Sunday, July 03, 2011
He laid claim to her from the day she came home from the hospital. Everyone thought it was cute that he took such a proprietary interest in his infant sister when he was only going on three himself. And they did make a precious picture. He with his hair as straight and black as pitch, his eyes dark as midnight and his skin as brown as a gypsy’s and she with her rosy round cheeks, big sea blue eyes and wispy white-blonde hair. There were nine of them so, honestly, no one paid too much attention to yet another baby. If anything, everyone was glad he seemed willing to be her caretaker, albeit, a very young one.
The Vincennes family was extremely wealthy and devoutly Catholic with the children ranging in age from 20 down to these last two, Rafael Alain and Elena Justine, although everyone called them Rafe and Lane until eventually it almost began to seem like one name, RafeandLane. They were all busy with their own affairs so Rafe and Lane were left to their own devices. They were the last two to still be sleeping in the nursery, the rest of them having grown old enough to move into their own rooms. There had always been a nurse when the first seven of the brood were younger but when the last one was let go after Annecy started school, no one remembered they might need to hire another for Rafe and Lane, stuck down there at the tail end of the family.
Renny Vincennes, the father, was tall, dark and handsome. A former Air Force pilot (Vietnam) and now financier extraordinaire (being always near the top of Forbest Richest Americans list), spent most of his time planning how to make the family even richer. Magdelene, the mother, (her coming-out year’s most desirable debutante) was still tiny, blonde and beautiful. She spent most of her time involved in planning charity events, a job which required many long lunches with her women friends. Renny and Magdelene were passionate lovers even after all their years of marriage. Would they have produced nine children if that had not been so? It wasn’t that Renny and Magdelene didn’t love their kids, because they did, but that they adored each other more. They simply weren’t the kind of parents who took an active and personal interest in their children’s day to day lives and that quality became more pronounced with each additional child so, by the time they got to numbers eight and nine…..
Those children included Morgan, a sophomore at Princeton, where Vincennes sons had gone since there was a Princeton. Morgan, a tall, rangy young man with dark mahogany hair and hazel eyes, was an athletic superstar, excelling at every sport he tried. Next was Wyatt, as tall as Morgan but slender with black hair, brown eyes and a winning smile. At 18, he was a senior at Benedict High School and would be entering West Point next year, an exception to the Princeton rule. All Wyatt had ever wanted to be was a soldier. Then came Mariel, 16, cool and elegant and ash blonde. No one who knew her could imagine that she wouldn’t be the head cheerleader, the homecoming queen and the valedictorian of her class. She was so self-assured about being entitled to these honors that it was taken as a given that she would receive them. Denis at 14 was slight and dark and artistic, as well as outwardly and so unashamedly gay that everyone accepted him as he was. (Of course, being a member of Benedict’s first family didn’t hurt either). Next was Jocelyn, 12, petite and platinum and delicate as a butterfly, unless you had to deal with her slashing serves on the tennis court. Gabe, 10, sturdily built with coal black hair, was a musical virtuoso. His piano teacher gushed over his abilities and thought he had the potential to be a great pianist although for now at least, he was more interested in Eric Clapton and Eddie Van Halen and other rock and roll guitar greats. Then, Annecy, the animal lover at 8, with her green eyes and golden skin and palomino hair. And, finally after a baby every two years, when Magdelene finally thought she’d completed her duty to the church, six years later, here came Rafe, followed almost three years after that by Lane, conforming to the Vincennes pattern of intense dark boys and bright blonde girls.
After Lane, Magdelene’s doctor insisted she have her tubes tied for health reasons. Both she and Renny were ecstatic that they could finally engage in the enthusiastic sex they both so enjoyed without the depressing prospect hanging over their heads that they might be creating yet another baby.
The Vincennes lived in a 32 room chateau on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay called Heron Point, copied from, though somewhat smaller in scale, than the grand family home in the Loire Valley in their native France, Chateau Abricot, named after its sandstone-hued walls. A long lane of locust trees led to the impressive gardens and circle drive in front of the imposing golden stone house with the twin towers anchoring each front corner and the steeply pitched roof with tall decoratively capped chimneys, the multiple dormers and balustraded terrace.
To the back were piers and decks and sailboats and paddle boats and speedboats and jet skis.To the side were garages, kennels, tennis courts, basketball courts and even a regulation baseball field, as well as an Olympic-sized swimming pool and an impressive stable of the same style as the house itself. Renny spared no expense to indulge his children’s amusements.
Farther back on the 1000 plus green acres that made up the estate, were pastures and creeks and one large hill, unusual in this terrain, joking referred to as Mount Vincennes. There was a rustic small log cabin on top of the Mount, just a living room/kitchen combination and one bedroom with a bath, treasured for the view, because from one of the several rocking chairs on the porch out front you could see far across the countryside and then, to the Bay. In earlier years, Renny and Magdelene slipped away there to escape, alone, from their children. Now it was mostly used by the Vincennes kids themselves when they needed privacy. Renny knew about the use the cabin was put to but, having been quite a Lothario himself before he met Magdelene and settled down, he understood about hormones and sex drives and figured kids would be kids and the cabin was a better and safer option than parking in a lover’s lane somewhere. Those kids themselves, of course, had no clue that their old man knew what they were up to.
Inside, the mansion featured elaborately carved fireplace mantels and crystal chandeliers and fine wood paneling and oriental rugs and ornate plaster pillars and a kitchen the size of a cooking school. It was filled with antiques and museum quality art. Except for an occasional foraging expedition through the kitchen for snacks, and meals in the dining room at the extra-long cherry table, hardly any of the Vincennes young even visited this floor. The basement was their bailiwick. In one large room, the wall-length flat-screen t.v. resided, along with the DVD player and the XBoxes and the latest version of Playstation (complete with their own t.v.s for playing games) and the computers (one for each young Vincennes). A second vast room contained a state-of-the-art sound system, a small dance floor and a real soda fountain along with the pool table and the card tables and the shelves of games and books and paper dolls and microscopes and (now uninhabited) ant farms and anything else that had, at least temporarily, caught the fancy of one of the siblings. A third, smaller, soundproofed room was a small recording studio and home to all the musical instruments played by the Vincennes young – with her first seven children Magdelene had insisted on music lessons. Each had to choose an instrument so there were guitars and drums and flutes and saxophones and an organ (the concert grand piano being upstairs in the drawing room, of course). Last was the exercise room with its stairmasters and stationary bikes and rowing machines and weights. And snaking through it all, a circular train track with railroad cars, some of which dated back to the turn of the century when Great-grandfather Phillip Vincennes had first started the set. Of course, there was Renny’s extensive wine cellar in the basement as well but it might as well not even exist so far as his children were concerned since it was strictly off-limits.
So, while most of them were below ground level, Rafe and Lane were usually up on the third floor by themselves in the long nursery, a double room that would have made any day care owner green with envy. Walls were painted with colorful Bible scenes – not the more gory ones, but baby Moses in the bulrushes and Jesus in the manger and wise men and shepherds and a loving Mother Mary, comforting pictures. In the bedroom section, were wooden cradles and cribs and youth beds, all handsomely carved. There were 9 dressers lined up against the wall. An archway led to the play room which was filled with toys for younger children – story books and dolls and big metal trucks and rocking horses and doll high chairs and buggies. Like the train, some of the toys dated back to Renny’s childhood days and his father’s and grandfather’s, such as the carved wooden alphabet blocks. There were child-sized tables and chairs and rocking chairs. And, of course, the nursery had its own television set, programmed so that only the most innocuous channels could be accessed. The floors were white tile for easy clean up of spilled kool-aid or over-energetic finger painting.
It’s hard to know what would have become of Lane if not for Rafe. It was he who would take her off to find a grown up when she cried for her bottle or when her diaper was wet or dirty and needed changing. Eventually, as he got a little older, he learned to keep food in the nursery in case an adult couldn’t be found, things like peanut butter and bread and cookies and crackers and little individual containers of applesauce and pudding. There was a small refrigerator in the nursery which he kept stocked with pop stolen from the big walk-in cooler in the kitchen so that when she cried, he could fill a bottle with crème soda and it would satisfy her at least for a while. He eventually learned to change her himself, not very well perhaps, but at least he’d wash her off and make her dry, powdering her liberally so that ever after, the scent of baby powder brought to mind those days of their shared early childhood. He didn’t especially enjoy doing it but after all, he had to live in the same room with her and he didn’t like the smell of stinky wet or poopy diapers.
They were always welcome downstairs at mealtimes, of course, but no one usually bothered to tell them when those were. If they slept through breakfast or didn’t realize it was past lunch that was just too bad. Lots of times, the kitchen staff didn’t even bother with a midday meal since no one was at home with Renny being at work and Magdelene with her friends and the kids all at school. The thought of Rafe and Lane never crossed their minds until he was suddenly and silently in the kitchen to remind them and they’d quick fix him a tray to take back upstairs.
When she cried at night, Rafe pulled her out of her crib and took her into bed with him, cuddling her until she fell asleep.
By the time, he was four and she was two, you never saw one without the other. People said Rafe reminded them of a black cat. Slender and graceful, he seemed to walk on silent cat’s paws. He would simply appear without anyone having heard him coming. Because, again, these two were so seldom on anyone’s mind, his hair was long, almost shoulder length, black and straight as Indian hair. His brothers nicknamed him Injun. His eyes were almost expressionless. No one would ever know what Rafe Vincennes was thinking by looking into his eyes. He could smile, but it was usually a quick white gleam in the darkness of his skin, a smile that disappeared as quickly as it came. As he got older, women it was said, would agree to almost anything just for the rare opportunity of seeing that smile.
But for now, he was only four and she was two, a small blonde shadow who toddled after him everywhere he went. He was her hero, her protector, her teacher, her best friend. If she fell and bumped her head or scraped her knee, it was Rafe she went running to for sympathy. If she couldn’t figure out a puzzle, she looked to him to help her. “How, Rafe?” He dressed her in the morning and bathed her at night, putting her into her pajamas afterwards.
“Go to sleep now, Laney, I’ll be right here beside you if you need anything,” patting her on her little round rump.
Renny, who admired achievement, didn’t realize that Rafe was the most accomplished of his children. He could run the fastest but he never did because he wouldn’t go off and leave Lane. And he could swim the farthest but he wouldn’t go beyond where she could go. He was the most fearless rider but he kept his pony down to a trot because Lane was always on the saddle in front of him.
When Rafe was five, he had to start going to kindergarten in the mornings. He would lay out her clothes for her before he left and make sure there was food in the frig for her breakfast. He’d taught her to turn on the VCR and he’d load one of her favorite movies so all she had to do was press the “Start” button. He left her messages on a recorder on the playroom table too.
“Laney, don’t go downstairs while I’m gone and don’t ever try to go outside alone. You wait ‘til I get home. I’ll take you swimming or to ride the pony or whatever you want to do when I get back but don’t try to do any of those things by yourself. Do you hear me, Lane? I’ll be really mad if you don’t mind me.”
And, more than anything, she didn’t want Rafe to ever be mad at her so she always paid attention to exactly what he said.
She still remembered the one time she’d ignored him and went downstairs and on down to the basement and then couldn’t remember how to get back so she just had to stay down there until he got home from school. It scared him half to death to find the empty nursery. He’d gone racing through the house calling her name. What if she’d gone outside and been kicked by one of the horses or was floating drowned in the pool? When she finally heard him and called out to him, he was relieved but he was also quietly furious.
He took her right back upstairs and got a ruler and made her take down her panties and spanked her bottom hard ten times, until she was sobbing for him to stop. And then after that, it was even worse because he told her he wasn’t going to speak to her anymore that day and he didn’t, even though she told him over and over how sorry she was and promised never to disobey him again. She lay in bed and cried and cried but he acted like she wasn’t even there.
He was gone the next morning by the time she woke up and there was no message on the recorder and no clothes laid out and no movie in the VCR and nothing to eat in the frig.
The half day until he got home seemed endless and when he appeared in the doorway, she went running to him, throwing her arms around his waist. He took her hand and led her to one of the rocking chairs, sitting down and pulling her onto his lap. Then he looked into her blue eyes with his dark ones, “do you understand, Lane, that you must always do as I say?” And she said, yes, yes, she understood, just please don’t be mad anymore, Rafe.
And after that, she always followed his orders. If he told her to swim to the end of the pier and back, she did it even though she was afraid it was too far and she might drown or a shark might get her, because neither drowning nor sharks was as bad as Rafe being upset with her. And besides that he’d told her he’d save her if anything happened and she had absolute faith that he would. Because there was, after all, that time when she got attacked by the stray dog and he fought it off with only his pocketknife, stabbing it in the eyes and mouth. He had some bad bites on his hands and arms but he smiled his fleeting smile and said at least he didn’t have to be put down like the dog.
When Rafe was in second grade, his teacher asked one of her colleagues if it was possible for a 7 year old to be a sociopath because she swore that’s what Rafe Vincennes was.
“I’ve never had a student who made me so nervous. I don’t see or hear him move and yet the next thing I know he’s behind my desk. You look in his eyes and you don’t sense a trace of emotion. The person in there doesn’t seem like a child at all. I think he has a photographic memory. If he sees or reads or hears something, he never forgets it. He rarely smiles and never laughs. When he plays with the other kids, it doesn’t seem like he’s making an effort to dominate them but he just does, almost like he mesmerizes them.”
Her co-worker laughed. “Dee, I can’t believe you’d let a little kid spook you like that. You’re over-reacting big-time.”
“All I know is, I’ll be glad when this year is over and he’s out of my classroom and someone else’s problem.”
What she didn’t know was that Rafe had, in his silent way, come up behind her and overheard their conversation.
Her colleague started, “oh, Rafe, we didn’t know you were there. Did you need something?”
“See,” Miss Dee hissed when he was gone, “that’s exactly what I mean!”
Rafe had always been aware that he had this affect on some people but when he was seven, he wasn’t quite sure what to do about it. He knew he tended to move quietly but was he just supposed to start making sure to clomp around everywhere he went? And how did you put more emotion in your eyes? He hadn’t a clue. He guessed he could remind himself to smile more since that was something his teacher had mentioned. As for being smart and being picked to be the leader, he didn’t know how that came about either. He never insisted and he never bragged. It just happened. Miss Dee had wondered if he might be a sociopath. He looked the word up in the dictionary – “a person who is anti-social and who lacks a social conscience.” He shrugged it off. He didn’t know if he lacked a social conscience or not. He didn’t even know what having a social conscience meant.
He got his black German Shepherd puppy, Raven, for his 6th birthday. It was the only gift he asked for. From then on, when he was outdoors, he was trailed by two shadows instead of only one, the blonde little sister and the jet black dog. Both seemed equally as worshipful of him.
There were occasional instances when he took some time away from his responsibilities to Lane. (Although he didn’t really consider them responsibilities but things he chose to do).
Even as a toddler, the family’s attempts to keep track of him were relatively ineffectual. One sister or another would be told by Magdelene to “watch Rafe” but watching Rafe was impossible. Take your eyes off him for one minute and he simply drifted away, like smoke.
A search would be mounted and eventually the three-year-old would be discovered squatted in the back of one of the horse stalls, communing, they guessed, with its resident. Or he’d be napping in the cabin of one of the boats. At age four, he made it all the way up to the Cabin by himself where they found him rocking in one of the chairs on the porch. And at five, he took a pirogue up an inlet to fish.
Renny whipped him for that one, whipped him hard with his belt.
“Don’t you ever take a boat out by yourself again. You don’t know where you’re at and you could get lost back in those creeks and swamps. Do you understand me, Rafe?”
He simply looked at his father with tearless eyes, having not made a sound during his spanking.
“But I always know exactly where I’m at, Dad.”
“I don’t care!” roared Renny, who hardly ever lost his temper and resented this contrary child for causing him to do it now, “just do as I say, have you got that?”
“How old do I have to be?” Rafe asked.
“I’ll let you know,” said Renny through gritted teeth.
Rafe was as comfortable wandering in the night as during daylight. He’d been described as cat-like and it was as if he could see in the dark like a cat too. His brothers would come home from a date and find the little boy sitting on the back step at 3:00 a.m.
“What are you doing up at this time, Rafe? You should be in bed.”
“I’m listening to the dark.”
Eventually, they accepted it as a lost cause, trying to keep track of him. He came and went as he pleased and since he always made it home safely, they quit worrying. As he got older, he traveled farther and stayed longer.
He read far above his age and his favorite reading was about the techniques of surviving on one’s own. He and Raven would disappear into the woods with only some string and a knife. A few times, they got pretty hungry when his awkward early attempts at setting a snare or spearing a fish failed but as time went by, he learned to do those things competently, as well as building a lean-to that would keep out the rain and starting a fire without matches. He taught himself, by means of books, to smoke his extra food and to cook it in a fire pit. He became an authority on what marine life and flora and fauna and even bugs and worms were safe to eat in an emergency.
By the time he was 9, he’d added a gun to his small supply kit. (A hand gun because he liked to travel light and a long gun was too heavy.) He’d snagged the Smith and Wesson revolver from Renny’s gun safe, knowing it would mean another serious thrashing if he got caught but willing to take the chance). He’d become an expert at tracking, being familiar with prints and scat and recognizing wallows and antler rubs and urine sprays. Although, he was a dead shot, he didn’t kill much that he tracked. He just wanted to prove to himself that he could if he had to.
He asked on every birthday and when he was eight, Renny finally said, “okay, okay, take the damn boat” so then he could embark on a more far-roaming exploration of his world.
He always warned Laney when he was going to be gone for a while. “I’ll be back in a couple of days, maybe three.”
“I hate it when you’re not here, Rafe. Why do you have to go?”
“Sometimes, I just have to get away from people. Not you, Honey. Everyone else. Where I don’t have to keep my guard up all the time.”
She didn’t understand it but she had to accept it because that was just Rafe.
Because of when her birthday fell, Lane didn’t get to start kindergarten until she was six but this morning she would be getting on the big yellow bus with the other kids. She was beside herself with excitement. She’d hardly left Heron Point in her life and she almost only got to go to the basement or out on the grounds when Rafe took her. She barely felt like she knew her older brothers and sisters. Sometimes she’d meet them in a room and they’d ruffle her hair and ask how she was doing but not like they really cared. But now she was finally going to get to go off into the world like everyone else.
Last week her mother had taken her on a shopping spree and she had all new clothes. It had taken Rafe to make that happen. He’d gone to Magdelene and reminded her that Lane would be starting school soon and she had almost nothing fit to wear.
“Most of her things are raggy and too small, Mom. Unless you want to be ashamed of her being a Vincennes, you probably need to buy her a new wardrobe.”
Once it was brought to her attention, Magdelene was happy to take her youngest daughter shopping.
“Oh, Rafe, you’re absolutely right, Darling. I guess I just hadn’t realized Laney was growing up so fast and here she is five years old already.”
“Six, Mom, she’s six.”
“Six, then, and starting school. My last baby. I’ll take her this week.”
Of course, Magdelene had spared no expense so Laney had all new jeans and tops and dresses and skirts and sweaters and blouses and sox and underwear and shoes and a new winter coat, red with gold buttons!
Rafe helped her pick out her first school outfit – a denim jumper embroidered with flowers on the bib with a knit pink top and her new pink sneakers. She held his hand walking to the end of their lane and sat beside him on the bus. Once at school, he took her to her room.
“Remember, your room is 110 and your teacher is Miss Prince. You’ll like her. She’s nice. I’ll meet you when it’s time to go home and make sure you get on the right bus.”
She loved it, oh, she loved it. It was so much fun being around all the other kids and Rafe was right, Miss Prince was so nice. She loved learning things. The only stuff she knew was what Rafe had ever taught her. Thankfully, he’d made sure she was able to tie her shoes and write her name and say her alphabet and count and tell time or she would have been embarrassed since the teacher tested them to make sure they all knew how to do those things. She never thought to wonder how he had learned to do them.
When the morning was over, he met her like he said he would and watched her until she was safely on the big bus. She couldn’t wait until the next day when she’d get to come back again!
She woke him up crying. He looked over at the clock and saw it was after 1:00 a.m.
“What’s the matter, Honey?” he asked drowsily.
“E-e-everyone is going to h-h-h-hate me, Rafe,” she sobbed.
“Why are they going to hate you, Laney?”
“C-c-cause I’m s’posed to bring c-c-cupcakes for Refreshment Day but Reba left early. S-s-she was gone when I got h-h-home and you know it w-w-wouldn’t do any good to ask M-m-mom.”
For a moment, they both pondered the thought of the elegant Magdelene whipping up a batch of cupcakes but neither could begin to grasp that exotic concept.
“No,” he finally said, “Mom wouldn’t have baked them herself but she most likely would have had Bannings deliver some.”
“I never t-t-thought of that. It’s just g-g-going to be so a-a-awful tomorrow,” she wailed.
He got up and patted her on the back. “Just go back to sleep, Sweetie. I’ll make sure you have cupcakes in the morning.”
“Will you, Rafe, really?”
“Yes, Lane, go to sleep”, which she did in complete assurance that Rafe always did what he said he would do.
He padded down the stairs barefoot and in his blue-striped pajama bottoms. Flipping the switch inside the door, he looked across the enormous kitchen. “Bloody ‘ell, Mate,” he muttered to himself, “you better be getting some organ-o-za-tion goin’ or you’ll be here all night.”
Okay, where to start? First, make a list of all the stuff he knew he’d need. Number one would probably be a recipe since he didn’t have a clue how to make freakin’ cupcakes. Surely, Reba had cookbooks around here somewhere. She couldn’t simply remember every dish she prepared, could she?
He went over to the small built-in desk with the phone above it where he knew there was a pad of paper and a pen. He started his list.
Little paper cup thingies
Flour, sugar, eggs (what else?)
That was all he was sure of. But how to find it all? He had limited experience with this room, mostly only checking the walk-in cooler for something to drink or to make a sandwich. He looked around it now. There appeared to be acres of cherry cupboards and granite countertops and slatey looking ceramic tile floors and stainless steel appliances. He guessed the best way was just to start at one end and work his way through every cupboard, drawer and countertop until he located everything he needed. He knew most of the food stuff was kept either in the large pantry or the cooler. He’d save those for last. He needed that damn recipe. It could be any recipe as long as it was for cupcakes, he didn’t care - white, yellow, chocolate or cherry - he didn’t think it took much to please first graders.
He began over by the door to the laundry room and investigated every nook and cranny of the kitchen, methodically assembling the items on his list as he found them. After half an hour, he had all of it – the spoon from a drawer by the sink, the bowl from an upper cupboard next to the stove and the cake pans from the cupboard below, the mixer on a bottom shelf in the dish pantry (three complete sets of fine china along with other small appliances). And, last, the recipe. He’d been looking for cookbooks but it turned out Reba kept her recipes in a file box on the desk, which he finally noticed, after looking everywhere else. That enabled him to go to the food pantry and the cooler for all the required ingredients.
It was typical of Rafe to simply do whatever needed to be done himself rather than taking his problem to anyone else. For one thing, no one in his life had ever offered much assistance so he’d been forced to become self-sufficient early on. And that played into his basic nature anyway. His natural instinct was to involve other people as little as possible in his affairs, so by the time he was nine, he was more than confident that he could figure out how to make cupcakes.
He stirred and mixed and filled his cupcake liners 2/3 full, just like the card for “Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Icing” said. Then he put them in the oven (pre-heated to 350 degrees) for 22 minutes. That was the worst part because it was almost 3 o’clock by then and he had to keep telling himself to stay awake. He wouldn’t want to have gone through all this and then burn up the results of his labor.
He mixed up the icing while the cupcakes were cooling. After they were frosted, just for the fun of it, because he had found them while he was rummaging around looking for everything else, he decorated the tops with multi-colored sprinkles.
He knew Magdelene kept all her gift-wrapping materials in a large closet down the hall from the master bedroom. The shelves were filled with rolls of wrapping paper and spools of ribbon and different shades of tissue paper and decorative sacks and flattened boxes of all sizes. He poked around until he found one that looked to be the perfect size for two dozen cupcakes.
Then he washed and dried and put away everything he’d dirtied. No one would ever have known he’d even been there if it wasn’t for the white box on the mixing island with Laney’s name written across the top.
It was after 4:00 when he crawled back into bed.
Lane was patting him on the shoulder. “Rafe, aren’t you going to get up? Your alarm keeps going off. You must keep hitting the Snooze button.”
“Yeah, okay, I’m getting up right now.” Blearily, he opened his eyes.
“Did you get my cupcakes done?”
“They’re in the kitchen but the next time you need something, Sweetie, tell me about it a little sooner, okay?”
They were still in the nursery. They should have been moved out long ago to their own rooms but as usual, no one remembered to do it so they just kept on the way it was. They were used to being together now and neither was particularly interested in being in a room alone.
When he was nine and she was seven, he told her to come into bed with him. He said he wanted to try something and he thought she’d like it.
“Take your panties off first.”
She was puzzled. “Take my pants off, Rafe?”
She complied as she always did when he told her what to do.
“Lay here beside me on your back,” he whispered, “and spread your legs a little farther apart.”
When he had her in the position he wanted her in, he pulled her nightgown up to her waist and then put his hand on the spot between her legs. She instantly felt a jolt of pleasure shoot through her groin and clear up into her stomach.
“Oh,“ she breathed, “what are you doing?”
He began gently rubbing her. The darts of exhilaration increased in number and intensity until finally, she was overcome by a flood of pure joy.
“Oh, Rafe, oh, Rafe.”
He put his hand lightly over her mouth. “Shhh, Sweetie, you can’t make any noise. Does it feel good, Laney?”
“Yes, yes,” she said into his ear, “do it again, Rafe!”
He grinned. “No, Laney, once a night is all you get but now you have to do something for me.”
“Give me your hand.”
When she did, he put it on his hard penis. Of course, he’d seen her naked many times but she’d never seen him that way. She was shocked. “What is it, Rafe?”
“Girls and boys are different, Lane. This is what boys have instead of what you have. It’s called a penis. Pull the covers back and look at it.”
It was even more surprising when she saw it sticking straight up below his belly.
“I want you to put it in your mouth, Laney. That’s what will make me feel good the way I made you feel.”
Because she had such pure trust in him, she didn’t even hesitate. She wanted to make him happy.
“Now move your mouth up and down on it – suck it, but easy.”
Because he hadn’t reached puberty yet, of course, he didn’t have a real ejaculation but that didn’t mean having her mouth moving on him didn’t take him to a state of bliss.
“Can we do it again tomorrow night, Rafe?”
“Yes, Laney, and other things besides.”
He was young but he knew a lot about sex, from reading, from watching movies (he’d figured out how to over-ride the v-chip on the nursery t.v. quite some time ago) and from listening in on his older brothers’ conversations. He thought he’d been patient, waiting until she was seven.
“You can’t ever tell anyone. They wouldn’t approve and they’d make us stop. So it has to be our secret if you want to keep doing it. Do you understand that, Lane?”
“I understand. I’ll never, ever tell anyone, I promise. Can I stay here with you tonight instead of getting in my own bed, Rafe?”
“No, slip on over there now, Lane, and don’t forget to put your panties back on.”
She discovered she could get a least a little bit of that jolt of pleasure just by thinking about Rafe putting his hand on her privates. It wasn’t the whole big thing, of course, just a dart that went zipping from where she peed up into her belly. And when she thought about it, she could feel herself getting wet down there.
“Elena, what are you daydreaming about? I’d like to have your attention here if you don’t mind.”
“I’m sorry, Miss Dee.”
“Well, I have my last Vincennes in class this year. What a mixed bag they’ve been. Morgan and Wyatt were both good students and charming boys. Mariel was a prissy britches little snob. Denis and Gabriel were smart and nice enough, both artistic types. Jocelyn was a sweetheart and Annecy was a little ray of sunshine. Of course, you know how I felt about Rafe. This last one, Elena, is a bit of a dreamer but she tries to please.”
“Yes, I have Rafe this year and I see some of what you felt about him although I don’t think it’s as bad as you made it seem. Still, he does remind me a little of a panther, one you’re not quite sure is all the way tame.”
“I’m pretty sure he’s not domesticated at all, Stuart. I think he just puts on a front.”
“I’ll tell you something about Rafe Vincennes though, Dee. I think by the time he grows up a little more, you’re going to be way in the minority of women who don’t consider him compelling.”
“And I think those who do are going to discover he’s a dangerous person to give your heart to.”
“Well, he’ll be long gone from here and I expect we’ll have forgotten all about him by then, Dee.”
When he turned 10, he asked his father if he could start riding one of the Arabs.
“Don’t you think you’re a little young for an Arab, Rafe?”
“Dad, have you ever seen me ride?”
“Well, I’m not sure I ever have, Rafe.”
“No, Dad, I’m not sure you ever have either but I’m the best of all of us.”
“Yes, I am. One of two things, Dad – either come and watch me and let me prove it or take my word for it.”
“I guess if you say you can do it, I believe you. Which one are you thinking of, Rafe?”
“Destiny’s quite a handful, Son. I hope you aren’t biting off more than you can chew.”
“I’m not, Dad, trust me.”
It pissed his sister, Annecy, off big-time. She was 16 now and considered the horseperson in the Vincennes family. She had a roomful of trophies and blue ribbons to prove it.
The first time they were at the stable together and he’d brought out the spirited dapple-gray stallion to saddle, she was shocked.
“Just what do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m going for a ride,” he answered mildly.
“Not on that horse, you’re not!”
“I already asked Dad and he gave me permission.”
“I don’t believe it!”
He shrugged. “Go ask him yourself then.”
“I’ve begged Dad a million times to let me ride him and he’s always said he doesn’t allow anyone to ride Destiny but him. Why would he agree to let a flippin’ 10-year-old do it?”
The gleaming smile was there and then it was gone. “Maybe he thinks I’m better.”
He jumped (small as he was, it was a bit of a leap to get his foot in the stirrup) up into the saddle, touched the horse with his heel and trotted down the lane with Raven following along beside.
She was wearing her official rider outfit as she always did when she was going to the stables – tan pants, white shirt and high riding boots. Her long golden hair was held back with a clasp at the nape of her neck. She felt it put people on notice that she was a professional. Right now, there were tears of frustration in her blue eyes as she watched Rafe ride off on the dancing silver stallion in his holey jeans and tee shirt and old beat-up cowboy boots.
She could go for days at a time, forgetting about Rafe’s very existence. After all, she was in high school, where she got straight A’s as every Vincennes did. She was on the Cheer Squad and had been named Queen of the Harvest Ball. She had her candy apple red PT Cruiser, her 16th birthday present, and a hunk of a boyfriend named Bill, who was two years older than her and the Quarterback on the football team. In addition to her various awards in horse showing, she’d taken her Golden Retriever, Jonquil, to the state competition in obedience and won first place. What was not to love about her life and why would she give much thought to the somewhat mysterious little brother who seemed mostly to drift silently around the periphery of the family? And yet, it seemed like every time she did have cause to think of him, she ended up angry.
It was because he never seemed to have to even frickin’ try to get whatever he wanted. No one would think of Rafe as being demanding. He never yelled or begged or threatened. She tried to think back to remember if she’d ever heard him raise his voice and realized she never had. She doubted if he was even capable of throwing a tantrum and yet if he set his mind to something, it seemed like the obstacles just disappeared magically from his path. Like, how in the hell had he convinced Dad to let him take Destiny when, as she’d told him, she’d begged and pleaded to do the same and been told no every time? It just wasn’t fair. Not that she’d raise a stink about it. Renny was a mostly easygoing father who let his kids have anything they wanted within reason but they all knew, it simply wasn’t acceptable to question his decisions or his authority. Do that, and you’d find you’d lost more than you could ever hope to gain.
Another thing about Rafe that got under her skin was how he didn’t place any importance in the things that meant so much to her. She had watched him with Raven. That dog would do anything Rafe wanted although not once had she ever seen them together on the course she’d set up when she was training Jonquil. He didn’t use any of the traditional commands, just talked to the dog like they were having a conversation. “Come on, Raven, stay beside me now,” and Raven’s nose would practically be glued to his knee. She thought if Rafe told Raven to “wait”, he’d stay where he was until he starved to death.
She’d told Rafe once that he could do with Raven as she’d done with Jonquil, enter him in competition and win ribbons and trophies.
“Why would I want to do that, Sis?” he’d asked. “I only want Raven to do what I tell him for my sake. I don’t care if anyone else see’s him doin’ it.”
She usually never said the ef word – freakin’ and flippin’, yes, but not the actual word itself – but that day, she’d said, “fuck you, Rafe.” She said it again right now, although he couldn’t hear her – “fuck you, Rafe.”
Laney wouldn’t have known how to do anything if it hadn’t been for Rafe. He was the one who first showed her how to brush her teeth and made sure she did it every morning and every night. He told her she needed to put on clean underwear every single day. He helped her to match her colors so her outfits looked nice. He brushed her long blonde hair and pulled it back out of her face and fastened it with barrettes. He was the one who taught her how to ride her bike and to do things on the computer and play tennis and swim. She thought lots of times about how awful and lonely her life would have been without him.
Because just about every bit of love or affectionate touching or concern about her that she’d ever experienced had stemmed from Rafe, Laney found it not a bit surprising that he had introduced her to this new wonderful thing as well. It was like Christmas every night. She couldn’t wait until they’d both had their showers and she could come over to his bed. Like he had promised, they’d done other things after the first time. When he had put his mouth down there, as she had done to him, she felt like it sent her shooting up to the moon and then like she was floating back down on the softest cloud in the sky. Sometimes he teased her by going so slow, she thought she couldn’t stand waiting any longer.
“Please, Rafe,” she would beg, “please.”
“Say pretty please, I love you, Rafe.”
“Pretty please! I love you, Rafe!”
And then he would make it happen and she would just explode with happiness.
He told her he was going to fuck her on her 9th birthday.
“Why not now, Rafe? I want you to do it now.”
“No, it’s going to be a treat for both of us for your 9th birthday. Then I’ll put myself inside you. It will give you something to look forward to because it will be so good.”
Her 9th birthday was not for another year. By doing it the way he did it, he made it seem like the Holy Grail.
Of course, daily life went on for both of them. She still loved school and she was good at it as all the Vincennes kids were. She was on the honor roll every time. None of them were as smart as Rafe though. He was put in the Gifted and Talented class in third grade and then jumped a grade and then another, until he was in 7th grade when he was only 10. Some of the teachers talked about how his i.q. was off the charts and maybe he was a genius. He was better at playing the guitar than Gabe and better at drawing than Denis. He was better at baseball and football than Morgan and better at shooting than Wyatt. He was better at tennis than Jocelyn and better at riding than Annecy. It still rankled a little about what Miss Dee had said about him though and he tried to work at being more personable. He’d been called arrogant more than once and he tried to figure out why people would say that about him. He’d even asked his teacher one time after someone had said it.
“What about me would make someone think I’m arrogant? I don’t try to lord it over anyone. I don’t try to rub it in when I do well at something. I’m never mean to anyone.”
Privately, the teacher herself thought she might have described Rafe as arrogant but when she tried to put her finger on why, she was at a loss. It was true what he said. He wasn’t one of those kids who tried to make himself the center of attention and he never boasted about his accomplishments and probably of all the elite group of which he was nominally a part, he was the nicest to the less popular ones. In fact, he was as friendly to the students who were called low-lifes as he was to the movers and shakers, (although she’d noticed that he wasn’t really close to anyone in either group). He wasn’t judgmental about race or sexual orientation or disability or socioeconomic background.
She finally decided it was just something about the way he held himself apart and that look he had that said he didn’t really care what anyone else thought of him, that they were welcome to take him or leave him as he was and it didn’t much matter to him one way or the other.
That’s finally what she told him.
“I guess it’s because you seem like you don’t care what people think, Rafe, and everyone wants to believe people care what they think.”
“I don’t care what they think, Mrs. Harper, if they’re right, but I don’t like being tagged with a label that’s wrong.”
“I don’t know how to tell you to make it any different, Rafe.”
He shrugged and then smiled that devastating but quickly disappearing smile. “Guess I’ll just have to live with it then, huh?”
He was only 10 but she felt a little thrill go down her spine at that smile. She almost called him back to tell him that it might go a long way toward changing people’s minds about him but she didn’t. She was afraid what he might do with it if he ever found out how potent it could be.
His coaches loved his capacity for speed and stealth. You could pass him a football and the next thing anyone knew, he’d be crossing the goal line. Or give him a basketball and he’d be sinking one while the other team was still looking for him. Or he’d hit a single and turn it into a triple before anyone tracked his location on the baseball field. From the first day he started playing junior league sports, he never knew what it was like to have to sit on the bench.
It was her 9th birthday. As usual, the only reason she had a party was because of Rafe. Once again, he’d tracked down his mother.
“Next week is Lane’s 9th birthday, Mom. I remember years when you even forgot to give her a cake or buy her a present. Don’t you think it’s time she had a party, maybe have some of the kids from her class over?”
“That’s a wonderful idea, Rafie, but I don’t know who is in her class. I don’t suppose you could give me some names?”
Silently, he handed her the list he’d gotten from Lane’s teacher.
Magdelene had invited all the students in Lane’s class and their parents and her teacher. She had a red and white striped tent put up in the back yard and hired clowns and a magician and had the stable hands bring up the horses for rides. There was a big banner that said “Happy 9th Birthday, Laney” and games to play and a huge cake with her name on it in red and clumps of scarlet balloons tied everywhere. And her gift was Rafe’s idea - her very own horse, a little palomino Arab mare named Lisbon. It was one of the most joyous days of her life. Rafe, watching, smiled wryly - once you could get their Mother’s attention, you could count on her to do it up right.
No matter what else was going on though, Lane kept thinking about being in bed that night with Rafe and about what he was going to do. Each time she thought about it, she got a tingling sensation in her belly. Half of her hated for the day to end but the other half of her couldn’t wait for it to be over.
And finally, it was. She’d had her shower and he was in the shower now. She was in his bed with her nighty on. She didn’t even wear underpants to bed anymore. Finally he came into the room, in just his shorts. First, he walked over and got something out of his dresser drawer and then he sat on the side of the bed.
“I saved my allowance to get you a birthday present,” he said handing her a small gift-wrapped box.
She opened it to reveal a ring with a heart-shaped sapphire in a gold mounting. It wasn’t a huge stone but it wasn’t tiny either.
“It’s your birthstone.”
“Oh, Rafe, it’s so beautiful. I’ve never had a ring before.”
“Put it on and make sure it fits.”
She slipped it onto her right ring finger. “It’s perfect.”
“I don’t ever want you to take it off, Lane, not ever. It means you belong to me. You’ve belonged to me since the day you were born and you always will. Say it, Lane, I want to hear you say it.”
“I belong to you, Rafe.”
He grinned. “Okay, now that that’s taken care of, let’s have some fun.”
He stood up and dropped his pants on the floor, then got into bed beside her. He kissed her neck and tickled her nipples and ran his fingers along the insides of her thighs and across her mound, lightly, teasingly, until she was saying, “I can’t wait any longer, Rafe, I can’t wait any longer!” And then he got on top of her and put himself inside her and feeling him there, almost like a part of her, was the best thing yet. She just started going off like firecrackers on the Fourth of July.
“Wrap your legs around me, Lane, and come up to meet me.”
As he moved back and forth inside her, the fireworks got bigger and louder and brighter until they were melting into one another.
“Oh, Rafe, that’s so wonderful!”
She felt him moving in and out harder and harder and then she felt him push extra hard until he gave a little groan and slumped down on top of her, breathing hard.
“Are you all right, Rafe?”
“I’m perfect, Laney.”
Finally, he got up and went into the bathroom, bringing back a warm wet cloth to wash her.
“You bled just a little. Did it hurt?”
“If it did, I didn’t notice because it felt so good at the same time.”
He smiled. “That’s what’s supposed to happen. It’s supposed to feel good.”
“It did, Rafe. I loved it. It was my best present ever.”
“Do you love me, Lane?”
“You know I love you more than anything.”
“Tell me how much.”
“Whatever the highest number is in the world, Rafe, I love you way more than that.”
The next day, Saturday, he told her they needed to talk.
“I think we’d better tell the folks we want to move into our own bedrooms.”
“But I like being in here with you right next to me, Rafe.”
“I know but we’re getting too old to be sleeping in the same room. I’m almost twelve. That’s too old to be sleeping in a nursery with my sister. I’ll tell them you still have nightmares sometimes and to put us next door to each other.”
“I’d rather just stay the way we are.”
“I know, but we can’t. Don’t worry, Sweetie. Don’t I always fix it so it’s okay?”
“Mom, I think it’s time that Lane and I had our own bedrooms. We’re getting a little too old to still be in the nursery together.”
“Why, yes, Rafe, I suppose you’re right. But where can we put you? I hate to take Morgan and Wyatt’s rooms even though they don’t come home that often. (Morgan was an attorney now, living in New York, and Wyatt was a Lieutenant in the Army).”
“No, I don’t want to take anyone else’s room. How about those two little rooms at the end of the hall with the bathroom in between that used to be the nurse’s bedroom and sitting room? They’re small but they’re big enough for us. We’ll have our privacy but they have that door between them so I can go settle Lane down if she has one of her nightmares.”
“Oh, Rafie, those aren’t very nice compared to your brothers’ and sisters’ rooms but if you think they’ll work, I guess it would be all right.”
“I think they’ll be fine, Mom.”
“Well, why don’t you stay where you are until I can get the painters and flooring people in and at least you’ll have fresh colors and new carpet and I’ll take you and let you pick out some new furniture and I’ll buy you each a television and a computer and whatever else you need. I really can’t believe we left you in the nursery this long.”
“That would be great, Mom.”
“We’ve got a reprieve,” he told her that night. “It will be at least two weeks before the rooms are painted and carpeted and the new furniture is delivered. In the meantime, why don’t you come on over here?”
She flew over to his bed and dived under the covers with him.
It really was better when they finally got moved into their new rooms. For one thing, they were so much prettier. Hers had pale yellow walls and white lacy curtains and a puffy yellow comforter. The carpet was pale green plush. She picked out white furniture painted with pastel flowers – a canopy bed and a dresser and a shelf unit that held her new television and computer. It felt comforting to be in a small, cozy place with just all her own things instead of the vast impersonality of the nursery. When they were furniture shopping, her Mom let her buy some pretty pictures for her walls. One was of a porch with white wicker furniture and pink roses climbing up a trellis on one side and another was of two white Persian kittens sleeping on a patchwork quilt.
Rafe’s room had dove gray walls and a pewter and navy patterned rug and walnut furniture. He had one of his own drawings, their sailboat on the bay, on the wall and that was all. It seemed sort of bare to her but she’d asked him if he was going to add more stuff and he said no, he’d leaving the nesting to her.
What was best of all about these rooms was that they could be locked from the inside (unlike the nursery but, of course, you wouldn’t put inside locks on a nursery) so they didn’t have to worry about anyone coming in the door without warning them, an admittedly unlikely possibility, but still. Being able to lock the doors made them both feel more secure.
He liked to tease her in public. If they were swimming, he’d sneak his warm hand down her bathing suit and massage her bottom and if they were riding, he’d move up beside her and run his finger between her legs and even at the breakfast table, sometimes he’d give her upper thigh a light squeeze. It always had the effect on her of making her go completely still, anticipating the next touch, although it usually never came. Even in church, he’d lean over and whisper in her ear, “do you want me to fuck you tonight, Lane?” and she’d have to force herself to just stare straight ahead. He’d taught her the terminology of sex by now. The thing between his legs was his cock and the place he put his cock when he fucked her was her pussy. When she sucked his cock, that was called a blow job. He told her not to use those words to anyone else though. Around grown ups, she still had to say penis and vagina. Cock and pussy and fucking and blow jobs were only for when they were doing things together.
He sighed. “It would be nice if Mom or one of the girls would have this talk with you but I guess it’s not going to happen so I suppose it’s up to me. Do you know anything about menstrual periods, Lane?”
“Okay, here’s the way it works. When a girl reaches puberty, which you’re probably almost there, she has what are called periods. That means, every month she has a few days when she bleeds from between her legs. It’s going to happen one of these days so don’t be scared when it does. It’s just a natural thing. I snuck into Annecy’s room and got some Kotex.” He brought one out. “See, you just put them down in your panties. They’ve got these adhesive strips that make them stick on. They soak up the blood. I put a package in the bathroom under the sink. Some girls have bad stomach cramps when they have their period. I also snagged you some pills called Midols. They’re in the medicine cabinet. If you start your period and have a stomach ache, take one of them. They say it helps to put a hot water bottle on your belly too if it’s really bad. Do you have any questions about any of this, Lane?”
“It sounds yucky. I don’t think I’m going to like it.”
“Probably not, but you’ll have to get used to it because you’ll be putting up with it for a long time.”
She was glad it was Rafe who told her about periods. She probably would have been embarrassed to talk to her mother or one of her sisters about such personal stuff but there was nothing she couldn’t talk to Rafe about.
No parent had ever attended any of their parent-teacher conferences.
“God,” said Mr Leslie, “if I had a son like Rafe Vincennes, I’d want to go to his conferences just to collect all the kudos. He’s never gotten anything other than an A in his whole school career. He’s going to graduate next year with an A plus average and take all advanced courses in what would normally be his senior year and the kid’s only 14. He got the highest SAT scores any Benedict student ever received. He’s got the most yards per carry of anyone on the football team; the most home runs on the baseball team and the highest point per game average on the basketball team. They’ve got what seems to be a dream child and it’s like they don’t even notice!”
“Well, you know, he’s got eight brothers and sisters. Maybe they just got tired of being parents.”
“It’s turned him into a self-sufficient little shit, I’ll say that for him. It doesn’t seem to bother him any. He appears to be totally self-reliant.”
“I was teaching elementary when Linda Dee had him in her class. She told me she thought he was a sociopath.”
“What the hell was she talking about? I’ve never seen anyone more well-adjusted than Rafe Vincennes.”
Rafe had learned a lot about smiling by then. He still didn’t do it frequently but he knew when it would do him the most good. He spent a great deal of time studying people when they weren’t aware of it. He sensed that he wasn’t quite normal (although he’d read up on sociopathy by then and he was far from convinced that he fit the classic definition). Because he mistrusted people, he ignored what they said but watched to see what they actually did instead, which usually wasn’t the same thing at all. Humility, for instance. It was supposed to be an admirable quality, but that was just lip service. Humility was more often viewed as arrogance in disguise.
The reality was that it was easy to mold the opinion most people had of you because, unlike him, they would usually buy right into whatever you presented to them. You couldn’t take credit for things you couldn’t achieve, of course, or you’d be looked down on as a braggart but someone had told him once that it wasn’t bragging if you could back it up and Rafe could always back it up. He hadn’t found anything yet he couldn’t excel at if he set his mind to it. Like chess. One of his teachers asked him if he’d be interested in learning how to play chess and within a month, Rafe was winning every game. Mr. Dean hadn’t seemed upset about it though. He told Rafe he only wanted to see if that’s what would happen like he expected it would and it did, so Rafe guessed it was sort of a test to check a theory Mr Dean had about him.
He felt like what he was doing was building a library of emotional reactions so that he could call on the most effective one depending on the occasion. He knew when he should be a little cocky (making the winning touchdown in football, for example) because that’s what people wanted and expected and when he needed to lend a sympathetic ear. He knew how much it pleased people when he flattered them (“we would never have won if the defensive line hadn’t been so awesome). He grinned a little to himself. He’d become a whiz at faking sincerity and the smile was part of that. He had checked its effect many times since Miss Dee’s class and found it could change enemies into friends and suspicion into trust and that when he turned it on full-bore, the happy recipient could almost always be convinced to see things his way. He’d also learned that it worked equally as well with males as females.
The truth was that his old school counselor had been right. He didn’t much care what people thought of him, not really. It was more like an intellectual challenge. He approached it like he would about learning any subject. Pleasing People or Physics. You could get an A+ in either one if you put the time and effort into learning the relevant formulas.
If there was one thing he couldn’t do anything about, it was his eyes. If he stared at some people too long, he could sense them getting nervous so he’d taught himself to only look at them directly for a few seconds before turning his gaze. He used the smile to deflect attention from the eyes. When he looked away, they only saw curly black lashes, as long as any girl’s.