"Get ooouuuttttttttt!" It was a shriek in the frequency range that evolution has finely honed over millennia so that eight-year-old girls cannot possibly be ignored when in distress. The shrill piercing wail vibrated at the base of my skull just as biology intended. After wincing, I sighed. Our two girls got along sometimes. Increasingly, they did not.
I stood at the door of Stephanie's room. Stephanie was on her tummy on the bed, ostensibly trying to read. Caroline was sitting on the floor, digging through a box of miscellaneous disassembled parts of My Little Ponies, attempting to construct a cartoonish equine with matching colors. Stephanie had abandoned them at least a year ago, but that didn't mean they were fair game for her little sister. To her credit, Caroline seemed unconcerned over her sibling's apparent agony.
"I'm not doinnnggggggg anything," said my six-year-old. This had elements of truth. She was playing quietly, her face set in concentration as she tried to fit the pieces together. A future engineer, I thought. We glimpse our children's futures in the smallest things sometimes.
"You're in MY room and you're touching MY stuff and I'm trying to read. FOR SCHOOL. Real school, not baby school."
The refrain of 'I'm not a baby and you are' was a standard line of attack. I gave Stephanie a stern look.
"Stephanie. Do you love your sister?"
"No." She didn't raise her eyes from her book, considering the argument won by this single, concise word. Her mother the lawyer would have been proud.
She looked up a little sheepishly.
"Not when she's in MY room, touching MY stuff."
I raised my eyebrows and waited. Finally she sighed as though the world was ending.
"Yes Daddy. I love my baby sister." There was only a hint of sarcasm so I let it slide.
"Then perhaps it's not a horrible thing that she wants to be with you. She looks up to you."
Caroline blinked and literally looked up at her sister. Stephanie stuck out her tongue. "Ya cuz she's a shrimp." Caroline's tongue replied in kind.
"You'll be sisters forever, you know." A new tack. Appeal to Stephanie's desire to be treated like a grown up.
"Stop scaring me, Daddy." But there was the hint of a smile.
"Can Caroline be in your room if she's not bothering you, Stephanie?" I had a faint hope of negotiating a More Lasting Peace.
Stephanie took a moment to gather her thoughts. Perhaps she realized that pure peevishness wasn't going to win this battle. "She just barges in, Daddy. She doesn't ever knock or anything. I don't go in her room. I want this to be MY room and so just her being here bothers me." She tried to wait out my patient look. "Sometimes. Sometimes her being here bothers me." More patience from me. "And she doesn't knock." With this, Stephanie gave me a different look. A more meaningful one. I felt some warmth in my face. I got the point.
"Caroline, would you help keep the family peace by respecting Stephanie's privacy a bit more?" The little one was puzzled. Talking to them like adults doesn't always work. "If Stephanie's door is closed, she'd like for you to knock and ask for permission to come in before you open it. Do you think you can do that, sweetpea?"
Caroline shrugged. "I guess so." Parenting victory! That was easier than I thought.
I smiled at Stephanie. She smiled right back. "Cool. Permission denied. Now get ooouuuuuttttttt."
Caroline pouted and stared down at the basket. Stephanie rolled her eyes. "And take the stupid ponies." Caroline snatched up the basket and scampered, obviously thinking that her sister could change her mind at any moment. They know each other well. I moved aside to let Caroline pass, clutching her coveted prize.
"Please try to be nice to her, Stephanie."
"I knooowwwww, Daddy."
I cleared my throat. Stephanie gave me a questioning glance.
"So. She just comes in when your door is closed."
Stephanie nodded. Her cheeks colored to a faint pink.
It took me a moment to decide how to ask. "So. Did you... say anything?" I skipped over the obvious question.
Stephanie's answer confirmed my assumption about what Caroline might have seen. She hid her face in her book. "I told her it's not for babies."
I stepped into the room. Things had been unsettled and awkward with Stephanie and I. We were both processing what had happened. I wanted her to know that things were ok. Nothing important had changed. It was profoundly confusing for me, and I could only vaguely imagine the melange of thoughts and feelings racing around her precocious little brain.
I reached down and touched her hair. So soft. She kept pretending to read. Her bottom shifted, forcing me to remember how perfect it is. Pale blue shorts, tight enough that I could see she wasn't wearing underpants. Not a baby anymore. I kissed the top of her head and closed the door on my way out.
And I stood outside her door. Stared at her door, trying to see through it. My treasonous brain raced through scenarios. I don't walk out of her room. I stand by her bed. I lift her chin with my finger. I gently take the book from her small hands and lay it to the side. Somehow she knows what to do. She smiles a tiny smile as her childish hands reach up to find my belt. 'I won't tell Mommy,' she whispers.
I shook my head. I had walked out of her room. I was staring at her door. I was painfully erect. What have we done, Stephanie? What have we done, and what are we going to do?
I think I'm in love with my Dad. Of course I love my Dad. You're supposed to love your Dad and I do. Not because I'm supposed to but because he's awesome. He knows everything and even when he's mad at me he just wants me to not be a snot. I know I'm a snot sometimes. He was away a lot and I thought he didn't like me but now he's back and it's so nice.
Anyways, I'm kinda in love with him too.
I guess it was the looks. How he looked at me. I never thought I'd want anybody to see me without clothes. That's for babies. But then Mom said that being shy was for babies and I hated that but it made sense too. So I did the undressing thing at the pool with Daddy. It was wicked scary but I just kept looking at his eyes and I did it.
Okay, I didn't look at his eyes the whole time. I can't even imagine having something down there. Wobbly and wrinkly and just strange. Back then I didn't know what it did. Mom kinda told me but it was confusing. Then she gave me a book that was for babies but explained things more. Then when Daddy said that it... his... that it was hard... I knew what that meant. And then when I saw it that way, when Daddy was doing sex with himself... oh my god. It's a whole different thing. Big and strong and like... proud? When I think about it, I think about it that way, not the floppy way. And he said it was because of me. And his face had that look. That's when I think I started to be in love with him.
That's scary too because I know he loves Mommy and she loves him and that's how it's supposed to be. I'm not supposed to love him that way. I just can't help it. And then I did the thing with him. The sex with yourself thing. I kinda made him do it. And now it's all even more confusing and I don't know what to do and I think Mommy knows and I think maybe she hates me. Maybe I made her hate me cuz I haven't been so nice to her. I don't know why, even. She's away a lot now and she just makes me mad sometimes.
I don't think Daddy knows what to do either. After we did the thing he's been really quiet. He still looks at me that way though. When I see him looking it makes me go wobbly and I think about what we did and then I want to go to my room. It's funny that Mom tried to tell me about sex with yourself but it was Daddy that actually showed me how to do it right. The very weirdest thing is when I close my door I guess they know what I'm doing. I like that Daddy knows but I don't really like that Mom knows.
Oh and my little sister is a sneak. I swear she drives me crazy. I was in MY room with MY door closed and I was doing the thing. I didn't even have any pants on, just a shirt. I had my eyes closed and pinched like Daddy showed me and I had the feeling at the end that makes me scrunch my toes and then I opened my eyes and she's just standing there. I didn't even hear her come in. And the door is wide open so anybody could see.
I yelled at her to go away but she stood there looking dumb and said, "How come you're doing that?" I told her it's not for babies and she wouldn't understand and to get out or I'd kill her so totally dead. I pushed her out even though I was mostly naked. Thank God Mom wasn't around.
My six year old daughter had masturbated, without shame, in my arms. The subtlety of her movements wasn't meant to hide what she was doing. She's so small, so her touching was small. Small squirms, small shivers, small tightening, small short breaths.
To say I had mixed feelings would be putting it mildly. In the moment, I found it startling but somehow beautiful. Cozy, in an odd way. In retrospect it was a bit disturbing. I was concerned that she'd learned from me, from what I had thought were surreptitious caresses of my own in the tub. It turns out that this was a needless worry. It was soon replaced by another worry.
The night after the bath I was home early enough to tuck Caroline into bed. We curled up and I started to read her a story. Her eyes soon got sleepy and she wiggled. Her hand then plunged quite deliberately and purposefully into her underpants. At first I hoped she was just scratching. After a minute or so of watching her fingers move under the snug white cotton, it was clear that this wasn't that sort of itch.
I hugged her to my chest. Her hand persisted.
"That feels nice, doesn't it?" I said it as gently as I could. She nodded slowly. I didn't want to mess this up.
"Did you find that out all by yourself, sweetpea?"
Her hand paused. I felt her tense a little. She was quiet for a moment before she said, "Stephanie does it all the time."
My tummy clenched. I kissed her hair and took a slow breath.
She probably sensed my concern. "Is it bad, Mommy?"
"No, sweetie. It's not bad. It's just... something private."
"Oh. That's why Daddy said I hadda knock."
"Knock where, Caroline?"
"Stephanie's door. She gets mad at me if I watch her. Cuz it's private I guess."
I put my hand on her tummy and nuzzled her neck. My tiny baby girl. Please please don't grow up. Not ever. Please God. I can't lose you.
Could I be angry? At who? At Stephanie? Of course not. I'd told her how to masturbate. I knew that there was an ongoing war among the girls over Stephanie's privacy, and that it was entirely likely that Caroline had simply marched into Stephanie's room at an inapproriate time. It was understandable. Natural even. All the internet blogs came to mind. Other mothers reported their daughters humping their stuffed animals at even earlier ages.
Caroline's hand was still buried in her panties, but it wasn't moving.
"Is it private with you, Mommy?" she asked. I could understand her confusion. I'd watched her do it in the bath and not said a word.
I was overwhelmed in that moment. I was exhausted from work. Separation from my family was a howling emptiness inside, demanding to be filled. Stephanie was increasingly distant with traces of open hostility. Rationally I know that this is natural for girls and moms, but I'd hoped it wouldn't come until the teen years. The rational knowing doesn't help. It still hurts like fuck all when your child pushes you away, even a little.
These are explanations, not justifications. I know that. We're all just a cumulative agglomeration of our choices. This is a choice that I made. It was very selfish. So was returning to my law practice. All about me.
Then I looked into Caroline's eyes. She was anxious. In some way I thought she shared my fear, and my need. Stephanie had her father. Caroline was always second, always the one we had to wait for as she went as fast as she could on her short legs. Perhaps this wasn't just for me. An easy rationalization. Something in me seized on it.
I whispered at my daughter's ear, so softly that I couldn't hear myself. "No, little one. Nothing is private between you and me. Not anything ever. This can be just for us. For you and Mommy. Private for us." More secrets. A smaller circle. A family within a family.
Her hand moved slightly. I smiled. It moved a little more. Her eyelids fluttered. My hand slid lower. Did I do that? I suppose I did. I saw my hand resting at the mound in her underpants, atop the soft fabric, atop her so-small hand, atop her nascent sex. A pancake stack of me and her. I squeezed just a bit, gently encouraging her own awkward fondles. I watched her face, studied its softness, swam in her bliss, let it flow into my empty places. She was asleep a few heartbeats later.
Rick was reading in bed. He smiled as I came in. It struck me that he always smiled when he saw me after any separation. For some reason that I don't fully understand, he's never not glad to see me. On this occasion, it melted me.
"You had a long day, sweetheart. You must be ex... oh."
He didn't get to finish the sentence. My clothes were off and his blankets pulled back and my legs over his chest and his cock in my mouth in the span of his first syllables. To his credit, his surprise didn't prevent him from taking full advantage of my backside, which in this position was presented to him somewhat obscenely. I vaguely heard his book hit the floor. His fingers found me, found me in heat, violated me thoroughly, matched my urgency. I mauled him to hardness with my tongue... pivoted atop him... impaled myself in one motion, my eyes devouring his... mashed our pubic bones together, my fingers curled against his chest, scratching down it.
To take. To be taken. He knew. My precious husband knew, in that moment. I took him in my need to be taken. In a breath I was on my back, the power in his arms broking no resistance. His cock never left me. I opened my mouth to say 'Fuck me.' The air was forced from my lungs instead as a feral grunt as his weight drove me into the mattress, his teeth fierce at my neck. We rutted mindlessly. My surrender of thought was desperate. He channeled my ferocity without a need to understand it.
He was still hard inside me, my fading spasms clutching at him, trying to capture him as a forever part of my body. He kissed me, with force... then more softly... then on my cheek.
"I missed you too," he said. I forgave him the accompanying smirk. I wrapped myself around my husband and clung. I was able to sleep despite the echoes of doubt resounding in my head.
At various times, I swore to myself that I wouldn't let anything sexual happen with Stephanie again. That's how I formed it in my mind. I'd let it happen. I hadn't made it happen. I hadn't told her to do anything. So how much could I be blamed, really?
Well, ok. Once it started I did tell her to do some things. I told her to spread her legs. I told her to use her fingers and open herself to me. I told her how to bring herself to orgasm. I watched her do all these things. But it was her idea.
This gave me an odd feeling of comfort in one important way. This was Stephanie's secret, not mine. I wasn't asking her to hide things from her mother. She'd initiated, so of course she wouldn't talk about it. I was confident that she understood this. That I'd actually masturbated with my eight-year-old daughter seemed to matter much less than my belief that she would not, in fact, tell Mommy.
Our act of separate but shared pleasure seemed to dispel some tensions but create others. Stephanie didn't actively tease me around the house anymore. We exchanged knowing glances, intimate instantaneous meetings in a gaze that were in some ways more sexual than her parading in her underpants. Perhaps it was just a moment of discovery and we'd moved past it, something that would blend into our memories and become an unspoken touch point. We'd seen a double rainbow together, just she and I, and nobody else was around, and the wind blew it away and in a moment it was gone but for us we could always see the rainbow in each other's eyes.
What I couldn't get out of my mind was her face. Her face when she saw me erect and knew it was for her. Her face when she finally found the mysterious button. Her face when she tensed, and squeaked. Her face when she blinked and glowed, amazed. It's what I saw when I closed my eyes.
Still, I told myself it was impossible. It was a disaster waiting to happen. If I was a normal father I wouldn't be thinking and doing these things in the first place. These warnings played in my head continuously.
But then it was Saturday we were all going to the pool. Caroline complained of a tummyache, and Carol said, "It's ok. You can take Stephanie. I'll stay home and make soup and tend the sick. It's what a proper mother would do."
I heard the pain behind her joke. Her return to work was both joy and torture for her. Her moods were swinging much more widely than at any time since her last pregnancy. I kissed her forehead. "You are the most proper of all mothers, Carol. Your daughters will rule the world someday, or whatever portion of it that they choose, because you'll have made them capable of anything and strong enough to make their own choices."
"As long as Caroline stays out of MY part of the world," offered Stephanie.
"My part will have all the unicorns, and YOU can't come there," retorted her sister.
"I rest my case," I said. Carol smiled and pulled me in for a kiss on the lips. Stephanie winced at the PDA. Her mother noticed but let it go.
Stephanie and I were quiet on the way to the pool, but it wasn't a bad quiet. An uncertain quiet, maybe anxious. She talked a little about school and how it was mostly boring and that she couldn't wait until she had real teachers who actually knew things. I suggested that her teachers probably knew things, at which she gave me the 'if you say so' side-eye.
I took her hand on the way from the car. The warmth of it. The smallness. She squeezed. I flashed back to my second date with Carol. When she'd squeezed my hand, my heart and mind raced at what it could mean. For that moment. For that day. For the rest of my life.
Inside, I made myself let go of her hand and headed for the men's locker room. Stephanie stood in the hall and watched me go. Her face. A question. Confusion. Anger. Sadness. It was a movie played out in a few brief seconds. I saw her head drop, the curtain coming down. It felt like an ice pick thrust through my eye and into my skull. I kept going. Fuck. Fuck me. I've broken my daughter. I've broken us.
I met her at the pool. I couldn't take my eyes away. I swam laps and she held to the side, listlessly. She watched me. I stopped after ten minutes, dove under the floating rope and came up beside her. The sadness was palpable. I wasn't sure if the crystal droplets on her face were from the pool or from her eyes.
"Should we go?" She only nodded, needlessly.
I took her hand again. It was tiny and wet and cold and limp in my fingers. She didn't squeeze.
I opened the door to the Family Changing Room.
Was it habit? We'd certainly gone there almost every time we'd been to the pool. I hadn't been thinking. I'd been feeling. Feeling everything that I imagined my daughter was feeling. I looked down at Stephanie. She met my gaze uncertainly. She looked into the room. I saw her face. And then we were inside.
We were inside and we were naked. And we were naked and wet and cold. And we were cold and touching ourselves. And we were touching and we sat on the soft bench. And we sat on the soft bench and faced each other. And we faced each other and we didn't say a word. And we didn't say a word until it was done. And it was done and I said, "I'm sorry." And I said I was sorry and she said, "Are you sorry that we did it?" And she asked me that and I said, "No." And I said no and she smiled and she smiled and we showered and we showered and we went home and I was truly, somehow, terrifyingly not sorry.
Can you betray someone and still completely and utterly love them? I mean, fundamentally betray their unquestioning trust in you. Not in a small way. Not by hiding the cookies that you know she loves but shouldn't eat. Not by saying that you came straight home when you'd stopped for an innocent beer and watched the last three innings of the game that you know she'd hate. But by, say, just for example, sexually molesting her child. It this compatible with true love?
For me, it seemed to be reconcilable. I didn't love Carol any less, or any differently, near as I could tell. I didn't desire her less. In fact, she benefited from the fact that I was more often aroused.
In my internal argument, the first line of defense was that I hadn't molested anyone. I'd never touched Stephanie in a sexual way. If I pushed the boundaries of rationalization, it occurred to me that this was positive father-daughter bonding. Her mother had tried to explain things to her and done it incompletely. I just finished the lesson. Who was harmed by this? It wasn't at all clear that anyone was. Stephanie's head dropping to the floor as I turned away from her towards the locker room. That's real, undeniable pain, deserving of relief. There were moments of clarity when I knew that this line of reasoning was stupid and wrong. These moments became more rare.
My spouse is a lawyer. More than that, she's a fierce mother. I had no doubt that her view of my behavior would be dim. Dim to the point of divorce, jail, and likely castration if she got the chance. But it would be her disappointment in me that would make it impossible for me to ever feel like a person again. Carol is my rock. I had the hard place. My brain creates horrible puns under stress. I can't help it.
I was confident in Stephanie's discretion. I hadn't counted on her jealousy. I suppose I should have paid more attention in Psych 101, but I'd only taken it in college because it was known as an easy A. Stephanie was beginning to view her mother as a rival. I remembered her expression from Saturday when I'd kissed Carol in her presence. In retrospect, the face she made wasn't just 'Parents kissing is gross, get a room already.' There was an undercurrent of 'Why don't you kiss me like that?' and 'How could you?'
I don't think Stephanie actually understood her feelings in these terms. She wouldn't have said that she hated her mother, or that she wanted me all to herself. I'm sure this confusion made it more difficult for her to deal with the situation. Her conflicting emotions began to surface as withdrawal from or nastiness to Carol.
Of course Carol interpreted this as a reaction to her being away at work again. A fundamental betrayal of her commitment to her family. I tried every way to reassure her. It was difficult, because it was partly true. Despite everything, Stephanie also missed her. Carol seemed to focus more on Caroline to keep her grounded as a parent. It was the easiest path, the downhill road when her energy was spent. It gave Stephanie a reason to be jealous of her sister as well for receiving more of her mother's attention. We were fraying as a family. It was unfamiliar and frightening territory.
On top of this, our repeat performance at the pool hadn't really clarified things between Stephanie and I. She knew that I still loved her, that we were ok, that she hadn't done something terrible. Uncertainty had become some vague, undefined sense of expectation. How do you have a discussion about sexual expectations with your preteen daughter? I had no clue. I didn't know what my own expectations were. I only knew my desires, and that they were likely something I could not successfully ignore.
Carol left the house early on most days, leaving me to get the girls off to school. My academic schedule allowed me this luxury. On Wednesday morning after our pool visit, I opened my bedroom door, expecting to rouse the troupes from bed and start breakfast.
Stephanie was standing in the hallway. She was startled, but I caught a glimpse of her eyes before they lifted to meet mine. She'd been staring at the door, as though trying to see through it. She was wearing a tshirt, short enough that it left no doubt. There was nothing underneath it.
I smiled. I touched her cheek. She raised her hand and put it on mine, turned her face a bit and kissed my palm. Expectations.
"You're up early, sweetheart."
"We have to get ready for school."
Her head dropped. But just a little. After a moment, a slow nod.
I kissed her hair. Another moment. She bit her lip, then turned and started to walk back to her room. After the first step, she'd pulled the tshirt off and let it drop to the floor in the hallway. I didn't move to pick it up until she was out of sight.
Thursday morning. I opened my eyes. Blinked at the ceiling. A movement beside the bed. Was Carol late for work? I looked for the clock and saw Stephanie, standing, watching me, the door closed behind her. She was holding a tshirt in her hand. As my brain began to work, I realized that it must be the tshirt she'd been wearing before she took it off, since she was naked.
I swallowed. Looked at the clock. "Y-you're up early, sweetheart."
She regarded me patiently. Her gaze traveled down over the sheet that covered me, and stopped at a point.
"It's hard." She said it calmly. She was right, of course. I felt myself blush.
"Can I see?" She pulled at the sheet without waiting for an answer. I didn't stop her. Her face. God. Her face.
"You sleep naked, Daddy." This was obvious, but was clearly a surprise to her. The notion of not wearing something to bed seemingly hadn't occurred.
"Sometimes, I do."
She chewed her lip. I could see the wheels turning. A momentary frown that passed. She knew that her mother slept with me.
"I just want to watch this time, Daddy." My daughter rested her elbows on the bed and her stare on my very stiff cock and waited. It seemed pretty clear that she wasn't going to move from that spot of her own accord.
I raised my eyebrows. Fuck. Expectations. "Stephanie..."
"It's a quarter after seven, Daddy. We don't have to get ready for school for another fifteen minutes. I know it doesn't take you that long."
In other circumstances, I might have taken offense. In this circumstance, I didn't. I gripped. I tugged. I grunted.
Her face, rapt, aglow. Her frame, exquisite in its smooth simplicity. Her bottom, extended behind her as she bent, perfect.
It didn't take long.
A smile. "That's so awesome. Will you make pancakes? It was only three minutes." 7:18. Fuck.
Friday morning. I opened my eyes. Carol was home, already up and getting the girls ready. They were in the girls' bathroom, negotiating over the single sink. She'd let me sleep til eight, bless her.
"How come Stephanie always gets to go first?" Caroline was beginning to assert herself more. This was inevitable given her maternal DNA.
"Cuz you're a baby and I'm not." Of course.
"Stephanie, I'm tired of this from you. Your sister isn't a baby anymore, and you act more like one every day."
"So I can go first?" Well played, little one.
"Yes, Caroline. Today you can go first. From now on, we'll take turns."
"That is SO not fair." Stephanie's voice rose.
"Actually, it's perfectly fair. How is it fair for you to always go first?" An attempt at reason. I silently wished her luck with that.
"Cuz she's a baby..."
Caroline's voice cut through in a surprising way. The words came out in a rush but they were crystal clear.
"I am NOT a baby cuz that thing you do that you said wasn't for babies I do that too and Mommy even helps me."
In the silence that followed, a pin dropping would have sounded like a truckload of steel bars tumbling down a staircase.
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