Utica, NY April 1965
"…she cried, 'No dearest Beast, you can't die, I love you, I do want to marry you' then she kissed him. Suddenly the Beast transformed into a handsome King. Afterwards, Beast told her of the terrible curse he was under and that only true love could break the curse. There was great rejoicing in the Kingdom the day the King took Beauty for his bride…and they lived happily ever after." Bonnie Alvarez closed the book and looked at her sleepy four year old daughter and smiled. "Now my little beauty, it's time for you to go to sleep" as she pulled the blanket over the child.
"Momma, I don't want the Beast to become a handsome King, I love him just like he is" the little girl said with a yawn. "Someday I'm gonna marry the beast and we'll live happily ever after and live in the cave with all of the children"
"OK sweetheart, you just…wait a minute, the book says he lived in a castle. We've read this story many, many times. Why do you think he lives in a cave?"
"Because Momma, that's where he really lives" she explained with yet another yawn.
As she watched her daughter drift off to sleep, Bonnie thought about what she said. 'That's where he really lives' she had said. Maybe they had read the story too many times? Bonnie shook her head patiently at her sleeping daughter, "Oh, my little Allie, what a fine imagination you have, just like your father". Perhaps she was missing Al too, Bonnie thought sadly, he'd only been gone a few months leaving her alone with two small children but she still felt his loss keenly. Six year old Phillip seemed to have gotten over the loss the fastest, but he had grown very close to his grandfather, Fernando Alvarez, who they were now living with. Fernando was not the kind and patient man his son had been. But she had no means to support herself presently and Phillip really did adore him. This would only be a temporary situation and she could bear being in the same house with him for the sake of the children, for now.
Somewhere beneath New York City, NY September 1993
The little boy was out of breath and red in the face from running. He had been Above in the park with several of the older children and a few of the adults. They had been running around for hours before they were called back to come home. He was sad that his Papa couldn't join in the fun. He was told his Papa couldn't go out in the park during the day. They had tried to explain to him why but young Jacob just did not understand the concept of different. His Papa was the most wonderful person in the world. Why shouldn't other people see him? Then they would know it too.
Vincent watched his son return and sighed with relief. Today was the first time he had allowed Jacob to go above with others for an afternoon outing. It was hard to let his son go, but Jacob did not have the same features to prevent him from going out into the sun that his father possessed. Vincent wanted Jacob to have the fullness of life he was prevented from having. Had Catherine lived he would now have that fullness, but she did not. Jacob was his reason for living but as his son grew older he needed Vincent less and less. The restlessness that had been prevalent in his life prior to meeting Catherine seemed to be returning. She had filled the need he had been seeking, to love and be loved. He realized too that Catherine also represented what he couldn't have, the world above. He was initially drawn to her for that reason.
"Vincent, could you come into my study a moment, I wanted to talk to you about Diana bringing her new husband to meet us" Father said, interrupting Vincent's musings.
"But Father, I thought it was all arranged, he is to come with Diana on Friday for the play the children are performing" Vincent said patiently. It was well known Father did not like the idea of bringing the man Below.
"Yes, yes, I know, but the man is still a police officer and is required to uphold the law. You know our very community is probably breaking hundreds of laws. The only reason I agreed is because he has already met you and has accepted you."
"Father, he is a fine man who understands our need for secrecy, remember, Diana is also a police officer and she has kept our secret for years now." Vincent reminded him. "…And, I might add that all of our helpers' immediate families are aware of us as well"
Father looked up in defeat.
"Father, it's going to be all right, I promise" Vincent said as he embraced Father briefly.
Friday night came and the chamber the children were performing in was filled with laughter. Young Luke, Kanin and Olivia's son played the part of the troll under the bridge, while Lena's daughter, Cathy and Vincent's son, Jacob each played one of the goats. 'Three Billy Goats Gruff 'had been condensed into two and what should've been a story of clever goats completely fell into chaos with hilarious results.
When the story was over, the adults were wiping away the tears of laughter. John Fitzwilliam, Diana's husband was enjoying the evening completely. When he had first arrived he was dumbfounded at the size and organization of the community. "To have a working, thriving community so far below the streets of the city is an incredible accomplishment" He turned to Father "You have much to be proud of, and I assure you, your secret is safe with me sir"
Diana approached them and smiled, "Father, my husband is a bit like me, we will sometimes look the other way if it serves people best. After all, the law was made for people; people weren't made for the law."
Diana tugged John's hand to pull him to a new sight, the underground falls, with Vincent leading the way. John was awed at the sight; he drew Diana closer to him as they watched the falls in silence. Vincent suddenly felt as if he were intruding on something intimate. It was a sense of their love, as if they were the only two people in the world.
Vincent suddenly drew in a breath of pain. The feeling of loss shot through him. He realized that he once had this kind of love and would never have it again. Of all the things he hated most it was self-pity. He had to remember, he was the one who was with Jacob, the one who still lived to love his family and friends. She could never have these things again.
After John and Diana had left and Jacob was safely tucked into bed, Vincent was left alone with his thoughts. He began pacing and then walking. Before he knew it he found himself in Father's chamber.
"Vincent, you couldn't sleep?" Father asked "Well come and play a game of chess with me, it's been awhile since we had some time together"
"Thank you, no Father. I am feeling, oh, Father, I don't know what I'm feeling" Vincent sat down and slumped in the chair.
"Tell me" Father quietly instructed.
Vincent looked up at him. "Father, I've been at my wits ends, I am feeling lost and more than a little restless"
"Is it about Catherine?" Father asked.
"Yes, no…Oh, I don't know. I've been feeling lonely, but how can that be, when I have Jacob and all of you?"
"You're feeling restless? Like before, before Catherine?"
"Yes" Vincent answered simply.
"Vincent, Jacob is growing up. You have allowed yourself to mourn Catherine but you have also been very focused on your son. Now that he needs you less, you will, of course naturally begin to have time to think beyond his needs. Vincent, even though Catherine is gone, you are no less a man. You have the same emotional needs and…" Father hesitated "…and physical desires. You should open yourself to the idea of…of love"
"Never! Father, I could never betray Catherine, or our love. How can you even think, to suggest…"
"Vincent, Vincent, calm yourself. I don't think loving another would be a betrayal of your love for Catherine. She would've wanted it for you as you would have for her. Margaret was the great love of my life, for years I grieved for our marriage and later for her. Still I had other lovers and I eventually opened my heart again, not once but twice. I loved, Jessica. She was a wonderful exciting woman and I even considered leaving everything I had built to be with her. Now I have Mary. A woman so devoted to me for so many years that in my foolishness I failed to see her. Now I am glad to have her in my life and I hope to spend the rest of my days with her." Father added the last cryptically and with a slight smile.
"Father, are you telling me that you and Mary…?"
"Vincent, I want to ask her to be my wife; to wed me in a joining ceremony. I was going to wait till Winterfest, but neither of us is getting younger. Will you be my Best Man? "
"Father, I'd be more than honored, I'd be so pleased…oh Father, this is wonderful news"
Father smiled at Vincent. "Do you think I would be less happy for you, any of us?"
Vincent stopped and looked at him "Point taken Father. Now are you really going to ask Mary to be your wife or was that part of the lesson?"
"No, that part is real. But I am happy to make it part of the lesson." Father said cheerfully.
It seemed like only a few years before, Father would never have considered Vincent in a love relationship. Now he was here encouraging him to find it. But Father did not understand about his love for Catherine. Vincent knew Lena still loved him and would have gladly come to his bed if he asked. He was sure that was the love Father had been encouraging him into. But while he loved Lena, it was not the kind of love between lovers. She deserved better than that, she deserved a love returned.
Some weeks later, another sleepless night assailed Vincent. He finally found himself doing something he hadn't done in years. He made his way Above, to wander the city. To find…something, he didn't know what yet.
The Alley ways had not changed they were still dingy and dirty but afforded him protection. Night after night he wandered.
Vincent would listen to the street people; he had always been intrigued by their sad stories. Many of the stories would sometimes tie with other stories he heard. He began to hear stories of the 'Street Angel'. At first he thought it was one of the prostitutes who frequented the area. He soon realized the Angel was someone who brought kindness to many of the people of the streets. She was one of them, or at least that was what he picked up. She certainly wasn't a social worker who would have tried to involve herself in the lives of the street people. Nor was she a well-meaning religious person, whose main interest was to save souls.
One night Vincent had the fortune to see the 'Angel' in action. An elderly street person, a woman who everyone called Markers had become very ill. In fact Markers was dying. Vincent could sense death approaching. There was nothing he or anyone else could do. Years of alcohol abuse had taken its toll. He heard her before he saw her. She was humming a soft tune to Markers as she held her in what Vincent saw as a loving embrace. She quietly spoke to Markers, to make sure she knew somebody was there, that they cared. She acted as a mother would with her child. Vincent could sense the love coming from 'The Angel'
He watched for hours, mesmerized by the scene playing out before him. 'Angel' was dressed in all black and had a hood over her head. He couldn't see her face as she was turned away from him. Around 3:00 am he heard Markers breath become short and raspy and then simply stop. Then the woman holding her quietly said "Vaya con Dios, mi querido". She then gently lowered Markers body back down onto the pile of rags she had been lying on and stood up. As she turned, Vincent was finally able to see her face or at least he would have seen her face if she did not have a black scarf covering most of it. He could see her eyes however. In the darkness he couldn't tell what color they were but he could see them shining with tears. He wondered if Marker had been a relative or dear friend.
As the months went by and the city streets grew colder he found 'Angel' many times, offering a sympathetic shoulder to a lost teen or giving first aid to a prostitute who had been injured by a violent customer. Sometimes she would give what he was sure was her meal for the night to someone who needed it more. She was puzzling to him. She was obviously not a prostitute, nor was she an addict or even an alcoholic. Why was she living in the streets? She seemed healthy and capable of getting a job and a home. Perhaps the cover over her face told the tale. In all the times he saw her, she always covered her face.
There was also something else; something unexpected was beginning to happen. He hadn't noticed it at first but it began to grow stronger and stronger till it could no longer be ignored, a bond was forming. Not like the one he had with Catherine, but not unlike it either. He could sense when she was in the area and he was drawn to her. He had no idea who she was, how old she was and what kind of terrible thing was she hiding under that scarf. One night he found out.
The first snow had come very early that year and many of the homeless found their different venues to keep themselves warm. Vincent had been staying Below during these cold nights though 'Angel' was never far from his thoughts. Two days before Thanksgiving, he felt it, fear, coming from her. He raced to her rescue.
There were four of them, drunk and looking for trouble. She had tried so hard to stay to the shadows but it had grown too cold and she needed to find a warmer place to sleep. They found her as she wandered down the wrong alley at the wrong time. They started with taunts about her scarf and then began to terrorize her with threats of violence if she fought them. One of them pulled the scarf away. "It's you" he said with a hiss. He punched her in the stomach and showed her face to his friends. They decided they were each going to have a turn with her and nobody would care if they did. Maybe they'd even get a medal for it.
Vincent the hero wasn't always on time as he knew only too well. She had been savagely raped by her first attacker and beaten by one of the others when Vincent arrived. In his rage he ripped two of them apart and snapped the necks of the other two before he was through. Only afterwards did he find her lying quietly on the ground. She had already pulled her tightly around her face and had her knees drawn up in a fetal like position. She was crying so quietly even he could barely hear her, then she fell over and passed out. There was a lot of blood around her. He knew it to be hers. He had to get her to Father and quickly.
Father was surprised when Vincent arrived with his unexpected guest. "Vincent, what's happened? Who is this?"
"Father, she's been injured she's bleeding badly. I didn't stop to see from where. All I knew was to get her to you as soon as possible." Vincent said breathlessly.
Without bothering to remove the scarf covering her face Father quickly ripped open the shirt she had been wearing. There was bruising and lacerations and a knife wound in her side. "Oh, my dear Lord" Father said, and prayed that the knife missed her vital organs.
The bleeding was slowing down and her pulse stayed strong. There were other signs that she would recover from her injuries. Vincent explained about the rape and beating. Father determined it would be best to have a woman present to comfort her when she woke up. He called for Mary to help.
Father and Mary quickly cleaned and dressed her wounds. Once that was done they set out to remove the tightly wound scarf around her face. As they were doing so she regained consciousness. "Don't "she pleaded.
"My dear", Mary said, "we will not judge you by the way you look. Please let us remove this scarf, it is constricting and you will rest more comfortably without it." Still she refused. Vincent approached; she looked at him but showed no sign of fear, only curiosity. "What is your name?" he asked, as he had once asked another woman many years before. She looked at him with sad tear filled eyes and said "Io" then turned away from him.
"Io? What an unusual name" Said Mary.
"No, Mary I don't think it's her real name, is it my dear" said Father.
The woman said nothing.
"Come now, I have to remove your scarf, it will be alright" He said in a compassionate yet authoritative voice. As the last layer of the scarf was removed and the light was shone upon her face, Mary, Father and Vincent gasped.