Catherine slowly opened her eyes. She sighed when she realized the pale golden light was coming from the rising sun and not the stained glass window in Vincent’s chamber. Since it was Saturday, she rolled over and tried to sink back into her dream. Just as she was about to drift off, the doorbell rang. She threw back the covers and grabbed her robe as she hurried to the front door. Seeing an envelope on the floor, she quickly undid the locks, but her messenger had already gone. Slightly disappointed, she relocked the door before opening the envelope.
We will be celebrating Mary’s birthday today after lunch. If you are able, we hope that you will attend.
Smiling in anticipation, Catherine rushed to shower and dress. By the time she was ready to head out, the late winter sky had darkened. Ominous clouds had gathered, so she opted for boots, then grabbed her raincoat and purse, and headed out the door. After a short trip in a taxi, she found herself on a street lined with a number of quaint stores, perfect for finding a gift for Mary.
Catherine’s first stop was a store known for its handmade soaps and lotions. A few weeks ago, she’d heard Mary mention how dry her hands were. After speaking with the shop owner and asking a few questions, Catherine purchased some soap made from goat’s milk as well as a jar of hand cream. The next shop was a candy store. At Christmas, Catherine had brought a few boxes of chocolates Below for the community to enjoy, and she remembered how Mary had looked for her favorite flavors. So today, Catherine had a box filled with vanilla creams, orange creams, and dark chocolate mint truffles.
When she exited the candy store, the pavement was wet. As she began to walk, the light rain began to intensify, and soon a tiny river of water started to flow along the curb. Eager to avoid a downpour, she zigzagged through the crowded sidewalk and ducked into a bakery. Having skipped breakfast, she settled down at a table and ordered coffee and a blueberry oatmeal muffin. As she waited for the rain to slow, she noticed a display with pamphlets advertising events in the area. She picked up a Xeroxed copy of the upcoming concert series for the park and carefully tucked it inside her purse.
When the rain tapered to a drizzle, Catherine hailed a cab. She returned to her apartment, where she changed her clothes and touched up her hair and make-up. Mary’s gifts were then carefully arranged in a gift bag. After having a salad for lunch, it was time to head Below. As she descended the ladder, she could feel Vincent come up behind her, and her heart skipped a beat.
“Catherine,” he said, as she turned and walked into his arms. “I’m glad you could make it. I’m sorry for the late notice. I intended to send word yesterday, but we were busy with several preventative repairs before today’s rain, and it was late by the time we finished.”
“That’s all right. I’m honored to be included. Thankfully, I didn’t have to work today.”
Vincent took her hand as they started the journey to the library. “Mary would have understood if you hadn’t been able to make it.”
“I know, but she does so much for everyone Below, and she’s always been so kind to me, that I really wanted to be able to share in her special day.”
As they walked, Catherine noticed Vincent’s occasionally sniffing the air.
“Vincent, is something wrong?”
“No, it’s…” he paused, hesitant to ask his question. “Have you changed your shampoo or perfume?”
Catherine was suddenly nervous. “No, you must smell Mary’s gift. Is it too strong? Is it bothering you?”
” No. The smell is mild, even to my nose. I just wasn’t sure where it was coming from.”
Catherine held up the bag, and he inhaled the fragrance wafting from the bag. With an intense puzzled look on his face, he sniffed again. This time his nose twitched, but he still looked puzzled. After one more sniff, his face lit up, and she knew he had guessed what she had bought.
“I smell rosemary soap, chocolate, and mint.”
“Is that all you smell?”
He tilted his head at her, a look that she adored. “Mint is a strong scent, and rosemary is too. If you have other flavored chocolates, I’m afraid I can’t identify what they are, but I would guess vanilla and orange creams.”
She stared at him in amazement. “I guess I better triple wrap all your presents in the future.”
“Orange and vanilla creams are Mary’s favorite, so I took a chance.”
A message came through the pipes calling everyone to the library. Vincent and Catherine hurried so that they wouldn’t miss anything. When they arrived, Mary was sitting in a soft chair in front of everyone. After they all found seats or places to stand, Father got up to stand by Mary’s side.
“As you all know, today is our dear Mary’s birthday. Thank you to William for that delicious lunch, which he made especially for Mary.”
Everyone applauded, and Vincent whispered in Catherine’s ear. “We had chicken and dumplings, with peas. If you’re hungry later, I’m sure William has some leftovers.”
“And now,” Father continued, “I believe that there are some gifts for Mary, starting with these.”
Father handed her a small bouquet of daisies. After the flowers, Catherine and Vincent watched as Mary received the rest of her gifts. Several of the women had made her a new quilt; Rebecca gave her a set of scented candles; a group of small children presented her a book of drawings and paintings; some of the older children had saved up money from can and bottle deposits to buy her a new pair of slippers. Other gifts included handmade socks, gloves, and a sweater. Cullen and Kanin presented a new rocking chair. After Catherine presented her gift, Vincent stepped forward.
“Father, Mouse, Jamie, and I worked together to make this for you, but it is a gift from the entire community. It is said that a butterfly represents one’s soul, and they also represent change and rebirth. For so many of us, your kindness, caring, and love have helped us to change and grow into the people we are today. We all love you very much.”
Vincent bent down and kissed her on the cheek as he handed her a small box. Mary’s eyes were already moist from opening her other gifts, but several tears ran down her cheeks as she opened the box.
“Oh my,” she said, as her voice quivered with emotion. “This is so beautiful. Thank you.” She turned the box so that everyone could see. Then, with a glance at all her gifts, she looked up at everyone. “Thank you all. I will cherish all of my gifts, but the most important thing is that I was able to share my birthday with all of you. I am so lucky to have such a wonderful family.”
Everyone applauded, and Father announced that there would be cake and ice cream in the dining chamber. Slowly the chamber began to empty out as Catherine, along with several of the other women, walked over to Mary to get a closer look at her gifts. They all agreed that the butterfly brooch was absolutely stunning. It had a silver setting with crystals and other stones in various sizes and colors.
Catherine turned to Vincent. “Are those from the Crystal Caverns?”
“Yes,” he replied. “The brooch had belonged to Anna. Father found it. Most of the original stones were fake because they had begun to disintegrate. I brought back the crystals and worked with Father to design the pattern for the stones. Mouse and Jamie cleaned and repaired the silver works, and cut and set the stones.”
“It’s beyond beautiful. I just don’t know what to say,” said Mary.
“You have already thanked us, both in words tonight, and in your unfailing love and care for all of us every day,” Vincent said.
“Indeed,” said Father, as he made his way over. “Now, why don’t all of you head to the dining chamber. Tell William that Mary and I will be along in just a minute. I just want to help Mary put on her new brooch.”
Vincent took Catherine’s hand as they slowly headed towards the dining chamber, letting the others go ahead in order to have a few moments of privacy.
“Vincent, what do you think Father and Mary are really doing?”
He cradled her face gently with one hand. Then he leaned in and placed a feather light kiss on her lips.