It was June. The weather was warm and tourists were streaming into the city to see the Big Apple at its best and brightest. But far below the city streets, trouble was brewing.
"You did not!"
"I did too!"
"You're making it up!"
"I am not! I know what I saw!"
"You take it back! It's not true!"
The sounds of an argument made Father look up from the book he was reading. But it was the all too familiar sounds of a scuffle that drew him into the tunnel outside his chamber. To his consternation, Kipper and Geoffrey were rolling in the dirt, tussling. It seemed their disagreement had escalated into a full blown fight.
"Boys, what is going on here?" Father exclaimed. "I demand an explanation!" The boys however were oblivious to him and continued. Father was forced to physically separate the pair to be heard.
"That' s enough! Both of you, in my chamber right now!" Geoffrey tried to speak but Father silenced him with a hard glare. Both silently accompanied Father into his chamber and stood quietly while he sat down. "Now, perhaps the pair of you would care to explain what was going on out there?"
They both began talking loudly at once, each trying to give his side of the story louder than the other until Father couldn't hear himself think. Father was forced to raise his hand for silence. "This won't do. I want each of you to tell me your side one at a time. Geoffrey, you may go first." Kipper turned red and was about to protest. But Father silenced him with another glare, forcing the boy to wait his turn speak.
"Kipper's been spreading lies about Vincent!" Geoffrey accused.
"I have not! I'm telling the truth!" Kipper interrupted.
"Now, Kipper, you'll have your turn. Go on, Geoffrey. Perhaps you'd care to tell me what makes you think Kipper is spreading lies about Vincent. After all, Kipper is Vincent's friend and he isn't known for lying, is he?" Father commented.
The youngster shifted uncomfortably. "No, Father, he's not. But he claims he saw something that he couldn't have! That's why it has to be a lie." Sighing in frustration, Father turned his attention to the other participant in the fight. He was fast losing his patience with both children.
"Kipper, what exactly is it that you thought you saw that caused all this trouble?" To the tunnel patriarch's surprise, the boy actually seemed reluctant to answer.
"Well, you see, Father, it was like this. Last night, I was Above in the Park catching fireflies." The recalcitrant child began explaining.
"Catching fireflies? You mean you were out after dark?" Father asked in surprise. "Kipper, you know that you children aren't allowed in the park after dark alone. You are only allowed to be there with a responsible adult."
"I wasn't alone, Father. Mouse was with me. That's why we were catching fireflies. It was for a new invention Mouse is working on."
Whether Mouse could be considered a responsible adult was debatable. But right now, Father was far more concerned over what caused this disagreement. "Well, obviously it wasn't catching fireflies that caused the two of you to come to blows. Perhaps you'd be kind enough to enlighten me as to the cause of this strife."
The little boy hesitated, but finally spoke in a very soft voice. "It was when we were coming back, right before we got to the gate. I saw Vincent. He was over to the side, off in the trees. He was with someone... and they were kissing."
Father let out a deep breath, almost sighing with relief. Since Vincent's madness, he and Catherine had become much closer. Honestly, Father wasn't surprised at all to hear that their relationship had become more serious. He'd been expecting it for some time. Smiling, he tried to explain the situation to the young boys.
"Now, Kipper, we all know how much Vincent and Catherine mean to one another. Since Catherine resigned her position with the District attorney's office, she's been spending much more time with us here below. We've all become closer to Catherine, Vincent especially. It's not surprising that Vincent and she would want to express that affection."
"No, Father!" Kipper countered adamantly. "You don't understand! The lady I saw him with. It wasn't Catherine!"
Father wasn't sure what to make of the rest of Kipper's story, but he did manage to convince the boys to let him handle the situation. He did, however, insist that Kipper not speak of the matter again until the tunnel patriarch had time to investigate. A short time later, he made his way slowly to Mouse's chamber. Perhaps he could throw some light on what happened.
To his surprise, the young man was sitting dejectedly on his bed unmoving. Usually, Mouse was a bundle of energy and rarely sat still. Father was concerned. "Mouse, may I come in?"
Mouse lifted his head and nodded but the expression on his face only deepened Father's alarm. Mouse was in tears.
"Mouse, are you all right?" Father asked.
"No! Not all right! Terrible, worse than worst!" He wailed.
"If this is about Vincent…"
"No! Won't talk about Vincent! Vincent is…. A big, dumb jerk!" Mouse howled before running out into the tunnel and disappearing. Father struggled to follow, but Mouse was long gone.
Back in his chamber, Father was completely baffled. Try as he might, he simply couldn't fathom what Kipper might have seen or what had upset Mouse. He just couldn't conceive of Vincent becoming close to another woman other than Catherine.
To Father's great relief, Catherine had given up her dangerous job as a prosecuting attorney after Vincent's illness and now worked as a pro bono consultant to local charities. She even devoted part of her time to teaching a social studies class for the college-bound children two days a week. All in all, she was now an important member of their community, as well loved as Vincent himself.
Yet, Father had to admit something wasn't quite right. For the past week, Vincent went above almost every night ostensibly to visit Catherine. Not once, however, had Catherine been Below even though Father's birthday was only days away. Even her classes had been cancelled. It almost seemed as if she were avoiding her tunnel family. When Father questioned his son about her absence, Vincent mumbled some vague excuse about Catherine being swamped with work before hurrying out the door. The mystery only deepened when his old friend Peter Alcott dropped by for a visit.
"Jacob, Here's that medical journal you asked me for."
"Thank you, Peter. I've been looking forward to reading about that new laser therapy. So how is Catherine?" Father asked, trying not to be too obvious in his prying.
Peter frowned. "I was about to ask you the same question. Isn't she here Below?"
Father was soon frowning as well. "No, she isn't. What makes you think she would be?"
"I called her earlier this week and she told me she was taking a few days off after she visited her friend Jenny last week. Naturally, I assumed she was going to spend them Below helping prepare for the party."
Father was more confused than ever. But if he hoped for an explanation from Vincent, he wasn't going to get it. His elusive son ignored the tunnel patriarch's summons on the pipe, always finding some excuse not to meet him. When Father tried to track down Vincent himself, he was disappointed. By the time Father arrived wherever Vincent was supposed to be, he was always told "You just missed him."
When at last a message came over the pipes about a leak half a day's journey from the main tunnels, Father felt certain he would be able to corner his wayward son at last. He was mistaken. He arrived in the dining hall where the work crew was meeting, only to find Vincent had already left to survey the work site .Frustrated beyond measure, Father had no choice but to return to his chamber.
The repairs took longer than expecting, forcing the work crew to camp overnight at the repair site. The issue with Vincent, however, refused to go away. A visit from an unexpected visitor only served to muddle the situation. The morning of his birthday found Father still in his chamber, no closer to an answer or solution. Father was so lost in thought; he didn't notice the arrival of Henry Pei .
"Hello, Father. You look about a million miles away. Daydreaming about your party tonight?" The restaurant owner remarked.
"Henry! This is an unexpected pleasure. What brings you down to visit us today?"
"Oh, I was just coming below to deliver some supplies for tonight so Lin's grandfather asked me to drop off some more of that tea you like so much since he can't be here tonight. Here you go." Henry placed a small package on the table in front of him.
"Tell Mr. Wong how grateful I am, will you? His tea is always a special treat. Give him my regards, please."
"Sure thing, Father. Say, you better not let Catherine catch Vincent with that pretty new helper. She might actually be jealous." The young man said jokingly.
Father frowned. "What new helper?"
"The little blonde I saw him with in the park the other night; the one with the really short hair? Lin and I were out for a walk and we saw them together. "
"You say you saw Vincent with a blonde woman? What did she look like?" He asked, trying to keep his voice calm.
Henry looked puzzled. "Well, she was turned away from me so I didn't see her face. But her hair was really short and even lighter than Vincent's. She kind of reminded me of the blonde actresses in those old films in the Fifties. All I know is if Lin caught me hugging another woman the way Vincent was hugging her, I'd be sleeping on the couch for a month!"
Father hoped he could keep the whole mess under wraps until he had a chance to speak to Vincent, but he'd forgotten how hard it was to keep secrets below. A chance occurrence brought the whole thing to light and made it the talk of the tunnels. While repairing one of Vincent's cloak, Mary happened upon a beautiful navy silk scarf that smelled heavily of perfume in one of the pockets. Stuck to it were several prominent short hairs of silver blonde.
It wasn't long before news of Henry's visit earlier that day and details of what Kipper and Mouse saw in the park were making the rounds Below. Tongues wagged as speculation ran rampant about what was going on. Father tried his best to quell the rumors flying, but once started they took on a life of their own. Most wanted to give Vincent the benefit of the doubt; but his transparent excuses concerning Catherine made that difficult. Vincent had many talents, but lying had never been one of them. In the end, the general consensus became that Vincent was being fickle and poor Catherine was the victim. This explained not only the blonde, but also Catherine's strange absence since she was surely heartbroken. When Vincent returned the same day, he received a decidedly chilly reception.
Father sighed as he dressed for his party. The evening looked as if it might turn into an unmitigated disaster. They had yet to hear from Catherine and the residents Below were giving his son the cold shoulder. Even William, the normally jovial tunnel cook had been affected. For Vincent's lunch, he had unceremoniously plunked down a bowl of watered down stew, lukewarm tea and burnt bread ends before stalking off without a single word.
He had just finished dressing when Kipper came bursting in. "Father, Father! She's here!"
"No! The blonde! Vincent went to the park entrance to let her in!" Kipper cried.
"She's Below?" Father was flabbergasted.
"YES!" The boy nodded frantically.
Father quickly decided it was high time he got to the bottom of things. As rapidly as he could, he made his way to the park gate. When he got there, the tunnel patriarch could scarcely believe his eyes. His staid and reserved son was kissing a young woman with obvious abandon. Her hair was pale, almost silver in color and cropped close to her head, revealing the slender nape of her neck. But her features were obscured by Vincent's long hair that fell around them as they continued to kiss passionately.
Suddenly, a wave of Fatherly outrage on Catherine's behalf surged up in him. "Vincent, this is intolerable! " He bellowed, slamming his cane down on the tunnel floor for emphasis as the pair broke apart. "How could you do this to Catherine?" He glared angrily at his son.
"Do what, Father?" a quiet voice asked from next to Vincent. For the first time, Father turned his attention to the young woman. Familiar grey-green eyes peered out from a very unfamiliar hairstyle. Catherine's shoulder length honeyed curls had been replaced by platinum blonde curls that now fell in ringlets quite close to her head. Her hair was so short the scar near her left ear was plainly visible. Father was stunned speechless.
A young voice spoke up from behind the learned physician. It was Kipper.
Vincent, Catherine and Father turned to see the tunnel behind them filled with a sea of familiar faces, all wearing expressions of shock. The other residents were as curious as Father had been. Suddenly, Catherine gave a loud squeak and bolted for the park gate. But Vincent moved to intercept her. Firmly but gently, he tightened his grip; restraining her and preventing her from leaving.
Bending his head, he spoke quietly into her ear. "Catherine, we both agreed you can't continue to hide like this and it's too late now anyway. Everyone has already seen you. Besides, these people are our friends and family. Do you really think what you look like will affect how they feel about you?" Knowing he was right, she shook her head and her shoulders slumped in defeat.
Reluctantly, she slowly turned to face everyone with her head hanging down. To Father, she looked as if she were facing a firing squad instead of a group of beloved companions.
Taking a deep breath, he tried to be as diplomatic as possible. "Well, this is certainly…eh...quite a change, Catherine. Trying a …new look, my dear?" He offered tentatively.
Almost immediately, her lips began to twitch and she dissolved into fits of laughter. Vincent and everyone else joined in and the halls soon rang with the sounds of their mirth. When Catherine finally got enough breath back to speak, she began to explain.
"I'm sorry, everyone. I didn't mean to cause such trouble. "She wrinkled her nose and laughed ruefully as she touched her hair. "I guess you're wondering what happened. Last week when I went to visit Jenny, she managed to convince me to let her give me some highlights for the summer. We used to do it all the time in college. Unfortunately this time, she bought the wrong thing and by the time she realized her mistake, it was too late. You can see the result. I went to my regular stylist, but she couldn't do anything either. Most of my hair was so over processed; she had no choice but to cut it off. She can't even recolor what's left so I'm stuck this way until it grows out."
During her speech, Vincent moved up behind her in support and gently pulled her to rest back against him. "Catherine was a bit sensitive about what happened. I tried to tell her it wouldn't matter to those of us who love her, but she needed some convincing." He smiled indulgently.
His beloved sighed. "Okay, I admit it. It was silly. I never thought of myself as being vain, but I guess I am. I know it was just my hair, but it still took some getting used to."
'Well, I think you look fantastic!" William, the burly tunnel cook remarked as he stepped up. "I've always been partial to blonds myself. Catherine, would you care to accompany me to the dining hall for the party? I've never had the privilege of escorting a genuine blond bombshell before." He winked flirtatiously as he offered her his arm.
Father's birthday was very festive. He received numerous wonderful gifts including a valuable first edition book of 18th poetry from Catherine. Not surprisingly, her 'new look" quickly became a running gag at the party as well. Even, the normally unshakable Devin was caught off guard.
"Holy cats, Chandler! You could give Mae West or Marilyn Monroe a run for their money. Care to run away with me to some exotic locale? It might be interesting to test out that old adage and see if blondes really do have more fun." He flirted shamelessly.
"Father, I'm sorry but you're about to lose a son to the Abyss." Vincent growled at his sibling.
"Thinking about doing away with yourself, little brother?" Devin joked dangerously. He always enjoyed provoking his quiet sibling.
"No, becoming an only child!" the normally somber Vincent smiled dangerously as he bared his upper canines.
Much later, Vincent and Catherine cuddled close, enjoying the comfort of his bed. "Vincent, can you ever forgive me for being so ridiculous? I'm so blessed to have you in my life, yet I got upset over something so trivial as my appearance."
"Catherine, there's nothing to forgive. Your beauty is from your soul. You will always be beautiful to me no matter what color or style your hair is. Although I have to confess, I have been thinking about something Devin said earlier." He grinned invitingly.
"And what might that be?" She replied sultrily.
"His comment about blonds having more fun. Surely, if two heads are better than one, it only stands to reason that two blondes might have double the enjoyment. My bed isn't exactly the most exotic locale but if you'd care to stay below tonight, perhaps we could put the theory to the test." He offered as he gently pulled her down next to him.
Catherine lowered her mouth to his with a delighted giggle. "Vincent, remind me to thank Jenny …later. Much later. Right now I want to test out this theory of yours to see if we can prove it."
And they did many times that night, much to their mutual delight and pleasure.