Lisa was back! The Tunnel community was all abuzz. Emotions were mixed.
Lisa’s legal issues were finally resolved. She had been in Buenos Aries this past year, re-creating herself in the world of dance and haute couture. She had been portrayed in the media as a reformed philanthropist, performing and arranging for performances for underserved populations. She had a line of dancewear under her name, and she had sponsored groups of minority and disadvantaged children for dance classes.
Her letters had reached Father over these last months, imploring his forgiveness, and swearing a changed attitude. She longed to be welcomed back to Tunnels and feel the sense of family she once felt. Father was conflicted. He feared for Vincent – and, now, for Catherine.
Lisa wanted to come and take Samantha to a school of dance in upstate New York. The school had its own dance company and Lisa was part-owner. Samantha had been taking dance in a local school Above. Most of the community members talked about what an opportunity it was for Samantha on the eve of her sixteenth birthday and how much they would all enjoy this visit with Lisa. Some were more reserved. Vincent withheld judgment, waiting to see Lisa for himself. Lisa wanted to leave with Samantha in the next two weeks.
Vincent’s relationship with Catherine was finally where they both hoped it would be. The dark night in the cavern was, at last, behind them. Vincent had not regained actual memory of the specific events, but Baby Jacob was proof enough of what had transpired. Catherine had kept a hesitant distance after learning of her pregnancy, and when she did confide in Vincent, he had embraced the idea with such acceptance and gratitude that their joining ceremony soon followed.
The officiate from Lin and Henry’s wedding had performed the rites before a select group (Father, Mary, and Peter) with a full community celebration after. Vincent and Catherine had settled happily into a dual existence, with Catherine going Above to do part time legal aid work while spending most of her time with her family Below.
Now Catherine was post-partum – and blue. Baby Jacob was only five weeks old; it would be at least another week before Catherine was medically released to resume sexual activity. Last night, after the baby was asleep, Vincent had positioned Catherine gently on the bed cushions, making tender love to her with his hands and his mouth, keeping within the limitations.
Strangely, Catherine began to regret that she had encouraged Vincent into full sexual contact – except, of course, for the fact that they now had baby Jacob. For some nagging, suppressed reason, she longed for the days when he was reluctant, a courtly gentleman, respecting her body, withholding that final connection.
Curling into one another, they slept.
That was last night, and now Catherine struggled with her emotions, fearing the renewed acquaintances that would be coming today.
"What are your memories of Lisa?” she asked tentatively, as she and Vincent dressed to join the community for breakfast. "Do you trust her with Samantha?”
"It is reconciled now,” he told her casually, not seeming to catch her concern. He tucked Jacob into his arm, regarding the baby with gentle affection.
"Samantha was always drawn to Lisa – her mystery and her talent,” Vincent said thoughtfully. "Father says Lisa has changed. She regrets alienating her family.”
"What do you say?” Catherine asked, trust and fear conflicting in her.
Vincent offered his other hand to Catherine, remarking, "I say we wait and see,” then, "Shall we?” he entreated. Catherine nodded and accompanied her husband to the dining hall. The simple community breakfast had never felt threatening before.
The tables were decorated with flowers and ribbons for Samantha’s birthday. A big silver number ‘16’ dangled from the chandelier. Brightly wrapped packages were stacked on a low cabinet for later tonight when there would be a party. Catherine had gotten Samantha a full set of dancewear: leotards, tights, slippers, toe shoes, tap shoes, leg warmers, dance sweaters, and gauzy skirts. Her gift was one of the biggest packages, with a huge yellow bow and glittering paper. Why did Catherine suddenly feel she should have done more?
Lisa swept into the hall, toward a seat between Jamie and Father. She cut quite a figure, sun-tanned and lithe, slender, muscular, her dancer’s body moving lightly, an athlete. Dark eyes kohl-rimmed and sparkling, rosy laughing mouth, lilting voice, she captured the attention of every member of the community in her dangling seashell earrings, form-fitting bolero jacket, flowing black skirt and high-heeled boots. A patchouli-based fragrance emanated from her. She was radiant, wanton, her dark hair pulled up into a saucy pony tail.
Jamie welcomed Lisa with a big hug and an admiring smile. Samantha was obviously thrilled to be in Lisa’s presence once again and chatted on about the new dance school and her future as a prima ballerina.
Lisa stood on tiptoe to kiss Vincent’s face, stroke his hair. "Vincent!” she cooed, "how wonderful to see you again!” He accepted her affection, seemed familiar with it in fact, not resisting in any way. Father looked on with an unreadable expression.
Catherine burned with resentment. This was her training, her influence, now come back to slap her in the face. It was she who coaxed him, she who called him, she who tapped that sexuality long suppressed.
Beside Lisa’s striking image, Catherine felt fat and white, soft and lumpy. Her breasts were full and swollen, but so was her belly, and she felt keenly the absence of her sexual availability. Jacob began to fuss and Catherine got up hurriedly to tend to him, only too glad to leave the chattering, clattering breakfast scene.
When Vincent returned to their chamber, he found Catherine packing a small tote bag.
"Catherine . . .” he began.
"Vincent, I’m going Above for a few days. I want to check in with Joe and see Jenny and maybe Nancy . . . we have Samantha’s party tonight, so Jacob and I will leave in the morning. You understand, don’t you?”
Vincent caught her hands, pulling her up to look into his face. The empathic bond between him and Catherine had shifted since Jacob’s birth. The bond now seemed to triangle off their connection to the baby. It still existed, it was just more difficult to interpret at times. This was one of those times.
Vincent folded her against his chest, pressed his lips against her hair. "Tell me . . .” he whispered.
"Oh, Vincent, I don’t know . . . I feel like I need to touch base with some of my . . . other friends. I want to check on my apartment . . .” She felt deceitful, immoral. The truth of her jealousy of Lisa was painful.
"We won’t stay away too long. I pray that Samantha is safe!” she said with a forced brightness, giving Vincent a quick hug and stepping away from him to finish packing.
* * *
Back in her apartment Above, Catherine made phone calls to reestablish connections with the doorman, the grocer, her personal secretary and beautician, her contacts at the bank and the nanny registry. She breathed deeply, feeling back in the modern world, feeling free of the emotional burden she had carried from Below.
The next day, Catherine met Nancy and Jenny for lunch. She had the nanny with her to tend to Jacob so she could catch up with her friends. After oohing and aahing over the beautiful baby, both women faced Catherine squarely, asking, "Cathy, what’s wrong?”
Catherine burst into tears. She sobbed for several minutes as her friends sat in sympathy, waiting till she could speak.
"What is it, Cath? Your adorable baby, the man you love, what could possibly be wrong?” asked Nancy. Jenny reached for Catherine’s hands, offered her some tissues.
* * *
Meanwhile Below, Samantha’s party, a happy event, was this morning tempered with sadness as the Tunnel community prepared to bid farewell to their little sister. Samantha found Vincent in William’s kitchen, eating waffles.
"Join me,” said Vincent, serving a plate for her.
Samantha took a seat next to him. "Where’s Catherine and Jacob?” she asked.
"They went Above for awhile,” he answered.
"Oh, well, it’s good, because I want to talk to you in private,” Samantha said in a serious tone.
Vincent’s eyebrows went up, but he said evenly, "What about?”
"About love . . . and about sex,” the young girl asserted between bites of waffle.
"Indeed . . .” Vincent responded, regarding her with brotherly affection.
"Yes,” said Samantha, "how do you know if you’re in love and if you’re ready for sex?”
Before Vincent could answer, she continued, "I’ve been to everyone else . . . sort of . . .”
"Go on,” Vincent said, turning his full attention to her.
"Well, Mary says you keep the mystery, you hold something back to long for,” Samantha’s young face scowled in confusion. "I’m not sure what that means, ‘cept maybe Mary is too . . . you know . . , older . . .”
Vincent stifled a laugh, nearly choking, but maintained his attentive demeanor.
"Actually . .,” said Samantha, reconsidering, "Lisa talks about mystery, too.” The young girl sighed, chewed her waffle. "I guess it’s important.” She seemed to be mentally filing the information. Vincent waited for her to continue.
"Mouse was too silly: ‘OK, can’t tell, OK, can’t say that stuff!’” Samantha complained, "and Father was so strict! He said it’s a real responsibility, a huge step in your life, a commitment . . .”
"Well,” said Vincent carefully, "that’s true . . .”
"Rebecca says love is the beginning of your family, and nothing’s more important. She said you feel like you’re in the arms of an angel. Your love gives you something to believe in.”
"Those are all true words,” Vincent said, feeling extreme compassion for his young friend, his protégée.
"Rolley and Lena, they’ve both had bad experiences with love . . . and with sex. Lena says love and sex aren’t the same things. She used sex for survival, and for money. She says she didn’t understand love till she came Below. Rolley says it’s all scary and strange.” Samantha studied her empty plate. "But, even with that, they both said when your loved one goes away, you still want to reach for them . . .”
Vincent stood up, gathered their dishes. "Let’s walk,” he suggested, extending his hand to her.
The two walked slowly along the Tunnel passageways, making their way to the water falls, hand in hand. They sat by the water and continued their conversation.
"I don’t know sign very well, but Laura’s in love, and she told me it fills your world, it connects you, and two become one; there’s no feeling like it. You have wings to fly,” Samantha said.
Vincent felt tears come to his eyes as he thought of Laura, the child who became a woman and left the safety of Tunnels to make her way in the world.
"William just said, "Girl, just take care of yourself, don’t let anyone take advantage of you!” Samantha imitated William’s gruff voice, gesturing in frustration, while Vincent chuckled softly, shaking his head. The members of the Tunnel family certainly had individual ideas about this sensitive subject!
Samantha went on. "Jamie says your happiness is in the eyes of your loved one and you want to protect them and please them. Your loved one is everything to you, the best part of you. You become a soldier for them. I think Jamie had someone in mind when she said that . . .”
"Vincent . . . I asked Catherine, too,” Samantha looked up at Vincent, reservation in her voice.
"Oh? What was her response?” Vincent asked.
"She said love can fill your life with confusion, but you know that you’re alive. You bless the day you find your special one, the one you believe in and trust, above anyone else. She said sex is the physical connection that completes what the spirit starts.”
Samantha produced a pocket-sized New Testament from the folds of her skirt. "Winslow gave me this,” she said wistfully, her voice breaking into a little sob on the last word.
"No greater love . . .” Vincent said softly, drawing Samantha into his embrace.
Samantha opened the little book to a marked page. "Winslow read this in our reading group once: Love is so patient and so kind; love does not envy, does not behave rudely, thinks no evil. Love bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
"Love never fails,” Vincent finished for her. They sat in silence for a moment; then, "Tell me about the one you love,” Vincent said quietly.
Samantha began to smile, her face beamed. "He’s a boy in my dance class. His name is Ian. He’s tall, with long blonde hair, he’s strong, he laughs so easily! He has beautiful gray eyes!”
Vincent could feel the passion in her.
"We’ve only kissed two times,” said Samantha shyly. "Once after class and once night before last. He doesn’t know I live in Tunnels . . .”
Vincent wanted to gather her in his arms and rock her and protect her. She seemed so vulnerable, so brave. "Whether the experience is by sunlight or moonlight, your loved one can make you believe in all possibilities . . .” he said softly.
* * *
Ten days went by and Catherine and baby Jacob remained Above. Every evening, before retiring for the night, Vincent walked to the entrance under Catherine’s apartment building to stand and absorb any energy available through the Bond. Vincent’s empathic connection was with Jacob more than with Catherine, and he sensed the baby’s well-being. Therefore, he reasoned, they both were safe. Then he returned to the sleeping chambers where he had made a special arrangement.
On a Thursday morning, Catherine sent Vincent a note Below by one of the Helpers: "Be home Saturday. Miss you – C.”
As it turned out, she finished her files and other tasks early on Friday, so she decided to return Below then. She felt in better spirits. She had seen her doctor and been cleared to resume "all activities.” Happily, she headed down through the basement access, little Jacob strapped securely across her chest in a sling-type carrier.
Hurrying along the passageways, Catherine paused long enough to send a message on the pipes and to hear it picked up and passed along.
As she approached the chamber she shared with Vincent, balancing Jacob and several tote bags on her hips and shoulders, she felt a sudden strange energy, and she slowed her steps.
The tapestry was drawn across the chamber entrance, though it was after ten o’clock in the morning, and Vincent should have been away on whatever work was assigned for the day. Catherine paused, surprised, setting down her bags. Then, dismissing her doubts, she pushed the tapestry away from the opening.
Catherine detected the scent of another woman, saw someone else’s personal items strewn across the chamber. She stepped into the chamber and gasped to see Lisa in Vincent’s bed. ‘In my bed! Our bed!’ she screamed inside her own head.
Lisa, unaware of Catherine’s presence, stretched in the unmistakable afterglow of sexual pleasure, her dark hair unrestrained, fanned out around her shoulders, full tawny breasts showing above the tangled quilts and sheets which she was drowsily trying to draw up around herself.
Catherine ran from the chamber, shocked, confused, terrified, clutching her baby son, sobbing. She suddenly wanted nothing more than to turn back time when Vincent was afraid to kiss her. She had created a monster! Someone who couldn’t even wait six weeks!
Catherine dashed away from the chamber, gasping for breath. Up ahead, she spied Mary walking toward her. Mary mustn’t see her like this! Catherine wiped hastily at her face, straightened her posture, called out to Mary as cheerfully as she could.
"Why, hello, child,” said Mary brightly. "We didn’t expect you till tomorrow!”
The words sliced through Catherine’s heart, but she recovered quickly. "Mary,” she asked apologetically, "will you please take Jacob for just a moment? My contact lenses are bothering me, I need to go take them out.” Catherine felt like a lying fool.
If Mary thought anything was awry, she didn’t let on. She reached for the baby, cooing and smiling at him. Jacob gurgled pleasantly. "We’ll be in the library,” Mary called over her shoulder, as she walked away with the baby.
The dull pain in Catherine’s chest was developing a sharp edge, shredding her from the inside. She was shaking. She had to get out of the passageway, before someone else came along.
She made her way to the trio of guest chambers, realizing this is where Lisa should have been staying. The anxiety and grief Catherine was feeling at this moment were like no other emotions she could remember. Maybe in the cavern that dark night, when she feared Vincent was dead – but this burned more deeply into her soul than even that. She was choking on her shame.
Small torches were placed in holders along the walls, illuminating the guest chamber entrances. Catherine took one torch down and held it in front of her to peer into the first chamber. Feminine personal effects were scattered about, a trunk of satiny, sequined clothes, feather boas, boots and heels, a large ceramic bowl and water pitcher on the chest of drawers, a hand mirror and articles of make-up. The bed looked unslept-in and multiple papers were spread across the quilts, playbills, sheets of music, train schedules. A pair of pink toe shoes with the ribbons in a tangle, as if tossed, lay on a chair. Catherine felt sick and chilled, aching into the marrow of her bones.
She turned wearily to leave the chamber, when she caught sight of a scrap of notepaper on the floor by the bed. It drew her like a magnet. Vincent’s handwriting! She would know it anywhere! She had loved anything he had ever written –
With trembling hands, Catherine replaced the torch in its holder and stooped to retrieve the note. She stood a little way off from the light to read it; maybe the low light would also dim the ringing in her ears. Her heart lurched under her ribs as she squinted over the flowing script.
It seems to me that man is equal to the gods,
that is, whoever sits opposite you
savors the sweetness of your voice.
Come to me now again, release me from
this pain, everything my spirit longs
to have fulfilled, fulfill, and you
be my ally.
The goddess of love led her astray to desire the life we shared.
Above all, your dancing gave deep joy.
Catherine wept bitterly, dropping the note. The poignant beauty of the poetry was so like Vincent . . .
Just then, she heard voices and laughter in the passageway, and Mouse rounded the bend with a group of the community’s children. Mouse’s pet raccoon, Arthur, was perched on his shoulder. Stopping short, obviously surprised to see Catherine, Mouse blurted out, "Lisa’s not there. Sleeps in Vincent’s chamber. Vincent says for privacy – hey,” said Mouse, frowning, "Catherine’s s’posed to come back to-morrow.”
If one more person said that to her, she would shatter into a million pieces. Thankfully, the children pulled Mouse away, in a hurry to go where they were going.
Before she knew it, she was on the way to the entrance beneath her apartment building. Was she running away, yet again? What was wrong with her? It had always been her approach to confront the issues between her and Vincent. Now she felt vulnerable, less than satisfactory, inferior. What was wrong?
Suddenly, she found herself at the steps of the basement entrance to her apartment building. She entered and took the elevator to her floor. The apartment keys were still in her pocket and once inside, she collapsed on her living room sofa, weeping.
What was she doing – trying to live in both worlds? It was too difficult! Lisa and Vincent had a history and now Lisa was re-invented and changed into a caring, compassionate woman. Just the kind of person Vincent would be attracted to!
The let-down reflex of her breast milk drew Catherine’s awareness back to the present. She pressed her forearms against her nipples to stop the flow, and collected herself. She must go Below and head toward the library to retrieve her son. Her life was at an end, and baby Jacob was all that was left for her. Catherine began the journey back Below.
Entering the library, Catherine saw Mary, Father, and Jamie gathered around the baby, vying for his attention, laughing and speaking in baby-talk.
"Oh, now here’s Mama!” said Mary, lifting the infant into Catherine’s arms. Jacob squirmed and rooted for the breast, restless and hungry. "It’s OK?” Catherine asked nervously, lifting her top to unfasten the cup of her bra. "Of course, child!” Mary replied, handing her a soft cloth as she, Father and Jamie got up to leave, looking back fondly at the nursing couple.
As Catherine sat feeding her son, she reflected on all that had passed in such a short time. There must be some explanation! She loved Vincent with all her heart, and the trust between them had never been violated. What could the answer be?
Jacob was falling asleep, his little bottom lip beginning to quiver, losing his latch on the nipple. Catherine wiped his face with the cloth and laid him down carefully on the red velvet davenport, propping cushions around him.
As she fastened her clothes, Catherine looked up to see her husband leaning in the doorway. The majestic sight of him dissolved her anxiety and she ran into Vincent’s embrace.
"I’ve missed the two of you!” he said passionately, holding her tight against his strong body. "Oh, Vincent!” she sobbed, clutching him. She could say nothing more. He held her a long while, then shepherded her into a large chair, where he pulled her onto his lap, drawing her head onto his shoulder.
"Lisa . . .” Catherine choked on the name, shaking her head, furious with herself.
"Lisa is in love,” Vincent answered, with the protective tone of concern Catherine had heard before in his voice.
"I – I saw her . . . in our bed, Vincent. I didn’t know what to think. I – I found a note, also, a note from you . . .” Catherine felt at the lowest emotional level of her life. She was drowning and there was no life line in sight.
"I have allowed Lisa to use our chamber while you were away,” Vincent explained patiently, not judging her. "She needs her privacy; our chamber is the farthest from the gathering areas.”
"You say, Lisa is in love . . .?” Catherine asked hesitantly, dreading the answer.
"Yes . . , in love with Jamie,” Vincent answered with empathy. "They have been writing each other over the last few months. They have met briefly, twice, when Lisa was near New York for performances. They have not been ready, yet, to share their relationship with the community. I gave the note to Jamie . . . for her to give to Lisa. Jamie asked me to find some . . . appropriate lines . . . to express what she was feeling. Those lines are from the poetry of Sappho – the love between women.”
Catherine was stunned. She felt foolish and free and stupid and full of relief.
"Oh, Vincent!” Catherine exclaimed, throwing her arms around his neck and finding his mouth with hers. They exchanged heated kisses, then Catherine pulled away and said, "I’ve seen my doctor. I’m ready . . .!”
Vincent scooped up the sleeping Jacob and the little family rushed to their chamber. As Catherine tucked the baby into his bassinette, Vincent drew the tapestry across the entry. Catherine noticed the bed was turned down over new sheets, candles were lighted in the stands, and the chamber felt fresh and cozy.
They wasted no time removing their clothes and tumbled together onto the bed, clutching and kissing hungrily.
"Forgive me!” Catherine panted.
"No need,” Vincent responded huskily, his hands in her hair, "it is the other side of love. As you doubted me then, let me prove to you now! Trust me, my beauty! Allow me – everything!”
It was strangely like the first time Catherine saw Vincent kill. An ugly, other side had been revealed, and the true love was still there. They lie together, she kissing him hard, drinking from his open mouth, deeper and deeper, drawing her strength back from him.
He pressed completely into her, relishing the long-awaited release. The pleasure roiled through them, validating the strength of their need.
So new! So familiar! Hot kisses melted apprehension. The pleasure flared and ebbed, not ceasing till both were satisfied. His essence was all her fear, all her love.
They rested after, the candles creating forgiving shadows. "Soft lights to enchant me,” Catherine whispered, snuggling against the beating of Vincent’s heart.
* * *
The Tunnel community gathered to bid Lisa, Jamie, and Samantha farewell. Jamie was dressed in black leather boots, military-style pants, a long-sleeved turtle-neck under a short tunic; Lisa in faux fur, ski pants and velvet boots; Samantha in sweat clothes and head band, thick socks scrunched down over athletic shoes. There was an electricity about the three young women, a promise, an expectation. The air was charged with their tomorrows.
Lisa’s "people” were meeting them Above at the designated entrance. The Tunnel dwellers accompanied them as far as possible, where they exchanged hugs, kisses, gifts, and well wishes.
Father held Jamie close and whispered, "You know you can come home anytime you wish! You have the contacts – just let us know!”
Jamie hugged the only father she had ever known, responding, "Let me make my way, as you have taught me, and I’ll keep in touch!”
Meanwhile, Vincent was spending a moment with Samantha. "What’s happened with Ian?” he whispered.
" He’s coming to the dance school, too!” she replied with joy. "And we decided to wait . . . to see how things develop . . .” She reached up to kiss and hug her mentor before skipping off to join Jamie and Lisa.
Vincent leaned against the tunnel wall, his arms around Catherine and baby Jacob, nestled in his sling.
"You know, Catherine,” Vincent said thoughtfully, compassion in his voice, embracing his family, "We kept our relationship secret because we were so different, - Jamie and Lisa kept their secret because they were the same.”
"Yes,” said Catherine as she drew a deep breath, feeling like a survivor of confusion, saved by trust and love, connected beyond the spirit, and glad to be alive.