Chapter 25: This Eden Day 
The old warehouse was as Catherine remembered from the year before, a chilly, echoing, dusty space, not so much owned by a Helper as it was...borrowed...now and again from the solitary security guard who possessed the lone set of keys. She had had a nodding acquaintance with him---Kevin, his name was---at Winterfest, but even so, she remained conscious of the legal definitions of trespassing and made sure to keep her cover story in the front of her mind should she be questioned. Relieved to find no one there save tunnel-folk---Lena, Warren, Jamie, and Geoffrey, she backed the van up to the elevated platform. Where is Vincent? she wondered, his absence strange.
“So, this is how you got to Connecticut?” Jamie asked as Catherine stepped out. “Nice.”
Catherine nodded. “It's not flashy, but then, who'd want it to be?” She opened the cargo doors at the back. “Malachi had twelve boxes for us. Will that be enough?”
“It should be,” Lena told her. “But what Rebecca can't use immediately, we'll stock in one of the cold rooms until she can.”
“And that'll be my job, mine and Vincent's,” Geoffrey said, groaning, though Catherine could tell he didn't really mind. He was a teenager now, almost eye-level with her, and she remembered the young boy he'd once been.
“Where is Vincent?” she asked.
“He got called to one of the auxiliary entrances,” Warren replied. “Asked me to tell you there was some concern about intruders. He and Cullen and old Angus went to check it out.”
The very mention was enough to freeze her breath. Intruders. Not again. Her alarm must have shown on her face, for Warren gently touched her arm. “Catherine, this time of year, a lot of people take refuge Below. Sometimes, they get too close to the inhabited areas, or they trip one of Mouse's alarms---”
“The ones that work, anyway,” Jamie put in, shaking her head.
“But we still have to check them out,” Warren continued. “For what it's worth, I doubt it's anything serious; he'd have kept us below and warned you off, if it was.”
It was the truth, and she acknowledged it as such, though she hoped Vincent now knew better than to think she'd stay away if trouble threatened their home. “So you're saying this is routine?”
“It is,” Lena said, and her gaze, which sometimes seemed to be old beyond her years, softened. “Cathy, not all intruders are like the outsiders. And Vincent didn't go out alone.”
Catherine breathed in, forcing calm, knowing he would feel her alarm and not wanting him to be distracted. “All right, then, let's get this unloaded.”
“I think that's the last of it,” Warren said as he lifted the large box of beeswax onto the wheeled pallet.
“I hope so.” Jamie wiped her face dry with the back of one sleeve. “Every year, I swear I'm going to find someone else to do this and every year, I forget.”
“I hear you,” Catherine said; her shirt was sticking to her back and she could feel the burn of muscles long unused. She lifted her hair off her damp neck and realized it was nearly dark. “I need to take the van to Ang's Grocery and park it for the night. You guys have it from here?”
“Oh, sure, no problem,” Lena replied. “Don't forget to come down for dinner as soon as you get back.”
“Why?” Catherine asked.
“William's making lasagna,” Lena answered. “And there's always a crowd when he does.” She smiled. “Don't worry, though. If it takes you and Vincent some...time....to show up for dinner, we'll save you a place.”
“Right,” Catherine said, pleased and startled Lena was able to tease, considering her previous infatuation with Vincent. But then, watching her with Warren, seeing the evidence of the changes Warren had wrought in Lena's life, perhaps it wasn't so strange after all. “Thanks. I think we'll be on time tonight.”
“Well, we may not be,” Warren said, wrapping an arm around Lena's shoulders.
Jamie rolled her eyes, grinning. “Don't worry, Catherine. I'll save you a place.”
Catherine caught up with Vincent as he was returning from one of the perimeter tunnels. “Everything okay?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said, looking a bit frazzled. “One of the sentries thought the men were armed. They weren't; they just had scrap wood they were going to burn for fuel.”
“There's no danger, though?”
“No,” he said. “They're cold and hungry. After they go to sleep, the sentries will leave them some food and spare blankets.”
“Won't they wonder where it came from?” Catherine asked, taking his hand as they began to walk.
“They will, I suppose. But it's shaping up to be an ugly night out there and they have nowhere to go.” He shrugged. “Once they leave, we'll brick up the entrance. They can wonder all they like but if they can't return...”
She considered this. Their world hung by the most precarious of threads, a world where a chance misstatement, or a detailed inspection of the tunnel system, could tear apart the delicate weft and warp of their lives. Yet these people---her people, now---would not leave strangers from Above in dire straits. “I understand.” She studied him, noticing the tightness around his eyes. He must be working on a headache. “How long has it been since you ate?”
“Breakfast, I think,” he answered, grinning. “I was...otherwise occupied during lunch---as I’m sure you remember---and after that, I was helping Brooke and Jamie, and then, the intruders.”
“Well,” Catherine told him, “I am reliably informed William is making lasagna tonight. Let's see if we can get some dinner before Matthew and Annie show up.”
Matthew and Annie arrived just after dinner, descending from their firm's basement entrance. “We're not late, are we?” Annie Glazer asked as she jumped down from the ladder, curly hair bobbing in the torchlight.
Annie and Matthew were a study in contrasts, Vincent thought; Annie, dark where her father was fair, tall where he was much shorter, quiet where he would be loud. “No,” Vincent replied. “You're a bit early, even.”
“Oh, good,” Annie said. “We have a client who isn't quite grasping the concept that quality work takes time, particularly on these older buildings, and our meeting ran over.”
“They always want things done yesterday, but you can't rush the work,” Matthew's voice boomed as he emerged from the entrance, much slower than his daughter due to his limp. Polio, Vincent remembered Father telling him once. Annie shuffled the blueprints in her arms to offer her father her hand, and as one roll was beginning to fall, Vincent caught it.
“Thank you,” Annie said. She turned to look at Catherine and Vincent was struck, as he might always be, that this was his wife standing next to him. “I'm Annie Glazer.”
“Catherine Chandler,” she said, and shook Annie's hand. Catherine looked askance at the blueprints and the binders. “Is all of that for us?”
Matthew's roaring laugh echoed. “You're buying a brownstone. This is only the beginning.”
Vincent poured tea as Matthew and Annie seated themselves at the drop-leaf table, its leaves opened to their fullest extent. “This is a copy of the estimate you can give to your seller; it doesn't specifically label the costs for the structural repairs in the basement to make the tunnel entrance safe,” Matthew began.
“Of course not,” Catherine said. “What are we looking at?”
“A lot of money,” he replied. “But you can see that in the estimate, and I'm sure that's not a surprise, so I don't need to repeat it. As far as when it'll be done...next summer, if you're very fortunate.”
Catherine's astonishment flooded their bond. “That long? Is it in that bad of shape?”
“It's an old house, but you knew that. When I went through it the other day, I found asbestos insulation around your pipes, and if you have it in your pipes, you almost certainly have it in your plaster. And even if you don't, there's mold from the water damage.” Vincent nodded; he'd smelled that much the first time they'd entered the building. Matthew continued, “We won't be able to start working until the asbestos abatement is done. And it does have to be done before we touch anything in the house; that's a city law that came in a couple of years back. That'll mean about six weeks before we can begin.”
“I didn't know that,” Catherine said. “You don't do the abatement yourselves?”
“No,” Matthew answered. “It's a mess of a job so I use a firm that specializes in it.”
Vincent sat down next to Catherine and gazed at the binder. “And your subcontractors---are they helpers?”
“All but the plumbers,” Matthew replied. “And they'll be in long after the more...questionable...work in the basement is done.” He folded his calloused hands on the binders. “It sounds like a lot of work. And it is.” He leaned back in his chair and took a sip of his tea. “I could show you brownstones in this city that have been cut up for apartments, or bought by people who don't care about their history, who are just out to do the quick and dirty renovation to make a fast buck. But you saw something in that house, and you want to make it a home. That's the kind of job I love doing.”
“Dad's biased,” Annie said fondly. “How long did it take you and Mama to get our brownstone done?”
“Two years,” Matthew said, somewhat ruefully. “And you were such a lot of help then, always stealing my hammers.”
“I was four,” Annie replied, her amusement plain on her face. “And I haven't lost a hammer for...months now, at least.”
“It took you two years,” Catherine said, “but you think we might be done by next summer?”
“It took me two years because we were living there while we were renovating it, and I had Annie and her brother Sean to ‘help,’” Matthew told her, smiling as he made air quotes around the word “help.” “As a rule, I don’t recommend living in a house while this sort of renovation is going on, not if you want to keep your sanity.”
“No worries,” Catherine said, and took Vincent’s hand. “I'll be living Below.”
“Good,” Matthew responded, “then I don’t have to launch into my standard spiel about how your brownstone isn’t livable until we get rid of the mold and the asbestos, or that you won’t have running water or functional plumbing for some time.”
“Dad has to give that speech a lot,” Annie put in. “Everyone thinks they can live in an itty bitty corner while all this work is going on. Then they try it and get all tetchy because we’re not getting things done fast enough.”
Vincent nodded. “Quality work takes time.”
“Good,” Matthew said. “I”m glad you understand that. And I know you’re wanting to do some of the work yourselves, so that’ll take less time, but it’s still going to be a process. Annie, why don’t you show them what you've come up with?”
Annie stood and unfurled the smaller of the two sets of blueprints. “You’re in luck. I was able to find the original set of plans over in Brooklyn at the Department of Buildings. Your brownstone was built in the 1880s and was the first built on that street, which is probably why they're still around at all. And they look to be more or less accurate, which is even more amazing.”
“Why is that?” Vincent asked.
“A fire many years ago destroyed a good portion of the original building records. Once everyone got around to recreating them, they tended to be…creative. You’ll see brownstones tagged as being built in 1900 when they were clearly built in the 1860s and so forth. Yours was one of the lucky ones.” With one finger, she traced the outline of the bedrooms. “It looks like yours originally had five rooms, with a bathroom added later once indoor plumbing came into fashion. Later on, there were several…remodeling…attempts---for which permits were not sought---which added the three bathrooms and cut up the rooms into apartments.” Her mouth twisted into a faint line of disgust; Vincent thought she might be entirely unaware of it.
“I didn’t know it had three bathrooms,” Catherine said.
“That’s because you didn’t go upstairs---not that I blame you, those stairs looked like something out of ‘This Old Crack House,’” Annie said.
“I’m still not happy you went up there,” her father said, frowning.
“You know I can’t draw plans sight unseen, Dad,” Annie retorted, though her smile took the sting out of her words. “To continue, then. What do you want to do with the space? Do you want it returned to its original design, or have you something else in mind?”
Vincent exchanged a glance Catherine. “We’d like it to be a family home. Beyond that….”
Annie nodded. “I thought as much. And I’m glad to hear it---they make great rental properties, but ours was a home and I’m happy to hear yours will be again.” She unfurled a second set of plans. “Look over these and if you want changes made, it’s easy enough to do---now. Wait until later and it’ll be expensive, so think through it.”
The designs were for a house, not an apartment, Vincent was pleased to see, the study and living room on the first floor returned to their original purpose and the kitchen somewhat expanded to take advantage of the natural light from the back and....He paused in his perusal, unable to remember a side yard.
Catherine seemed to notice the same thing. “Annie, the side yard....?”
“Oh, right,” Annie said, running a hand through her dark hair. “As it is now, you couldn't see anything there but a mass of burned rubble, but if you're going to buy that ruin next door, the land could be transformed to a garden.” She glanced at Vincent and bit her lip. “You'd have to put a high wall up, but...”
Sensitive as Vincent was to the emotions of others, he couldn't help but notice Annie's embarrassment at having brought up what she assumed would be a difficult subject. And so it might have been, before Catherine, before her love became the foundation for his continuing, gradual acceptance of himself. “I think it's a fine idea,” Vincent assured her. “And the design would seem completely natural since the cemetery walls are high as well.”
“It will be wonderful,” Catherine replied. “I never thought we could have a larger, private yard, since brownstones are built so close together.”
“Well, this is an unusual project in many ways. You have the graveyard on one side, and the remains of the other brownstone on the other; once it's razed and the rubble removed, there isn't any reason why the land couldn't be turned into a yard.”
“No reason except a lot of time and effort,” Matthew agreed. “But it's the best plan by far for the space; the house itself isn't salvageable, save for whatever bits you all can find. It seems a shame to let the land go to waste.”
Catherine studied the drawings. “What about this?” she asked as she gestured to a large bedroom, kitchenette and bathroom on the third floor.
“That could be a rental unit if you wanted, with a few small changes. Or a guest room,” Annie replied. “Why?”
Catherine looked at him and Vincent knew she was remembering the conversation they'd had the morning after they were married. “Vincent and I talked about what I could do down here,” she said. “He mentioned that I might be a good teacher of practical skills for those preparing to leave the tunnels. We don't need the rental income, but....”
Her train of thought wasn't hard to follow. “You're thinking of a halfway house, a safe place for our young adults, aren't you?” Vincent asked.
“Yes,” she responded. “What do you think?”
He thought of Michael, now into his third year of college and fully comfortable in his new life Above, of Laura and her much more difficult transition, of Brooke and whoever else might follow. “I think it's a very good solution, Catherine. The problem of where our young people might stay as they're learning to live on their own has weighed heavily.”
“I know,” Catherine said, and touched his hand. She returned her attention to the plans. “Will you be able to preserve the historical details in the house? There was a stained glass window in the study, for instance...”
“I saw that,” Matthew answered. “One of the first things I noticed when I walked into the room. It's a lovely bit of work, and we'll look for others that have been plastered over. We'll remove it and pack it away carefully, and we'll keep as many of the older elements as possible. We'll even keep one of the radiators.”
“Why?” Catherine asked.
“For the same reason Renata does,” Vincent said. “They make great amplifiers of messages from the pipes---and if someone hears it, they'll simply think it's the radiator making noise.”
“I like that,” Catherine said. “And,” she added with her impish grin, “it's very appropriate for a secret agent's house.”
It was late when Matthew and Annie left to return Above and Catherine and Vincent sat up for a time, plans and dreams and visions whirling. “I'll call Dara tomorrow and get this copy of the estimate to her,” Catherine said at last when the conversation had dwindled and only the sound of the tapping pipes could be heard.
Vincent nodded and pulled down the quilt and blew out all but one of the candles in their bedroom. He unbuttoned his shirt and placed it in the basket for laundering, then removed his boots and pants and climbed in next to his wife.
“A home of our own Above,” Catherine breathed against his chest, her skin cool and soft under his hands. “A garden where you could walk freely, in the sun. It seems like a dream.”
In his mind's eye, Vincent saw a vision he'd once denied: their children, playing outside, saw them growing whole and strong, Above and Below. It might never be 5th Avenue and ice cream, but it was...home. Their home. Together. “It's no dream, beloved.”
“No,” she agreed. “It's better.”
Click here for Chapter 26...
 Robert Frost, “A Winter Eden”