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Match Game

BLAME IT ON THE METS

by Lindariel

The game had been a jubilant affair. The Mets had trounced the Astros 12-0 with Viola on the mound pitching a brilliant game. It was the third game Vincent had been able to attend, enjoying the privacy of Stan Kaczmarak’s VIP Skybox and explained away by their host to anyone with raised eyebrows as “a special entertainer for the children.” As with the previous two games, security hadn’t even batted an eye, and Father had at last relaxed enough to thoroughly enjoy the game and the warm July evening, conversing animatedly with Stan, Kipper, Vincent, and even Catherine about how these results would improve the Mets’ standing in the league.

The children were elated, carefully keeping track of all the player statistics so they could update the meticulous charts they were maintaining for their math project and ravenously consuming the corndogs, cotton candy, popcorn, candy apples, and sodas provided by their unapologetically benevolent host. (“Honestly, Jacob, let them have some treats. They get plenty of well-balanced meals Below.”) In fact, the children were so absorbed in the game and the food that Mary had been able to happily immerse herself in her latest knitting project, only glancing up from her needles to give Father “The Look” anytime he turned to her with baseball on his mind. In other words, everyone had a marvelous time.

It was as they were gathering their things in preparation to leave as a group and meet up with the limousine and bus Stan had arranged with their Helper, Ron Pleasants, that Stan noticed Kipper’s wistful demeanor.

“Hey, Buddy,” Stan whispered, ruffling Kipper’s hair. “Penny for your thoughts. You look a little sad.”

“Aw, it’s nothing,” Kipper responded, then paused when Stan crossed his arms and gave him the I’m-Not-Buying-That-For-One-Second look. “Well, I guess I just wish that Luz could come to these games with us. I know why it isn’t possible, but you know she would have a really good time with us, and she’s always working so hard. It would be nice to get her away for something fun, wouldn’t it?”

Stan gave his soon-to-be-adopted nephew a quick hug and replied, “That’s a very generous idea. Let me give it some thought. There are other ways we could whisk Luz away for some well-deserved time off.”

“Yeah,” Kipper agreed. “But it wouldn’t be the Mets.” Then he scooped up a well-scribbled-upon program from the ground and ran after his buddies, calling, “Hey, Eric! You dropped your stats!”

Stan smiled wistfully as he watched Kipper eagerly engaging with his buddies about their plans for after the game. Then he started when a familiar voice whispered, “Penny for your thoughts?”

“Vincent!” Stan exclaimed, whirling about and clutching his chest dramatically. “I’ll never become accustomed to how quietly you move about when you absolutely tower over me.”

Vincent chuffed. “My apologies, but I think it’s more that your attention was directed elsewhere. Is everything going well with Kipper?”

Stan sighed as he began gathering up his sports coat and program. “Yeah, we’re on pace to finalize the adoption in another few weeks. He’s just wishing for something that really isn’t possible, that’s all.”

Vincent crossed his arms and murmured, “Now that’s a statement I never expected to hear from you. What could Kipper want that you would deem impossible?”

Stan’s head and shoulders dropped with another sigh, and he turned to face Vincent, stretching out his arms. “He wants us to invite Luz Corrales to attend these Mets games with us. She’s become a really good friend over the past few months. We’ve had dinner together at the office with her a few times, and she and Kipper get along great together. And I’ll admit, I really enjoy her company as well, as surprising as that might seem.”

Before Vincent could reply, Stan raised a hand and continued, “I know, I know. It’s impossible, and I’ve explained that to Kipper. Luz is sharp as a tack, and beyond the fact that she would see through the costumed-entertainer explanation for your appearance, she’d also want to know where all the children came from, and why everyone was dressed so oddly, and why does everyone call the old man Father, and what do they mean by Below? It’s a shame, really, because I think she could be trusted with your secret, and beyond that, she’d be an amazing Helper.”

“Stan,” Vincent replied, placing a reassuring hand on Stan’s shoulder. “I was going to suggest that we bring up the subject of inviting Luz Below with Father and the Council.”

Stan stared open-mouthed at Vincent for a few moments, then swallowed heavily. “Really? You’d take a Helper recommendation to the Council from me?”

“Of course,” Vincent replied gently. “Stan, you’ve very quickly become an incredibly important and generous friend to our community. We trust your judgment, and we’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about Luz both in the news and personally from you and Kipper and Catherine, who also knows her very well. I’m in complete agreement with you without ever having met Luz. I think she would be a good friend and a wonderful Helper to the Tunnels. Why don’t we discuss this in the limousine with Father, Mary, and Catherine?”

***Six months later***

Luz looked askance at Stan and Kipper as she exited the elevator into the basement of Stan’s Juniper Street building. “OK, you asked me to dress up for dinner, but to be sure to wear comfortable shoes, so why are we in your basement?”

Stan gave her his trademark twinkling grin and replied, “It’s an adventure and a surprise. You wouldn’t believe me even if I told you. It’s something you have to see for yourself.”

Kipper cuffed Stan gently with an elbow. “Luz deserves at least a little bit of an explanation. Allow me.”

He took Luz’s hands gently in his own and gazed seriously up into her confused but curious face. “After I lost my Mom and my Dad went to jail, I lived on the streets for a long time until a kind person showed me a wonderful, secret, safe place where I could live and be well-cared-for and loved. I want to show you my home before I met Uncle Stan. OK? We’re having a special party there tonight, and we want you to be our guest.”

Luz gathered Kipper into her arms for a big hug and looked up at Stan for further confirmation.

“We’re placing a lot of trust in you tonight, Luz,” Stan added. “We have to ask you to keep everything you see and hear tonight a secret. The lives of some very good people will depend on your discretion – people who helped Kipper, and people who sheltered me when I was being hunted down by gangsters after witnessing a crime. I promise you, you will be perfectly safe, and you will see some familiar faces tonight besides ours.”

“If you don’t want to come, that’s OK,” Kipper added, patting her on the back. “I know this sounds really strange, but I think this is a secret you’ll be glad to know about. And we already know that our friends would love to meet you.”

Luz squared her shoulders and patted Kipper on the head. “Lead on, Macduff!” she declared. “Never let it be said that Luz Corrales backed away from an adventure.”

“That’s the spirit!” Stan exclaimed, and turned to Kipper. “Well, Sir Kipper, why don’t you open the magic portal, and let’s see who has come to guide us to our destination?”

“Follow me!” Kipper called, as he raced over to the door into Stan’s personal storage room, unlocked the door with the key he wore on a lanyard around his neck, and waved Luz gallantly through. “After you, my Lady.”

Once they were all inside, Kipper locked the door behind them, while Stan slid aside some boxes on a shelf and pushed a hidden button causing the entire shelving unit to slide aside, revealing a secret door.  He readjusted the boxes so they’d once again cover up the button after the shelf closed, and Kipper used a second key to open the door into a well-lighted passageway.

Stan and Kipper turned to find Luz gaping at them in astonishment. Then she closed her mouth, squared her shoulders again, and murmured, “OK, looks like we’re going to … Narnia?”

Stan chuckled softly. “Not quite, but not a bad guess.” He gestured to the door, gallantly offering Luz his arm. “Shall we?”

She took his arm with a bashful smile, and Kipper happily linked up with her other arm, stating emphatically, “Hey, I get to escort her, too!”

Stan pushed a button to slide the shelf back in place, closed and locked the door. Then the three proceeded down the passageway. But as they turned the corner, Luz stopped and gasped in shock. There stood her friend Catherine Chandler, dressed in a beautiful velvet gown and cape, on the arm of … an Impossibility!

“It’s OK, Luz,” Stan murmured, giving her some extra support as her knees wobbled just a bit. “You aren’t hallucinating, and you are among friends.”

“Welcome, Luz,” Catherine said with a broad, beautiful smile. “Welcome Below. Allow me to introduce you to my husband, Vincent Wells.”

***Several hours later***

The Great Hall was pitch black except for the glow of a single candle.

“The world above us is cold and gray, summer a distant memory,” intoned Father, as he began the traditional opening for Winterfest. “Our world, too, has known its winters, so each year we begin this feast in darkness, as our world began in darkness.”

Luz gazed about the table as Vincent and Mary joined in the opening ceremony and the precious candlelight gradually moved about the table from person to person, Stan lighting Kipper’s candle, and Kipper lighting hers. She smiled as she turned to the elderly woman beside her – Narcissa, wasn’t it? – and lit her candle, thoroughly moved and charmed by the symbolism of this ceremony.

Gradually the light grew, as the candles in the iron chandeliers were kindled and the light progressed around the large table, until the room filled with a warm glow.

“We are all part of one another. One family. One community,” Father continued. “Sometimes we forget this, and so we meet here each year to give thanks to those who have helped us, and to remember – even the greatest darkness is nothing, so long as we share the light.”

As the chandeliers were raised to the ceiling, and the group happily burst into conversations, greeting old friends and welcoming new ones, Luz turned to Stan with a dazzling smile and eagerly exclaimed, “Tell me! How can I help?!”

2 Comments

  1. Lindariel, the way you have written your vision of this part of the BatB world is so realistic and believable. You give new life to these characters. I’m also impressed with how organized you are in maintaining the timeline and details — not an easy thing to do! Thank you for sharing your world with us.

    Reply
  2. I like the story very much, it is a pleasure to read about how Elliot helps, I am glad that he gets along with Kipper, and Luz is introduced to the secrets of Below. Another valuable helper for this wonderful world. It’s all thriving beautifully.

    Reply

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