WFOL 2024

GUESS THE AUTHOR

Match Game

A LITTLE HELP

by JoAnn Baca

I get by with a little help from my friends.
~ Billy Shears

Lena sidled up to Vincent, still a bit shy of everyone as she attended her first Winterfest. “Can I talk to you?” she murmured.

Vincent, his back to her, was in the process of refilling Catherine’s mug of mead – William’s special Winterfest brew – and he nodded without turning. “In a moment, yes.”

“Oh!” Lena’s eyes grew wide as she realized belatedly that he had been getting a drink, and not just standing by the barrels of libations, as she was, watching the dancers. “Never mind! I didn’t notice you were busy.” She blushed a hot pink.

Vincent turned and smiled down at her. “It isn’t a problem. Just let me deliver this and I’ll come back to you.” He waited for her nod, then disappeared into the crowd.

Lena twisted the end of her scarf with nervous fingers, anxious about the upcoming conversation. She had tried and failed to initiate it several times over the past few days. Why had she chosen such an inappropriate time to spring this on Vincent? She sighed. Would she ever develop the social skills that seemed to come so easily to others?

As she was silently berating herself, Vincent returned. “Shall we move to a quiet corner?”

She nodded, wondering where such a place might be.

Vincent led her to a spot under the stairs leading to the tapestry gallery. It was somewhat shielded from the activity and noise in the Great Hall.

“What is it you wished to discuss, Lena?”

Vincent’s focus was entirely on her now, and she briefly lost her own focus. Those eyes… She mentally shook herself. “It’s about…somebody in my…my old neighborhood.” She couldn’t bring herself to say the word “pimp” because she didn’t want to remind Vincent of her earlier life…not that he was likely ever to forget it. “Someone I…um…I have unfinished business with.”

Her companion frowned as he tried to imagine who she might be beholden to Above. “This is something you cannot do for yourself?”

She shook her head, understanding his confusion. She knew that he was aware that she went Above on occasion; letting go of that world entirely was not something she seemed able to do, although she tried hard for Cathy’s benefit.

“Perhaps it’s something a Helper could attend to on your behalf?”

Shrugging helplessly, she said, “It’s not with a bank or anything, just a…a…personal loan kind of thing.” She was losing her way in the conversation, trying to explain her predicament without revealing how ashamed she was about it all.

She could see Vincent struggle, too, with how to frame his next question. Finally, he asked, “Does this pertain to…your old life?”

Grateful he understood, she nodded.

“You owe money to someone?”

Ah, he hadn’t grasped the full picture yet. She took a deep breath and blurted it out. “My pimp. When I went Above after Cathy was born, I…did some things, things…” Taking a deeper breath, she finally got it out. “I turned some tricks, and I didn’t give my pimp his cut, OK? And now he’s hassling my friends, told them he’d take it out on their hides if they didn’t convince me to come back with what I owe him.” Tears spilled down her cheeks at her shame and desperation. She couldn’t look at him as she added, “I…I need $400 to stop him from hurting them.”

She didn’t see Vincent’s eyebrows raise, or him turn to look for Catherine. She didn’t notice that he’d caught Catherine’s eye and tilted his head in a “Come here” motion. She only noticed a lovely pair of pink shoes suddenly joining the two pairs belonging to herself and Vincent.

“Hello, Lena.”

Catherine’s soft voice gave Lena the courage to look up again, and to meet the smile that accompanied it.

“Might I help with something?”

Before Lena had to explain to someone else, Vincent said, “There is some leftover business with Lena’s former employer that must be addressed.”

Lena marveled at how non-judgmentally he had framed it.

“In fact, there have been threats made to her former colleagues if Lena doesn’t attend to it.”

Catherine tilted her head. “Is the ‘leftover business’ monetary in nature?”

“It is.” Vincent’s subsequent shrug and head shake indicated that he didn’t feel he had anything to contribute toward finding a solution.

“I see. Lena, why don’t we discuss where I might find this person?” She looked up at her Bondmate. “I will help Lena on this project, if that’s all right?”

Unseen by Lena, Vincent smiled gratefully and tilted his head in a little bow.

“Let’s go up into the loft. It’s not quite as noisy up there.” Catherine grasped Lena’s hand and they ascended the nearby stairway together.

When they got to the top, they startled a couple of youngsters who had been preparing to toss bits of bread onto the heads of the partygoers below. Caught, they froze, apparently expecting a lecture. Catherine’s remark of “Scoot!” sent them scurrying, and she laughed as they descended the stairs. “Children are the same everywhere,” she remarked.

“You’re so nice, Catherine. Even when you don’t have to be,” Lena said.

Smiling gently, Catherine replied, “My Mom died when I was young, but she gave me a piece of advice that has never left me. ‘In a world where you can be anything…be kind.’”

Lena blinked rapidly as she took the concept in. “Wow. That’s… I’m gonna tell that to my Cathy when she’s older. It’s really nice, and anyone can do it.”

“Exactly. It doesn’t depend on station in life, or education level, or the job you have.”

“My…uh…old boss, I guess you could call him…he could stand to learn to do that!”

Catherine chuckled. “Speaking of him…let me have his address and the amount he’s due. I’ll make things right for you.”

“Why would you do that for me?” Lena was overwhelmed. “You’ve already done so much…and…and…” She stuttered to a stop, blushing, until she finally found some words to cover her embarrassment. “I haven’t always been as good a friend to you.”

She didn’t know how much more to say. She didn’t think Vincent would tell Catherine about the night when she had tried to convince him to be with her. If Catherine ever found out, would it change her offer of help? Lena wondered. She felt guilty accepting Catherine’s assistance, knowing she had betrayed her friendship, even if Catherine wasn’t aware of her betrayal.

“Lena…” Catherine got her young friend to look her in the eye. “It doesn’t matter what’s happened in the past…even,” she squeezed Lena’s shoulders gently, “the very recent past. We all make mistakes, and we all learn from them and try to do better in the future. OK?”

So…she did know. Lena gulped. But Catherine’s face did not reflect anger or even a warning. She was just doing what her Mom had taught her at an early age – she was being kind.

Something shifted deep inside. Emptying her heart of hurt and pain would take a while, and feeling the need to scrap and scheme for what she wanted would take time to recede. But remembering Catherine’s Mom’s guidance would help a lot. In this world Below, no matter what had happened in the world Above, she could be different…better. She could practice kindness. She’d make Catherine…and maybe even Catherine’s Mom…proud of her.

Aloud she only said, “Yes…I will, I promise. And about my…problem… I’ll write down the address and amount.” Her eyes glistened with tears. “I really, really appreciate this! My friends would have gotten hurt because of me, so they will appreciate it, too.”

Catherine nodded. “That sounds like a good plan.” She threaded an arm around one of Lena’s. “Shall we go back to the party? I left my mug of mead down there and I don’t want anyone else to drink it!”

Lena squeezed Catherine’s arm as they descended the stairs. “If someone has, I’ll draw you another mug,” she promised.

It would be her first…of many…acts of kindness, she decided.

 

3 Comments

  1. For Lena, everything is still so new…shyness towards Vincent, understandable after what she has done…. and on top of that the smoldering feeling inside her for him. The realization that Catherine knows the truth and yet shows her sincere kindness and understanding. I admire Catherine for this and for her good heart, and Lena for admitting her mistakes and wanting to change for the better. This is such a positive story that with true friends you can overcome difficulties.

    Reply
  2. JoAnn, this is a wonderful story. While reading, I could see and hear every detail so vividly. Thank you for helping Lena — one of my favorite characters — continue to find her way, a better and more positive way.

    Reply
  3. Really enjoyed this story . In a world where you can be anything be kind
    Lena is showing her kind heart here by trying to fix the matter. Vincent of course is kindness himself. I have always struggled alot in life with having BPD and this is why I love Linda so much. Such genuinely kind and loving soul.
    Such a lovely story

    Reply

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