The Road Not Taken
(An Alternate Universe Story)
By Thomas Mc
Author's Note: This is an 'alternate universe' or a 'what if things had happened differently' type of story? - What if Catherine and Vincent had met shortly after her mother had died and Devin had disappeared? - 11/30/11 Based on a comment from my wife I have made a small change near the middle of the first chapter to more clearly point out the decision that altered the timeline from what happened in the TV series. - 07/22/12 Revised text to correct for a problem in the editor and display programs.
Part 1 : Beginnings
Jacob stared down incredulously at the incredible creature that Anna held cradled in her arms. He tentatively reached out to touch the unusual creature's fuzzy cheek. "He is so tiny." He commented as he gently stroked its tiny arm. As Jacob reached the creature's tiny hand, the creature wrapped his fingers around his large index finger. "He's got such a strong grip." Jacob remarked in surprise as he gazed into the worried eyes of his friend's wife. He looked back down at the tiny hand still firmly gripping his finger. "I will do what I can for him; but whether or not he survives . . . only time will tell."
Mary strode purposefully into the small infirmary carrying a load of baby clothes. Jacob, John and Anna were not even aware of her presence until she cleared her throat. Then she got her first look at it. "Oh, my god, what do you call that?"
Anna glanced at Mary momentarily then she spoke. "It's my baby . . . I found him behind Saint Vincent Hospital. So I named him Vincent." She glanced at Jacob then smiled down at the infant, her eyes sparkling with her natural compassion as she held the half human - half lion child protectively close to her breast.
Jacob looked over to see her husband, John, frowning and shaking his head. He wondered if this human-lion creature was going to cause problems between Anna and John. Jacob was a little worried about his friend. Lately John had been acting a bit odd, especially since Anna's last miscarriage and the creature was bound to put a strain on the couple's relationship. And then there was with this latest thing about John calling himself Paracelsus.
Jacob gazed at the creature taking in his unusual leonine features. "Vincent . . . I wonder what the future holds in store for you?" Then the creature began to cry and Jacob wondered if he should bring his friend Peter in on this little problem.
~ x BB x ~
Charles gazed lovingly at his newborn daughter that Caroline held cradled in her arms. He sat on the edge of her bed and tentatively reached out to touch his new daughter's cheek. "She is so tiny." He commented as he gently stroked her tiny arm. As he reached his daughter's tiny hand, she wrapped her fingers around his large index finger. "She's got such a strong grip." Charles remarked in surprise as he gazed into the loving green eyes of his wife. He looked back down at the tiny hand still firmly gripping his finger. "I will always be there for you; but what the future holds for you . . . only time will tell."
A nurse strode purposefully into the small hospital room carrying a clipboard. Charles and Caroline were not even aware of her presence until she cleared her throat. "Mr. and Mrs. Chandler, I need the child's name for the birth certificate."
Charles and Caroline glanced at each other momentarily, then Caroline spoke. "We named our daughter Catherine." She glanced again at Charles and smiled, her green eyes sparkling with her love for him as she held their daughter protectively close to her breast.
Charles smiled back then spoke up. "Her name is Catherine Elizabeth Chandler." He nodded to Caroline with a 'that's that' expression. Up until this moment, it had been a toss-up between Catherine and Elizabeth. Charles had favored Catherine and Caroline had favored Elizabeth. The nurse repeated the name under her breath as she wrote it down.
Charles gazed at his daughter, drinking in the sight of her features. "Catherine Elizabeth Chandler, you've got your whole life in front of you." He caressed the side of Catherine's face. "I wonder what kinds of adventures that future holds in store for you."
~ x BB x ~
Charles Chandler glanced around as he entered the very exclusive five-star Park Avenue restaurant. He spotted his close friend and family physician, who had just raised his hand to attract his attention. Peter Alcott stood up and the two friends clasp hands as they met. "Peter, I heard the good news but this is the first chance I've had to add my congratulations." Charles remarked with a big grin. "How is Ruth doing?"
"She's doing great though the midnight feedings are starting to wear her down just a bit." Peter responded with a smile.
"What about you? Caroline tells me that you have been handling as many of the nighttime feedings as Ruth has." Charles commented as they sat down at the table. "It has got to be a bit rough at your age." He concluded with a sly grin.
"Hey, I've known men much older than me that have become fathers." Peter shot back with feigned umbrage. "Besides, I'm a doctor and a resident at Saint Vincent. I'm used to being up all hours of the night." He laughed. "How is Cathy doing?"
"Oh she's a real pistol that one is." Charles laughed. "I think there is a streak of mischief a mile wide running through her. I'm totally amazed at how creative that little six-year-old mind can be sometimes." His eyes glinted with undisguised love and amusement. "She certainly keeps Caroline on her toes."
Peter laughed. "I hear from Ruth that Cathy has pretty much got you wrapped around her little finger."
"Who me?" Charles responded looking surprised.
"Yes, you." Peter shot back.
"Well I hear the same about Susan and you." Charles chuckled. "And Caroline tells me that, according to Ruth, You just absolutely dote over little Robin." The waiter showed up at that point and, after some discussion, took their orders.
Peter's eyebrows wandered up and down his forehead a bit at what Charles ordered. After the waiter left he looked at Charles with a bit of a frown. "Does Caroline know what you are eating?"
"Are you kidding?" Charles grinned. "She'd have a fit if she knew." He shook his head. "Sometimes I think all wives make it their mission in life to take all the fun out of dining."
"She just wants to keep you around as long as possible." Peter shook his head.
Don't worry about me. I'll probably outlive the lot of you." He responded. "Now what was this you mentioned yesterday about a new investment?"
Peter took a moment to shift gears. "I've run across an opportunity to buy an apartment building located right off Central Park West. All the apartments on the east side of the building have balconies overlooking Central Park." He tilted his head. "I know you've been looking for something like that as an investment and the price is very good. I've already got the financing lined up if we can come up with two percent of the capital."
"What would be the split?" Chares asked all business now.
Peter nodded to his long time friend. "I would be in for twenty-five percent. I have two other investors interested in putting up another twenty percent. If you can come up with the remaining fifty-five percent, that would make you the majority investor, I know how you like to be in control of your investments, and we could close the deal next week."
Being a top business attorney, Charles recognized a good business deal when he saw one. He was also familiar with the other two men that Peter had brought into the deal and knew them to be honest and very sharp business men. They discussed the deal and decided to form the partnership to buy the place.
~ x BB x ~
Peter and Charles were discussing the reconstruction work they were having done on the Central Park West property. It had been a little over three years since they had bought the place together. The apartment rentals was significantly more than the mortgage on the building leaving healthy dividends for the owners and the property value had jumped by nearly ten percent in the last year. It had turned out to be a good investment so far but there had been some recent problems with the electrical wiring and they were having to replace all of the circuit breaker boxes in the building as a result.
"That will cover the code requirements." Charles remarked as they put away the paperwork they had been studying.
"We should be able to fold the cost into the mortgage on the place without much trouble." Peter concluded. "By the way how is Caroline doing? She looked a bit tired to me yesterday."
Charles frowned. "She has been feeling a bit rundown lately."
"Why don't you bring her in Monday and I'll check her out." Peter replied. "Better safe than sorry."
"I'll do that." Charles replied. "By the way, I was talking to our other partners yesterday and they tell me that they are both very happy with the dividends that they have made off our little apartment building, but they are both thinking of selling out. I can swing it on my own but I wondered if you want in on it?"
Peter thought about it, considering his options and his current finances. Finally he shook is head. "I would like to, Charles but right now all my capital is tied up in that new Clinic that I'm trying to get built."
"Do you need any help with that?" Charles asked.
"No. So far everything's going pretty smoothly with it." Peter couldn't tell his friend that he wanted to keep the clinic a private affair so that he could use it to funnel medical supplies to his other long time friend and that friend's rather unique hidden community. "Don't forget to bring Caroline by my office for a checkup on Monday."
~ x BB x ~
Charles looked around the little eighth floor two-bedroom apartment. It was a lot smaller than their house had been, but he just couldn't stand being in that place anymore. Everything in this furnished apartment was new and there was nothing here to bring back painful memories of Caroline.
Caroline had only been gone two months and he missed her so much that he sometimes felt like he was drowning in a pool of black depression. Finally he had just had to get away from all the reminders of what he had lost. Everywhere he had looked in the old place, he saw reminders of his beloved wife. A bit of her was in everything, even the furniture carried reminders of her and he just couldn't stand to even think about it anymore. So he had sold the place, lock, stock and barrel and moved into the Central Park West apartment building that he and Peter had invested in a few years ago.
As he stood there little Cathy came up to him all somber eyed. "Daddy?" She looked up at him, concern showing in her face. Charles kneeled down and she came into his arms. As they shared their sorrow, he thanked God for his little daughter. She was the one bright spot left in his world. She was the only reminder of Caroline that he could stand to have around. She kept him from drowning in his own sorrow.
Finally Charles released her and with the monogrammed handkerchief, that had been a birthday gift from Catherine, he dried both their tears. Then, hand in hand, they explored their new home together.
~ x BB x ~
It was a bright sunny, unseasonably warm, day and it was nearly Christmas. Charles had been standing on their little balcony starring out over the park just before settling down to work on some legal briefs. On days like this, it was nice living across the street from Central Park. But today his mind was elsewhere. Soon it would be Christmas and the thought of spending it without Caroline had left him feeling a bit lost and depressed. Caroline had loved Christmas and she had always found ways to make each one special and memorable. He had been standing there for a while, telling himself that he really needed to get back to work, when he had felt the hand of his daughter steal into his. He looked down into his daughter's sad emerald green eyes that were looking back up to him and sighed.
That was when he changed his mind. 'To Hell with those legal briefs', he thought and instead he went out to the park with his daughter to enjoy the beautiful weather while it lasted. They wouldn't have too much time because there was supposed to be a cold front coming through late in the afternoon. Charles had no idea how that one simple decision was going to forever change the course of both their lives.
Charles settled onto one of the park benches while his daughter ended up playing with a bunch of children that had accepted her into their group. About half of the small group was dressed normally but the other half were dressed in unusual patchwork clothes that gave them an almost medieval peasant look. One result of her expensive schooling was that she actually understood what those terms meant. They were playing a game of freeze tag and Cathy was 'it'. She had just tagged one of the kids dressed in that odd patched clothing. He was a small funny looking boy named Pascal. She was now chasing a ten year old boy in normal clothing named Steven whose parents ran a small pharmacy about three blocks from the park. Her father often took her to that pharmacy because of the soda fountain at the back of the store.
Steven was trying to run around behind a tree to avoid her when he tripped on a tree root and went down skinning his hands and knees as well as scraping one cheek. The boy's mother ran over to check on him and comfort him. Cathy stood there watching as Steven's mother held him and dabbed at his wounds with a handkerchief. All the while Steven's mother was trying to comfort him by reminding him that tomorrow night was 'Winterfest' and Christmas was next week. Cathy wondered what 'Winterfest' was as the funny looking kid, Pascal, came over to see what was happening.
As Cathy was watching the mother and son, she was suddenly reminded that this would be her first Christmas without her own mother. She felt the same old feelings of sadness and loss rising up in her. The emotional pain reached a point where she had to get away from the mother and child, and the reminder of what she missed. She turned her back on them and stiffly walked quickly away from the pair, fighting to hold back her own tears. Finally the sadness overcame her and the tears she had been holding back began to flow as she ran blindly off into the park.
Cathy was soon lost and she was getting chilled from the cold breeze that had just come up. She spotted a storm drain culvert opening and took refuge from the cold wind in its dark interior. She moved almost blindly into the storm drain tunnel until it was too dark to see the floor clearly. She finally stopped and leaned against the concrete wall as her sadness completely overwhelmed her. It had been eight months since Momma went away, and she missed Momma so much, and right now it hurt so bad to think about her. Cathy slid down the curved tunnel wall to the ground, curled up into a ball and what little self-control she had left dissolved into heartbroken sobs.
~ o ~
He stood disconsolately in the storm drain beside the secret access leaning against the old rusty metal bars. It had been just over a year and a half ago, right after the adventure on the carousel, that Devin had disappeared and he still missed him terribly. Devin had always been his best friend, his confidant, his big brother. He gazed longingly at their names, carved into the concrete wall of the storm drain, and sighed deeply.
He grabbed the steel gate to pull it open when he heard a noise and froze. Someone nearby was crying. For a moment he was torn between caution, fear, curiosity and compassion. The curiosity and compassion won out. Quietly he crept up the tunnel towards the sound. Pain, terrible loss and sadness washed over and nearly overwhelmed him as he carefully approached the source of the crying.
~ o ~
Cathy was startled by a raspy voice that came out of the darkness. "Who are you? What are you doing here?" It asked.
She looked up surprised and peered into the darkness trying to see the source of the voice. She could barely make out an indistinct dark shape further up the tunnel. Afraid, she stood up and started edging along the wall towards the entrance still half crying.
The voice spoke again. "Wait, please don't go. What's wrong? Why are you so sad?"
The question reminded her of her mother and the sadness welled up to overwhelm her again. She broke down and once again she was sitting on the ground engulfed in broken hearted sobs. Then she felt gentle arms around her, rocking her as that kind raspy voice spoke words of comfort to her. Deep inside she felt a comforting warmth and she was no longer afraid of him. She felt soft furry gloves gently caress her head as she turned her face into him and cried herself out into his soft warm shirt.
He continued to talk to her, in that unusual voice of his, telling her that she was safe, that nothing would hurt her here, 'He' wouldn't let it. Finally the tight bands of sadness, constricting her chest, eased and the sobs became a sniffling whimper which also soon died away. Somehow the black cloud that had hung over her since her mother went away, began to dissolve just a little bit. For a while she sat there quietly as he held her and gently rocked her. When she finally looked up at her companion all she could see in the near darkness was a vague dark shape. She caught a faint sapphire blue sparkle where his eyes should be but that was all she could discern.
"Who are you?" She asked the shadowy figure, still trying to see him in the near darkness.
"My name is Vincent." He replied in that odd raspy voice. "Who are you?"
"Cathy." She replied simply.
"What is it that has made you so unhappy?" He asked.
"My mother." She paused as she felt the sadness again, but this time it did not rise up to overwhelm her. There was a feeling as though someone or something was standing between her and the sorrow, protecting her from its onslaught. She blinked. "My mother. She died. Almost a year ago she went away. It's almost Christmas and I miss her so much." Again she could feel the sadness trying to rise up but something continued to hold it back. "And Daddy is always so sad anymore. He won't even talk about her."
There was a short pause then the voice responded. "At least you had a chance to get to know your mother . . . and you still have your father, I never met my real parents. I was found, as a baby, abandoned behind the hospital. Father took care of me and raised me but he isn't my real father and I've never had a mother."
Her own troubles faded as she suddenly felt sorry for the plight of her strange companion. He had it so much worse than her and he had been right. At least she still had Daddy.
Vincent again spoke. "Tell me about your parents. What is it like having your real father? What was your mother like?"
It took a little bit of coaxing but finally Vincent was able to get her to talk about her parents.
First she told him about her father, the great lawyer. "He helps people and makes sure that they are not cheated by other people." She bragged then she puffed up as she declared. "When I grow up, I'm going to be a great lawyer and help people, just like my daddy."
They talked for a while and slowly she began to open up and told him all about her mother. This was the first time, since her mother had died, that Cathy had been able to really talk about her. It felt good, especially telling about all the good times. All the while she kept trying to see what her companion looked like but it was too dark.
Finally he stopped her and insisted. "You really should get back to your father. He is sure to be missing you by now."
They both stood up. "How will I find you again?" She asked, unwilling to leave her new friend.
"Just look for me here in the park and I'll find you." He replied. "You had better go before your father gets too worried."
Reluctantly at first, she made her way toward the entrance while occasionally glancing back at the lone dark figure barely discernible in the surrounding darkness. As she came out of the culvert she heard her father's voice calling her name. She ran towards that sound until she spotted her father at the edge of a wooded area calling out for her. She ran up to him practically leaping into his arms.
"Where have you been young lady? I was worried sick when I couldn't find you." He told her sternly, tears threatening to break free in his eyes.
"Daddy I was so sad and scared." She buried her face in his shoulder. "I was thinking about Momma and I got so sad that I ran away, then I got lost and it was so cold and I found a tunnel to hide in and I met someone with a funny sounding voice and fuzzy gloves and he told me that I was safe and let me cry on him and I told him all about Momma and I didn't feel sad anymore and then he told me that you would miss me and I should go back to you so I came back."
Charles looked into his daughters green eyes, so like her mother's, as she had rattled off her story. For the first time since her mother died, they were no longer clouded in sorrow.
He questioned her about her friend but the only thing he learned was that he was about her height; he was wearing soft fuzzy gloves and a dark hooded cape that hid his face; and her new friend had eyes that glittered deep blue when they caught the light just right. The description of her mysterious encounter worried him until he remembered what the psychologist told him several months ago.
Charles had talked to the child psychologist that Peter had recommended to him shortly after Caroline's death. The psychologist had told him that children often created imaginary friends to help them deal with their grief. He had also told Charles that he should not be alarmed if Cathy suddenly came up with such a friend. He had told him to just play along and once the grief had been healed the imaginary friend would fade away.
Well it looked like the man had been right, though it had taken longer than he had predicted and the form of this friend was so different from what he had expected. The faceless figure in a dark hooded cape was too close to the classic image of the grim reaper for his peace of mind. Charles decided that, as soon as he got the chance, he would have a little talk with that psychologist about the form of his daughter's new imaginary friend.
Cathy began to shiver in the cooling breeze and Charles wrapped her in her little coat and headed for the apartment.
~ x BB x ~
Cathy awoke Christmas morning to the sight of snow covering the balcony of their little apartment and the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree in the parlor next to the roaring fire in the fireplace. Daddy was there in his winter pajamas and bathrobe smiling at her as she stared at the tree that had not been there last night when she went to bed.
She ran to the tree and knelt down to see the presents around the base of the tree. The first one she picked up had her name on it and she tore the wrapping from it until she had exposed the treasure inside.
She turned to display the pretty new doll to her mother but her mother wasn't there and it all suddenly came crashing in on her. Just as the sorrow began to overwhelm her, it seemed to fade. The sorrow and emptiness was still there but it was as though someone or something was standing between it and her, holding it back. She was reminded of Vincent and the way he had comforted her the last time this had happened. She wondered if somehow he was the one holding back the sorrow this time. After a moment to recover, she faced her daddy and with a half smile displayed her new doll to him.
Charles watched as the cloud of sorrow darkened his daughters eyes then mysteriously faded away. He thought he knew what had brought the sadness on but what had driven it away? He kneeled down beside his daughter and held out his arms. "Honey, are you alright?"
She entered her father's embrace. "I remembered that Momma wasn't here anymore and got sad. Then I thought about Vincent and felt better."
As Charles held his daughter, he thought about his conversation with the child psychologist two days ago. Maybe the psychologist had been right when he had said there was no cause for concern. But there were still aspects of this imaginary friend that worried Charles. He shrugged. At least it seemed to be helping his daughter cope. He found himself wishing that he could deal with his own feelings of loss as easily. Well he had Cathy and that was a blessing in itself.
~ o ~
A little later, after lunch, father and daughter bundled up, went out into the park and indulged in a very cathartic snowball fight. That evening they went out to their favorite restaurant for Christmas dinner.
Continued in Part 2
'Beauty and the Beast' and its characters are owned by Witt-Thomas Productions and Republic Pictures. No infringement on copyrights is intended. This story is presented merely for the enjoyment of fans. Original concepts and story elements may be used by other authors as long as appropriate credit is given.