Beauty and the Beast ~ Book 1

The Winds of Change

by Tee Hoagland

PART 1:

Once Upon a Time in the City of New York

CHAPTER 8 ~ CHANGED

 

Three days after her surgery, Catherine entered her apartment, followed by her father and Jenny. Only wide patch bandages covered Catherine’s wounds, which were now rapidly healing from reconstructive surgery.

“Dad, I hope it’s not a problem,” Catherine said, setting her things on her couch and facing him as he closed the door, “but I need to take some time off from work. I need to take time to heal from this surgery and regroup after everything that’s happened. I’m thinking a month.”

“Take as much time as you need.” Charles stepped forward, grasping her hands. “It’s no problem at all.”

“I have some vacation time saved up,” Jenny interjected. “How about I take the next couple weeks off with you, so you don’t have to be alone?”

“I appreciate that, but I don’t want you to spend your vacation on me. I think some alone time to process everything would be good. But I’ll certainly call you if I need you, and we can do dinner in the evenings.”

“If you’re sure.” Jenny smiled, laying a hand on Catherine’s arm. “But I might be calling regularly to check in on you.”

“I can live with that.” Catherine returned Jenny’s smile.

“All right, Sweetie,” Charles stated. “I need to get going, but you call me for anything.” He pulled Catherine into a firm but gentle hug, mindful of her still-healing ribs, murmuring, “I’m so glad you’re home safe.”

She squeezed him for a few moments, then walked him to the door. After she closed the door behind him, she turned back and saw Jenny eyeing her speculatively.

“I get the feeling there’s more to your missing days than you’re letting on. But as long as it isn’t hurting you, I’ll say no more about it. I’m just glad you’re okay. Are you going to talk to someone about the attack?”

Catherine remembered talking to Vincent, and his confidence in her ability to overcome her ordeal, as they moved toward one of the short couches in her living room and sat down.

“I haven’t scheduled anything yet,” Catherine answered, pulling her thoughts back to Jenny’s question. “I will if I feel like it’s causing problems. Honestly,” she paused, looking around her home, “that feels secondary to me right now. Yes, it was horrible, but it felt like…” she met Jenny’s gaze again, “a catalyst. I told Dad I want time to recover, and that’s true, but I think I also need to… do some serious soul-searching.” She turned her eyes to her clasped hands. “I’ve come to realize how short life can be, how… suddenly it can be snatched away. I no longer want to… squander my life on inconsequential endeavors.” She looked at Jenny, leaning forward a bit. “I want to live every day trying to be the best person I can be, and I want to find a way to… really make a difference in the lives of others.”

“Sounds like this… encounter… has had a profound effect on you.” Jenny smiled and reached out to grasp Catherine’s hand. “That may be a very good thing for you.”

Catherine recalled Vincent’s gentle touch and soft smile as she nodded, replying, “I believe you’re right.”

* * *

Three weeks later, Jenny followed Catherine into her apartment after an afternoon follow-up appointment with her surgeon, asking, “So, have you heard from Tom?”

“He called once last week, asked how my recovery is going and if my scars have healed yet. We talked for a couple minutes, then he said he had to go.”

“Hmm.” Jenny frowned as she set takeout bags on the dining table, murmuring, “You know I never liked him.”

“Well, don’t worry about him. I don’t consider it much of a loss. I have a lot to think about right now, and my relationship with him is one of the things on my mind.”

Jenny turned a serious gaze on Catherine, asking, “Please tell me you’re breaking up with him.”

Catherine paused in removing the cartons of Chinese food from the bags, giving Jenny a smile.

“I don’t know yet. But I feel like this relationship can’t go any further as it is.”

“Well, it’s not what I think you should do, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

“I did speak to Eve a few days after coming home.” Catherine took plates and glasses from her cupboard and a bottle of wine from her refrigerator. “I ran into her the night of the party, but our visit was cut short by Tom.”

“How is she doing?” Jenny smiled, remembering their mutual friend, as she retrieved serving utensils from a drawer. “I haven’t seen her since college.”

“She’s had a rough few years. She and Jim divorced about six months ago.”

“Oh, that’s too bad. I thought they’d be together forever.” She sat adjacent to Catherine as they began dishing food onto their plates. “Have you decided what to do about your job?”

“I’m still not certain what I want to do about that. But I have a feeling I won’t be staying with Dad’s firm. For the moment, I’m just pleased I’m healing as well as I am. Since we got to the wounds so quickly, Dr. Sanderly says I may not have any scarring, except for this spot by my ear.” She pulled the hair on her left cheek back, fingering the scar running from her temple to her jaw in front of her ear. “He said this one was difficult to repair.”

“Well, whatever you decide, stay in touch.” Jenny smiled, clasping her hand. “This is the most regular contact we’ve had since college. I hope we don’t end up falling back into the habit of changed plans and rarely seeing each other.”

“Me, too!” Catherine returned her smile, gripping her hand.

“Say, there’s a concert in the park on Friday night. Feel up to an outing?”

Catherine turned toward the French doors leading to her balcony overlooking the park. She smiled softly, remembering discussing such outings with Vincent. Her smile turned wistful as she wondered, as she found herself doing frequently, how he was and if she would see him again soon.

“That sounds very enjoyable.” She turned back to Jenny. “Let’s plan on it.”

* * *

At the concert, Catherine sat by Jenny, enjoying her company, the music, and being surrounded by nature in the open air venue, but found herself distracted with checking the shadows for Vincent.

For the next several weeks, she saw her surgeon regularly to check the progress of her healing. She also visited with a few other friends, and continued meeting Jenny several times for lunch, dinner, or concerts in the park. She tried to spend more time with her father, craving substantial contact with him. They shared dinner more often, even taking in the symphony and a ballet, but he still seemed consumed with running the company, and wanting her to step up there.

At the end of her month off, Catherine tried to return to her old routine, but found it more tiresome than ever. Her job felt more meaningless. When she spent time with friends, all they talked about was finding the most eligible bachelor, meaning handsome and rich, while she thought of Vincent, missing his kindness, his wisdom, his wit, the way he made her feel treasured. When they shopped, too often in her opinion, for frivolous purchases simply to spend money, she remembered those below, living simply, contentedly. The contrast between the self-absorption of her world above and the authenticity in Vincent’s world below made the trifling pursuits of her social circles purely vacuous.

Once her scars healed, Tom started visiting her regularly, displeased with her apparently pulling away from him, which she knew she was. She now saw him as petty, controlling, and petulant, and doubted that she could spend her life with him.

Jenny, however, was a boon to Catherine, spending time with her whenever possible. Jenny remained relaxed, playful, and unpretentious, never asking for more than honest friendship. She sat with Catherine through a few emotional upheavals over her ordeal, never trying to avoid, dismiss, or diminish them.

Still, Catherine longed to see Vincent again. She discovered he always dwelt on the edges of her thoughts. She wondered how he was, speculated when she would see him again, quickly dismissing any fleeting contemplation that she would not, and pondered whether he ever thought about her. She found herself smiling at steam vents and manhole covers, wondering if he might be so close. She went to her building’s basement frequently, careful to go unseen, standing at the entrance to the tunnels, hoping he might come by. She even went to the park at night, to the culvert near where Vincent said he found her, trying to catch even a glimpse of him as he exited some evening.

Before she knew it, nearly four months had passed since her attack. Of her injuries, the only scar remaining was the cut near her ear. Outwardly, she appeared to be who she always was. However, on the inside she knew she would never be the same again.

* * *

Vincent strove not to monitor Catherine’s life but could not help it. His empathic connection to her remained as strong as when she stood beside him. He knew she struggled to reintegrate into the world above, and that she contemplated serious life changes. He knew when she was happy, or upset, and that she longed to see him. He could pinpoint her location in the city above, and the times she awaited him, in her basement or at the park, he forced his steps away from her, battling his inner self that craved her presence and her touch. Vincent sometimes cursed the fate that sent Catherine into his life, when he also knew that he could not give her what she desired and could not ask from her what he yearned for, no matter how much his inner self claimed otherwise.

* * *

“Dad, I need to talk to you,” Catherine said as they shared dinner in his favorite restaurant. “About something serious.”

Charles looked up at her, asking, “What is it?”

“I, uh,” she paused, glancing around the room and down at her plate. Then she took a deep breath and met his eyes. “I’m leaving the firm.”

He frowned, but said nothing, awaiting her explanation.

She gave a tremulous smile, continuing, “I’ve decided to apply at the D.A.’s Office. I want to be in a position to do something for the next woman attacked out there. I want to help people find the justice I never got, because I don’t want anyone else to have to go through that. I know that you help people, too, in your own way, and I never want to depreciate that. I understand that there’s a place in the world for corporate law, I just… don’t think that there’s a place in the world of corporate law for me. I just think there’s more to life than that. Do you understand, Daddy? Please don’t be upset.” She stretched her hand toward her father and sighed in relief when he took it.

“Cathy, I raised you to be a strong, independent woman. I wouldn’t be much of a father if I got upset at you for being who I raised you to be.” He smiled at her. “I can’t say I’m not disappointed, but this isn’t much of a surprise. Don’t think I haven’t noticed you pulling back, getting all your accounts in order, and passing some things entirely to other people. Don’t worry about it. I understand.”

“Thank you, Daddy.” She smiled gratefully, squeezing his hand.

* * *

The next day at work, Catherine’s heart felt lighter as she handed off her assignments and cleared out her office. She knew the rumor mill would be overactive for a while because of her decision but could not bring herself to care. The day after that found her sitting outside the D.A.’s office, waiting to see if he would hire her.

* * *

Deputy District Attorney Joe Maxwell stood in the office of his boss, District Attorney John Moreno, shifting his weight between his feet and stretching a rubber band in circles over his hands, as he watched Moreno, seated behind his desk and perusing the application of Catherine Chandler.

“Her credentials are terrific,” Moreno said as Joe perched on the corner of his desk. “Radcliffe, Columbia Law School.” He removed his reading glasses and looked at Joe, leaning back in his chair and lacing his fingers as he continued, “You sure she wants a job with us?”

“Ah, she says so,” Joe replied dubiously. “Who knows? Look, she’s some rich guy’s daughter, looking for something meaningful. You remember – the one who disappeared for ten days?” He glanced out the office window, eyeing Catherine where she sat waiting, then jerked his thumb in her direction, clarifying, “Gunther’s girlfriend.”

Moreno stretched a hand toward Joe, appealing to his reason, saying, “Look, it’s a pair of hands, a brain. We need the extra help, right?”

“Where do you want to put her?” Joe sounded doubtful that they would be able to find a place.

“Put her on the field.” Moreno’s waving hand and nodding head supported his incredulous tone, as if the answer should be obvious to Joe. “Let her do research, investigation. Give her all the legwork. You know, throw everything at her, and we’ll find out if she’s any good.” He leaned forward, picking up his glasses and shuffling papers, indicating this part of the conversation was over.

“Right.” Joe’s eyebrows climbed his forehead, testament to his lingering doubt, but he rose from the corner of the desk, went to the office door, and stuck his head out. Catching Catherine’s eye, he said, “Excuse me, Miss Chandler? District Attorney Moreno will see you now. Come on in.”

Catherine smiled and went into the office.

* * *

The workweek finished in a happy blur for Catherine, as she adapted to doing grunt work for the D.A.’s Office. Joe, her direct supervisor, began calling her Radcliffe, after her college, and seemed to take pleasure in piling her desk high with paperwork, cases to research, and information to find. She quickly familiarized herself with the office setup and her fellow workers. Some remained skeptical of her motives for being there, but most were just happy for the extra help.

Catherine found herself grateful to the computer operators that streamlined fact checking and records searches, freeing her to fulfill the rest of her duties more quickly. However, what she appreciated most was the feeling each night on her way home of having spent her day in worthwhile pursuits.

 

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