“You want to do what? And this was Devin's idea? Have you completely lost your mind?” Father spluttered.
Inwardly, Vincent reminded himself to congratulate Catherine on being right. “Yes, Father, it was Devin's idea. Yes, we are going to Connecticut next weekend and no, I have not lost my mind.” He folded his hands, looked at Father across the chess table. “Father, Catherine and I did not make this trip two years ago. It remains one of my biggest regrets, that I could have given her this one small thing and yet did not. I am not willing to let this opportunity pass again.”
Father sighed. “Vincent,” he said, and his voice was old and tired, “I love your Catherine as a daughter. Nothing would make me happier than to see you both realize your dreams. But Above is not safe for you---it never has been. And you're planning this trip out of state, far from any helpers? What if something should go wrong?”
“Father,” Vincent said, “I love Catherine. But our relationship cannot go forward staying in our safe places. She has made numerous commitments, altered her life to keep my life and this world safe. I owe her much more than a week in the country and a life colored only by sonnets.”
Father looked at him then, and the grey eyes softened. “I am not so old that I don't remember what it was like to want time alone with the woman you love. I fear for you both, Vincent. I always will. But if you're determined to do this thing, then do it. And come back to us safely.”
The week seemed to fly by for Catherine. Joe granted her vacation request, though Catherine thought he was probably relieved that she hadn't asked for all of her available vacation time which---due to the many, many nights she'd spent working overtime---probably numbered in the months by now. She called Mr. Ang at his grocery to confirm that the van (one of his delivery vans, as it turned out) would still be available Friday night.
And as she made lists of clothes to bring and foods to take with them on the trip, of music she thought Vincent would like, it suddenly hit her: They were really going to go. She imagined Vincent's mane glowing in the autumn sun, of his joy when he first saw the sunlight and the leaves in all their varied colors. Vincent would see sunrise on the lake where her father had fished, and he would see the narrow bank of trees she had hidden in as a girl. It wasn't going to be just a story she told him anymore; they were going to see this place for the first time together.
For Vincent, the time passed nearly the same way. Remembering the objections of his tunnel family the last time this trip had been planned, Vincent expected some outburst, some variation on the theme of “But you can't go! We need you!” And he had marshaled his responses, only to find that they were completely useless....because no one was complaining.
In fact, the most emphatic response he got was from Lena, who grinned at him as they were folding laundry late Wednesday. She'd said, in a voice only he could hear, “I'm glad you're going. Enjoy yourself, will you?”
And that, in itself, was quite a thought. That he might take the time to enjoy Catherine, to enjoy being with Catherine, without leaking pipes or classes that needed to be taught or any number of ordinary things that had interrupted their time together...it was something he never knew he needed until the prospect was so close in front of him. We are going. We really are.
And then it was Friday night and time to meet Paul Ang at his grocery's threshold and leave for Connecticut. As Father and Vincent said their goodbyes, Catherine had hung back, not wanting to intrude. To her surprise, Father had gestured her forward and hugged her fiercely. “Come back safely, both of you.” Vincent had picked up his satchel, and they had begun the long walk to Ang's threshold.
“How long do you think it'll take us?” Vincent asked.
“Maybe a day or so, if we don't break any speed limits,” Catherine replied. At Vincent's look of alarm, she grinned. “Relax, Vincent, we won't be breaking any speed limits. I don't want to attract attention to us. Besides, I haven't gotten a speeding ticket in oh...months.”
Her amusement was like lightening through their bond; Vincent relaxed as he realized she was teasing. Catherin took his free hand as they walked. “How long have you known Mr. Ang?” she asked.
Vincent considered. “He's been a helper for seven or eight years. Dr. Wong—Lin's grandfather—found him starving in the alley behind his shop and brought him to us. He stayed with us for three or four years, then returned Above.”
There was a rapid flutter on the pipes. Vincent smiled and beat out a reply message using a rock he picked up from the ground. “Mouse?” Catherine asked. There was something so...characteristic about that choppy message.
“Mouse,” Vincent confirmed. “Did you understand the entire message?”
Catherine shook her head. “Not all of it, but something about 'Go away'?”
Vincent chuckled. “He said, 'Go away, come back, okay good, okay fine.'”
Catherine raised her eyebrows. “He's happy for us.”
Vincent nodded. “He's happy for us. And he asked us to bring back some apples for Arthur.” His blue eyes, dancing merrily, met hers and they both laughed.
They rounded a corner and then another corner and finally, they were at the entrance to the basement of Ang's Grocery. They climbed up the short ladder and then Vincent rapped on the stockroom door. The door opened a tiny crack, then wider, and Paul Ang's face looked out at them. “Vincent, Catherine, come in, there is much to explain,” he said in his careful English.
Once they were inside his stockroom, piled high with bags of rice and vegetables and foods that neither of them had ever seen, Ang handed them a note. “It's from Devin,” he said, handing the note to Vincent.
Vincent opened it and read it.
Hi Catherine and Vincent---
Nice to know you guys got this far. Mr. Ang has had the van recently serviced, so you shouldn't have any breakdowns. There are some blankets and emergency food supplies in the back of the van.
About the van itself: it's a refrigerated delivery truck, only the refrigeration doesn't work. (I know I said the van was just serviced, but he didn't have them fix the refrigeration unit. I can't imagine why.) So anyway, Fuzz, you won't freeze. There aren't any windows in the back, so no one should be able to see you. So relax and enjoy yourselves.
“Take as long as you need for the van,” Ang said. “I owe your tunnels very much.”
Vincent smiled slightly and nodded. 'Thank you, then.” Ang guided them out to a darkened parking lot just behind his grocery. “Here you are,” he said. “Full tank of gas, new tires and brakes.”
“Thank you,” Catherine said, and with a brief nod, Ang returned to his shop. “Well, this is it,” she said. “Are you ready?”
She couldn't quite see his eyes; the hood of his cloak was up and the new moon made everything dark and foreign. But his kiss was all the answer she needed.
Click here for Chapter Three....