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Where You Can Find Me
By Sheri Joseph
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2013 Sheri Joseph
All rights reserved.
October 23, 2006
The Vincent house had been new when they bought it, when Caleb was four and Lark an infant. On TV, it looked like nothing much: two-story, tri-gabled, putty-colored brick in the style of every other house in the development. Set mid-block on Waverly Way, one of the longer streets, it was hard to find without checking the address. Their half acre of bermuda turned lion-colored in fall, like the others, and though in recent years the Vincent plot could be counted on in any season to look worse than its neighbors, it had been freshly raked for Caleb's arrival. A foundation volunteer had bagged the lawn's leaves at the curb but overlooked the bushes crowded against the house behind a barricade of cockeyed railroad ties, where oak leaves remained caught between the twigs. Above the front door was a fanlight window of milky stained glass, the Vincents' one outward quirk, depicting, if you looked closely, a rooster. All the other windows — from the columns of glass that flanked the entry to the slitted row in the automatic garage door — were backed by pale curtains or blinds, always, so that the house resembled a closed eye.
Each day required at least one visitor from outside, usually a foundation volunteer bringing in groceries, packages, the forwarded mail, in several trips up the walkway. These people, officially careful of the Vincent privacy, were on hand to assist in the house with any number of tasks but took their leave as soon as possible, generally within the hour. The last had departed that morning, leaving Marlene and Jeff Vincent alone with Caleb. This was their message to the world: time alone with our son. But the FBI had said Give him space, so inside the house they were still looking for the balance.
Lark — stashed for a few days with her aunt while Jeff and Marlene flew across the country, returned with Caleb, and got him settled — would be home soon. In the meantime, the three in the house drifted separately from room to room. Jeff and Marlene battled to keep phone calls and e-mails brief, so they would be available if their son wandered near. Their son, this strange tall boy of fourteen. With each other as well, they spoke only the necessary words before they floated apart to farther corners where he might find them.
Marlene was rinsing dishes, pretending the kitchen was as sunny as it would be if she dared open the curtains, when a sound rattled her. At first she couldn't place it: a bang of padded hammer to string, a burble of notes, but in a pattern. It had been years since the children had taken piano lessons, and no one in her house had ever played more than "Jingle Bells." But this was organized noise, an entire verse of something. The TV, maybe? She shut off the water. Definitely the piano.
A skillet in one hand, she rounded the breakfast bar half ready to fight. All she could conceive of was that some ravening reporter had broken down the door and invaded the living room in order to play — what? A Chopin prelude? "Ode to Joy"?
Caleb sat at the piano bench, his back to her. After their few days of monitored visits in Spokane, then the roughly twenty-six hours he'd been at home, she had only just become certain in recognizing his shape at this distance, the narrow beauty of his adolescence. The hollow at the back of his neck; the gleam of scalp through hair shorn close but carelessly, a half inch to nothing, marked by the clippers. Caleb — only sitting there, it seemed, until she caught the flutter of his hands at either side and the melody proceeding in its sure tempo. She remembered him at age eight or so, struggling through scales or "Streets of Laredo" one clang-bang note at a time, whining all the while to be released from this hell. Six weeks of lessons and she'd given in, let him run hollering victory into a summer evening in suburbia, this place she and Jeff had once sneered at from their hip Atlanta youth. OTP, it was called: Outside the Perimeter. But eventually there had been no room to argue against cheap housing, good schools, streets where kids could ride their bikes and play until dark.
On soundless steps, she drew close enough to see the silvery jag of the scar behind his right ear — one of many, one of only a few he would show her — and he was still playing, no sheet music before him. From behind the metal-framed glasses he'd chosen without her, or that had been chosen for him, his eyes looked not at his hands but somewhere into the body of the piano. His face wore no expression — none, at least, that she could read — before he stopped, fingers settled into the dropped keys, and withdrew his hands.
"It's out of tune," he said. Not even a glance to see if she was impressed. He slipped up from the bench, went to the front window, and leaned an eye to the edge of the blinds.
"Still out there?" she asked. Of all the questions she was afraid to ask him, how could What was that you were playing? be one of them?
He nodded his answer. Then, because she liked to hear his voice, he said, "Those same three, and a new one down the street, some kind of giant black truck. And that Channel Three lady with the camera going."
* * *
At the table that had been purchased the same year as the house, they sat for dinner, unable to remember who sat where. Did they have seats? Caleb took the chair that backed to the bay window, which put Lark across from him and Jeff and Marlene at the ends. It wasn't right, but Marlene couldn't remember the order. Had the entire table been moved?
"Do you like lasagna?" Lark asked Caleb, alert for the answer. No wonder if they all prodded him with every mundanity as they would a space alien. Lark had arrived home wearing lip gloss and a skirt borrowed from her cousin, carting in the family's first meal, which she'd spent the day making herself with her aunt Bethanne's assistance.
Caleb said, "Sure. Lasagna."
Lark shrugged. "I usually make simpler stuff, like chicken with rice, or spaghetti with jar sauce, or something, when I cook for Dad." She gave Jeff an uncertain glance. "We take turns cooking. Or, I mean, I cook for Mom, too. I'm not very good."
"You're excellent, honey," Jeff said, while Marlene scooped the first cube, spilling steam and sauce, webby with cheese, onto Caleb's plate. They had not yet decided on when or what to tell him about who lived where and the rest of it, and as the days accrued, it was seeming less traumatic to let him glean it all this way, with one ear, or to wait until he asked.
"It looks great," he said. When they were dished up with salad and bread, Lark said a blessing for them, one of a few tolerable side effects of the private school they'd moved her to, the one with the highest walls. Marlene folded her hands, looking at Caleb. Caleb, with a check of everyone's hands, folded his also, then looked back at Marlene.
To her memorized table prayer, Lark added, "And thank you, Lord, for bringing Caleb home." Amen. They ate, complimenting the food, and Lark watched Caleb openly. They had spent an hour together, and already there seemed to be a joke between them — though Lark was plainly self-conscious and Caleb was ... well, what was he? Quiet, they might have said. But did other fourteen-year-old boys speak more than this?
Lark pursed her mouth, raised an eyebrow, a more sedate version of the teasing expression she'd been using with favorite older relatives since she was five. Loosely translated: Are you some kind of crazy person? "Who cut your hair, anyway?"
Caleb chewed around what might have been a smile. "I did. You don't like it?"
"Well, you don't look like the poster too much," she said, as if he'd flubbed an assignment for school. "And it's kind of uneven."
"Hair grows," Marlene said.
"Maybe he likes it that way," Jeff said.
Lark brightened. "Did they show you the poster yet? I'll show you mine that I drew on. I drew glasses on one, like you actually have! Also I drew a Mohawk one, and one with, like, black lipstick and some pierces, because I know a boy who does that. Mom thought it was cool. She said you could look like anything, so it was good to think about all the ways."
Lark was eleven. There were moments — this the first of many to come over the next few months — when they all looked at her, her round face still androgynous with childhood, her solemn gray eyes and hair bobbed at the chin, and thought how she was the exact age now that Caleb had been when he was taken.
* * *
As soon as Lark and Caleb had entered her bedroom, she shut the door to show him the back of it: an eleven-by-fourteen poster commanding, in red letters, "Find Caleb Vincent!" Below were two images: Caleb on his eleventh birthday and Caleb age-progressed by a computer to fourteen. The age-progressed boy mirrored the smile and pose of the younger one and looked, despite the light in his eyes, dead somehow. The hair, a lush, lustrous brown, appeared painted on. At the bottom was written, "$50,000 reward for information leading to safe return." The door was recessed from the rest of the room, so Lark had to step back and let Caleb look alone.
"And there's a T-shirt." She fished it from the closet and held it up on a wire hanger that dented the shoulders: white, XL, same graphics as the poster printed front and back.
"That looks too big for you," Caleb said.
"Yeah, but I can't even wear it outside. We can't, really, like me and Mom and Dad. Because of the attention. It's already kind of hard to like go to a movie or something."
"So no one ever saw it?" he asked.
"Oh, god, there's like a million. Miss Fay made them and she gives them out all over town. And the posters and buttons too. On the button it's just the age-progressed one. I wonder what they'll do with all those posters and stuff now. We could seriously wallpaper the whole entire house."
The rest of the room did not feature him, and while he took it in, she said, a bit sheepishly, "Grandma Vincent sends me all this stuff. I'm kind of into the cloud forest, in Costa Rica? You remember how Grandma went to live there?"
Her canopy bed crawled with jungle life. Stuffed monkeys and sloths wrapped their arms around the posts; toucans and coatis and iguanas lounged on the pillows. On top of her bookshelf perched an iridescent green bird — a quetzal, she told him — with a tail hanging halfway to the floor. Posters of leatherback sea turtles swam the walls beside trees caught in clouds, golden toads, butterflies of unearthly blue. At ceiling level along one entire wall was a tempera banner painted for a fund-raiser she'd organized at school. "Save the Cloud Forest!" it said, its outer edges decorated with her own renderings of a toucan, a poison-arrow frog, elephant-ear leaves.
"So I started this whole thing at school," she said. "I got kids to raise money for the cloud forest, and some other schools were doing it, too, in a bunch of other countries, so now there's a whole part of the cloud forest in Costa Rica, like a bijillion acres, that we bought just ourselves."
"Seriously? That's impressive."
As he turned his head, lifted his chin to examine the banner, she saw how much he looked like their mother. The poster didn't show it. Marlene had always been petite with a distinct jawbone and ropey little muscles — she needed her long, twisty hair, she used to say, so she didn't look like a teenaged boy — and Caleb was like a flash of what she might look like with her head shaved. Same height, same body almost, even some echoed ways of moving. He had her flattish, disklike face and her pointed chin. But not her hollow eyes. Behind the glasses, which no one in the family wore, his eyes were regular eyes, a densely lashed hazel, murky and meditative like pond water in sunlight.
"I really wanted to go there bad," she told him as he studied her Costa Rica map. "Like to go to school there and just ... live there."
She shrugged. "Not so much now."
* * *
Once or twice a day, someone sanctioned pulled past the news vans and into the driveway. Often it was Fay Tomlinson, the Find Caleb Foundation director, or it was another foundation representative, bringing the day's deliveries and ignoring reporters with a smile. Or it might be Bethanne McCall, Marlene's sister, who was likely to roll her eyes and yell something mock- cheerful or sarcastic in the general news-van direction. Until Thursday, the fifth day of the media siege, Lark stayed home from school, closed up in the family shell. Then twice each weekday, for a little excitement, the garage door rose and emitted Jeff Vincent's Honda CR-V, in which he ferried his daughter to her brick-walled private school, and twice more it rose to take him or the two of them back in, though it was soon clear that both occupants would be unreachable for the trip, hard to distinguish behind smoky window glass. From time to time, the police rolled in and ticketed vehicles or rousted the reporters for loitering, and then the neighborhood might have a few hours to breathe in peace and not feel as if the whole world was watching.
The Vincents were no strangers to attention and for years had welcomed, in a way, almost any violation. When rumors of Marlene's drug use spawned tabloid-vulture excrement (the most insane, street-person-looking picture of her they could find under headlines like "Did This Soccer Mom Sell Her Son for Drugs?"), she was happy enough when it got her a spot on Larry King Live, which she agreed to do no-holds-barred, admitting to every stray ounce and bump she'd ever done, if they would put up Caleb's picture and rehearse the details. Three years later, after Jeff had moved out ("temporarily") with Lark, giving up on Marlene as he had on Caleb, she'd still been dreaming up ways to interest at least the local media enough to say his name again, post his picture. So it was no surprise if all those people induced over the years to look now wanted to hear the end of the story.
Lark, by the week's end, was the Vincents' sole ambassador to the world, or at least she was ambassador to the girls of Agape Academy. With hardly a precedent for a "new girl" in their midst, let alone an unchurched refugee from a public school, the Agape girls had taken her in three years before and developed their own protocols, as with a celebrity, for protecting her from their own harassment. Once, when Lark was nine, a woman reporter had shoved a microphone in her face and said, "Do you think your brother is still alive?" Most of them had seen this image of Lark, a small, slightly pudgy girl shrinking smaller except for her round gray eyes, saying on their TV screens, "I don't know," and then, "I hope so." It stopped similar questions in their own mouths — no matter how badly they wanted to ask — and made them all the more eager for a chance to fend off one of the reporters parked at the school gates with a prim I'm not talking to you, as they had been instructed to even if the question seemed nice, like "Are you a friend of Lark Vincent's?" or "How is she holding up?"
They were all thrilled, of course, that Caleb had been returned, and, despite the power of prayer, they were quite as shocked about it as the rest of the world. Some time ago, their prayers had changed from Please bring Caleb home to Please bring the Vincents peace, which meant a sad thing. But now they praised the Lord and shouldered in afresh to embrace Lark, reinforcing their status as friend to this girl who, if you overlooked the semifamousness, was really rather strange. Few of them were allowed near the latest TV news about her brother, and those who happened to catch some — it was hard to miss — were constitutionally resistant to the hints of secular filth. What happened to Caleb Vincent?, the question blaring from every channel, could be answered quite simply with no more information than was found at the surface: he had been taken by evil people, preserved for more than three years by the grace of God like Daniel in the lion's den, and brought home.
Excerpted from Where You Can Find Me by Sheri Joseph. Copyright © 2013 Sheri Joseph. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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