If you are under the age of 18, or otherwise forbidden by law to read electronically transmitted erotic material, please go do something else.
This material is Copyright, 1996, Uther Pendragon. All rights reserved. I specifically grant the right of downloading and keeping one electronic copy for your personal reading so long as this notice is included. Reposting requires previous permission.
All persons here depicted, except public figures depicted as public figures in the background, are figments of my imagination and any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
Monday before Christmas we went for a drive. It wasn't really a date. Terry is only a few months older than I am, but he has a driver's license. Dad, who won't let me get my learner's permit until I enroll in driver's ed at school, made it real clear that he didn't like my going out with an inexperienced driver in the wet weather. I was tempted to tell him that we'd spend most of the time parking, but I resisted.
Mom took the edge off the inquisition by inviting Terry to dinner on the twenty-sixth. My brother was coming in later this night. His in-laws had made a big thing about having Christmas dinner there. So Mom scheduled our Christmas dinner for the day after Christmas. I had argued for an invitation for Terry, and had gotten it.
We actually drove a lot and talked. Then we parked and talked. Okay, we kissed too. We both had our coats and shirts open, and we were hugging skin to skin. Although the car heater couldn't beat the chill, that wasn't the reason for most of my shivers. Terry is a very good kisser, and his hands did things to my breasts which my hands can't. Then he spoiled it all.
He started undoing my jeans. Now, I admit that he needed to push things sometimes. We would still have been kissing with our mouths closed if he hadn't. I usually don't mind saying 'no,' but this was ridiculous.
"Come on, Terry. Get serious. This is hardly the time or place."
"When is the time, Vi?" Well, sometime when it was warmer, and I was wearing a skirt so it wasn't so blatant. Let's face it. I loved how he could make my nipples feel, I suspected that his fingers might feel much better than mine between my legs. On the other hand, I had real mixed emotions about even Terry feeling me there. And my emotions about the next step were totally unmixed. Not now, not soon.
"Who says there is a time?" I asked. I share about half of my inner conflicts with Terry, those not about him.
"There is going to be a time, Vi. And soon. We have been playing on the edges long enough. I'm tired of going home from these dates with my balls hurting. I wasn't trying to do it tonight." At this point I became quite clear that we weren't talking about his feeling the outside of my panties. "But sometime soon we have to take this relationship to an adult level. We're sixteen. We've been going together for a year. And dammit, I love you and I want you."
"I love you, too." Which was less true than it had been five minutes earlier. "That doesn't mean that I'm ready to go to bed with you."
"Yes, that is what it means. If you aren't ready to take that step, maybe you don't love me."
"I'm not ready to take that step. It doesn't have anything to do with how I feel about you. It has to do with what I feel about me."
"Maybe your feelings aren't what I thought. Maybe we aren't the couple I thought we were." We damn well weren't the couple I had thought we were.
"Maybe you don't want to be part of a couple who doesn't sleep together."
"No 'maybe' about that."
"Please take me home."
That he did. I'll grant him that. I climbed the stairs still in my coat because it was the only thing that was fastened. I hurried into the bathroom, great excuse. By the time I took my coat back downstairs, my bra was fastened; and my shirt was tucked into my jeans. I thought I looked calm, cool, and collected. "What's wrong, dear?" asked my mom.
"Nothing at all," I said, and fled to my room.
Mom knocked on the door. "Want to talk?" If I had, would I have hidden in my room? Parents!
"No! Go away." She did.
Okay, I could have asked Mom's advice, and maybe she wouldn't have freaked. The problem was that I knew her advice. What I really wanted to ask was "Mom, did you wait? Are you glad you did? Mom, did you and Dad start before the wedding? Did it make a difference?" Hell, they met in college. "Mom, was Dad your first? Did that matter to him? Does it still matter to him?" Yeah. Right. I'd rather die.
Two days before Christmas, and dying looked like a better and better option. I pasted a smile on my face and went for the gift wrap. That was an excuse to shut myself in my room the rest of the night. And then I came upon the game cartridge that was my gift for Terry.
That sent my mind spinning again. I wanted Terry. I even wanted him in my body, but not yet. Dammit, it's my body. Finally, though, I had the presents wrapped and myself in bed. Then my mind circled the problem again until I fell asleep.
Mom picked up my brother and his wife at the bus depot in the middle of the night. I woke and put on my robe when they came in. Nobody was feeling terribly sociable. It was "Hi, Bob, hi Jeanette. 'Night Bob, 'night Jeanette."
That raised another possibility. I happen to know that Jeanette had waited until, or almost until, her wedding night. Bob had come home from college with the decision that changed his career plan from lawyer to history professor. That takes a lot longer and produces less income afterward. This had led to a whole series of family conferences at which we learned that Jeanette's family would not put one dime into her education once she was married. Jeanette had suggested that she drop out and go to work. "After all," she had said, "I'm the one who wants to get married."
"That's not true," Bob argued, "I want to marry you."
"Eventually, but you'd be quite content for the next two years if we just slept together."
At which point, Dad diplomatically asked something about student loans, but not before I had blurted out, "You aren't?" It was embarrassing at the time. That whole series of meetings was a disaster. Jeanette always treated me as a friend after that, though, and had made me one of her bridesmaids.
That thought solved nothing, but did introduce new questions. Did I have the guts to ask her? What did I want to ask her? Did it apply? While Terry makes more than my heart go pitter- pat, Bob isn't what you'd call a sexy guy. If you had to pick the media star whom he most resembles, you'd go for Mr. Rogers, not Brad Pitt. Some women have a naturally low level of sexual desire. I don't think I'm one of them; was Jeanette? Maybe she didn't particularly want to have sex with Bob, anyway. Wanting to live in the same house with him, though, is perverse; been there, done that, tripped over his things.
I went over the whole mess again and again before I fell asleep. There didn't seem to be any answer.
The morning was brighter, as mornings tend to be. It was Christmas Eve. I had a library book to finish before I opened my presents Christmas morning. With my wrapping done, I didn't have to do anything before it was time for church. Thinking about my problems and sleeping on them had done no good; maybe a couple hours with Patricia Phillips would let a solution surface. It has happened.
Bodice-rippers are better distractions from some problems than from others. Rolfe would stroke Marged's breasts; I'd tickle mine; I'd remember Terry's sexier strokes. Then I would run the whole circle of worries again. I hadn't reached page 300 before I heard stirring from the next room. Bob and Jeanette had awakened, and I thought of having breakfast with them. Breakfast didn't seem on their minds, however. Bed creakings, bathroom doors, and such were followed by very low voices. Every word spoken in a normal voice in that room can be heard in mine.
Then the bed creakings resumed. I couldn't help it, I went to the point on the wall where the sound was loudest. Nothing was clear for a couple of minutes. Then Jeanette started speaking softly. "Yes, love. Please. Right there."
I was still in my nightie and already damp from the reading. I brushed my nipples where they were poking out the cloth. I tried not to picture the couple. Then I tried to picture them. Sex ed classes are much better on how the critical parts fit together than on how the rest of the body can be arranged. I knew that sex meant rhythmic motion, but the creakings became quieter and had never been rhythmic. Bob was utterly silent, but Jeanette was making sounds between moaning and humming. I didn't know what they were doing, but I could guess what she was feeling. I pulled my nightie up and stroked my groove as I heard her voice rise in both pitch and volume.
She moaned much louder and the bed shook as I began stroking my clitoris. "Oh," rattle, stroke. "Ah?" rattle, stroke. "Ah?" rattle, stroke. "Oooh," rattle, stroke. "AH! AH! UHngh!" much rattling, which my stroking couldn't keep up with. I heard one more rattle and a grunt, then silence. I continued on, memory making me as hot as any bodice-ripper ever did.
"I love you. Love you desperately!" from Bob. My brother is no Cyrano. Then there was a pause with a little bed rustling but no talking.
"Yes, love. Now!" said Jeanette in a voice loud enough to startle me. A moment later, the bed creakings did become rhythmic. Now, I could picture them, Bob pushing in and out of Jeanette. I stroked myself in time to his motions. Jeanette started moaning again, very softly but timed with the bed noises. I almost fell to the floor as I came. I caught myself against the wall, but any noise I made wasn't noticed in the next room.
The bed motions were getting faster and faster. "Love ... you.... Love ... you!" Bob gasped in time with the creaks. Then the bed shook but not rhythmically. Bob was only grunting like an animal. Jeanette sounded more like a low organ pipe. It was almost a pure tone. It was also the most erotic sound that I had ever heard. I almost came again without touching myself.
In the silence from the next room, I tiptoed to the window seat which was the point farthest from that wall. I sat on it very slowly in hopes that no sound would be heard next door. There was low talk and a laugh or two from that room, then that door and the bathroom door. I hurried to dress.
I was well into my second waffle when Bob and Jeanette came down for theirs. Jeanette did not look, if you'll pardon the expression, freshly fucked. She didn't even look besotted, which she had -- to an embarrassing extent -- during the whole wedding period. She looked freshly showered but not quite awake. Bob seated her as I got up to operate the waffle iron. He poured two cups of coffee and brought her one. She drained it, and he got her a refill before he sat. My brother as a gentleman was a new experience, and a brief one.
"Morning Kaytoo," he said. "My, you must have grown a millimeter since June." If your name is Katherine, please don't name your daughter Kathleen. Mom was Kate or Katie, and I was Kaytoo until I rebelled. Kaytoo is Kate, too, or Kate Two. Do you think that's cute? Well I don't! Mom and Dad learned, after I stopped answering to that name at age nine. Another member of the family is taking a little longer.
"Good morning, Jeanette," I said, "it's nice to see you. Did you enjoy your trip?"
"G'morning, Vi. Great to see you. On a bus in winter? Nice to be here, though." I slipped the waffle on her plate and sat down. Bob moved over to make his own, stealing a big piece of mine in the process. I didn't mind. I'd put boysenberry jam, which he hates, on it.
"Now children," Jeanette continued, "it's Christmas Eve. Santa has loaded his sled already, and he doesn't want to go back for more coals and switches for your stockings. Do you think we might have a little peace?"
"From these two?" Mom asked from the doorway. "Keep dreaming." She replaced Bob by the waffle iron and put the rather mangy waffle he had made onto his plate. He smothered it with syrup and started wolfing it down. "Lunch is obviously going to be waffles and pick-up. Good morning, sleepyheads."
Jeanette looked a little sheepish. It could easily be the look of a guest who had slept through the first morning of a visit and then looked for breakfast before her hostess. It could also be the look of a guest who had taken a private pleasure with her husband instead of greeting the rest of the family. I knew which. I also knew that Mom had included me in the greeting. Bob, of course, had no conscience whatever. He mumbled something which could well have been "morning" around a large bite of waffle.
Then he shocked me completely. He swallowed and said, "I'm sorry, Vi."
"Accepted," I said. If the fight with Bob was over for the day, I could still finish the library book before church.
"Jeanette," said Mom, "you were already welcome here. You know that. But that little miracle makes you even more welcome. Is the room okay? We could move the rug back, but that's a major undertaking."
Each of us had had an oriental rug in the bed room, reminders of another life, until Bob had moved out. His rug had been moved to the living room to cover worn spots in the carpet. The rugs are beautiful when I look at them, but bring up worries when I hear them mentioned.
My father works for Ward Tech, one of the larger and more predatory conglomerates. He used to be in the acquisitions division, leading a team to evaluate middle-sized companies. Ward Tech only buys companies that it can turn around. The team interviews the workforce and studies the books and the company's operation over two or three weeks. They say "buy" or "don't buy." Then they prepare a report as to how to improve performance for the companies that they recommend buying. Those teams are highly paid, their leaders are very highly paid and on the path to the upper reaches of Ward Tech. They sometimes get to see their families on weekends.
Dad's year-end bonus when I was seven was more than his annual salary since his heart attack. We spent money accordingly. He protected his family's future with high insurance; he tried for real wealth by putting all he had saved and all he could borrow into a start-up company run by two business-school classmates. He'd covered all the possibilities but recovering from a heart attack.
While he was getting well, we had our first real family meetings. At seven, I participated. We decided unanimously that we wanted to have Dad home instead of trying to return to the old life. His investment went down the tubes. Ward Tech, which had continued his salary during his recovery, paid him no bonus. They did move him to run a company, Brewster Equipment, that they had acquired.
Growing up here was weird. Dad was one of the highest-paid executives in town, but his salary was half his previous salary (not even counting bonus). We had a huge debt, but the president of Brewster Equipment had to have a certain life- style.
Mother got a teaching job. We took no fancy vacations. We worked off the debt. There is no way that Bob or I can qualify for student financial aid; I can sort of understand that. Our family income is in the top percentiles. On the other hand, we had five months of savings when Bob entered college. The oriental rugs are increasing in value as we walk on them; I don't know why. They will cover tuition when both of us are in school. Jeanette is another problem. She is one of us, and cutting the family's expenses on Bob. Someday she'll need to finish college, too.
"The room is delightful," Jeanette said. The room wasn't delightful, it held the few remnants of Bob's childhood that even he had outgrown. Outgrowing isn't Bob's strong point.
"We could move in a cot. That twin bed's too small for two."
"No it isn't!" said Bob. Jeanette blushed a little, but shook her head at mom.
"Young love," said Mom. Now Jeanette and I were both blushing. Bob never blushes.
"Honest, Katherine," Jeanette said. "Everything is delightful."
"Dear," Mom replied. (You have to look at Mother when she talks. She calls everyone "Dear.") "Now that you are part of the family, don't you think that you could call me 'Mom'?" Jeanette froze. Mom saw it and her face fell. She must have forgotten the times when Jeanette picked up mail from Bob here because she didn't trust her mother not to open letters at her house. Then Bob, of all people, came to the rescue.
"And now that she's part of the family," he said, "you could call her 'Aunt Amy.'"
Mom and I both broke up. "That bad?" asked Mom.
"Worse!" said Bob and Jeanette together.
"It meant so much when you said I could call you 'Katherine.' Can't I still?" said Jeanette.
"Of course you can, dear." The two of them hugged. You can call Mom anything if you hug her. "Is there anything that you two need?"
Bob, knowing that he was included for the first time, spoke up. "The wrapping paper, if we could. We brought most of the stuff unwrapped." Of course Bob hadn't wrapped anything. It was only noon on Christmas Eve.
"I have it," I said. "I'll bring it around when I go upstairs."
Dad wandered in and greeted everyone. We all had sausage and more waffles and applesauce. I followed Bob and Jeanette upstairs. I brought them the wrapping paper knowing that I had made a decision.
"Bob, do you have anything that needs to be wrapped in Jeanette's absence?" I asked. It was a rhetorical question. "Then could I have a little talk with you, Jeanette?"
"Go along," Bob said. "I'll do the wrapping. You do the fancies." I already knew that my package would rattle if I shook it. The nails and Bandaid tins were saved from year to year. Jeanette followed me into my room and over to the window seat.
There didn't seem to be any easy way to work up to it.
"May I ask you a question?" I started.
"Ask away. I may not answer." Oh great!
"You delayed sex till you got married. Are you happy you did?" I sort of gasped at the end.
"Kathleen Violet Brennan, if this is your idea of a subject for an English theme, your teacher will be unhappy. But not one millionth as unhappy as I will."
"No. This is important." I stopped but she just waited. "This is personal."
"It is important enough to invade my privacy."
"You can't tell anyone."
She just held out her hand palm out. "Dump it."
I talked in fits and starts. I had to go back to explain things. Finally the whole thing was out. "So, I have to know. Is waiting worth it?"
"So he told you to lie down or walk?"
"That's one way of saying it."
"For the record, I really think that you should talk to your mother."
"I'd die. I chose to confide in you."
"I won't tell anyone unless you ask me to. Do you love him?"
"I know that you think it's only puppy love. But..."
"Vi, at your age I had been going with my future husband for nearly two years. Being sixteen doesn't make it insignificant. Being sixteen does make it a pain. I ask again. Do you love him."
"Yes. I think I do. I was never in love before."
"Does he love you?"
"I think so. If I can't tell with myself, how can I tell with him?"
"Does that matter to you?"
"You know, you aren't answering any of my questions."
"Sex is the most beautiful thing in the world. It makes the earth move. You should wait.
"Those are the answers; and they are true, even if they don't make sense. But you have heard them before. I'll tell you this, I'm not going to bed with this, ... this Terry?"
"So my answers don't matter. Your answers do. Is it important to you whether he loves you?"
"Desperately." She grinned at this. I must have looked hurt, I certainly felt hurt.
"Sorry. It's your brother's favorite word. Okay, let me tell you a story. This is private. If you have to tell it to your daughter, or mine more likely, fine. Otherwise, don't say anything to anybody, including Bob. We're invading his privacy as much as mine.
"Anyway, 'lie down or walk' were Bob's words. Some friends of ours had broken up after the boy made that sort of demand on the girl. Somehow, everybody knew about it. Anyway, Bob told me that he might -- actually, he told me that he would -- make the same sort of demand on me someday. He asked me to promise that, after he did, I would forgive him.
"He said something like 'That won't be me talking, it will be..." Her pause made me suspect that she was making everything up. " ... his lust talking." Then I decided that she was just censoring words.
"He said something," she continued, "about penance after he laid the demand, not immediate forgiveness. Of course, once he put it like that, the demand became something else. He'd said that if I said 'no' -- when I said 'no,' actually -- he would still want to date me. He had made it impossible to actually threaten to leave me.
"And I'll tell you this. If he had actually told me that he would quit dating me unless I slept with him, if he'd said that and I had believed him, I would have slept with him. But it would have destroyed the heart of our relationship. Did you know that Bob once said that if I wasn't going to finish college the wedding was off?"
I was still trying to digest her statement that she would have slept with Bob. Was she telling me to say "yes" to Terry? I had heard Bob say that the wedding was off. So had the rest of the family and our neighbors. I just nodded. She took a long breath and resumed.
"I went home that night and cried. We never set conditions. We never said 'I'll love you if....' In the morning I saw that I'd been silly. He wasn't setting a condition on his love. And he was promoting what he saw as my benefit. Our love is unconditional. The time of the wedding wasn't. It would have been two years earlier if it had been up to us.
"I'm not saying our love will never end. If I walk out that door and a truck runs over me, you can be sure that my love will end damn fast. But that's okay, because I'll end with it."
I'm sure that she made some more points. I had stopped listening. That last statement had floored me. I and my friends joke about dying all the time, I've wished I would die instead of taking an algebra test. We don't mean it. Jeanette did. She thought dying was the okay way to stop loving Bob. Bob? That was ridiculous. But it was true, you could hear it in the casualness of her statement.
I was in love with Terry. Did I love him? If I never saw him again, I'd sure miss what he could do for my feelings. I dreaded going to school with all my friends knowing that I was without a boyfriend, without a boyfriend again. Was that love? Not by the Jeanette test.
Did Bob's love match Jeanette's? I didn't know. Maybe. He wanted to marry her, but not if she was going to get hurt by it.
When I finally got back to her, Jeanette was telling another story. "So I finally got clear that he was talking about the indefinite future. If this was going to be a permanent thing between us, having him go to Ohio to work for the summer would pay off in the end. If it was only going to last another year, then the summer was too precious to waste.
"I was half a year older than you. We'd been going together maybe a year and a half longer than you and Terry. We started talking marriage. To tell the truth, I'd been thinking of it before that. He had to have been, too.
"Look, Vi. I know brothers are sort of dorky by definition, but that's all right. Consider Bob a minimum standard." I held up my hand for her to stop, and she did. I was considering.
Would Terry bring his summer work plans to me? That might be a little unfair. The Brennans hold family meetings, not everyone does. I was going around in that circle when Bob knocked on the door.
"Got them all wrapped," he called. "Want to do fancies?"
"Yes, darling, later," she shouted back. "Vi is telling me all about your past sins."
"All? C'mon, Vi. We have to be at church at nine. Just hit the high spots." He went clattering down the stairs.
"You know," said Jeanette, "you have a lot of options."
"I only count two."
"You can say 'yes' and mean it. You can break up with him. But! You can also string him along. You can pretend it never happened. You are being rather hard on him, you know."
"That is a strange thing to say."
"I ask again, is it important whether he loves you?"
"It's very important."
"Okay. Accept first that he wants to have sex with you. Boys do. Don't hold that against him.
"If he meant that he would leave you unless you slept with him, then he is a total user. He doesn't love you. He may think he does, not knowing what the word love means.
"If it was only his, uh, lust talking, then you are in a total tailspin over a much less important situation. Your boyfriend went too far. Slap his face or wash your hair on your next scheduled date. Let him know that he hurt you. Accept his apology and go on."
"How do I tell?"
"There is a third possibility, actually the only possibility. He is somewhere in between. Part of him wants to be your paladin, part of him wants to get all his sensory jollies and be one of the big boys at your expense. That's what I mean when I say that you are doing him an injustice."
"What's a paladin?" I could almost tell. Mostly, I was trying to cut down the flow of ideas until I could deal with them.
"A paladin is a knight, a champion, a loyal protector.
"It would be a mistake to only think of dealing with his lustful part. That would strengthen the lustful part. He did take 'no' for an answer. He did drive you home. Shouldn't you deal with that part? Shouldn't you strengthen your loyal protector? Or, maybe, someone else's loyal protector. Maybe you'll spend the rest of your life with him, maybe you won't. You claim to love him. Couldn't you love his better part?"
"Are you saying that I should say 'yes' or that I should say 'no.'"
"Neither. Sort of both. I'm saying -- rather I'm suggesting, knowing that this is your life -- that you say, 'I know that you are too fine a man to have meant it, but I'm still deeply hurt that you said it.' Help him be your loyal protector."
"That sounds much better."
"Uh, Vi. Are you still planning to be a psychiatrist?"
"Then get hold of your own psychological reality for a second. This option sounds better because it assumes a different Terry. It will be better if he is interested in keeping a relationship to the girl with the most intelligence and finest personality that he is ever likely to meet. It won't be better if his highest priority is dipping his wick in a real, live vagina. It sounds better than your last choice because your last choice assumed that the latter was his priority."
"I really think that you're right about Terry. That he's basically a good guy who got carried away."
"That's not what I said. I have never met him." Terry was at the reception. I understand her not remembering. "I said that it is a possibility that you have to consider. I don't want you dating Terry if he is more interested in what's between your legs than what's between your ears. But you may very well still want that relationship."
"I don't know. You'll meet him on Thursday." Then I stopped and thought. "Maybe you won't. So, did you have to train Bob to be your loyal protector? How many times did you have to slap his face?"
"Mostly he was there before me. I don't think I ever slapped his face, but I used my elbows a lot. Your brother has no sense of propriety."
"On the other hand, there was a lot of display behavior in what we did. You know, 'We are a couple, and the boy is a lustful boy, and the girl is a good girl.' I mostly used my elbows in public. Words were sufficient in private. Again: brothers are sort of dorks by definition, but Bob was a paladin to me.
"Enough of this baring of the soul. We're invading his privacy as well as mine. And I don't think it is necessary any more."
"Thanks. Thanks for answering. Thanks for letting me invade your privacy. I think that I have my answer now."
"Uh, Vi. As a charter member of Future Psychiatrists of America, you should know this. You already had your answer."
"Huh? No I didn't. I was going around in circles."
"You came to me. You knew my answer. You asked me to persuade you. You know girls who are involved in affairs, some of them in the first heady days of pleasure. You could have gone to them and gotten a different answer. For that matter, you could have asked me if it were worth doing instead of worth waiting. You didn't want my answer, which is perfectly all right. You wanted your answer validated."
She might be right. "I guess I have some growing up to do. You did suggest answers that I hadn't thought of, though."
"We all have some growing up to do. Don't think that asking for a sounding board is immature. Or even asking for advice when you really want a sounding board. Speaking of growing up, this conversation threw me for a loop. I think that neither walking down the aisle, nor the honeymoon, nor even getting a job which we depend on for food, put me over the line as firmly as this talk."
"Over the line?" I hadn't followed her at all.
"Being an adult. You were the first person to call me a Brennan, now you're the first person to come to me for advice as an adult. It threw me, but it complimented me. I think that I like having you for a sister."
Were we sisters? I and this woman? I suppose so. I know what she meant by a line, however. When I was her bridesmaid, Crystal, one of her classmates, had tried to make a point of the distance between nineteen and fifteen. She was wrong. She, Jeanette, and I had all been girls together then, most clearly in Crystal's need to create a distinction. This Jeanette was a woman.
We went downstairs together. Mom was in the kitchen. "Is there anything that we can do?" Jeanette asked.
"The question, dear, is are you comfortable in that room?"
Bob wandered in and asked, "Finished with all my sins already?"
"We decided to take a break when you got to first grade," Jeanette answered.
"When I was in first grade, this one was still in diapers."
"And you thought I would forget, didn't you," I chipped in.
"Dear, we were discussing whether your wife was comfortable in that room," said Mom.
"I'm comfortable in this house. Warm hearts are more important than warm floors," said Jeanette.
"Look," Bob broke in. "When I saw Jeanette walk down the aisle, I realized that I didn't know that woman in satin and lace. You, mother dearest, don't know my hiking companion. Jeanette has lived a lot rougher than that room. She has slippers."
"Don't you think," Dad began from in back of me, "that a husband more fittingly sees to his wife's needs than belittles them?" To mention Bob to Dad or Dad to Bob in the other's absence is to see a glow nearing adoration. When they are together, they tend to strike sparks.
"I think, sir," Bob replied, "that a man notes whether his wife's psychological or her physical needs are more important to her. Fussing over Jeanette is no favor. Do you want to make one minor improvement?"
What could Dad say? "Of course."
"Lend us that rag rug in your room. The one that protects the carpet from the rocking chair. That will give her something warmer than floor to put her feet on before she finds her slippers. While you're at it, you might let us have the rocking chair, as well. Everyone enjoys a rock now and then, and we don't have one at home."
Mom and Dad exchanged the oddest looks. Mom was clearly trying not to smile. "I care for the comfort of both of you, dear," she said. "Why don't you move it in now?"
So Bob did. That meant one conversation was ended. "Mom," I began. "Remember when you invited Terry for dinner?"
"Don't worry, dear, I'm not about to forget." Great. That wasn't my worry.
"The thing is," I went on, "that I now think that this was a very bad idea. It was my idea, not yours. It was my mistake, and I'm going to correct it. So, I'll be calling him in a few minutes to withdraw the invitation."
"No, dear. That would be a mistake. Besides, it was my invitation and it stands." Great. Have you ever noticed, in stories about divorce, that children never fight for the custody of parents?
"Katherine," Jeanette said, "you know how much I respect your judgment. That is why your last decision surprises me." Mom looked at her. "I know that you want Vi to have the benefit of your judgment, but that can only last a few years longer. Then she'll have to act on her own."
"Now here is a case which won't ruin her life if she's wrong. She made her decision. You didn't get your judgment out of the air, you got it from making decisions and taking the consequences. She needs to do the same. I know you want to shelter her from the consequences, but that would be penny wise and pound foolish. She has to take consequences to learn."
Mother was trying to say something, but was too polite to interrupt a guest. Jeanette sailed right along. "Here is a situation where the consequences will fall on her. It is a situation where she made the decision. If she's wrong, the lessons will be worth the pain.
"And there is always the possibility that she's right. If you have the superior judgment, she has the better information."
"Then she can give the information to me," said Mother. On the other hand, I could commit hara kiri. I could always let Terry come and pretend everything was all right. The three choices were looking equally painful.
"If it's that kind of information," Jeanette said, "she certainly can. I'm certain that she would. But what if it's a gestalt? What if it's private information that would hurt Terry to have it known? What if she's promised secrecy on it?
"But that's not important. Probably you are right. In which case, Vi learns a lesson. Possibly you are wrong. What lesson does she learn then?"
Jeanette has an odd method of argument. In one of those horrible family conferences, she got permission to speak until finished. Then she said, "Let me examine this from a selfish standpoint. What's good for Jeanette?" I was a bit shocked. Brennans don't look at things from a selfish standpoint in family meetings.
Then she had gone on to argue that she would be better off having worked to put Bob through school than getting an education herself. She said, "I'd be far happier as a high- school-educated office worker married to a college professor than as a college-educated office worker married to a grad school drop-out." Maybe she would. Maybe the family could finish Bob's education before going broke while I was in school.
Now Jeanette was arguing that Mother should back my decision on the assumption that it was a mistake. Mother was thinking about it.
"Dear," she asked Jeanette, "are you sure that you don't know more than you are telling?"
"All right, dear," Mom said to me. "Go withdraw my invitation."
I got Terry's mother on the phone and exchanged Christmas wishes before she would call him. He was a lot less cheerful than she was. "Terry, about having you to the family dinner."
"I think, now, that it would be a real bad idea."
"Well, first of all, you set a condition on our continuing the relationship. It's not a condition that I feel that I can meet."
"It wasn't exactly a condition. It was an opinion." Terry had an audience. I was afraid that I might have one any second.
"And I had planned to introduce you to my brother and sister-in-law."
"I've met them."
"Only briefly, not sitting around a table for a couple of hours. And the thing is, I don't know how to introduce you. I knew yesterday morning. I don't know any more. You are a different person than I thought you were. You see us as having a different relationship than I saw it."
"Look Vi, I'm really sorry that what I said hurt you."
"Well it did hurt me. And I'm sorry about it, too."
"Uh, Vi. I didn't mention the invitation to my parents."
"After I got home, I thought that you might be mad."
"I think that 'hurt' was the better word." ("Crushed" was an even better word. Try "devastated.")
"We'll talk in school, okay?"
"Look, I have a Christmas present for you."
"I have one for you, too." Bought for the boy I loved.
"How about if I bring it over the day after Christmas. We can talk."
"Talk here?" I get privacy in my room, if that. I sure as hell am not going to invite him to my room. My parents wouldn't allow it if I tried.
"Or go for a drive."
"No. I might talk in your car in the driveway, though. Make it Friday. We'll be cooking on Thursday."
"Fine. Look, I have an audience. I love you."
"That's nice." Those were the cruelest words I have ever spoken to anyone.
"See you Friday." And he hung up. I did, too. Then I went to my room and cried. It was a little as if a friend had died. It wasn't Terry, it was the Vi that had believed in him.
I went back to the bodice-ripper. It went much better this time. Rolfe didn't give quite the payoff that Terry had given, but he was much safer. Mother called me to set the table, and Jeanette followed me to the kitchen. "You find, I'll carry," she said. We did it that way, with her following my lead in setting.
Dinner was a time of catching up, and we stayed around the table until nearly time for church. "Let's get this straight," asked Jeanette. "This service is carols, and Bob participates?"
"I'll sleep through the carols. Just wake me for the voting." The service is "Lections and Carols." Only Bob thinks that a pun on "elections" was ever funny. Which means that he thinks it is funny every year.
"Just hope, Jeanette," I said, "that Bob thinks you are a joke." This brought distraught looks from my parents. "Bob has never abandoned a joke."
"What ingratitude," Bob replied, "towards the man who taught you to stick out your tongue and touch your nose." The truth is that having a brother with a third-grade sense of humor was fun in the first two grades. It was embarrassing well before I got to junior high.
Jeanette was watching this as if it were an entertainment put on for her enjoyment. To a certain extent it was. We would still have been sparring in her absence, but it was great to have an audience who hadn't heard it all before.
We, even Bob despite the jokes, sang; we heard the story. Preparation was over, it was Christmas. Dad and Mom each offered a few people rides home in the van, separately. We turned out to be a tight fit, and Jeanette sat on Bob's lap. I sat beside them and felt like I was in some sort of magnetic field. Jeanette was definitely besotted again, and this time Bob was as well. The waves reaching me were only partly those of desire. When the second family was dropped off, I told Jeanette, "You can get off his lap now," before switching seats.
"No, I can't" she responded, but she did.
Mom and Dad shooed the rest of us off to bed. Stockings are as much a part of our Christmas as carols or the tree. I stripped and put on my nightie. Then I lay there with my ears twitching. The sounds from the next room were domestic rather than erotic for a while. Then Bob said, "I'll help." Jeanette murmured something too low for me to hear. Bob responded, "And a filthy mind is a terrible thing to waste." There was more movement before Bob said, "Are you sure?"
"I've had my foreplay," Jeanette replied. "I need you now." I pulled my nightie up to my neck while I listened to some stirrings.
"God, yes," said Bob. "You're absolutely drenched." She wasn't the only one. I stroked my groove. As the bed springs began to sing, I timed my strokes to theirs. "Love," Bob said on one stroke. "You," he said on the next. "Love, ... you. Love, ... you. Love. Love. Love, ... you."
Jeanette's response, at first, was a low humming. It was driven from her by every stroke. Then she started to say, "Oh, ... yes," with the strokes. Meanwhile, I was tickling my nipples with one hand and rubbing my clitoris with the other.
"Ah?" Jeanette was sounding tonal again. It was almost as if she were singing.
"Ohhh!" Some grunts from Bob and an irregular shaking of the bed. "Yesss!" That last word from Jeanette pushed me over. I think it would have done so if I hadn't been touching myself at all. It was the most satisfied sound possible.
I didn't hear what happened for a while.
"I do love you," said Bob, "desperately." I almost laughed aloud, and forgave Jeanette her smile. There were some confusing bed sounds and then murmurs too soft to hear.
I felt a little guilty, both for masturbating -- whatever mother says about natural -- and for eavesdropping. I felt much more jealous. Not only had Jeanette got more satisfaction in this one day than I have in the past two years, but she was falling asleep cuddled in the arms of the man she loved. On the other hand, that man was Bob. That night, however, I wanted a cuddle. I probably would have settled for Bob.
On the night before Christmas, I fell asleep thinking about neither what I would get in the morning nor what people would think about my gifts to them. I'm getting old.
My parents have the utterly ridiculous rule that we can't set our alarm clocks any earlier on Christmas than we do on school days. Nor can we go downstairs before they ring. Most Christmases I'm waiting in my robe when the clock goes off. This Christmas, it woke me.
I had the world's briefest shower, put on my nightie and robe, and grabbed the stockings for Mom and Dad. Twelve minutes after the ring, I met Bob on my way downstairs. He was coming up with two cups of coffee.
I let him pass, but the thought hit me. Were they going to make morning love on Christmas morning? I needn't have worried. They came down twenty minutes later. Bob got them coffee and then brought Jeanette her stocking before getting his own.
In our house, everybody gets the stockings, and Bob and I get one present, before breakfast. Jeanette was officially a child this year, too. Christmas breakfast is fancy. Then we get dressed and gather before passing out the rest of the gifts.
Somehow, there was mistletoe in all the doorways this year. Dad caught me once and Mother several times. She said, "Oh Russ"; but she didn't duck. Jeanette's idea of revenge for Bob's ambushes were ambushes of her own. There was a piece of mistletoe over the center of the couch, and Bob and Jeanette were seated there for opening of the packages. Before he sat, Bob got a cup of coffee for each of them.
Dad had warned me that Bob and Jeanette's tight budget wouldn't leave much room for Christmas shopping. I already understood that; sometimes Dad thinks that I'm a child. On my seventh birthday, my main present was a television for my own room; my main Christmas present that year was a VCR to go with it. My main present on my eighth birthday was a doll, a nice doll but not the equivalent. I threw the doll across the room, and one of her arms doesn't move right to this day. That was when I was eight, but parents never forget.
When I opened Jeanette and Bob's present, after the ritual shake to hear the rattle, the first thing I took out was the Bandaid box. "Just what I've always wanted," I said dramatically, "a box of nails." Then I unwrapped the other gifts. Bob lives in a university town. (Okay. University students do.) He'd bought me three used paperbacks which I probably couldn't find here. There was Hall's Primer on Freudian Psychology, Freud's own Psychopathology of Everyday Life, and Skinner's Science and Human Behavior.
I ran over to kiss him. This time, my thanks were genuine. I gave Jeanette a hug, too. She whispered, "Bob really did it."
"I know," I whispered back. "This is for other things." I noticed that her cup of coffee was nearly empty and Bob's looked untouched.
My next turn at Santa, I dug through the stack to find a neatly-wrapped package with no bows. (Jeanette had added the bows and stickers to everyone else's.)
Jeanette opened the box. I stood by her and gathered up the wrappings. Inside was another wrapped box. Inside that was another wrapped box, which was empty. I felt the wrappings as she handed them to me. When she had properly thanked Bob for the quality of air that he had given her, I handed her one piece of wrapping paper. She found the envelope taped to it with no further prompting. "Vacuum?" she asked. "Do you know what that verb means?"
Bob answered, "I love you so much that I will explore the most arcane examples of new technology for you." Then they kissed. The coffee cups caught my eye. Bob's was empty, Jeanette's was half full.
Her gift to him was hanging on the tree in a plain envelope. When he opened it, the look on his face was as disturbing as the creak of their bed springs. "You darling," he whispered. Then he put the paper back in the envelope and put it in his pocket. You don't have to hit me over the head with a two-by-four. I'm not sure that I approve of sexual favors as Christmas gifts, but it was the only gift that year which got more appreciation than his to me.
As Bob and I get older, the gifts become fewer, but there is more of a sense of "What did you get?" rather than "What did I get?" Every year the tree takes longer. It was nearly time for Jeanette and Bob to go to her parents' house, and we hadn't had the poetry yet. We put off the Dylan Thomas record, and Dad read us "King John's Christmas."
Dad drove them while Mom fixed lunch.
I got my presents together and finished the list of who gave what.
Given the choice between brooding and reading, I read from lunchtime until Jeanette and Bob got back. Her brother Greg had driven them and came in. He was a naval lieutenant JG, "equivalent to the army rank of colonel, sir." He was wearing his uniform, as he had at the wedding.
A real charmer, he referred to Mother and me as "sisters." Now, my mother is an attractive woman who takes care of her looks; I sometimes envy her style. I can pass for twenty when I make the effort, which I had not that night. But Mom and I do not look like sisters. He called me "Ma'am," as he did Mother. Dad was "Sir," Bob, he called by name. Jeanette was sometimes "Sis" but "Twerp" more often than not. I think neither he nor Jeanette noticed. More surprisingly, Bob didn't blink an eye.
Half an hour into his visit, Jeanette abruptly said, "Greg, Vi, can I talk with you in the kitchen?" We both followed her. "Look guys, this is practice, right?"
"Why Twerp, what do you mean?" asked Greg.
"Vi, here has been through enough problems with your gender this week. She needs to know that your flirting is simply practice."
"I was just being friendly," said Greg, his southern accent nearly disappearing. "If Vi ever needs the attention of a suave naval officer, however...."
"We'll ask you for the name of one." Jeanette was being unfair. Greg was suave. He was about as sincere as a concession speech, but he was suave. He returned to the living room and the conversation.
"I wasn't about to succumb," I told her.
"Good. He's really a nice guy. Follow your mother's lead and wallow in it. Just don't believe it."
"I had wondered why his accent is so much more southern than yours."
"Served two years in San Diego. They thought he had a southern accent, so he developed one for social purposes." Jeanette does have a southern accent. So do Bob and I, according to my cousins.
"How did the dinner go?" I asked.
"We survived. You holding up?"
"With all the books that you gave me? I'm doing fine."
We had a brief hug and went back to join the rest.
The conversation had moved to Jeanette's family and their resistance to the marriage. "The question in my mind," Mom asked Greg, "was why your parents went all out on a wedding when they wouldn't put anything into Jeanette's education afterwards. If they thought that this marriage wouldn't work, they should want their daughter prepared to support herself."
"Ma'am, you think a marriage works if it makes the couple happy."
"Well," Mom allowed, "there are other considerations. I don't see where those apply. Anyway, we suggested that we cut our guest list in half and that saving be passed on to the kids. We were even turned down on that."
"Our mother wanted the guests of the president of Brewster Equipment at that wedding. She put an awful lot of effort into her daughter, and that wedding was almost the only payback she will ever get. There are kids in this town who will never leave, and kids who will never come back. Bob was transparently the latter at eighteen, let alone today.
"Jeanette will never carry mother to the social peak. But that wedding, at least, is one piton holding her to her present position."
"Do adults really treat social rank so seriously?" asked Dad.
"Adults, alleged adults, play the Hot Stove League, Sir. They treat it seriously. There are people living today who remember when ladies didn't have any other game but social status. I don't blame mother for playing, but for taking out her frustrations on her family."
The subject changed to his memories of young Jeanette. Greg was charming again, then he stopped himself in mid-sentence. "As much as I'm enjoying this," he said, "it's time for me to return to the little house of horrors." When we all saw him out, I happened to be standing under the mistletoe. He only kissed my cheek, but the hug was warm.
We stay-at-homes had supper. Jeanette had a glass of ginger ale, and Bob a small plate, to participate in the supper. We talked until yawns started. Then it was time for "A Child's Christmas in Wales." Jeanette had not heard it before, and we all -- I think -- switched our attention to the newest member of the audience when That Voice ended. Minutes after the record was back in its jacket, she shook herself. "Beautiful," she said. Bob hugged her.
"Glad you're a Brennan?" he asked.
"Delighted now. I knew there was a payoff for the last six months of suffering." Jeanette was almost purring. Bob just hugged her again. Not even Mother reacted to her words.
"I love you, Mrs. Brennan," said Bob. Mother reacted to those words. Well, she addresses everybody as "dear."
"I love you, Mr. Brennan." They didn't look like they could spend ten more minutes in public.
"Thanks for the books, you two," I said. "I think I'll get back to Skinner now." I figured that preceding them upstairs would look more innocent than following them, and I normally spend the vacation reading in bed, anyway.
As I'd expected, Bob and Jeanette came upstairs very soon after I did. I waited for them to begin. I was lying under the covers with my nightie already up to my neck, but they were nowhere near as ready as I was. It seemed to take them forever. "You really liked it?" Jeanette asked.
"It was better than my birthday because I didn't have to ask."
"Well, the tables were reversed then."
"I will be yours to command."
"I have to wait till then to command?" Her tone was teasing.
"Well, you might try seduction until then."
"I don't know how to do that, why don't you teach me?" I had to muffle my laugh in the pillow. Bob sounded like he'd found a better place to muffle his.
There was a period of silence. Then she said, "My, that was seductive. Is there more? ... Are you going to kiss the other one, as well? ... Let me try.... They do stand up, does that show that I'm being properly seductive?"
"No more lessons," Bob said, "until you pay tuition."
"Well, if that's the tuition, I'll have to get under the covers. Are seduction lessons possible horizontally?"
"Only if you are taking it for grad credit." The rocking chair took about five rocks, and the bed settled under their weights.
"Hey, it's cold," Jeanette said a good deal more loudly.
"Press against me."
"You're cold, too."
"That's why you should press against me," Bob said in his explaining-the-obvious voice. "It'll warm me up."
"Someday I want a list of the things which don't warm you up. It would be shorter."
"The only thing about you that doesn't warm me up is your mother."
"Among the strengths of the Spanish Inquisition...." They laughed together. Then there was a period when I couldn't hear. I gave up and went back to the wall, putting on robe and slippers on the way.
"Please don't," said Bob, "I want this to last." I still couldn't hear what Jeanette was saying, though she was saying something. The bed moved a bit. "Is that okay," asked Bob.
"Lovely. You like this, don't you?"
"It is something special." Bob was crooning. "There in the tent in the forest, with your back grinding into my front, you had your first orgasm with me in you. That was wonderful. Even among our times, that was special. I'll remember it always."
"My husband is a hopeless.... Oh, yes. Just like that." What "like that" was, I could not guess. I used my imagination, however, and my hands. I pictured them lying in bed, both facing the wall, with her bottom pressed into his lap. I pictured him moving back and forth with the rhythm of the creaking bed springs. My imagination, already having removed the bed clothes, turned Jeanette into one of those medical illustrations. I saw the penis moving back and forth in her vagina. I was rubbing myself while I listened.
"Love. I can't," Bob gasped. The creakings speeded up. He grunted.
"Oh, Bob!" Jeanette was nearly screaming. Her cries after that sounded muffled. My fingers flew across my little clitoris and took me to my own orgasm. I grabbed a Kleenex as I crept to bed. Wiping off my hands and between my legs, I decided to sneak into the bathroom for more thorough cleaning after the lovebirds were safely asleep.
That decision was still firm in my mind when I woke to a sunlit room. I did shower and clean up. I also put on a new nightie. Other appetites had become more important than hunger for breakfast. Ten minutes later, I heard Bob leave the room and return.
"Coffee," said Jeanette, "I knew that there was a reason to get married." Then later she said in a much lower voice, "Not a reason to marry a Brennan, though."
"Sorry, gal. Do you want me to empty the pot and make it to your strength?"
"That would be greedy. So, give me your cup and let me be greedy in secret."
"Are you willing to pay the price?"
"Eager. Just let me drink it first.... Let's be fast, though. I feel that I'm not pulling my weight."
"Everybody loves you greatly, or -- in one case -- dearly. They aren't counting how many meals you help with. But, if the lady wants a quickie...."
"Not that quick. I have to take care of things." There was a pause while I heard the shower.
"Slugabed," she said when she came back.
"I'll get up. Want to try the rocking chair?"
"Too nice a chair for a quickie. I guess that I have to join you in bed."
"Mmmm nice, all that clean skin."
"It's supposed to be a quickie. You can't taste it all."
"'Pardon me, Mom. May I borrow your sous-chef? There are parts of my wife that haven't been kissed this morning.'"
"You wouldn't!" Yes, he would. She should have learned about Bob before marrying him.
"No. Never bet with you." Maybe she had learned about Bob.
"Compromise. I'll start at the knees."
"Oh you!" Jeanette was laughing. Bob made a couple of smacking sounds. Then there was a long pause during which the bed shook a little, but I could hear almost nothing else. I was playing with my nipples and trying to picture them.
Once again, I gave up and crept to the wall.
"Oh," said Jeanette. "Ah!" ... "Love." ... "Unh." ... "Please no!"
"Ouch," Bob said. "But you're so close."
"I know, and I want my husband in me. Cover me up and hold me."
There were irregular bed noises then Bob said, "Oh darling."
"There you are," Jeanette said. I could picture them now. I licked a finger and put it in my groove.
"Here we are," Bob responded. "One body." The bed began its regular rhythm. My finger matched it.
"Ah," said Jeanette, "Ahhh." Then "Oooooohh!" Again she sounded a pure tone. "Bob. Bob. Bob!" Two strokes later, the bed sounds stopped. The memory, however, was enough. I brought myself to orgasm, remembering those sounds of completion. I was leaning against the wall when Jeanette spoke again.
"I will." Bob sounded smug.
The bed resumed its singing. I didn't have the strength to do anything but listen. The pace seemed slower this time. I took a few seconds, and the risk of a creaking floor, to grab my clothes. The bed was continuing at its slow pace when I got back. Soon, I heard Bob softly calling, "Love. You. Love. Please." The speed increased. Then Bob said, "Love I can't hold...." He started to grunt.
"Oh, yes," Jeanette answered. "Oh Bob!" The bed shook.
I dressed in the silence. "Love you," said Bob.
"Love you. Oh, dearest, stay inside for a minute." He stayed inside (the room, at least) while I tiptoed downstairs and put on my shoes.
Tonight's dinner was a feast, and Mom was already in the kitchen. I cooked my own bacon and eggs. Dad had left, but I was on breakfast duty for the others.
Mom talked to me while she worked. I wasn't supposed to interrupt, "Listening to you takes thought, dear." She mostly retold stories but interspersed that with comments on why she was cooking things this way. The stories could be from her third grade classroom, her time in her mother's house, or stories her grandmother told about her ancestors.
She started on one of my favorites. "Bob was five, and disturbed already that I had stopped picking him up. He was a little jealous. He came around, however, when you could track him with your eyes. He would do something silly, like spin around until he fell down, and you would watch from the car seat and crow. Your father would come home from those trips, give me a kiss, pick up Bob and spin him -- you don't think that silly streak is genetic do you? -- then he would go look at you in the crib or wherever and grin. You two spent the longest times just looking at each other. Then he'd get into decent clothes," (Mother meant something comfortable, rather than the business suit that he traveled in) "and pick you up. For the rest of the weekend, I got to hold you while I was feeding you, period. I'd be talking to him and he'd turn his back, not because he'd stopped listening... Have Jeanette and Bob come down?"
"I just fixed Bob's plate."
" ...but so you could see what Mommy was doing. Disconcerting all the same. In those days, dear, he was the one with hair. Once your Grandmother Brennan and Gramma Grant were.... "
A little later, Bob came back to put the empty plate and silver in the dishwater. He took a new set over to me and whispered, "Two sunny, three bacon." Now five eggs on a morning is not a personal record for Bob, but I thought two plates excessive. Then I woke up.
Sure enough, Jeanette came in later carrying the plate. "Put me to work," she said to Mom.
"Can you peel potatoes, dear?" Mom asked.
"Sure. How many? Where?"
We got ourselves two workstations across from each other at the kitchen table. She peeled potatoes while I sliced carrots and filled celery.
"But really, dear," mother continued, "I always felt it looked much better when it grew out again. Doesn't Vi have lovely hair now, dear?"
"It's gorgeous," Jeanette answered. "But I can't claim to have noticed the change."
"Oh, the change was before you knew her." It was when I was two, to be terribly technical. Having one of her rhetorical questions answered threw Mom enough off track that she switched topics to the reasons for having ordinary old-bread stuffing like (her) Grandmother Olsen, instead of fancy chestnut stuffing like (her) Grandmother Grant.
Does this make Mom sound a little dizzy? Not to cooks. You put together a full feast complete with both turkey and pies (a neat trick in a one-oven kitchen). You won't have your full attention on the conversation, either. Meanwhile, I've made every dish at least twice under her supervision; and I know my family history (maternal side).
Jeanette worked quickly and wasted almost nothing. I watched her hands when I didn't need to watch mine. At 12:20, I got out the leftovers and lunch stuff. Bob used the two left- over waffles to make cheese sandwiches.
Mom chased Jeanette and me away in the early afternoon. We were to return, dressed up, just before dinner.
Jeanette beat me down. She was watching pots while Mom changed her clothes. I had the table set before Mom came back. Mother dished out, and we carried in. All the work having been done, Dad and Bob appeared and assisted us frail ladies into our chairs. As we bowed our heads for the grace, Dad asked, "Perhaps our guest...."
"Sir," Bob interrupted, "I see no guests at this table."
Dad looked at Jeanette.
"That's the way I would prefer it, sir," she said.
"That's the way it is. Then perhaps our prodigal would say the grace." So Bob did. He sounded a lot like Dad, too. Bob can produce a nearly convincing imitation of an adult when he wants to. The way Dad handled the prayer was typical of him. Bob was being honored, "prodigal" or not. Dad carved, everything was served and praised. Then came time for conversation.
"This isn't a Christmas present," Dad began while the rest of us had our mouths full, "but a family council decision. From now on, books and fees, as well as tuition, are our responsibility."
"That's very kind of you, of you three," said Jeanette.
"It isn't kindness," said Mom. "It's reality. I hope you two had fun trying to live within that budget." Mom is a great believer in practical education.
Everybody had a few details of the past six months that they had forgotten to cover the night before. After that, we told stories from further back. One of them was about my short-lived ambitions for a basketball career. "Well, I was the tallest kid in the whole fifth grade," I defended myself. "I didn't know that the growth spurt would slow down."
"That's why I always encourage her," Bob said. "I tell her that I've seen another millimeter growth in the last year." Great encouragement. That's four inches a century.
"Vi has grown," Jeanette said. "It's just growth that a brother isn't supposed to notice." That is how nice people behave. My breasts are now larger than hers. Instead of being jealous, like I was of her, she was glad for me. I blushed for two reasons.
"Has nothing to do with being a brother," Bob said. "I only notice the looks of one woman."
"Does that mean that we can throw away those boxes of magazines in the garage?" mother asked in her sweetest tone.
"Please don't," said Jeanette. "The nicest thing I've heard about Bob all year is that he left some of them behind."
Bob, demonstrating the difference between a strategist and a tactician, abandoned that lost cause. "So Vi reads a kid's book about Freud six months later and decides to be a psychiatrist. We all laugh behind our hands and wait for the next passion. We're still waiting, but we've stopped laughing."
"We even thought," says Dad, "of getting her head examined for having that odd goal. Never could quite decide how to express the problem to the psychiatrist, though."
"Poor Vi," said Jeanette. "Did they put you through a lot of that?"
"Horrible jokes," I answered. "Bob called me 'Sigmund' off and on. But nobody ever suggested that I couldn't be a psychoanalyst. I had to figure out by myself that I would never make the NBA, for that matter."
"Like teachers," said Mom, "parents are there to tell children that they can do things they wrongly think they can't. Let the children find out for themselves what they can't do. So many of my fellow teachers think that they build self esteem by telling their students that mediocrity is good enough. None of my children ever worked up to capacity." I think that she meant none of her third graders, but she may have included Bob and me.
Jeanette reached over and held Bob's hand. Bob did what eating he could with his left hand.
"Now," Dad said, "Bob's ambition to be a lawyer seemed perfectly reasonable. He could be paid for arguing. Better than a mattress tester."
"It was perfectly reasonable, sir," Jeanette said. "So was his decision to switch to history."
Jeanette had found her name for Dad. Now, when he tells me that I'm not enough help to Mom, or that "Getting home on time is your responsibility, young lady. All that I can do to Terry is to tell him that he cannot date my daughter," even I call Dad "sir." During one of Bob's more argumentative stages, Mom suggested that he use it to show respect to Dad while still disagreeing. Bob still uses it more than "Dad." Jeanette might have the same problem with the word "Dad" that she had with "Mom." She had no problem calling him by the same term Bob used.
Neither she nor Bob seemed to give the conversation the attention it deserved. We all took the hint and dug in for a few minutes.
"Jeanette," I started off, "You've hit the job market most recently. Do you have any hints for summer job seekers."
"I'm the worst person in the world for that. I worked in The Pharmacy," her family's drug store, "but I never filled out an application. Never filled out a W4, either."
"Seriously, Vi," Bob put in, "the first job that you should think about is babysitter."
"Hear me out. After umpteen years, you have your office. You have, however, neither a gray beard or a Viennese accent. People are going to have you pigeon-holed, and kids are one of those pigeon holes. It's no problem that they think that two X chromosomes makes you an expert on kids. It is a problem if that is your sole qualification.
"Even before that. When you study Ericsson, it might be nice to have a few real kids in your head to hold up against his theories. Now I watched a baby grow up...."
"And I watched a baby not grow up." That opening was too good for me to ignore.
"But that doesn't count towards understanding normal childhood." You can't get Bob's goat by attacking his immaturity. He glories in it.
"Think about it, Vi," Jeanette broke in. "At least you'd have job references when you apply for regular work." She didn't sound happy.
"What's wrong, dear?" Mom asked.
"I can't help comparing your family with what Dave did to me."
"Dave wasn't the only one," said Bob. "Can't we skip it?"
"No. We can't," said Dad. "You've said it yourself. Jeanette is part of this family. You can't decide what she'll say."
"We'll both tell it," said Jeanette. "Well, I had been going with Bob for a while when he showed up one night driving a car. Dad said 'No way.' To be fair to Dad, he did drive us to that dance. You remember that controversy. Freshman and sophomore is one thing, fourteen and sixteen is another. Aside from the new license thing. Then Greg, bless his pointy little head, heard about it. 'A kid with a new driver's license lets his parents drive him to dances just so he can take a particular date? Must be serious.' Nobody else had noticed that. So Dave, who never had a protective thought before or since, decided he had an excuse to shove around a sophomore. Bob?"
"I'm leaving school Friday afternoon. This kid that I think is a senior, ..."
"He was," said Jeanette. "He was just a senior the next year, as well."
"Senior walks up to me and asks, 'Bob Brennan?' I agree. 'Well you'd better keep your paws off my sister's tits.' Jeanette had never introduced us. I'd never seen him at home. It took minutes to get straight that the sister in question was Jeanette. At this point in history, Jeanette and I had one kiss per date, goodbye, with Mom or Dad watching.
"Anyway, being a wise ass in those days, ..." Dad cleared his throat. "I decided to annoy this bully. 'Wait to worry about that until she has some tits,' I said. He swung at me, I blocked it, and a teacher intervened. I thought it was the end of the incident."
Jeanette resumed. "Dave repeated about 300 percent of the conversation to the dinner table. I held back my tears until I got to my room, and then cried all night. I had recently graduated from a training bra. My entire cheering section had just abandoned me. That weekend was hell."
"I come to school wondering if this hood was really her brother." Bob took up the tale. "She comes to school wondering how I could have betrayed her. One minute into the conversation, I see what I had done. I start to grovel. What can I say? 'I really think that you have nice breasts,' isn't going to win me any prizes either. We finally patched it up.
"Some months later, Dad gives lecture twelve-A: 'A man never demeans his women-folk.' I stand there mentally kicking myself."
"I wish he had given it a little earlier," said Jeanette.
"He had. And a lot earlier. And later."
"The jawbone is so arranged," Dad said, "that opening the mouth closes the ears." He's said that before, too. "I'm glad that you have forgiven him. He didn't deserve it. If I had known it then, he'd have had a turn over my knee."
"I was the injured party, sir, and I administered his punishment." We all waited for details. "Which was private."
We moved to happier stories. My family enjoys talk as much as food. A family feast sort of eases into a talkfest with occasional nibbles. As one story was dying out, Jeanette touched Bob. She nodded upward when he looked at her. They rose together. I thought that they had some appointment with friends. Instead they started stacking dishes. Bob moving left and Jeanette right.
Mom tried to protest, but they ignored her. They took the dishes into the kitchen and we heard a rattle. Then we heard nothing for about three more minutes. Jeanette looked a little mussed on her next trip. After two more, she returned to the table. "Does everybody want to keep their glasses?" At nods, she sat down. "I cook," she said calmly, "Bob washes." Then she rejoined the conversation.
It was beautifully done. They were not guests but part of the family with contributions to make. They were, however, their own family with their own task assignments. After a minute, I surprised myself by getting up and going into the kitchen. I helped Bob with the dishwasher and rescued Great-Grandma's plates from the general stack. I washed those by hand. They were Mother's treasures, due to be passed on to me. Bob, certainly, was no fit recipient.
Then it struck me that Jeanette was. Jeanette, moreover, was a housewife. Was I ever going to be? I planned on college, med school, and residency. Then I would be very busy. Would I give family dinners like Mom's? Would I have a family, husband and children to gather around my table on holidays to feast off these plates? Was I fooling myself about Terry? I could picture myself as Mrs. Randolph. I could picture myself as Dr. Brennan. I could not picture myself as Dr. Randolph, or even as Dr. Brennan married to Terry.
I remembered something that Mom had once said to Jeanette. "We haven't a thing against you, dear. You are a wonderful girl whom we wish Bob had met in college." High school sweethearts get married all the time. How many of these couples send the wife through medical school? And why hadn't this struck me while I was centering my life around Terry?
Bob and I finished our jobs together. I guessed Jeanette's plan. "Bob," I said just as he reached the doorway.
"Wha, mph," he said. The second was because Jeanette had ambushed him while I had him distracted.
"I just wanted to warn you to look out for the mistletoe." The doorway being occupied, I waited. It took a while.
The only light in the living room was the tree. I shut off the dining room light on my way through and passed the other two. Bob retaliated in the next doorway. Mom and Dad had appropriated the couch and its mistletoe. I took a chair and wondered how far they would have let Terry and me go in this house of lovers. Really, though, Mom and Dad would not have cuddled in front of Terry. Bob sat in the big recliner, and Jeanette sat on his lap. I felt left out.
The lights from the tree bewitched us into the past and "remember when." The first apology to Jeanette brought sincere requests for more. "Bob never tells me this stuff."
Dad cannot live without the evening news. A little before eleven he asked if anyone minded his turning on the set. Bob and I knew that we were not anyone. Jeanette agreed that the external world deserved some attention. Mom excused herself to head upstairs. I followed her and asked to talk. We went into her and Dad's room.
"Have you ever considered leaving the good china to Jeanette?" I started.
"No, dear, what makes you think I had?"
"Maybe you should. I was washing them."
"Thank you, dear, Bob means well but...."
"I was thinking the same thing. You were going to leave them to me, and that ape wouldn't appreciate them anyhow. Then I realized that Jeanette would appreciate them. And I realized that she had a household and wondered whether I ever would. Then I thought of all the years ahead. Then I saw that I had planned two futures for myself and that I couldn't have both."
"Oh, my poor dear. I wasn't going to mention that yet." I laughed. She was so sympathetic about it, but clearly had seen my blind spot long ago. "I'm glad that you can see the funny side, dear. But really, it's as foolish to choose too early as too late.
"Do you think that I'm going to outgrow my interest in psychoanalysis? Is that another of my blind spots?"
"If you continue to want this career, then your whole family will back you. I sometimes worry that you have cut yourself too narrow a path or that you have set yourself up for a fall. What I fear is that something else will attract you, and you will tell yourself that pursuing that will mean that you were foolish to pursue this. Your brother thinks that you have committed to one school of treatment without knowing enough about the others. Sort of like cheering for the home team."
"I know, that's why he slipped Skinner in with the two Freudian books." Mom smiled at the idea of an anti-Freudian slip.
"But," she continued, "the real crunch comes before your career plans hit. We still think that we can cover tuition for two kids out of income and a carpet. We well might have to go more than three years, though. There is a market for dishes like my grandmother's. Then we go the second mortgage route."
"Oh Mom!" I started to cry.
"But, dear, you were willing to give them up five minutes ago. I never knew that they meant so much to you."
"They mean so much to you."
"Dear, the day your father and I decided to go for togetherness instead of the brass ring," she meant stepping off the corporate fast track, "that day I chose having my husband with me above anything else that I could have. I swore then that I would never put anything else ahead of you kids.
"We have each other. You are going out into the world. You will go out with everything that we can give you. It's still less than a division head would have given you painlessly. Infinitely less than would have come to the children of a CEO. We have our present happiness, you see. We need to give you the best chance at yours."
"Oh Mom." We hugged for a while rather than say anything. "A dad does count for something, too."
"Yes, dear, though there have been enough times when you would have traded either of us for a doughnut. A husband, however, is in a different category from a father. We picked what was best for us, you two get anything left over. If he dies tomorrow, I've had my share." She had forgotten for a moment that if he were to die tomorrow, the money problem was solved.
We talked some more. Finally I asked, "Do you really want to make Jeanette happy?"
"She seems happy to me."
"That's for real," I said. "Do you still want to tell me that sex stays as good as you get older?"
"The physical side does. I had forgotten about the 'Oooo, it's legal' syndrome." I had to giggle. "But what could I do to make Jeanette happier?"
"Tomorrow, when it is time to set the table, call her and tell her."
"You aren't trying to get out of work?"
"I'll come. She doesn't know where to get things, anyway. But can't you see how she wants to be part of this family?" Dad came in at that point, said something apologetic, and ducked back out. I left immediately. "I'm sorry, Dad. It is your room."
Either Jeanette and Bob were finished when I got to my room, or they had never begun. All I got through the wall was chit- chat.
"Well, said Bob, "I would have told you before the next time that I prefer dark meat. It was a lovely feast."
"Now where did I get the idea that you were a breast man?"
"In preference to thighs? I have a question, too."
"Uh huh?" Jeanette sounded sleepy.
"What was your punishment for my lapse."
"You never unhooked an A-cup bra from me. If you couldn't notice the breasts that I had then, you could wait for them to get a lot bigger."
"You mean that you'd be wearing a bra right now if you hadn't grown?"
"Would you have wanted me if they hadn't grown?"
"Sure. I love your sexy shape, but I loved you first."
"For that, I may just forgive you."
"How about for that and a song?"
"Can't be silent if I sing. How about:
"Bob loves Jeanette, Bob loves Jeanette...." I crept away. Bob's singing has that effect.
Jeanette thought that dying was the best way to lose her love for Bob. For Bob!! Mom felt that having her husband with her was all she deserved for a successful battle through a tough life. Dad must have felt the same way about her, they don't make that sort of decision alone. Bob loved Jeanette more than her boobs. I had seen those magazines they joke about; Bob cares about boobs.
I was surrounded by examples of love. Terry was coming over the next day. I didn't think that we met the standard. In a way, it would have been better if we had broken up. I still liked Terry. Jeanette was right, he was a nice guy suffering from an oversupply of hormones. I could understand that; my glands were pushing me, too. I liked him, I had been in love with him, I liked how I felt in his arms. However, when I thought of life after Terry, I thought of social drawbacks. I failed the Jeanette test. Heck, I probably failed the Bob test.
I was mourning a relationship that I had thought I had, but which had never really existed. Mourning an illusion is probably bad practice for a future psychoanalyst. Sleep, on the other hand, was a real need.
I awoke early to strange sounds from outside. I looked out the window on a coating of snow. More than an inch had fallen, and the lawn looked puffy and magical. Traffic, however, had practically stopped. It was two years since the last snowfall, which had closed the schools. I got on my robe and slippers and crept downstairs. Mom was up and was mixing pancake batter. Dad was upstairs showering. I started the coffee and then made the second batch of pancakes. Mom got to sit across from Dad for breakfast instead of cooking. Dad got two kisses on his way out the door.
"Why thank you dear," Mom said when the van had driven out of our sight.
"I was awake. I'll just eat and go back to bed," I replied. I did that after looking again at the white world. I finished the Patricia Phillips, dozed, went back to the psychology book, and dozed again. There were stirrings in the next room.
"Coffee!" Bob said a little later, "and look out the window."
There was a long pause before Jeanette said, "It's snowing!"
"Finished snowing, but the world is covered with the stuff. We're snowed in and there is nothing to do but go back to bed until spring."
"We could go out an throw snowballs. When was the last time you threw a snowball?"
"Back when I had that bed to myself. Staying in bed wasn't as much fun then."
"You claimed that you had Jeanette Jacobs there with you." Whoops. I would have noticed. She, having been Jeanette Jacobs, would have noticed, too.
"Every night." Okay. "But Jeanette Brennan is warmer, and more imaginative, and stays around in the light, and is more...."
"Fertile," said Jeanette. Doors opened and closed. After a long pause, they opened and closed again. "What are you doing on that side?" she asked.
"Merely keeping it warm for my beloved."
"Mmm. Even your hands are warm."
"Did you really lie here and dream of me?"
"Real dreams and day dreams. Dreamed of holding you like this."
"Did you dream of kissing here?"
"Mmm, yes. Mmmm, yes!"
"And holding here?"
"Oh yes love. Every night! Oh you are so sweet."
"And of my holding you like this."
"Not really. Never in my wildest.... Oh Darling, sweet, sweet."
"And dream of my saying 'yes' as you climbed over me?"
"Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes to you, and yes to this, and Yesss!"
The bed took up a slow rhythm, and Jeanette's humming- moaning matched it. My strokes were in time with them. Bob began to say "Love, love," in the same tempo. I thought that we would all arrive together.
"Vi, dear," Mom called up the stairs. "Are you up?" Not quite, but I was close. The sounds in the next room stopped. I didn't want them to know that I was there.
"Phone call for Vi!" My mother practices on a grade-school playground. One small house can't compete.
"Coming Mom! Give me a minute to find my robe." I hope that I gave a good imitation of being roused from sleep. I went down the stairs in my slippers and got the phone. It was Terry.
"The streets are clearing up Vi. Is it all right if I come over at one?"
"What time is it now?"
"Eleven thirty. Is it a bad time?" Well, yes it was; but I didn't want to tell him why.
"No. I was just reading and dozing. You know." He didn't know. Terry reads, it's one of the things we have in common; but when he reads, he sits down and works at it. I lie down and wallow in the print.
"Do you want me to make it later?" Was it going to be the end of us as a couple? Then next month sounded better. No. I wanted the decision to be over.
"One o'clock is fine. But be careful driving."
"Okay then. I love you, Vi."
I hung up. I didn't want to deal with the last sentence.
I helped Mom set up for lunch. We sure had a lot of leftovers, considering that Bob had been in the house for three days.
Bob wandered in, fully dressed. I served him his first helping of pancakes and went up to dress. I didn't see Jeanette until I came down again. She looked a little guilty. As the guilty party, I managed to look quite innocent. Mom and I had lunch, Jeanette had breakfast, Bob had both.
I let time get away from me, and was surprised when Terry beeped.
By the time I got my coat and Terry's present, Bob was holding the driver's side door for me. As I got in, he said something about a railroad car. Then he ran back, coatless in the chill.
"What are you doing on that side?" I asked Terry.
"He ordered me to. What have you told him?"
"Absolutely nothing, but I haven't exactly been a little ray of sunshine the last few days. If I'd told him, he'd have invited you out of the car."
"Look, Vi, I didn't mean it."
"You did mean it. The only question is, 'Do you still mean it?' Maybe you want to think about that."
"I have thought about it. I want you to be my girl. Is it wrong to want you in the other way, too?"
"Absolutely not." His head jerked up at that. "Do you want me in your arms? Do you want to lie naked next to me touching from head to toe? Do you want to kiss me all over? Do you want to cradle me with your arms while I cradle you with my legs?" I sneaked a look at his lap, but the car coat covered everything. I was getting turned on. "Do you want to help me to orgasm at the same time you have your own? Women have orgasms, too, you know. Do you want to lie holding me and being held, in a warm glow of love, afterwards?" Those bodice-rippers were coming in handy.
"Or," I continued, "do you want to check one more box on your macho list? Driver's license? Check! Screwed first girl? Check!
"Which is it, Terry?"
"God, Vi." He had a point. He'd hurt me deeply, and I was taking revenge. "Do I want to make love? Yes. And not just for some macho check-list. People have a drive to do it, Vi. There wouldn't be any people if it wasn't a drive.
"Do I want to make love to you? More than just doing it? Very much yes. You're special to me. I thought I was special to you. I thought that we were headed in that direction. Maybe we were. Maybe I blew it. I dunno."
Terry had always been honest with me. It shook me that he still was. I had had one picture of Terry, and he'd shattered it. I'd built another picture, and he shattered it again. I think that my answer to "I only want you in the whole world; I'm willing to wait forever for you to decide," would have been to break it off right then. Maybe not. But one point needed correction.
"Look, we were headed in two directions. Forget us. Every couple in school is headed in two directions.
"You're right. We were getting closer to bed. We were also getting closer to a wedding." He looked surprised, then started to speak. I pressed my finger on his lips. He kissed it and shut up. Either of us could do that to finish an idea before the other speaks. Terry was still in the same relationship, but it was too late for me to stop. "I don't want a stupid promise. That isn't my point.
"You can take me to every dance from now to the Senior Prom. We can park and make out every night." Not if my folks had anything to say about it, but he got the point. "At the end of that time, I won't say to you, 'Where's my engagement ring?' That's the end of that path, but it's the end.
"By the same token, I can dance every dance with you. I can park in your car for hours. I can do everything-else-but. That doesn't mean that I'll take the last step.
"Neither is leading the other on. For that matter, you might propose, and I refuse. I might proposition and you refuse."
"Not very likely!"
"Not very likely, but boys have refused girls before. What I'm saying is that I'm not making any guarantees. I like what we were. I like you for that matter. I like you a little less than I did on Sunday, but not much less. But kissing you for x number of dates isn't a promise that I'll go to bed with you on the next, or even go one step further than I have.
"If that isn't good enough, then we aren't going steady. I still like you, and I like it that you're honest with me. I won't stop dating if you don't want to. You can also ask other girls. My mother will demand that I stop going steady if we need to save face that way." Terry looked up at that. "All I ask is that you be honest with me."
"I love you, Vi." No he didn't, but neither was he lying. He hadn't heard Jeanette. "I want to go steady with you. I want to keep what we had, even if it means that we don't go any further, even though that means that I don't go any further." What can you say to a guy like that?
"Terry, you are a very nice person. Let's go steady." He grinned at that. "Anyway, do you want your present now?" He handed me mine, and I handed him his. Mine was a very nice scarf, in excellent taste if not especially me. His was a cartridge that he had been wanting for his game machine. I looked at his face. "I have the receipt if you want to exchange it."
"No. I'll return the other. I haven't opened it yet." Okay, sometimes he lies to me, but only to be nice.
"The scarf is absolutely lovely." A snowball hit the car at that moment. Bob and Jeanette were having a snowball fight with what remained of the melting snow. "Keep your kiss brief. Bob seems to be in a protective mood."
He hadn't expected the kiss. It was nice, forgiveness rather than passion. Bob was staring straight at us. Passion seemed out of place.
I went inside and straight to my room. For some reason, the doll on my dresser caught my eye. It was the one I had thrown against the wall half my life ago. She had never been a favorite doll, partly because she always made me feel guilty. However, I could never quite bring myself to shut her away in a box or give her to be repaired and passed on to some poor kid. While the dolls that I had enjoyed most went those routes, she stayed on the dresser with her arm almost in its socket.
I looked out the window before collapsing on my bed. What had been magic frosting on the yard this morning had turned into tracked-over, patchy, slush.
Ten minutes later there was a knock on my door. "Do you want to talk, dear?"
"Come in." She sat where I patted the bed. I am too big to sit in Mom's lap, but my head fits there still. "Don't want to talk." She sat there with one hand on my forehead. So I finally said, "This is what Terry gave me."
"Why dear, that's beautiful."
"Terry has no taste."
"I think that this shows excellent taste."
"Did you ever buy Bob's presents to Jeanette?"
"I don't think so. That was a part of Bob's life that he kept very private. At first, we drove them to dances and movies; then I saw Jeanette about twice in two years. Heard about her, of course. 'I've got to watch the track meet, Jeanette's running,' and borrowing the car for dates. Anyway, Terry asked for advice about your present. Is that so awful?"
"It's not Terry. It's Jeanette."
"My dear, I thought you got along so well too."
"We do. But Jeanette's in love."
"Well, stop the presses!" Mom uses the funniest expressions some times.
"If Jeanette's in love, then I'm not." Which was a silly thing to say. If she's not in love, I'm certainly not.
"I wouldn't put it that way. You're in love with Terry. Jeanette loves Bob. It's different."
"Once you say that you're in love with him but don't love him, are you still in love?"
"I see the problem. Have you broken up with him?"
"No. We're going steady for now. There's no one I'd rather be with. I like Terry. He is really a nice guy."
"Well, the kids are out visiting their friends for a few hours. If you want company, I'll be writing thank-you notes."
I stayed in my room, reading and brooding until I heard Mom call, "Jeanette, dear, do you think that you might set the table?" That was not what I'd told her to say. I washed my face before going down. When I got to the kitchen Mom and Jeanette were hugging each other. It was just as well that Mom had changed the script; I wouldn't want dinner to get burned. Jeanette came out in time to set the last place. Afterwards, she dragged me into the living room.
"If I'm not intruding," she started. "Heck, I am intruding. If you want to tell, how did it go with Terry?"
"Fine. We are going steady for now."
"For your now, or for his now?" Jeanette has a way of cutting to the heart of a situation.
"For our now. I'm dealing with my third Terry. It's okay, I'm a Brennan, I prefer reality."
"Much as I love being a Brennan, I wouldn't list dealing with reality among the family's virtues. But I see what you mean. You know, I wouldn't love Bob if I thought he could sing."
"You love him because he can't sing?" And where did "unconditional" fit in there?
"No. No. No! Bob can't sing. If I thought he could, it wouldn't be love."
"Do you remember the first gift he bought you."
"I still have the bottle. It was perfume."
"No. I think he had only so much money and went for the prettiest or largest perfume package that it would buy. My mother poured it down the sink when she saw it among my things. I had to save the bottle from the wastebasket. I never forgave Mommy for that. It wasn't as if I had been going to wear it, you know. I would never have opened that gift and let it evaporate.
"Look, Vi, Terry isn't Bob. Violet isn't Jeanette. You have your own life to lead. It may be with Terry, it may be with somebody else. You may decide that you have priorities ahead of romance."
"Was I the last to see that?"
"That studying to be a psychoanalyst and high-school romance don't... don't...."
"I'm not sure that romance is incompatible with study, except you can't work at both at the same time. The other question is where the romance is going to lead. That is where the teeth bite."
"I can either be Dr. Brennan or Mrs. Randolph."
"Maybe. Or you can pull a Bob and decide for another career four years from now. Or you can become Mrs. Smith or Mrs. Jones. You have many possible futures. Sometime you'll have to close the doors on some in order to open the doors on others. Cross each of those bridges when you come to it."
"Have you been talking to Mom about me?"
"She said almost the same thing."
"That's the nicest thing that you could possibly say about me."
At this point we heard Bob coming downstairs. "Is anyone going to tell me why I played the heavy to that poor kid?" he asked us.
"No," said Jeanette.
"What did you say about railroad cars?" I asked.
"'Couldn't he find a railroad car?' Bob said. "I thought you guys were negotiating an armistice. Elephant's Child is going to dig and dig."
"Once upon a time," Jeanette said, "there was a man who promised his God to honor me. Since I have promised my sister to keep her secrets, my honor lies in their staying secret. To dig after those secrets is to dishonor me."
"Arrghh. You two are sisters?"
"Does that make this incest?" Her reaction to Bob's kiss passed from a surprise to an enthusiastic embrace. Jeanette was pressing herself against him. Being ignored, I moved to the side and glanced down. Squeezed between them was Bob's erection. I seriously considered finding some privacy. They parted a few inches.
"Nope," said Jeanette, "for incest, you'll have to wait till tonight." Bob laughed. Dad came through the door. It was time for dinner.
"What," I asked during dinner, "does an armistice have to do with railroad cars?"
Dad, rather than Bob, answered me. "The armistice of the First World War was negotiated in a sleeping car." I looked at Bob.
"Esoteric?" he asked.
"Very!" Jeanette said. Then we had to explain how the question had arisen.
Some time after dinner, Greg called up. He was heading back to his base and wanted to see Jeanette (and us) again. Dad invited him immediately. We all went to the entrance hall to greet him, and I happened to be standing in the doorway to the living room when he came in. He caught me under the mistletoe again. This time, his kiss was on the lips and lasted longer.
I offered Greg something to eat. He replied that he had just eaten but would take a cup of coffee if any were made. Jeanette giggled with Bob, but that was too common an occurrence to get anyone's attention. I brought him a cup.
Even in civilian clothes, he was as charming as before. Kiss or no, he still called me "Ma'am."
The conversation got back to his family.
"Now," Greg said, "Dad had the same conclusion from different premises. Jeanette was his girl. She was never going to leave him but stay and be the light of his old age. Also, he wanted The Pharmacy to stay in the family. They had finally seen that I was not coming home. If Dave so much as shows up on the payroll, the DEA will audit the prescriptions on a weekly basis. So Jeanette should have married someone with training to be a pharmacist."
"Aren't those goals," I ventured, "a little incompatible?"
"Ma'am, 'incompatible goals' are my father's middle names. When I was young, he caught the political bug and went all out supporting a man who was going to cut taxes, maintain the safety net, increase Pentagon spending and balance the budget. Four years later, with the debt doubled, he was nearly as enthusiastic for the second campaign which had the slogan, 'And this time I mean it.' Compatible goals are not one of his strengths."
Would he laugh as much at me for wanting to be two incompatible things? I hope not. I sat there, ignoring the conversation around me, playing with my problem.
"The Twerp," Greg was saying when I listened again, "is her own person. She isn't going to satisfy their dreams. Punishing her for what she isn't was vicious. And viciousness towards anyone but a declared enemy is stupid."
I thought again of the doll in my room. She wasn't a real person, but still I had been vicious towards her. I had reacted to what she wasn't. Was I treating Terry the same way? A little bit. If I would never want his penis in my vagina, and I didn't think I would, I had enjoyed his tongue in my mouth. I was a different person because of Terry, I had grown. If we didn't go much further together, I should treat him well for the good friend he had been. I shouldn't beat him over the head for what he wasn't. Greg was still talking when I reopened my ears.
"Now, my connection here is so tenuous that I'm less a visitor than an intruder..." Everyone denied that. "... but I feel more welcome here than I do in the house where I grew up."
"You do our house honor," said Dad.
"Sir, I'd rather drink coffee here!" At that point, Bob and Jeanette broke up, and our smooth guest looked flustered indeed.
Mother laughed. "I gather that my coffee doesn't achieve Naval quality."
"I'm not sure that 'Navy coffee' and 'quality' belong in the same sentence, Ma'am. It's possible that you brew coffee under Navy strength. I really meant to compliment the warmth of your welcome, and I stepped in it."
"We'll take the compliment as intended," said Mom. "Jeanette, why didn't you tell me?"
"People like it different strengths," said Jeanette. "Bob can't drink my strength coffee without drowning it in milk. Why should four people change to suit one?" She was being defensive. Guests don't express opinions as to how food should be prepared. Family members do.
"You know," I said slowly, "we have those vacuum jugs. You or Bob could pour what is in the pot into one jug. Then a fresh pot could go into another just for you." This was brilliant thinking for right off the top of my head, if I do say so myself. Of course, I had the day to figure it out; but nobody else knew that.
"That is thinking, Vi," said Bob.
"I'm glad somebody was," said Dad.
"Yes sir," said Bob.
Greg ended his visit. I happened to be under the mistletoe in the doorway again. Greg was a good kisser; sincerity is overrated. His hand flowed smoothly down my back, my arm moved slowly backward. Just as his hand reached my waist, my arm pushed it away. Jeanette gave a shrill whistle a second later. "Motion in backfield," she called. We broke apart, laughing. He put on his coat and left us.
"We were both practicing," I told Jeanette. She looked unrepentant. You'd think that she, of all people, would have more sympathy. It was my fifth kiss in four days, including one each from my father and brother. She'd had more than that before breakfast on Christmas.
Bob cracked a big yawn soon after. "My bedtime," he said. He and Jeanette went up the stairs.
I was about to follow when Dad called, "Vi." I looked at him. "The three of us haven't spent much family time this Christmas. There is a special on TV. Watch it and the news with your parents." I looked at him unbelieving. Dad has never suggested that I watch more TV. "Vi, sit here." He patted the cushion beside him.
"Yessir" I said as I sat.
The special included a lot of stupid cartoon characters. We weren't interacting, we weren't obviously enjoying the show. We were all sitting on one sofa looking at the flickering screen. After a while, another sound intruded on the TV's. It was a regular squeaking, but I couldn't identify it. "He did ask for the throw rug," Mom said.
"He also said that it was to warm their feet," Dad replied. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw them holding hands and looking at each other. Great. We were having family time watching a stupid cartoon, and they weren't even watching.
The comment about the throw rug clued me in. Dad and Mom had an armless rocking chair in their room which sits on a throw rug. Bob had borrowed both. The regular squeaking must be the chair rocking back and forth. It seemed louder. Mom giggled, and Dad hugged her. He kissed her forehead.
The rocker was moving faster now. Mom giggled again, and Dad chuckled. It was a particularly evil chuckle. I pictured Bob in the rocker. Then I pictured both Bob and Jeanette in the rocker.
I blushed, but no one was paying me the least attention. Even so, I gripped the arm of the couch to keep my hand out of my lap. The rocker speeded again. I thought that I heard Jeanette cry out. Dad hugged Mom tighter. The squeaking became irregular. Jeanette did cry out. Mom sighed. I blushed more deeply.
I sat there feeling very lonely.
The End For Now Uther Pendragon firstname.lastname@example.org 1996/12/20 1997/04/28 2000/03/27 2001/11/08 2002/09/27 This is one of a series of stories about the Brennans. The next story in the series is: "Fortuitous" The first story in the series is: "Forever" The directory to the entire series is: Brennan Stories Directory For a non-Brennan story centered on a teenager, see: "April's First" The directory to all my stories can be found at: Index to Uther Pendragon's Website