The Painted Smile

     There was no hesitation; not even one night spent in the hospital. Catherine was to be stowed away,
tucked deep into the tunnels, immediately. The counsel had met for only the amount of time it had taken
Peter to explain her condition, and they were well convinced that, for safety’s sake, Catherine had to be
kept Below.
     
     For the time being she would be missing Above. Only a select few people knew of her whereabouts,
and even they only knew that she was safe with Peter. Nothing more. She would be in hibernation, deep
within the earth for months... and she couldn’t be more pleased!
     
     But, as they painstakingly descended the ladder leading into one of the passageways, Peter watched
Catherine with worry and fear. He hadn’t told her much of the tunnels since her pregnancy. He had wanted
to protect her, but he was wondering if he had been wrong to do so. The tunnel world, her friends, everyone
and everything down there had grown harsh. They saw Catherine’s actions as betrayal, and though they
were allowing her Below, it was only for the safety of the child and their secret... not for her.
     
     So, with his arm around her shoulders, Peter walked Catherine through the tunnels as slowly as
possible to delay the inevitable. He could feel her anticipation and excitement and, as hard as he tried, he
just couldn’t talk her down. She was convinced that things would be set to right. She would see everyone
again and they would make her world brighter as they always did. She would see Vincent and they would
fix this mess so that they could finally achieve their dream.
     
     She just went on and on, her excitement grew and grew until she had to stop and rest from the baby’s
response to all of the emotions and activities. Her recovery was swift, nothing seemed to keep her
grounded. She was walking on air, taking no notice of Peter’s
nerves.                                                                                
     
     “Who’s on duty tonight?” She bounced (as much as she could) as if a child, almost skipping ahead of
Peter. “I want to stop and say hello!”
     
     “I don’t know, Catherine.” Peter answered quietly. And his demeanor only saddened more when she
seemed to take no notice of his use of her full name.
     
     “Where do we go first? Are Father and Mary waiting for us in the study? I was thinking; we should have
Mouse build a crib. He would build such a beautiful one!” Catherine never stopped, she just kept building
and building. “This place is so wonderful! A community of such helpful people! I don’t know why I ever
talked myself into staying away. And just think; we have babysitters right at our fingertips. Now, how many
parents can say that?” She drew breath, but she never let Peter speak. “I want to have a naming ceremony
right away! I already know what I’ll call her. I’d rather not try to keep it a secret. That is, if Vincent doesn’t
mind, of course. But I don’t think...”
     
     That was it. She had broken the proverbial camel’s back. Peter reached out and grabbed her arm. She
almost stumbled to a halt and found herself suddenly facing the old physician in complete confusion.
     
     “Cathy... honey, please listen to me very closely.” He held her shoulders to be sure that her focus didn’t
stray. “I’m not... things... everyone down here...” he studdered, unable, or unwilling, to let the words out.
“Cathy, don’t be surprised if... if everyone... well, I hope not everyone... but, some of your friends...” he
breathed, trying to process this thought and form it into delicate words. “This isn’t easy for me to say. You’
ve lost so much in your life, and now... I wish to God I didn’t have to take this away from you too.”
     
     “Peter... what’s going on?” Her confidence and comfort lost, Catherine suddenly had the unnerving
feeling of being watched. It actually scared her that she would be so nervous about being watched. That
hadn’t happened since her very first time in the tunnels. Since then, the ‘watched’ feeling was comforting; it
was a sense of home. There were people watching out for her.
     
     Quietly, Peter proceeded. “You’re not here because you need to be. You’re here because the baby
needs to be here.” He was quiet for a moment as her gaze fell to the dirt and rock floor. “What happened
between you and Vincent...”
     
     “They blame me.” She mumbled, seemingly to her baby; as if including the child with her angry family
members. Slowly she lifted her eyes back to Peter’s. She gave him a small grimace that looked almost
optimistic. “Well then... we’ll have something in common now, won’t we?”
     
     Catherine continued walking the familiar path to Father’s study, leaving Peter trailing behind her in
slight amazement.
     


     Only minutes before Catherine had every expectation of seeing the smiling faces of her family
members Below. But those dreams were shattered now, along with all the others she had clung to for so
long. By the time she and Peter had reached the study she thought she would cry. There were so many
dark and stern faces... there was no joy of her return as there had always been. Even when she was a
stranger among them, she had never felt so unwelcome in every way.
     
     To see Father was almost a relief. She knew that disapproving, unyielding face. She was used to it.
She knew how to steel herself against it. His voice was much colder than she was used to, but she knew
how to defend herself against that too... even as he explained the situation much more vividly and
eloquently than Peter could bring himself to.
     
     The children were innocently glad to see her. She was thankful for them, but as soon as questions
began filling the air of her strangely large stomach, the little ones were shuttled out of the room.
     
     Quite a few faces, beyond unfriendly... hateful even, nearly broke her to tears. The people behind these
faces were friends, her family, her refuge. Suddenly she was one of their hated enemies. Walking among
them was nearly unbearable. There were a few... a very select few, who smiled at her. Fiona even spoke to
her. Just a “hello, we’ve missed you”. It wasn’t as sincere as Fiona had tried for, but for those few seconds,
Catherine had stopped shaking.
     
     Once in the guest chamber, the one that she typically used, she and Peter were left together for a few
moments before Mary was expected.
     
     Peter perched himself on the overstuffed mattress, resting his old legs for the trip back to Father’s
study, and watched Catherine busy herself with putting her things away in the assorted drawers.
     
     “How are you feeling?” He posed the question, masking his concern for her with a medical question.
     
     “I’m fine.” Her voice was quiet, timid even, as if it were terrified to venture out of her mouth. “I’m starting
to get tired, but... it’s probably just from the walk.”
     
     Peter watched her our a glass of water and sip at it gently, obviously afraid that her shaking hand would
spill it. “Cathy, are you sure about this? If you want, I can take you back... you can stay in the hospital.”
     
     “No, Peter,” she gave him a weak smile, “no. I can’t stay in the hospital, and you know it. There are too
many people. We’re both safe here.” She ran her hands over her child.
     
     “But are you going to be happy here?”
     
     “That’s not really the issue to be dealt with at the moment. I haven’t been happy for months, Peter. A
little longer won’t hurt. Here... I’m with people who... they’ll care for us. I know they’ll do that much. Vincent
has to come back someday, and when he does, I’ll be here. We’ll be here, waiting for him.” She was quiet
for a moment, and then, as if a child telling the end of a fairytale, she whispered; “And everything will be all
right again.”
     
     Peter watched Catherine sadly. He had so many hopes and dreams for her. Occasionally, when he
held one of the newborns, he would wonder what the future would hold for such innocent and clean souls.
When he held Catherine Chandler for the first time... he hadn’t only wondered; he had dreamed. There had
been something about that angelic face and foamy green eyes that made him believe that there was
something different, unique, about her. She was destined for something; what it was, he wasn’t sure of until
about 30 years later.
     
     The same had happened with Vincent. That squirming, screaming, sickly newborn stared at Peter with
bright blue eyes... and though he knew he shouldn’t have too much hope for the dying child, he dreamed.
He imagined this unique child growing into a man. Who he would become, how he would pass his time.
     
     And then, those two uniquely different people found each other by pure chance. And a whole world
dreamed along with them, But here, in this dark guest chamber, the dreams were crumbling before his
eyes as he watched Catherine wrap her arms around the child and try to find some confidence in herself.
     
     “Peter,” Catherine sluggishly met his eyes, “it’s alright. You can go. You don’t have to wait with me.”
     
     “I want to.” He insisted, trying to fill that paternal void that she obviously yearned for.
     
     “It won’t be necessary, Peter.” Mary, with an extra blanket folded over her arm, stood in the doorway,
watching Catherine with the most enigmatic look seen on the old woman.
     
     “Mary.” Catherine seemed to make an attempt at stepping toward her mother-figure, but something
held her back. There was a moment of hesitation that seemed to blanket the air. Then, Catherine drew a
deep breath, as if suddenly coming to life. “You can go now, Peter. Thank you.”
     
     “Are you sure, Cathy? I could stay a little longer.” He offered, practically able to feel the odd tension
between the women.
     
     “Peter,” Mary gained his attention, “go on. You have patients waiting Above. Let me attend to mine.”
There was a strange coolness to her statement that held them all planted for a moment, unsure of what to
do; how to react.
     
     “Peter...” Catherine spoke softly with less confidence as she would have liked, “I’ll be alright. I’m home
now. Thank you.”
     
     Peter looked between the two women, worried and anxious for both of them. Soon he stood and
hugged Catherine tightly as he dared. “You call if you need me.”
     
     “I will.” She promised, allowing both him and herself the moment to indulge in a bit of comfort.
     
     And too soon, Peter was gone, leaving the two women staring at each other. Each hesitated, waiting to
see what the other would do.
     
     With a complete lack of courage and conviction, Catherine shamefully spoke. “You know, then?”
     
     Mary hesitated for a second, unsure of how to respond. And then, with all the strength and conviction
Catherine had lost, she charged toward the bed and began fitting the extra blanket over it. “I don’t know
what I know, Catherine. Rumors turn into stories, which are somehow taken for fact... you never know what
really happened.”
     
     Catherine, with child-like gestures, sunk into the nearby chair. “It’s all true.” She confirmed quietly,
almost sulking. She wanted Mary to see her to notice her shame. She wanted just one person in this whole
world to see how much she was ashamed of herself. To see how their disappointment in her would never
even compare to hers.
     
     Mary paused for a moment, trying to decide if she wanted to look at her young friend. She ultimately
decided not to. “Don’t say that, Catherine. I’ve heard some very wild accusations. You’re not that kind of
person.”
     
     “I don’t know what’s been said... but I assure you; I’m not the same person anymore.” Catherine waited.
Anything! A look of pity, an outburst, something to prove that she wasn’t just a ghost floating among her
friends.
     
     No such luck. Mary finished fitting the blanket and turned to finally face Catherine. But she never raised
her voice, in fact, Catherine had to strain to hear her. “Catherine... I hope, for your sake, that this child is
Vincent’s. If you think that everyone is being harsh now... imagine what will happen if the child isn’t his.”
Without another word Mary left her alone in the dim guest chamber.
     
     She had thought of such things, but never let her imagination run wild! The child was Vincent’s... of that
one thing, she was certain. She could feel the heartbeat; the erratic, irregular heartbeat that she had grown
accustomed to. She had even learned to copy it in her own breathing one night. It left her coughing from
hyperventilation one minute, and gasping for air the next. That heartbeat... it was all the world to Catherine.
It was her solace and her joy, her fear and agony... her lover’s memories, her dreams for the future.
     
     She marveled now, how this tiny creature, this unique infant, so important to some and so reviled by
many, could keep her so safe. The child kept her sane, it gave her reason to dream and hope. The child
was the reason for her return to the tunnels; to her home. How could this unborn life inside her save her,
protect her the way it had since conception?
     
     The child was Vincent’s, that’s how. She had lost Vincent, but in losing him she had stolen a piece of
him, the piece she had first fallen in love with, She stole that ‘white knight’ quality of his; ‘Lancelot’, she
began calling it. And ‘Lancelot’ was kept hidden from the world, tucked deep within the womb where it
grew with such power and strength.
     
     Oh, how the child grew! So connected were mother and child that Catherine was sure that she could
feel her ‘Lancelot’ stretch and grow within her. She knew when the child had developed eyes and ears,
even before the ultrasounds. She swore to Peter, Joe, and Jenny that her baby would be born with hair, as
she felt it tickle her womb. ‘An obsession’, Joe had called their connection so many times. But Joe had
never known of Vincent and Catherine’s bond. This connection was all Catherine had left of the crumbled
remnants of their bond. And so, Catherine clung to it with all the strength in her.
     
     ‘Dear Lancelot... you have brought me home... but to what family?’ Catherine sank back into the bed
and cradled her unborn child. ‘Where is you father? Will we be alone again, with no one to comfort us? No.
Never alone when we have each other’s strength. We don’t need anyone else.’
     
     “Catherine?” A soft voice echoed in the chamber.
     
     Catherine jumped at the sound of another’s voice. Her heart leapt for a moment. She had wanted to
hear Vincent’s voice so badly that he tentative voice of Olivia’s had cause her to believe for a second that
it was him. She met her friend’s eyes in an instant and attempted not to look too disappointed at her
company.
     
     “Well,” Olivia marveled at her, “look at you! You look positively thin as a rail!” Without hesitation, she set
the tea set on the end table and began to serve it. “If I were as thin as you when I was pregnant for Luke I
would not have the body image problems that I do.” She sat herself next to Catherine and handed her the
steaming tea.
     
     Catherine just stared at her friend blankly. It was as if there had been no time between them. No time,
no whispered rumors, no controversy. There was only acceptance of change. How? “Olivia...”
     
     The sweet woman took Catherine’s hands and whispered. “I don’t care, Catherine. I don’t care what
everyone’s saying, I don’t care what they think of you, I especially don’t care what they think about this
baby, and I don’t even care if it’s all true.” She leaned confidentially into her friend’s ear. “And I’m sorry,
Catherine, but I don’t even care why Vincent left. He’s gone like this before.”
     
     “Never so long, though.” Catherine mumbled out of guilt.
     
     “He hasn’t been gone this whole time.” Olivia confided. “And don’t you let Father make you believe
that.” Catherine’s eyes were trained on Olivia as if she could suck all the information out before the woman
could speak it. “Catherine, with all the threat to this place recently, do you honestly think that he’d leave us
here for so long?”
     
     Poor Catherine tried her hardest to grasp this. “I know...” she stumbled, “I know that Mouse saw him, or
thought he saw him...”
     
     Olivia stopped her. “There’s been a lot of water pressure from the sewers recently. Kanin, Mouse,
Cullen; they’ve all been working on building the walls stronger, but they don’t have the strength.” Olivia went
back to casually sipping her tea despite her friend’s anxious face. “They come back in the morning and all
of the heavy labor is done for them.”
     
     Catherine was now breathing heavily, and her eyes widening. A smile began spreading across her
lips, and Olivia could see her mind begin to wander with dreams and possibilities.
     
     “Catherine,” Olivia delicately touched her hand, “don’t get your hopes up. He hasn’t spoken to anyone
since you left.”
     
     Catherine mumbled, her bright face growing darker. “Not even me. He closed the bond.” She
explained. “I can’t hear him anymore... I can’t feel him. All I feel,” she smiled and ran her hands over her
‘Lancelot’, “all I feel is this child.”
     
     Olivia quickly snatched up the opportunity to change the subject. “Uh-huh! We’ve heard all about this
little one! Peter says it’s a girl?”
     
     “Well, he’s not positive. I think he just wants it to be a girl.” Catherine smiled... a genuine smile.




Though They Sink Through The Sea, They Shall Rise Again

     August was nearly gone. September was coming and Joe just kept feeding Anna with horror stories of
how much harder third grade would be. Jenny came home from her vacation in Florida, and seized Anna’s
time immediately, much to Joe’s protest. It was a week full of movies, lunches, and shopping for Anna. She
hardly saw her mother, which, after an entire week, became tiresome, so they began pulling Catherine out
of work early to go with them. But Anna never stayed over at anyone else’s house, and never had she even
hinted to her mother of her midnight visitors.
     
     Jacob came Above only with Vincent now and only at select times... but it was better than nothing. He
was punished for his secret trips Above, but Vincent couldn’t bear to make it too severe. So, Jacob
worked three hours a day in the kitchens with William. For weeks this was how he paid the cost of all of his
visits to Anna.        
             
     Catherine shut off the television for the night, glancing at the clock. It was midnight, the eleven o’clock
news only just over. She had a full day in court coming up and she needed sleep, even if she was far from
tired. She would take a shower now so that she could sleep in for the morning. She dragged herself down
to the end of the hall to the bathroom, convincing herself that a shower would feel great.
     
     She switched on the bathroom light and glanced at Anna’s door, just across from it. Decisively, she tip-
toed to her daughter’s door and slowly pushed it open. She would only check on Anna, make sure she was
asleep (as she had not been lately), and then take her shower. Light poured slowly into the room, spilling
onto the bed in a V-shape pattern. There lay Anna, tucked into her blankets and sound asleep. She rolled
to her other side and curled with a slight snore. Catherine smiled and pulled the door shut softly.
     
     She stood in front of the bathroom mirror for a moment, stripped from the waist-down, and began to
think of Joe. ‘Why Joe?’ Her head reeled. She usually thought longingly of Vincent at these moments. But
her thoughts of Joe weren’t of any sexual nature, like her thoughts of Vincent, but of friendship. Why,
stripped half naked, would she think of Joe in a friendly way?
     
     She pulled her sleeveless shirt off, feeling the ache in her shoulders. The pain was worse as she
reached around to unhook her bra. Now completely naked, she closed her eyes and let her head fall back,
rolling it on her shoulders to stretch her neck. She heard the minor creaks and snaps of the muscles in her
neck and down her spine. She tried to work out her shoulders, rolling them and massaging them, but it
didn’t quite work. Finally she gave up and just climbed into the shower.
     
     The steaming water seemed to open every pour in her body, everything was suddenly relaxed and any
excess was washed away. The water falling heavily on her hair, down her back, felt like a thousand fingers
running up and down her spine. She shivered at the sensation, breathing with it, and lathering her
shoulders and across her neck.
     
     Joe was sweet. He was like this lost puppy who would cling to whoever seemed to take to him. It
seemed doubtful that he had any real feelings for her. He was a good friend, maybe a bit overbearing, but
he cared about her. He cared about Anna. He had always been there for her. He would even take Anna to
the doctor’s if Catherine was thrown into court that day. He played with her, he taught her, he loved her.
That was a real father. The only person Anna had as reference to a father. So why, why, was she so fixed
on a man who abandoned her so many years ago? Why did Catherine deny Joe and every other man who
got too close? Did she perhaps, in the back of her mind, still believe as she had when she was pregnant,
that Vincent would someday come back for her?
     
     Vincent... The water fell on her, running gently down her arms as she half-mindedly shaved her legs.
That night, under the park for the concert... it had rained. That was a glorious night! The music and the
night and the rain. They had nearly kissed that night, as they had almost done on many occasions. The
water ran down her hair now as it had that night. She had fallen into Vincent’s arms, both of them laughing.
His large, muscular arms wrapped securely around her. His downy fur brushing softly across her skin. She
washed her stomach, down and across her thighs. The water fell on her back, heavy fingers needling at
her skin. The memories of all those precious moments when she was, for one reason or another, pressed
against him flooded in. Those moments of closeness when she was sure that he loved her as much as she
loved him. Their lips so close, but never touching; their eyes meeting, but quickly averted. Catherine ran
the loofa across her breasts and purposefully waited until every bit of the soap had been washed away by
those imaginary fingers. Their pitiful excuses for a kiss were treasured and kept sacredly in her heart. And
that day... Their eyes met, then their lips, and then their bodies. The water caressed and the steam
engulfed. Those few moments of ecstacy that she was willing and did suddenly give everything for. The
water fell gently now, and it began to cool.
     
     Joe was sweet. He did care for her dearly, and he was devoted to Anna. She knew what was right for
her daughter, but her heart ached with the thought of giving up the hope of Vincent forever. There would
never be any fire with Joe. She would never have the passion for him that she would always have for the
father of her child... children.
     
     She fell against the wall of the shower, now standing directly under the streaming water. The only
connection Vincent had to Anna was a biological one, and she knew it.  But she always wondered what
would have happened if she had fought them harder... if Mouse hadn’t left. Would she have had both of her
children? Would Vincent have come back?
     
     Why did she bother? It didn’t happen that way. Joe was the only father Anna knew, even if she did
strive to know her biological one. Catherine knew Vincent wasn’t coming back, which was why she never
let Anna grow attached to the idea of him. He tended to leave the effect, even if the person didn’t know
him, of someone who would always be there, always come to the rescue. She knew that all too well. She
had been drawn in by that savior security that Vincent often instilled in the people he met, and once he let
her down, that idealism turned to bitterness. She wouldn’t let Anna feel that towards someone she didn’t
and would never know.
     
     Joe had given Anna that same kind of security; she didn’t need Vincent. Still, Anna would see Joe as a
poor substitute for a ‘real father’ for a very long time. Eventually, Catherine would be forced to tell her, and
she would have to endure the retelling of every horrible event leading to Vincent’s abandonment. Luckily
she knew that she had a choice regarding her daughter’s brother. That would always be a far too tender
subject and she never intended to explain the situation to her daughter.
     
     The steam still lingered in the bathroom, making the sweat and water clinging to Catherine’s body
indistinguishable. She ran the towel quickly through her hair, getting out the excess water and then brushed
it out until it looked like one silky, dark strand down to her shoulder blades. She half-heartedly dried off the
rest of her body and then immediately wrapped her bathrobe around herself, tying it securely around her
waist.
     
     She opened the door to air that was only slightly cooler that the steam in the bathroom. She still
seemed to stick to herself and there was definitely more sweat than water on her now. She stretched as if
there were someone pulling her arms in opposite directions, and muscles and joints snapped and
creaked as they had before that wonderful shower.
     
     She had taken only a step down the hall when she heard mumbling and then a hushed laugh. She rolled
her eyes; Anna must have been faking, or she had woken up randomly. She hadn’t done this since she
was three. It was beginning to get truly annoying that she wasn’t sleeping through the night, because it
always meant that she was tired all the next day. Catherine spun around slowly, sighed heavily and then
stepped up to her daughter’s door.
     
     “Anna! Why aren’t you asleep, young lady?” She called, her hand on the door handle.
     
     There were hurried whispers, rushing footsteps, and a couple squeaks, but Anna never answered.
Catherine thought she heard something like, “Hurry, she’ll see you!”
     
     There wasn’t much hesitation before Catherine turned the handle and pushed the door open, casting
light into the room like a stain. That glorious and horrible light revealed the room and every one of it’s
contents.
     
     Anna stood, frozen near the window. Her wide eyes were transfixed on the silhouette of her mother in
the doorway. She clung to another hand, seemingly to have been pulling it to the window.
     
     Catherine followed that captured hand all the way to the face of it’s owner. The little boy before her
stared as Anna did, as if a hunted animal that had just been spotted by the hunter. His patches of dark
blonde fur glinted against the artificial light, and he swayed slightly in the uncomfortable position he had
frozen in.
     
     Catherine was not to be left out of this sight. She was also glued to her spot, staring at the two children
in front of her. She was horrified and amazed.  She was entranced and terrified. Her son, her beautiful
baby boy stood before her, linked to Anna as if they were melded together. It took a moment for her to
realize that she wasn’t dreaming. She opened her mouth, but even if she tried to say something, her mind
was blank.
     
     “Jacob...!” A voice sounded. Someone was suddenly in the window looking in on the scene.
     
     All eyes turned and fixed on Vincent, holding either side of the window sill, his body halfway in the
room, and his frightened and amazed face added to the rest of them. Catherine and Vincent’s eyes
locked, both of their mouths fell open a little wider and they watched each other in absolute fear. It was an
eternity that they stared at each other, searching for any sign or clue that their eyes were playing tricks on
them. They never moved an inch, even their faces seemed to be plastered in that position.
     
     Finally Vincent gained the courage and the passion to actually form a word. “Catherine.” He breathed
softly.
     
     Catherine’s eyes widened further, as if his speaking her name just confirmed that it was him that she
was staring at now. His hair glowed in the moonlight and his deep rustic skin blended with the darkness of
the night. His face was beginning to turn into a smile at the sight of her. But, out of the corner of her eye
was Anna, near the window that Vincent leaned through.
     
     “No.” She said with a strange gravel in her voice. Before she could process rational thought, her first
impulse took over. “No!” She shot forward and pulled Anna away from both Vincent and Jacob, holding the
child tightly against her. “No!!” She backed up against the door, Anna pinned to her. “No, you can’t have
her! You won’t take her! She’s mine!”
     
     “Jacob!” Anna wailed, managing to free one arm and reaching for him.
     
     Catherine seized her outstretched arm and pinned it in, continuing to yell at Vincent. “She’s not yours!
She’s mine! Get out! Get out!!”
     
     “Anna! Father, help her!” Jacob insisted as he backed away from Catherine, who never stopped
screaming.
     
     “Stay away! Get out! You can’t have her! Stay away from us!!” Catherine held Anna tighter and tighter.
     
     “Mommy, let go! Jacob!” Anna wailed.
     
     “Father, please!” Jacob only glanced at Vincent, keeping a protective eye on Catherine and Anna.
             
     “Catherine... I didn’t know.” Vincent’s whisper was lost in the room full of shouting.
     
     “Get out! Get out!” Catherine insisted, struggling to keep a hold of Anna now.
     
     But before she could scream at Vincent one more time, Catherine suddenly found herself face to face
with Jacob. He stood as tall as he could in front of her for only a second before getting a tight grip on Anna’
s hand and yanking her away from Catherine. The children stumbled back and ended up, wrapped in each
other’s embrace, at the end of Anna’s bed.
     
     The room was silent and still as it had been only a minute before, but now all eyes were fixed on Anna
and Jacob who clung to each other, staring harshly at both adults. Tears were welling in Catherine’s eyes
and she fell back into the wall.
     
     The twins each kept a close eye on both adults, tightening their grips whenever one parent would try to
start forward. But Catherine eventually caught all of their attentions, for she was now attempting to control
her sobbing, tears streaming relentlessly down her cheeks.
     
     “Anna,” Vincent bravely spoke, and all eyes shifted to him, “is this your mother?”
     
     Reluctantly Anna nodded, and quickly locked her fingers around Jacob.
     
     “Anna,” Catherine slowly reached out, her sobs growing more violent, “come here.”
     
     Eyes wide and fearful, Anna immediately shook her head. Jacob tightened his hold and actually pulled
her a step away from her mother. His father may have been generous to them, but her mother obviously
wouldn’t be.
     
     “No! Anna, come here... please!”  Catherine, bending at the waist and reaching out, looked as if there
were a deep chasm just beyond the tips of her toes. She begged from that position, pleading with her child
just to take her hand before she lost her to that chasm between them.
     
     The twins took another collective step back and were now against the wall, closer to Vincent than
Catherine. “Mommy,” Anna tucked into Jacob, “don’t make him go. Please. Don’t separate us. Please,
don’t separate us.”
     
     Catherine stopped and tucked her arm back in, folding it protectively into the other. She took heavier
breaths now, which began to calm her, although her shaking still seemed to worsen. Her tears were under
control now and she suppressed a few hiccups left over from her sobs.
     
     “Catherine...” that deep, rustic voice sounded again from the window. All eyes slowly returned to
Vincent. He seemed to be attempting to get something else out, but was failing horribly.
     
     Catherine’s hard and unforgiving eyes turned on him and she almost verbally dared him to speak. But
he didn’t, he couldn’t. She looked back at the twins, her eyes going softer than they had in a very long time.
They seemed confused and a little fearful of this change.
     
     This was amazing, beautiful. Anna and Jacob were finally together again. This moment should go on
forever, but it couldn’t. Vincent was leaned through the window, waiting to take Jacob away... again. No,
she couldn’t bear to separate them this time; to loose her baby again. However this had happened, it had
to stay this way. The only way to do that was the one thing she didn’t want to do ever again in her life.
     
     She took a shaky step forward and gained a little confidence with that step, that her other movement
towards the children weren’t so jerky. They visually squeezed together as if trying to become one person.
There was nowhere else for them to go as Catherine crouched in front of them and took both of their hands.
     
     “Anna...” she looked at her son and nearly lost control, “Jacob, listen to me. It’s very late, and you both
need your sleep. I want you both to climb in bed. I don’t want to see either of you leave this room at all, do
you understand?”
     
     Their confused stares turned to wild smiles as they realized that they were being ask to do the exact
opposite of what they feared.
     
     “All right? Do you understand?”
     
     They nodded simultaneously. “Yes, Mama.” Anna agreed happily.
     
     “Good.” Catherine smiled as wide as they did, and kissed Anna’s cheek. In an immediate impulse, she
was about to kiss Jacob as well, but she pulled back when he did. She gave him a reassuring look, and
reached up and stroked his fur-laden cheek. Her stomach rolled and her heart jumped as he smiled back
at her.
     
     She stood slowly and reluctantly stopped her caressing of the boy’s face. “Alright then, hop in.” She
steered them past her and into the bed. Her gazed drifted slowly up to Vincent, her features hardening with
each second.
     
     Vincent was watching the scene with growing tears and when he found himself staring at Catherine, he
lost his smile as she had. He took her meaning and, glancing at Jacob, backed out the window.
     
     She went back to the children, watched them tuck in next to each other, and began to back away. “I
mean it now. Go right to sleep.”
     
     “We will.” Jacob affirmed, watching her as she watched him.
     
     “Okay.” She smiled at both of them one last time before turning to face the window. It was as if she
switched into a different person; her smile was gone and instead of giddy butterflies in her stomach, there
were knots and an unmistakable sick feeling. She took a heavy breath. ‘I can’t do this.’ Her heart insisted.
But she had to, because she could feel her twins’ stares trained on her. She had to do this for them. She
had to do this for herself, for a conclusion... or maybe a beginning.
     
     She braced herself on the window sill, put one foot on the edge and pushed herself through that
invisible wall she had formed, into the dark night that used to be her home.
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