"Thank heavens it's you, Pop. I thought maybe someone had found my hiding place. Is that food? I'm starving!" Devin exclaimed. “What did you bring?”
“Vanilla pudding,” he replied.
“Is that all?!”
"You're lucky I was able to get this. I had to tell William that I was too upset to eat this morning just to get anything. If he knew it was for you, I doubt he would have let me leave,” Father observed.
"You mean without slipping in some arsenic?" Devin joked.
Father chuckled. "Well, perhaps not arsenic, but at least a healthy dose of pepper."
Devin winced. "I guess everyone is still pretty sore, huh?"
"As I recall, the words tar and feathers were mentioned."
"Geez, what's everyone getting so worked up about? It was just a little joke," he said defensively.
Father set down the tray in front of his son before easing himself into a chair nearby. "I would hardly term what you did a little joke, Devin. Catherine is five months pregnant. As a physician, I can attest to the fact that she is experiencing exactly what in most women do during the late second trimester. She's uncomfortable, restless and her emotions are at the mercy of her hormones. Is it any wonder she reacted the way she did? It certainly didn’t help things that you have been teasing her nonstop since you got here.”
“I didn’t mean anything by it,” his wayward son sighed.
“Perhaps, but you still should have known better. I would think that seeing her expression yesterday when you asked if she was carrying triplets would have given you a clue,” Father shot back.
“I guess I didn’t think too much about it,” Devin reluctantly admitted.
“That much is obvious! Really, Devin. Sometimes I wonder what motivates you at times! You’ve always been a mischief maker, but this is the first time I’ve ever known you to be so insensitive to someone else’s feelings!”
“Hey, it wasn’t that bad!” he protested feebly.
“Not bad? Devin, you made Catherine cry, for heaven’s sake! What did you think would happen?! You’ve done some foolhardy things in your life, but even you have to admit that greeting poor Catherine at breakfast with ‘Thar she blows! Man the harpoons!’ was hardly one of your finer moments!” Father thundered.
Devin stared down at the bowl in front of him, but in his mind’s eye he was seeing once again the events of that morning. The moment the words left his mouth, he knew they were a mistake, but it was too late. In reality, he'd meant no harm. He'd merely been making a joke he thought would garner laughter. Instead, it had proven a disaster.
Catherine had arrived bright and smiling, only to dissolve into tears and run from the dining Hall after hearing Devin's thoughtless greeting. Not surprisingly, Vincent had snarled loudly in anger at the sight of his beloved's distress. The look of pure venom he gave his sibling left no doubt of the menace he felt. It was a sentiment echoed by the entire group. William in particular had been the most hostile. “Nobody who makes Catherine cry eats from my kitchen!" he growled as he snatched Devin's plate away before he could even consume one bite. In the end, Devin had been forced to slink away to the safety of Father's chamber where he’d been hiding ever since.
“Yeah, well, you can add this to the list of my failures. What’s one more, right?” Devin laughed, but to Father’s ears the sound was hollow and brittle. For the first time, the tunnel patriarch began to sense there might be more going on with his son than met the eye.
“Devin, you are not a failure! You’ve made a few…mistakes, perhaps…”
His comment was met with a derisive snort and a sarcastic tone. “That’s not what you used to say! What’s the matter, Pop? You getting forgetful and going soft in your old age?”
Father stiffly got to his feet and marshaled his dignity. “I will not stay here and be insulted. I was only trying to help. When you are ready to be civil, and if you want to talk, I shall be in the library.”
Father's expression instantly made Devin regret his hurtful comments. Sighing heavily, he tried to make amends. "No, Pop. Please stay. I'm sorry for what I've said. I didn't mean it. I'm just not feeling very good about myself right now."
The tunnel patriarch returned to his seat and reached out to place a comforting hand on his elder son's shoulder. "Tell me."
The gesture was so comfortingly familiar; it brought a nostalgic smile to the younger man's face. "Now where have I heard that before?”
His parent chuckled in response. "Perhaps I do tend to repeat myself sometimes. But I truly mean what I say. You can talk to me, son. Any problem, no matter how great it seems, is always lightened when shared.”
"I know, Pop. That's why I came back home. I know that sounds silly, considering all the places I've been and the people that I've met. For some reason, this was the only place I could think of to come. You see, ever since Charles had to move into that fancy private hospital for his health I've been feeling kinda…lost, I guess. Before, there was always somewhere new to go, some new place to see; but somewhere along the line, all that's changed now. It just doesn't feel the same. I feel like I'm wandering, with no real destination in mind and no place I really want to be.”
"So that's what brought you back to us," Father commented softly.
"I know. Silly, isn't it?"
"Absolutely not!" The older man replied emphatically. "Whatever has happened in the past, this is still your home, and we are your family. There's always a place for you here, and you will always be welcome. We... I love you, Devin. That has never changed and it never will."
“Aww, Pop!” Devin impulsively jumped up and gave his parent an uncharacteristic hug. To his further surprise, his father returned the embrace enthusiastically. Choked up, he finally sat down again.
“Boy, I guess I really screwed up this morning, huh? If I’m not careful, V may give me a matching set.” He indicated his meaning by pointing to his unmarked cheek. “I really wasn’t trying to hurt Catherine’s feelings. I was just being dumb and reckless. When he wrote me with the news, I was really happy for them! But then I came home and saw how close they were, and I guess I got…a little jealous.” He confessed.
“I know the feeling.” Father observed, and grinned at his son’s shocked face. “When Catherine and Vincent first became close, I tried everything I could think of to discourage their relationship. I told myself it was for the best, that I was doing what was necessary to protect your brother. Frankly, I’ve now come to realize that I was envious that Vincent had someone else in his life. Foolishly, I thought that it would take away from what I shared with him. I forgot that love isn’t a limited thing. When it is given, it only grows and expands. I have Catherine to thank for reminding me of that.”
Devin grimaced. “You think they might be willing to forgive me?”
Any reply, however, was cut short by the appearance of Catherine in the doorway of the chamber. Angrily, she stomped over to her former tormentor, promptly seized the bowl of pudding and dumped its contents on his head. Eyes ablaze, she glared as she yelled. “I am not a whale! I am PREGNANT! DEAL WITH IT!” Stunned speechless, he could already feel the cold stuff beginning to drip down his collar as she angrily stomped out again.
“Did I forget to mention that Catherine has also developed a bit of a temper?” Father dead panned.
A hearty laugh greeted Father’s comment as the last of the Wells clan appeared on the stairway above them. “I thought I was going to have to take you to task for the way you’ve been treating Catherine, Devin. But it seems she’s beat me to it.”
“You could say that. Lord, this stuff is cold!”
“Under the circumstances, I think I shall refrain from making any observations about “just deserts.” *
“Don’t you mean desserts, Father?” Vincent commented wittily as he snickered.
“Ha, ha! Very funny, little brother.” Devin’s tone was sarcastic, but he grinned as wide as his sibling.
In typical fashion, Devin insisted on making amends with a dramatic public apology at dinner. He humbly begged Catherine’s forgiveness and emphatically vowed never to insult her again. Catherine sheepishly apologized as well for her own fit of temper. By then, of course, the story of her well-deserved retribution had made the rounds below, growing more dramatic with each retelling.
“Did Catherine really throw you in the Mirror Pool, Devin?” Eric inquired enthusiastically.
“Well, she’s definitely knocked me on my backside before, and it was very cold when she got back at me, champ,” Devin answered with a knowing wink.
“Catherine?” Vincent asked, turning to his beloved, his eyes agleam with curiosity.
“It’s a long story. I’ll tell you later,” she whispered as she blushed.
“I can’t wait to hear this story,” he snickered as he pulled her closer.
Devin watched them, his heart swelling with pride at the happiness his brother had found. As he watched them interacting, it only reaffirmed the idea that had been floating around in his head for the past few hours. His decision made, he got to his feet. “Ahem, uh folks, I have an announcement to make. If it’s ok with everyone, I think I’d like to stick around for a while. How about it, Pop?”
“You’re coming home?” Father asked, his voice thick with emotions.
“When I’m here, I don’t feel quite so alone. No promises, though, ok?” Devin offered.
“No, no. Of course not,” Father replied gruffly, his heart almost bursting with joy.
‘Well, this calls for a celebration!” William called loudly. “Who’s ready for pudding? Devin?”
“Thanks all the same, William, I think I’ll pass. I’ve already gotten my desserts, haven’t I, Catherine?”
Catherine, Father, Vincent, and Devin all laughed, leaving everyone else to ponder what could be so amusing about such a simple but tasty treat.
~~~*Author’s note: Many confuse the word deserts with desserts in the old adage “just deserts.” In bygone times, getting your deserts meant receiving what one deserved or was due.