Once In a Lifetime - Part 1

Chapters 3, 4 & 5

Teenage Catherine meets Devin and Vincent and falls in love - the question is - with whom?


Chapter Three

With the basement light behind her, Mel searched the tunnel ahead blindly freaking when she found no sign of Cathy nor was there any sound however much she called her friend’s name. Catherine for all intents and purposes had simply vanished!

Stumbling back toward the only shaft of light in an otherwise darkened space that now terrified her, Mel found her way to the solid wall of hope that she skimmed round to enter the basement with its blaze of fluorescent light her one and only thought – escape!

Reaching the locked door, she suddenly froze to realise that the hairpin she had deftly used to unlock and relock the door was back in Catherine’s hair and she needed it to get out. Running back down the five steps to the floor below, Mel wasted no time worrying about being tidy – the devil himself was hot on her tail as far as she was concerned – and escapism was foremost in her mind. Thus, drawers flung open Mel rummaged for anything that might ‘work’ to unlock the door and found…nothing! As her plight became paramount, Mel started to cry, trembling silent tears afraid to make a sound that might signal her whereabouts to any would be pursuer. Not only did she need to get out of the basement but she was also scared witless as to what had happened to Catherine and would it happen to her. Would they both drop off the face of the earth falling into some kind of vortex from where there was no return? She had heard of such things, but until now had thought them pure science fiction. Still behind all good fiction was an underlying foundation of fact and Mel started pounding at the basement door, twisting the handle pushing for all she was worth in the hope of breaking through solid oak. When it refused to give she slumped to the floor her back to the door, facing that gaping hole in the wall imagining all kinds of demons about to enter and coming to ‘get’ her.

There she would stay until Peter, returning from his visit to the tunnels, returned to the house, and upon discovering his basement door locked but a sliver of light coming from beneath that signified occupancy, would fear the worst and open the door to investigate. But that would not be until the morning, leaving Mel to spend the worst night of her life in absolute dread and horror.

*** *** ***

“I might ask you the same question!” Catherine retorted as she scrambled back and away from the young man that stared down at her with mouth agape, but if she thought her escape was imminent she was very much mistaken as her back touched against something warm yet solid and…furry.

Hands on floor behind her Catherine leaned back to see what it was she had come up against and the scream that might have erupted following the discovery was prevented to leave her lungs as a firm hand was clapped over her mouth.

“Shh! Don’t scream. You’ll bring everyone running.” Eyes wide Catherine stared again at the young man she had seen first, her eyes quickly riveted to the other person sat behind her, never in all her life had she seen anyone that looked like that!

Laughter suddenly bubbled forth, laughter along with an overwhelming rush of relief, and as the hand was snatched back from her mouth Catherine said, “Oh it’s a mask, sorry I thought…” she laughed nervously, “I thought…well I thought you were for real.”

Had she of expected laughter for her observations it was slow in coming, and Catherine swivelling round to scrutinise the person behind her further wasn’t certain why none was forthcoming. Instead, the steady blue gaze that met her own of stormy green seemed to hold an apology and a sadness that was reflected in the eyes of the young man that had held a hand to her mouth.

Silence descended over the three as Catherine on the brink of doe like flight looked around her wildly for a means of escape, an action that was not lost on the two beside her.

“Don’t go! We’ll not hurt you, will we Vincent?” The older lad told her.

“No.” For the first time Catherine heard ‘it’ speak and despite the fact that this strange person, unless it was a mask, looked grotesque Catherine warmed to the sound of his velvet like voice and she began to relax.

“Where am I?” She wanted to know, suddenly looking up at the ceiling from where she had tumbled, “How did I get down here?”

The older one giggled, “One of my booby traps I’m afraid, sorry.”

Catherine grinned, “Well nice to know they work, could do with a softer landing though.” She told him rubbing her butt to emphasise her point. Both boys laughed and the older one told her, “Booby traps are not meant for visitors, well not your sort anyway, more like unwelcome visitors. So who are you? I take it you know Peter?”

“Why do you say that?” Catherine was curious.

“’Cos that’s Peter’s way in and before you ask he knows not to touch the mechanism to come down here…anymore that is.” The older boy laughed out loud, as he remembered the two times Peter had forgotten and had come crashing down into what he affectionately termed his dungeon.

“Oh. Well yes I know Peter, but he doesn’t know I’ve found his way in.”

The older boy, dark haired and dark eyed grinned at Catherine, “oooh you minx you. Hope you can endure Peter’s wrath, that basement was strictly off limits.”

“You know about the basement?” Catherine was amazed.

“Course I do, we all do, Peter helps treat us when Father hasn’t got the correct supplies.”

“Father? We? You mean there are more of you down here?”

Suddenly a curious glance was passed between the two lads, and the older one asked, “Hasn’t Peter told you anything?”

“About what?” Catherine asked him.

“About us?”

She shook her head, “Until five minutes ago I never knew you existed, and until about an hour ago never knew that these passageways existed, and until about two hours ago never knew what was inside the basement, but my friend Mel and I were curious…” Her voice trailed away and clapping a hand to her mouth she suddenly announced, “Oh Mel! Oh my God, Mel will be worried sick, I have to get back up there to her, can you help me?”

“I could…” the older boy’s voice trailed away as he questioned his friend with his eyes and seeming to make a decision told her, “Unfortunately I can’t. Now that you are here we have to report the fact that the bridge was broken so to speak and you will have to meet our… leader.” He’s been going to say Father but at the last decided leader would have a more dramatic affect and he was right as Catherine started to tremble violently. “Your…your…leader?” she asked timidly.

“I’m afraid my brother is set to frighten you.” The velvet voice spoke from behind and Catherine felt a firm hand upon her shoulder she assumed, hoped, by way of comfort. “There is no leader among us, though there are people that we hold in higher esteem who only have our community’s best interests at heart. The person we must take you to is our father, but you will find him a just and fair man so long as you promise to maintain our secret.”

That word ‘secret’ held all the fears of God for Catherine, yet even so the soft velvet voice held a certain reverence for the man known as father, as Catherine found herself more intrigued than frightened. Still there were other matters to attend to. “But what of my friend, Melanie? She will be worried about me.”

“One moment.” The older lad told her. He moved away into a realm of candlelight that Catherine had only just acknowledged existed and for the first time she saw him clearly, or as clear as was possible beneath candlelight and gauged that he was possibly in his early twenties and apart from one very long scar running down his right cheek he was very good looking. Instantly drawn to him, Catherine felt her heart skip a beat as she begun to build romantic castles in the air and completely forgot the presence of the lad behind her, the one she dared not look at too closely until he removed that mask.

When the older boy returned to stand in front of her again, he seemed not to have done anything or spoken to anyone yet he was able to verify, “Your friend has reached Peter’s basement. She is frightened and trapped but she is safe. I will send word to Peter of her predicament so that she might be rescued.”

“Oh no, but you can’t! She needs my hairpin to unlock the door.” Extracting it from her hair Catherine held it out to him, “Here take it to her. If Peter catches her in the basement there will be hell to pay!”

“No can do I’m afraid. As it is, your friend has no knowledge of people living down here. If someone approached her from the tunnels she would know and there is no other way anyone can approach her, and none of us have the keys to Peter’s front door. Our guards are watching her, but she knows nothing of their presence.”

“Then you must let me go back to her. She will be expecting me and I can help her get out and Peter will never need to know.” Catherine told him rationally. The answer was staring them in the face it was that logical, but the good-looking boy would not buy it.

“Sorry. Our security has been broken. The guards were alerted by your friend’s screams and have already announced that fact, but they do not know that you have fallen through my booby trap, or that you are here, but if they were to find out and I had not reported it, I would be in serious trouble and breach of promise. I could be expelled from our community for doing that and you have to understand your meddling would have been the cause of that. So why should I be forced to leave my home because you chose to break the rules?”

He sounded annoyed and Catherine quick to respond in order to pacify him replied, “I’m sorry you should not lose your home on account of my behaviour, but when Peter finds out he will be furious.”

“Peter’s wrath is nothing compared to that of our community. There is so much more at stake. If we were to be discovered down here, there would be more than I that would lose their home, not least Vincent here who has nowhere else he can possibly live.” The older boy told her frankly.

“Devin’s right.” The mask told her, “Without these tunnels my life would not be worth living.” There was a wealth of sadness in those words and Catherine’s heart reacted violently, still there were things she did not understand and said so.

“You’re Devin?” She looked at the older boy he nodded, and turning she asked the other, “And you’re Vincent?” He too nodded but shook his head when Catherine asked, “And that’s a mask you’ve got on right?”

Catherine gasped, “Its not a mask? Then how?” Gingerly with disbelief she reached up a hand intent on touching his face but he flinched away.

“We don’t know.” Devin told her, “We don’t ask its not polite, but you’ll never find a gentler spirit than Vincent’s, except when he’s mad.” He grinned and traced the scar on his cheek with his fingertips making the action impossible not to understand.

“He did that?” Catherine turned back to Vincent, “You did that? But why?”

Both boys grinned, “We had an argument” They spoke as one, and Catherine could see that whatever it had been about was long forgiven, not only that but it was obvious to her that their was a special relationship between these two.

“You say you’re brothers?” Catherine asked anxiously to neither in particular.

“Vincent’s adopted, but yes we are brothers.”

“Oh.” Catherine could find nothing to say. The relief was immense. Having just married herself off to Devin and being busily fantasying that she would bare his children she was grateful to hear that they would not run the risk of being of the furry kind.

“So, if you are ready, we will take you to our leader.” Devin announced offering her a hand to help her up. Catherine took it without preamble in fact she decided she’d given herself away for the look he gave her was inquiring.

“Our father.” Vincent reiterated with a chuckle.

“That all depends where the love lies bro, you always were his favourite one. Leader works well enough for me.” Something in his reply tugged at Catherine’s heartstrings. If what he said was true then Devin had missed out on the finest quality of love every child should have, the unconditional love of a parent and that he hadn’t made Catherine feel so very sad. And at that point she decided that come what may, whatever happened, whatever came, from that day forth if he would let her, she would provide for him that unconditional love that had so obviously been lacking all of his life.

*** *** ***

Father was not amused, neither come to that was Peter who upon being presented with this intruder of the tunnels almost blew a gasket. And Catherine shocked to discover Peter in this strange world of tunnels and lanterns to which she had been thrust into could do nothing but sit and allow the ravings to go on over her head as if they were not directed at her at all.

Finally, as tempers cooled and Catherine was read the coded law for tunnel dwellers and visitors alike someone felt fit to smile at her and ask if she was unharmed by her fall into their world. Catherine grinned and assured the kindly lady that had asked that only her pride had been injured and with that the questions and explanations began.

Catherine learned how their world had come to be, of the people that relied upon its sanctuary for their safekeeping, she met the children, well nourished and well behaved among them and she heard the story as ageless as time of how Vincent was first brought to them. Of his survival and upbringing into a safe world that accepted him as one of their own, saw pasts his differences and loved him for the person that he was. Catherine noted with some amusement that this particular history lesson was somewhat uncomfortable to Vincent listening on, and she sent him a knowing smile that was completely sympathetic.

“So,” Father wound up by saying, “This is what we must do. Since your friend Melanie knows something of the tunnels we must brick up that entrance.” Peter groaned and Catherine winced only now seeing the disadvantage of this for him. “It has to be, I’m sorry.” Father eyed Catherine sceptically and she shifted uncomfortably knowing that these necessary things were all because of her meddling in things that did not concern her. Still had she not…Catherine smiled at Devin and received for her trouble a beautiful smile back that sent her heart a flutter. Had she not of disobeyed Peter, had she not of gone with Mel to investigate their discovery then she would never have known that this beautiful boy existed…and at that moment in time Catherine never wanted to imagine what the world would have been like not knowing that he was in it. Therefore, with that thought in mind her behaviour didn’t feel quite so bad.

“I suggest that we brick it up only temporarily, and not directly outside of the basement. If we take it inwards a few yards, up to the place Catherine fell through the wall and as far as her friend is concerned possibly as far as the passage could go, then that should be sufficient. And Peter, there is that other entrance…you know the one?”

“Cobwebby way?” Peter chuckled, “Yes I know where you mean, but Catherine hates spiders.”

Drawing her brows together Catherine looked at each person in turn, “What does it matter if I hate spiders, I’m hardly likely to come back here again am I?”

A deathly silence descended at her words and Catherine felt uncomfortable understanding what she had just implied “At least I didn’t think I would be welcome to come again? Are you saying that I can?” She looked directly at Father when she asked the question.

“Oh my dear you seem to have missed the point somewhere. I’m afraid that once you have been here you have to continue to visit us. In fact your falling in on s so to speak designated you to the rank of helper. From now on we can find all manner of jobs as your punishment.”

Wide-eyed Catherine stared at him, “And how long will it last?” She whispered hoarsely.

Devin burst into laughter and Father shot him a ‘thank you very much’ look that told Catherine that he had been toying with her. All the same there was an underlying truth about the statement he had made and Catherine laughing a little uneasily told him, “Actually though you didn’t mean that…”

“Says who?” Father’s eyes twinkled merrily at her discomfort and Catherine relaxed enough to continue, “Well since you put it that way perhaps there are things that I could do to help you all down here.” Father did not miss the ‘look’ that Catherine directed at his son Devin and could not help retorting, “And some more than others no doubt, huh?”

Catherine blushed, as funnily enough did Devin who had just realised the depth of Catherine’s emotions toward him something that with his usual friendliness toward visitors’ he had missed earlier and he found that the idea of Catherine’s devotion toward him wasn’t nearly half as bad as he may have imagined. In fact, he rather revelled in it. Catherine was a very beautiful young girl with curves in all the right places.

“Well anyway, that is what we will do as regards sealing the old basement entrance and Catherine?” When Father felt he had her undivided attention and that his son wasn’t the recipient of most of it, he went on, “Peter will direct you here through ‘cobwebby way’ from now on and will show you how to announce your arrival, okay?”

Catherine nodded, her eyes peering over the older man’s shoulders to his handsome son just sitting beyond. It was hard to keep her eyes off him, even though she was becoming aware that others were conscious of the fact and she was a trifle embarrassed. Shaking herself back to earth Catherine made to stand, “Well perhaps I have outstayed my welcome already, can someone show me the way back to Peter’s house? Unless you are leaving now Peter?”

“I wasn’t but I will. Your friend will need rescuing if nothing else.” He replied gruffly letting her see in no uncertain terms that her love life mat y have been richly rewarded for her misbehaviour but it would be sometime before he would forgive her for it.

“May I make a suggestion?” All heads turned to Vincent surprised that he had spoken, as he hadn’t up till then.

“What is it, Vincent?” Father asked him.

“I think Catherine should return by the way in which she came. It might be better all round if Melanie can be made to presume that Catherine had bumped her head…” Vincent faltered he didn’t like to lie and knew his father liked them even less but sometimes…”well you know that would account for her not hearing Melanie shouting and the time that has lapsed. If Catherine were unconscious…” his suggestion trailed away leaving the others to speculate further on his idea.

“Yes I see.” Father rubbed his bristled jaw with the fingers of one hand, “As you know I don’t like having to lie, it is something we deter against down here Catherine, and its unfortunate that on your first visit to us, here we are contemplating doing just that, but Vincent does have a point. If we leave things as they stand your friend might take it upon herself to one day seek out the tunnels with or without the friends you say betted with her on what was inside the basement either way it is a risk we are unprepared to take. Melanie must assume that the tunnels that are beyond the basement are nothing but the passageway she termed them to be and we must brick up the entrance a few yards from the basement wall to ensure that possibility. So if you return the way you came, hand her the hairclip so that she might unlock the door to get back into the house and Peter you be in place to ‘welcome’ them home, we might just get away with this.”

“I’m so sorry to have caused so much trouble.” Catherine whimpered quite distressed.

“So you should be!” Peter flared, “Nevertheless what’s done is done and I’m certain we can find a way to rectify the situation. I have a further idea too. I will explain to your friend and to you Catherine,” he told her sternly, “that the basement area used to be one. The passageway behind was part of the original floor space but I had a wall erected to make the space smaller until I could afford to fit out the floor space as one room. I’ll explain that the passageway beyond actually goes nowhere and before the basement was as it is now, the whole area resembled that of the roughened walls beyond. Hopefully, that should suffice don’t you think?” He directed the question at Catherine, who shrugged, “Sounds ok, but Mel wouldn’t buy it. There will be no need to explain anything to her. The more you say the more likely she will smell a rat. She already believes you are creating monsters down there, Peter, I think you should just blow your top at finding us in the basement and insist that Melanie goes home, actually at this time of night you’d better take her home in your car, or have her father collect her. If Mel decides to investigate further I can bluff my way round it, and should she insist on checking it out without or without the gang then she’ll find nothing but a dead end by then, won’t she? When will you brick up the way in?” Catherine directed the last part of her statement to Father.

“The moment you are gone. We cannot run the risk of leaving it too long. Our sentries keep reporting that your friend is still in the basement but there’s no telling when she might pluck up the courage to seek your whereabouts, my dear. The sooner you get back up there the better I think.”

Catherine couldn’t argue with that but she was mystified at how Father knew, since no one had interrupted their gathering to bring him any messages from the sentries and she commented on this. Everyone smiled, “Morse code.” Devin explained, “Well sort of anyway that tapping…here it?” Catherine had heard it and nodded, “well its how we send messages to one another down here. Those that understand the code have been kept informed of your friend’s position all the time you have been down here.”

Catherine was impressed, “Can you teach me that code?”

“That will be a task for their pipe master, you’ve yet to meet him.” Peter told her, “But regretfully that pleasure must be reserved for another day. Young lady we should leave now.”

“You’re coming too?” Catherine was surprised.

“Not with you. Devin will show you the way back. I have my car up at the park so I’ll drive home. With the aid of the sentries we can arrive home simultaneously so that I can catch you and Melanie coming out of the basement…or should the hair clip not work…release you from there.”

“If you’re ready then?” Devin was already standing his intention obvious. “You coming Vincent?”

Vincent declined, “No I’m sure you can manage.” Devin looked at his brother with open curiosity, had Vincent too noticed that Catherine appeared interested in him? Devin decided against the idea, for Vincent would not want to miss an opportunity to prod his brother in the ribs over it if he had. Still Devin overlooked the fact that Vincent was not only very astute but he was also very gallant at times and feeling very much like a gooseberry on such an occasion Vincent had declined the offer to see Catherine home. However, the moment Devin, Catherine and Peter had left he launched his suspicions on Father.

“Did you see the way she looked at Devin?” Leaning back on his chair, Vincent roared with laughter. “Oh am I going to rib him over that or what?”

“You and me both.” Father chuckled. “It would appear that she has a huge crush on my son, but then who can blame her Devin looks the spitting image of me at that age.”

Vincent laughed out loud. “I wonder what he’ll do about it?”

“Probably ask her out.”

Vincent sobered, “You’d allow that?”

“Not before time. Vincent, at twenty-two Devin has waited more than long enough to date someone.”

“But she’s not of our world.” Vincent reminded him as if that meant anything.

“That’s as maybe, but now she has been introduced to us, I have a feeling we will be seeing a whole lot more of her. I get the impression that she’d be a good companion for you too, Vincent.” Father eyed his son knowingly. Since the incident with Lisa Vincent had rather been afraid of anything to do with the opposite sex. Father thought that Catherine might be just what Vincent needed to get over Lisa’s attitude. Six months ago, Lisa had proved in no uncertain terms that she had no romantic notions toward Vincent, much to Vincent’s sorrow and Father despaired that any woman might ever feel remotely romantic toward his unusual son. Still that experience had left Vincent vulnerable around the opposite sex, vulnerable and apprehensive, not knowing whether they were being friendly for friendships sake or were being sincere. Well Catherine looked sincere but unfortunately for Vincent she seemed only to have eyes for his other son, Devin. Still Father hoped that through her Vincent would learn to enjoy being around a girl again and would stop being so self-conscious about his differences.

“She does seem nice.” Vincent replied after a long pause. “She’s very pretty too.”

Father chuckled, “Ah you noticed. I wondered if you might.”

“Who wouldn’t? Someone as beautiful as Catherine though could never feel anything for someone as ugly as me.” He replied sadly.

“Vincent! Don’t put yourself down like that. You have to shake off this Lisa syndrome do you hear me!”

“Lisa syndrome Father, what do you mean?”

“You know very well what I mean. Six months ago, before all this flared up you took the opposite sex as they came – as friends as great as those of the same sex as you, now no more. Now you view them all as potential partners that might or might not accept your differences. Do you think I haven’t noticed this?”

“No. But I wasn’t aware that I did this.” Vincent replied sincerely.

“Vincent, you’re eighteen, you’ve years yet for a lasting relationship. All the same I know how every young man dreams of the day he will meet the love of his life, marry her and have children and you are no different Vincent, despite the obvious. You have a wonderful spirit and your heart is sincere, you are developing into a very strong young man not just physically but also mentally. But your heart carries battle scars that I affectionately term the Lisa Syndrome and if you let it the hurt it caused you will never go away, and you won’t move through and beyond it Vincent, you won’t.” With eyes of sympathy, Father told him tenderly.

“Then what should I do, Father?”

“Rejoice with Devin that he has found someone, but when he offers for you to join him don’t let the fact that someone is interested in him romantically deter you from association with your brother. In other words, Vincent never put yourself down or take a back seat you are as good as the next man and don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise. That’s what you were doing when you refused see Catherine back with Devin wasn’t it?”

Vincent nodded, “I hadn’t realised…but yes, you’re right. I was avoiding what was so obviously happening between them. I thought I might be in the way.”

“Did you ever stop to think that Devin might have liked your company? I feel he is at a loss as to know how to handle such a situation. After all it is the first time anyone from up top has shown any interest in him.”

Vincent chuckled, “It’s the first time anyone anywhere has shown any interest in him.”

Father laughed too, “Well then I think he would have been glad of your company and you wouldn’t have been a gooseberry at all. In fact, I wouldn’t mind betting that he is feeling every bit the gooseberry right now. I bet the cat has most definitely got his tongue.”

They both laughed out loud and then changed the subject talking about tunnel matters never realising that their last remark over Devin could never have been nearer the truth. For at that very moment and back at the spot where she had fallen onto her bottom Catherine and Devin were in a tight embrace kissing one another most passionately. And despite what Father had maintained Devin was exceedingly grateful that his brother had declined the offer to see Catherine home. In fact, at that moment in time, Devin had forgotten everything relating to life in the tunnels as his mind became geared for doing only one thing… with… Catherine… Catherine… Catherine…

*** *** ***

Chapter Four

Back down in the tunnels Devin was mooching about aimlessly picking up this and that his mind very much on anything but the things he was touching and Father having watched him half-heartedly for the past hour finally had to say something. “Devin, if you have nothing better to do maybe you will run an errand for me?”

It took a moment before Devin acknowledged that his father had spoken and Father was just about to ask again, when Devin stopped tinkering and replied, “I don’t want to run an errand, ask someone else!”

Taken aback, Father started to protest most angrily when Devin flopped himself down into a chair and with a hand to his brow retorted “ Leave me alone, old man.”

Again, annoyed Father’s fury rose at Devin’s insolence, and he had to bite his tongue in order to stop his outburst when he suddenly realised that his son was not a child anymore, although there were times…

Exasperated Father asked, “What is it, Devin? Something is wrong I can see that. Please tell me I’d like to help if I can.” The concern in Father’s tone was plainly evident and sincere and Devin reluctantly met his father’s sympathetic gaze with eyes of hostility. He and his father had never been ones for platonic conversation, always there had been vibes, cross swords and Devin wasn’t in the mood for fighting this day no matter the opinion his eyes held.

“Its Catherine.”

Father was clearly surprised, “Catherine? You mean the young girl we met the other day, the one that was staying with Peter?”


Bewildered Father prompted, “I don’t understand can you elaborate, how can Catherine be the root of your problem?”

Lost for words Devin groped for something to say that he would not find embarrassing and would not reveal more than he wished. In the end, he sought the only means he could find, the tail end of the sequence of events rather than the start of them.

“I thought she would go out with me.”

“Go out? Where?” Father scratched his head clearly puzzled until suddenly it dawned on him, “Oh you mean on a date?”


Stifling laughter Father asked, “I don’t mean to sound rude Devin, but why did you think that she might agree? I take it she didn’t agree?”

“I didn’t ask her.”

Drawing in a deep breath, Father let it go wearily, for all the knowledge his son should possess his vocabulary was very sparse at times.

“Has she given any indication that she would agree to go if you did ask her?”

“She kissed me.”

“Oh.” Father hadn’t expected that. “What a goodbye kiss? Something more?”

Here Devin remembered and grinned, “Definitely something more.”

“Then you should ask her. Might I suggest that you take her to the cinema I’m certain they do still have those up top. “ Father well remembered the cinema being his favourite haunting grounds to date when he was a young man. He grinned remembering some of those occasions with fondness.

“Nah, she wouldn’t come out with me, not now.” Devin’s tone was flat again, Father frowned, “Why not now, what have you done?”

“Why does it always have to be my fault?” Devin demanded.

“Well was it?” Father expected Devin to rant and rave awhile and so was surprised when he mumbled, “Suppose so.”

“Devin, you’re twenty two, if we can’t talk man to man now we never will. Come on out with it I want the whole story. Without it I cannot advise you.” Father told him sternly.

“I might not want your advice.”

“That’s true, but I’d like to give it anyway. It will be up to you whether you heed it or not. So first question when Catherine kissed you how did you respond?”

Words were not needed Father could well see by the dreamy expression that crossed Devin’s face just how he had been affected.

“Has no one ever kissed you before?”

“Not like that.” Devin told him wistfully. “She told me I was a great kisser.”

“Hmm. So you engaged in a case of necking and was that all you did?”

“At that time yes.”

“Oh dear, you mean you went further than kissing?” Father suddenly had this terrible vision of an irate Charles Chandler and an irate GP bearing down upon him insisting that his son married Catherine since she was with child. Fortunately, Devin’s next words swept that vision clean away.

“I wanted to. Catherine didn’t. She slapped me when I tried.”

“Oh. Then what happened?” With one hand over his mouth Father hid a grin.

“She went above with Vincent.”

“With Vincent! Above?” Father rose to his feet, why had he not known of this?

“Relax, they are at Peter’s watching television.”

Father relaxed, of course, the pipes had relayed that particular message an hour ago, he’d almost forgotten while he’d been watching Devin mooch around his chamber.

“So what will happen now?”

“You’re the one with all the answers, you tell me.” Devin looked directly at his father, “I haven’t a clue.”

“Brass tacks then. I take it you are still interested in Catherine?”


“And you would like her as your girlfriend?”


“Devin, you only met the girl a few days ago, dating her is awfully soon.”

“She kissed me, remember?” Devin told him sarcastically.

“Yes, but…”

“There are no buts Father! Catherine kissed me, I wasn’t expecting it, and certainly never in my wildest dreams did I expect a kiss like that even if I had been expecting her to kiss me, which I didn’t. That kiss did something to me, something I’d never felt before it awakened feelings within me. Feelings I never knew existed!”

Ah now Father understood. “Ah she fanned the spark into flame did she? You poor thing, and you have no way of knowing how to douse the fire?”

“I’m not sure that I want to douse it.”

“Yes that would be correct. Lovely feeling is it not? Even though it won’t let you lie down and sleep and nags you constantly. I’m afraid, Devin, there are only two ways to quench that particular flame. You either pour cold water over it, literally take a swim in the mirror pool which will cool your ardour so you may think clearly before the fire ignites again or…”

Father had Devin’s full attention now, “Or what?”

“Or you have to go about it in a different manner. Obviously, whatever you did the first time, or the second time was not to Catherine’s liking but that she instigated the first kiss shows she is interested in you…”

“You think so?” Devin sounded truly surprised. “I thought she was toying with me like Lisa toyed with Vincent.”

“Lisa did not toy with Vincent, that was a case of mistaken affection. Vincent mistook the situation Lisa presented and read more into something than was there while you have not. That Catherine kissed you so…so…would you call it passionately?” Devin nodded and Father went on, “well that speaks for itself. Other than the fact that when she was here that day we all noticed that she couldn’t take her eyes off of you. She is attracted to you Devin, and why not, you take after me, you are a very good -looking young man.” Father chuckled and Devin did too. “So you need a fresh approach. I would still advise that cold swim, it’ll help you get your head around it, you’ve had a shock as much as anything else. Catherine has put your mind into a spin and you can’t see past what’s at point blank right now, but once you can see around it you can work out what is best to do and where to go from here. Want my honest advice? Something I would do?”

Devin nodded.

“I’d charm her. I know Catherine is a girl from above and that her father is wealthy and in comparison, she has everything while you are lacking in worldly possessions, not to mention a cash flow, but there are things you can give that money can’t buy. A smile, a kind word, a bunch of daisies, anything to show that you have affection for her and when she will permit you to, talk to her, tell her how she makes you feel, tell her that if she would agree you would like to take her out on a date. And if you feel pressured in any way, either by your feelings or by the situation, then take a chaperone with you, whenever possible take Vincent he’s a level headed sort of boy. Or take a deep breath, assess the situation, move through it, around it or with it, depending on your consideration and act accordingly with how you both feel.”

“It sounds easy.”

“Its not. Easy is giving advice and regretfully that’s often gained by bitter experience. Had my father of told me those things I would not have heeded him. In hindsight, I should have listened but I know I wouldn’t have.” Father grinned.

“I think I might listen to you. Besides, the situation is different. At my age, you had met countless girls no doubt, while down here girls that might be interested are few and far between. Do you think Catherine would appreciate a trip to the crystal cavern?”

“She might. This is something you need to ask her, don’t presume. I remember that the best-laid plans sometimes had a way of backfiring on me. If I considered that a surprise trip to an art gallery would be to my girlfriend’s liking it invariably wasn’t. Women want to do different things to men, so discuss it with her, and if you want to surprise her then make certain you have a few places in mind that you are sure she will like first. Now why don’t you go up to Peter’s and watch some television with them, hum? That might be a good place to start, just spend some time with her and get to know one another. It’s not all about sweaty palms and a grope in the dark, you know.” Father’s eyes twinkled with merriment but Devin blushed. “Oh I see that’s why she slapped you.” Despite himself, Father laughed out loud. Devin wasn’t sure whether to laugh or not, but he forced a grin when he finally saw the funny side at last still he told his father glumly, “I think I’ll go and take that cold swim first.”.

Father laughed out loud and was still laughing as Devin left the chamber, even continuing as Devin made his way to his own chamber to collect a towel. Chuckling still as he passed back that way to the mirror pool and Devin stopped popped his head around his father’s chamber entrance and told him sincerely, “Thanks Dad,” before continuing on his way.

That stopped Father’s laughter in its tracks. Devin had never called him dad before. It hit him like a slap in the face and just as Catherine’s slap had done for Devin, Father was forced to take stock of the relationship he held with his fleshly son and realised that probably for the first time ever they had levelled with one another on even ground. And Father liked that feeling. He liked it very much.

*** *** ***

“Is it raining outside?” Catherine commented as Devin flopped himself down on the sofa at her side some ninety minutes after his talk with Father.

“No, I took a short cut through the car wash.” Devin replied making Catherine laugh out loud, “Oh that’s a good one, I must remember that.” Devin basked in the ease surrounding them. This was better than the last time they had been side by side, that time when she had slapped him.

“So why is your hair wet?” Vincent asked returning from the kitchen with a huge bowl of freshly popped corn. The aroma circulated to Devin and his stomach rumbled causing more laughter from his new friend.

“I went swimming in the mirror pool.”

“Brr, sooner you than me I bet that was cold?” Vincent asked.

“Sure was, but I enjoyed it. Cooled my ardour,” He replied looking at Catherine apologetically, “I’m sorry about earlier I was being too presumptuous. Can you forgive me?” His warm brown eyes were sincere as they met those of Catherine’s and for a moment as he awaited her reply time stood still and that old fluttering began all over again in the tips of his toes. He pushed the feeling resolutely aside. ‘Keep doing that’ he told himself, ‘and I’ll need more than one ice cold swim a day.’

“It was my fault. I started this. I just never dreamed that it would move so fast.” Catherine told him.

Vincent coughed, Devin thought he was doing it to remind them that he was there, but when Vincent’s coughing grew longer and more frantic, both Devin and Catherine were horrified to see that Vincent was choking!

“Here take this.” Grabbing the bowl of corn from his brother Devin flung it into Catherine’s hands spilling popcorn all over her while he banged his brother on the back trying to release the trapped corn. When that didn’t work, he rushed from the room heading for the kitchen and water. Catherine flung the bowl aside and did something she had seen Peter do, she placed her arms around Vincent from behind him and with her fisted hands pushed upward and inward until the corn was dislodged and came flying out of his mouth in one spluttering rush.

Devin returned just in time to see it with a glass of water in his hand, “Wow that was excellent Catherine,” Devin exclaimed, “Here Vincent drink this.”

Taking the glass from his brother Vincent took several sips before he felt capable of speech and when it came it sounded strained, “Yes thank you Catherine. You saved my life.”

“Aw I don’t know about that.” Catherine waved his thanks aside, “But let that be a lesson to you next time, not to wolf so much corn down at once.”

“I was hungry.”


“Vincent is always hungry.” Devin told her with a grin.

“You should have said. How about pizza?”

“Pizza?” Both boys repeated together, “Those flat hard bread frisby things? No thanks!”

“Hard frisby things…no way… they’re yummy!” Catherine’s eyes were wide and incredulous.

“William sometimes makes these flat bread things with tomatoes and cheese I think he calls them pizza, we aren’t fond of them.”

“But you’ve never had take away pizza?” Catherine asked already reaching for the telephone.


Catherine stopped, her arm in mid air as she waited for Devin to continue, sure he would as she could see the mischief in his eyes.

“Father takes it away, says it will spoil our lunch. One time I have to admit that we totally agree with him.” Devin laughed out loud, “Only Vincent’s teeth can chomp through that hard base.”

“With difficulty.” Vincent told her grinning.

“Then boys, I am about to treat you. Do you have any preferences?”

“Preferences? Like what?”

“Is there anything you don’t like?”

“I don’t like being slapped.” Devin told her meekly.

“He does really.” Vincent told her, “I’ve seen these books in his chamber something to do with slavery, whips and chains.”

“Vincent!” Both exclaimed together as Devin went on, “You have not! Take that back!”

Vincent burst into laughter. “Well okay then just whips and chains.”

“Think again fur ball.” Devin dared his brother to say another word with eyes of thunder.

“Okay, okay, chains then…”

“Yeah that’ll be right, chains to chain your mouth shut with.” Devin glared. “You wait I’ll get you for this!”

“Now, now boys.” Catherine was rolled into a ball with laughter, her stomach hurt for she had laughed so much.

“I had a book on chains.” Devin began.

“You don’t need to explain Devin it’s alright, honest.” Catherine told him while under her breath so he could only just hear mumbled, “Whatever turns you on.”

Devin laughed, “Ok it was no big deal but for the record I had a book on chains and bridges actually,” he emphasised looking directly at Vincent, “I was going to design a new bridge for the abyss at one time but thought better of it.” He laughed remembering that fanciful idea and how he had dismissed it when he hit a few snags.

“What’s the abyss?” Catherine asked clearly interested.

“Its where we throw our enemies.” Vincent told her dryly. “A bottomless pit.”

Really?” Her eyes wide Catherine couldn’t imagine it, “Remind me never to become your enemy.” She added at a whisper.

“Hey that will never happen, now did someone mention food, ‘cos I’m starving?” Vincent reminded her.

“Oh yes, pizza, hold on I’ll have one delivered. You’ll eat anything right?” She looked from one to the other of them.

They nodded. Catherine dialled the number while they watched with amazement, and listened with equal astonishment, “Hello Catherine Chandler here, yes can you send a deep based loaded stuffed crust pizza to Peter Alcott’s house please. Yes usual address, on account please. Twenty minutes? That will be great. Thank you.”

When she hung up, she found the two lads staring at her awestruck, “That’s it.” She told them “Food’s on its way. Now how about some coke? There’s plenty in the kitchen.”

“Cola or coal variety?” Devin asked grinning from ear to ear.

“Depends what you prefer. Peter has both. Glad to hear that you know there’s a difference at any rate” she told him rising to her feet. You wait here I’ll go get a bottle and some glasses. You all right now Vincent? Is your throat sore? Would you like a hot cup of something?”

“Yeah a hot cup of fat.” Devin remarked knowing what was to come as Vincent bolted for the bathroom feeling sick.

Devin laughed out loud sobering when he found Catherine wasn’t laughing, “That was cruel.” She told him, “Sometimes you go too far.” He knew she wasn’t just talking about the bantering with his brother.

“I’m sorry.” He told her apologetically, but Vincent gives as good as he gets, remember the book on chains?

“Yes, but he never made you sick.”

Devin couldn’t help it but he had to ask, had to know, “And do I make you sick?”

Catherine shook her head, telling him “Grow up Devin, go smell the coffee, “ before leaving the room.

Soberly, Devin sat alone in the sitting room. He could hear his brother retching, and he felt ashamed and went in search of him glad to find that nothing was actually coming up through Vincent’s mouth, his stomach being empty. “I’m sorry bro, that was a wicked thing to say.” Vincent looked up incredulous to hear his brother apologise. They were always trying to get one over on the other, seldom did they apologise not even when things went too far believing that anything that happened was deserved.

“That’s alright Devin.” Vincent straightened wiped his mouth, washed his hands and the pair left the bathroom together just as the doorbell sounded.

”That’ll be the pizza.” Catherine called up to them and they came down the stairs gingerly lest the delivery boy caught sight of Vincent. But they needn’t have worried as Catherine went outside to collect it giving Devin a whale of an idea. He rushed down the stairs and locked her out laughing at the look of astonishment on his brother’s face.

“She’s gonna slap you again.” Vincent told him with glee.

“How did you know about that?” Devin demanded, “Did she tell you anything?”

“I read between the lines, you underestimate my wisdom.”

The rattling doorknob distracted them, Catherine was knocking hard and asking them to open up.

“Not till you say you forgive me.” Devin hollered through the letterbox.

“Then I’ll just have to scoff this all by myself.” Pushing open the letterbox wide, Catherine allowed the aroma of freshly baked loaded pizza to waft inside. Vincent’s stomach rumbled, quickly followed by the sound of Devin’s, and they wrenched open the door to find Catherine with a smug smile of satisfaction on her face and in her hand a beautiful slice of the most adorable looking hot morsel of food either had seen in his life.

“Is that for me!” Both pounced on it at once, but Devin got it first. “I’ll settle for her fingers then.” Vincent caught Catherine’s hand in his and taking it to his lips licked the delectable substance of cheese, tomato, chicken, corn and a whole host of other delicious goodies from each of her coated fingers. And then it happened!

As Devin took his slice of pizza through to the dining room to devour it in comfort Vincent and Catherine’s eyes met and flustered Vincent dropped her hand in stunned surprise as his stomach so recently empty became full of butterflies that would not stop fluttering and he felt sick all over again. But this time it was a different kind of sickness – Vincent was lovesick.

*** *** ***

They spent a great afternoon together with undercurrents, neither noticing or trying not to notice the few awkward silences that overcame the three from time to time. Devin was still waiting for Catherine forgiveness believing that everything revolved around it, unable to move on or through it until he actually her the words come out of her mouth. And Vincent seemed withdrawn as he watched the two with a heightened sense of animosity that was quite new to him.

Catherine for her part tried to ignore the vibes coming from either lad intent on enjoying their company, while not quite knowing what to do about Devin. When she looked at him he set her soul aflame, so she tried not to allow herself that pleasure, but when she looked at Vincent his eyes were filled with a foreboding that made her shiver. Strange but the friendliness they had shown one another before the pizza delivery had been so fresh and enjoyable and now the comparison hit her like a bucket of ice in her face.

“Well,” she stood up collecting the empty pizza box in one hand and the coke bottle in the other intent on clearing away, “I guess we better tidy up before Peter gets back.”

“I’ll help you.” Vincent made to stand, but Devin was up to and forcing him down again with a glare that warned him off. Reluctantly Vincent obeyed allowing his brother to escort Catherine to the kitchen. A wry grimace formed on his face that was attached to the thought that they were both acting like a pair of puppy dogs around a new playmate. Or a bitch on heat. The words winged their way through Vincent’s mind and he recoiled in horror. Was that how it really was? Were they both interested in the same girl? Worse still, did Devin realise that his brother was attracted to the girl he hoped to secure for his own?

They’d had fights before, disagreements, there had been ghastly days of silence as each had refused to be the first to apologise but they had always made up in the end, often with Father’s intervention, but neither had held a grudge for long. But this could split them for all time Vincent wasn’t so blind that he could not see this. All the books he had read had shown that when it came to a girl best friends could split never to acknowledge the other again with anything but animosity.

Vincent knew that Devin liked Catherine and if he were honest he could accept that Catherine felt something for Devin too, but how could he sit by and watch those events unfolding when he was attracted to her too? And how could it be so, so soon after Lisa? That’s what he couldn’t comprehend. He had vowed never to get close to a girl again and certainly never to misread a situation, one of the reasons why he wasn’t misreading this now. Catherine thought of him as a friend and nothing more, no matter how often her eyes met his with some wistful look that was unreadable. Wistful glances told him nothing and Vincent was too afraid to ask. Deep down he knew the answer, if he was himself with Devin’s looks he might stand a chance with Catherine. Sadly, that would never be and in all fairness that had probably been Lisa’s problem. No girl wanted to get shacked up with a guy that looked like the family cat!

A sob forced its way up and out of Vincent’s mouth and he sought a means of escape. Much as he wanted to stay and see the outcome of whatever was developing between his brother and Catherine he didn’t dare watch anymore. How could he sit there and pretend everything was hunky-dory when his heart was being torn from his chest every time that Catherine gazed into Devin’s eyes?

He couldn’t. So leaving his comfortable leather bound seat he headed for the basement and the new way down to the tunnels, a door set inside the study at the back of a sliding bookcase a way that Peter rarely used due to having to lift so many heavy books out of the way first, very chic but hardly practical.

Catherine and Devin clattering about in the kitchen didn’t hear him go, neither did he bid them goodbye, so when they returned to the living room some twenty minutes later to find him gone they thought at first he had gone to the bathroom. When it became apparent he was not upstairs or anywhere in the house, Catherine reluctantly had to agree that he had gone back to the tunnels.

“He never even said goodbye.” Catherine wailed.

“Or thanks for the pizza.” Devin reminded her.

“He showed that by his enjoyment.” Catherine told him, “Still I wonder why he didn’t tell us he was going back below.” She sounded miserable and Devin was quick to notice. He frowned, though in the kitchen he had tried his best to adopt his father’s policy and be gallant and make her laugh, it was as if on finding Vincent gone a light had gone out in her eyes. Devin became broody, Catherine still hadn’t verbally forgiven him for trying it on with her down in the tunnels, in fact she evaded the topic whenever possible. He had to know where he stood.

“You wouldn’t be interested in Vincent would you?” He asked her directly.

“Interested?” Bewildered Catherine searched his face for clues.

“Romantically so?”

“With Vincent!” Catherine shrieked “Get real, have you seen him!”

Despite his earlier feelings toward his brother Devin was immediately at Vincent’s defence, “Hey that’s my brother you’re talking about!” He flared angrily. Catherine apologised, “Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. I didn’t mean that I didn’t like him but Devin be honest, can you see me dating him?”

Devin didn’t back down, “There’s nothing wrong with Vincent. He has a heart that’s all you need to know. He’s probably one of the best guys’ in the world he cares, truly cares for people. You could do a lot worse than Vincent.”

“I sure could!” she snapped looking him in the eye, “Some people take liberties when they are told no!”

“Huh getting to the nitty gritty now aren’t we? You ain’t ever gonna forgive me for that are you?”

“NEVER! I told you no, not just once but twice and still you groped me! Know how that made me feel? Cheap and nasty, soiled…don’t ever do that to me again!”

“And don’t you ever take liberties with me again!”

They faced each other their verbal attack making each of them tremble with fury and Catherine questioned, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You kissed me first remember? You started it all. How was I supposed to know you didn’t intend making love with me!”

“Don’t flatter yourself Devin.” Catherine snapped, “A kiss is a kiss, anything else is taking liberties but not kissing!”

“Is so! In my world a woman would never flaunt herself like that, would never make the first move and especially with someone she had only known five minutes. You moved in on me so fast you took my breath away, I didn’t know how to act, what to do to say, what you expected from me. I could only follow where you led and even though you said no to my touching you, how was I to know that you weren’t just being polite?”

Catherine drew her brows together, Devin for all his twenty two years was one mixed up kid. “Has nobody ever kissed you before, Devin?”

“Not like that.”

“I’m sorry.”

Whoa, when she finally said it, she said it. The impact of her apology hit Devin somewhere below the belt, he felt like a heel.

“That’s alright…”he began but Catherine cut him short, “Can we start again? I mean we’ve got off on the wrong foot haven’t we? And I don’t want us to fall out over this.”

Devin nodded, “What would you suggest?”

“Well like today, we’ve had fun haven’t we? We haven’t had to get involved in the romantic stuff, just being together has been good, or don’t you agree?”

“I’ve enjoyed it, yes, but I have to admit I was on tender-hooks wondering what your next move might be or when it might be, or even if I should instigate it.”

Catherine grinned at him, “So have I.”


“Yes really. Look cards on the table. Devin I’m attracted to you. And its true your kisses did something to me that frazzled my brain left me wanting more, much more…” she paused searching for the right words while he felt elated at the ones already chosen. ”But Devin you are a lot older than me even though you are inexperienced, well come to that we both are, though I have been kissed before…” Catherine laughed remembering an occasion and Devin could only wait for her to continue with bated breath.

“Could we date?” she asked him and his mouth fell open in stunned surprise. Catherine laughed out loud, “I’ll take that as a yes shall I?”

Wordlessly Devin nodded.

“And we’ll take it slow…cos I think we should…and it might be good if we don’t spend too much time by ourselves. It was great having Vincent here with us today wasn’t it, maybe he could come with us, maybe the three of us could fool around?”

“Decipher fool around?” Devin told her with a grin.

Playfully Catherine slapped his upper arm, “Oh you! You know what I mean, like we did here today, all that witty bantering, it was fun, even if you did go OTT with Vincent.”

“OTT? What’s that?”

“Over the top.”

“You will find Catherine that there are times when Vincent deserves that kind of attention.” He spoke wryly making her laugh.

“So we can spend time together then so I can see that for myself?”

“Only so long as you promise me one thing.” He spoke seriously now.

“What?” Cautious Catherine was apprehensive about the tone he had used to ask his condition.

“That we, you and I, can from time to time…kiss.” He swallowed with great difficulty hoping she would not think him presumptuous and slap him again.

She didn’t, “I’d like that.” She told him sincerely but her eyes told him of her doubts and he reassured her, “It’ll go no further I promise. I’ll keep my hands to myself and take as many ice cold baths in the mirror pool as needed, and believe me Catherine I will need them.” He told her truthfully. “You are very beautiful.”

“Thank you. Okay then it’s a deal. We’ll date below with Vincent in tow and above with my friends around us, you’ll like them Devin and my girlfriends are gonna be as jealous as hell when I introduce you to them believe me!” Catherine gloated at the thought.

Devin did too even though he found it hard to believe, especially with that scar. But Catherine thought otherwise and as if she read his mind, she stepped closer and with one finger traced along the line of darkened skin on his cheek following it through with tiny whispering kisses of affection. Time stood still for Devin as she told him, “Even this is beautiful, it makes you distinguished and its kinda nice in a way, just think your brother put his mark upon you.”

Her kisses fanned the flame again and unable to stand them any longer Devin groaned, turned, embraced her and sought her lips with his own and they were lost, lost in a desire of their own making and all the carefully chosen words of moments earlier spiralled away as if they had never been uttered until reluctantly reason hit them and both pulled away a look of unquenched fire in their eyes.

“God Devin, we’re gonna need more than Vincent to chaperone us…I’m gonna need a chastity belt for one thing! You do something to me that makes my good sense fly out of the window.”

“I know.” Devin had to agree, being around this girl was dangerous. He could no more hold back from wanting her than he could hold back the ocean, “I think we’re gonna have to take a rain check on those kisses.” He told her reluctantly, “Or neither of us are going get through this alive.”

“I agree. This thing is stronger than either of us and I need time to get my head around it.”

Nodding Devin took her hand and bestowed a kiss to the palm, “Chaste dating then?”

Catherine agreed, “Chaste dating.”

Who were they kidding?

The fire burned low now but it was still there as each took the other’s hand and headed for the door that would lead them into the tunnels. They were going to have to be careful they knew that, Devin was going to have to be strong he accepted that. Older than Catherine he would have to be strong enough for the both of them. He only hoped that he wouldn’t let her down. He wanted her so badly and any move in the wrong direction might trigger an avalanche that he was powerless to resist. So never was he more pleased to see his brother’s face when finally he and Catherine reached Devin’s chamber, the one he shared with his brother. At least with Vincent around nothing with Catherine would take place.
The strange thing was, the moment they arrived Vincent made his excuses to leave them alone and Devin following him out begged him to stay. “Father wants you to chaperone Catherine and I if you will?” He told him awkwardly.

For a moment he thought Vincent was going to return to the chamber with him but he soon discovered otherwise. “I can’t.” Vincent told him turning to go, “You’ll have to find someone else.”

“Vincent!” Devin exclaimed bringing Catherine out to see what was going on. “Vincent has refused to spend time with us. I don’t understand it. First he leaves Peter’s without saying goodbye and now he is avoiding us.” Truly, Devin was perplexed by his brother’s behaviour.

Only Catherine wondered about Vincent’s behaviour even more remembering that moment when his eyes had clashed with hers after he had licked the pizza from her hand and a shiver ran through her…no it couldn’t be…surely not…Vincent wouldn’t be having designs on her too would he? Deciding to keep the idea to herself she said nothing to Devin …after all she had to be mistaken - why the idea that Vincent might think of her in that way was ludicrous…no, in fact more than that…nervously Catherine laughed… it was a preposterous idea! Still when she thought of the look in those eyes, she decided that anything was probable…and pigs might possibly fly…

*** *** ***

Chapter Five

Spending the rest of the day below afforded Catherine the chance to meet more of the tunnel occupants and to explore further a field than Father’s chamber. She met Mary, William, Olivia, Rebecca, Kanin, Cullen, Elizabeth and finally when she had just decided she had more than enough names to put the faces to for one day someone else introduced themselves.

“Hi you must be Catherine. I’m Lisa.” Catherine observed the young vivacious girl before her and instantly knew she’d found a friend.

“Yes, oh you’re Vincent’s girl…I’m sorry what I mean is are you the Lisa that…oh forgive me I’m making a complete hash of this aren’t I? Embarrassed, Catherine tried to laugh it off but it didn’t quite work.

Eyes bright Lisa laughed, “ That’s okay I understand. Guess my reputation proceeds me right? The girl that snubbed Vincent’s advances,” though Lisa laughed Catherine detected the bitterness behind her statement.

“Then we’re two of a kind in a way.” Catherine told her.

“Explain? Has Vincent made a move on you too?”

“Oh no!” Catherine laughed out loud, “No not Vincent. I mean Devin, not that I’ve completely snubbed him, just holding him at arm’s length for a while.”

That comment made Lisa laugh out loud, “Well good luck to you. That boy is full of raging hormones the size of the Statue of Liberty. He wouldn’t want anyone to know this but we girls have seen him eyeing us when we bathe.”

“No, really?” Catherine was surprised.

“Yep sure as I stand here its true. But he’s nice Devin is, well so is Vince for that matter only not the partner material for me right now if you get my drift. As for Devin well I’m afraid that his hormones have been curbed somewhat by Father’s rules and life down here. We all have to live together after all. It’s not like up top where we can escape from a tricky situation or a failed relationship, so we try to avoid it happening as much as possible. It’s less embarrassing. Unfortunately for me, Vincent can live nowhere else, and I’m not ready to leave yet.”

“That must be difficult for the two of you?”

“It can be. I try not to pay him too much attention these days ‘cos doing so before gave him the wrong impression. Just you remember that being over friendly with Vincent could unwittingly lead him on. Sometimes I imagine his hormones are worse than Dev’s.”

“I never think of Vincent in that way. I’ve not known any of you long, but I think Vincent will always be to me like an older brother he’s such good company.”

Lisa laughed, “Then believe me he’s nothing like an older brother! There aren’t a lot of girls that would call an older brother their friend, sparks fly when most get together down here but Vincent is a good listener I will vouch for that and in many respects I miss having him to confide in.”

“Perhaps you two should patch it up, have you tried?”

“We aren’t hostile if that’s what your thinking. We meet, acknowledge one another exchange pleasantries that kind of thing but never anything more these days. Its always there you see and I keep wondering if he’s wishing for more from me than I’m prepared to give.” Lisa sighed wearily.

“But if you don’t establish some common ground between you Vincent may have a hang up all his life about approaching a girl. He may always assume that because of who he is that he’ll get a rebuff.”

“Is that what you think?” Lisa ‘s mouth dropped open, “Is that what everyone thinks?” She asked with surprise. “I didn’t snub Vincent because of who he is, but rather because I’m not ready for that kind of relationship. I hope to be a dancer and have my sights set on it. I told myself a long time ago that having a relationship might prevent that dream from happening. It would hold me back and in the end, I’d resent that. Do you really think that Vincent believes I snubbed him for what he is?”

“I think it’s a pretty good bet. This is something you have to discuss with him Lisa, if not he will assume that no one will ever want him and I’m sure someone will want him some day. By then any hang ups he’s taking along as baggage might be hard to discard and could give some poor girl a hard time convincing him otherwise.”

As they chatted, they’d been moving through the tunnels on the way to nowhere in particular or so Catherine had thought when Lisa announced, “This is my chamber, come inside, I’d like to talk to you some more about this.”

Catherine followed Lisa in, remarking, “Hey this is a nice chamber, one of the best I’ve seen. You must go up top a lot?” From wall to wall not a bit of rock could be seen, it was all covered in posters of animals, dancers, pop stars, scenic views. Posters so obviously purchased above.

“Whenever I can, yes. A whole group of us go, not that Father is always aware of it mind you.” She winked, giving Catherine the impression that it was the way that she wanted it to stay.

“Don’t worry.” Catherine told her, “I won’t tell him.”

“Good ‘cos sometimes Vince goes with us, and it’s the only chance he gets to breathe fresh air.”

Catherine was surprised to hear that and out loud she wondered, “Does Devin go too?”

“Oh yes, Dev’s the ringleader, always has been and as long as he’s here, I guess he always will be. A lot of the kids down here look up to Dev. Father would have a fit if he knew that! And it’s thanks to Dev that most of us are educated in the culinary field too.” Lisa laughed out loud thinking of something. “I remember the first time he ever introduced us to pizza…man you should have seen Vincent’s face, all that stringy cheese going on forever…” By the look on Catherine’s face Lisa stopped dead before asking, “ What? What did I say?”

“They tricked me.” Catherine couldn’t believe it, “I’ve been had and I didn’t even suss it. The rats.”

“Huh don’t tell me, they run the hardboard frisby by you…they did didn’t they? Huh, you’ve been had all right and you’re not the first. Every time someone new comes by the tunnels they spin that yarn and get take away pizza for their trouble. Money down here, is about as hard to come by as delectable food like take away pizza’s and burgers and Father does not approve of us wasting any money we do have on such frivolous things, especially as he considers Willy the best chef there is.”

“I was really sucked in.” Catherine shook her head with the disbelief of it all, “Vincent even licked the melted cheese from my fingers I really thought he’d never tasted anything like it before.”

“What your fingers or the pizza? No, don’t answer that.” Lisa laughed out loud, “You might tell me something I shouldn’t hear.”

“Like what?”

“Aw nothing I was only joking. Look let’s get away from this Vincent topic shall we? Why don’t you tell me about you and Dev. I’ve heard the gossip.”

Embarrassed, Catherine hid beneath a curtain of honey gold hair mumbling, “There’s really nothing to tell.”

“That so. Well I hear that you got him ragged, way to go girl that’s what I say.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Sure you do. Dev’s got the hots for you and you’re holding him at bay.” A devious smile played around the corners of Lisa’s mouth, “Good luck to you that’s all I can say.”

“Is it true he’s never had a girlfriend?” After the pizza revelation Catherine wasn’t sure what to believe anymore.

“Yeah guess so. Like I said, we don’t advise relationships between us down here. Sometimes Dev’s come home from up top mooning over some chick or another but he’s never done anything about it. You have to remember Cathy, with a secret like ours, there is only so much one can reveal in any outside relationship or it gets complicated. I think Dev will wait until he goes up top for good before he embarks on anything serious.”

“You think he’ll go above to stay?”

“Most certainly, we all will in time, except for Vincent, he’s our chief cornerstone the steady as a rock type who unfortunately for him has nowhere else he can live but here. Shame that, sometimes I think the world would be a better place with people like Vincent in it.”

“Well you certainly don’t hold any grudges toward him that’s for sure. Lisa can I ask you something?”

“Sure. Fire away.” They were sitting side by side on Lisa’s bed and Catherine looked around the cosy chamber with her own plush bedroom in mind and strangely enough preferred Lisa’s, it was warm and homely and had a mother’s touch. Catherine guessed that the lady, Mary, she had been introduced to, the ‘mother’ of all the tunnel children had had a hand in its décor, except perhaps for the posters that was.

“Do you think I should let Devin…well you know…you know?” Catherine blushed hotly wishing she didn’t have to ask, but it had been on her mind all day, ever since that last devastating kiss.

“Lord no girl! I don’t. Dev’s not one to settle down, you’re too young and what’s more, it’s a sure fire way to get hurt and I don’t just mean physically. I take it that it would be your first time?” Catherine nodded, “Then keep it to yourself honey, save it for someone special.” Lisa seemed to drift away in a world of her own then, leaving Catherine to wonder why. Wistfully, Lisa soon enlightened her. “I have this dream, that someone will come and sweep me off of my feet and we will marry and live happily ever after. And he will be mine and I will be his and there will have been no one for either of us before or after and we will have found the sort of love that comes along only once in a lifetime. Every girl should hold on to a dream like that. The real world with its harsh edges is hurtful enough without robbing us of the only treasure a woman really has to offer the man of her dreams.”

“Its amazing, this really is another world you know. What are you eighteen?” Lisa nodded, “Yes, I’m a little younger than Vince.”

“Well up top among my peers if you’re still a virgin at seventeen you’re considered an old maid, I’ve never believed it of course and its been kinda hard…you know with the pressure and all that…its all my friends talk about. I get fed up with it.”

“I can imagine that. Bet Dev would fit right on in though. You should introduce him to your friends.”

“You don’t think he’d dump me for one of the more promiscuous girls do you?” Catherine hadn’t thought of that when she had mentioned to him that she would introduce him to her friends and how jealous they would be of her to be going out with him. If truth be told, she had actually thought that by having Devin on her arm her friends might assume she was sleeping with him and stop nagging her about doing it.

“Who knows? But honey if he’s pestering you for sex, and you won’t give it to him then he might just go get it wherever it’s offered.”

“He’s not pestering me.”

“He’s not? I thought you said that he was?”

“Not exactly. Its when we kiss…ooh Lisa his kisses set my soul aflame - I want him never to stop…unfortunately his hands start to wander and it terrifies me. I had to slap him to get him to stop the last time.”

“You’re just too young honey and inexperienced, so’s Dev come to that, but he’s older and he’s a wanting more. Take my advice?”

Catherine nodded not sure that she would.

“Stick with a guy your own age. At any rate, don’t go beyond eighteen until you are eighteen yourself. A boy like Dev…” Lisa shrugged, “He’s caught between the devil and the deep blue sea wants the best of both worlds a steady girl and all that goes with it, and to play the field as well. But for someone like you honey, well you’re way too young, you have your whole life ahead of you, so don’t let someone like Dev notch up a victory upon you or worse still, don’t let someone like Dev knock you up. Have you thought of contraception?”

Catherine shook her head, she hadn’t.

“Well don’t be too sure that Dev will have. You allow this between you especially in the throes of passion and your heading for danger honey, especially if he’s accepted that it’s a definite no-no where you are concerned. He’s only likely to remember to carry something if he thinks it’s a dead cert.”

“Why? I mean why would he not have something on him all the time? Boys up top carry one in their wallet just in case.”

“Really want me to spell it out for you? Hello…” Lisa waved a hand in front of Catherine’s face, “Wake up and smell the coffee honey, one, Dev doesn’t carry a wallet and two, things like condoms are really hard to come by down here. I mean the only two people that might issue them are his GP and his father for God’s sake, can you really imagine him asking either?”

“He could go to a drug store.”

“With what? Catherine this isn’t the bank of America down here, money is as hard to come by as condoms are.”

“Then how did Devin manage the pizza’s and burgers?”

“Dev is always full of some hair brained idea or another. And its ages since we had a take away that’s why they trick anyone new into buying one. That time Dev did it, he took a bucket and a sponge up top and jumped the cars at the lights, washed their windows before they had a chance to refuse and then blatantly asked them to cough up a dollar for his trouble. He gave the impression that he would toss the bucket of water at them if they didn’t and it worked every time.”

“Great idea, then why did he stop?”

“Father found out. Seemed a helper notified him and Dev got busted.”

“But why? I mean he was using his initiative and treating the other kids.”

“Ah yes but you are seeing the picture at face value, Father sees it all, the whole rounded out affair. If Dev had been arrested and asked for his address what would he have said? At the time, Dev was about fifteen and Father reminded him that with no address to give he could have been taken into care and all manner of things may have happened. And well… when you know Father as well as we do, you’ll understand that Father has ways of putting the fear of God into you that’ll stop you in your tracks as soon as you plan anything. One of the reasons why most of us kids leave here eventually.”

Catherine nodded, she had been pleased to have this chat with Lisa for she had learned such a lot about Devin and Vincent, tunnel life, how topsiders were viewed and more importantly a whole lot about herself and her own values. “I have to go now Lisa, it’s getting late, but thanks for the chat, you don’t know how much I appreciated it.”

“Same here. You’ve given me some thinking to do regarding Vincent, you could be right there in what you surmise Cathy, I’ll certainly give it some consideration. Maybe even try to speak to him about it.”

“That’ll be good. Well then Lisa, maybe we can chat when I next visit?”

“Sure. Maybe you’d like to watch me dance? I practice every day.”

“I’d like that.” Catherine smiled, “thank you.”

“You’re a nice girl Cathy, make sure it stays that way… I believe that for each person there is the right partner, we just have to wait for them to come along, and you know what? Sometimes they were right under our nose all along. There’s a time for everyone Cathy, and maybe Dev is the one for you, but not right now, you know what I mean?”

Catherine nodded, yes, she knew exactly what Lisa meant, and she too had some thinking to do. As much as she liked Devin she could not allow things between them to develop, Lisa was right, that would ruin her life and possibly her future with someone else. Right now, she couldn’t see past her infatuation for Devin but Catherine was wise enough to know that wouldn’t last. Devin was looking for adventure and he wasn’t about to tie himself to any one girl. Happy that she’d had the conversation with Lisa, Catherine set off for Father’s chamber, she hoped she would find Devin there. They had to talk and she had to make him understand how she felt without letting on she had discussed him with Lisa. And maybe Vincent would be there. Strange really Catherine thought suddenly, Vincent seemed wise beyond his years, but Lisa did too, it was a pity that something hadn’t developed between the two of them for Catherine decided there and then, that Lisa and Vincent would have made a fine couple, because truly, as far as she could tell, they were very well suited. It probably went with the territory, but from what she’d seen so far, the kids below thought and acted differently to those above and for a certainty they were better friends to have.

*** *** ***

When Catherine returned to Father’s chamber her entrance was met with much rejoicing and she was surprised but soon realised that they were in the throes of organising a search party for her believing that she must have got lost.

“My dear,” Father began showing his annoyance by his position behind his desk reminding her of the school headmaster by his countenance and his tone of voice, “If you are going to wander about down here, at least have the good sense to let someone know where you are headed as you pass from person to person. Vincent has been in quite a flap I can tell you imagining that you had fallen into the abyss.”

“I’m sorry Father,” she turned to seek Vincent out from among the many people inside the chamber, catching sight of his tawny head where he lounged against a cabinet almost hidden by the shadows where candlelight did not reach. “I’m sorry Vincent. I’m sorry that I worried you so.” Her gaze drifted around the room searching for another friendly face and not finding it, she asked, “Where’s Devin?”

“Running errands.” Father told her, “Did you think we would all be wasting time looking for you?” Catherine winced at his tone of voice but she was also upset that Devin had not appeared as worried about her as Vincent had been.

“So might I ask where you were?” Father asked her at length.

“I met Lisa, we went to her chamber.”

“Lisa? The dancer Lisa?” Father asked with a sidelong glance in his son’s direction.

“Yes. We got on well, I would like to visit with her again.” Then before Father could say anything further on the subject of notifying someone of her whereabouts Catherine surprised him by saying, “I must commend you Father. Though I am young, up above I would find kids a year or two older no more responsible than I, but here…well Lisa gave me some very good counsel and I was surprised that one so young could impart such wisdom. Had I of not known better I would have thoughts she was in her thirties.”

“Thanks.” A dry tone came from the entrance and Father looked up surprised to find Lisa herself standing there and even more surprised to hear Lisa tell Catherine, “But you didn’t do so badly yourself. You certainly gave me food for thought.” Then turning back to Father and seeking out Vincent from among the few people that hadn’t yet made their discreet exit, Lisa went on, “Vincent, if I might speak with you please?”

Stunned since he and Lisa had had no real contact since he had injured her Vincent looked across at Father first as if seeking permission. Of course, he was actually seeking guidance. Lisa had played with his affections before either that or he had misread the situation, reading more into the attention she had paid him than was there, but either way he had no wish to get involved in anything with her again that might be misconstrued. His heart had taken a battering enough for one lifetime, and Vincent wasn’t availing himself of the chance to have it happen again so willingly.

“Please?” Lisa asked again, not so surprised when Father replied, “Whatever you have to say to Vincent, you can say to me also.”

Lisa had expected this, “Yes, of course. May I sit down?”

Father nodded and with one outstretched arm indicated an appropriate chair knowing that where it was situated would not hinder Vincent’s escape if he deemed it necessary.

“Shall I leave you alone?” Catherine, feeling much like a spare thumb asked nervously. Though she would like to have witnessed the outcome, she didn’t want to intrude on what could prove to be an embarrassing moment for Vincent.

“No stay.” Lisa surprised her by the request, “Since it is under your advice that I am here now, I think it only appropriate that you should stay.”

“You two seem to have developed quite an amity between you this afternoon. Tell me was there anything said during the course of your conversation that I should be made aware of?” Father asked looking from one young girl to the other.

“Only this.” Lisa replied with a wink in Catherine’s direction a wink that was not missed by Father. Swivelling round in her seat Lisa faced Vincent with the words, “I owe you an apology, Vincent. No, don’t say anything, I do. And it wasn’t until during the course of a conversation with Catherine that I realised I’d done you a great wrong. When I refused your advances, you naturally thought I’d done so because of who you are didn’t you? And don’t deny it.”

“I have no wish to deny it.” Hostile, Vincent told her.

Lisa winced at his tone, ‘this was going to be harder than she supposed - he really bore a grudge and it was amazing that she had not seen it before.’

“Well it wasn’t for that reason at all, you have to believe that. Hey we were great friends Vincent I had no wish to end that and had I been in the least bit interested in a relationship with anyone, it is my firm belief that it would have been with you.”

Vincent gasped, he wanted to believe but wasn’t certain it wasn’t a game that Lisa and Catherine had concocted between them to make him feel better. He looked to his father for direction.

“You don’t believe me do you? Well that’s to be expected. Look, I’ll prove to you that I do not find you abhorrent when it comes to matters of love. And leaving her seat she crossed to where Vincent was stood and leaned in close to kiss him full on the mouth.

Both Catherine and Father gasped at this, and held their breaths as Lisa announced, “Vincent, you were/are my most dearest friend, and believe it or not I’ve always wanted to know what it would be like to kiss you.” She winked at him, “Well now I know,” then leaned back in for another one. “Mm” she said pulling away, “I could get used to this. You have such a unique mouth.” Her eyes were dancing with mischief and something else that Vincent didn’t want to analyse something akin to love. “Another time another world Vincent and you and I could have been a couple, but I have to be strong and make certain that nothing and no one prevents me from reaching my goal of being a dancer. You know how it is Vincent, we spoke about it often enough. One day I would leave here to further my profession, I aim to travel the world, how do you think that would be for me if I were torn between staying here with you and furthering my dreams? I know that sounds selfish Vincent but I am trying to be honest here. I love you on a level of friend, a brother and I know if I let myself we could be more than that but its not to be, at any rate not now. Maybe someday but I don’t expect you to wait for me or I for you come to that. I just want you to know that you are very special and not just because of your differences and I wish you all the best in the world that there is.”

Finally, tears in his eyes Vincent accepted the truth of her words and a whole weight was lifted from his shoulders, “And I have Catherine to thank for this revelation do I?”

“Oh most certainly. We were talking you see and it came up in the course of our conversation. I didn’t see it till then. Maybe Catherine can take up where I left off.” She laughed winking in Catherine’s direction, “The two of you have much wisdom to impart you’d make a great team.”

In that split second Lisa saw more than she’d anticipated as returning her gaze back to Vincent she witnessed the glimmer of hope in Vincent’s eyes and she wondered about it but said nothing as an idea began to form, instead she asked him, “You do believe me Vincent, don’t you? About the things I said regarding my not allowing relationships?” She asked just to recap.

Vincent nodded, “Yes I believe you Lisa, and thank you for coming to clear it all up. What I had been thinking was set to haunt me all my life. It is good to know that my differences did not deter you from showing me how you really felt about me.” He touched his lips and with a mischievous grin told her, “I rather enjoyed the way you showed me too.”

“Well thank God for that!” Father exclaimed surprising the three who had almost forgotten he was there, “So you two can be friends again and we won’t feel the need to cut the air with a knife each time you are in the same vicinity. Its been quite stressful for the rest of us too you know. Now why don’t the pair of you go and announce to all and sundry that you are pals again while Catherine and I have a little chat.”

‘Ouch’ thought Catherine, ‘I thought I’d escaped that.’

Holding out her hand him Lisa and Vincent left the chamber promising to return in time to say goodbye to Catherine before she had to return above, and then when the chamber was occupied by only Catherine and Father he eyed her suspiciously and asked, “So what advice did Lisa impart to you that was so worth considering?”

“You think I should have asked you instead don’t you? That’s what you are really saying isn’t it?” Catherine went straight to the point sure that she was right. “Well some things can only be discussed with someone that knows the answer, Father.”

“And you think I would not?”

“I’m sure you might have known it once, but it would have been a long time ago. Times have changed Father and I needed a young person’s point of view.”

“There are not that many subjects that would require such.” He told her pretending. He had a firm idea what had bothered her enough to seek the counsel of a perfect stranger. ”Let me see, your conversation would have been either about modern day music, which you are correct I know little about, or women’s things, which being a doctor, I know quite a bit about or on the topic of love. Which you quite rightly assume I might have known about once and might not be able to impart knowledge on now… and as I see you are blushing I do believe I have hit the nail right on the head, hum?” Over his spectacles, Father eyed Catherine knowingly.

“Yes.” Catherine murmured unable to look at him.

“Catherine, permit me to make an observation please?”

She looked up then and met his gaze. His eyes were soft and warm and full of tenderness, she nodded and awaited his reply without her eyes ever leaving his face.

“Firstly Devin has told me how you instigated the relationship between the two of you.” Catherine gasped, “He did?”

“Yes. Secondly Devin has explained that since it happened he has been restless and has begun to want things that before he was able to keep at bay. My dear whatever your reasons behind kissing my son I am sorry to say that you opened up a hornets nest, because before that time Devin thought very little of the opposite sex in the way of romance even I might add scoffing the idea that Vincent had made a move on Lisa. But all that changed when you kissed him. Now unfortunately Devin has been made aware of his needs and I feel that you, at sixteen, suddenly find yourself way out of your depth, whereas Devin being that much older wants more from you than you are prepared to give. So permit me to ask, what exactly is it that you want from my son?”

Drawing and exhaling a deep breath Catherine shrugged ‘Most of my friends have boyfriends and I was envious of that fact, but did nothing about it even though I have had the opportunity. But the moment I saw Devin all that changed, oh Father your son is gorgeous and I just couldn’t help myself. At that time I didn’t know if I would ever see him again and so I kissed him goodbye not knowing that he felt the same way about me.”

“But as I am led to understand it was no ordinary goodbye kiss?”

“It was meant to me. But the moment it began I couldn’t stop, Father I like Devin a lot but in the same way that Lisa needs to follow her dream so do I. I’m not ready for the sort of relationship that Devin needs and when I am I want it to be special and last. It grieves me to think that I might…I might…” Catherine was acutely embarrassed surprised even that she was telling Father anything, wondering only if it was because he was a doctor that she could.

“Give yourself to him?” Father offered hoping he was right.

“Yes, and then I might regret doing that when Mr Right comes along. My father has always told me to wait and I remember mommy saying something similar and telling me I’d carry regrets if I did that would never go away.”

“You’re parents are very wise, they obviously loved you enough to impart this wisdom, and you young lady are to be commended that you have taken it to heart. I will speak to my son and have him take away the pressure from making you agree to something that you are not yet ready for. I can see now why you and Lisa got along so well, you are both victims of the same crime so to speak, and I can see what Lisa did not say but what I presume she was thinking, that you and Vincent would make fine companions. Vincent would take care of you and not pressurise you to do anything that you did not wish to do. Take my advice Catherine and steer yourself away from Devin and rather link up with Vincent if you wish to have a male companion at all. I know that Vincent cares for you.”

“Really?” Catherine was surprised, well sort of, she’d had an inkling about that, but she wondered just how deeply Vincent did care for her. After all, she had been witness to a few occasions that Father had not, unless Vincent had told him about them of course. That’s what everyone seemed to do down here, talk and discuss whatever was grieving them. The thing was what if Vincent started to believe that she felt more for him than that of a friend just as he had with Lisa, would that create an awkwardness between the two of them? Catherine didn’t want to find out. Best let sleeping dogs lie, in fact best perhaps that she gave the tunnels a wide berth for a while, that way she’d be completely safe from giving anyone the wrong impression.

Rising to her feet she offered Father her thanks adding, “ Do you mind if I go now?”

“Of course not. Oh by the way Devin asked me to tell you to meet him at the whispering gallery. He wanted to show you the abyss.” His eyes seemed to question her silently.

“Is it a lonely place?”

Father nodded, "Yes some of the members of our community go there when they want to be quiet and think, work out problems that sort of thing. It is also a great place for courtship."

“Then send him my apologies Father will you? I should be going home. In fact…” She hesitated wondering how best to say it without sounding ungrateful, or unsociable, still she was sure and wanted to give an explanation, “Please don’t be offended but I might not be coming back here for a while. So if I don’t see them all before I leave today say farewell to everyone for me will you?”

“Of course, but come visit from time to time huh? If only so we can see how you are getting along with our own eyes.”

“ I will.” Spontaneously before her courage failed, Catherine walked briskly round to Father’s side of the desk and leaning forward bestowed a kiss to one wrinkled cheek, “Thank you Father.”

“And thank you my dear. Thanks to you Lisa and Vincent are friends again. You did more for them than I have been able to manage since their friendship broke up.” He patted her hand, “You will always be welcome here.”

“Goodbye Father. And thanks again.” Catherine called on her way out.

“Be well my dear, be well.”

Strangely uplifted, Catherine bounced out of the chamber her honey blonde hair swinging around her shoulders as she went. Father watched her go wistfully and hoped it wasn’t the last time that he would see her, and he was sure that opinion would be met by a lot of people who had recently met Catherine. She was a beautiful girl not just outwardly but inwardly too. And knowingly as any parent was wise about such things, he knew how Vincent would miss her.

*** *** ***

To be continued in Chapter Six - click on 'Next' below:



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