CABB’s

WFOL 2024 Challenge

Winterfest Guests

Candles and Mirrors

by Linda S Barth

Author’s Note: In my Classic BatB fanfic world, Winslow did not die. So please don’t be surprised when you find him alive and well in many of my stories.

“There are two ways of spreading light: To be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”

~ Edith Wharton

 

“Ma’am, please! You need to stay still until the ambulance gets here!”

She squints up at two blurry faces. “Ambulance?”

“We called 911. But with this rush hour traffic, it’s going to take a while. So, you just stay calm, dear, like Saul told you.”

She twists her head from one voice to the other. A knife-slash of pain draws a harsh gasp and a single word. “Why?”  Her hands flutter at her sides, scraping against wet pavement. Cold leaches into her, dulling the pain for a few blessed seconds.

“She’s shivering. We need to keep her warm!”

She feels a heaviness drape over her. Bulky, woolen, smelling of dampness and something else…dogs…horses? It is comforting.

And smothering. Suffocating.

This is wrong, all wrong. She has to get away.

Strong hands hold her down. “Ma’am, stop! We’re only trying to help!”

A surge of adrenaline. A desperate struggle to break free.

“Saul, be careful! She’s scared!”

“I know, Nora! I’m doing my best, but she can’t keep thrashing around like this.”

One final attempt. A strangled cry. “Let me go!”

Trapped, helpless, filled with pain. Her head and body reverberate with it.

The scream of a siren grows louder, closer. Then, there is only darkness.

//////////

The curved steel panel slides into place behind the girls, securing them in the shelter and sanctuary of the tunnel world.

“That was so much fun!” Jasmine pushes back the hood of her winter jacket. “You were right about everything!”

“I’m so glad!” Samantha smiles at her friend. “I know you were worried at first.”

“I’ve only had to go Above one other time since I moved here, and that didn’t work out so good, so, yeah, I was nervous.” A haunted look ghosts across her face, vanishes with her smile. “But this was different – it was great!”

“It really was, but now we have to get to Father’s study as fast as we can!”

“Wait ‘til the boys find out we delivered all our Winterfest candles before they did!”

With a flurry of giggles and the pounding of feet, the two friends race through the tunnels, dodging a startled Mary and Olivia, ignoring an admonishing William, soon emerging at the top of the stairs leading into the study. They clatter down and quickly scan the chamber.

“We did it! We’re back first!” They hug each other in delight. “We won!”

A snort of laughter tells them otherwise. “No, you didn’t. We did!”

The girls spin to see Kipper and Geoffrey pop up from behind Father’s desk. “What took you so long? We’ve been waiting for – let’s see – at least an hour, right, Geoff?”

“I think it’s been two hours, maybe even three.”

“It has not!” Samantha glares at them. “You’re lying!”

“No, we’re not,” Kipper flashes a satisfied smile. “You’re just mad because we beat you.”

“Okay, so you beat us, big deal.” Jasmine glowers at the grinning duo. “But I know it wasn’t by an hour, so you absolutely are lying — about that part anyway.”

Geoffrey casts a confused look at the girls. “How could you tell?”

In one shared motion, they point at the boys’ feet. “You’re still wearing your soaking wet boots,” Samantha gloats.

“And,” Jasmine adds, “Kipper’s hair is wet. It only started sleeting about fifteen minutes ago.”

Kipper raises a hand to his head. “Thought you wouldn’t notice. It’s ‘cause I lost my hat when we were running through the park. But we still got back before you did!”

Samantha sighs. “Well, I guess you did beat us fair and square. But just wait ‘til next year!”

//////////

Jolted out of darkness, her head thumps against something firm. A low groan escapes her throat. Her eyes flutter open.

“Sorry, ma’am.” Someone stares down at her, a frown on his unlined face as he turns to glance behind him. “Hey, Danny, take it easy! You’re hitting every pothole in the city!”

There is a muffled reply she can’t understand, then more words in a tone that seems meant to reassure her.

“You just hang on now, okay? We’re almost there.”

She wants to ask, “Almost where?” but it would take strength she no longer has. She closes her eyes again, trying to hide from the sound of screaming.

//////////

“So, tell me more about the Winterfest party!”

Samantha strokes a brush three more times through her long hair, then sets it on the dresser. “It’s just called Winterfest.” She tilts her head to one side and double-checks her image in the mirror before turning toward Jasmine. “But it is a party. A big one.”

“I haven’t been to a lot of parties.” Jasmine frowns. “Are we supposed to dress up all fancy and everything? Do we have to bring something like food? How are we going to do that?”

Samantha boosts herself onto her bed and arranges several pillows against the stony wall. “Come on, have a seat, and I’ll explain the whole thing.” She rolls her eyes. “Again!”

“Ha, ha, very funny.” Jasmine ties the belt of her patchwork bathrobe, then leans back against the pillows. “And it’s not really again because all you told me so far is that you can’t wait for Winterfest ‘cause it’s the best party ever.” Her raised eyebrow look forestalls any argument. “You know I’m right.”

Samantha grins at her best friend. “Okay, you’re right. And I don’t mind because it really is fun to talk about Winterfest! You just missed it last year, but once you see what it’s like, you’re going to love it, too. I’ll tell you anything you want to know. Where do you want me to start?”

It’s Jasmine’s turn to roll her eyes. “Start anywhere! Everybody is talking about it all the time, like how they can’t wait for it, but that’s all they ever say. And I need to know everything!”

“Well, let’s see. Winterfest is three weeks from this Saturday. It’s always around this time of year, kind of in the middle of winter, and –”

“Why is it always then?”

Samantha hesitates. “You know, I’m not really sure. Anyway, that doesn’t matter. The important part is that everyone Below and most of our Helpers from Above get together and have a great time. It’s really the best!”

Jasmine shakes her head. “Details, Sam! Sure, it’s a big party with lots of people. But what’s the point?”

A smile makes her face glow. “It’s more than just a party. It’s a way for all of us to thank the people who help make our lives better. The Helpers do so much for us all year long. This is one way we can do something special for them.”

“So, it’s kind of like a way to show that we’re grateful, right?”

“That’s it exactly. If we didn’t have Helpers, things could get really bad. It’s important to remind them how much they mean to us and that we appreciate them.”

“I know the Helpers give us some of our food and stuff like that, but what else are we thanking them for?”

“Loads of things. Dr. Peter helps out when we get sick. We get books from people like Aubrey and Wallace from their bookshop, and food from the Martinellis’ restaurant. Helpers have let some of us stay at their apartments – like Michael is doing while he’s in college. And you’ve met Benny, right?”

“The guy with the bike who delivers messages. I met him when he came to visit and stayed for dinner last week. He seems really nice.”

“He is. All our Helpers are nice. Like Mischa and Sophie. They’re going to give piano and cello lessons for anyone who wants to learn, starting next month. And Sebastien – he’s Father’s old friend and he’s a magician – he’ll be at Winterfest. And then there’s –”

“All these people!” Jasmine covers her face with her hands. “I don’t know them! I don’t know anything!”

Samantha pats her on the arm. “That’s not true. You know a lot! Remember, you’ve only been living here a few months, and you’re fitting in great. And after you’ve been to Winterfest for the first time, you’ll know a lot more.”

Jasmine gives her friend a teary look. “Yeah, I hope you’re right about that. But you still have to tell me more about it. I don’t want to be the only one who doesn’t know what’s going on!”

Samantha wiggles off the bed. “Wait a second. I have something to show you.”

//////////

Light glares at her. But when she tries to turn her head away, the pain flares higher. She gasps, clutching handfuls of soft, smooth cloth.

“Oh, good, you’re awake.” A cheery voice ratchets through her pounding skull. “Let’s see how you’re doing.”

An impossibly brighter light lasers into her eyes. Hands, firm but gentle, turn her head, probe at her neck. The fabric covering her is whisked back, then replaced.

“Wonderful! Your pupils are normal – no concussion after all. And no additional bleeding.”

She knows the person is talking to her, but none of it makes sense. She’d been fine, hurrying home from work. She should be making dinner and listening to the news on tv. But something happened. Something bad. A screeching sound. A jolt of pain. And then…and then…

“Here, let’s get you sitting up a bit.”

She hears the smooth sound of a motor as her body slants upwards, the sudden beeping of a machine just behind her. A plastic cup is offered, a straw angling toward her scraped lips.

“See if you can drink some water.”

She longs to reject it and instead ask for answers, but the cool comfort promised by the liquid is irresistible. When it is withdrawn, she wants to beg for its return.

“Not too much all at once. You can have more after Dr. Alvarez sees you. He’s our neurologist on call tonight.”

Lines are drawn on a map. Puzzle pieces fall into place.

“I’m in a hospital?” Her voice is a rasped whisper. She blinks hard and finds she can focus more clearly on the person hovering over her. “Why?”

The woman in pale blue scrubs frowns slightly, her voice losing much of its upbeat trill. “You’re in the ER at Mount Sinai West. I’m Dr. Nowak. I’m a Resident here. Can you tell me your name?”

The doctor waits, offering that reassuring smile. “My name is Hanna. Can you tell me yours?”

There is only darkness where memory should gleam. How is this possible? Her heart pounds; her pulse races.

“No.”

That single word is more terrifying than anything else.

//////////

“Here!” Samantha sets her sketchbook on Jasmine’s lap. “Open it!”

Jasmine turns page after page of colored pencil images. “Wow! These are really good, Sam! Did you draw them?”

The girl blushes. “I started after last year’s Winterfest. Elizabeth has been giving me art lessons, and it’s really helped.”

Jasmine returns to the beginning. “What’s going on here?”

“This is when we walk down the stairs to the Great Hall. It’s really steep and very windy, so you have to be careful, and then Vincent opens the doors. We’re not allowed in there until Winterfest, only if there’s some other important celebration like a Naming Ceremony or a Joining.” She turns to the next drawing. “Everyone goes in, the Helpers, all of us. And then Father makes a speech before –”

“What kind of speech?” Jasmine casts her friend a doubtful look. “Like in one of his classes?”

Samantha giggles. “No, not like that. It’s nice! And then something special happens, but I don’t want to tell you because it would spoil it. You need to see it for yourself, especially the first time.”

Jasmine starts flipping pages. “Show me now! Which picture is it?”

“I didn’t draw that one yet.” She gives her friend a sidelong glance. “And good thing because it would have spoiled the surprise.”

“Oh, come on, Sam! Just give me a hint!”

Samantha tilts her head, seeming to consider her words. “Well, it’s something to do with the candles we just delivered. You know, they’re like invitations, but the Helpers bring them back on Winterfest night, and –” She clamps her lips shut.

“And what?!”

“I’m not going to tell you that part. Really, Jasmine, it’s better if it’s a surprise!”

She huffs a loud, resigned sigh. “Okay, but you can tell me about the rest, right?” She pages to the next drawing. “What’s going on here?”

Samantha scrambles to the end of her bed and grabs two small quilts, then tosses one to Jasmine. “Get comfortable. We’re going to be awake for quite a while.”

//////////

Dr. Nowak’s smile is gentle. “There’s not much I can tell you yet. It seems you were in an accident of some sort. You were injured – you hit your head and your ankle is fractured — but we’re going to help you get better. Try not to worry. You’re in good hands.”

Hands? Like the ones that had tried to comfort her? Or the ones that had gripped her, held her down…

She won’t let it happen again. She shoves at the blankets pinning her to the bed, twisting violently, trying to dislodge the sudden pressure on her shoulders.

“Nurse! I need help over here – now!”

The sharp sting of a needle jabs into her arm.

//////////

“What’s your favorite part of Winterfest?”

Vincent smiles at his newest student. “Jasmine, when I asked if anyone had any questions, I was referring to the chapter of Anne of Green Gables that was part of your homework assignment.”

“I don’t have any questions about that.” She grins at him. “But I do have some about Winterfest.”

Samantha leans across the table and stares at her friend. “How could you have any more questions?! You’ve already asked me about a million!”

Jasmine shrugs. “Well, now I want to know what Vincent thinks about it.”

“And I’ll be happy to tell you – after class.” He picks up his copy of the book. “Let’s turn to page forty-seven.”

//////////

At least now she knows where she is – in a hospital room several floors above the ER. And she knows why she’s there. But everything else is hiding somewhere out of reach.

She shifts on the bed, trying to get comfortable. Her ankle still throbs dully, but the pain in her head is nearly gone. She should be happy about that, yet she worries, knowing the relief was gained with potent drugs, something she has always avoided. She is well aware of what happens to people who rely on them.

Her breathing quickens. How does she know something like that? She lies still, focusing on errant impressions, willing them to yield something more. But they vanish before they can offer an answer.

She turns her head to scan the dimly lit room. No one watches over her. No patient lies in the next bed. Her heart pounds; she takes deep soothing breaths. They’d all said they would help her. That too-cheerful doctor, that young man who must have been an EMT, even the people behind the blurry faces somewhere when she’d been cold and filled with pain.

But they are strangers, so how can they give her the answer she needs most of all? How can they give her back her name?

//////////

The two girls claim the coveted spots Vincent has saved next to him in the dining chamber.

“Now can we talk about Winterfest?”

“Of course, Jasmine. We still have half an hour for lunch. That should be enough time for you to ask whatever you wish.”

Samantha giggles as she smooths her napkin onto her lap. “Don’t be too sure about that, Vincent! Jasmine always has a lot of questions!”

A spoonful of tomato soup pauses halfway to her mouth. “So, what if I do!”

“Asking questions is an excellent way to learn. It’s far better than staying silent and unknowing.” Vincent smiles as he looks pointedly at Samantha. “And I can think of someone else who would agree with me, someone who also enjoys asking many interesting questions.”

The girl blushes and pretends to be too busy dunking her grilled cheese sandwich to have noticed Vincent’s comment or the satisfied smile on her best friend’s face.

“Now, what is it you wish to ask me about Winterfest, Jasmine?”

“Well, Sam did tell me a lot, but I think there’s still stuff I need to know. Like, what’s your favorite part of it?”

He hesitates, so many images and impressions flashing through his memory. “It’s a difficult choice to make. Winterfest – all of it – is a wonderful experience, and I could answer you in a hundred ways.”

Jasmine rolls her eyes. “Aw, come on, Vincent – just pick one!”

“Only one?” He tilts his head at her.

“Okay, two – or three or four — but please tell me!”

His mouth curves in a soft smile. “I only need one. Of everything Winterfest means to me, to all of us, the part I cherish most is spending time with friends, our community gathering together to enjoy each other’s company. To show appreciation for our friendships, to know that even though some of us are far apart from one another, we will always find ways to be together. That is my favorite part of Winterfest.”

He expects the girl he has come to know as quite perceptive and insightful, to agree, perhaps to say she is looking forward to making new friends, ones with whom she will reunite each Winterfest to come. But to his dismay, tears fill her eyes.

“Jasmine, what’s wrong?” He rests a gentle hand on her shoulder. “I’m very sorry if I’ve said something to upset you.”

She sniffles and wipes away her tears. “It’s okay. What you said sounds really nice. It’s just that I only know a few Helpers so far, and I was really hoping one of them could be at the party.” She forces herself to hold back fresh tears. “But I don’t think she will be.”

“Why not? Hasn’t she been given a candle?”

When Jasmine bites her lip, Samantha is quick to explain for her. “We tried to deliver one to her on Tuesday with the others on our list, but we couldn’t find her. And no one could tell us anything.”

“Who is she? Maybe there’s something I can do to help you.”

//////////

Muffled voices pull her from troubling dreams. Footsteps come closer. Maybe this is the person with answers, the one who will tell her what she can’t tell herself.

She stares toward the doorway, then some instinct makes her shut her eyes, take slow even breaths, listen to the wisp of a thought. Sometimes you get the information you need if you pretend you aren’t really listening.

“It looks like she’s still sleeping, Dr. Alvarez. Unfortunately, we had to sedate her earlier.”

She knows that voice. Hanna Nowak. The realization makes her feel like weeping. How could she remember a stranger’s name and not her own?

The snap of a clipboard, pages rustling.

“Her vital signs are good. They’ve been stable since they brought her in two nights ago. Let her rest for now. It’ll do her good after all that trauma. I’ll check on her later after rounds, and tomorrow we’ll see if we can get her up and moving a bit.”

Hands adjust the pillows beneath her head, straighten the blankets covering her.

“Oh, I checked again with the EMTs who brought her in. They said she didn’t have a purse or any form of ID with her.”

“That’s unfortunate. I’d hoped for better news.” A soft sigh. “If there’s no improvement in the next few days, we’ll have to consider moving her to a chronic care facility.”

She somehow manages not to flinch. Something tells her she needs to be here, not shuttled off to some other labyrinth where she might never be found.

Maybe she was wrong to feign sleep. She tries to order the words to ask the two doctors something, anything.

But their voices are growing distant. The door thumps open. She strains to hear their last words.

“Don’t forget about the reception for the hospital benefactors at seven tonight, Doctor.”

“You’re right, Hanna. I’ll transfer this patient’s care to you for now. I have to meet with Dr. Alcott so we can touch base before the speeches begin. But be sure to page me immediately if there are any changes in her condition.”

“I will.”

The voices and footfalls trail away, but their words do not.

Dr. Alcott. The name echoes through her like the distant calling of a bell.

///////////

Jasmine sighs. “It’s Mrs. Jordan, the social worker who came looking for me after Granny died. The one who brought me here. She’s so nice! And – and – she saved my life! We’re supposed to be saying thank you to Helpers like that at Winterfest, and now I can’t!”

Samantha scurries around to Jasmine’s side of the table and hugs her tightly, then uses her own handkerchief to gently wipe away a fresh surge of tears streaking the girl’s face. “It’ll be okay. Vincent will help us.”

Jasmine’s wet eyes seem to shine with a hint of hope. “Can you?”

“I can’t promise I’ll be successful, but I will do everything possible. Tell me what happened when you tried to deliver the candle.”

Samantha retakes her seat. “Yesterday, we went to the soup kitchen where Mrs. Jordan volunteers, the Fulton Street Center, but she wasn’t there, and when we asked, they said she hadn’t shown up for work like she always does at dinner time every day except Sunday.”

“That’s ‘cause on Sunday she goes to church all day. When she brought me here to live with you guys, she said she’d always light a candle for me every Sunday morning.” Jasmine’s lips quiver. “And I wanted to give her a candle, too.”

“So, we went back this afternoon, and she still wasn’t there,” Samantha continues. “No one knows why!”

“Did someone try to contact her?”

Jasmine nods. “They said they kept calling her apartment, but no one answered the phone, so some guy who lives in her building went by today to see if she was home. But no one came to the door either.”

“And they told us that wasn’t like her at all. She always shows up right on time and she wouldn’t just quit without telling them.” Samantha’s eyes widen. “They said they’re really worried about her.”

“It does sound as if there may be cause for concern.” He frowns. “Did they mention checking with the police or calling the hospitals?”

Samantha casts a frightened look at Jasmine. “They didn’t say anything about that.”

“Probably because we’re just kids! No one ever tells kids anything important! But we need to know what happened to her!”

“And we will try to get answers.” He covers Jasmine’s hand with his own. “I will talk with Catherine and seek her help.”

Jasmine takes a shuddering breath. “When?”

“Tonight.”

/////////////

“Excellent speech, Cathy.” Peter’s eyes gleam with pride for the woman he considers a second daughter. “You really got to the donors when you told them about volunteering at the Fulton Street Center.”

“Peter’s right.” Dr. Alvarez smiles with approval. “You helped them envision our mission to provide similar services, especially a soup kitchen, right here at Mount Sinai West. What better use can there be for that property we just acquired right down the block?”

“That really is the perfect spot, and after tonight, maybe we’ll have the funds to get the project started.” Catherine’s smile dims. “So many people need our support, and potential benefactors need to be made more aware of what’s going on in their own city. Just a distance of a few blocks can be like going from one world to another.”

“You’re absolutely right, Catherine. I see that every day at the hospital. People from all walks of life come to us for help, and each one should be valued and respected, no matter what their circumstances or conditions.”

They make their way toward the bar on one side of the ballroom.

“So, Javier, have any particularly interesting cases come your way lately?”

“Actually, things have been unusually quiet. Although two nights ago, we admitted a woman with what appears likely to be trauma-induced retrograde amnesia.”

“I know a doctor can’t divulge confidential information, but what is that?”

Peter smiles. “I’m not a neurologist like Javier, but let’s see if I understand it correctly. It’s when an injury causes a patient to lose their memories. They’re no longer aware of anything in their past. But they can still create new memories in the present. Right?”

“That’s an accurate capsule description. Our patient is a middle-aged woman who was brought in after a car accident somewhere in Hell’s Kitchen. It was a hit and run, and from what the EMTs reported, two good Samaritans called 911 and stayed with her until she could be transported. But she hasn’t been able to tell us anything, not even her name.”

“That poor woman! What will happen to her?”

Javier shakes his head. “It’s hard to say at this point. She appears to be in otherwise good health, but we know nothing of her medical history, which makes treatment difficult in some ways. Amazingly, there were no internal injuries, although she does have abrasions and severe bruising, along with a fractured fibula – a bone in the ankle – but she will recover from all that. It’s her memory that is becoming a concern.”

Catherine sighs softly. “Do you think she’ll ever get it back?”

Peter shrugs. “When she has begun to heal physically, depending on the severity of her injuries, of course, there’s a chance she will regain her memory. But there are a lot of variables to consider.” He turned to his colleague. “Isn’t that true?”

“Quite impressive – for an obstetrician!” Javier smiles at his old friend. “So, are you interested in becoming my assistant once your retirement is confirmed?”

Peter chuckles as he shakes his head. “That’s not exactly what I have planned for my ‘golden years’.”

“I hope everything goes well for your patient. If there’s anything I can do, please call me.” Catherine turns down a proffered glass of Sancerre. “And now I have to go, but you two enjoy catching up and planning Peter’s next cruise to the Bahamas.”

“Thanks again for your help tonight, Cathy.” Peter winks at her. “Tell Vincent I said hello.”

Her smile lights her face. “I will.”

//////////

“Are you cold?” Vincent murmurs as he tucks the duvet around Catherine’s shoulders.

She cuddles closer, nestling her head under his chin. “Not at all. Are you?”

“Never when I’m with you…especially like this.” His arms hold her tighter, and she nuzzles her cheek into the thick, silky hair on his chest.

She sighs contentedly. “It’s as if nothing else in the world exists, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but…” His low voice catches on a sigh.

“But it does.” She slowly sits up and reaches for a fleecy robe. “And soon you’ll have to leave.”

“Yes. But someday…soon…”

For just a moment she closes her eyes, then turns to gaze into his. “Yes, someday soon.” She swings her feet out of bed and slips into the robe, tightening its belt around her waist. “I found more of the ginger and lemongrass tea you said you like so much. Would you like a cup before you go?”

“I would, thank you.” Without hesitating, he rises and begins to gather his clothes from the carpeted floor where he’d tossed them earlier.

For several irresistible moments, she watches him move about her bedroom with unselfconscious ease before forcing herself to head for the kitchen. “I’ll see if there are some shortbread cookies left, too.”

Soon a tray rests on the coffee table in front of the oversized couch she’d recently purchased. That one item of furniture takes up nearly a third of the room’s floor space, but it is more than worth the sacrifice, especially on nights like these.

As she snuggles into her spot next to him, he drapes a patchwork quilt over their legs, then reaches for his tea, savoring the sweet spiciness of the steam curling from the edges of a handmade ceramic mug.

She smooths her hands over the meticulously sewn squares of cotton, wool, and velvet. “Mary was so kind to make this for me. Whenever I look at it, I think of all of you…I think of home.”

He tightens his arm around her shoulders. “Whenever we’re together, Catherine, wherever we are, I know I am home.”

Happy tears fill her eyes. Their bond had told her everything, but to hear the words freely spoken means the world to her.

For long moments, they linger, comfortable and content, sharing dreams and decisions, savoring their time together, glorying in the paths that are opening up before them.

She takes a sip of tea, then looks up at him with a twinkle in her eyes as she lets the tip of her tongue smooth over her still slightly swollen lips.

“Peter wanted me to tell you he said hello. Somehow I forgot to mention it earlier.”

He smiles at her. “Perhaps you had something else on your mind.”

“I think that must have been it. And it’s certainly not something I want to forget.” She levers herself up to press a quick kiss to his mouth, before resting her head against his shoulder. “That reminds me of a colleague of his I met tonight, Javier Alvarez. He told us about a patient he’s seeing who has forgotten everything. She has the type of amnesia where old memories are hidden or lost, but new memories still can be created.”

“Retrograde amnesia, often trauma-induced.”

She tilts her head to look up at him. “Have you been spending more time than usual with Father and Peter?”

“Well, not enough time with Peter. I missed seeing him when he and Father enjoyed a game of chess last week.”

She laughs softly. “It drives Peter crazy when Father wins nearly every game, but I think he enjoys the time spent with his old friend so much that he’s willing to let it go.”

“I think you’re right.” He breaks a cookie in half, offers one piece to her. “Did Peter speak at the reception tonight, too?”

“Yes, and as always he was so eloquent when he talked about his volunteer work at the women’s and children’s clinic and shelter. I’m sure he made an impact on the benefactors.”

“You both do so much good for others, Catherine. You make a difference in the world.”

“And so do you.” She places a gentle hand on his face. “It’s like at Winterfest when Father says, ‘without you our world would be a darker place.’ I know he’s talking about all of us together, helping one another, but in my heart, those words mean only you.”

He holds her as if he’ll never let her go. “And you, Catherine. You are my light.”

They drift and dream until the chiming of the anniversary clock on the mantel sends an inescapable message.

Not yet, whispers through their bond.

“How are the Winterfest preparations coming along?” She glances toward the dining table where her invitation waits. “Kipper and Geoffrey brought my candle two days ago, but they didn’t stay long. Geoffrey said something about wanting to be the first to finish their deliveries.”

“I believe they have something of a competition going on with Samantha and Jasmine. And aside from a few small problems which will be easily resolved, all is well, and it will be a wonderful evening.” A shadow darkens his face. “But there is something we need your help with.”

“Of course. Just tell me what I can do.”

He hesitates. “I should have mentioned it earlier. You need your sleep.”

She holds gentle but firm fingers to his lips. “Maybe you had other things on your mind earlier, too.” She feels his mouth curve into a smile. “It’s not that late. Tell me now. I want to help.”

He presses a fleeting kiss to her fingertips, then clasps her hand in his.

“Jasmine wants very much for Davina Jordan to join us at the celebration, but when Samantha and she tried to deliver a candle to her at Fulton Street yesterday, they were told she hadn’t shown up for work. The girls went back this afternoon to try again, but no one has been able to locate her.”

A frown creases her forehead. “I just spoke with Davina a week ago — last Friday evening at the dinner service. She seemed fine then. She even said how much she’s looking forward to Winterfest.” Her frown deepens. “I wonder what could have happened to her. She’s the most dependable volunteer we have. This is not like her at all.”

“That’s exactly what the girls reported after talking with people at the center. Surely, hospitals and the police have been contacted by now.”

“Probably, but even so, one missing middle-aged social worker isn’t going to be high on anyone’s list of priorities.” She wriggles out from under the quilt and quickly brings back a notebook and pen. “Let’s write down everything we know about Davina and see if we can find something to go on.”

“That’s a good idea.” He sets down his empty mug and clasps his hands in front of him. “We both know what she looks like and her approximate age.” He waits as she jots down a description. “Do you know anything about her job?”

“She works for the city in child protective services. I wonder if Jackson, the director at Fulton Street, contacted them to see if they’ve heard anything. I’ll call him tomorrow.”

“I know so little about her. We’ve only met a few times.” He sighs softly. “What about family? Does she have a husband, children?”

“No immediate family. She’s divorced and her only daughter died as a teenager. The people at the center are like family to her, and, of course, she cherishes her role as a Helper.” She shakes her head. “That’s what’s so concerning. If she needed time off for some reason, for some emergency, she would have told Jackson or someone else.”

His nod is solemn. “At least we know the date she went missing.”

“And that it was sometime between her shifts on Monday and Tuesday.” Her pen sweeps across the page. “But she wasn’t at the center when she disappeared, so we need clues that lead us in other directions. Do you know where she lives?”

“Not the exact address, but it’s somewhere in the West 50s, between Ninth and Tenth Avenue.”

She begins to record the information, then stops abruptly. “That’s Hell’s Kitchen.”

“Yes, that’s her neighborhood. I think her building is not too far from the stables where the carriage horses are kept.” He watches her worried expression transform to one of tentative hope. “What is it?”

She takes a deep breath. “This is probably way too far-fetched, but that patient Javier told Peter and me about tonight – she’s a middle-aged woman and the accident a few days ago that caused her amnesia happened in Hell’s Kitchen.”

His eyes widen. “Do you think it’s possible?”

“I don’t know.” She shrugs, then a smile lights her face. “But it could be, couldn’t it?”

“It would be wonderful if it were. But we can’t make any assumptions until we have more information.”

“I know. We might just be trying to make what little we know fit our expectations.” Her face takes on an expression he knows very well. “I’m going to call the hospital right now and leave a message for Javier, and I’ll call Peter, too.”

He gently urges her back onto the couch. “Catherine, it’s well past midnight. If this injured woman is Davina, we’ll do everything we can to help her. But it must wait until morning.”

She sighs. “You’re right. I guess a few more hours won’t matter too much.”

He rises and reaches for the tray. “I’ll take this to the kitchen, and then I’m afraid I have to leave.”

“Leave it. I’ll do it later.” She melts into his arms, hugging him close. “Let’s not waste even a second of the time we have left.”

Much too soon, he is gone, leaving behind a whispered promise of days to come when their partings would end.

She straightens the quilt along the curved back of the couch, her mind and heart filling with thoughts of home and warmth and comfort. Things Davina Jordan might be at risk of losing forever.

With a sigh, she reaches for the tray, then pivots and picks up the phone.

//////////

That name. Dr. Alcott. Dr…Peter – Peter Alcott! His name is like a light flickering in the shadows. She knows him, she is sure of it.

She will make herself remember. She can do it. She knows she can.

She squeezes her eyes shut. Blurred images flash as if on a movie screen. A steep stone staircase. Wind whipping clothing and hair. Swirls of people smiling, laughing. And candles, so many candles.

Her jaw clenches, her entire body goes rigid with concentration. A room – no, a chamber — filled with books. A chessboard. Mugs of tea. A grandfatherly man with kindly eyes behind his wire-rimmed glasses. A little girl, her big brown eyes filling with tears even as she smiles. She seems to be saying something…thank you?

The images move faster, slipping in and out of focus…but when she tries to reach for them, hold them, they fall away, all but one out of reach. The craggy smiling face of someone she can name. Peter Alcott.

She turns her head from side to side on the pillow. Her hands carve into fists and her heart races as she repeats his name over and over. She can’t let herself forget it. That name is all she has. But what if it, too, vanishes like the rest of her memories?

It is very late, the ward is silent, but she cannot wait a second longer. She presses her finger to the call button and forces herself to breathe while she strains to hear the sound of a nurse’s footsteps.

Minutes pass, seeming to speed forward then freeze, yet no one answers her summons. With an exasperated huff, she sits up and pushes her feet to the floor. A shaft of sharpest pain tears through her leg as it collapses, plummeting her downward. For the flash of a second, she whispers her mantra before the darkness claims her.

//////////

“Peter, I’m so sorry to wake you, and I wouldn’t have if it wasn’t very important.”

He pushes himself up against his pillows and glances toward the faintest glow of slate grey light behind his bedroom drapes. “What’s going on, Cathy? Is something wrong? Are you okay?”

She winces at the concern in his groggy voice. “I’m fine, really. I’m calling about that patient Javier Alvarez told us about.”

He switches on the bedside lamp and squints at his alarm clock. “At six o’clock in the morning?” He stifles a yawn. “This better be good.”

“It might be very good.” She takes a deep breath and tells him of the theory Vincent and she had devised.

“What time was it when you left the message with Javier’s service?”

“About two a.m. I couldn’t justify saying it was an emergency, so I just requested he call me sometime today. But, Peter, we can’t wait on this. What if it is Davina and something else happens to her?”

“You’re right. We can’t just ignore the possibilities. We need to see the patient for ourselves.” He sits up and stretches. “Why don’t we meet in the hospital lobby at 9:30? I’ll call Javier and ask if he can join us and take us up to see her.”

“You don’t think we should get there sooner?”

“I know you’re very concerned, Cathy, I understand that, but I have an appointment at eight, and let’s give Javier some time to sleep in on his day off.”

She tries not to sigh. “You’re right. I’ll meet you there at 9:30. And thank you, Peter, very much.”

///////////

“Good work, Dr. Nowak. You did the right thing to call me at home.”

Hanna smiles at the praise earned from her supervisor, then her expression turns grim. “According to the nurse on duty last evening, she seemed somewhat better, even talking a bit, but now…”

“Fortunately, she didn’t do any further damage to her ankle, but that’s the least of our concerns.” He gazes down at his patient, then scans the pages on the clipboard. “It’s been more than six hours since she was found on the floor, and she hasn’t regained consciousness.”

“What can we do for her?”

He sighs. “I’m afraid there’s not much more except to monitor her vital signs and keep her comfortable until she’s lucid again. And there’s no way of knowing when – or if — that will happen.” He glances at his buzzing pager. “I have to return a phone call, but I can stop in again later if I’m needed. You can always consult with the physician on call, but be sure to contact me if there are any changes.”

As the door swings shut behind them, the unconscious woman’s lips twitch in a single silent plea.

//////////

Nearing the dining chamber, Vincent is not surprised to see two small figures waiting for him.

“Did you tell Catherine? What did she say?” Jasmine grabs his arm. “Is she going to find Mrs. Jordan?”

He pats the hands clutching his sweater sleeve. “Catherine will help. In fact, she’s going to contact Dr. Alcott this morning, and together they will follow up on some ideas.”

“What kind of ideas?” Samantha asks excitedly. “Did you guys figure something out?”

He hesitates, unwilling to raise their hopes when nothing might come of such fragile possibilities. “There’s nothing certain yet. But Catherine will let us know as soon as she has any news.”

Jasmine sighs heavily as she lowers her hands to her sides. “Thanks, Vincent. I guess we’ll just have to wait.”

“And for now, we will continue to hope for the best.”

Samantha links her arm with her friend’s. “Catherine’s really smart. She’ll figure this out. Let’s go get breakfast and we can talk some more, okay?”

Vincent watches the girls walk into the dining chamber. Despite the hope that all will be well, he cannot ignore the unforgiving truth that very little in life is certain.

//////////

“Would you like something before we go up to the eighth floor?”

Catherine shakes her head. “No, thank you, Javier. We’d like to see your patient as soon as possible.”

He sets his mug on the table, then leads them from the hospital coffee shop. “I understand completely. I got your message from the service, and Peter filled me in when he called earlier.”

“We really appreciate you meeting us here, especially on your day off.” Peter pushes the buttons on the elevator panel.

“Not at all. I understand how anxious you are to help your friend, if, in fact, that’s who my patient turns out to be.”

“We want to do everything we can.” As the elevator ascends, Catherine reminds herself not to hope for too much. “And there are several people who are very worried about her. It will mean a lot to them if we can find her.”

They near a room at the end of a hushed corridor. Javier pauses with one hand on the partly closed door. “In all likelihood, she still won’t have regained consciousness. And even if she has, she might not recognize you.”

“And there’s every chance this woman is not Davina,” Peter reminds them softly.

“I know, but –”

“There’s only one way to find out.” Javier pushes open the door and they enter the dimly lit room.

//////////

“Jasmine?” Vincent approaches the figure pacing back and forth at the threshold to Catherine’s building. “We missed you at book discussion this morning. Samantha is very worried about you, and so am I.”

She turns guilty eyes to him. “I’m sorry. I thought maybe Catherine would be here by now.” She turns her head, staring into the misty light. “But she’s not.”

“I understand how anxious you are, but you must tell someone if you are not going to be where we expect to find you. You’re still learning to find your way, and it’s all too easy to become lost.”

She hangs her head, staring down at her booted feet. “I know, and I’m sorry. It’s just…”

With a gentle hand, he smooths her hair. “You’re too worried about what Catherine may have learned of Mrs. Jordan to think of anything else.”

“Yes.” She sighs softly, then pivots toward the sound of running feet.

“You found her!” Breathless, Samantha skids to a stop. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you, Jasmine!”

“I’m sorry, Sam. I should have told you. I wasn’t –”

The creaking of a door opening, then the snap of it locking shut. The echo of feet descending iron rungs.

A chorus of voices. “Catherine!”

The identical question on each face, in each voice, is answered in three precious words.

“We found her!”

//////////

Waves of wind, swooping up from no one knows where, buffet the gathering at the top of the stairs.

“Girl, how many times do I have to tell you to move out of the way?” Winslow glares at the child dodging back and forth in front of him. “You’re gonna get us all killed!”

“Now, Winslow, she doesn’t mean any harm,” the woman he cradles in his arms chides him gently. “She’s just excited about Winterfest.”

“She’s gonna be something else when the three of us are lying in a heap at the bottom of the stairs thanks to the way she keeps prancing around!”

“I’m sorry, Winslow!” Jasmine darts down three steps and back up two. “I just want to help.”

“Child, come down here and hold these for Davina.” Mary points at a pair of crutches leaning against the wall. “That will be a big help.”

Jasmine scampers downward, her dress flying in the wind, nearly tripping as she reaches the bottom. “Okay, I’m ready!”

“Hold on tight now.” Winslow carefully begins the descent.

“I will.” She laughs softly. “I’ve had enough accidents for one lifetime!”

He sets her gently on her feet at the entrance to the Great Hall, then reaches for the crutches Jasmine is brandishing like a warrior with a Medieval weapon.

“Careful! You’re going to take Davina’s head off if you keep on like that.”

Jasmine bites her lip as she looks up at him. “Sorry again!”

“Yeah, never mind. Just watch what you’re doing.” He hovers nearby as Jasmine helps the woman make her way toward the festivities that are about to begin. He shakes his head. “That’s why I’m never having kids!”

Behind him he hears a soft chuckle, then feels a hand clasp his shoulder. “Never say never.”

He grimaces at his old friend. “Just ‘cause you made a career out of delivering babies, doesn’t mean everyone else wants one.”

Peter shrugs. “That’s what some people say, until…”

Winslow huffs a laugh as they enter the Great Hall. “Don’t put any money on me changing my mind, at least not any time soon.”

//////////

“Are you all right, Davina? These benches can be uncomfortable.” Vincent sets four more mugs of hot mulled cider on the table. “I can get some pillows for you.”

“I’ll get them!” Jasmine leaps to her feet, twisting her head from side to side. “Where do you keep them?”

Davina laughs and pats the recently vacated spot next to her. “I’m fine. You just stay right here with me.”

“Okay!” Jasmine snuggles in next to the woman who is fast becoming a favorite friend.

“Is there room for one more at this table?” Peter balances plates of William’s special cookies and pastries. “I come bearing gifts!”

“Always for you, Peter.” Mary scoots over to make room for him. “And not just because you’ve brought us some treats!”

“What’s that you’re drawing?” Winslow angles his head to see what Samantha is creating in her sketchbook.

“I bet I know! She already showed me some of her pictures. And they’re really good!”

Samantha smiles and turns the pad toward the others. “This one’s not finished yet. It needs a lot more details.” She looks at Elizabeth who nods her approval. “But can you tell what it’s supposed to be?”

“Sure.” Winslow points toward the page. “It’s the opening ceremonies. Father’s just starting his speech.”

The girls exchange a quick “trying not to giggle” grin. Samantha closes the book. “I’ll finish it later.”

“I’d love to see the rest of your drawings sometime.” Catherine helps her gather her pencils into a canvas pouch. “If you’d like to show them to me.”

At a surprising loss for words, Samantha blushes and nods her head.

“Sam can be a real artist someday!” Jasmine waves her arm toward the festive crowd. “Her pictures look just like the way Winterfest looks for real!”

“I’d like to see more of your drawings, too. Can we do that next time I visit?”

“You’re going to come back again?” The hope in Jasmine’s voice touches everyone’s heart.

“Of course I am!” Davina puts an arm around the girl’s shoulders. “As soon as I can get around without having to use these crutches or ask Winslow to carry me everywhere.”

“Always glad to help out a good friend, Davina. Don’t you worry about that.”

“And if Winslow’s busy, I bet Vincent can do it!” Jasmine clearly has come to agree with her best friend’s opinion on their hero. “Right, Vincent?”

“Of course. Whenever you’re ready, we’ll make it happen.”

“You’ve all done so much already. Seeing your faces, hearing you welcome me back. Just being here after everything that happened.” Davina’s eyes mist as her gaze flows from one face to the next. “It means the world to me.”

She focuses on Catherine and Peter’s smiling faces. “And if it wasn’t for you two, I might not be here at all.”

“We’re just happy to have played a part in returning you to where you belong,” Peter reassures her.

“And we’re going to help make sure that’s where you stay!” Catherine blinks back happy tears. “But it wasn’t just Peter and me.” She squeezes Vincent’s hand. “Vincent helped put together the clues that led us to you in the hospital. And if it wasn’t for Dr. Alvarez mentioning his new patient, we might not have found you so quickly.”

“He’s a wonderful doctor, just like you, Peter.” Davina smiles at her old friend. “And Dr. Nowak, too, even if all that cheerfulness was starting to get on my nerves by the time they let me go.” Her smile dims just a bit. “I never got the name of the EMTs or the people on the street when I was hit by that car. I’m so grateful they cared enough to help me.” She shudders, but with practiced strength, she pushes back the darkness.

She gathers Jasmine in for a hug and beckons to Samantha to join them. “And these two. They’re my guardian angels, no doubt about that!”

The girls settle back in on either side, each holding one of her hands. “I just wish there was a way I could thank everyone who gave me back my life.”

“You can.” Peter’s voice was warm and certain. “But in many ways you already have.”

Davina casts him a puzzled look. “But I haven’t, at least not yet.”

“You already do so much good in the world, Davina. I see it – we all do — whenever we work together at Fulton Street. And you’ll keep on doing it,” Catherine promises. “We depend on you, your kindness, your compassion, your strength. That will never change.”

“And don’t forget about your job as a social worker. You touch the lives of so many people Above who need you, who have no one else to turn to.” The tone of Mary’s voice hints at a truth she knows all too well.

“And you saved my life when Granny died and left me all alone!”

Davina lowers her head for a moment, and when she looks again at her friends, her family, her eyes glimmer with tears. “We’re all in this together, aren’t we? And that’s the way it should be.”

Vincent’s voice echoes everyone’s heart. “Sometimes we create the light for one another; sometimes we reflect it. What matters most is that we keep it alive, that we remember darkness will end as long as together we share the light.”

 

Jasmine, Jamie, and another child at Winterfest

_______________

Author’s note:

Jasmine is an original character I created for the story “A Million Little Things: Samantha’s Day.” That story is part of the A Day in the Life collection, which can be found in the Collaborations feature on Carole W’s site Imagine That. If you are interested in reading more about Jasmine, that’s where you will find her. In addition, she was inspired by a remembered glimpse of a little girl in “Dead of Winter.” If you look closely, you will see her enjoying the festivities with her new family.

 

11 Comments

  1. Linda, I like this story very much! It keeps you in suspense from the beginning. Who is the mysterious person? As I continue reading I can delve into the life of the tunnel and the preparations for Winterfest. I can look at the wonderful friendship between Jasmine and Samantha…. and you have so subtly inserted an intimate moment between Catherine and Vincent that is so lovely and romantic. I love their conversation after…:)… and it’s really amazing how fate makes it so that despite Davina’s accident (wonderful name, by the way), fate makes it so that she gets her life back and can celebrate on this special evening with her friends.
    I’m grateful that Winslow is appearing here, I’ve missed him:)
    It really is a pleasure to meet this wonderful Winterfest guest! Thank you.

    Reply
    • Paula, I can’t thank you enough. Not only are you a talented writer yourself, you are such a kind and caring person, always taking the time to let other writers know their work is appreciated and enjoyed. Thank you for liking this story and thank you for being such an embodiment of the true tunnel community spirit.

      Reply
      • I lack of words… Thank you!❤

        Reply
  2. Lovely !

    Reply
    • Thank you, Susan!

      Reply
  3. Wonderful!!! I so enjoyed this story. Absolutely amazing, great job!!

    Reply
    • Thank you, Ingrid! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

      Reply
  4. First Favorite Author, (of course, how could you not be?!), this is a delightful tale, so filled with Winterfest’s generous and sincere spirit that I could feel it! Your characters have real emotions, Linda. And you manage to bring Jasmine and Sam and all the others to life. They’re so present I almost expect to turn and see them at my side.
    Many, many thanks for the gift of your writing and of yourself, dear Friend.

    Reply
    • Nancy, thank you so much for, well — everything!! You make me trust myself more as a writer, which in turn allows me to enjoy something I love doing. I can never thank you enough for that, Sister Writer!

      Reply
  5. Thank you for this beautiful story. I’m so glad they were able to figure out Davina was the patient. It was also lovely to see excitement and anticipation of Winterfest through young Jasmine’s eyes.

    I particularly loved the quiet evening between Vincent and Catherine before they turned to solving the problem he had brought to her – so reminiscent of something that might have actually happened in an episode.

    And Winslow was a wonderful addition and so very… well, Winslow. His lovable gruffness is always refreshing.

    Reply
    • Tasha, thank you so much for enjoying the story and for finding in it what I hoped I was showing. Your feedback is so reaffirming and means more to me than I can express. I’m so glad you enjoyed that scene with Catherine and Vincent — I had to force myself not to write more of it! — and that you welcomed Winslow’s return. He’s going to keep showing up — I have plans for him. :-)

      Reply

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