by JoAnn Baca

The more difficult the victory, the greater the happiness in winning.

~ Pele


“To be honest with you, William, I don’t think I’ve ever had better pancakes than yours. I ate too many.” Catherine deposited her empty plate in the dirty-dishes bin with one hand while delicately licking a drop of maple syrup off her upper lip.

He chortled, his blue eyes glittering, pleased with her compliment. “Good! You could stand to put some weight on those bones, Catherine!”

She rolled her eyes. “On the contrary, I need to jog an extra half an hour to work that last pancake off!”

He bent to whisper in her ear, “I don’t care what Father says, I think you’re just the gal to lift Vincent’s spirits.”

She schooled her expression to suppress the shock she felt at hearing his words, but she needn’t have. He was already turning to grab a word with one of the youngsters helping to clear the Dining Chamber.

Vincent couldn’t miss the spike within their Bond, and as she returned to her seat beside him, he murmured, “How did William upset you?”

She shook her head. “Not here.”

Rising, he offered his hand to her, and she accepted it, leaving her chair. Together they strolled out of the chamber and down the corridor that led away from the Hub. Vincent moved them at a leisurely pace until they entered the anteroom of the Mirror Pool. Few were there this early on a Sunday morning, and those who were there spent only a few more moments in contemplation before leaving. 

“Is there some new rule to vacate the premises when we two enter?” Catherine asked, bemused by the quickly departing tunnel dwellers, who nodded and smiled as they left.

Vincent chuckled softly. “Apparently our young friend Jamie has been ‘reminding’ people that you and I have very little time alone together when you come Below, and she has been…shall we say ‘urging’ our friends to give us our ‘space,’ as she calls it.” He lowered his head as he tried to suppress a smile, then turned to look at her. “This is the apparent result.”

Catherine shook her head, a smile on her face despite the trouble in her heart.

They seated themselves on a bench beside the Pool. Catherine leaned into Vincent as he gently pulled her close, and they sat like that for a while, communing in peaceful relaxation, soft sunlight filtering into the large chamber and warming their faces.

“Tell me,” he murmured, once he felt the muscles in her shoulders loosening.

Catherine lifted her head and looked into his eyes. “William inadvertently let something slip, something that surprised and…and hurt me.” She turned to gaze at the Pool as she added, “Father has spoken to him of his…dislike of our relationship. And if he’s said it to one person…”

Unseen, Vincent’s golden eyebrows rose at her last words. They’d had discussions – often heated ones – about his continuing relationship with Catherine but, to his knowledge, Father’s feelings had been kept between the two of them…and had seemed to lessen over the past year. He had never burdened Catherine with the knowledge of those arguments. What would have been the point? But now Father was airing his concerns…elsewhere, and it was getting back to Catherine?

“What did he say that gave you that impression?” Could she have misunderstood William? Vincent wanted to hope so, but he knew Catherine was quite perceptive.

Catherine repeated William’s comment, which released any doubts about her possibly misconstruing an inartful phrase. There was nothing ambiguous about William’s words.

“We don’t know how long ago Father may have conveyed his doubts to William.” Even as he said it, Vincent realized he was grasping at straws.

Catherine’s gaze returned to him. “I think I need to talk to Father. If he still has concerns now, after all this time, we need to bring them into the open. We now have Jamie pushing one way, and Father pushing the other, and it’s not good for mixed signals to cause friction in the community.” She shrugged. “Also, I hate to be the subject of gossip Below. I’ve had my fill of it Above.”

Vincent nodded, understanding. “We’ll both discuss this with him.”

“No.” She stood and turned to look down at him. “I need to have this conversation with him by myself. I don’t know if he would be totally honest with me with you standing there. But from our past discussions, I expect he would be brutally honest with me if we were alone.”

Frowning, Vincent asked, “What past discussions?”

She shook her head. “It was a while ago. I didn’t mention it because…well…probably for the same reason you wouldn’t have told me of any such discussions with you.” Her green-eyed gaze pierced his. “And don’t tell me you didn’t hear his opinion about me, because if he felt free to give me his opinion of our relationship, he certainly would feel free to give you the benefit of his advice.”

Reluctantly, Vincent nodded. “He has. Many times.” Shaking his head, he added, “But it’s been a while since we’ve…argued about you.”

Catherine leaned down to hug Vincent’s broad shoulders. When she stood up, her resolve was clear in her upright posture. “Wait for me here, and wish me luck!” She didn’t linger to hear his reply, leaving him sitting alone on the stone bench.

* * *

“Ah, Catherine, welcome! We missed each other at breakfast, but you and I could share a cup of tea now, if you’d like.”

Father’s smile seemed genuine, and his welcome wholehearted, but Catherine now had reason to doubt his sincerity. After hearing William’s comment, it seemed prudent to regard Father’s affability with a tinge of suspicion.

“Thank you, but no,” she replied. “I need to ask you something. And I hope you will be honest with me. We’ve come too far to withhold our true feelings. At least, I hope you agree.”

Frowning, Father nodded and indicated she should take a chair. “Of course. What is it? Is it something about Vincent?”

She smiled ruefully. “Isn’t it always?”

The sarcasm in her voice was sharper than she’d intended. He had blinked twice at her words and opened his mouth to reply but then shut it.

“In the Dining Chamber this morning, someone mentioned that you had told them that you don’t approve of my relationship with Vincent. After all this time. It…it struck me deeply.” She sat up straight, her hands folded on her lap. “So, I’m here now to listen to your current concerns. Let’s talk frankly, because it hurt me to hear this, especially coming from someone like…like the person I heard it from.”

She noted Father’s crimson blush as she revealed the reason for her visit. If this had not been a recent discussion with William, she knew Father would have blustered about long-ago comments being held against him. But he made no such claim.

Her heart broke a little more at the realization.

Catherine waited to hear Father’s rationalization. But all he said was, “I’ve…I’ve appreciated your influence on Vincent, of course. I don’t deny you have brought some measure of additional happiness into his life. And you certainly have proven to be a devoted Helper to us all. You have my gratitude on both counts. Immense gratitude.”

“But…?” Catherine wasn’t swayed by his attempt to placate her. She had bridled at the description “some measure” but let it go, knowing that Father’s next words would reveal his true feelings.

“’But’? There is no ‘but’ to tell you, I have made my feelings clear before. Ultimately, you can only bring my son more pain. This…relationship…is untenable. You are a healthy, vibrant young woman, with emotional and…physical needs that my son cannot meet. Ever. This must be something of which you are wholly aware. So how do you think this will end? I love you, Catherine, make no mistake. But for what I see in my son’s future, I wish he had never met you.”

Catherine contemplated his comments. She remembered him saying, long ago, that she could only bring Vincent unhappiness because “part of him is a man.” Father he might be to his unique adopted son, but his prejudice was blinding him to the possibilities that existed for Vincent.

“So…your dislike of me stems…still…from our sexual incompatibility?” Catherine knew the words, laid so bare, would discomfit the older man, which was why she had used them. This was her wind-up before the pitch that would likely bring the old man right out of his chair.

“What a cold way to frame it but…yes, if you must use those words.” He wouldn’t meet her eyes as he spoke.

Was it wrong of her to be enjoying this part of their conversation so much?

“I’m not sure what other words to use.” She let a small smile grace her lips as she added, “And this is your basic objection…your only objection, really, to my continued relationship with your son?”

Reluctantly, he nodded. Looking at her once more, he said, “I know you are great friends, and depend on each other emotionally – your Bond speaks to that – and delight in each other’s company. I know all this, Catherine, and it pleases me that he has such a friend. But he loves you, and wants…more. Things he cannot have. It’s…it’s just cruel of you to continue a relationship that is ultimately going to be unfulfilling for both of you.”

Catherine allowed her smile to grow, and noticed Father’s confusion over it.

“I agree.”

Now he really looked confused. “You…you do?”

Savoring the next moment, she said, “So…even though this is none of your business…let me assure you that not only does Vincent meet all of my ‘needs’…but I meet all of his.”

Waiting for the coin to drop into the slot was delicious. Father processed her words, and she saw disbelief give way to shock and finally to understanding.

She stood up and pretended to brush lint off her sweater as she said, “So…we’re clear now?” Then she looked down at him with her eyebrows raised.

Numbly, he nodded.

“Good! Well…I’m glad we cleared the air!”

She walked to the staircase but turned to regard him. “And if you ever have another concern about our relationship, please take it up with me directly instead of chatting about it to people who don’t have all the information.”

He nodded again, his jaw hanging open slightly and his eyes unfocused. Whether he actually heard her last comment or not, it didn’t matter.

With a lighter heart, Catherine raced up the stairs and down the corridors toward her waiting lover.



  1. “So…even though this is none of your business…let me assure you that not only does Vincent meet all of my ‘needs’…but I meet all of his.”

    BOOM! Mike drop!

    JoAnn, this is FABULOUS! I would LOVE to see the look on Father’s face at this declaration. All of his assumptions turned to dust in one moment.

    Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful story!



  2. Wow! That was powerful! Boom! She gave it to him. 😉

    Catherine does have an ability to confront that is very inspiring. Nice to see her use it to clear the air. She‘s right, the gossip machine Below would be nothing you’d want to run foul of.

    Well done!


  3. Brilliant. I actually saw fathers face . What a smack in the kisser that was.
    Had me hooked from start to finish, I could also see Catherine telling him how she meets his needs.
    Wonderful as usual. Thankyou

    • Oooh love this Catherine gave to Father. Meets all of my needs. Ha ha oooh was he speechless. And ending with her going toward her lover. Thanks for a good story

  4. Ah,I would love to be one of the books on Father’s coffee table and see that shocked look on his face. Wonderful confrontation between Catherine and Father’s nonsensical fears…and the gossip is over and breathing is better.Thanks JoAnn, this is a great story!


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CABB logo: crystal and rose




CABB logo: crystal and rose







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?”


“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.