Gordian Knotbyadam applebiter©
[Author's Note – This is the third instalment of the story that began with 'Gotta Love Them Cheerios' and continued with 'Bluetooth'. I've tried to make it understandable to readers who haven't read those other stories, but I can't judge how successful I have been in achieving that.]
Peter held his daughter close. It was raining a little but they hardly noticed as they stood at the graveside. As the mourners moved away, seeking refuge from the persistent drizzle in the long line of parked cars, they inadvertently gave Peter and Luce the privacy they needed.
Luce lost her reserve, clinging to her father's overcoat for support as she sobbed against his shoulder. Peter didn't cry. There'd been enough tears already – two years of them since Georgina had been diagnosed with cancer. The fear, hope, despair, resignation and most of all, the waiting had been theirs alone. Georgina had insisted that Luce should still go to college and had struggled to put on a brave face whenever she spoke to their daughter by telephone. Peter, on the other hand, had held his wife in the night when she woke up crying, had sat at her bedside through interminable sessions of chemotherapy, had been spared none of the details of Georgina's inevitable death. No, he'd not cry over her grave – Not while his only daughter needed his support. Georgina would understand.
Theirs was the last car to leave the cemetery. Peter had asked Jean-Paul to see to the drinks, et cetera, back at the house. As he pulled into the driveway, hearing the familiar growl of the gravel under the tyres, he broke the silence.
"Luce... You don't have to be here right now...If you'd prefer, you could go next door and..." Next door was the home of Luce's godparents, Jean-Paul and Lucy, whom she was named after. The two families had been neighbours for over twenty years and business partners almost as long.
"Thanks Dad, but I'm alright now." Her cold hand rested lightly on his, on the gear lever, and she looked sideways at him. This was the first time she'd thought he actually looked his age. Usually, people were incredulous when they found out he was approaching fifty: Today he looked every day of it. While her parent's had shielded her from most of it, Luce was a bright young woman and could figure out just what the last two years had cost her father emotionally.
Pausing only for the briefest of hugs on the doorstep, they joined the wake. Jean-Paul, redoubtable friend that he was, had made sure that everyone had a full glass of something and had found sufficient cloakroom space for all the wet coats. He came straight to Luce, brushing her cheek lightly with his lips and gesturing for her coat too. Peter followed him to the cloakroom.
"How are you holding up?" Jean-Paul asked, as soon as they were private.
"Ok. I don't think it's really hit Luce yet. I'm not sure we've done her a favour, keeping so much from her. Georgina's death really came as a shock to her."
"So she will grieve and you will console her and at least she didn't have to see her mother fade away. My friend, you've spared her much – don't ever doubt that." Jean-Paul hugged Peter. It was a gesture that they would only share in private but, well, they'd shared a lot over the years and if Peter were going to cry on anyone's shoulder, it would be Jean-Paul's.
"Thanks Buddy. Let's get this over and done with, huh?" Peter let go of Jean-Paul and with a stoic attempt at a smile, returned to the family room. As he moved through the throng, thanking people for coming and accepting their condolences, he noticed that Lucy had gathered Luce in and that the two were having a quiet cry together in the corner. A few other women drifted close to them but Lucy waved them off. When Peter passed that way again, the corner was vacant. Lucy had spirited Luce away somewhere.
When all the guests had left, Peter and Jean-Paul gathered up the empty glasses and full ashtrays and deposited them in the kitchen for later attention. They were just about to go looking for the Elles – a longstanding nickname for the two Lucys – when footsteps on the stairs heralded their return. Both women had been crying a lot. The red rimmed eyes and streaks on their cheeks were testament to that. As Luce let go of Lucy's hand and crossed the kitchen to hug her father again, he could barely focus on her for the moisture welling in his own eyes.
"Sorry for leaving early, Daddy. I just couldn't take any more." She mumbled against his shoulder. He stroked her hair.
"Its ok Luce. Everyone understood...I'm sure."
Jean-Paul caught his eye and nodded in the direction of his own house. Peter nodded ever so slightly.
"We'll be off then." Jean-Paul said, moving close enough to pat Peter on the shoulder while Lucy pressed a Kleenex into Luce's hand, squeezing the girl's fingers gently. Jean-Paul and Lucy left quietly.
It was a long time before either Peter or his daughter moved. Eventually, they made their way to the stairs and to their respective bedrooms, whispering goodnight to each other in the dark corridor of an eerily quiet house.
* * *
Lucy arrived during breakfast and insisted on getting started on washing all the crockery from the previous day's gathering. Peter was too preoccupied to put up even a token resistance.
"Luce, I have to go over to the hospital and pick up Georgina's things. Do you want to come with or stay home?" Peter asked his daughter as they sipped lukewarm coffee.
"I thought I'd make a start on sorting out Mom's things with Lucy... Unless you'd prefer us to wait until you're back."
"No. That's a good idea."
Lucy joined them at the table, helping herself to coffee. "Georgina and I discussed it weeks ago... When they started just making her comfortable. We've got plenty of boxes, bags and tissues."
"I'll leave you to it for a couple of hours then." Peter stood up, rounded the table to kiss his daughter then bent to kiss Lucy too. Luce wasn't in the least bit surprised that he made no attempt to aim for her cheek. She grown up seeing her parents and their neighbours kissing each other and it had never looked that platonic. By the time she'd learnt that word, she'd picked up enough clues to know why they were so affectionate. Not that she ever let on that she knew her parents and Godparents were swingers.
It was emotional work, sorting through all her mother's personal stuff and Luce was glad of the company. The Elles shared stories about the things they found, reminiscing about Georgina, and there was almost as much to smile about as there was to grieve.
"I worry about Peter." Lucy changed the subject out of the blue. "He seems so detached from all...this. You're under the same roof, Luce. How's he really coping?"
"I think he's trying to be strong for my sake. He's sleeping in the guest room. He can't bear this bedroom alone – surrounded by all Mom's things. I'm glad we're getting through all this stuff. Perhaps it'll be easier for him then."
"Oh. Poor Peter." Lucy started welling up and reached for a tissue. The box was emptying pretty fast.
"You could help..." Luce observed cryptically.
"I'll help you both, however I can. You know that." Lucy was sincere. She and Jean-Paul had been very close to Georgina and Peter for a long time.
"I think Dad could move back in here if he wasn't alone." Luce gestured expansively around the master bedroom.
"Luce? You mean..."
"I know you guys have been swapping beds for years." Luce shocked her godmother into silence. "I just think Dad needs someone with him for emotional support... I know it's really awkward and it's not really fair on J-P but-"
"Jean-Paul wouldn't be an issue. If you know about our relationship with your parents, you must know how much my husband thinks of Peter." Lucy emphasised her relationship to Jean-Paul deliberately.
"But? There's a but...right?"
"Yes. But Peter... your father... has just lost his wife. I don't think he'd be comfortable falling straight into the arms of another woman. Trust me on this. I know him very well."
"It was just a thought..." Luce was crestfallen. She'd thought she was really helping her father.
"And I'm really touched that you would think of it and then actually ask." Lucy hugged Luce tight. They were both in tears again. "If it would help, I'd be in his bed in an instant, but it won't help and won't happen. Sorry Luce."
"I was so sure the only hurdle would be J-P and I had that covered..."
"Covered?" Lucy had a sudden thought what 'covered' meant in this context. Surely not?
"I thought... I could... balance the numbers... with Jean-Paul I mean." Luce flushed crimson. She couldn't even look at Lucy as she owned up to this.
"Good God! No." Lucy was horrified at the suggestion but, of course, Luce didn't know about her true parentage. Oh what a tangled web we weave...
"I... I'm sorry... I didn't mean to..." Luce started sobbing. Lucy held her close.
"Luce, it could never happen. Jean-Paul would kick your young tush right back over the fence if you tried to trip him."
Luce sobbed awhile longer then eased herself back upright. "I've made a real fool of myself, haven't I?"
"Not a bit of it. Your motives were good and if I told Jean-Paul what you'd proposed, he'd be terribly flattered and quite unbearably smug for weeks... which is the only reason this conversation will stay between the two of us... And Georgie, if she's listening. Shall we crack on? There's still a lot to sort out."
"Sure." Luce forced a smile and opened the next full drawer.
* * *
Despite her assertion, Lucy didn't keep the conversation in the realms of girl-talk. Jean-Paul, masculine and predictable, crowed over the interest of such a young woman, though not for long. He too saw the implications.
"It's not as if Little Luce was just looking to get under you, you old stud. "Lucy had thought about the girl's motives a lot and could still not fault them. "She was offering her skinny young body-"
"You mean her lithe, nubile body." Jean-Paul corrected, enjoying baiting Lucy. He got elbowed for it and stopped grinning.
"She offered her skinny young body to, in her own words, balance the numbers. She was willing to put up with being mauled by a middle-aged man so that her father could cry himself to sleep in my arms."
"And you told her no, of course."
"Of course. If you want a 'lithe nubile body' to play with, I'll hire a hooker for your birthday but you are not going to bed your own daughter."
"I'd prefer some new golf clubs. C'mere." Jean-Paul made a long arm and drew Lucy into his lap. He kissed her emphatically. "Luce doesn't know that I'm her biologically father, does she?"
"No. But she did know Georgie and I husband swapped, or she'd never have proposed this trade. Is that lump I'm sitting on for me or 'your daughter'?"
"It's for the twenty year old heiress next door." Despite Jean-Paul's claim, his fingers had deftly undone Lucy's blouse and worked their way past her bra to tease her nipples. She refused to be baited so he picked her up bodily and carried her to their own bedroom.
It wasn't the most athletic or frenetic sex they'd ever had. Instead they undressed each other slowly, snuggled together under the duvet and made love with exquisite gentleness. Lucy guided Jean-Paul into her body and held him there, neither of them moving, while they kissed softly and caressed all their other erogenous zones. Jean-Paul hadn't changed much over the years. He did a lot of sports and his body was still hard with muscle mass and bronzed as the statue outside the town hall. Lucy adored his body: if it was his temple, then she was the vestal virgin. She spent much time and money trying to keep herself in equally good shape but not with so much success. Jean-Paul, however, didn't notice or didn't care that her bra held up her tits where, twenty years back, her tits used to hold up her bra. He didn't care about any of the depredations of time. He loved his wife, stretch marks and all. His fingers traced her stretch marks now, following the fractional indentation of her skin along those pale lines. How could he not love these reminders that Lucy had given him beautiful daughters? The twins were at college right now but would be home for the holidays next week.
"Pretend I'm Luce." Lucy's whisper crept into his ear, disturbing his reverie. He looked down at her, his attention entirely upon her once more. "If you want to..." Lucy looked up at him with nothing but love in her eyes. Her vagina gripped him inside her.
"Never." He finally started to move his hips, pulling back then pushing inexorably forward until he was balls-deep again. "This is for you... Always, only for you..." He punctuated his assertion with forceful thrusts that made Lucy arch her back, pressing her belly against his as she moaned with delight.
Lucy moved in rhythm with Jean-Paul as they made love in comparative silence, punctuated only by increasingly laboured breaths and the moans and sighs of two people approaching climax. They came together, not earth shatteringly, but in the same quiet way they'd made love. Afterwards, They lay still, still coupled, as Jean-Paul softened inside her. Without a word, they slept.
* * *
The next night, the four had dinner together at Jean-Paul and Lucy's house. Peter had dropped a hint earlier in the day that this was more than just a social gathering and Luce wondered what all the suspense was about. It was clear to her that their hosts were in on it: the knowing looks and none-to-subtle hints throughout the meal had her way beyond curious.
When they'd adjourned to the living room with coffee, Peter coughed for attention and stood to speak.
Luce wondered at the formality that indicated. She listened intently.
"Luce, you know that Jean-Paul and I have been business partners for many years?"
"Duh! Of course, Dad. You're the company attorney while he does all the real work. Not that you actually make anything: its all venture capitalism, right?"
"Succinctly put, though we do make something – money. And investment may be all we do these days but way back when you were in diapers, we manufactured, imported, marketed and held the patents on a number of things that the brains of the outfit – Jean-Paul – invented."
"You invented things?" Luce looked across at Jean-Paul. "What?"
"Um..." Jean-Paul was never entirely comfortable in the limelight.
"Gentlemen, if I may?" Lucy took over explaining. "Luce, Honey. Jean-Paul invented the network vibrator."
"Jean-Paul Mannon? You're Jean-Paul Mannon?" Luce looked incredulous. Jean-Paul simply nodded. "But your surname is Henri."
"My mother's maiden name. I changed mine to protect the family from the negative aspects of fame."
"Oh my..." Luce struggled to take it all in. "This is amazing!"
"Honey." Peter wanted to continue. "That's not actually what I was trying to tell you. When we set up the company to market J-P's gizmos, I provided the capital, he provided concept and we split the company stock four ways. This is all laid out in your Mom's will but I wanted us to tell you first. Georgina left her shares to you, not me. Welcome to the board."
"Me? Why? Surely you should have them."
"No Honey. There're lots of reasons why I shouldn't control that stock. Firstly, we split the stock four ways instead of two to minimize the chances of deadlock. We only needed three out of four to agree instead of two out of two. Secondly, we were marketing a product aimed primarily at women. Having women on the board was essential. Thirdly, in developing the product, your mom and Lucy were Jean-Paul's testers. Their contribution had to be recognised. Georgina left these shares to you to maintain the balance. It does mean that your allowance has gone up rather a lot tonight but I'm sure you'll come to terms with that."
"How much?" Luce asked, then "Oh God! That sounded awful. I didn't mean it like that."
"Relax Luce." Lucy moved to sit next to the young woman, to reassure her. "Its an important question. I'm the accountant here so there's no point asking these guys anyway. Off the top of my head, about half a million a year. That's not counting the value of your shares. On paper they're worth nearly ten million."
"We have forty million between two households and we live in a suburb of Ann Arbor?" Luce had difficulty balancing that equation.
"We like the quiet life. This is a good place to raise families and people here mind their own business." Peter explained. He left out his personal reasons for wanting to live below the radar of public scrutiny.
* * *
In the morning, the Elles went to the office to sort out the paperwork and bank details. They spent the afternoon shopping.
"Luce, now you know how well off your family is, I want you to know that absolutely no expense was spared treating Georgina. Everything that could be done was done."
"I know. I thought about that last night. I felt guilty about losing my mom and gaining a checking account. I was thinking about Jean-Paul too. My godfather invented the sex toy of the century. D'you have any idea how popular they are on campus?"
"I have a very good idea how popular they are all over the world. We own a large proportion of the networking websites people link up through." Lucy explained.
"Last night... It was all I could do not to blurt out that he was my hero. I kept thinking about my proposition... Jean-Paul's already been responsible for so many of my orgasms. Oops!" Luce remembered just whom she was speaking to. "Sorry. Too much info."
"Lighten up Luce. It's just us girls here. I was the first woman ever to use one, remember? And your Mom was the second. You might as well know we didn't only swap husbands from time to time. Georgie and I... well, we had our moments too." It was Lucy who was embarrassed now.
"You're blushing!" Luce announced with girlish glee. "The generation gap has finally caught us up. That's the whole point of network vibrators. It doesn't matter who's on the other end, male or female. In the halls of residence, you know it's a girl at the other end but you still get off every night. Sometimes its nice to be together in the real world too."
"Lots. But guys are still an important part of a balanced diet."
"Luce!" Lucy couldn't help but laugh at the imagery.
"What? I'm only enjoying the fruits of your labours. After all, it was you and your husband that made it possible."
"I guess so. It's just... Oh, forget it... I must be getting old."
"Would Jean-Paul really 'kick my tush back over the fence'?" Luce changed the subject.
"Yes. Then I'd –"
"I'm teasing you!" Luce interrupted, grinning. "I'm not eager to crawl into anyone's bed right now. I'm still worried about Dad though."
"We're all worried about him. But there really is nothing to be done just now. Give him time, Luce. Give him time."
"I know. Are we all shopped out? I'd like to get home in time to cook Dad dinner. He wouldn't eat properly left to his own devices and that's one thing I can do for him."
"Sure honey. Let's go find the car."
* * *
The following day being Sunday, Jean-Paul prevailed upon Peter to go for a round of golf. After all, there was little to be achieved just moping around the house. Luce put on some old clothes and went up into the attic for a sort out.
She hadn't been up there more than an hour when she found a taped up box. Being the only sealed box there, it piqued Luce's curiosity. She slit the tape with a craft knife and opened the top. There were some old notebooks that, upon closer examination, appeared to be journals. Under these were two bundles of photographs: one bundle was blatantly pornographic while the other looked like the standard family snapshots. Luce put the photos back in the box and settled down to read the journals.