folding shirts and packing them neatly in a battered suitcase.  “What they have will be fine.  Trust me, Chloe.”

Her eyes were down and she didn’t look at him.  “Funny you should say that,” she said softly.  It could have come out snarky or accusatory, but it didn’t.  Jerry stopped what he was doing to walk over and put his arms around her.  For a moment, her frame was stiff with tension, but he held her close and warm and didn’t rush her, and eventually she leaned against him and let him press a kiss against her temple.

“You can trust me,” he said.  “You know you can.”

Slowly, Chloe nodded.  She did know.  She did.  It was acting on that trust that was proving difficult in the face of so much she didn’t know.  But—right from the beginning—he had trusted her, had believed her when no one else would.

It had been hard, even for her, to own what was going on, to realize what was happening.  Derrick could be so charming, so funny, so warm and loving, but when he drank…. Chloe shuddered, remembering, and Jerry held her closer still.  When Derrick drank, the demons came out, and she remembered with absolute clarity the time she had lain on the cold linoleum floor in the kitchen, coughing blood, and known—known with an absolute certainty—that if she didn’t leave, didn’t run, she’d be dead within the month.  The drinking was getting worse, the beatings were getting worse and…there were other things to think of now.  Two of them.  But not if things went the way they were going.

The next time she’d passed the storefront sign, she hadn’t just hurried by.  She’d stopped on the sidewalk outside, hesitating, gripping her thin coat around her and trying to decide.

“Get the door for me?” asked a friendly voice, and Chloe had startled, and turned to find a dark-headed man smiling at her, smiling at her with an armload full of groceries and inclining his head toward the door.  Mutely, Chloe had reached and opened the door and…somehow, inexplicably, had found herself inside, warm, and safe and—finally—free.

 

“Look, I’m not trying to be bossy,” said Edie, “but—”

“Since when?”  Catherine Chandler’s voice was muffled from behind the desk where she knelt before a large cardboard box.

“Oh—I see how it is,” said Edie.  “Try to give a little helpful advice—”

“If you want to help me, help me stuff this folder into the box.”

Edie came around the desk and the two women, with much grunting, managed to wedge the thick file into the depths of the cardboard box with the others.  Lightly, Edie touched the side of the box, which was taut with pressure.

“Girl—if they drop this box, it’s going to explode all over the storeroom.”

“Good,” said Catherine.  “Then I’ll never have to look at this stuff again.”  She stood and offered her friend a hand up.  Edie took it and the two women smiled at each other.

“That the last of them?”

For answer, Catherine groaned.  “Not a chance.”

“Where is this paperless workplace I keep hearing about?” Edie said.  “And when do we get to go there?”

Catherine shrugged, the gesture as eloquent as it was elegant.  “Beats me.  Thanks, Edie.  I think I’m done.”  She dusted her hands on her grey wool trousers and pushed her hair out of her face.

“That’s what you said yesterday,” Edie complained.  “I cannot believe you came in today.  You promised.”

“I know,” Catherine said.  “I know.  I—I couldn’t help myself.  We wrapped everything up last night, which means I can put this file to bed.”

“Go home,” Edie said.  “Put yourself to bed.”  She reached out and touched her friend’s porcelain cheek gently.  “I’m not trying to harsh your mellow or anything, but you look all in.  You need to get some rest.”

“I’m…I’m going to get some rest, but I have a few things I have to do first.  Then I’m going to take some down time—promise.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Edie, waving her hand over her shoulder.  “I’ll believe it when I see it.”  She was slightly mollified to see Catherine pick up her purse and coat.

“Will you have them pick up this box?”

“Of course.”

“And make sure Joe reads his emails about the Lafayette case, okay?”

“What am I, his mother?”

“No,” said Catherine, smiling.  “You’re my mother.”

“Then I’m saying you’re grounded—to home.”

Solemnly, Catherine shifted her coat to her other arm so she could salute, then started down the hall.

“I’ll get right on that,” she said, and left the building.

 

 

He had started with a cup of coffee.  “Have a cup?” he’d asked, rubbing his hands together briskly once he’d handed the groceries to someone behind the counter.  “It’s cold outside—a cup will do you good.”  Chloe looked around, and saw that the front half of the store had been converted into a little coffee area, with three mismatched sets of small kitchen tables and chairs.  Before, this had only been a thrift store, full of the usual detritus that one finds in such places in the poorer parts of town.

Coffee sounded good, but the smell, usually so aromatic, turned her stomach and she hesitated.

“Oh—a tea drinker,” he said.  “Lemon or honey?”

“Honey,” said Chloe, her voice barely above a whisper.

“Why, I hardly know you,” he had quipped, then laughed at her mortified expression.  “Sorry—I couldn’t resist.”

“Honey, don’t pay him no nevermind,” said a large woman coming toward them with a tray and two mugs on it.  She stopped at the serving area and filled one with coffee and the other with steaming water and a tea bag.  She reached in a box and stacked a paper plate with bear claws four deep.  The woman handed him the tray, glaring at him, then smacked him smartly on the shoulder once he took it from her.  “Stop acting a fool,” the woman said.  “You’re gonna scare the poor thing off.”  She trundled back toward the counter where another woman and an elderly man were talking quietly together.

Chastened but grinning, he had smiled at her.  “Sorry,” he repeated.  He inclined his head toward one of the small, round tables.  “Please don’t be scared off,” he said, then looked over his shoulder.  “They’ll never forgive me if you run away.”

Chloe looked helplessly toward the door, but couldn’t seem to make her feet work.   “I, I was just—“

“I can tell you’re busy,” he said, sitting and pushing the chair out with one long leg.  “Just sit for a minute and have some tea so they don’t have my head.  I’m Jerry,” he said, “by the way.”

“Chloe,” she said, and wondered what on earth she was doing.  Derrick would kill her for talking to another man.  He would kill her for coming here.  If he knew she had left the apartment without permission—  Her legs trembled at the thought, and she sat.  Jerry pushed the tray with the tea toward her and she picked the cup up and drank, more to keep her teeth from chattering than anything.  Jerry took a napkin out of the metal dispenser and put a bear claw on it for him, then did the same for her.

“Wonderfully sinful,” he said, and broke off a piece and ate it.  Chloe’s mouth had watered at the sight, and she realized she had not eaten much of anything the day before.  Hunger tore at her, spurred on by the sight of food, and she reached out tentatively and broke of a piece of pastry and put it on her tongue.  It tasted like heaven, even with the taste of blood still in her mouth from the busted lip.  When the bear claw was all gone, she had looked up to find him watching her with such a look of compassion that it almost undid her resolve.

“Would you like to talk about it?” he said gently.  “I know we just met but…you can trust me.”

 

“I need about fifty pounds more of potatoes,” Williams said, making a note, “but I’m good on carrots.  I’ll take currents if I can get them, but raisins will do fine.”

“Anything else?”

“Anything you’ve got left over.”

She smiled, knowing what he meant.  “I’ll check the stores and see what I can do.  Can’t wait to see everyone.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said William.  “Should be a good turn-out.”

 

“So…” he’d said, and waited.  The entire time, the whole time he’d been talking, he’d watched her face, watched to see what she would think, what she would ask.  It had been hard to know what to ask, and he hadn’t rushed her, hadn’t pushed for a response.

“Your parents,” she’d said at last.  “Were they really…?”

“Gone?  Yes.  The fire took both of them—we’re sure about that.”

“But you…you didn’t go to foster care?”

“Not exactly.”

“So the stories you told me....”  She had stopped, thinking.  “Were they real?”

“The stories were real,” he had said.  “As real as I’m standing there.  The people I told you about—they’re real people, only they aren’t my foster parents.  Well, sort of they are my foster parents—just not…officially.”

“But you were in the system.  You said you got out of foster care when you were 18.”

Jerry had looked down.  “I was almost 18 when I went in, so…so I never really had a permanent home.  Above, that is.  There was no record of me, or if there was, they never matched it up with the me that turned up.”  He looked down again.  “They thought I was a runaway, so they didn’t try that hard to place me.  Plus, I said I was 18, but there was no way to tell for sure.  I told them when my birthday was and they sort of had to take my word for it.  It was only a few months, but after that, well, I was in the system.”  He made a sour face.  “Part of the system,” he’d said enigmatically.

Chloe had looked at him, seeing the pain beneath the casualness of tone.  “So that’s why you didn’t have a social security number until you were older?”  She had heard him tell that story fifty times, an innocent patter he used when he helped people fill out the mountain of paperwork the state required before they could receive help.  She had never thought about it much before—it was just a story that Jerry told, but now it surged to the forefront of her brain as she thought about what he had just said.

Jerry had grinned unexpectedly.  “Yeah.  That threw them.  They didn’t know what to do with someone without a number attached.”

Chloe was thinking, her thoughts a jumble.  She had just learned something startling, something unexpected about the man she loved…and she was obsessing about his Social Security number?  She tried again, her mind trying to process everything he’d said.

“So…when you said your foster parents…weren’t in the system...?”

“They aren’t.  They aren’t in any system.”

“Then where are they?  Are they in New York?”

“They’re in New York,” said Jerry, patient and gentle.  “Sort of.  In the world beneath the city.”

Chloe had felt a little lightheaded and had sat, suddenly, on the edge of the bed.

“And you’ve never gone back?”

“No.”  No elaboration, just “no.”

Jerry face had been sad, his eyes averted.  “No,” he said.  “I—I didn’t feel like I could.”

“But now…?”’

“Now I…now I think I want to.  Maybe I need to…”  He had smiled, but his eyes remained somber.  “I’d like to set some things right.”

“And you…you’ve never even told them where you are?  That you’re okay?"

He looked away.  “I made sure word got back to them, through friends, but no.  I never…I haven’t talked to them or seen them since I left.”

Chloe had reached out and put her hand in his.  With her other, she’d lifted his face to hers.  “Tell me,” she said gently.  “You know you can trust me.”

Jerry had reached up and taken the hand that touched his face, turned it, and kissed the palm.  “I know.”

He was silent a moment longer, lost in thought, then he smiled a little wanly and looked into her eyes. “It started with a pair of shoes….”

 

“You cannot take things that don’t belong to you,” Father said, his normally resonant voice rising in anger.  “If you need something, ask for it, but it is totally unacceptable to take things that are not yours.”

“But he wasn’t even using it,” the sullen teen argued.  “And I did need it, only nobody thinks so.”

Father sighed.  The good Lord deliver them all from the needfulness of adolescence. 

“Jeremiah, I know that there are things that you want—“

The youth snorted but, shamefaced, would not meet the older man’s eyes.

“And I know that sometimes it’s hard—very hard—to do without so many of the things that other boys your age might have, but…but taking something that doesn’t belong to you—something that’s important to someone else—it violates our rules, the rules we agree to so that we can trust each other.  You know that, don’t you?”

Father could feel the softening in him, feel the remorse bubbling just below the surface, but the young man could find no outlet for it.  His hunched shoulders finally slumped, and Father took that reluctantly as a nod.

“All right then,” said Father.  “You must apologize, and I’ll talk to the Council about something suitable to make amends.”

Jeremiah slouched to the door, anger and pain radiating off of his skinny frame, but at the door he turn and slung a shock of dark hair out of his eyes.

“I didn’t know…I didn’t know it was important to him.”

“It was his father’s.  I’m only glad we were able to get it back.”

Jeremiah nodded, swallowing the lump in his throat.  He started to speak, but stopped and looked at his worn sneakers instead.

“Along with you, now,” Father said gently.  “I’ll have supper sent to your room.”

 

“You’re sure you know where this one is going?”

“I know, Vincent.  I’ve been there lots of times.”

“Yes, but the way has changed.”

“I know,” said Kit airily.  “It changed last month.”

Vincent nodded, not entirely satisfied.  “Just you be careful coming out there.  It’s not as secluded as it was.”

Kit dropped into an exaggerated ninja stance.  “No one sees me when I don’t want to be seen!” he intoned theatrically.

Vincent tried to remain stern, but it was impossible.  He put his hand on the pint-sized ninja, but whether in reprimand or blessing, it was hard to say.  “Mind that they don’t,” he said.

 

 “What was it?” Chloe had asked.  “What did you take?”

“It was a ring.  An old ring.  I’d seen it in his room a hundred times, hanging on a chain around the bedpost.  It looked old, and valuable.”

“And you took it?”

Jerry had nodded.  “I took it.”  The same feeling of shame he’d felt those many years ago washed over him, but saying it, naming it robbed the feeling of some of its power. “I took it.  I wanted the money to buy a new pair of shoes.”

Chloe’s eyes must have mirrored her surprise.  She had never known Jerry to want anything new, least of all clothes.  Seeing her surprise, and her attempts at hiding it, Jerry grinned and squeezed her hands.  “You see me now, a fashion plate, but back then I could count my entire wardrobe on the fingers of two hands.  I wanted a pair of really cool running shoes—the kind the boys had Up Top.”

“Up Top?  You mean…the city above.  You mean…New York?”

“Uh huh.  Up Top, Above, Topside—it’s how we talked about it.”

“And…Below.  Below was…home?”

“Home,” Jerry had said.  “Where I grew up.”  His eyes had searched her face.  “I want to show you.”  He’d inclined his head toward the hall, toward where the children slept clean and safe and loved and wanted.  “I want to show them.  Will you—please—come?  For me?”

Chloe had hesitated, thinking how to phrase what she wanted to say.  When they had first met, Jerry had followed her into some dark places, confronted some demons with her so that she was not standing alone.

“Of course we’ll come,” she’d said.  “When do you want to go?”

 

“Well, he’s coming,” said William.  “Here’s the letter.”  He handed it over to Father, who took it.  It was a little sticky—probably cinnamon and sugar—and the two old friends smiled at each other.  Messages always arrived, but in what condition was the question.

“When was it mailed?” Father asked.  He looked at the postmark.  “Alabama,” he mused.  “Did you read it?”

William nodded.  “I did,” he said.  “Doesn’t take long.”

Father opened the envelope and took out the folded sheet of typing paper, opening it to read the neat, irregular cursive.

To Any and All Helpers into whose hands this letter falls, I’m coming home for Winterfest.  Please tell Mary and give the envelope included to Father.  I am bringing my family.
                                                                                 Jeremiah

 

Father was quiet, reading it several times, then folded it neatly and put it back in its envelope.  He did not look directly at William. “It’s been…some time,” said Father.  “I often wondered….”

“You worry too much,” said William.  “I told he’d figure it out.”

Father clasped William’s beefy arm, nodding.  “You did,” he said quietly.  “I’m so very glad you were right.”

 

“How long will it take to get there?” Emily had said.  “Will there be a pool at the hotel?”

“No,” said her mother.

“Yes,” said her father.  They’d looked at each other, and her expression had grown uncertain again.

If Emily was aware of any discord between her parental units, she gave no sign.  “Good.  Then I’m taking my bathing suit.”

“Good thing, too.  Emily—make sure Ryan takes his swimming suit, too.”

“I will,” Emily had insisted importantly.  At nine, she was quite the mother hen.  “Men,” she said to her mother, and flounced back to her room.

“Jerry,” Chloe had complained.  “Why did you tell her that?  She needs a bathing suit?  Jerry—it’s winter.  Why would they—“

“Better take your bathing suit, too,” Jerry had teased.  “Unless you want to skinny dip?”

Chloe had blushed and looked down the hallway in the direction her daughter had gone.  When she looked back up, Jerry had been right there and he’d kissed her before she could say anything else.

“Jerry!” Chloe had cried, but he was already moving out of the door, his step light, his demeanor buoyant.

“I need to go to the office to tie up a few things,” he’d called over his shoulder.  “I want to be sure everything’s good before I leave.”

Chloe had nodded to herself.  Some people with their own business assumed that the sun couldn’t shine without their presence.  Jerry had never been like that, but it was different with a mostly-volunteer staff.  She didn’t blame him for worrying.

And, her mind had prompted, he’s never been gone this long before.

 

“Catherine?”  Vincent poked his head into their chamber and spoke her name, not really expecting a reply.  He didn’t get an answer, but Catherine poked her head around the doorway of their bedchamber and smiled at him—just her head.  The rest of her remained hidden behind the doorway.

“Hang on—I’m changing,” she said, and disappeared again.  Vincent went and stood just outside the door.

“Do you need any help?” he teased, and was glad to hear Catherine’s musical laugh in response.

“If you help me,” she retorted.  “I might never get dressed.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Vincent murmured, and Catherine’s face peeped around the corner long enough to make a face at him, then disappeared again.

“Normally, I would say it was not a bad thing—not a bad thing at all,” she said, and he could hear her fastening her belt.  “But I promised Mary I’d help with the guest rooms.”

She emerged in soft, faded jeans and a big comfy sweater over a turtleneck, but her casual wear did nothing to disguise her curves.  Vincent reached out and snagged her gently into his arms.

“It’s not fair,” he murmured.  “First, you’re working up there.  Now you’re working down here.  When are you going to rest?”

Instead of answering—probably to avoid answering—Catherine stretched up to kiss him, her mouth working energetically with his.  Vincent returned her ardent kiss and his arms were moving to mold her closer when she pulled away and laughed.

“Does it feel like I’m tired?” Catherine said.  “Let me go help Mary, and then I have something important to do.”

“But—“

“I think Mouse might need a little help with…um, whatever it is he’s doing,” Catherine said.  “Why don’t you—“

Vincent kissed her again, and when they emerged, breathless, from this last kiss, Catherine seemed less enthusiastic about what she had volunteered for.

“I promised,” Catherine murmured, touching her lips lightly to his.  “Let me do this, and then I have one more important thing to do.”

“But supper together—with me and Father and the others.”

“Of course,” Catherine said.  “Why wouldn’t I come to supper?”

Vincent smiled, then sighed.  “I will collect on that promise,” he said, and let her go.

 

“Are we there, yet, Daddy?”

“Not yet, pumpkin,” said Jerry.  Chloe looked at him in the reflected lights of the highway, noting the lines of fatigue around his eyes.  But if his body seemed tired, his spirit seemed boundless, full of something hopeful.  She did not know what to make of it, did not know what to make of him.

“Do you want a snack?” Chloe asked.  “I’ve got sandwiches and apples.”

“Gimme an apple,” said Jerry.  He grinned at her.  “Adam’s last words.”

Chloe snorted.  “I think his last words were, ‘She made me do it.’”

Jerry laughed, and took the apple, then reached out to stroke her dark hair. “Thank you,” he said.  “For…for understanding.  For trusting me.  You’ll see.  When we get there, you’ll see.”

Chloe smiled and patted his leg, shifting to get more comfortable.  She had not ridden in a car this many hours in a long time and she felt a little queasy.

“Rest,” he said.  “Take a nap.  I’m good.”

Chloe smiled and tried to do as he said.

 

“Like that, good,” said Mouse, as he and Vincent maneuvered the beam into place.  “Hold it a minute?”

Vincent nodded.  “I can,” he said, and braced himself for Mouse to let go.  The weight settled onto his shoulders and he concentrated on breathing in and out slowly and steadily while Mouse tightened up the bolts and fastened everything in place.  Gradually, the weight on Vincent’s broad shoulders lifted, and Mouse nodded.

“Okay good, okay fine,” said Mouse.  “It’s holding.  Thank you Vincent.”

Vincent ducked and came out from under the beam, looking at the apparatus with interest.

“A portcullis,” he said, marveling at the workmanship. 

“With a winch.  To replace the iron gate at the far end,” said Mouse.  “Easier for the kids to open—harder for people to get through.”

Vincent smiled.  Mouse had an innate understanding of engineering that sometimes expressed itself in strange—and useful—ways. “You’ve done a wonderful job, Mouse.”

“Piece of cake,” Mouse said with exaggerated nonchalance and Vincent worked hard to conceal his smile.  Pascal had been telling Vincent for almost a month that Mouse was fretting some large project and having a lot of logistical problems.  Mouse began to tidy up the tools he’d brought with them, and Vincent bent to help.  The two men turned their steps back toward the common areas, happy with the morning’s exertion.

“Want to come to lunch?” said Mouse.  “Heading there now.”

“In a moment,” said Vincent.  “I want to check in with Pascal.”

Mouse’s grin split his boyish face.  “Looking for a message?” he said, and Vincent nodded.

“Wanting to see if Devin is coming,” Vincent said.  “His last letter was vague.”

“He’ll be here,” said Mouse confidently.  “He always wants to come.”

Vincent was quiet, not arguing.  Everyone wanted to come, but not everyone did or could.  There were always a few disappointments among the happy reunions at Winterfest.  And a few surprises.  His thoughts diverged and, when the tunnel did, so did the two friends.

 

Jerry had driven through the evening and night, but now that morning came, Chloe was restless and wide awake.  At the next stop, he had called to check on things back at the store, only to have them fuss and lecture.

“I know—“ he began, then “Yes, but I couldn’t remember if I—”  There were a couple of other abortive attempts to interrupt the stream of indignant invective coming through the phone, but eventually Jerry had just laughed, cried “Uncle” and given up.

“Okay,” he said.  “Okay—I’m hanging up.  And I won’t call any more.  I promise.  I won’t call any more until my vacation is over—but you’ll call me if anything important—okay!  Okay!  I got it!”  Smiling, he hung up the phone.

“Just got my ear chewed off of checking in,” he said sheepishly.  “They told me to leave them alone, they could get along perfectly well without me and to have a nice vacation.”  He grimaced, then looked up at Chloe with a rueful expression.  “If they can get along without me, remind me again of why I put in 16-hour days so often?”

“’Cuz people need to have a safe place to go,” said Emily, looking up at him solemnly.  “Somebody has to be there so they have a safe place to go.”

Chloe smiled at Jerry and felt the sting of tears in her eyes.  Goodness, she was so emotional these days.  “There you have it,” she said, and leaned forward to kiss his scratchy cheek.  “They know what you do and why you do it.  How many parents can say that about their own kids?”

Jerry’s expression was funny, and he looked at his feet for a moment.  “I…maybe one more, after this trip,” he said, and bit his lip, looking uncertain.

“If they are the people who raised you,” Chloe said, murmuring against his ear, “then they know.  Even if you don’t get to tell them, they’ll know.”

Slowly, Jerry nodded and let out the breath he’d been holding.  “I hope so,” he said.  “Okay—last call for restrooms before we go….”

Chloe watched him walk ahead with the twins, walking slower behind them.  How could they not be proud of what he’d become? she thought.  How could they not see that he was living proof of everything they’d taught him?  She shook her head, determined not to worry about it.  She did not need one more thing to worry about.

 

“Wow,” said Catherine.  “So many this year!”

“Yes,” Mary said, beaming happily.  “It’s going to be a good Winterfest!”

“A first for some of the children,” Catherine said, remembering how the last year had seemed to drop strays on them like there was a honing signal beneath the city.  Chances are, word of mouth on the street had brought many of them—those unloved and unwanted, hungry, tired and running from things often too horrible to contemplate.  But there was welcome here, and warmth—and Mary, Mary who mothered and loved them all.

“And I hear we’re slated to have a few prodigals, this year.”

“Speaking of…have you heard from Devin?  Is the old reprobate coming?”

Mary laughed and gave Catherine a mock reproving look.  “That one I haven’t heard about yet,” she said, “but a few others, much anticipated.”

“Who?”  Catherine’s pretty face was animated.  She’d been so busy Above that she had missed out on some of the scuttlebutt below.  “Anyone I know?”

“Someone Vincent would know,” said Mary.  “But he left before your time.”  A shadow crossed Mary’s serene face, then she smiled, dispelling it.  “His name was Jeremiah.”

“Jeremiah?” asked Catherine, thinking hard.  The name was tantalizingly familiar…oh.  Oh!  She looked at Mary, her eyebrows raised.  “Does Vincent know yet?”

“I don’t know,” said Mary.  “I just heard myself.”  They stopped outside the school chamber, and Mary stopped and smiled.  “Thank you for your help, Catherine,” she said.  “You’ve been so busy lately.”

“Too true,” said Catherine, but her smile belied her complaint.  “But I couldn’t not help for Winterfest!”

“It was much appreciated,” said Mary.  “Winterfest is almost here.”

“I know,” Catherine groaned.  “But there’s only one more thing I want to do….”

“Godspeed, then,” said Mary.

Catherine left her to her work.

 

“I’m fine,” Chloe insisted.  “And I’d rather drive while I’m nice and alert and you aren’t than wait until you’re too tired to drive anymore.”  She held out her hand for the keys and he surrendered them reluctantly, but within minutes of them hitting the road again, he was sunk in slumber, head back against the seat rest.

“Daddy’s sleeping,” said Ryan, smiling at his mother in the rear-view mirror.

“He drove all night,” she said.

“Are we there yet?”

Chloe had to smile, if for no other reason than that was the first time she had heard them ask. “No, Emily.  Not yet.  It will be afternoon before we get there.”

“Will it be dark?”

Although Ryan’s question had to do with the sun in the sky, Chloe was reminded, suddenly, of what Jerry had told her, about the candles and the Great Hall.

“The sun will probably be almost gone for the day before we get there.”

“Can we swim tonight?” asked Emily.  “Daddy said we could go swimming while we’re here.”

“Probably not tonight.  Tonight we’re going to meet some people and make some friends.”

“There probably won’t be any kids,” whispered Ryan to his twin sister. 

“There never are.”

“I imagine there will be some children,” Chloe said, remembering what Jerry had told her.  There were always lost children—as she well knew.  She dared a look at her husband’s face, pale and dear and scruffy in the early morning sun.  “But we won’t quite know until we get there.  Why don’t you play a game or something?”

“I want silver cars,” said Emily, and Ryan had to content himself with blue.

 

“I haven’t heard from him yet,” said Pascal.  He was set up in happy circumstances in his beloved Pipe Chamber, his head cocked attentively even as Vincent spoke.  Not only had Jamie brought him lunch and a snack, but Ruth Ann had come by earlier with an offering of first fruits, feeding him a toffee off her own fingers.  He had claimed a rather sticky kiss, but quickly, as a message came banging through, relayed on from a further outpost.  “Do you know if he’s coming or not?”

Vincent shrugged.  “With Devin, you never know.”

“Tell me about it,” Pascal had chortled.  “He does love to make a grand entrance.”  He tapped a quick confirmation and then turned and grinned at Vincent.  “Jamie said you’d lost Catherine this morning.”

“Not irretrievably,” Vincent returned mildly, “but I’m almost certain she snuck back into work.”

“Want me to put out an all-call on the pipes?” Pascal teased.  “We could stop her at the gate and hold her until you’ve caught up with her.

“Yes, Pot—she’s black, too,” Vincent said, content to be the object of his friend’s teasing.  “Catherine’s very dedicated to her work.  They finally reached an agreement in that custody case that seems to be in the best interests of the child.”

“I’m glad,” Pascal said, suddenly serious.  He had a marked soft spot for neglected children.  “I guess sometimes it’s hard to make everyone see things the same way.”

“As usual,” came Father’s wry voice, “I’ve managed to come at an opportune time.”  Vincent and Pascal exchanged wary glances.  Father’s idea of opportune and everyone else’s idea of opportune were not always the same.

“Meaning?” asked Vincent.

“Opportune?” said Pascal.

“I only meant that I caught you both together,” said Father.  His tone was light, but years of long association told both of them that Father’s manner was not as off-hand as it seemed.  Plus, to see him here, in the Pipe Chamber, was itself unusual.  The steps were usually not favored by Father’s hip.

“You have something to tell us,” said Vincent.

Father nodded, but his eyes were on Pascal’s face.  “We’ve heard from Jeremiah,” he said.  “He’s planning to come for Winterfest.”

 

Only when the sun dipped below the sun visor and slanted across his eyes did Jerry wake up, and his sleepy stupor was a source of much merriment for the children.

“We’re making a potty stop in just a moment,” said Chloe, “and you can get yourself some coffee.”

“Sounds great,” said Jerry, his voice gravelly with sleep.  He looked a little stunned and Chloe glanced at him anxiously.  He saw her concern and smiled to dispel it, but the weariness around his eyes had been replaced by worriedness and she knew he had been thinking about what lay ahead.

“Mom!” complained Emily from the back seat.  “Don’t say potty.  Geez—we’re nine.”

“Well, I don’t care what you call it,” Jerry said.  “I’m ready for a bathroom break.”  He looked around and Chloe had the distinct impression he was about to ask her where they were, but the city, still distant, was clearly visible.  At the sight of the familiar skyline, Jerry fell silent, staring, and his expression grew pensive and a little sad.  Chloe reached out and took his hand, and he glanced at her, smiled, and squeezed back.

“You’ll have to navigate us from here,” Chloe said, her voice determinedly light.  “My internal navigation system shut off once we hit the Alabama border.”

“My internal navigation system is full of butterflies,” Jerry murmured, not loud enough for the children to hear.  He looked at her, his jaw set, then turned back to the skyline.  It was still some distance away, but it was looming ever closer.

 

Catherine heard Vincent’s light footfall in their chamber and looked around the door to see him standing there, lost in his own reverie.  She noticed his agitation, but smiled and walked up to take his hand.  He looked down absently, watching their fingers curling together and smiled at her, but his mind was elsewhere.  Catherine looked at him and pressed close, her face against his chest, and Vincent seemed to come back to himself and curved his arm around her.

“Did you help Mouse?” she asked, and the question seemed to catch him by surprise.

“Did I…?  Oh, the portcullis.”

“The what?” Catherine asked.  “He didn’t?

“He did,” Vincent confirmed, but distractedly, and Catherine stopped and looked at him.  “Come tell me,” she said, and Vincent nodded, his blue eyes troubled.  When they were sitting on the battered couch, he reached over and took her hand again, trying to think how to start.

“A lot of lost children find their way to us,” Vincent said at last.  “But sometimes, despite all we do, we lose one of our own….”

 

“I thought you would want to know,” said Father.  He was sitting on the edge of one of the huge conduits, his cane leaning against his knees, his hands quiet in his lap.  Pascal’s hands were not quiet, however—they banged and clanged over the pipes in extreme agitation.

“I…thank you, Father,” Pascal said stiffly.  “I do want to know.”  He stared off at nothing.  “I did want to know,” he murmured.  “All this time….”

“He won’t know the way anymore,” said Father, watching his friend carefully.  “The ways have changed.”

“Yes,” said Pascal.  “Things have changed.”  He turned and looked at Father closely, looking for details he had missed.  “And he’s been in Alabama?”

“Apparently,” said Father.  “He runs a mission there—a safe house.  But he’s coming back…and bringing his family.”

Pascal shook his head, more because he couldn’t quite process what he was hearing than because he was rejecting it.  “And all this time….”  He did not complete the thought.

“Yes,” said Father, “all this time.”

Pascal said nothing else, and Father stood, using the cane to push himself up.  “I’ll leave you then,” the older man said.  “Would you like me to send Jamie—”

“No.  No…I’m fine,” said Pascal.  “I think I’d like to be alone for a little bit.”

“I understand.”  He walked toward the chamber doorway, but before he could pass through it, Pascal called.

“Father—when it’s time…when he comes, then I would like you to send Jamie.”  He shook his head slightly, then fell silent for a moment.  “If she wouldn’t mind.”

“She wouldn’t mind,” Father said.  “I’ll send her.”

Pascal nodded.  “Then I’ll wait for a message.”

Father said nothing, but nodded.  They were both thinking the same thing.
They had waited this long—they could wait a little while longer.

 

If Chloe had had reservations, the children were fearless.  Jerry’s excitement was infecting them all.  Not quite brave enough to find one of the hidey-hole entrances in a building—and risk being wrong—they had opted for an entrance through the park grate.  It was the equivalent of a front door, and no matter how the ways changed, or how often, you could always come to this door and knock.

Jerry picked up the pipe and held it, then swallowed and took a deep breath.  Slowly, he began to beat out a message on the pipe leading down to the chamber deep below.

 

Vincent looked up from the book he’d been pretending to read, and Catherine stood up and held out her hand.  He listened a moment, then nodded.
“Yes,” he said simply, and they left together.

 

“Was that Morse code?” Chloe asked.  She hoped that wasn’t a stupid question—she did not know what might be considered a stupid questions.  So much of this was surreal, so much of it imbued with the shadowy, fairytale quality of a dream.  Behind her the twins’ enthusiasm was only held in check by their uncertainty, but Jerry came close to them and smiled.  He started to speak, but there was an answering tap on the pipes and he whirled around and looked, then looked back at them, his eyes fever-bright with hope.

“Someone’s coming,” he said.  “We’re almost there.”

 

“Go,” said Mouse, but it was unnecessary.  Jamie was already gone.

 

Catherine and Vincent rounded the corner, but Vincent held up a hand to let her know they were waiting, and waiting in quiet for some other signal.  In a moment, Father joined them, panting a little and trying to hide that fact from Vincent’s discerning gaze.  Still they waited, and Catherine felt Vincent’s grasp on her hand tighten and she squeezed back, reminding him that she was here, and his, and waiting for him to show her what would come next.  Ruth Ann glided up to join them, her grey eyes luminous in the dim light, and Father put his arm around her, drawing her in with them as they waited.

They heard him before they saw him, but Pascal’s footfalls, soft but distinctive neared and drew nigh.  He looked at Vincent and Catherine, at Father, and then he reached out and lightly cupped Ruth Ann’s cheek in his palm, but quickly, then he moved off, reaching for the lever, throwing it, waiting for the shadows to turn into something more solid than fog.

The gate lifted, the light and dark separated, and a man stepped through.  The two men looked at each other for a long moment, and Catherine saw a man, his face suffused with sadness, his eyes bright with tears.

“I’m sorry,” he said.  “I’m sorry, Pascal.”

Pascal stood still, letting the light fall like a shroud over his boyhood friend, then he stepped forward and threw his arms around him. 

“You came back,” Pascal said, his voice muffled against the other man’s shoulder.  “I thought it was because of me, that it was my fault you left.”  They clutched each other, and Catherine heard the other man groan.

“No—I shouldn’t…it wasn’t you.  It was me—what I did.”

Catherine cheeks were wet, and she wiped them absently and saw, out of the corner of her eye, that Ruth Ann was moving forward, taking her place at Pascal’s side.  Seeing her, Jerry put his hand back, and Chloe came haltingly forward to take it, smiling tremulously.  The twins ran and threw themselves against their father’s back, holding to him.  Emily was wide-eyed and solemn, but Ryan’s face was touched with tears.

“My family,” Jerry said, and put his arm around Chloe.  He turned to Chloe, then gestured to those standing before them, to Pascal, to Vincent and Father.  “Meet my family.”

 

“It must have been terrible, thinking that he couldn’t come home.  Surely he knew he’d be welcome.”

Vincent sighed.  “When your life has been so touched by loss and uncertainty, you can even doubt even things that seem obvious to others.”

“I’m so glad he came.  So glad they were able to put the past where it belonged.”

Vincent smiled at her, and Catherine smiled back, not sure what to make of his expression.

“Speaking of where things belong…”  He bent suddenly and swept her up in her arms, carrying her toward the room they shared.

“Vincent,” Catherine protested.  “Vincent!”

He stopped, his expression aggrieved, and looked at her with longing.  “Don’t tell me,” he said.  “You have one more thing to take care of before Winterfest.”

Catherine’s expression was merry, with only the merest hint of apology.  “As a matter of fact,” she said, “I do.  But I don’t think you’ll mind, because I need your help.”

Vincent sighed, looking at her beautiful face and thinking that he could not deny her, not even in this.

“What is it?” he asked, his voice gentle.  “What is the one thing you still need to take care of before Winterfest tomorrow?”

Instead of answering, Catherine kissed him—kissed him with all the charm and energy he knew she possessed.  “You,” she said softly.  “The only thing left to take care of is you.”  She smiled at him.  “Does that meet with your approval?”

Apparently, it did.
 

**********

Catherine Edwards is the author of the zine Once and Forever,
and of the series Overtures. The twelve volumes of Overtures are special, an arc of short stories encompassing not only Vincent and Catherine's furthering relationship, but back- and future-stories of other characters as well. Her publications were authored during the days of newsletter zines and much personal contact between fans, and her work offered more than entertainment, but connection as well.  Catherine's stories appeared in Tunnel Con 1, 2 and 3. She wrote cross-overs with Star Trek, the Original Series and The Next Generation; the story Some Encumbered Evening crosses the Tunnels with Batman. All Catherine's zines may be borrowed from the Crystal Rose Lending Library.

 

contact the author: ReunionAuthors(at)gmail(dot)com

Return to the Reunion Stories Index