The Jacob Chronicles

GINGERBREAD CHAMBER DAY

art and story by Vincent Peters

December 12th, 2008

Jacob stood before a small mirror that adorned the wall, situated above his wash stand and left of the entrance to his chamber, looking this way and that and making sure that everything looked as close to perfect as possible. His morning ritual had been finished in record time, and as he donned his cloak, he couldn’t help but to smile and softly sing the closing lyric to the tune that had been stuck in his head since he had awakened. “Happy Birthday to meeeeeeeee.”

Today was his nineteenth birthday. The eighteen that had come and gone before it were all special in their own right, but this one was going to be one for the ages. Today was the day he turned nineteen. Today was the day Jacob the Storyteller would visit with his Munchkins. Today was the day he was going to be there to help them with their annual art project and most importantly of all, today was the day Sarah would return to the World Below.

It had been almost three months since the Broadway in the Park festival had finally brought them together and since then, Jacob and Sarah had been exchanging correspondence incessantly. In the span of less than two years, what had begun as a casual friendship between pen pals had blossomed into something beyond anything they could have ever imagined for themselves.

Jacob stepped out of his chamber and paused in the tunnel just outside. He closed his eyes and raised his face toward the ceiling. He let out a soft sigh of happiness, a smile gracing his face. She was so close to Central Park now that he felt as if she were only a few feet away. “Soon, my dearest Sarah,” he said softly, reaching up to touch the solid rock overhead. Jacob knew that if he could feel her that strongly, then she would sense him in kind shortly, if she had not already. His smile grew all the wider when he felt her joy skyrocket. She could feel him.

* * *

He knew that, by the standards of his world, it was still very early in the morning, and he did his best to mute his naturally heavy footfalls as he made his way through the residential level of the tunnels. ”Like the fog that comes on little cat feet,” he reminded himself, but given the excitement that pervaded his every waking thought at finally reuniting with Sarah, made this well-meaning gesture on his part extremely challenging. “Who am I kidding? If this is what a cat’s foot sounds like, the fog isn’t coming in, it’s a hurricane.” Jacob chuckled at his self-appraisal and sighed in relief when he, at long last, came to the stone steps that led to the passages above his slumbering family and friends. Finally he could abandon his mostly quiet, measured tread and break into a full run as he rose higher and higher through the passages of his home.

For her part, Sarah was trying to walk the last portion of her trek to the South Portal as nonchalantly as possible so as to not attract attention to herself, but like Jacob, it was nothing short of a herculean effort. Descending the last slope, she took one final look over her shoulder before she abruptly turned off the path and bolted for the drainage tunnel. She had no sooner turned the corner of the retaining wall when she found herself wrapped up in his arms and lifted from the ground in a hug that would be legendary even by her standards.

“Best Birthday Present EVER!”

“TEDDY!!”

Author's drawing of Sarah having run to Jacob, Jacob lifting her off her feet

Jacob gently lowered her back to the ground, looking into her eyes the entire time, a deep purring coming from his throat.

“Hello to you too, kitty,” she said with a hint of a giggle.

“You might want to mark this day in your journal, Sarah,” he said, his ever so slightly hoarse baritone voice breaking the stillness of the snowy morning.

“To remember it as the day we were able to see each other again?”

“As the day I was rendered so completely awestruck by your radiant beauty as to have no comeback line whatsoever.”

“Yeah, that would be worth noting,“ she agreed, smiling up at him before adding, “and thank you for honoring my invitation to flatter the crap out of me any time you want.” She rested her head to his chest. “God, I’ve missed you.”

“I’d miss me too,” Jacob whispered back, resting his chin on top of her head. When Sarah looked up he was grinning like the cat that ate the canary.

“We now return you to your regularly scheduled goofball,” she said, playfully smacking him on his shoulder.

Jacob chuckled softly before his voice took on a far more serious tone. “I missed you terribly, Sarah.”

“Not when you caught me just now,” she replied without a moment’s hesitation.

Jacob broke out in a full-on laugh of approval when he saw her trying her very best to mimic the grin he had displayed to her only a moment before. “Touche!”

“Thank you. I learned from a true master.”

Sarah looked around and noticed the first light of day beginning to creep across the treetops surrounding the drainage tunnel and begin to overtake the soft light of the street lamps nearby. “I don’t want to kill the moment, but it’s getting a little too light out here for my comfort. Let’s get you back inside before we end up on YouTube.”

“On what?”

“I’ll tell you on the way down, Teddy.” Sarah took Jacob by the hand and in an instant, unnoticed by the early morning patrons of Central Park, the happy couple vanished from sight.

* * *

“AH, and here is the man of the hour himself!” Father said as he walked across the Wells family dining chamber, his arms open. “Happy Birthday, my boy and many happy returns of the day,” he said as Jacob carefully leaned down and hugged his grandfather.

“Thank you, Papa.”

Turning his attention to Sarah, Father hugged her as well, before taking her hands into his. “Welcome back, my dear. We are all so pleased that you could attend Jacob’s annual reminder of how old I’m getting.”

“You’re not old, you’re in your prime, Papa!” Jacob said with a wink and a grin.

“And you, my dear boy, are a very poor liar at best, but I appreciate the effort nonetheless.”

“Anytime, Papa.”

“There’s my birthday boy!” Catherine said as she entered with Vincent close behind.

“Happy Birthday, Jacob.”

As Sarah looked on, she was certain that her heart was about to melt like a popsicle in the sun when Jacob was taken into a family hug. She remembered almost word for word what he had told her when they had first written to each other. Even though he was physically different, his family afforded him a life not at all dissimilar to anyone else in the world.

Sarah admitted inwardly that she missed moments like this after the passing of her parents. She suddenly felt a pang of regret at having not been in control of her thoughts when she remembered that Jacob could read her emotions like a book. Maybe she hadn’t broadcast her feelings loud enough to be heard on the moon, but it soon became apparent that was not the case. Jacob held his arm out and beckoned her to come closer. She had barely taken but a few steps when she found herself enveloped in a warm and welcoming group hug from her adopted family.

“You’re part of us now, Sarah,” he said softly.

Jacob’s thoughts on the matter were quickly echoed by Catherine, Vincent, Father, and Mary.

Breakfast had been filled with delightful conversation which had continued when they retired to the Library afterward. Jacob looked up when several pings came from the pipes suspended from the ceiling. She recalled from Pascal’s explanation during her last visit, that that pipe and its distinctive tone, was the timing pipe which tolled the passage of time in the world below.

“Duty calls!” He offered her his arm, which she gladly hooked her own around as he bid his family adieu for now. It was time for Jacob to pay his weekly visit to his Munchkins.

They walked arm in arm down the passage leading from the south side of the Library until they came to a large, well-lit chamber on their right, which, from her vantage point, was awash in colorful pictures and the unmistakable sounds of excited children.

“Ready to meet the Munchkins, Sarah?”

“Ever since you told me about some of the things you’ve done with them, I am more than ready.”

“Brace yourself!” Jacob ducked under the archway of the classroom with Sarah close behind, and whatever the children had been working on no longer held their attention as the room erupted in the sound of “Jacob!”

author's drawing of Jacob and Sarah surrounded by tunnel children

Sarah couldn’t help but laugh with delight as her gentle giant was suddenly down on one knee and practically buried under an avalanche of preschoolers. “Munchkins!” he answered.

“Children, please! Give the poor boy some room to breathe,” Mary said as she crossed the classroom to render some assistance to her grandson. She should have known better than to think he needed any help, as he stood, slightly hunched forward, carrying some of the children on his back and the rest in his arms.

He walked with his charge of children over to a large collection of pillows before he announced, “The Jacob Express, now arriving at Storyland, all off for Storyland!” One by one he carefully deposited his Munchkins on the pillows. They took their seats and looked back at him with giddy anticipation of this week’s story. Jacob disappeared behind a curtained-off portion of the chamber, and moments later the curtain parted as he bounded into sight once more, sliding across the well worn floor of the chamber until he came to a stop before the children.

He wore a makeshift pirate costume, eye patch, comedically rickety wooden sword and all, much to their delight. “Avast, ye, my merry Munchkins! Who among ye be ready for another visit from Jacob the Storyteller, eh?”

The children cheered their approval as he continued, “This here chamber no longer a chamber be for now ‘tis my trusty pirate ship where adventure rules the waves, har-har, and anyone who be not ready to chart a course for adventure will walk the plank.” Jacob then raised his eye patch and looked around at the floor. “But seeing as there be not a single plank to be found— you’re all good, so here …we…go!”

Sarah watched him spin his tale of pirates, treasure, and derring-do, and as the story progressed, she couldn’t help but find herself as drawn into it as the children who sat beside her. She looked over at his Munchkins as they cheered, laughed, and hung on his every word and found herself overcome with joyful gratitude. When these children looked at Jacob, they saw a friend, a teacher, a playmate of sorts, but most of all they only saw Jacob the person. These children were being raised in a world where his outward appearance and physical differences didn’t matter at all. For a moment, she wished the world above thought as these children did. She knew it didn’t and probably wouldn’t ever in her lifetime, but she knew that in this place her Teddy could thrive, and there was no greater birthday present she would ever wish to give him than a future such as that.

With a flourish of his hat, his story ended to the cheers of his Munchkins and the added applause of Sarah. He looked over at her and smiled when he felt the incredible inner peace she was experiencing. “Sarah? Would you come up here for a moment, please?” he asked, reaching down to help her to her feet. “Munchkins! I would like you to meet a very, very special friend of mine. Sarah, meet my Munchkins. Munchkins, meet,” he locked his grey-blue eyes with hers as he finished, “my Sarah.”

A chorus of little voices rose up from the pillows. “Hi, Sarah!”

Following Jacob’s lead, she answered back,” Hi there, Jacob’s Munchkins!”

“If I’m not mistaken,“ Mary interjected, “Sarah has also donated quite generously to our art project today. I think that deserves a big thank you.”

“Kneel down, Sarah,” he prompted her softly.

When she did, she found herself hugged from all sides by the children. “Thank you, Sarah!” they said in a near simultaneous chorus.

“You are all very welcome!”

Having stowed his pirate costume back in the alcove, Jacob returned and smiled widely at the reception Sarah had received from the children. “Hey, Nana? Isn’t it about time for Gingerbread Chamber Day to begin?”

“Oh, my stars, so it is – so it is! All right, everyone, single file line if you please. It’s time to build some Gingerbread Chambers.”

Jacob and Sarah watched the children excitedly file out of the classroom. She took his hand and asked,” Gingerbread Chambers? “

Jacob chuckled a little at her reaction to hearing their version of a familiar toplander tradition. “You see, Sarah, the Munchkins have never seen the world above. They are way too young to go up safely yet, so for them, a house is an alien concept, so we tweaked it a little bit into something they would understand.”

“Gingerbread — Chambers. I love it!”

Jacob gestured to the entrance of the school chamber. “Shall we?”

“Lead on, Captain Teddy.”

* * *

Jacob and Sarah entered a large, rounded chamber with chairs and work tables arranged along its walls, grouped by ages from pre-school to sixth grade. Set out on the tables at each sitting were flat and rounded pieces of gingerbread courtesy of William’s Bake Oven. To adorn them were bowls and baskets filled with candy pieces in every shape, size, and color, which had been provided this year by Sarah through a private donation from The Hancock Foundation. When the children saw the plethora of goodies to use this year, they felt as if Christmas had come early to the world Below.

Jacob whispered to her, “I wish you could feel the joy your gift has given these children, Sarah. Some were born here, others came to us from very unfortunate circumstances, and your generosity has touched them all quite deeply. Thank you,” her gentle giant said as he nuzzled her cheek. She leaned into his affections, awash in the sounds of happy children.

Jacob escorted her to a worktable at which they could sit comfortably and proceeded to explain the project in greater detail. “The children can make either a candy depiction of their own chamber, their favorite chamber anywhere in the tunnels, or a fanciful one all their own; whatever comes to mind.”

“I’m a little new to this neighborhood. I might need some help, Teddy.”

“It will be my pleasure. Perhaps we could make one together?”

“Works for me. Lead on, oh great Gingerbread Chamber Builder.”

Jacob began to assemble the walls and roof of a chamber, and as he did so, Sarah took inventory of potential building materials laid out before them. In only a minute or two, he had laid out a large square room with a slightly longer, narrower wing attached to it. “There! Ready for the good part.”

“And what’s the good part in your book?”

His reply did not surprise her in the least. With a gleam in his eye, like a very big kid at Christmas, he spoke but a single word. “Candy!”

As they began frosting M&Ms in place to form a very colorful cobblestone floor, Sarah asked him which chamber they were making.

“This is, in no way, shape, or form to scale, a model of The Great Hall where we hold Winterfest.”

“Winterfest, that’s the big dance and party you were telling me about, isn’t it?”

“The one and only.”

“Is your choice of chambers a subtle hint at an invitation, Goofball?”

“I was going for blatantly obvious, passing itself off as subliminal, actually, but yes — yes it is.”

“Shall I give you an equally blatant answer?”

“Oh, please do.”

She had been learning their pipe signal code since the festival three months ago and gave him his reply by laying out M&Ms and Tootsie Rolls to stand in for dots and dashes. As he watched her assemble her reply, his smile grew wider by the second. O-H-H-E-L-L-Y-E-S-! They both enjoyed a good laugh and then proceeded to make use of the candy, lest anyone suspect mischief was afoot.

Like so many gingerbread house projects in her time, it became a guessing game as to how much of the candy made it onto the artwork, as opposed to skipping that step and going straight to the eating stage. She had just finished her latest gumdrop when she became aware that her fingers had become rather sticky. She knew Jacob had been indulging in the treats as often, if not more so, than she had, but since she had been so focused on making the bits and pieces of the Great Hall to his instructions that Sarah had failed to notice how he had managed to avoid her predicament.

“So — how is it that this stuff we’ve been snacking on isn’t matting your fur down by now?”

“Simple, you pick up the candies and I harpoon them.”

“You harpoon them?”

“Observe…”, he said as he hovered his right index finger over a bowl of oversized gumdrops. As she watched, he extended the claw of his finger to full length and jabbed it into the bowl. When he pulled his hand away, it revealed a red gumdrop impaled on his claw. He raised it up and brought it before her lips. “Special Delivery!” he said as she accepted his offering. “Claws. They are a very handy accessory.”

“Pun intended?”

“Oh ja, you betcha!” he replied, jabbing another for himself.

Jacob was a self-proclaimed non-artist, but when it came to model making, he more than made up for it. In the end, everyone who looked at their table knew exactly what they had built together. With only the use of gingerbread, candy bits, and a few details carved into the bread with his claws, The Great Hall had been replicated down to the last detail, including graham cracker doors, Tootsie Roll columns and Oreo chandeliers with candy corn standing in for the Winterfest candles.

By the end of the school day, all of the gingerbread creations were lined up for viewing. Jacob was the honorary judge of the event in honor of his birthday, and as he went from project to project, he found genuine wonder in the creativity of the students. Having been exposed to the corporate world through her work with The Foundation, Sarah learned all too well how to spot fake enthusiasm a mile away, yet as Jacob praised the youngsters on their projects, his words rang true to her ears. He meant what he said to the children, and they instinctively knew it. She may have been feeling a little biased at that moment, but these children couldn’t have asked for a better mentor than Jacob.

When all was said and done, the older children gathered up their Gingerbread Chambers and headed their separate ways to proudly display their masterpieces to the rest of the community. Before Jacob and Sarah left, he was treated to a chorus of “Happy Birthday to you” – mostly in the same key – but the fact that some were a little off didn’t matter to him in the least. It was heartfelt and that was all that mattered to him.

He lowered himself down to their eye level as best he could. “Thank you all so much, Munchkins. I have to be going now, but I will see you all next week, okay?”

A young voice piped up excitedly, “Is it going to be more pirate adventures?”

“I’ll not be giving away me secrets just yet, young Master Samuel, so ye’ll just have to lay anchor and wait it out for the next half fortnight, ay,” he said in his pirate voice before he leaned forward to whisper in the boys ear, “…but yeah, it’s going to be more of the pirate adventures, I promise.” Jacob winked and fist bumped the boy, as was their custom.

“Samuel seems pretty fond of you, Teddy.”

“Yeah, he’s a good kid. Just had a really rough go of it for a while.”

“Oh? What happened?”

“I rescued him from a very abusive foster home about a year ago. I caught him crawling out of his basement bedroom window on one of my patrols. When I asked him what he was doing outside on a rainy night like that, he told me he was running away to find his real mommy. I didn’t want him to be frightened by my appearance, since he was already feeling alone and afraid, so I told him I was his very own imaginary friend and that I’d been sent to protect him. A few days later, Mom ran his name through the system, and it turned out that his mother had willfully surrendered him as a ward of the state right before she died from a drug overdose.”

As Jacob continued his story, Sarah found herself at once incredibly proud of him and sickened that anyone would abandon their own child like that.

“I’d visit with him every night at his window and tell him stories about my adventures in a world under the city, read him comics from my uncle’s collection; anything that would raise his spirits and give him hope.”

“That’s my Jacob all right,” she said, smiling up at him.

“I couldn’t help myself. I felt his heart lighten with every visit, every story. Things went rather well until one night I arrived to find his foster father in a drunken rage and about to beat him.”

“Oh my God, no.”

“Long story short, I put the fear of me in that man. I gathered up Sam and a few of his things, and we left right then and there. On our way down, I told him that he had believed in me so much that, like Pinocchio, I’d been made real along with my world below the city. Once I told him that, he couldn’t wait to get here. He’s been with us ever since.”

Sarah placed her hand on Jacob’s chest. “Now I know why you’re so big.”

He looked back at her with his signature head tilt. “You do?”

Sarah wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged. “A heart that big needs a lot of space.”

“And here I thought all these years it was just genetics.”

The two lingered in their embrace for some time in the privacy of the empty craft chamber. Jacob gathered up the Great Hall model and joined Sarah in the passageway outside. They returned to the private dining chamber where he deposited it as the new centerpiece of the family dining table. “This should make for a nice conversation starter later,” he said, adding with a chuckle, “or at the very least, dessert. Now, before our next social engagement this evening, may I show you to your chamber, my lady?”

“It may be cliche, but given that I am twelve hundred feet below Manhattan without my Rand McNally Atlas, anywhere you lead, I will follow.”

A short walk ensued, at which point Jacob pointed out the opening of her guest chamber and gestured for her to enter ahead of him. “Welcome to your guest suite. Your things are in the wardrobe alcove, and I have made arrangements for tea and biscuits to be delivered in the morning at your leisure. We hope you enjoy your stay here at Chateau Subterranean.”

The chamber before her was lit by multiple free-standing candle holders, from which the light danced and played tag with the shadows on the walls, the bits of quartz native to the rocks glinting like stars in the night sky. The bed to her right was flanked by nightstands, each holding a vase filled with flowers.

“Jacob, this is the most wonderful guest room I have ever seen!”

“Nana has been working on it for two days to make everything perfect for your visit. I think you made a very good first impression on her.” He held her from behind and nuzzled her cheek. “The flowers were my contribution to Nana’s mission.”

“That’s my Teddy,” she said softly as, to his surprise and delight, she nuzzled him back.

They sat down on a small loveseat situated across from the foot of the bed, and as Sarah reclined back against him, she once again melted into his comforting embrace as they simply enjoyed the company of the other and the conversation that ensued.

In the course for their conversation, Sarah shifted her position a little to better face him. “It just dawned on me that I haven’t given you your birthday present yet.”

“Yet? I thought your being here was the present.”

“Nnnnnnope. My being here is the warm-up act for the present.”

“Well then, by all means, proceed.”

Sarah gestured for him to come closer before she whispered into his ear.

Jacob’s eyes went wide and his mouth hung half way open from surprise. “Do you remember what I said earlier when you first arrived?”

“I do.”

“I was a bit premature, please allow me to rectify that. Best birthday present … EVER!!!”

EPILOGUE ~ December 12th

The Timing Pipe had just chimed 8 pm, and the citizens of the World Below were beginning to retire to their chambers for family time and private activities. Having finished the birthday feast which William had prepared to perfection, Jacob and Sarah paid a visit to the one section of the residential level that she had yet to see.

author's drawing of Jacob's chamber

They entered a small, circular chamber which was framed on three sides by alcoves. The left alcove housed a writing desk, its cubbies filled with books and papers above which hung a chandelier suspended from the lateral bracing timber supporting a large shelf containing extra blankets, a small trunk and a knapsack. The largest of the three alcoves was lined partially with sanded wood planks which surrounded a bed. Above the bed a much smaller alcove was filled with models, books, and various knicknacks. The right alcove was laid out as a wardrobe and dressing room.

It was cozy. It was well-lit and most importantly of all, it was Jacob’s little corner of the world.

“Well, here it is Sarah. My chamber.”

Sarah entered ahead of him and looked around. “ It just seems so — you.”

“If it gives off that feeling, then it’s a good thing it is mine then,” he said with a chuckle as he hung his cloak up on the peg just inside the entrance. “I’ve had my own place, as it were, for a little over three years now. OH and…” he added as he rushed over to the desk, turning his chair to the side to reveal a brass-colored picture frame in which resided the photo she had sent him a year before, “ tadaaaaaaaa. I think you might recognize this.”

“ I do. It’s a pity the DMV didn’t use that photographer.”

“DMV?”

“It’s a three letter abbreviation for horrible photography in my world.”

“I somehow rather doubt you are capable of a bad photograph,” he said softly as he came to stand before her, his arms around her middle.

Sarah then produced her wallet and showed him a small, hard ID card lettered Vermont DMV. “I will let you be the judge,” she said with a chuckle.

Jacob looked at the photo on her ID and tried to stifle a chuckle of his own for it showed a then very nervous Sarah Hancock on the day of her driving test. “It–it’s not all that bad.”

“I don’t need to be an empath, Teddy, to know that’s not exactly what you were thinking. Your ears are a dead giveaway.”

Jacob’s eyes darted to the side in an attempt to see what his ears had done to betray him, but failing to discover their telltale position, he simply folded them back against the sides of his head and adopted an apologetic expression. “I – um- I will say that it isn’t – as flattering as the one you sent me, no, but it isn’t as horrific as you seem to have thought it to be.”

Sarah couldn’t help but smile as Jacob attempted to put a silver lining on what was essentially the worst picture ever taken of herself. “Never play poker, Goofball. Your bluffing skills are in need of some serious coaching,” she said cupping his cheek. “ I appreciate the effort though. It was kind of cute to watch you attempt to fib.”

“It’s not one of my strengths.”

“I know and that, my dear Jacob, is one of the many reasons I fell in love with you.”

He smiled and pressed his cheek into her palm. At that moment he knew, he would never tire of hearing her say that to him.

* * *

In the absence of furnishings intended for more than one occupant, Jacob and Sarah sat on his bed reminiscing of the events and experiences they had shared on her last visit. This conversation went on for some time until there came a soft knocking from the entrance to his chamber. “Knock Knock!”

“Hi, Mom, what’s up?”

“Oh, I just thought that after your grandfather gave such a touching toast at dinner tonight, all that talk of tradition got me to thinking about a tradition from above that I think Sarah would be delighted to share in.”

Jacob felt his blood run cold. He could sense his mother’s mischievous intentions welling up like a summer storm, but he decided to try to play it cool and collected for the time being. “Oh? A Toplander tradition. Dare I – ask what it might be?”

“Something I earnestly hope you will have long forgotten come next Mothers’ Day, Jacob,” Vincent said with a thinly disguised grin .

“Dad?”

Vincent placed his hand on his son’s shoulder. “ Be brave, Jacob. It won’t hurt for long.”

“It won’t? ” Jacob began to ponder all the possibilities that statement could apply to when the worst of the possible scenarios became manifest.

His eyes suddenly locked onto a large, black leather bound album under Catherine’s arm and his heart stopped with a thud. He knew all too well what it contained, and he wasn’t at all certain that he wanted Sarah to be exposed to its contents this soon into their relationship. In all honesty, if he had had any say in the matter, he would have preferred to have that book put up for display sixty to seventy years from now, if not later.

“It’s been a long standing tradition above,” Catherine began as she intentionally strolled casually across the area rug that was the chamber’s floor, “that when one has their true love in the company of their family, that certain books must be brought out. I had my turn and Mary was kind enough to carry on the tradition when I met Vincent, and now I am proud to carry it forward with my son.”

“Oh – no, that – that won’t be necessary. Really. It’s getting late and I’m sure Sarah would like to retire soon.”

Sarah had picked up on the fact that Jacob was nervous about the contents of the book, and given his wavering composure, she had to know more. “Oh, I’m still on a major high from being here with you again, Teddy. I’m nowhere near tired yet.”

Et tu, Brute,” he thought.

“Excellent!” Catherine said as she handed over the book to Sarah.

“Honestly, it’s just an old black tome. Nothing special—seriously,” Jacob sputtered out as he attempted to take the book into his possession.

“Why, Jacob, are you afraid of a little old book?” Sarah said in a tone that betrayed her amusement at his desperate attempts to keep the book’s contents from being revealed.

“That – thing — is not just a book. It’s,” his ears flattened outward as he sighed in utter defeat, “it’s my baby pictures.”

The album was handed off to Sarah’s eagerly awaiting hands. “Enjoy!” Catherine said as she and Vincent turned to exit the chamber.

“Godspeed, Jacob.” Vincent added as he turned to join his wife.

“Thanks, you two. It was bad enough to come into this world to the indignity of being hung upside down and slapped on my butt, but this – this is somehow worse,” he said, shaking his head, eyes closed as he tried to rid his mind of previews of the album’s contents. With a sigh of resignation, he looked at Sarah. “Be kind.”

Sarah could not contain a giggle at the expression and tone that now graced her beloved Jacob as he faced the time honored tradition of the parade of baby pictures.

“I thought you didn’t have any photos of yourself. “

“I don’t. At least not as I am now, but those – I didn’t have a say in those.”

Sarah opened the book, and there before her eyes were page after page of Polaroid photographs of Jacob with his family, friends, toys, other birthdays and special occasions spanning the first five years of his life. She thought, at first, that it was odd that all his pictures were only Polaroids until it dawned on her that it was, in fact, perfect. Pictures that don’t need developing are never at risk of being seen by the wrong people. It preserved the moment and the secret all at the same time.

“Oh my gosh, you had a stuffed lion? Look at you two, you’re so cute!!”

author's drawing of Jacob's chamber

Jacob pointed to the storage shelf above his writing desk, and there in a place of honor still watching over his owner night and day, sat a well-loved stuffed lion” I still have Leo.”

Sarah smiled up at him and rested her head on his shoulder as she looked at more pictures. “It’s okay, Jacob, I still have my Pooh Bear.”

“The first teddy in your life, eh?”

“He always will be, but he’s retired these days and the new guy is pretty darn special.”

Jacob started to enjoy the moment as his fears of the photos showing him as anything other than what he had become faded into the laughter they both shared. “I don’t remember being such a bean pole.”

“Mighty Oaks from little acorns grow, Teddy.”

“You know your Chaucer.”

“I may not be as well educated as you are, but when it comes to poetry and theater I am the Uber Nerd.”

Jacob chuckled and held her to his side, nuzzling her cheek. “I know, and that, my dearest Sarah, is one of the many reasons I fell in love with you.”

At that moment, Sarah was absolutely certain that she would never grow tired of hearing him say that.

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WATER FUN

by AM

“Local temperature is 89 degrees with a heat index of 102. Stay inside if you can. Drink plenty of water and remember, don’t overdo it. It’s a scorcher out there today, folks”.

Catherine cursed the weatherman as she wiped the sweat off her forehead.  “Great. What a perfect time for the air to go out.”

The thought of going outside made her cringe. It was Sunday, so her office would be locked.

“I need to get out of this heat. I’ve got it!” Catherine giggled as she had a wonderful idea.

She went through recycling looking for something she could use.

“Nothing,” she said, frustrated.

She hurriedly changed into a comfortable t-shirt and jeans and hurried to the nearest store. She would’ve run if it hadn’t been so hot.

She sighed with relief when she stepped foot into the cool store.

She picked up some water guns.

No, too violent, and would be frowned upon, she thought as she put the guns down.

She went searching for safer things.

Balloons? No, leaves a mess to clean up.

Her eyes lit up when she saw them. “Spray bottles!!! Perfect!! Hmmm. There’s 50. That should be plenty.”

She grabbed up all the bottles and headed to pay.

It seemed like forever before she headed back to her apartment with her treasures. Instead of going directly to her apartment, she headed to the tunnels. It wasn’t long before she ran into Eric.

“What’s in the bags?” he asked

“It’s a surprise, and I need you to do me a favor. Could you gather all the kids and bring them here?”

“Okay.”

“Oh, and Eric?”

Eric turned to look at her.

“Bring as many buckets of water as you can.” She winked at him.

He returned in record time with all the tunnel kids, each carrying two buckets full of water. Catherine passed out the spray bottles and helped fill them up. Once all the bottles were filled, boundary lines were drawn, and safe places declared, they were ready.

“On your mark, get set, GO!” Catherine yelled.

The fight began in full force. Laughter, shrieks, and happy screams echoed through the tunnels as the children chased and sprayed each other. Catherine found herself in the crossfire several times, but laughed as hard as the children. When bottles emptied they were quickly refilled, and the fun continued. Soon adults came to find out where the happy noises were coming from. Some smiled, shook their heads and went back to their previous activity. Some helped by refilling empty buckets. Others just couldn’t help joining in the fun. Catherine noticed Vincent walking towards them.

“I need to borrow that,” she said to Kipper.

He smiled and handed her his full bottle. She placed the bottle behind her back, walked calmly up to Vincent, and sprayed him in the face.

His look of shock made Catherine laugh. Vincent calmly watched the children play for a few minutes before casually picking up a bucket that was a quarter full. He turned to Catherine.

“Vincent, you wouldn’t dare.”

“Perhaps, but then how would I return the favor?”

With that, he dumped the bucket over her head. The children erupted with laughter to see Catherine soaked.

A tapping on the pipes made them all stop. Dinner.

Groans quickly spread among the children. They reluctantly started handing the bottles to Catherine.

“Vincent, why don’t you keep them for the next time?”

The children’s eyes danced with glee. Vincent put the bottles in the buckets and handed them to the children to carry.

“Would you join us, Catherine?” Vincent asked.

“I would love to.”

Vincent took her hand and they followed the children to dinner.