She had regained consciousness and found herself surrounded by three people. Two of the people were older, a man and woman who appeared to be a couple. The third person was the most amazing man she had ever laid eyes on. His face was animal looking, maybe feline like, but his deep blue eyes had a depth of intelligence and compassion she had rarely seen before.
They wanted to remove her scarf. Reality came rushing back. "Don't" were the first words she could think to say. 'No, they can't see' me she thought with rising panic. Her heart was racing as the older woman tried to calm her.
Then the amazing man asked her for her name. His voiced calmed the panic but brought to the forefront all of her troubles too. Nobody was ever kind to her anymore, not since…
"Io" she had responded. It wasn't likely that they would understand the significance of the name, but it was significant to her. She wanted to cry and she turned her head away.
The older man finally got her to respond again by insisting on removing the scarf. It was choking her. She had wound it back on too tightly in her terror. She knew there was no point in fighting it anymore and allowed it to be removed. She felt the cool air touch her face and neck as she heard them gasp.
Vincent, Father and Mary were stunned. Before them was a woman of incomparable beauty. Her skin was creamy and fair, her hair was shiny and jet black with a natural wave and her eyes were clear and striking, the color of the Caribbean Sea. The shape of her face and the rest of her features were, without argument, perfection.
"The face that launched a thousand ships" said Father without realizing he spoke his thought out loud.
She realized that they were stunned by her looks and not in recognition.
"We're sorry for staring" said Vincent, "It's just that because you covered your face so fiercely we thought you hid scars or something you did not want the world to see. We did not expect such beauty"
"Oh" was all she could say. She was filled with relief. They didn't recognize her.
She looked at them for a few silent moments as they in turn regarded her.
"My dear, are you feeling any pain?" Father asked breaking the reverie.
Pain? Yes, there was pain, she'd been beaten and…oh dear God. She began the weep again.
"They, they..." she sobbed, unable to say the word 'rape'
Mary held her and rocked her in her arms. "Hush, dear one, they cannot harm you anymore. You're safe here"
She sobbed harder. It had been a very long time since anyone had shown compassion to her and she had lost so much. When her tears subsided she drew her strength to herself again.
"I'm sorry" she said "I don't usually allow myself to feel self-pity. I'm alright now, thank you". She tried to sit up as she dabbed away the tears, but a fresh wave of pain hit her.
Father, seeing her wince, pulled out a couple of tablets and offered them to her. "Here child, take these, they'll help with the pain, and they'll also help you sleep."
She took them gratefully and lay back down.
"Thank you for your kindness. I was a bit rude earlier, I'm sorry. My name is Allison." She said sleepily but offered no more information.
"My name is Vincent, and this is Mary and Father" the amazing man said to her.
Vincent, she thought as her mind clouded; his name is Vincent.
Within moments she was sleeping.
Mary stayed with her, pulling up a chair to get comfortable, it would be a long night.
"Father" Vincent said as they entered Father's library "Why would Allison cover up her beauty? There are so many women above who would use such beauty to gain access to the most lavish of life styles, yet she hides her face and lives in the streets. Why?" Vincent asked thoughtfully. "And what was her purpose when she first gave us the name is Io?"
"I'm not sure Vincent. Perhaps the two are connected; it was a rather ambiguous thing to say."
"Io is one of the moons of Jupiter. It was named for a woman in Greek mythology; I believe the Ionian Sea is also named for her."
"Yes, she was a beautiful woman who became the god Zeus's lover."
"Didn't he turn her into an animal? To hide her from his wife, the goddess Hera" Vincent asked
"Yes, he turned her into a heifer, which Hera demanded to be presented as a gift. Hera had Argus, the all seeing man with a hundred eyes, watch the little heifer. When Hermes killed Argus, Hera had Io chased by a gadfly to drive her mad." Father finished after remembering the tale.
"I wonder Father, why Allison chose Io, of all names to call herself? Do you think she somehow likens herself to Io? "
"I am not sure Vincent, it could be. We will have to wait for her story before we can even guess. Speaking of her story, how did you happen upon her?"
Vincent proceeded to tell what he knew of Allison, everything except the bond. He was a little uncomfortable to reveal that to Father.
Father listened carefully to Vincent's story. "So we have yet another enigma on our hands. Well, you know I love a mystery. She is welcome here if she wishes to stay, pending council's approval of course."
"Of course Father, if that is her wish. Now I had better go and get some sleep, Jacob will be up early. I am very grateful for Samantha's help tonight; she dropped her studies to care for Jacob when I was…" Vincent hesitated
"When you were rescuing Allison? Yes, I wondered about that. How did you know she was in trouble? You ran out of here like you did when Cath…Vincent, do you have a bond with Allison?"
"I think I do. It's not the same as with Catherine. It is not a love bond, but I do find myself admiring her compassion."
"Yes, well you've always been sensitive to people, I thought after your illness you had lost that ability."
"So did I until I realized I had a bond with Jacob. I don't think I ever lost my empathic abilities."
"But Vincent, what happened to your bond with Catherine?" Father asked stunned.
Vincent looked away "I'm not sure Father, Diana has suggested something, but I don't think my heart is ready to accept."
"What did Diana suggest?"
"I don't think I can speak of it yet. Now I must go to bed, goodnight Father."
"Goodnight Vincent." Father said with bewilderment.
The next morning Allison awoke. Her whole body ached from the beating but she knew she would heal. The rape, however shook her. She thought she was free of such attacks. She wasn't careful enough, she would be more wary in the future. HE would not win, not as long as she had breath in her body he would never have the satisfaction. He would have to kill her. Perhaps then she would have blessed relief, but until then she would not allow him to break her.
Allison was now ready to face a new day with new people. They didn't recognize her but that didn't mean they wouldn't eventually find out about her. She would be leaving here soon. She was sure, as soon as they found out; she would be asked to leave, or worse. Where exactly was here? She thought. The night before Allison had been too traumatized to be aware of her surroundings, she now realized she was in some sort of cave. She could also hear metallic tapping sounds and the distant rumbling of something. Subways? Was she underground?
The older woman was sleeping in a chair next to her bed. Mary, Allison recalled, her name is Mary. She stayed up all night in a chair out of concern for me, thought Allison. Allison instantly loved this woman with all of her heart. No matter how she may treat her later when she found out, Mary would always be dear to her.
As Allison was thinking this Mary opened her eyes. "Good morning", Mary said as she became aware that Allison was awake.
"Is it morning? Allison asked
"Yes my dear, how are you feeling?"
"Sore and bruised, but better thank you."
"I want you to know I am here to talk to about anything" Mary offered.
"Thank you Mary, but I will be alright"
"But my dear child, the attack…"
"I'll be Ok, Mary…It's not… it's not the first time I've been…violated. I have learned to cope. I will not give power to the past. I will not allow these men to continue to abuse me after the fact. I am innocent, I am not at fault for their crime." Allison replied vehemently, though her tears told another story.
Not wanting to push, Mary dropped the subject.
"Where am I Mary? Are we underground?"
"Yes, Allison" and Mary gave the tale of the tunnels below the city of New York.
"And Vincent, what of him? Why is he …"
"Different? Nobody knows, but we love him all the same. He is one of the finest men I have ever known." Replied Mary
Changing the subject due to a growling stomach Mary asked "Allison, are you hungry? I know I am, can I get you some hot cereal and some fruit?"
"If it'd be no trouble" Allison replied a little more brightly than necessary. She was hungry; it had been a couple of days since she had a meal. Probably weeks since she had anything really substantial. Though it was close to Thanksgiving, most of the do-gooders didn't come out to help until Thanksgiving Day or the day after to make sure the poor and homeless had a good meal. They always seemed to forget the homeless were hungry everyday.
"No trouble at all" said Mary as she left Allison alone.
A few minutes had past when Allison heard someone approaching. Perhaps one of the men was coming. She knew she really wanted to see the amazing man again. Vincent. She didn't know why but she was drawn to him, to his energy. As if she could somehow be a part of it.
"Hello" said a very young voice
Allison looked over to the doorway and saw a small boy; he had blond hair and blue eyes and a sweet smile for her.
"What's your name?" He asked
She smiled "My name is Allison, what's your name?"
"I'm Jacob. Are you sick?"
"No, but I've been hurt so I have to stay in this bed for a little bit until I heal"
"My Grandpa is a good Doctor and he can take care of you."
"I am glad. I think I feel better already"
"Jacob?" Said a familiar voice," Jacob, you know you don't belong here. Jamie is looking for you, it's bath time."
"OK, Papa, I'll go now. I'm glad to meet you Allison, see you later" Jacob said as he waved and ran off again.
Allison smiled and felt better than she had in a very long time. It'd been so long since she had any contact with a child and she had always loved children so much. Meeting Jacob was a much needed boon to her heart.
"Your son is a beautiful child" Allison said after Jacob had left.
"Thank you, fortunately he resembles his mother"
Allison's heart sunk at the idea that he had a wife. When she rallied again she asked "Oh, I can see a lot of you in him. Is Jamie a babysitter who helps your wife with his bath?"
"Wife?, No I don't have a wife. I lost Jacob's mother when he was born." Vincent said sadly.
"Oh, I'm sorry" and she really was. She understood loss all too well and how bitterly it affected lives.
"Thank you, I still miss her terribly, but I must go on for Jacob's sake." Replied Vincent, who wondered why he had shared so much with her, a perfect stranger.
"I know, I too have lost people I love" Allison shared in response.
"There's more though" Vincent said as he sensed she hadn't told him everything.
"Yes" she said, but no more than that.
Vincent knew she wasn't ready to tell him more so he pressed no further.
"How are you feeling?" he asked cautiously
"I'm feeling sore, but better thank you. Mary is getting food for me, but what I really need is a bath. I need to scrub away…" The filth she thought but didn't say. From the men who had attacked her.
Vincent understood. "I'm afraid Father wouldn't want you to do that just yet due to your injuries, but I can bring you some cloths, soap and sponges to help you clean up. I'm sure Mary can help if you require any."
"Thank you Vincent. Thank you for everything, not only for all of your kindness but for rescuing me as well."
"Rescue you? I am sorry I...I wish I had come sooner, to spare you…I'm so sorry."
Allison turned her head away so he wouldn't see her tears.
The silence between them was broken by Mary returning with the food. Mary sensed the tension between Allison and Vincent.
"Is everything all right?"
"Yes, I'm fine now; I guess I will have these moments for a while. Please forgive me" Allison said tearfully.
"Forgive you? You've done nothing wrong. Your tears are warranted and expected, never feel discomfited because of them." Said Vincent
"Yes, and neither should you apologize for not rescuing me in time. It is neither of our faults. The guilty have met with their final judgment and that is the end of it. I hope that you do not feel guilt for that. They were evil men. They would have hurt me no matter who…" Allison stopped, she had said too much.
Vincent tilted his head and turned away. He had sensed in her first her sorrow, then her indignation, but now sensed her fear. She didn't want him to know something. Allison was becoming more and more mysterious to him. He wanted to know more of her but he wouldn't dream of pushing.
Thanksgiving came and the people of the tunnels celebrated as did the people Above. The Helpers sent their bounty to share with their good friends Below, though none attended the celebration in person. It was a wonderful day. Allison was well enough to join in the meal and was welcomed by everyone with open arms. Nobody recognized her and no one seemed the least bit surprised that she fell sobbing into Mary's arms. Allison had been overwhelmed by their acceptance of her. She was especially surprised by the women. It had been her experience that women, especially younger women were uncomfortable with her beauty and so stayed away from her. But here she was just like everyone else. That made her happier than she had been in a very long time.
Father had been observing Allison during her time, trying to discern who she was and what she was hiding. He recalled when he examined her the day following her attack. He had discovered that she had a caesarean section scar. He did not inquire if she had a child but it played on his mind. Who was she? What had happened to her? Where was her child? Where were her family and her friends? Father was determined to get answers.
Mary had also been observing. She watched as Allison looked to Vincent. Mary could see that Allison was attracted to Vincent. Her face lit up when Vincent entered the room. She seemed to smile more readily and spoke more freely when he was with her. She also noticed that Vincent seemed to spend a lot of time with Allison. Father had said Vincent had a bond with Allison. Mary smiled, perhaps Allison was heaven sent.
After the Thanksgiving meal had been finished and the dishes had been cleaned up it was time to read to the children, a time honored tradition which followed every holiday meal. It was Luke's turn to choose a story and Jacob's turn to choose the adult to read. Everyone had been expecting Jacob to choose his father.
"So Jacob, Luke has chosen 'El árbol generoso'. That is 'The Giving Tree' in Spanish, Española. So the reader must be able to speak Spanish." Explained Father
The children had been learning Spanish and had been read 'El árbol generoso'so many times they understood it and knew it by heart. The reader needed to know how to read it; otherwise the children would challenge their interpretation. There were a limited number of adults who read Spanish; fortunately Vincent was one of them.
"Okay Grandfather, I choose Allison" said a smiling Jacob.
Allison was stunned she was just getting used to the idea of being welcomed by such a warm and loving group. She had not expected to be so honored.
Mary took her stunned moment as fear and started to explain to Jacob "Jacob, Allison might not know…"
"No, Mary, I would be honored. Shel Silverstein's book is one of my favorites and I can read and speak Spanish. My wonderful father Alejandro would read to us in Spanish when I was a child. " Allison said happily.
And so Allison began "Había una vez un árbol que amaba a un pequeño niño…" The children and the adults were captivated by her rendition of the story. The emotion in her voice betrayed hidden feelings for the story. By the end of the story Allison's tears fell unbidden onto the pages of the book.
"I'm so sorry" said Allison as she realized she was crying. "The story always gets to me"
Everyone laughed and agreed, some sniffing and dabbing a few tears away themselves.
After a few minutes Jacob crawled up into Allison's lap and promptly fell asleep. Vincent watched with astonishment. While Jacob was always a personable child he was not overly comfortable with strangers yet he seemed to be drawn to Allison. What was it about this woman?
Vincent had to admit that he too was more than drawn to her. He desired her. He couldn't stop thinking about her. It wasn't her beauty, though he found her very beautiful. She had a kind of inherent passion that called to him, to his passion. He didn't think he was in love with her, no, never that. Love belonged to Catherine only. However, passion could be his again. Catherine had given that to him too. He now knew he could physically love a woman as any man might and without fear. He also knew he was attractive to women. Hadn't he been attractive to his beloved Catherine? To Lena? And yes, even to Lisa. Allison's attraction to him was obvious and strong. She had only been here in the tunnels for less than a week and he already sensed that they were going to become more than friends.
There is more to come soon. The name "Io" is pronounced "eye-oh" from the Greek. The capital letter i has no serif so it looks like a lower case L. Because of this the name might be mistaken for "Lo" at first glance.
The English translation for Había una vez un árbol que amaba a un pequeño niño… Once there was a tree and she loved a little boy