About the Author
"Come on, Amelia! It's just a little bit further now," exclaimed the thin, dark-haired man. The woman by his side murmured an assent, as he took her hand and lead her into the concrete drainage pipe. At the end was a barred iron gate.
The man's glance danced along the walls, taking in each detail. This was very familiar to him, something that inspired deep and conflicting feelings. She could see the emotions play across his mobile face; dreamy remembrance, ancient anger, a flash of timidity for what he might find.
He stood before the barred gate, looking at the blank wall behind it. Turning to her, now his eyes appraised the woman's appearance, seeing her with new vision.
Dressed in a flannel shirt and worn jeans, her movements were studied and elegant. Of an indeterminate age, her hair was an absolute white, her face unlined; but her eyes had seen much.
She reached his side in an unhurried fashion, as she did everything. There was no fear or doubt in her face as she gazed at him, only serenity and calm. She waited patiently for him to make the next move, whatever it might be.
As he studied the woman he'd called Amelia, he heard a familiar grinding sound, and the blank wall behind the gate swung away. It revealed a great figure, hooded and cloaked in black. The gate itself was the next to open. The thin dark-haired man was unsurprised; his face lit up in welcome. "I didn't expect to see you at the gate!"
From beneath the black hood came a sibilant voice. "Devin! We did not expect you either!" The cloaked man swept out and the two embraced in greeting.
Devin turned toward the woman, who stood quietly waiting. "Vincent, this is Amelia Robinson - the woman I'm going to marry."
Amelia stepped to Devin's side. Vincent held out a hand to her, and she took it, not seeming to notice the soft fur and hooked claws that made this hand different. "Hello, Vincent." Her voice was almost lost in the expanse; barely louder than a whisper.
"I thought I'd bring her home to the old man; maybe we could get married Below."
Vincent asked then, "How is Charles, Devin?"
A shadow settled across the other man's face. "Charles is dead, Vincent." His voice was harsh.
"Devin - I am truly sorry. He had a great heart."
"It failed him in his sleep. I walked in one morning, and he was dead."
Amelia took one of Devin's hands into hers. "Can you think of a better way, Devin? In a mountain cabin, beneath the stars, asleep in your own bed, near your friends, and free for the first time in your life?" Her whispered voice calmed even Vincent's distress; the shadow retreated from Devin. He squeezed her hand, then cleared his throat and turned back to Vincent. There was pride and a half-hidden anxiety in his eyes as he said, "Shall we go in?"
Vincent nodded, and stepped aside to let Devin and Amelia precede him into the world Below.
"Don't be ridiculous, Devin!" Father stormed impatiently. "The entire idea is - well, laughable!" It was only one day since Devin had appeared with Amelia, and the shouting had already begun.
The thin, dark-haired man stood with his hands braced on his father's desk. "Look me in the eye and deny it, if you can!" he snapped. "You've never approved of anything I do; it's plain you don't think I'm good enough for her!"
"Devin, I only asked if you had bothered to find out why Amelia never speaks above a whisper. After all, you do want to marry her!"
"Father, it is my business what I know about her. You have no right to tell me how to live my life."
"I would say it is her business as well."
"And none of yours!" Devin struggled to get a grip on himself, not to let every word Father said to him feel like a blow. But somehow, whenever they spoke, he searched for ways to turn what the older man said into something meant to hurt, to belittle. In a corner of his mind, he felt shame at his own reaction; but the emotions were so overpowering he could not seem to stop himself. And since his return, he seemed to have no control at all; not even the ability to turn and walk away. "Nothing I do is good enough for you. And when I finally find someone, all you can do is interfere."
Father, too, recognized how logic and common sense seemed to desert him when dealing with Devin, his own son. If it had been some other member of the community, he would have thought twice, and probably held his own counsel, knowing nothing he said could change the mind of a man who fancied himself in love. But with Devin he didn't seem to be able to stop; plus, there was the woman, Amelia. It was so evident to him that she was not suited to his son.
The younger man did not wait for an answer; he turned, and started out of the chamber. Halfway to the door, he turned, and snapped angrily, "I thought you'd finally approve of something I did. Well, no matter what you have to say, Amelia and I are getting married. If we have to leave here to do it, so be it!"
"Devin - Devin, wait!" His son was gone before he could reach the chamber door. Father returned to his desk, and settled heavily into his chair. Why did so many meetings with Devin turn into these absurd shouting matches? With a shake of his head, he put on his glasses, and opened a volume of poetry from his desk, intent on banishing the unpleasant scene from his mind.
"Father - may I come in?" A voice barely above a whisper came into the silence, just audible over the constant background of messages tapping over the network of pipes.
"Of course, Amelia." Father shut the volume, removed his reading glasses. He watched the woman walk to his desk. Slender and composed, her bearing elegant, peace and serenity seemed to flow from her, filling the chamber. Father knew she was approximately Devin's age, but he couldn't decide if she looked older or younger. Her snow-white hair was startling for one so young, falling thick and full down her back to her waist. Her blue eyes were ageless, wise and deep, as though nothing she saw could ever surprise or frighten her. But her face was unlined, the skin clear and smooth.
She stood by his desk, waiting as he finished his scrutiny. He motioned her to a chair; she seated herself with the same unhurried elegance with which she moved. Leaning forward, she read the upside-down title of the book he had lately been perusing.
"Yeats' 'The Rose'," she murmured, her voice almost lost in the chamber.
" 'When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep...' "
He finished the poem she had begun.
" 'How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.' "
The words' echoes lingered in silence for a moment; then Father said briskly, "What can I do for you, Amelia?"
"I passed Devin as I came this way. He seemed disturbed."
"Devin and I always disturb each other."
"He needs you, Father. He longs for your approval, and doesn't expect to get it. The loss of Charles had a profound effect upon him."
"Did you know Charles?"
"Briefly." Father strained to hear her. She continued, still more softly, "It was 'amid a crowd of stars' I met him. He and Devin were living in an old prospector's cabin in the mountains." Her whispered words painted the scene for Father.
The moon was enormous and blood red that night. It seemed close enough to touch. Devin and Charles had been walking a little, down the dusty path that lead from their isolated cabin to the road, and the little town below. The stars were thick all around, in the clear thin air. Charles' halting speech was not muffled this night by his enveloping hood; slowly, Devin was teaching him to feel comfortable, and not exposed, without it. The nights helped; the darkness made Charles feel less naked. The lessons of an entire life are hard to unlearn. Patience and Devin's unstinting devotion to his friend were making headway, finally.
They had been only a few hundred yards from their own front door when a flash of white in the woods caught their attention. Charles loved to see the animals that lived so near them; his delight was boundless at the sight of a deer or rabbit. Smiling, Devin moved toward the flash, to see what awaited them.
As they approached, a whisper greeted them. "I heard I had new neighbors." Charles, startled, threw his hands up in a vain attempt to hide his disfigured face. Devin stepped in front of him, to shield him from whatever might lay ahead.
Out from a shadow came a woman. She walked directly up to Charles, who was trying futilely to hide himself behind the much-smaller Devin. She smiled at him, her eyes gentle and warm, and held out one small hand. "My name is Amelia. I live down the road."
She stood quietly, her hand outstretched, looking at Charles. It was over a full minute before the giant relaxed enough to drop his hands from before his face, and still she stood there, waiting. Admiration dawned in Devin's eyes as he watched her, no trace of anything but greeting and interest on her face. With no sign of impatience, still she stood, hand outstretched.
"Shake hands with the lady, Charles," Devin directed, amusement in his voice. Thus prompted, Charles timidly touched her hand for an instant, then shrank behind his friend again. Amelia recognized the effort Charles had put forth, and acknowledged the touch as a reply.
"My name is Devin Wells, and this is Charles," Devin had said to her. His eyes traveled over her in quick appraisal. Slender and delicate, somehow he knew just by looking that she was strong. Her hair had been the flash of white they saw; it looked like snow in the moonlight. He tried to guess her age, but the combination of features could have been anywhere between twenty-five and fifty.
"Hello, Devin, Charles. I'm sorry I haven't been by before; I was away for a while."
Devin was intrigued by the soft, whispery voice and the peace and calm that surrounded her. Her figure was well rounded, but unspectacular; her face was not beautiful or even pretty, but drew the eye nonetheless. Her eyes were old, and wise, and warm; but there were depths lurking beneath that Devin couldn't read.
"I just came by to say hello tonight. I have some pies in the oven; I'll bring one by for you tomorrow." She waved, then disappeared into the trees. Charles looked after her.
Later, Devin had realized that she knew Charles was still frightened, and was retreating to give him a chance to recover. Her visit had been just long enough to catch Charles' imagination.
Devin had turned to his friend, and the two of them returned to their home. But Charles had looked back over his shoulder, into the woods where Amelia had vanished, more than once.
At noon the next day, she had fulfilled her promise, and brought a blackberry pie to their door. "I picked them myself," she said in that near-whisper as she held it out to Charles to take. Devin had been amused and delighted to see Charles peeking timidly out of the cabin all morning, surreptiously watching for her promised visit. Women generally shrank away from his monstrous appearance. Even his brother Vincent's Catherine hadn't been this easy and comfortable with the frightened, deformed man.
On an impulse, Devin invited her in for lunch. She accepted with the same serenity she had shown the previous night.
It was one of the last happy memories he had of Charles. Although the other man had become completely comfortable with Devin, it was the first time Charles lost some of his terrible self-consciousness with a woman, not every instant completely aware only of his appearance. It was a quiet meal; Amelia listened more than talked, her eyes moving from Charles to Devin and back impartially.
Devin was amusing her with tales of some of his more outlandish jobs, from "south of Oz to north of Shangri-La". Charles, as always, listened with bated breath, amazed at the things his friend had seen and done. But Devin noted his glance slide from him to touch on their visitor, over and over.
Amelia was silent for a moment, then went on, "I left their home, went to my cabin, and cried. Such a gentle spirit, so brutally imprisoned." She looked over at Father, her expression unreadable. "Before you congratulate me on my acceptance of all humanity, as your son did, I must tell you that I planned that first, night-time visit for over a week. I'd heard rumors in town; I watched from the woods to see if they were true. I spied on Charles and Devin from hiding for more than a week, making sure I could look at Charles, and act as I wanted to. Visceral reactions should never be allowed to hurt anyone. I tried to tell Devin, but I'm afraid he prizes spontaneity above foresight. He didn't really want to know."
Father nodded at her assessment. "Devin does not believe in thinking ahead. He never did, not since he was a small boy."
"He's afraid that planning will cage his dreams, Father. So he lives from moment to moment. In some ways it's an excellent way to live." She smiled then, the first full smile Father had seen on her face. It took away some of her air of serenity, but gave her more reality; more humanity. "In others, it's a pain. He never mentioned Vincent, except to say he had a brother. I was quite startled."
Father remembered Vincent's description of that meeting as he replied. "Yes, Devin sometimes does ignore the niceties."
At that moment, Vincent entered the chamber. "Father, I just spoke with Devin. He is very upset, and threatening to leave -" It was then that he saw Amelia, and stopped abruptly.
She rose slowly, and started out of the chamber. "I was just leaving." She nodded to Father, and touched Vincent's shoulder as she passed him. "Don't take Devin too seriously," she murmured. "I'll speak to him." She walked beyond him, out into the corridor, and vanished slowly down the hall, the soft echo of her footsteps dying away.
"Devin has excellent taste," Vincent said as he watched her leave.
Father only nodded.
Vincent entered the chamber and sat down opposite Father. His blue eyes were troubled. "Father, I'd thought you and Devin were learning to listen to each other. He says he is in love with Amelia; how can you object?"
"Devin, as you said, has excellent taste, but poor judgment. Surely you can see, Vincent, how unsuited they are for each other."
Vincent stood abruptly. "As unsuited Catherine and I are? Father, how can you look at love and see only wrongness?" Without bothering to conceal his anger, he strode from the chamber.
Father watched him go. "You and Catherine had only one obstacle; my son," he whispered. "And you have overcome it." He reopened the poetry volume, and tried to apply himself again. After a moment, he surrendered and stared off into space, concern and dismay warring across his face.
The torches flickered in the early morning hours, lighting the way. Father limped tiredly toward his chamber, pleasure from the birth he had just attended not able to overcome his exhaustion. Some internal spring felt overwound when Devin was around. It was not a restful sensation.
He heard light footfalls coming toward him, and wondered who else was abroad at 3:30 in the morning. From around the corner came Amelia. The peace that came with her presence soothed at the rough edges his son had left on his soul. "Good morning, Amelia."
She nodded. Her voice the bare whisper he had come to know, she said, "You're up late tonight, Father."
He smiled. "I could say the same of you."
"I never sleep much." Incidental Tunnel sounds almost drowned out her words.
He continued toward his chamber, and she fell into step beside him. "I was just delivering a baby. A remarkable experience, no matter how many times I do it."
She was silent at that. Her expression and pace remained the same, but she seemed suddenly vulnerable.
"Amelia, your voice -" They had reached Father's chamber by then. With a gesture, he invited her in; she nodded her acceptance. Instead of taking his usual position behind his desk, he seated himself in a chair facing her, only a few feet away.
"Thank you for humoring an old man. I need to unwind a little, before I sleep." He paused, then continued the sentence he had started before they entered. "Amelia, what happened to your voice? Is there anything that can be done -?"
She looked at him consideringly. "I suppose you may as well know. Your son is going to marry me, after all." Something in Father shrank away from her statement.
Meeting his gaze, she began, "Father, fifteen years ago I was 23, happily married and nine months pregnant. My parents owned a two-flat; they lived downstairs, and we lived up." She spoke in the same serene whisper she always used. "I went to a movie on June 16. It was going to be my last chance to go somewhere alone for a long time. Gil, my husband, griped, but he let me go." She leaned forward, meeting Father's eyes earnestly, but with no visible emotion.
"When I came home from the movie, about 11:00 at night, I saw flames through my parents' living room window. I got the door open, and forced my way in.
"The heat was indescribable. They tell me that's probably when I damaged my vocal cords."
Amelia was silent for a long moment. Her eyes no longer saw Father; shooting flames and falling timbers filled her sight. Then she continued, "I was trying to get to the stairs when the roof collapsed. I was mostly buried, but my neck and shoulders were exposed." She turned her back toward Father, and swept the thick hair away. He saw the faded patchwork of skin grafts from the hairline, disappearing down under her collar.
"I came awake about three weeks later, to find I had no parents, no husband, no home - and no child. I'd started bleeding, there near the stairs, and the baby was stillborn." Father wanted to go to her, to comfort her, even though there was no tremor or sorrow in her soft voice. Amelia might have been relating the outline of a novel she didn't care for.
"I had insurance money, and inheritances. I bought my cabin in the woods, and a couple of hundred books I'd always wanted to read. I've been there ever since. It's very quiet and peaceful, and there are a couple of towns nearby. I can have company whenever I want." This time the silence stretched for long moments. Father wanted to see some emotion, some reaction, in her to the story she'd told, but Amelia had never lost the serenity Devin had so remarked in her.
At last she continued, "I haven't told anyone that story in thirteen years. I was quite lucky; after a couple of years, all I had to show were a few scars, white hair, and this voice. It could easily have been much worse."
"I don't see how." Father leaned forward, trying to see into her mind. But he found himself noting the physical rather than the mental. Suddenly he was highly conscious of the way her hair flowed as she moved, of how the simple act of breathing caused interesting changes in her tight shirt. For the first time in years, he felt in great need of a cold shower - a very long, very cold shower. He'd thought the passionate storms of youth were far behind him; it was disconcerting and embarrassing to discover he was wrong.
But with age did come the ability to dissemble; to act normally. He carefully forced, then stifled, a yawn. Amelia immediately stood. "It's probably time we were both in bed."
It was an unfortunate choice of words. The images that moved through Father's head were very far from serene and restful.
If he'd been his usual observant self, he would have noticed the way Amelia looked at him; her dilated pupils and softly rapid breathing. But he was intent on acting normal while internally berating himself for premature senility and lechery. And with his own son's fiance; just a child, really.
Once she was gone, Father took a deep breath. A light scent of Amelia's perfume lingered in the chamber air. It kept her presence alive in the room. Swearing to himself, Father gripped his stick, rose to his feet, and set off for the coldest bathing pool he knew.
Devin paced back and forth across Vincent's chamber, like the lion Vincent appeared to be. "Why can't the old man back off me, Vincent?' Above the three-days' growth Devin affected, his blue eyes were full of pain. "Damn it, I thought for once I was doing something he'd approve of; something responsible." He made the last word sound like a fate worse than death.
"Devin-" Vincent didn't know what to say. Father and Devin always clashed; there was something different in this strain, though. "I will speak to him, Devin."
"What can he disapprove of in Amelia? She's his kind of woman. And Vincent, you should have seen her with Charles. I think he was getting a crush on her, just before he died. In those last few weeks, we saw her nearly every day." Devin's voice nearly broke at the thought of his friend. He stopped pacing and faced his brother. "I think she sensed he didn't have much time left, and tried to bring him some happiness. She's good at that. Amelia brings me such peace, Vincent. There's no pain, no restlessness when I'm with her."
Devin's statement disturbed something in Vincent. He resolved to speak to Catherine before confronting Father. The children were having a recital tonight, and she would come Below for it. His blood quickened and his arms felt empty; no more than six hours until he would see her again.
He met her at the threshold beneath the basement of her building. Their first embrace consumed several moments, then Vincent offered her his arm, and they began the stroll to Father's chamber. As they walked, Vincent explained what had happened over the past several days. He shook his head, his golden mane moving against his cloak. Catherine, who had been listening carefully, lost her concentration for a moment at that sight. Then she resolutely pulled her thoughts from Vincent's body, and back to what he'd been telling her.
"You're saying Father doesn't seem to approve of Devin's fiance. Is there any reason?"
"Catherine, it's not that he disapproves of her. He doubts her suitability for Devin." Vincent looked at her tenderly. "As he disapproved of your suitability for me."
"Why, Vincent? What's this Amelia like?"
"Very serene and quiet, Catherine. She speaks in a whisper. I don't believe she can speak louder. There is a great air of peace about her; she can make you feel calm and restful just by her presence. She seems quite intelligent, and well-read..."
Catherine stopped in the Tunnel and faced her leonine love. "Vincent, if this woman is really as you've described her, I think she'd bore Devin silly in a month."
"Devin says she brings him peace. He says he is not restless when he is with her."
"Devin hates peace. Unless she stays with him 24 hours a day, he will be restless again. And maybe even if she does. Devin couldn't live with serene quiet for very long."
"Catherine, you know how love can change a soul."
"Even love cannot turn black to white."
They had almost reached Father's chamber when Devin hailed them from nearby. Amelia was next to him. When the four had met, after introductions had been performed, Catherine watched them together.
Devin had an arm flung casually across Amelia's shoulder; Catherine could feel the serenity Vincent had spoken of. She and Devin looked comfortable together. But somehow the picture wasn't quite right. It did not look like lovers, soon to be wed; it was more like old friends who knew each other well. But for many people, that was what love became. Perhaps Amelia and Devin were already at that stage. Then Father stepped from his chamber to announce the beginning of the recital, and Catherine knew what was wrong.
Because she was looking directly at Amelia in that first instant of Father's presence, she saw the look in her eyes that was quickly concealed. The light, the life, the heat, that she hadn't seen in Amelia and Devin was all there in Amelia's eyes as soon as Father came into view. Vincent, who was speaking to Devin, had missed it. Catherine decided to devote the recital to refining her discovery.
By the time the last note had faded into silence, and the enthusiastic applause of the audience had ended, Catherine had no doubts. Watching both of them, she had seen each glance quickly toward the other, when certain there were no observers. It was plain to her that each of them was unaware of the other's interest; these were glances of hopeless longing.
Catherine thought she was familiar with every expression of Father's, but that hopeless, naked longing she saw when he thought himself unobserved moved her. Had Vincent looked on her so when she first came into his life - something he desperately needed and desired, that he thought was forever denied to him?
After the concert, they had congratulated the young musicians, and socialized for a while. Catherine spent time in conversation with Amelia, learning what Vincent had meant by "peace and serenity." As the hour grew late, Vincent started to escort her home.
"We need to talk, Vincent," she told him. "About Amelia and Devin. Come to my balcony."
He nodded his assent, and helped her through the opening that lead to her laundry room, then made his own way to the open balcony.
"No, Catherine, I cannot believe that! Father would not - he could not -"
"Fall in love, Vincent?"
"No, that's not what I meant. No one deserves to be loved more than Father. But the woman Devin is going to marry; no, I cannot believe that."
"It's true, Vincent." Catherine's voice was gentle, as she spoke over his shoulder. Vincent leaned against the balcony rail, the smog and lights spread before him on a starless night. "I saw with my own eyes."
"You must be mistaken, Catherine."
"You can't mistake love."
"No, Catherine." Vincent shook his head. "Father would not do such a thing to Devin."
"Love isn't something you do, Vincent. It's something that happens to you; if you're very, very lucky." She leaned her head against his back, feeling his breathing through the heavy black cloak. She felt traces of his great emotion upheaval through their bond.
"No. It is impossible."
"I know what I saw. I've learned to know love well; through what you've taught me, Vincent."
"No." He stepped free of her gentle embrace, and strode across the balcony, to stand amid her plants. "I cannot accept it."
"Watch them, Vincent. Amelia and Devin are dear, close friends, but I recognize my own expressions on Amelia's face when she looks at Father." Cathy came up behind him, and gently turned him so he faced her.
Vincent's expression was tortured. Devin was such a part of him, and he had become accustomed to taking his side against Father, who still seemed blind or inflexible on the subject of his son. But he knew so much of hopeless longing, and love that seemed beyond reach.
Catherine put her heart into her eyes as she looked at him. The love and desire struck him to the heart amid his pain. He opened his arms and gathered her to him.
They stood together in silence in the breeze for a moment, then Catherine spoke. "Amelia looks at Father like that, Vincent. Father is very careful, but occasionally his eyes are drawn to her." She pulled Vincent closer yet, leaning her cheek against his soft shirt. "Watch them Vincent. See for yourself."
"I hope you are mistaken, Catherine; but I will watch."
Father was wakeful this night. The candles lit his chamber in their usual flickering fashion, light spilling out into the tunnel passing by. The volume open on his desk contained plans of ancient Roman aqueducts; the most nonstimulating material he'd been able to find.
It had been a week since Amelia had sat opposite him, here in his chamber, and told her story; one week since that inexplicable pull he'd felt toward her.
It would not leave him; everywhere he looked, some shadow or light reminded him of Amelia. He'd gone out of his way to avoid her, since that evening; he could see Devin looking at him strangely, but he felt he had no choice.
Amelia was twenty-five years younger than he; and she was going to marry Devin, his son. He removed his glasses to rub his eyes in his habitual gesture, and remained so, with his hands over his eyes, unable to focus on the book or anything else. A whisper from his chamber door roused him.
"May I come in?" It was Amelia, in jeans and Devin's leather jacket.
Father straightened hastily. "Of course, my dear." He policed his words and tone carefully; no hint of his emotion should escape.
"I couldn't sleep, so I took a walk; then I saw your light, and thought I might borrow a book -?" Her whisper was clear enough, but her eyes looked haunted.
"There are certainly enough books in here; what would you like?"
"Something light." She entered the chamber, and looked at the book he had been studying. "A lot lighter than this."
"Yes, it is rather heavy going," he agreed. He felt hypersensitive to everything about her; there was fear and pain sliding in and out of her eyes, as she forgot to control her expression.
She looked over the stacks on his desk. "How about Yeats? You can hear his words sing in your head."
"The one you were reading the other day would be fine; 'The Rose'."
Father retrieved the book from its place, still on his desk. He held it out to her, and as she took it, he asked gently, "What's the matter, Amelia?"
She raised her eyes to meet his. "Nothing, Father." She sighed, and added, "Just a bad dream."
"A bad dream?"
"I think I mentioned I hadn't told my sad story in thirteen years. I suppose the other night brought it all back." Her gaze left Father's, to zero in on empty space. "I haven't dreamed about the fire in at least ten years. I keep hearing Gil's voice, then the flames come up around me -"
Her soft voice trembled; she wrapped her arms tightly around herself, as if to contain the feelings, not allow them out into the room. Father resisted the force that rose within him, telling him to go to her, to hold her. She continued, "Then I'm trapped again, with the roaring of the fire all around, and the weight of the roof pressing me into the ground; and the flames across my back..." The depths of her eyes were consumed by the horror; she seemed completely unaware of her surroundings. As her voice trailed off, he saw a single tear track down her cheek.
The tear did it. Almost without volition, he rose from his chair and moved to her. He laid a hand on her shoulder, in what he hoped was a fatherly fashion; even in this situation, his pulse leapt at the nearness of her.
She leaned her cheek against his arm, drawing strength from the contact.
"Have you told Devin of your dreams, Amelia?"
"He's such a light sleeper, Father; and he's a worrier. I hate to bother him. That's why I walk."
Father could feel some of the tension leave her, as she leaned again him. He started to lose himself in her nearness, then came abruptly to his senses. Withdrawing his hand from her shoulder, he limped back to his safe position, behind the desk.
She took the hint, drawing herself back as she stood to leave. "Thank you for the book, Father." Her whisper was more breathless than usual.
"You're welcome, Amelia." Her presence lingered in the chamber even after she was gone. With a suppressed groan, Father reopened "Architecture of Roman Aqueducts", and sought futilely to lose himself.
Five days had passed since the children's concert. Vincent had been following Catherine's advice, while hoping almost desperately that she was wrong. But in this case, her eye had been sharper than his; once he was alerted, he'd been forced to agree. But what could be done? This could cause the final rift between Father and Devin; their uneasy peace of the last few days was based solely on Father's attempts to avoid Devin and the subject of his forthcoming marriage.
Vincent could see quite clearly that neither Amelia nor Father had any idea of the other's interest. Amelia remained her serene, restful self at all times, but Father's behavior was beginning to cause talk. His temper was short, and his persistent avoidance of his son and his son's fiance were earning him strange looks among the Tunnel community. So far, no one but Vincent recognized what lay behind this; but it was only a matter of time. The Tunnel dwellers were sensitive to each other's feelings and emotional states. It wouldn't be long before someone was able to add together two and two, as Catherine had, and come up with a sum that would forever estrange Devin and Father; probably without allowing anyone any happiness.
He sat in his chamber on that Saturday, pondering possible outcomes to this dilemma. Catherine had come Below, and she and Jamie had taken Amelia to show her around, meet some of the people she hadn't yet encountered. Devin had sent her off with a fond pat and a smile.
At that moment, he heard Devin's voice. "Busy, Vincent?"
"No, Devin, come right in." Vincent rose and went to greet his brother.
"It was nice of Cathy and Jamie to take Amelia around today." Devin did more of his usual pacing. "I wanted to talk to you, Vincent. What is with the old man lately? At first he doesn't approve of my marrying Amelia; now he's given his approval, but I haven't seen him in days."
"Devin -" Vincent was stymied. There was no gentle way to tell Devin what he knew; and he wasn't sure it was his place to do so. As he pondered, he heard another voice from the chamber entrance. "Vincent, may I come in?"
It was Father. "Of course," he replied, and the grey-haired man came into the golden-lit room. When he saw Devin, he turned as if to leave. "I didn't know you were busy. I'll come back later -"
"No, stay, Father." Vincent was determined to take advantage of this opportunity fate had given him. Perhaps if they talked now, something could be settled.
He looked at the two of them, ranged like opponents on opposite sides of the chamber, Father avoiding even Devin's glance while the younger man looked progressively more and more hurt and sullen. It tore at him to see them at such odds.
As he was about to speak, suddenly a strong awareness of danger, fear and pain washed over him. His gaze fixed into the distance, recognizing quite clearly the message. "Catherine is in danger." He looked across to Father and Devin. "I must go to her."
He fled the chamber. Behind him, he heard Father's voice, harsh in the shocked silence. "Dear God, Amelia is with her!"
Devin and Vincent were in the hospital chamber, both smelling of smoke and smeared with soot and ashes. Aside from a few minor bruises and burns, neither was injured. But both were exhausted; an explosion and fire in Mouse's chamber could have been deadly.
Without the notice of Vincent's bond with Catherine, the outcome might have been tragically different. As it was, Vincent had freed Catherine from the wreckage and removed her to safety, then returned, and, with Father's help, freed Amelia. Neither woman was badly injured; once again, nasty bruises and minor burns seemed the sum. Father and Mary were finishing their ministrations to the woman at that moment.
As Jamie told it later, the three of them had entered Mouse's chamber in search of the eccentric young engineer. Arthur, Mouse's pet raccoon, had skittered away from them, knocking over - something, which hit something else; followed by an explosion of fairly large proportions. The explosion had caught only Amelia and Catherine; Arthur was untouched, and Jamie, a little the worse for wear, had been able to summon help over the pipes, to contain the blaze. Her coded message had reached Devin and Father only a moment after Vincent's precipitate exit. They had arrived, with Mouse and Pascal, as Vincent struggled to free Catherine. Mouse, Pascal, and Devin had fought the blaze while the rescues were accomplished.
Now, as the two brothers sat in weary silence, Devin suddenly looked into Vincent's face. "Did you know, Vincent?"
"Know what, Devin?"
"About the old man and Amelia." Devin sounded resigned.
"Yes, Devin. Catherine saw it. How did you -"
"Vincent, you weren't there; you didn't see. While you were carrying Cathy off to safety, while Mouse and Pascal and I put out that fire, I saw the old man make his way across a floor littered with glass I would've hesitated to cross myself. I don't think he knew he was doing it, but he very carefully placed himself between Amelia and the flames." Devin paused. "He looked her over, tried to free her, but failed. He sat down beside her, still shielding her, and took her into his arms. Then he just held her." Devin's eyes were distant with the sight. "I've never seen the old man look like that, Vincent. Like he was holding a priceless jewel." He fell silent.
His brother didn't seem to hear him. He continued, "Amelia opened her eyes. I could see the blue from across the room. I was going to call to her, to let her know I was there; but her eyes never moved from his face." There was pain in Devin's voice, but Vincent could hear no heartbreak or despair. "They recited poetry, Vincent; Yeats, back and forth. I could barely hear Amelia, but the old man's voice was clear." Devin turned toward Vincent, and began to recite softly,
"Beloved, let your eyes half close, and your heart beat Over my heart, and your hair fall over my breast, Drowning love's lonely hour in deep twilight of rest..."
Devin spoke the lines softly, from the heart. The echo of Father's voice whispered in Vincent's mind as he pictured the scene. There was nothing for him to say.
Devin let the words ring through Vincent's imagination in silence. Then he said, "I think it was all a dream for me, Vincent; a penance, a try at being what I'm not. I was pretty well lost when Charles died, and I didn't want to be alone any more. Amelia gave me memories of Charles as well as her serenity, and release from pain. And I wanted to please the old man; if I couldn't help Charles, that was something I could do, I thought." Devin laughed, a little sadly. "I told you she was Father's kind of woman, Vincent."
"Devin, I'm so sorry -"
"Don't be, Vincent. I would never have been happy with her, nor she with me. She's a settler, a stayer; I need mountains and jungles."
"South of Oz and north of Shangri-La," Vincent agreed, using Devin's own phrase.
"Tell them goodbye for me, Vincent, will you?" Devin moved toward the door of the hospital chamber.
"Don't go, Devin." It was Father, finished at last. "Amelia will be fine. She wants to see you. Please stay. At least for a while."
"I don't think so, Father. Not now. But I'll be back."
Father turned to enlist his other son's aid. "Vincent -"
"I think Devin is right, Father." Vincent turned to his brother. "But you must keep your promise to return."
"Yes, Vincent. Tell Amelia that I'd've made a lousy husband; make sure she knows I don't blame her for anything. And congratulate her on her good taste." He embraced the great leonine figure, then moved toward the door again. As he started to walk past Father, the older man looked into his face. Devin and Vincent could both see the guilt in his eyes. Devin reached out to touch Father's shoulder, then pulled him into an embrace, as he had done with Vincent.
"I'll be back, Father. You take care of Amelia."
"You may be sure of that."
The younger man moved past them, out the door, and down the corridor. Father and Vincent watched him go. His step was lighter than when he had arrived.
"Devin has grown up, Father."
"Did I do the right thing, Vincent?" This time the grey-haired man turned to his son for advice. "Perhaps Amelia would be better off with..." He let the statement trail off into the distance.
"Father, love is no respecter of ages. Amelia loves you and you love her; how could she be better off anywhere except with you?" He leaned down to hug Father as Devin had. "She is a very lucky woman, Father."
"And I am a very lucky man."
The breezes across Catherine's balcony were warm and sweet that night. Catherine lounged across a chaise, a few fading purple spots the only signs left of the accident in Mouse's chamber. Vincent was seated beside her, an open volume of Shakespeare's sonnets on his lap. Softly the words drifted through the night.
"Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck;
And yet me thinks I have astronomy,
But not to tell of good or evil luck,
Of plagues, of dearths, or season's quality:
Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
Pointing to each his thunder, rain, and wind,
Or say with princes if it shall go well,
By oft predict that I in heaven find:
But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,
And (constant stars) in them I read such art,
As truth and beauty shall together thrive,
If from thyself to store thou wouldst convert:
Or else of thee this I prognosticate,
Thy end is truth's and beauty's doom and date."
The soft night air enfolded them. Catherine took one of Vincent's great hands, and held it, marvelling at the sensations that flooded her at even that contact. "I wonder what Father and Amelia are doing?" she asked him, letting her thoughts float with the wind.
"Probably something very like what we are doing," murmured Vincent.
At that moment, Below, Amelia asked the same whispered question of Father, her head resting against his shoulder. His reply was much the same as Vincent's as he held her, unable to believe the difference in his life made by a few short weeks.
Amelia sighed happily and kissed his cheek. "I hope so," she whispered. "I hope so." She blew out the candles at the bedside, and snuggled against him. With her lips against his neck, she breathed,
"Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."
Father wrapped his arms around her, and let love and the night fulfill both of their dreams.
Poems by William Butler Yeats:
"When You Are Old"
"He Bids His Beloved Be At Peace"
"He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven"
from "The Rose", 1893
Sonnet XIV, William Shakespeare
About the Author
Teal Bee - Toni Lichtenstein Bogolub lives in Deerfield, IL and is a member of the Chicago Area Tunnel Society (CATS). Toni is new to America Online, but not new to Beauty and the Beast fandom, having written 20 Beauty and the Beast stories that are in various zines, and four of her own Beauty and the Beast zines. She can say, like so many of us: "It (B&B) changed my life!"
She would love to hear from anyone who wants to e-mail her about her stories online as she is always interested in fanzine feedback.
Toni's stories are scattered about in a number of zines:
Two of Nan Dibble's "Phoenix" zines
One of Kathy Resch's "Masks"
"Media Rare" - a CATS publication
"Rich in Hope"
"The Chronicler's Tales"
and will soon be in the forthcoming
"Media Well Done" (a CATS publication) and "Remote Control"
Her own zines include:
"To Dream of Daring/From the Branch to the Earth"
"Yearning Hearts" - written with another of our America Online family, Debbie Ristick (DRistick), which received three nominations for Fan-Qs at Tunnelcon III, and contains "Thy Sweet Love Remembered", a novella co-written with Debbie Ristick
How to get them:
"Origin/Destiny" (a very limited number of copies are left) is available for $11 postpaid. Teal Bee: A Lothlorien Enterprise, c/o Toni Lichtenstein Bogolub, 437 Swallow Lane, Deerfield, IL 60015.
"Media Well Done" will be available in May for $18 plus postage. Send a SASE for info to Jackie Paciello, 9109 S. Parkside, Oak Lawn, IL 60453.
"Remote Control", will also be available in May, 1995. SASE to Kathryn Agel, 9-11Ayres Ct., Bayonne, NJ 07002-3510 for info.