Rick and I seemed to be watching and listening to each other with a new intensity that was not entirely comfortable. The meaning of words and actions was amplified, parsed, interpreted. There's an underlying bedrock of love and trust that prevented this from getting out of control. But there were unanswered questions for which we were both seeking clues. Neither of us was ready to address them head-on.
What had already been said and done was also the subject of further scrutiny. Rick asked me if my interactions with Caroline aroused me. That meant he thought it was possible. How could he think that of me? He said he'd be the last person to judge me. Was he giving me permission to have those feelings? Or to let those things happen again?
To not know what Rick was feeling was scary. My own feelings were a dense smouldering hairball. I'm not at all used to being uncertain, especially about myself. Confidence is critical for a lawyer, a parent, a spouse. I'd cultivated confidence carefully and usually felt at ease in my own skin. I was able to project confidence even when I felt my feet slipping under me.
For a child, awareness of sex is a loss of innocence. My children losing their innocence is a precursor to me losing them altogether. One part of me was fighting against that inevitability with ferocity. This conflict seemed to underlie my feelings about Stephanie and her closed door. The sense of impending loss was even more acute with my youngest.
It's now impossible to deny that my daughters have sexual feelings. Even so, my heart tells me that they're still innocent in all the ways that matter. I want to protect them from the world where there are actual evils that they can't possibly understand. Knowing their own bodies and finding pleasure therein wasn't in the same category.
Of course I read about it. Children are sexual beings. Fetuses masturbate in the womb, yada yada. Fine.
I'd never fully answered Rick's question. Did I get off watching my six-year-old touch herself?
The sight had surprised me. It had disturbed me in some ways. Loss of innocence... how did she learn? But if I had to choose words, I would say natural, not perverse. Beautiful, not obscene. Comfort, not abuse. Warmth, not heat. Sharing, not taking.
I didn't tell her to stop. I didn't tell her to do it in her room, by herself. So lonely, that. I didn't just watch. I can try to write all of these things off as manifestations of my other needs, my emptiness, my stress. That wouldn't be honest, though. Something in me understood that honesty - with myself, and eventually with Rick - was essential to our future.
Childbearing leaves you asymmetrical, physically so. My breasts will never have matching size or shape again. The red scars of pregnancy on my thighs have faded but still mark me unevenly, unmistakably a mother. It also skews your life in every which way, between family and career, between husband and offspring. I was precariously off-balance.
The answer to Rick's question is 'yes.' This is terrifying.
In the haze of confusion this all created, my heightened senses and hyperactive brain detected other things as well. I saw how Rick and Stephanie looked at each other. I knew I was being ridiculous. Girls fall in love with their fathers. I did. It was never sexual. Daughters have their fathers wrapped around their little fingers, and fathers love it. That's what I was seeing, I told myself. I also saw Stephanie's door, closed to me, a metaphor for our relationship.
I had an experience with my daughter. Immediately thereafter I fucked my husband with an intensity that I didn't fully understand.
I told my husband about my experience with my daughter. Then we fucked, in the bathroom, over the sink. I could say that he fucked me, but that wouldn't be the complete truth. Who are we? What are we becoming? This is the most terrifying of all.
I can't believe I did that with Daddy. I liked it. Daddy liked it too, I could tell. And not just cuz the stuff went all over. I saw it in his face.
It feels so amazing. Hard and soft and warm and moving and his heart in it. The end was like it was gonna explode and then it did. I got it on my hand and that was weird but I didn't really mind. I want to do it more. Like every morning. Seven fifteen.
Daddy talked to me about Mommy and Caroline. He said they just cuddled and I shouldn't talk to them about it at all and especially not about me and him. He said Mommy wouldn't understand. He didn't really have to tell me. I wonder though, if Mommy would understand. If she helps Daddy and she helps Caroline, I guess she likes to help. So maybe she wouldn't be mad at me if I like to help too.
I wondered about Caroline. I guess she figured it out after she saw me. She copies everything I do. It's so annoying.
So she comes in my room again. My door was open so I guess it was ok.
I said, "You're supposed to ask permission."
"Only if the door's closed. Then I'm supposed to."
"No. All the time." I made up that rule, but it's my room. Like Mommy when she says 'My house, my rules.'
Caroline looked like she didn't believe me, but what could she do?
"Ok... so... can I?"
"What's the magic word?" Sometimes I just liked to tease her. I can't help it.
I sighed. "Okkkaaaayyyyyy. But don't bother me." I was reading a chapter book. She can't read chapter books yet.
She sat on my bed and started kicking her legs, making a bedquake.
"Cut it out."
She stopped. But then like a second later, "I'm bored. What do you want to do?"
I said, "I want to read without you bugging me."
She looked sad. I don't really want to be mean to her. I used to be a baby too. Mommy reminds me all the time. I put my book down and thought. And I had an idea. Maybe it wasn't the best idea, but you can't decide about what ideas to have. They just show up and then you have to figure out what to do with them.
"Close the door," I said. She did it and sat back on the bed.
"How do you do it?" I said it quiet so she'd know I was talking about secrets. She didn't get it.
Geez. "You know. The thing. Between your legs. How do you do it?"
She shrugged. "Like you. Like Mommy."
"You saw Mommy?" Oh my God.
"Kinda. It was in the tub so I didn't really see."
I was surprised but I guess I shouldn't have been since if Mommy was helping then maybe she showed her. Mommy never showed me. She just told me and it wasn't even right.
"Let me see."
Caroline bit her lip. "Mommy said it's private for just us."
"Then maybe you shouldn't have yelled about in front of everybody."
"I didn't mean to. It just came out. You made fun of me."
"I was just saying what's true. You proved it by blabbing. So let me see."
It was easy to win arguments with her. Mommy said maybe I can be a lawyer someday but I'm not sure I want to since it means you never get to be at home and even when you are you're tired all the time.
Caroline stuck our her lip like she didn't want to, but she did anyways. She stuck her hand in her shorts.
"Duh. I can't see. Take them off."
I knew she didn't care about being naked. Like a baby. She laid back on the bed and pushed down her shorts and underpants and put her hand back there. She was just kind of rubbing all over. Like I used to do, before Daddy told me.
"That's what I thought. You're doing it wrong."
"I am? It feels nice."
"Ya you are. You don't even know what nice is."
She pouted. I rolled my eyes. "Okaaaayyyyy." I was in my pj pants and I took them down. I wasn't wearing undies. I did that a lot lately since it made Daddy look at me more.
"Put your feet on mine." Her feet are tiny. Her legs are short and even a little chubby still. Baby legs. She's like that between her legs too. Baby kitty. I tickled a little with my toes and she squealed. I did the shush finger on my lips.
I pushed her legs apart and I spread myself out with my fingers so she could see the bump. I guess I'm not so shy anymore.
She made a face. "It's weird," she said.
"Ya, it is kinda. But it's just part of you. Ears are weird too." Her insides looked mostly like mine, just smaller and not so pink. Little baby bump. I showed her how to do the pinching and turning and pulling. She leaned over to watch me. It took her a while but she finally got it. Her face was so funny, all red surprise like she fell head first into a watermelon.
My butt got squirmy and she wiggled too but I wasn't sure if she was just doing it cuz I did.
"Did you feel it inside? Squeezing and squeezing?"
She nodded but I don't know if she really did it.
"So, that's how you do it."
"T-thanks. I like it." She said that like she meant it. It made me feel good. Maybe I'd let her come in my room more.
I had to ask her. I know Daddy said not to. "Like... how did Mommy... help?"
She turned her mouth sideways. Curled her toes. Her face was just pink now. "Just..." She put her hand between her legs and wiggled her fingers.
"She did it?"
Caroline shook her head. "Not exactly. Just outside. On top. Of mine."
I was almost jealous of her. "She never did that with me."
Her eyes got big. "Maybe Mommy likes me better."
I tackled her on the bed and tickled her til she begged for mercy. She finally escaped and ran out of my room half naked. I threw her clothes into the hall and slammed my door. When I thought about it, I wasn't totally mad at her. I had Daddy after all.
A while later I heard Mom in the hall. "Caroline. Will you PLEASE stop leaving your clothes all over the house?"
I laughed so hard in my pillow I thought I was gonna choke.
Mommy's mad at me. Or something.
I guess I wasn't supposed to tell but it's confusing. I thought we didn't talk about naked stuff 'cept in the family and Stephanie and Daddy are in the family so I didn't think that was telling.
Now Mommy's different. She doesn't want to take a bath with me anymore. I asked her and she said I wasn't a baby and I could take a bath by myself. And I said I know I'm not a baby but. But. But but but. I still want to? Cuz it's nice. Is nice only for babies?
I told her that and she didn't say anything for a while. Then she said no, nice isn't just for babies. But I could try to go by myself.
I tried. She did the water and then she left and closed the door.
It made me sad. I took off my clothes and sat on the side of the tub and looked at the water. It was steamy and lonesome.
Mommy wasn't sure I could do it by myself after all. She peeked in and I was just sitting there. Maybe I was crying a little. Stephanie says that's a baby thing but I know she cries too.
I said I was sorry that I said that and I didn't know I wasn't supposed to cuz family and she looked sad and kissed my head and said it's ok. I held her neck and she picked me up and then she said you know what, nice should be for everybody and yes we're all in the family and that I didn't do anything wrong.
I said I won't tell anymore. Mommy smiled in a funny way. She said she didn't want me to grow up. I want to grow up. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don't want to grow up at all. Right then I didn't want to, so I said me neither. She got undressed. The bath was really nice.
Home should be a sanctuary where nothing feels awkward. Things felt awkward in our home. That put stress on everyone, and it seeped through the nascent fissures in our family like fungus growing between cracks in the bathroom tile.
It seemed like Carol and I were both waiting for another shoe to drop. We hadn't had sex since that day in the bathroom. Perhaps we were afraid it would be an admission of... something... if either of us initiated.
The next Saturday, I arrived back from running errands to hear splashing in the bathroom. Carol. And Caroline. Talking softly. An occasional giggle. "Duck your hair, sweetpea." Lovely sounds. Perfect sounds. Not awkward.
I almost opened the door to see, to match the lovely perfect sounds with a lovely perfect picture. But I didn't. Are you molesting my daughter? Just checking. She might hear this in her head, even though I would never say it. I wouldn't, couldn't make her think that way.
Still my brain betrayed me. It created the image that I told myself I didn't want to see. Caroline in her mother's lap, her short legs splayed, my wife's slender fingers nestled at the soft bare folds, moving ever so slowly, her lips whispering in her daughter's ear. The natural and the unnatural were flowing together in ways both disturbing and compelling. I swallowed, tried to shake the picture from my eyes and set about unpacking the groceries.
Carol came into the kitchen, dressed in shorts and a tank top, hair wet, the moisture leaving a dark pattern in the fabric on her back. She smiled. A little awkwardly. Yes, I took a bath with her. So? Is that a bad thing now?
I kissed my wife. Held her for a moment. Smelled her. Clean bath smell. Lovely and perfect. She held me too.
"You know there's nothing sexier in the world than a man putting away groceries," she said.
I let my hands wander to her bottom.
"Then next I will do the dishes, and I will have you at my mercy."
"You always have me at your mercy, Rick. Always."
This was a much more serious response than I expected. I moved my hands back up to her waist. "Is everything ok, sweetheart?"
She dropped her eyes into the narrow space between us.
"Caroline thinks she did something wrong."
"She didn't." I said this reflexively. It's a bad habit I have, stating the obvious when I should just let the obvious be obvious. And you didn't either, Carol. I almost said this. It was less obvious, and I didn't.
Her look was just slightly sharp. "I know, Rick. I told her so. I think it's ok."
"Sorry. I know that you know. I'm glad that it's ok. But are you ok? I don't mean are you ok about this particular thing. Are you ok?"
"I don't know. Maybe work was a bad idea."
"You know that I'll support you and be totally good with any decision you make about that."
"And force the tradeoff on you again? Make you be the one who feels like they're not part of the family?"
She blinked. Her eyes were wet. I knew how she felt. That feeling is horrible.
"We can make it work either way, Carol. I think we care about each other too much to let anything break us. Don't we?"
She nodded. I tried to fill the void. "We can do more things together, the four of us. We've been running around too much on the weekends, always heading in different directions. Let's not do that so much. Let's... figure it out."
She nodded and let her head rest on my chest.
The alarm on the refrigerator door sounded, telling us that it had been left open. Unpacking had been interrupted. I kissed Carol's hair. Life went on.
That night, Stephanie went to sleep over at Andrea's house. This gave both Carol and I some angst for separate reasons. Carol was worried that Andrea would encourage Stephanie's precociousness. I was afraid it would be the other way around.
After Monday, Carol had shifted her hours that week so that she could be home in the morning and do breakfast duty. Hence there hadn't been any further seven-fifteen visitations from Stephanie. My eldest daughter and I were anxious in a number of ways. Anxious for it to happen again. Anxious about what it meant, and where it might go. Anxious about how the shape of our family was devolving from a locked-in four-of-a-kind to a much weaker two-pair.
The incident with Caroline seemed to have further impressed on Stephanie how important it was to not talk about things. Still, I felt it necessary to talk to her in the car on the way to drop her off. She seemed to anticipate my concern and responded to my stern look before I said a word.
"I'm not Caroline, Daddy. I don't blab."
"I know, Stephanie. But... I know a little about girls, too. You might want to... brag? Or... show off?"
Her face went red. "I wouldn't do that with Andrea, Daddy."
I found her phrasing curious. "Ummm. Not with Andrea."
"Not with anybody." She didn't sound quite so sure about this statement.
"Not with anybody?"
"Not with anybody else."
"Not with anybody else."
"Daddy, stop saying what I said. It's annoying."
"Sorry. Ok. Stephanie, did you brag or show off with someone?" I swallowed. Fuck.
She chewed her lip. "Kinda? But just Caroline, Daddy. She was doing it wrong. I only showed her. I didn't say anything."
I breathed again.
She went on, no doubt intending to be helpful. "I thought it was ok since she was doing it anyway and Mommy was helping so she didn't care."
I nodded and hoped she wouldn't ask the next question. Of course she did. Well, she tried.
"Daddy. If Mommy helps Caroline then how come... I mean... does it mean..."
"No, Stephanie. It doesn't mean that we can talk to Mommy about what we do. I know... it's confusing. But it's different. It was just cuddling, really. Close cozy cuddling and it became something a little more. It's not like... us."
Stephanie thought for a minute, looking out the car window.
"Cuz what we do is sex? I mean, kinda sex?"
I swallowed, oddly proud of my eight-year-old for being able to say this more clearly than I seemingly could.
"And we're not supposed to do sex."
I nodded, then quickly shook my head. "No. Not supposed to. People would... they wouldn't understand."
"But we both like it."
"Yes, sweetheart. But other people won't understand. Even Mommy. Maybe especially Mommy."
Her face was a little sad. "Ok. I guess she has Caroline and I have you."
I winced. It was too true. "We're a family, Stephanie. We all have each other, in all the really important ways. Just this one way... we're a little... different."
I wanted to make this fine distinction defensible, sustainable, even reasonable. In the moment, my warped mind accepted the idea.
"I miss doing it, Daddy."
Oh God. "I miss it too." My turn to blush.
She giggled softly and put her small hand in my lap as I drove. Her fingers traced the unmistakable outline that extended painfully down the leg of my pants. "Ya. I know."
When I got back to the house after dropping Stephanie, Carol had Caroline in her pjs, popcorn made and a movie queued up. We settled in on the couch, the three of us. Perfect and lovely. Caroline laid between her mother and I, her head resting on Carol's chest, flickers from the tv dancing reflected in her pale blue eyes. Her flanneled bottom was warm against my leg. I ran my fingers through Carol's hair as the animated rat who was somehow a chef made his way through computer-rendered Paris, finding a way to fulfill his culinary dreams.
The movie was entertaining enough that I didn't really notice what was happening on the couch. At one point I glanced at Carol and she was staring at me. Then she looked down at Caroline. Our little girl was sleepy, and even at six when she was tired she sometimes sucked her thumb. We discouraged it because of her teeth, and it was becoming less frequent. Stress manifesting, perhaps.
Carol looked at me again, her eyes strangely helpless. I studied Caroline more thoroughly. One diminutive hand was at her chin. I let my eyes travel lower. Her other hand was unmistakably in her pants. It wasn't still.
I showed Carol my very best 'I've got nothing' expression. She seemed almost desperate. I tried to help.
"Caroline. Are you sleepy, sweetpea? Should we tuck you in?"
She opened her eyes wider and shook her head.
"We talked about your thumb, kitten." She reluctantly withdrew it from her mouth. Her other hand persisted.
I looked at Carol. She made her attempt.
"Would you like to do that in your room, sweetheart?" I heard her voice strive for casual and miss.
Caroline seemed unconcerned that we'd noticed. For her, it was comfort.
"No thank you." We'd been working on manners. "I think Remy cooks better than Mister Skinner even."
Carol blinked at me. I shrugged. I still had nothing. I touched her cheek. After a long moment Carol laid her hand on Caroline's back and turned her face back to the tv. Her eyes rested there uneasily.
We watched the movie. Caroline squirmed. Stretched. Yawned. There was no obvious goal to her touching, no apparent culmination. Eventually her eyelids fluttered, her hand still buried in her drawers but now quiescent. Carol scooped her up. Caroline opened her eyes a little.
"Noooo Mommy. I want to see the end."
"It's hard to see with your eyes closed, little one. Time for bed." She kissed Caroline's hair.
I watched them go and headed to bed myself. Carol joined me soon after.
"She was out like a light," said my wife. Nothing else to say. Nothing else to wonder about.
I watched her undress. She left her underpants on. Pulled the covers back for her. She slid in beside me. I took her head into the crook of my arm and pressed it to my chest. Her hand on my tummy. My lips at her forehead. Her hand moved lower, tentatively, unlike her. Perhaps afraid of what she'd find.
I'm not sure if it was a conscious thing. It's not like I can really decide. I wasn't aroused.
I should say, I wasn't physically aroused. She took me into her hand and I felt her breathe out, her body unwinding. Relief?
What I'd seen was lovely. Comfort. Bliss. It bore only a vague relationship to what passed between Stephanie and I. Somewhere inside I knew that this distinction was essential. Carol was sorting things in her mind like I was. Perhaps this moment let her find her own compartments. She and I, she and Caroline, she and I and Caroline. These things distinct, somehow not connected. She needed this to be defensible, sustainable, even reasonable.
I responded to her touch with cautious intensity. She pressed me flat with her palm and rubbed... my hardness grew against her... she gripped and tugged slowly, coaxing... I turned on my side and brushed her lips with mine... she waited until I came at her again, more urgently, engulfing... my hands peeled her panties down and she lifted to allow it... pushed them off with her feet to be forgotten in the sheets... her knee bent, sliding over my hip, my better half and I, side by side, face to face... I guided myself to her heat, my fingers seeking, lightly pinching, twisting... a soft gasp from her into my kiss.
I entered her slowly, letting each movement take me slightly deeper, my fingers relentless. I let her quim clutch at me, deep inside, her spasms milking. I dared not move so as to give her every moment of my hardness... as her third climax rolled, my restraint was washed away... I drove deep with a profound shudder.
Nothing to say. Nothing to wonder about. Just bliss.
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