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Sunday, July 03, 2011

Book One - Chapter 12

Chapter 12
Rhiannon came to Heron Point and spent a couple of weeks with him at Christmas. She fell crazily in love with the house and the family. She hung on Renny’s every word about Vincennes history, studying every item in his study, wanting to know the stories behind the heirloom furniture and the model train and the dueling pistols and the civil war letters. She pored over the family tree and asked him to explain as much as he knew about each name listed.  Renny enjoyed talking to someone who was so interested since his own kids had always pretty well taken their heritage for granted.
She spent hours with Magdelene, wanting to know about her and Renny’s love affair and what it was like to spend your whole life loving someone and knowing they loved you back and to be brought here to this wonderful place as a young bride and how it was for her when her kids were young and at home. Magdelene told her that from the first day she met Renny, she thought he was the perfect man and almost 40 years, nine kids and, she’d have to stop to think to remember how many grandkids later, she still thought so. Getting to know Rafe’s father, Ree could definitely understand how Magdelene would feel that way. It seemed to her that if you were under Renny’s protection, nothing bad would ever be allowed to happen to you.
Rhiannon was fascinated by the open oak stairway with all the family pictures lining the wall going up the steps. She made Rafe tell who each of the brothers and sisters were and who they were married to and how many children they had and what they were doing with their lives now (although she did notice the pictures kind of petered out when they got to Rafe and Lane).
He took her out on the boats, the sailboat and the speed boat and even the little pirogue in which they could investigate the swampy side streams of the bay which he knew like the back of his hand (fortunately, it was an especially warm winter).  He taught her to ride the horses, something she’d never done, and he took her up to the cabin, explaining jokingly about how it had been the Vincennes sexual rendezvous point, first for their parents, and then for each of the kids in their turn. They made love in the bedroom so she could say she’d done it there too. She adored Hawk and Shasta. She’d never had a pet of her own.  He took her into Benedict, where he knew everyone and everyone knew him, and they seemed suitably impressed although not surprised that Rafe had ended up with a woman like Rhiannon.
She threw herself into helping Magdelene decorate, excitedly showing Rafe how she’d learned to make the big, plaid bows for the stairway swags, and to wrap gifts as beautifully as Magdelene so each one looked like something you’d see in a department store window. She helped set out pots and pots of poinsettias and to decide where each elaborate flower arrangement should go and to hang the socks on the mantel. She was awed when Renny had the workmen bring the manger scene out of the garage and she went nuts over the huge tree when it was delivered.
She was even more thrilled when all the family vehicles started coming down the driveway to unload kids and luggage and packages to put under the tree and when the long dining room table was filled to overflowing with talking, laughing Vincennes. All except Laney, who’d decided to go to London this year with her best college chum, giving up even her $1,000 check.
“Is it because of me, Rafe?” she asked.
“Yes, Honey, I expect it probably is.”
He thought she was a completely different person here, more Pearl Ann Mosier than Rhiannon. Her West Virginia roots of extreme poverty and lovelessness showed in her naked longing to be part of Heron Point and the Vincennes. He thought it was sort of sweet but sad to watch. They all loved her because she so obviously loved them. She hardly sat down until she had a baby on her lap. He smiled to himself. If anything, most of them probably thought he didn’t deserve anyone as special as Rhiannon.
The family was a little taken aback by the helicoptors that flew over the chateau and the satellite trucks that lined the roadway and the reporters who crowded around any time anyone entered or left, hoping for a picture or a few words from Rafe or Rhiannon or even better, both of them together.
“I’ve got to go see them and talk to them a little.”
“I guess you want me to go too.”
“I’d like for you to but I know you hate it, so I’m not asking.”
“No, it’s all right.”
“If you’re going to do it, Rafe, put yourself out to charm them.”
“Don’t worry, Ree. I will.”
So she took her hair down out of its pony tail and used the curling iron to produce her trademark tangle of sable curls. She expertly applied make up so her smoky eyes were shadowed in dove gray and her full lips were sensuously mauve. She changed out of her holey jeans and sweatshirt and into gray suede pants, a silky silver blouse, knee-high, high-heeled gray leather boots and a silver fox fur jacket. And the family was fascinated by the metamorphosis from Rhiannon the regular person to Rhiannon the self-assured movie star.
They walked to the end of the locust-lined lane to give the media the attention they craved. Rafe was friendly and funny and open. And she was was smiling and cooperative and flirtatious.
“Do you love him, Rhiannon?” one of them called out.
“I love him with all my heart,” she said, taking his hand.
“And how about you, Rafe?”
“The same. I feel the same.”
“When do you start your next movie?”
“No more movies for me,” he told them, “I’m a race car driver, not an actor.”
“Will you try to convince him to change his mind, Rhiannon?”
“I might try if the perfect part comes along.”
“Will you let her talk you into it, Rafe?”
His smile went flashing across his face. “Maybe…if she makes me an offer I can’t refuse.”
Thus leaving them with the hope that another Rhiannon and Rafe film might be forthcoming in the future.

“I’d like to stay here always, Rafe. This place seems so warm and secure and beautiful.You take it for granted because it’s all you’ve ever known but if you’d grown up like me, with nothing but ugliness, you’d know how lucky you were to live here, always having good food to eat and nice clothes to wear just like the other kids, and brothers and sisters who actually seem to like one another. And your Mom and Dad have to be the perfect parents. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have a father like Renny. He’s so kind and strong, like you’d always have everything you needed. Is that really what it was like?”
“Pretty much, Ree, that’s pretty much what it was like.”
She snuggled against him. “Would you really make another movie if I asked, Rafe?”
“Not just any movie, Honey, but if something comes along that you really, really want badly, I’d probably do it just for you.”

He wasn’t exactly sure where Laney was with everything so he e-mailed her.
Lane – do you still want me to come up in February? R
Rafe – Yes, yes, yes! I can’t wait to see you! Love, Lane.

Of course, she was there first, an hour and a half before he thought he’d arrive, just in case he got in early. She was in the room she’d been assigned. She’d unlocked her side of the joining door but he had to unlock his from his side before the rooms were open to each other. This old hotel was very lovely and elegant, not that she cared that much. She’d have stayed in a fleabag if it meant Rafe was going to be there with her. She impatiently read her book with one ear focused outside, waiting for a sound that would alert her to his arrival. But she forgot how quietly he always did everything. The connecting door opened before she knew he was there. He stood, grinning.
“Aren’t you going to come and kiss me hello?”
She flung down her book and jumped up. When she reached him, she threw her arms around him and buried her head in his shoulder, soaking up the feel of his strength and warmth and loved familiarity.
“This is the longest time we’ve ever gone without seeing one another. I almost didn’t think I could stand it.”
He held her face with both his hands and looked into her eyes.
“We need to talk about that before I leave. Do you want to do it now and get it out of the way?”
“No, Rafe, not now. We’ll talk about it later.”
“Okay, then, Honey, you tell me when you’re ready. In the meantime…..”

She wasn’t ready until late into the next day. She wasn’t even ready then, really. It was so good just to have him there, making love to her, and then lying next to him when she was totally content and drifting happily into sleep. But she guessed it had to be dealt with sooner or later.
“I’m getting up and getting dressed,” she said, “I can’t talk about serious stuff lying down and naked.”
He was caressing her breast, “no,” he agreed, smiling “you’re easily distractable, Lane.”
She hadn’t brought a robe so she put on his long-sleeved denim shirt. It smelled of his aftershave and even that distracted her a little. He brought them each a bottle of water out of the frig.
“So, who goes first, Lane? You or me?”
“You first, Rafe. Tell me about you and Rhiannon and what that means to us.”
He shrugged. “I love her, I’ve told you that. I think she’ll always be part of my life now, but I don’t know that it will affect us much, one way or the other unless you let it. I know you didn’t come home for Christmas because she was there and I understand why, but she won’t be at Heron Point more than a few weeks out of every year. She’ll still mostly be in California or on location. I’ll be mostly at home or traveling the racing circuit. Life will go on pretty much the same except we’ll probably spend a lot of time on planes going back and forth.”
“I always have a hard time grasping your way of thinking, Rafe.” She giggled. “I think it’s because I’m normal.”
He nodded with a small smile of acknowledgement of her normalcy.
She turned serious. “I’ve given this a lot of thought. You know, I assigned a percentage once to the amount of you I thought you gave to me. It came out to 20 percent.”
“You tried to put our relationship in mathematical terms, Lane?” he cocked one black eyebrow. “And what made you arrive at 20 percent anyway?”
“I was just trying to accept where I fit into the scheme of things in your life, Rafe, and I suppose a fifth was arbitrary but it seemed like roughly the right amount.  Anyway, let’s say for the sake of argument it is about right. What I finally decided recently was that was all I’ve ever had of you which meant that other people got the 80 percent that was left, whoever they were. Now, Rhiannon has entered the picture and taken over part of that 80 percent. I guess it shouldn’t make that much difference to me since I never had it anyway. Does any of what I’m saying make any sense, Rafe?”
“Well,” he said, “it sounds like your normalcy trying to make sense of my abnormality but if it works for you, Sweetie, it’s okay.”
“What about her, Rafe? Is she satisfied with the way things are between you?”
“She knows what I am, Lane, and that I won’t change. She says her love comes with no strings attached and I think she really means it.”
“And you’re the same with her?”
“Yes. She’s free to do as she pleases when I’m not around. I never wanted to own anyone, Lane, and I don’t want anyone to own me.”
“I’m an owner, Rafe, or at least I’d like to be.”
“I know, Honey. Makes it hard for you, doesn’t it, dealing with someone like me?  Are you going to be all right with me and Ree the way it is then? You know we can call it quits if you think it’s better for you. We’ll just revert to being brother and sister and I’ll love you just the same.”
“No, Rafe! No, I couldn’t do that, not ever! I think it probably would be better, but I can’t imagine never being together with you like this.  I bailed on Christmas just because it seemed like it would hurt too bad, knowing she was right beside my room in your bed where I’ve been so many times.” She took a deep breath, “but for the rest of it, Rafe, I’ll share if I have to. I’ll take my 20 percent and try to be happy with it because it’s better than nothing at all.”
He took her hand. “I think it’s a little more than 20 percent, Lane.” He grinned. “Maybe more like 25.”
“And the same for her?”
“Yep – a quarter for you, a quarter for her, a quarter for everyone else and a quarter to keep for myself.”
“I’m done talking, Rafe,” she put her hand on his lap. “I’m ready to collect on my 25 percent right now.”

She told him he had to come to the dorm before he left. Her roommate, Sarah, would never forgive her if she didn’t at least bring Rafe by to meet her. He caused quite a splash on campus because just about everyone had seen No Winners and he was even more handsome in real life than he was on the big screen. They had lunch at the cafeteria just so Laney could show him off but it was hard for him to eat in between signing autographs.
“Is it always like this for you now?”
“Just about. “
Sarah was so self-conscious, being at the chosen table with Rafe and Lane, that she didn’t touch her food.  She was afraid she’d choke and embarrass herself in front of him. Sarah was usually comfortable about herself. Generally, on campus, she was okay with being a size 18 and wearing jeans that were a little too big and a tee-shirt that was a little too small. She hardly ever wore make up, making no effort to capitalize on her best feature, her soft brown doe eyes. She let her naturally curly dark blond hair go too long between trimmings so it it bushed around her face with no discernible style. Right now though, she was supremely conscious of her shortcomings. She wished she’d stuck to that diet and hadn’t cancelled her appointment at the hair salon.
Lane had asked him to bring Sarah one of the “I ‘heart’ Rafe fan club shirts and he gave it to her after he walked them back to their building, signed with that big, bold Rafe above the heart. He gave her a quick hug and told her he was glad his sister had a roommate she got along with so well, at which, she turned a particularly vivid shade of scarlet and mumbled, “me, too”.
Laney went with him out to his car.
            “God, she’s going to be unbearable about you now, Rafe. Thanks for being so sweet to her.”
“I’m usually sweet to vulnerable people, Lane.”
“You see why I said I was glad she was heavy and not pretty. She would have thrown herself at you and you might have been tempted to take her up on it.”
“I should do it anyway, Lane and make her day. You know, I’m not above giving out the occasional pity fuck. It’s sort of my version of donating to charity. Not long ago, I screwed a scrawny, freckle-faced, buck-toothed little redhead…’course I was afraid to let her blow me because of the teeth. Kept visualizing a beaver and a tree.”
“You’re lying, Rafe!”
His fleeting smile slid across his face. She never did know whether he was teasing her or telling the truth.

After he was gone, she found a check for $1,000 in her purse with a sticky note that said he didn’t want her giving up something she wanted because of him.

He heard about the colt when he was waiting at Grindle’s Garage while they serviced the Corvette. He’d gone to school with Roger Corning, whose parents owned Legacy Ridge Arabs, where Heron Point’s own horses had come from. Roger was waiting too, for one of the farm trucks to be finished.
“Hey, Rog, how’s it going?”
“Good, Rafe, although not as good as it sounds like you’re doing.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve had a streak of good luck lately.
“Rafe, your whole life has been a streak of good luck.”
Rafe shrugged, then changed the subject. “Old Destiny is starting to slow down, Rog. I’ve thought off and on about coming out and taking a look at your young stock. Don’t know when I might have got around to it but since we’ve met up like this, have you got anything you think I’d be interested in?”
“We got a black stud colt that would be right up your alley, Rafe. Problem is the old man would never agree to let you have him. In fact, I think he’s decided the only safe thing to do is have him put down.”
“Why? What’s up with him?”
“He’s mean as a rattlesnake. Bites, kicks, bucks. The stable hands all hate him. Too bad ‘cuz he’s gorgeous, a true black, and you know, that isn’t so common. Perfect confirmation. Bloodlines out the wazoo. We originally thought we’d show him, then keep him for breeding but Dad said he’d never want to pass on that kind of disposition. Thought about gelding him, but he’s been a pure little bastard since he was born and seems unlikely anything is going to change him. Anyway, Dad decided if he hurt anybody, he’d feel responsible so I think he’s a goner….”
“You’ve still got him now though?”
“I’d like to at least come out and take a look.”
“Well, it looks like we’re both about to get done here. Why don’t you follow me back to the farm. I’ll show him to you but I warn you, I don’t think you’ll get beyond that with Dad.”
Roger grinned, brown eyes sparkling, knowing he’d piqued Rafe’s interest. The two had started school together clear back in kindergarten, although Rafe had jumped ahead of him when he’d been skipped those two years. Roger knew if you told Rafe he couldn’t do something, he wouldn’t be able to resist trying to figure out a way to do it just to prove it could be done. Roger remembered when they’d played football together in high school. They’d all been sitting around taking a breather during a practice. Someone had pointed out the tall announcer’s box and said wouldn’t it be cool if they could sneak in and replace the school flag on top with a banner that said, “fuck the Falcons”.   If no one official noticed it until the last minute, people would begin coming into the stands and a lot of them would see it before the administration could get a maintenance guy out to take it down. They tossed the possibilities around for a while before sensible heads prevailed, pointing out that a) it was almost impossible to get over the high fence that enclosed the field (there had been a vandalism incident once and the current fence was, if anything an over-reaction on the school’s part) and b) it would be even more difficult to climb to the top of the peaked roof of the announcer’s stand to reach the flag pole (when the school needed to get up there, they used a cherry picker, for God’s sake). Eventually, everyone gave up on the idea, or at least, they thought everyone had given up.
But at the next game, the one with the Ferris Falcons, Thad Curless had poked Roger in the ribs and whispered, “look at the flagpole but don’t let anyone see you do it”. And there, flying in the breeze, was a white banner that simply said, “RAFE” in large black letters. Of course, it would be Rafe’s style to bypass the smart-ass sentiment like, “fuck the Falcons”, just to make a personal statement.  Word about the banner passed from student to student. Clumps of giggling kids wondered how long it was going to take the adults to discover Rafe’s flag. They were thrilled that he’d managed to pull off a coup against the administration. By the time one of the teachers noticed and brought it to the attention of Principal Jacobs, the game was getting ready to start and since it didn’t say anything offensive, he made the decision to leave it until afterwards. So, Rafe’s name floated above the field during the entire game which was fitting at the end when he made the winning touchdown for Benedict.
Naturally, although they’d let it pass temporarily, the bureaucracy was not happy and Rafe got called into the principal’s office first thing Monday morning. The school grapevine went into overdrive. Soon every student knew.
“Hey, Rafe’s in Jacob’s office. Wonder what will happen?”
“Probably wants to know how he did it. You know, he’s wasting his time. Rafe’ll never tell.”
“Yeah, he wouldn’t even tell any of us and we begged him.”
“But we don’t have the kind of leverage Jacobs has. He can threaten to call Rafe’s old man or give him a million years of in-school detention or something.”
“Won’t matter. I’ll bet you ten bucks he won’t get Rafe to talk. If he has to, he’ll just take his punishment.”
“Maybe he’ll throw Rafe off the team.”
“Ha-ha! Like Coach would ever let that happen!”
He didn’t tell, and he did not get thrown off the team, but he did get an entire month of in-school suspension (no one had ever gotten as much). Jacobs thought it was a punishment to sit in a small room each day, isolated from his fellow students, but, of course, he didn’t understand that to Rafe, this wasn’t the case at all. In fact, he could do his reading and his homework better in this quiet place than in class. He was almost sorry when it was over.

All this was why Roger was hoping that Rafe might be the beautiful black colt’s salvation. He figured that if anyone could handle the little hellion, it would be Rafe….if they could talk Roger’s dad into letting him try.
“Hey, you know what else, Rafe?”
“This guy’s grandfather? Desfino, Destiny’s brother.”

Max Corning was an older version of his son or maybe that was vice versa. Both were short and wiry with arms and legs muscled from years of riding horses. Both had sun-weathered complexions, although the father’s face was aged like old leather. Both had brown eyes that could size up a colt in an instant and both usually had ready smiles, although the elder Mr Corning’s smile wasn’t in evidence just now.
“What are you up to, Roger? You know I’ve already made my decision. There’s no sense trying to talk me out of it. I’ve got Doc scheduled to come next week. I’m not going to let a horse with his temperament waste food and stall space….or ruin Legacy Ridge’s reputation.”
“I know, Dad, but I was telling Rafe about him and he just wanted to see him.”
Rafe and Roger leaned against the paddock fence, each with one booted foot propped up on the lower rail.
“We leave him out in good weather. It’s just too hard on the guys fighting with him to get him back and forth to the barn.”
“Jesus, Roger, you’re right about him. He’s fucking awesome.”
The colt was running along the far end of his fence line, muscles rippling under his ebony skin, long black tail floating behind him. When he slowed down, he snorted and shook his head at the men, black forelock bobbing. He obviously didn’t like them being so near, watching him. He had the distinctive dish face of the full-blooded Arab. Right now, his ears were pinned back in anger. He screamed out a warning for Rafe and Roger to keep their distance, stamping his front feet to accentuate the threat.
“It’s not really safe to leave the long lead on him. He could step on it and trip himself when he’s running but it’s the only way we can catch him without a big hassle,” Roger told him.
Rafe watched the colt, thinking he probably wanted the challenge of trying to seduce this horse as much as he’d ever wanted to seduce any woman. He admired the young stud’s unwillingness to submit. Of course, in order to survive, he’d have to learn to keep the wildness hidden, fooling people into thinking they’d tamed him. They would kill you off if you didn’t. He’d had to learn that and the colt needed to learn it too.
“Please, Mr Corning, just let me try. One week, give me one week. If I’m not riding him by then, I’ll admit defeat and you can do what you want to do.”
“No, Rafe, absolutely not. I can just see me informing Renny that one of my horses has hurt his son while I just stood back and let it happen, knowing how unpredicatable he was.”
Rafe grinned. “Okay, do it this way then. Call my Dad and ask him. See what he says. If he gives his approval, then you let me have my shot.  What do you say, Mr Corning? That’s fair, isn’t it?”
“Come on, Dad, please. I think he can do it, I really do.”
With both Rafe and Roger pounding on him, Max Corning gave up.
“I’ll call your father, Rafe, but I’m going to be completely up-front with him about how dangerous I think this horse is and that there’s a serious risk to you.”
Rafe nodded in agreement.
And when Max briefed Renny over the phone, he was dead honest.
“I’m opposed, Renny, but I promised Rafe I’d let you make the call.”
Renny was silent for a moment and then Max heard a sigh coming through the phone.
“Let him do it, Max. Trying to keep Rafe safe is a lost cause. Over time, I’ve learned to have faith in him. He won’t take stupid chances. If he thinks he can win over your colt, he probably can.”
Rafe and Roger stood listening to Max’s end of the call. If Renny had faith in Rafe, Rafe had as much faith in his father. He would have bet any amount of money that Renny would say yes although that decision seemed to shock old Max.
He hung up the phone and turned around.
“One week, Rafe. You’ve got one week. If that colt isn’t a perfect gentleman by then, Doctor Hammond still comes on schedule.” He frowned at the boys. “I want you both to know I’m not happy about this and I feel like you scammed me, especially you, Roger, bringing Rafe out here after my decision had been made.”
“Whew,” said Roger. “He is seriously pissed. Don’t screw this up, Rafe, or it’s my ass.”
“Don’t worry, Rog. I won’t screw it up. Oh, by the way, does this colt have a name.”
“Yep.” Roger smiled. “It’s Desperado – fitting, huh?”

He went back to Heron Point long enough to pack a small tote of clothes, a sleeping bag, a cooler of food and water and some books. He changed into ragged jeans, a lined flannel shirt and his beat-up cowboy boots, before returning to Legacy Ridge. He went into the colt’s paddock and set up a miniature base camp, close to the feed box and hay rack. If the young stud wanted to eat anything but grass he’d have to come within a few yards of Rafe. Then he simply sat in an unthreatening position with back against the fence, reading out loud while ignoring the horse completely. Meanwhile, Desperado maintained a position as far from the man as he could get. If Rafe appeared uninterested in him, he was certainly focused on Rafe, as if wondering what the hell was going on. Nothing like this had ever happened before.
When dark came, Rafe curled up in his sleeping bag and fell asleep. At dawn, he went behind a tree to take a piss, ate some cheese and crackers and drank some water, then resumed his reading.
During that day, both Rafe and the colt maintained their positions. The stand off was a source of great interest to everyone at Legacy Ridge at first. Periodically, they would lounge against the fence and watch but it soon became boring since neither of the main actors seemed to be making any advances.
By the third day, the colt grazed his way closer to Rafe, his ears pricked forward toward the sound of Rafe’e voice. That evening, he ate from his feed box although he kept a wary eye on the man seated on the ground near by.
For the first time, Rafe raised his head from his book and addressed Desperado directly.
“Well, hey, there, Sweetheart,” he murmured in a low voice, “you’ve decided it’s safe to come a little closer now, have you? That’s good. I’m the only chance you’ve got, Youngster, whether you know it or not.”
The colt snorted but didn’t move away.
That night, Rafe felt rather than saw the black shape approaching him slowly. If horses could be said to tiptoe, this one was, putting one hoof cautiously in front of the other. Rafe kept perfectly still until he could almost feel the colt’s breath in his face. Although his eyes were closed, he could sense Desperado’s own curious eyes watching him. He didn’t want to move enough even to smile but inwardly, he was grinning.
On the third day, Rafe took a walk around the paddock. The colt followed him, keeping a short distance between them. Rafe paid no attention to him.
“What do you think, Dad?” Roger asked his father. Both of them had been monitoring the situation closely.
“It’s an unorthodox approach to say the least but he seems to be making progress. I know you have a soft spot for that colt, Roger, but don’t get your hopes up too much. He’s still got a ways to go.”
In the beginning, the employees at Legacy Ridge were going to take bets about whether Rafe could win the colt over or not but they’d all had experience with him, so no one wanted to take Rafe’s side of the bet. They scoffed when Rafe set up his little camp right inside Desperado’s paddock. They scoffed even more about the novel concept of reading a horse into submission.
The consensus was that they’d probably come out one morning and find the kid stomped to death. 
On the fourth day, the colt allowed Rafe to walk up to him. Rafe removed the halter and attached lead rope. Desperado seemed startled. No human had ever removed a binding from him before, only put them on.
The Legacy Ridge crew was startled too.
“Christ sakes, he took the goddam halter and lead rope off. Now, we’re going to have to go through all that bullshit to catch him again, like we did before.”
On the fifth day, they walked together, Rafe’s arm flung across Desperado’s neck. That evening, he put the halter and lead rope back on and led the colt around the inside of the fence.
During the entire time, Rafe carried on long conversations with the young stud, like they were best friends. Rafe explained his philosophy of life to the horse, who shook his head, as if in agreement. Sometimes, he explained mathematical formulas and other times, he deconstructed the plots of books he’d read. He quoted long streams of poetry (it was the first time, he’d ever thought memorizing poetry had any practical value).
On the next to the last day, Rafe moved into touch mode. He scratched the colt’s ears and under his mane. He ran his hands across his back and down his legs. He leaned into him. He laid his cheek against the Desperado’s own face, whispering into his ear. He put his arms around the horse’s neck. 
“Okay,” Rafe told him on the morning of the seventh day. “Our time is up so this is the acid test. You’ve got to let me ride you or you have a date with a needle later this afternoon. Have you got that, Tee?” (He’d taken to calling the colt Tee which stood for Des Two, or maybe Des Too).
“I’m coming up now, Tee,” he crooned into the horse’s ear (in much the same tone, he used when he was getting ready to enter a woman). “Just relax, Sweetheart, and trust me. I’ll make it all right, I promise.”
Grabbing hold of a handful of mane, he leapt onto Desperado’s back, still reassuring the horse of his good intentions. After the first shock of feeling Rafe’s weight on him, the young stallion seemed to accept the man on his back without protest. Rafe patted his neck and nudged him a little with his heels.
“Let’s pick up the pace a little, what do you say?”
They went from a trot into an easy lope.
“Dad, look!” Roger pointed to the paddock. Rafe was crouched over the colt’s neck, hands clutching its mane, jean-clad legs tightly clasping its sides. The colt’s mane and tail were flying and so was Rafe’s own black hair.
“Yes!” Roger pumped one arm into the air triumphantly.
The Cornings walked over to the paddock fence. Rafe rode over and slid down.
His smile went flashing across his face. “So, Mr Corning, are you going to sell him to me?”
“I’ll keep my word. He’s yours, Rafe. I’m not going to charge you for a horse I was going to have put down. I think you still might want to be careful. I’m not sure he’ll be safe for anyone but you.”
Rafe shook his head. “No, Mr Corning, I think you might be right about that.”
            He went back later with the horse trailer to bring Desperado home. Renny came out to see the colt when he got there.
            “Thanks for backing me up, Dad. He wouldn’t have let me try it if you hadn’t given your okay.”
            Renny gave his son a quick squeeze on the shoulder.
            “That’s because he doesn’t know you as well as I do, Rafe.”           

In March, he called a meeting with Chet and Jeri.
He’d been in four NASCAR Busch series races last year and had come in fifth, second, fifth and first – yeah, baby! – all top fives. All in all, an incredible record for a stone rookie just jumping over from driving sprint cars. Ron Corydon was so pleased, he’d offered Rafe the spot as full time driver for the Number 10 Winchester Chevrolet for this season. From the very first minute, he slid into the window to the cockpit of his car, it felt like coming home. The American monsters of NASCAR, almost 3 ½ tons of muscle, were right up his alley. He loved goosing the white Monte Carlo with the black pony express rider on the side down the straightaways and powering it around the turns. If he could keep doing as well as he was, his team and sponsors would be more than satisfied.

“I think it’s time you guys became official. Jeri, I know managing the fan club and the website has become a full-time job, and you’ve had to expand to handle the movie stuff as well, so starting today I’m putting you on salary. We’ll begin with $40,000 a year and see how that goes. And, Chet, you tell me what title you want and what you think it’s worth?”
Chet, who’d only been visualizing just this scenario for about three years, was speechless now that the time had come.
“I don’t know, Rafe.”
“Well, let’s figure it out then. First, I see you as just a kind of general friend and manager, as you have been all along anyway, but what about your business, Chet? I can’t ask you to short that on my account.”
“I’m ready to sell and just throw in with you, Rafe. I was thinking about retiring anyway. I’ve even got a guy lined up who wants to buy me out.”
“And how much will you be giving up in income to do that, Chet?”
The old man waved his hand. “That’s not really important. Everything I have is paid for so the money I get will just be mine. I believe in you, Rafe. I think you’ll jump to Cup after a year with the Busch series and probably win a championship within five. How about we go with a percentage? It will save you money up front but I’ll get more when we get things really rolling. Say ten percent.”
Rafe nodded. “That sounds fair. In the meantime, keep Dottie on if she wants to stay. You’ll need clerical help.”
Dottie was Chet’s long-time secretary. She was in her middle-50’s. A tall woman built along the lines of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime. She wore no make up, an iron-gray bun on the back of her head, a generally forbidding look and sloppy, unbecoming sweatsuits that ranged from black to gray to navy blue and back again. She could curse like a sailor but, Lord, that woman could speed read a contract and know exactly what every paragraph said and Rafe thought she could type about 500 words a minute.
She and Rafe had a schtick they did together wherein he tried to sweet talk her and she would have none of it.
“I wish I’d met you when you were younger, Dot. We’d have made some beautiful music together…in fact, it may not be too late.”
“It was always too late, Rafe. Some of these fucking dumb broads may fall for your line of crap but even when I was in my twenties, I’d have seen right through you.”
“Do you think I’m handsome, Darlin’?” standing before her in his sexy firesuit with his black eyes, the lock of black hair on his forehead and the usually-irresistible grin.
“Go peddle your happy horseshit to someone who is interested in buying, Rafe.”
“C’mon, Dot, why don’t you admit you adore me?”
“I adore you like I’d adore having a boil on my butt.”
After the deal was made, he cooed into her ear.
“I’m your boss now, Dottie, you’re going to have to be nice to me or I won’t sign your paycheck.”
“My paycheck could never be high enough to make that fucking happen.”
He laughed. “Ah, Dot, you’re such a refreshing change from all the women who love me.”
“God knows a body would never go broke under-estimating the intelligence of the average American female.” She snorted. “Fan club, my ass.”

Anyway, Dot stayed on, grumpy as ever. Chet rented a suite of three offices in a strip mall in Benedict and gave over one of them to Jeri although she’d mostly be working from home. Rafe told her to buy any equipment she needed and Chet too and send the bills to him and he’d forward them on to his accountant. There was really very little work involved in being rich when you were a Vincennes. Renny, and Rafe supposed, his father and grandfather before him, had arranged the family finances so securely and conveniently you couldn’t help but increase your wealth. It probably wasn’t even possible for a Vincennes to go broke even if they worked at it. Of course, Rafe was usually pretty practical in spending his money. He wasn’t interested in buying a luxury condo in Aspen or a multi-million dollar ocean front villa in Florida as some of the others had. (Jocey and Edgar had the condo and Morgan and Jessica the villa). He had bought himself a metallic blue Harley Davidson Screaming Eagle and he was thinking of trading in the Corvette on a new one although so far he hadn’t had the heart. It had over 100,000 miles on it now but he’d taken such good care of it, it was still in mint condition. He knew eventually he’d buy a plane but he was in no particular hurry to do that. Besides, between racing and acting, he’d actually been bringing in quite a bit more money than he spent.

In May, he drove to Provincetown, Massachusetts, (to be, he guessed, what would be considered the best man), at Chas and Vic’s wedding. They’d bought a house in the picturesque little town on the tip of Cape Cod, known for being populated primarily by gays. The place was sort of rundown but they had extravant plans for its renovation. It was a small wedding but tasteful (although the reception afterwards got a little out of hand). He tried not to take the center of attention away from the happy couple but they themselves wouldn’t allow that, introducing him to everyone as their straight godson, the famous Rafe Vincennes. They’d all heard the story about Vic getting beaten up and what had happened with Bob Bolover so his reputation had preceded him. They emphasized the part about him being straight so none of their friends would get the wrong impression. Still, he thought he’d never been hugged and kissed so much, surely, never as much at his own family’s gatherings. He wondered why the familiarities he wouldn’t tolerate from other people, he let slide when it came to Chas and Vic and their friends. Maybe it was because they expected absolutely nothing from him. They were proprietary about him but it was in the most undemanding way.
He spent the night with them and they talked until late after everyone else left. They wanted to be filled in on all the details of his life. In the morning, Chas fixed sausage and pancakes. They would be leaving soon for the Boston airport to catch a plane for their honeymoon in San Francisco. He drove on down the Cape to visit Annecy and Mark at their gray-shingled place on the water at Chatham. They had one white-blonde little girl, Christina. The older partner in their vet clinic had retired and they’d bought him out so they owned it now.
“So, Rafe, did I ever get a chance to tell you what an absolute sweetheart I thought Rhiannon was?”
“No, Sis, but I could tell you all liked her.”
“Do you think you’ll get married?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“I think she loves you a lot. You won’t hurt her, will you?”
“I love her too, Annie. Maybe she’ll end up hurting me.”
“Could anyone ever hurt you, Rafe? Is that even possible?”

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