Authors: Breanna Hayse
Lance reddened even more. Todd had snatched the opportunity to throw back the same words Lance had used when he caught his nieces pounding his brother with pillows one morning.
Incidentally, those were the exact same words that
had used to lecture him when they were younger. The words made Kathy start to choke on her laughter, unable to catch her breath.
“Todd, that’s Noelle hiding under the covers. Honey, this is Uncle Todd. Don’t let the frown on his face fool you, he’s just a big, old, marshmallow,” Kathy finally said, getting up from the floor and wiping her face.
“Daddy? Are we in trouble?” Noelle asked shyly.
“No, this is my house and if I want to jump on my bed, then I will,” Lance held out his hand. Noelle grabbed it and scooted out of the tall bed, propping her bunny on a pillow. Todd could not believe how small she was. Next to Lance, she was about as high as his ribcage and weighed less than a feather.
“Hello, Noelle. No, you aren’t in trouble. I’m Todd,” he said softly, squatting on the floor to appear less intimidating.
Noelle smiled, reaching her hand to greet him. “It’s good to meet you, Uncle Todd.
Thank you for the bear.”
Todd glanced up at Lance, confused by her display of manners. “You are a very polite young lady. Where did you learn such good manners?” he asked, shaking her hand.
“I don’t know. I’m sorry, but I can’t remember,” she said sadly, looking down. Todd squeezed her hand, slowly standing as Lance handed the girl her toy.
“Well, wherever you did, you learned very well. Maybe you can teach some to Aunt Kathy,” he teased, hugging his wife.
“Aunt Kathy has good manners,” Noelle quickly jumped to the older woman’s defense.
“She said please when we went shopping, when she asked the lady not to put the long paper in the bag for Daddy to find. She also said thank you, when she took it from the lady and put it in her pocket,” Noelle said with pure innocence.
“You told me you only spent $200, Katherine,” Lance commented, staring at his now straight-faced sister.
“Did you lie to your brother, Kath?” Todd asked, also staring at her.
“I didn’t really lie… I just withheld some information.” Kathy swallowed looking back and forth at them.
“You’ve been doing that a lot lately. How much information, Katherine?” her brother asked.
“About 400 dollars’ worth.”
“You spent 600 dollars on clothing? For a child… uh, woman!?” Todd spouted. “What did you buy? Designer underwear?”
“Pretty girls need pretty things, Todd. Isn’t that what YOU always say to Alan when you buy things for your nieces that he doesn’t think they need? She picked almost all the stuff out herself, too, so I couldn’t possibly say no!”
“Noelle? Watch out what you say around here. This family loves to throw words back at each other. Katherine, we’ll talk later about this. Let’s get this kid fed.”
?” Kathy asked nervously.
Lance hugged her. “Talk. Like in converse. I have a strong feeling that we are going to be doing a lot of that. Todd? Did you find any bottles?”
“I did, in fact… no laughing. I stopped by one of those ‘adult’ toy stores on a whim.
They have full supplies of stuff like that. I couldn’t believe it.”
“What are you taking about?” Lance asked, walking downstairs with Noelle in his arms and Bunny pressing against his cheek. She was so much like Kathy as a child!
“There is a whole market of adult sized nursery gear. Cribs, changing tables, bottles, diapers, clothing… even strollers, car seats, and swings. I couldn’t believe it.”
“It must be about that thing Darla had told me. It’s called age-play,” Lance put Noelle on the couch and flipped on the TV for her.
“Good thing we’re in Vegas. You can find anything here. Look, I got her adult sized bottles and a pacifier. Kathy told me she sucks her thumb,” Todd handed Lance a bag. “I also picked up a couple of cans of protein drinks from the pharmacy to try.”
“Thanks, T. I’ll have to order some for her without all this sugar,” he read the label on the can, “That’s all we need is for her to be climbing the walls. I can’t believe they give this stuff to the elderly.”
“Stop being a doctor for a minute and remember that it tastes nasty. Ok, I admit! I tasted them all and got the stuff that was least offensive!” Todd rebuffed, “I also got some frozen yogurt to mix with it. And some frozen fruit.”
“Anything else, dear?” Kathy asked slyly, but a little sadly. He would have made a great father for their children. They had wanted three. Todd wrinkled his nose as his wife pulled out a bag of tootsie-pops. “Are these for Noelle, too? Or for you and Lance? What? No Twinkies?” she teased. Noelle giggled, hiding her mouth behind her hand.
“You two… Katherine, I’m famished. Dinner, please?” Lance asked, sitting next to Noelle and showing her how to find a program she would like. He grinned as his sister wagged her behind at her husband before racing to the kitchen. “She did well with our girl today.
doesn’t like baths and got her first spanking over her britches.”
“Baths are ok now. I don’t like spankings.” Noelle pouted, hiding her face in against Lance’s arm.
“That means I can get you lots of bubble bath and soaps, huh?” Todd asked, seeing her nod with a pretty smile peeking from behind Lance’s arm. “She’s as cute as a button, Lance. You already look less grumpy with her around.”
“Oh hush your yap. It’s just weird how natural this is. It’s almost like it’s instinctive.
I’ve never experienced this before, not even with Keren or Kelly.”
“You were born for this. Our girl here is the perfect Maid Marion for Sir Lancelot,” Todd teased.
“Maid Marion was Robin Hood’s squeeze. Lancelot had King Author’s chick, Guinevere. Get your stories straight, dude.”
“What's frightening is that you know these stories. So, Miss Noelle, I have never met a girl who didn’t like bubble baths. Have you had one before?” Todd asked, hoping to get some more information.
“They hurt. Not this one, though.”
“Hurt? How?” Lance asked, turning to her quickly with a worried expression.
“She said they hurt all over but couldn’t tell me why or what they felt like. She also does not have one bit of hair on her body from the neck down,” Kathy said, walking into the living room and handing both men a glass of wine. “I was going to talk to Todd about this, but didn’t you say she had no shoes on when she was brought in by those truckers?”
“Yes, what about it?” Lance asked, glancing at the girl. She was completely absorbed in watching Bubble Guppies.
“Think about it, Dr. Know-it-all. What kind of condition were her feet in?” Lance was silent. He inhaled deeply, and then answered her. “There was no evidence of cuts or scratches noted.”
“Don’t you think that after walking over 14 miles from the compound that her feet would show something? Even if she had shoes on and lost them, I would think they would be callused or blistered. Nothing. Her feet are as smooth as a baby’s. She also is terribly thin, but her features are fully adult, if you understand my meaning. I would guess her to be in her early twenties. I thought she got shot. I didn’t see a scar on her, and that bump on her head seems to have healed, too.”
“I underestimated you, Katherine. Good observations. She must have been placed there by someone,” Lance said thoughtfully.
“That or she teleported herself to the gate.”
“No more movie references, Todd. I mean it. She’s not an alien,” Lance scolded the grinning man.
“Ok, before you boys get into a wrestling match, let’s feed you. Come on. Noelle, I made you something special for dessert if you finish your dinner.”
“Ooo, what?” Todd asked eagerly, tickling her as they walked into the dining room.
“It’s for Noelle and Lance, not you. Egg custard,” Kathy said smugly, smacking his hand.
“My favorite! Thanks, Katherine!” Lance noticed his brother-in-law pouting, “No, it’s mine and I’m not sharing it with you either.”
Noelle tugged on Todd’s sleeve. “Don’t be upset, Uncle Todd. I’ll share mine with you.
Daddy said I’m supposed to share everything with the family and that it’s the right thing to do if you care about people.”
“She’s with us for less than 8 hours and has already learned to throw things back in my face,” Lance groaned as Kathy broke into another gale of uncontrolled laughter. “Oh, dear Lord, what have I gotten myself into?”
Noelle did well with the bottle, drinking from it instantly. She made it clear, though, that she was not pleased with the taste. She tossed it to the floor, wrinkling her nose.
“This is yucky! Bunny hates it too.”
“Don’t throw things and use your words. What don’t you like about it?” Lance asked, tasting it. “Never mind, this stuff is terrible. You liked what I made you for lunch, didn’t you?”
“Better than this,” the girl wrinkled her nose again. Lance got up to make her a protein shake, adding the frozen yogurt and strawberries to the blender.
His sister watched, elbowing her amused husband, “He used to do that for me too. Aren’t they cute together?”
“Slow down, lady. She’s a child in an adult’s body. Don’t push it.”
“I’m telling you, Todd. Lance was right. There is something odd about her. Not in a bad way, but different. Look at him. I’ve never seen him so happy,” Kathy whispered back. “He looks healthier and more relaxed since he brought her home, too. He even has some color back in his face and his lines are smoothed out.”
“He took a nap, Kath. Let it be. Your imagination is taking off into another galaxy, darling.”
Kathy wasn’t so sure. Her brother
look different. “At least I don’t think she’s an alien sent to take over the planet.”
Noelle listened to the two of them and smiled to herself as she hugged her toy. She had a secret!
Lance awoke Saturday morning feeling refreshed and energetic. It had been a long time since he had slept so well and he contributed it to his nap, the extra glass of wine and getting to bed early for once. Noelle had fallen asleep in his arms while watching TV, and after he put her in bed, he said his own goodnights to his sister and brother-in-law. It was the first night in years that he hadn’t stayed awake until 2am reading neurology journals.
Physician, Heal Thyself
… Ok, he needed to start following his own orders.
He threw on his sweats and running shoes and left for his daily jog. The morning was cold, crisp and promised another sunny Nevada day. He thought of Noelle, her situation and Kathy’s interesting discoveries. The bath issue bothered him, wondering if Kathy’s theory was correct about abuse. A skin biopsy would show if Noelle had undergone chemical treatments, but he didn’t want to subject her to that unless necessary. She had also told Julie that she had gotten a multitude of injections for what she thought was a long trip. He could get a lab done to check her immunity status. That would tell them where she might have traveled. Yes, he would definitely order that test.
Alan had also insisted that he be named conservator in order to protect the girl from someone who might not have her best interests in mind. Lance had quickly caught that hint. His brother was concerned that the girl had run away from an abusive situation or had been kidnapped. In this way, no one could come to claim her without going through legal hurdles.
Her manners suggested that she had been raised in an environment that interacted with respectable people, possibly making her a target for ransom. Yet, why would a kidnapper just leave her at the doorstep of the infamous Area 51? Too many questions, not enough answers.
The endorphins surged through his body as he trotted up the trail to the top of the rocky ridge that overlooked one side of his secluded neighborhood. He paused to look down over the valley and the Vegas skyline. The saying,
what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas
tickled through his mind. In Noelle’s case, it seemed to be true. He wondered what Becca was doing as he looked at the Rio. What did he ever see in her?
It’s time to move on. You have a new woman in your life to take care of and love
, he told himself. Guilt flooded through him. Decency demanded he address the questions going through his mind. Was he taking advantage of the beautiful young woman’s innocence and utter dependence on him? What would happen if she snapped out of this regression and suddenly decided to grow up, wanting nothing more to do with him? What if he was presented with proof that she belonged to someone else? What if she never recovered an adult persona and was locked in this state forever, like a mental illness? He shuddered at the thought. He would never pursue a relationship with her in that case. It would be just plain wrong. But he would see that she was cared for. Lance sighed. Sir Lancelot of Callahan strikes again. It was who he was and nothing could ever change that.
He sat on a rock, high above the city and quietly took in his surroundings. A hawk soared overhead, catching the thermals as it guided effortlessly in a graceful circle. Lance knew he had to be like that hawk, watchful, but taking the opportunity to just let life move him. Kathy was right, he was a control freak, and it was keeping him from being free. With new life lessons in mind, Lance resumed his jog.
Noelle was sitting at the kitchen table with Kathy and Todd when he arrived home. She ran to him for a hug, and then pulled away, holding her nose.
“You’re icky. Aunt Kathy! Daddy needs a bath.”
“Oh yeah? You don’t like manly smells?” Lance laughed, grabbing the girl and squeezing her against him as she squealed and tried to escape.