IV: The Distance I Have Wandered
As the morning wore on, Catherine occupied herself with reviewing her notes on the Avery case, while also keeping what she hoped was a covert eye on her husband. As she’d learned was the case when Vincent was contending with a mystery he could neither solve nor fully explain, he was distracted, unable to fully settle—picking up books, putting them down—and so she was not surprised when he rose suddenly. “I believe I should find something to do. Perhaps Angus….”
Catherine nodded; Angus was in charge of the maintenance crews this week and would certainly appreciate Vincent’s help. “If it’ll make you feel better, go.” She smiled up at him. “Better that than wearing a hole in the floor pacing.”
Vincent chuckled. “Absolutely.”
Catherine closed her notebook and stood as well. “I’m going to go back to the brownstone; I need to make some phone calls and check the mail. Will you come there when you’re done, or will you stay below tonight?”
“I don’t teach until mid-afternoon,” he replied, shouldering into his older, patched cloak—his working cloak, she recognized, the leather cracked and stained in many places, but suitable for keeping him warm in the tunnels’ furthest reaches. “So yes, I will join you at our home tonight.”
Home. Our home. Catherine swallowed past the sudden lump in her throat. Despite the manifest reality of Bluebird House, all the months she and Vincent and many others had spent renovating the place, it was sometimes still difficult to wrap her mind around the fact that yes, they had a home above. An address, a place, belonging to the two of them. “Sounds good. Let me know when Father wants a ride back.”
The stockroom, as Father had suspected, was nothing of the sort—a couple of rickety shelves holding some shelf-stable provisions of powdered milk, peanut butter, canned soup and meats just this side of their expiration date, but little else. Nothing like the well-stocked storerooms of William’s making, the homemade bread he made with such pride every day. But of a sudden, the growling ache, the memory of hunger, clawed at Father’s insides. Yes, he remembered how hard it had been for years in his community—the constant battle to obtain enough food to feed all those who had sought refuge below, the many, many nights when the adults had taken turns fasting so the children at least might eat. And it was that memory which made him gentle his voice. “Angela, how many are living here?”
She’d sat down on the lone chair and was feeding Joshua from the bottle of formula Father had brought with him. The baby’s soft suckling was the only sound in the stillness. “Why do you want to know?”
Father could not quite keep the sarcasm out of his voice. “I should think it would be obvious, Angela. If I’m to bring provisions here…”
Another voice boomed from the entrance. “What’s this all about?”
It was Lucas—tall, black-haired and broad-shouldered, easily Vincent’s height and the equal of his commanding presence. On his previous visits, Father had thought Lucas might be the unofficial leader of this small group, but the more reticent nature of this community had discouraged him from asking too many questions. “He’s here to help,” Angela said.
Lucas glanced at his son. “Is the boy eating?”
She nodded. “Yes, formula.”
Lucas let out an explosive sigh. “You know that stuff’s hard to steal!”
“What choice did I have?” Angela retorted sharply. “I can’t feed him, Lucas. Don’t know why, but I can’t.”
“You could,” Lucas said, sullen, “if we had more food.”
“Which is what I’m here for,” Father said crisply, aware of the undercurrents swirling, just outside of his understanding. “I can have some supplies brought here to…tide you over.”
Lucas inclined his head towards the entrance. “Couple of your folks been sighted already. That’ll complicate things.”
Father swallowed in a dry throat. “ ‘Complicate’…how?”
Lucas smiled but there was no humor in it. “Why, more mouths to feed. What did you think I meant?”
The few hours of maintenance done, Vincent and the others—Cullen, Angus and Kanin—had decided to return to Cullen’s workshop to work on their own projects. Cullen was finishing up a child-sized dresser for Leah, while Angus and Kanin were both working on bookshelves (one was for Quinn, Angus had said with a look that dared him to say anything. Vincent had merely nodded.) There was not a lot of extraneous talk as the men worked, and Vincent found it restful, as he had for all the months of the renovation of their brownstone. The unease he’d felt since waking up from his nap began to recede under the smell of sawdust and varnish—hard work gets stuff done, dreaming don’t, he heard Winslow say, almost as if the big man was standing just behind his shoulder.
Vincent replaced his sandpaper back on the shelf and stood back a bit to look at his work on one side of Angus’s bookshelf. “Good work that,” Angus muttered. “Not a splinter to be found. How long you been doing this?”
“Since old Solomon decided he needed an apprentice,” Vincent murmured, thinking of the half-deaf carpenter. “He was a good man.”
Angus shrugged. “Yeah. Died the year I came here, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” Vincent replied. “Heart attack, Father said.”
“Mmm,” Angus grunted. “This ain’t my usual line of work but Cullen was kind enough to let me use his workshop.”
Cullen looked up with his usual wry grin. “No sense in this chamber going to waste now, was there? Plus none of the other chambers have enough ventilation for all this”—-and he gestured towards the neat racks of varnishes and paints, their labels stained by their individual colors. “And I can’t have it around the baby anyway.”
Kanin looked up from his own bookshelf—a present for Olivia, whose birthday was in a few weeks. “How’s Leah doing, anyway?”
Cullen yawned. “You mean you don’t hear her?”
Kanin smiled. “Sure we do, but you know…babies. That’s kind of what they do.”
A smile of a rare fondness touched Cullen’s face. “She’s fine, man. Just fine.”
“Humph,” Angus said, but his own small smile took out much of the sting. “Turning into a circle of women we are. Next we’ll be talking about our favorite knitting projects.”
“Well,” Vincent said dryly, “I am knitting a pair of socks. And Mary gave me some yarn that—”
Angus rolled his eyes. “So, I was meaning to ask, what do you really think about Father being gone?”
There were hidden undercurrents to his words, Vincent sensed; Angus had grown fond of Quinn even though he might not yet be ready to admit it. And Rhys, though a danger around pretty much all tools, was a valued, helpful member of their community. Bronwyn surely worried for him, as they all did. “A baby was sick,” Vincent replied, not wanting to give voice to his own fears; as their temporary leader, he couldn’t lest his words give weight to everyone’s concerns.
“Mmmm,” Angus said, reaching for the fine-grained sandpaper. “Seems to me they maybe should have their own doctor instead of borrowing ours.”
It was a point which had come up before, Vincent remembered—most recently in a discussion between Peter and Father. “Jacob,” Peter had said, “they literally have no one among them who knows more than how to keep a wound clean and use a bandage. If something serious should occur and I’m not there to help them…” Father had agreed, but had responded that there was little else which could be done so long as Lucas’s community chose to live as they did. “It’s their choice,” Vincent said quietly. “They could join this community. They’ve always had the option.”
Cullen snorted. “Oh, that would be just…wonderful. A band of thieves and who knows what else.” He ducked his head briefly, and through the hot flush of embarrassment Vincent sensed, he knew what memories plagued the other man. “Not that I was better, once, but…I learned.”
Kanin rested a hand on his shoulder, then stepped back into his usual folded-arms position. “Who hasn’t made mistakes—big ones? You know what I’ve done and…it’s just…they don’t seem to want to live by any code but their own. And it’s worrying, what we don’t know about them.”
“We’re not even sure if they were with Paracelsus or not, even now,” Angus put in. “I’m all for second chances, even third and fourth ones. But sending Father into that mess? How do we know a baby was really sick?”
Vincent leaned against the wall, considering his next words carefully. They were not saying anything he hadn’t said to Father already, but there had been no swaying the older man’s mind, not when a child, a baby might be ill. (“A child, Vincent, would you have me ignore a sick baby just because Peter is absent?” Father had demanded.) “It’s not always a choice, with Father,” he said finally. “His duty is to the sick and there was no way he would have stayed. And we’ve always been on good terms with Angela and Lucas.”
“Yeah, I suppose,” Angus said, “if by ‘good terms,’ you mean nobody’s shot at us yet. There are some mightily short fuses in that group I hear.”
Catherine closed the door of the brownstone behind her and relaxed against the solidity of the old door. The pile of mail scattered on the wood floor looked a tad ominous, she thought; bills, flyers and so forth…all of which could be taken care of later. She gathered the mail into a pile and walked into the kitchen and the blinking answering machine, kicking off her high heels as she went. The lights, she kept on low, preferring the mellow glint of light on hardwood after a day spent in the tunnels. Plus, the muted light refracted off the stained glass, something which never failed to fill her with a great amount of joy. The stained glass was far more than bits of colored glass; they were tokens of Vincent’s safety, his ability to walk here, as he could nowhere else, in daylight.
She retrieved the notepad from the cabinet above the answering machine and pressed “play.” The first message, not surprisingly, was from Rita, announcing that she’d been in touch with one of their witnesses on the Avery case who had also, miracle of miracles, not only agreed to testify but agreed to meet them to be interviewed before-hand. She breathed out a sigh of relief; at least one witness besides Elliott Burch wasn’t reluctant. The second message was from Joe, wanting to see her once they’d finished interviewing the witness and the third message was from Dinah.
“Hey, Cathy, I’ve got some free time coming up next week and I wanted to see if you wanted to get together for lunch. Nothing fancy, mind. Call me at 555-7584 if you want to. Bye.” Catherine smiled. Dinah Goldstein had been an old law school classmate and good friend who had gone into criminal defense work after they’d graduated; they’d lost touch for several years afterwards and had only recently reconnected a few months before, when Dinah had pulled her aside after court one afternoon to warn her about Max Avery and his friends. 
The prospect of lunch with Dinah made a smile cross her face. There were few friends she’d kept after her assault—Jenny and Nancy, to be sure—but all others had fallen away, either dismayed by the changes in her life or uncomfortable with her assault itself. Then there had been the chosen burden of Vincent and his world, which had isolated her further. She had not been able to afford the risk of deep friendships, fearful that one wrong word, one statement, would reveal far too much. Now, though…parts of their life together had emerged from the shadows. She was known by her co-workers and remaining friends to be married, if to a husband no one had ever met. Her address had changed to the brownstone, which everyone knew was the house she and her husband had renovated together. She could risk a lunch with the intelligent, discerning Dinah, now that there was so much more she could talk about.
Catherine had begun sorting through the mail when the international postage caught her eye. International? Has Devin gone off gallivanting again? No, he wouldn’t, not without Charles…Then she saw the rest of the envelope and recognized the swirling cursive as belonging to her aunt. Inside the envelope was a brief, terse letter—Aunt Jane never was one for long letters full of pleasantries—with her aunt’s travel itinerary for her conference in the spring. The note closed with, “And I do hope you’ll introduce your young man to me.”
Young man? Catherine wondered, bemused. The last time she and Aunt Jane had talked on the phone had been just after her assault, when she’d urged her to settle down with “that nice Tom Gunther.” Nerves worn to a shred and battling to reconcile the huge changes in her life—to say nothing of her burgeoning feelings for Vincent—Catherine had ended the call abruptly. She had not heard from Aunt Jane, aside from holiday and birthday cards, since. I wonder if she really thinks I’m still with Tom Gunther? Her mouth twisted. Tom Gunther would have continued the relationship if she’d stayed “his” Cathy—the one who was content to be arm candy, the polished corporate attorney, the one whose connections could help him advance in society. The thought of introducing Vincent—Tom Gunther’s opposite in every way—to her stolid Aunt Jane made her chuckle as she pinned her aunt’s itinerary to the bulletin board in the kitchen.
There was another envelope, one much more welcome than the prospect of a visit from an aunt she hadn’t seen in person since her mother’s death. She could almost hear Gertrude’s voice as she opened the short note: “Cathy, Matt says to tell you he’s planning to plant some extra squash, so we should have a bumper crop this winter. Care to come visit? We’d love to see you both. Love, Gertrude.”
The handwriting, of course, was Matt’s—Gertrude had been blind for the last several years, and Matt or one of their daughters handled their written correspondence. But still, an image of the cottage in Connecticut rose before her mind’s eye; Connecticut where everything and nothing had changed. Even as they had locked the door of the cottage and returned home, Catherine had known they would return, one day. But to be given such a reason—though they hardly needed one—it was…serendipity. They could return…and they would.
 "Providence," Chapter 8.
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