Guiding Light

       Father didn’t take her down right away. He wanted to know if this was real. He wanted the DNA tests
and all. He wanted to know that there was a real reason to cloister her in a place where it wasn’t just
Vincent and Father who felt that she had betrayed them, but the entire community seemed shocked and
angered by the affair.
       
       She couldn’t stay in the hospital. Peter knew that from the start. Too many questions would crop up
and it was too easy for blood work to fall into the wrong hands.
       
       “Make sure she sleeps enough. She may dream too. If she does, just give her more time to sleep in.
She needs as much rest as possible.” Peter explained to Joe and Jenny who nodded obediently. “She has
to eat as well. She doesn’t skip any meals. Feed her twice if need be. Make sure she gets enough iron
and calcium in her diet.
       
       “Also, if you can, make her go back to work. She needs to stimulate her brain. It will take her mind off
of all of this, temporarily. She needs as much of a normal routine as possible.”
       
       “What should we...” Joe stuttered a bit, “what about the baby?”
       
       “Relax.” Peter smiled. “Give her all desk work if you want. It can’t hurt you, it’s still inside her, barely
bigger than your pinky finger. But try to get her to exercise. Exercise and sleep are all the baby specially
needs. But for both of them, make her eat.”
       
       “She keeps asking about the DNA tests.” Jenny brought up, grimly. “What should I tell her?”
       
       “Don’t.” He advised. “Let me handle that. It’s a very delicate issue right now.”
       
       Both friends nodded obediently. They followed Peter into the hospital room where Catherine sat up,
watching her television set. Her hair was combed out nicely and she had just a hint of make-up on. She
almost looked like the ‘same ol’ Cathy’. Except that she sat there, channel surfing at the speed of lightning,
with the most empty expression any of them had ever seen on her.
       
       Joe approached her first. “Hey there, Radcliffe.” He smiled, trying to hide his nervous knots.
       
       Catherine looked away from the screen immediately. “Joe.” It looked like she was attempting to smile,
but just couldn’t bring herself to it. But she didn’t stop trying. Her eyes, that used to sparkle, were merely
flickering now, but she was trying so hard to be happy.
       
       “Hey, we came to get you.” Jenny came around Joe and stood at the foot of Catherine’s bed.
       
       “Came to get me?” The attempt to smile was dropped and now she starting to panic. “Where am I
going? Peter?”
       
       “Cathy, calm down.” Her doctor came up beside her. “I think it’s best that you leave the hospital. You
are in perfect health now and we will need this room for other patients eventually.”
       
       “Oh, please Peter! Don’t make me leave.” She dropped her voice to a desperate whisper. “If I have to
go, send me Below. Please!”
       
       “Cathy...” he kept his tone official, not allowing her to pull him into that secretive discussion, “I need
you to do this. If I hear anymore news I’ll let you know immediately, but for right now you are going to go
with Joe and Jenny, alright?”
       
       “No, no! Peter...” she pleaded, ignoring her friends behind her, “Peter, I can’t stay up here! I need to
go home! Please, Peter!”
       
       “You are going home, Cath.” He pressed emphatically, and giving her a warning look. “You’ll be
staying with Joe and Jenny, back and forth. Won’t that be fun? Like a sleep-over.” He was using that voice
with her now. The mock-fatherly one that he used whenever he told the story of how they met. He pulled the
food try away from the bed and began unhooking all of her moniters.
       
       Peter wasn’t giving in and now she was desperate. “Jenny, please. Tell him that I can’t leave.”
       
       But the woman at the end of the bed took a step back and shook her head. “I don’t know anything but
what I’ve been told. I’m not the doctor, Cathy. Maybe you should listen to him.”
       
       “Joe...” Cathy turned and made her eyes go soft and pleading. She used the ‘damsel in distress’ face
with all her might and even took his hand. “Please.”
       
       Joe struggled for a moment. He was trying. Trying so desperately to deny that face. He couldn’t fix this
for her though, and wouldn’t. He would do as the doctor had told. But still he couldn’t deny those beautifully
tragic eyes. So, all he got out was: “Hey Radcliffe, my place isn’t that bad.” With a half-smile.
       
       “Okay, here we go.” Peter had pulled the wheelchair up next to the bed and watched her, expecting
her to get in, and letting her know so with a look.
       
       She swung her feet over the edge and began to slide off, her knuckles pushing her mostly. She
stopped just before she stood and looked back at her friends, just one last effort. “Really, you two, I can’t
put you out like this. You both have lives. I have a life.”
       
       “Cathy,” that stern voice of Peter’s came again, “sit in the wheelchair.”
       
       She did, in a hurry, and immediately leaned back when she saw Peter’s hands clutched to the arms of
the chair and his face leaning closer into hers. “Your life is your baby’s life right now.” He whispered
harshly. “And it will be for a long time. We’ve already discussed the possibility of abortion,” she opened her
mouth but he pressed on, “and I know that’s not what you want. But, until you give me a name, until we can
prove that this baby is not... the other man’s, you have no where else to go.” His voice dropped to an even
softer whisper now. “Father is being terrible, unreasonable, and maybe even as far as cruel. But, that
doesn’t change his decision. Now, if you would like to give me a name...” he watched her shy even further
away, “then this is the best that I can do for you.”
       
       “It’s not so bad.” Jenny attempted her upbeat, chipper voice, but there was a large portion of sympathy
in it. “Think of it like a continuous slumber party. Remember when we used to do that in the summers?
Circulate, a week at each girl’s house? It’ll be fun! You’ll see!”
       
       But Catherine wasn’t excited or even smiling, in fact she was resonating with misery. She didn’t even
look at them, even when Joe joined in to argue with Jenny. It was obvious what they were doing; trying to
make her smile with their verbal banter, but her mind was far away.
       
       “No, Jen, I don’t doubt that to a teenage girl that would be a lot of fun.” Joe babbled next to Jenny as
they followed Peter, who pushed Catherine down the hospital hall in silence.
       
       “So?” Jenny pitched her voice.
       
       “So, I resent being considered ‘one of the girls’! Next thing I know, you’ll be painting my toenails in the
middle of the night!”
       
       “Oh, don’t be over dramatic!” Jenny waved him off. “Cathy needs her rest, who would hold the
flashlight for me?”
       
       “I’m sure you’d think of a way.” He accused light-heartedly.
       
       Catherine went toward the white beckoning light ahead of her. She tried resisting, but she was pinned
to her chair with fear. She could barely hear her friends behind her, carrying on. Finally she passed through
into the blinding sun, those protective white walls lost behind her.




Secret Games

       Anna yawned widely, her head in pain from trying desperately to conceal it. She should not be so tired
at 1:00 in the afternoon. Jacob had stayed late with her the night before, however, and she was still
recovering. She had never been awake at 3am before. The night had been so exciting that even when he
left her room she still couldn’t sleep. Jacob had allowed her to turn on the light and look at him. His furry
face glowed so in the artificial light that Anna was reminded of when she first saw him in the park; dancing
in the sun. He had also invited her to come and see his home. She didn’t want to get her hopes up in case
there was simply no way to sneak her out, but she was allowed to dream it would happen and she did... all
night and all day that day. Granted it would be difficult to get her from her window on the top floor of her
apartment building to the “tunnels” of Central Park, but she had to hope!
       
       Well, the whole night had drained her of any energy she might have had in the daytime. Now she was
trying to hide all of this from the adults. They would never understand hers and Jacob’s relationship. She
didn’t even understand it. They were the best of friends all because she had drawn him one day on a
school field trip. It didn’t make sense. He was just as aware as she was that coming to her room every
night was dangerous: their parents could possibly find out, or some thug could catch Jacob as he traveled
on the streets. Yes, the little seven-year-olds were probably the only children of their age completely aware
of every risk... and even still they accepted that chance. The two had formed a fast and furious friendship
over the last three weeks; an intense bond that not even her mother, his father, nor anyone else who
wanted to get in the way could break. They were even beginning to sense each other’s presence coming
closer and closer. Some unexplainable force had tied these two together and no one, not even they, could
sever it.
       
       She yawned again, suddenly getting a head-rush from her attempt to suppress it.
       
       “Annie, did you get enough sleep last night?” Joe asked, handing her the hotdog with melted cheese
and ketchup that she asked for.
       
       Joe had called her Annie for as long as she could remember. She had heard her mom and he arguing
quietly over it one day. She argued that she had not named her daughter Annie and she didn’t like the
sound of it. He said that Anna was already too grown up to have a name that made her sound even older.
So, he called her Annie. Even when she was misbehaving (which rarely happened when she was with
Uncle Joe) he would warn her by calling her Carrie Ann instead of Caroline Anna. It was nice to have
someone like Uncle Joe to baby her every once in a while. She always felt relieved of some weight when
she was with him, as if only then was she allowed to be a child.
       
       “I had trouble falling asleep.” It wasn’t a lie, and that she was grateful for. Although she had proven that
she could lie over the last few weeks, she didn’t enjoy it, nor did it relieve any guilt on her shoulders.
       
       “I’m gonna talk to your mom about getting you into bed earlier from now on.” Joe took her free hand in
his free hand and, as he bit into his hotdog, he led her into Central Park.
       
       “I’m okay.” She panicked, but attempted to sound casual.
       
       “You’re a growing girl, Annie. You’re going into the third grade in September, kiddo.” He tried to
emphasize the importance of both points. “You’re going to get more work to do, and you’re going to have
to take more tests... you’ll need your rest.”
       
       Anna only shrugged, trying to seem indifferent, but inwardly hoping her mom would tell Uncle Joe that
her bedtime was fine and to ‘butt out’, as she had taken to saying for the last few months. The hostility
between her mom and her surrogate father had been quite uncomfortable for weeks now. Anna wasn’t
sure what had happened between them, but the attitude change was unexpected and sudden. It was an
advantage at some times, but then she always felt guilty afterward.
       
       Even now, as they walked across the park to find a free bench, she felt terrible in the thought of her
mom and Uncle Joe arguing. She really did hate manipulation, but she seemed to find herself constantly
doing it. She supposed she learned how from her mom, who basically manipulated people to think the way
she did for a living. Anna had to wonder then... what did her real father do?
       
       Settling on an empty bench and throwing the hotdog wrappers away, Anna and Joe sat in comforting
silence, listening to the clapping of horse hooves, falling feet of runners, and the zooming sounds of
bicyclists. For a moment she wanted to tell him all about Jacob. For some strange impulsive reason she
wanted to let all of her excitement, pent up for the last three weeks, burst out and scatter all over the world.
But instead, she held her tongue and curled her legs under her, making herself a little taller. She cleared
her throat and tapped Uncle Joe on the shoulder. “Try the lady in that carriage over there.”
       
       He glanced at Anna sideways, and then concentrated on the woman in the carriage, picking up the
game that Anna had brought on. It was a simple, judgmental game. What can you tell about a person from
only looking at them? It was a harmless game that made Joe feel somehow directly connected with the
odd curiosity in Anna. “Hmm... well, she’s very pretty.”
       
       Anna smiled slyly. “Not relevant.” She used her new word with pride “Stick to the game, please.”
       
       “She’s tall with short hair. Maybe a divorce because he felt inadequate compared to her and she
needed a change to move on.” He finished and waited. Had this been any other child next to him, he’d
have never said anything near what he had; that other child wouldn’t ever understand the concept. But this
was Annie who invented the game that she cherished and played with him whenever possible.
       
       She rolled her eyes and smiled in such a smug way that she looked suddenly like her mother winning
a match of wits. “You talk like a t.v movie. She looks like a model, and did you even see the man she’s
with? He looks like he just stole something. They’re obviously having an affair.”
       
       “So, this is what you do with my daughter when I’m not around, huh?”
       
       Anna and Joe spun in their seat to stare up at Catherine who stood, hands on her hips in a flowery
sun-dress, watching the two of them with a smirk that was identical to the one Anna had given Joe. “Is this
what you do when you take Anna to the park? Fill her head with all the things you think she’s too young for?”
       
       Anna glanced back and forth between the two of them, waiting for her mother to erupt. But Uncle Joe
seemed to like the idea of the alternative to an argument. And Anna relaxed when her mother actually
smiled at him.
       
       “Well,” Joe began, “you can’t really blame me. I’m not the one who put this all in Annie’s head. I believe
you should share a little guilt.”
       
       “Uh-huh, and why?” Catherine crossed her arms and watched him closely.
       
       “B-because...” he stumbled, “you brought her to work last month and spent an hour lecturing her about
the Grenwald case.”
       
       “True.” Catherine admitted, smiling. She quickly bent low to Anna. “By the way, have told you yet never
to go out alone?”
       
       “Only a hundred gazillion times!” Anna exclaimed, falling dramatically back into the bench.
       
       “Good.” Catherine nodded, satisfied, and then took her daughter’s hand. “Come on Ann, you know
how much I hate this park.”
       
       Anna jumped off the bench and followed obediently, she did know exactly how much her mother hated
Central Park. But there were shouts of protest from behind them, and they stopped for it.
       
       “Hey now! Hey! Now wait! Wait just a minute!” Joe was standing now and marched up to them as a
determined cartoon character would. “It’s my afternoon with Annie, and I’d like to spend it with her.” He told
them indignantly.
       
       “Joe,” she began incredulously, as if he had no idea the sky over Manhattan was supposed to be blue,
“it’s past four. We’re going home to make dinner.”
       
       Joe stood struck for a moment and then quickly caught up with them, determined not to be left behind.
He walked out of the park with them quietly, listening to their gleeful conversation of the lunch she just had
with Aunt Jenny. Joe stayed close to his two girls, feeling a mixture of protectiveness and rejection. He
wasn’t quite sure what he was doing, why he wasn’t going home just as they were, but he had a rash
impulse and he seized the opportunity when it came.
       
       “I am starving.” Catherine proclaimed at the corner, just past the block of park they had emerged from.
“Dinner’s going to take about an hour,” she said more to herself than anyone else. “Who else wants a
pretzel?” She suddenly opened the conversation to her companions.
       
       Both Joe and Anna shook their heads ‘no’. Joe was in a far off place in his own mind, planning and
scheming. Anna was watching those passing by so intently that they noticed her and sped up to evade her
stare. Catherine took no notice of the behavior that was so typical of both of them and spun on her heel,
marching up to the small vendor behind her.
       
       Joe, in a split second, noticed that he and Anna had been left alone and he set his plan in action. He
bent low and whispered in her ear. “Annie, ask your mom if I can come for dinner.”
       
       “Why?” Anna didn’t even bother whispering. “Ask her yourself.”
       
       “I can’t, honey, I need you to do it. She’ll get upset if I ask. She’s not too happy with me right now. I’d
like to know why.” Joe filled her in quickly.
       
       This was hardly news to Anna, and she didn’t try to conceal it. “Uncle Joe, if you wanna ask her out,
just do it.”
       
       He sighed and stood up straight. “Annie...”
       
       “Alright,” Catherine closed in on them, “‘just do’ what?”
       
       There was an awkward silence where Joe nudged Anna several times, all of which she nudged him
back. Finally he elbowed her forward towards Catherine’s waiting ‘mother face’.
       
       “Uncle Joe wants to come over for dinner.” She spit out with a roll of her eyes. Anna had expected a
silly smile from her mother and a laughing ‘of course, Joe’, like she always did.
       
       But this time she walked to the curb and hailed a cab without a word to either of them. After a few
moments, the cab pulled up and she held the door open. “Come on, Ann, climb in.”
       
       She was thoroughly puzzled, but she was not about to argue, so she climbed in and slid over to the
opposite window.
       
       “Where are you going, hon?” The driver asked.
       
       She quickly gave the address and cross roads and waited for her mother.
       
       But, instead of climbing in herself, Catherine stood just inside the door and called Joe over to her.
Anna didn’t hear much, but what she heard made her go red with embarrassment, and a wave of guilt
washed over her.
       
       “If you want to talk to me Joe, you don’t do it when I’m cornered in your office and you most especially
do not do it through my daughter!” She was whispering, but that part was loud enough for Anna. “... pathetic
excuse... butt out... a life... please. And don’t you even speak to Anna again with the intention of using her
as your puppet. ...worse than her father...”
       
       Then, a voice cut through the haze of concentration that had become Anna’s train of thought. “Hey
lady! Do you mind? I’m in the middle of traffic!” The cab driver yelled in his thick Brooklyn accent.
       
       Catherine climbed in without another word to Joe, the cab driver, or Anna. She only looked straight
onward, and never glanced at Joe’s pale and horrified face sinking into the distance.
       
       “Mommy?” Anna slid up next to her. “Are you okay? Do you need a therapist?”
       
       Catherine turned her head slowly to look down at the wide green eyes watching her. They stared at
each other for a moment before Catherine burst out into giggles and wrapped her arms around her
daughter, pulling the stunned child tight into her side. She was definitely laughing, but she was also crying
as she clutched the little girl closer. “You were always wanted, baby. Always. And don’t you ever let
somebody use you like that again!”
       
       Anna was too overwhelmed to defend her Uncle Joe and she simply could not think of a logical
argument that would beat her mother’s. So there she lay, crushed against Catherine’s side for the rest of
the trip.
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