I tell people I got into this line of work because of the chicks. Nearly everyone laughs, and everyone's satisfied, because "the chicks" are exactly what they have in mind when they ask: I'm a minister, and to most people that's the same as being a priest. They think I'm giving up sex. But there are two big differences between Catholic priests and Congregational ministers: we don't hear confessions and we're allowed to marry.
Neither of those is quite the benefit you might expect. No, I don't take confessions ... not anonymously, at least. Instead, my door is open to everyone in my congregation, and after Mrs Philips tells me for the fifth time that her husband's having trouble with impotence, I can't help but think of it every time I see Mr Philips in the choir.
And marriage? Dating is a nightmare when you're a "man of the cloth." The women who will date you come in two flavors: the ones who want to seduce you to the dark side, and the ones who want to marry you in a week. The novelty of the former wears off quickly; the appeal of the latter is pretty low considering how much of your day is spent counseling couples who married too quickly.
When I was in seminary, I'd avoided thinking about most of this. Sure, I told myself, I wouldn't be allowed to have sex until marriage -- but a proper Christian shouldn't anyway (I didn't really believe that -- the truth is, I'm not sure anyone does except when they're talking about other people -- but I thought that I SHOULD believe it). So what difference did it make? I had the same rights as everyone else -- I could marry, and worry about sex then.
Mind you, I'd had sex before seminary -- and a few times during, although I managed to put them out of mind and pretend they hadn't happened or "didn't count." I'm not sure virgins should be allowed to be ministers -- sex is a daily topic of conversation in my office, and even with my little bit of experience it often mystifies me. I wonder what ministers actually did during the week, back when people were too conservative to talk about sex?
The titillation and vicarious thrill of listening to other people's sex lives -- some people will tell their minister ANYthing -- wore off after a few years, and I stopped letting myself be set up on dates by well-meaning members of my congregation. Like Jimmy Carter, I felt lust in my heart: more than once I found myself imagining the choir naked, or indulging in elaborate mid-sermon fantasies about Mrs Jones, the organist. Yes, I even thought of some organ puns.
I hate to put it like this, but by the time I was thirty-three, I looked forward to funerals. No one tried to set me up at a funeral (although what they say about sex being easy to find at a funeral? It's true -- I've walked in on more than one couple of mourners.) There was no implication of imminent sex the way weddings had. Conducting a funeral was the most peaceful part of my job.
Until Grace Sullivan's father died.
Tom Sullivan died a too-early death, victim of a bad heart, going out the same way his father had at roughly the same age. Even if Tom had seen it coming, it was a shock to the rest of us: he wasn't yet 50, and had been the kind of virile, brawny fortysomething that reminded you of Kirk Douglas. He jogged, he played tennis, he coached Little League even though his kids were long since past the age for it. More tragic still, his wife had died in a car accident years earlier. Thankfully the children had grown up and left home -- but Grace, the youngest at 22, took it the hardest. I don't imagine she remembered her mother very well.
I'll admit it, most funerals I do by rote. You generally don't know the person well, so there's no personal investment. But Tom? He might not have been a friend -- we'd played a few sets of tennis, and had a heart to heart when his mother died -- but he was a man I liked and respected.
Grace I didn't know very well. She'd left for college four years earlier, and hadn't attended church very frequently in the years before that. She was the only Sullivan daughter, with two older brothers who'd been football heroes in high school, Dean's list in college, insurance brokers in New York. About all I knew about Grace was that she'd gone to art school "out west somewhere."
I got through the ceremony and the words from friends and family without shedding a tear -- if that sounds callous, remember that it's part of my job. If the minister starts crying, everyone cries, and it's a horrible afternoon for all. The weather, at least, blessed us: the cemetery is behind the church, separated by a tasteful copse of spruce, and the bright sun gave everyone an excuse to put their sunglasses on -- to hide tears for some, and boredom for others.
Grace, I think, was one of the former. Her voice hitched during her brief words about her father, and her black knit dress somehow looked blacker than anyone else's clothes. It was new, I realized: it hadn't faded in the wash. Whatever I'd heard about art students, this wasn't a girl who wore black often enough to have anything appropriate for a funeral. Her hair was light brown with blonde streaks that might have been natural and might have been storebought, layered and cut short. She didn't seem to be wearing makeup: there were no mascara streaks on her cheeks.
The ceremony went well. It usually does when it's someone everyone genuinely liked, but occasionally you have to deal with distraught widows, weeping mothers, drunk fathers, and the like. The men are the worst -- if they've reached the point of uncontrollable emotion, they have no fear of "making a scene."
The reception was in the hall of the church basement, to spare visiting relatives the hassle of holding it in Tom's house. Mrs Jones had made her famous lemon bars, Mrs Philips brought the punch, and stronger drinks were discreetly made available to the adults. I mingled for a little while before going upstairs to my office, where I'd be available for private counseling. Since I wasn't conducting any official ceremonies or anything, I took off my suit jacket and tie. The congregation was used to a slightly-informal minister.
A few people stopped by to say hi, but there were no small children to ask questions about Heaven, or a widow to console, so after a few hours I wondered if it was time to go back to the hall and see about wrapping things up. Just as I was about to, Grace came to the door. She'd taken her sunglasses off, and I was right about the makeup -- her eyes were red from crying, but not smeared. She lingered in the doorway, fingers on the jamb, until I nodded her in.
"I'm very sorry about your father, Grace," I said, repeating what I'd told her at least once already, maybe more. "He was a good man."
She nodded, distracted, and I closed the door behind her before sitting on my side of the desk, as she sat on hers. "Thank you, Reverend Bell. I just -- I don't know who to talk to about this. I thought maybe -- we don't have confession, right? We're not Catholic. I know I never went to church much, but ..."
"Are you worried about privacy?"
That little nod again.
"Grace, nothing you say here will leave the room. You can talk about whatever you want, I promise. I have a lot of experience in these matters."
That brought her out of her daze a little, and in a flash of her eyes I saw something of the girl she must be under better circumstances. "I ... don't think that you do."
She started out the usual way -- rambling, talking about growing up with her father and barely remembering her father, and I did what I usually do: ignore what's said and listen to how it's said. There was obvious love in her voice, and true loss. The more she spoke the more she warmed up, brushing tears away absent-mindedly with the back of her hand, sitting more comfortably in the chair, and I was taken completely by surprise when she said:
"I wanted to have sex with him."
I thought I must have missed who the "him" was, so I asked. "Who?"
"My father. I wanted to have sex with my father." She looked at her hands, and shrugged. "Ever since I was a teenager ... I just wanted him. His big, strong hands ... I used to think about him all the time."
"Did he ever --"
"No. No! Don't ask if he 'touched' me. It wasn't like that. He didn't know. Nothing ever happened. I didn't try to seduce him. I know it's wrong, and shit, I know it's some Electra complex because I was raised without a female role model, and all that. I'm just saying ... I wanted him, and the way I miss him now, it's not just as a daughter."
"And you want forgiveness?"
Her eyes flashed again, angry this time, as she looked up at me. "I haven't done anything wrong. I don't want to be forgiven for things I *wanted*. It isn't anything I could help."
"Of course. No, you're right, I'm sorry."
She nodded shortly. "The only reason I'm talking to you ... well, you're young. Ish. You're probably married and have a healthy sex life and aren't going to give me some weird 'sex is bad' lecture."
"I'm not married, Grace, but you're right -- sex isn't bad. Incest --"
"-- never happened, so isn't relevant. I just .. I don't know how to deal with this. I don't know how to grieve. I've never had a real relationship, and I think it's because of him. Every girl expects a man to measure up to her dad, right? But moreso with me, I guess."
"That's understandable." And it was. The more she went on, the more I could see where she was coming from: this near-perfect father, an attractive man, and he rarely if ever dated, so she never felt any sense of competition with other females. She was the only woman in his life -- he became the only man in hers. The bond they had as father and daughter ... yes, it was more than that. For her, it became a sexual one, even if never consummated.
We talked for another two hours, long past the time when I had expected to go home. Occasionally she had to stop and talk about something else, something innocuous while she collected her thoughts, so she asked me why I wasn't married, and I gave her the brief synopsis -- trouble meeting people. That made sense to her, she could relate to it, although we had different reasons for our difficulties.
"Okay," she said at last. "Well. I think maybe I just needed to tell someone. I'll be in town another couple days, can I come by if I have, like, a crisis or something? It's not like I can go to my brothers with this."
"Of course. Call the church switchboard if you're not certain I'm home; they'll give you my home number if it's an emergency."
She smiled as she stood up, straightening her dress, and when I got up to open the door for her she gave me a hug. "Thank you," she said with a small sigh, and I patted her shoulder. The top of her head came up to my chin, and her hair smelled like pale orchids.
"That's my job, Grace."
She held the hug a moment longer, and as I started to pull away diplomatically, she murmured, lower this time, "Thank you, Father."
I shook my head. "It's Reverend -- we're not Catholic, remember?"
She pressed her lips against my neck, just above the collarbone, warm and very slightly moist, and wrapped her arms around me. "I know we're not -- Father." When she spoke, her lips tickled my skin.
If I'd already opened the door to send her off, this wouldn't have been happening. That ten seconds made all the difference. I didn't pull away from her -- only enough to protest -- and I felt the rationalizations forming in the back of my head: there was nothing wrong with a kiss. It wasn't sex.
"You've suffered a great loss," I started, and she nipped my neck.
"Spare me the psychobabble. I *know* what I've suffered. And I know how I want to deal with it." She pulled my head down towards hers, kissing along my neck. "You're not taking advantage of the bereaved."
I pushed her away gently, against the bookcase. "We both might see it differently, later --"
She grabbed my hands and pulled me against her hard, knocking an Old Testament concordance off the top shelf with a small cloud of dust. "Later takes care of itself. I. Need. A. Father."
And her mouth was on mine, open and insistent, and I kissed her back without thinking about it. Our tongues moved against each other as she moaned, grinding her knit dress against my suit, one hand in my hair holding on as if afraid I would leave, the other pressed flat against my chest as if ready to push me away.
She kissed hungrily, needily, and it was easy to respond in kind. I don't know how long it had been since I had even kissed someone: too long. I pulled her against me, my hands running up her sides, feeling her skin beneath the dress as her tongue lapped against mine. She twisted so that her hip rubbed between my thighs and the side of her left breast fell against my hand, soft and just full enough beneath my fingertips. We pulled each other into the corner, almost wrestling, and she gasped herself out of the kiss, breathing hot against my neck, murmuring, "Daddy."
Her hands caressed where her hip had rubbed, stroking my cock through the thin fabric of my pants and impatiently pulling the zipper down to feel the shape of me through my briefs. "Grace," I started to say, but she kissed me again, quickly.
"Gracie," she said quietly, freeing me from the briefs as my pants dropped to the floor. "He always called me Gracie." Her fingers were warm around me, and I felt her dress sliding against me as she pulled it up. Her hands stayed busy for a moment and she kissed me again, sliding her tongue along my lips before turning around to face the wall.
Her dress was pulled up to her back and her ass was bare, pale, curved just perfectly, and pressing against my cock. She slid up and down against me, hands braced against the walls and forehead pressed to the corner, whispering, "Please, Daddy, please." She sounded like she was about to cry.
I couldn't rationalize this anymore. So I stopped trying.
Neither of us had had sex in a while, and we fumbled a little as I guided my cock under her and into her sex, a hand on the small of her back as she whimpered through bitten lips. We both gasped when the feel of skin-on-skin suddenly became hard-in-wet, and the simple effort of our fumbling pushed me deep inside her.
"Oh God, Gracie," I breathed, as I grabbed at her and she bent down lower. I unzipped her dress halfway and she pulled the front of it down, my hands reaching around to grab her breasts through the white bra, feeling their weight rest against my palms as I pulled her back against me, thrusting my crotch against her ass.
"Daddy!" She pushed back against me harder, shoving herself around me, still on the verge of tears, and her voice was loud, too loud.
"Shh!" I stroked her hair, and when she started to cry I hesitated, began to pull out -- but she whimpered, rocking her ass against me, and I stepped closer to grind against her, caressing the unseen part of her breast the bra left uncovered, feeling the warmth and pliability of her skin beneath my fingertips. "Shhh, it's okay, Gracie, Daddy's here."
We bucked against each other, fucking hard and needily, and her moans became too loud again. Without thinking, I clamped a hand over her mouth and she gasped, sucking on my fingers, her breath raspy and hard. "Love me, Daddy," she groaned around a mouthful of my index and middle fingers, keeping her voice low. "I miss you so much, fuck me, fuck me hard, come inside me."
It didn't take long. Her head was banging against the wall, her hands clawing at it to keep her balance, and I arched against her over and over again, feeling her tears trickle down over my fingers and into her mouth, her teeth scrape against my knuckles, her hot sex clenching around me with every fierce grind of my hips. I don't know if she came, but when I did, she sucked my fingers deep into her mouth to stifle her own cry, while I leaned down to bite her bare shoulder, both of us very aware of where we were and desperate not to be overheard.
I twitched inside her as I subsided, stroking her back and hair as she sobbed openly, choking on tears, and when she turned around to be held, I held her against my chest until she was cried out, and we helped each other dress -- with affectionate little touches to show that no matter how odd we might feel later, neither of us felt guilty or violated.
We didn't say anything else. She kissed me softly on the lips before leaving, and that was it: she didn't call for more counseling, and never accused me of taking advantage of her. Every Christmas, she sends a card to my office -- "Merry Christmas Daddy, Love, Gracie."