The rat-tat-tat-tat pattern of the knocker striking my front door blasts into my memory banks, carrying me back eight, nine…or is it ten years? My heart thumps in my chest as I make my way down the hallway from my office. Long forgotten, no deliberately shut away recollections of old events flood through me. Surely this cannot be true? Not after all this time!
But it is true, or to be accurate, half true. Crikey! The last time I saw her she was twelve; one part of the duo that took over my life every weekend I was home, filling it with fun, laughter, wonder and sometimes argument and hurt, and not a little fear at being found out. Not that anything really 'wrong' ever happened. But accusations fly readily under such circumstances whether they are justified or not.
There were glimpses of her in the early years after our parting. The distant waves that gradually ceased from the school bus, studious disregard when passing by in the back of her parents' car and once a bouncing-breasted teenage figure running to her driveway seemingly as if to avoid me as I approached on foot. It seems almost impossible that we never met face to face in all that time. Not even at the small shopping parade at the end of the road, anywhere. After all, their house is only just around the corner and 200 metres away! Of course she would have left high school and gone to college at some stage, that would explain not seeing her in recent years.
Hmmmmm, she has changed. Of course she has you fool! She is a full-grown woman now! But she is still a petite 5ft and something miracle with the same luxurious red curls and that dusting of freckles over her nose, and those candid blue eyes.
"Gidday, Tina!" I am trying to sound laid back and not surprised to see her, and failing spectacularly at both. "Haven't seen you in ages. Come on in."
"Hello, Nathan." She walks past smiling warmly and heads straight for the lounge; Tina doesn't have to be shown the way. I catch a waft of light perfume and a flash of body warmth. The rear end view is mighty attractive. Yes, she certainly has grown up!
Tina selects 'her' seat - the ladder back rocker closest to the window. Ali, Alison that is, always sat in the similar one closest to me. We exchange small talk; tentative social explorations by two people who were once 'friends', but since separated by time. My mind races in the background. Ali and Tina! And why has Tina suddenly appeared now?
Back then, when they first came, I was a fifty-year-old consulting civil engineer. After an unhappy divorce I moved to this house. I needed a new town and a new beginning after a traumatic period in my life. Thanks to my work, I spent a lot of time away from home building roads and bridges and sewerage plants in the Pacific Islands and Indonesia as part of New Zealand's development aid programme. My long and frequent absences contributed to my much younger wife falling into another relationship I suppose. As part of the divorce settlement, more of a rape in reality, my ex-wife got custody of our two young sons and promptly shot through with them to England to start a new life with her new partner. And I got Cassius; he of the lean and hungry look, the mostly Burmese cat that ruled the house with a will of iron. Ali's parents, Chris and Maureen, looked after Cassius and collected my mail and paid my regular bills for me out of money I left with them while I was away.
Nowadays I am pretty much home-based and teach part-time at the local Institute of Technology. I don't need a lot of money. And, at sixty-two and after several bouts of malaria and dengue fever and other debilitating tropical illnesses, I can't handle the really tough places any more; although, from time-to-time I do manage to score a 'soft assignment' up in the Cook Islands or Tonga.
Ali and Tina were nine the first time they paid one of their 'visits'. I had just come back from a road building stint in the Solomon Islands, a place right near the top of my personal Arseholes of the World list, utterly exhausted and in a real 'Is this all fucking worth it?' frame of mind. I answered the knocking on my door, the pattern that is now so deeply burned in my psyche, to find two young girls on my doorstep dressed in bright coloured sweat tops, jeans and sneakers. Ali I knew of course, tall for her age with large brown 'fall in and drown eyes'. But, Tina was new to me. Her flame-red hair truly was such a startling colour that I could not help but stare and want to touch it.
"Hi, Nathan," Ali chirped brightly, pushing past me, "We've come to feed Cassius. Oh, This is my friend Tina."
"Now hang on a minute!" I start to protest, alarm bells clanging in my brain for the first of many, many times at the danger in being found alone in the house with two female juveniles. Nobody, even in that day and age, would believe that the juxtaposition of a man my of my years and two such young ones was entirely innocent, and I would get clobbered.
"No, wait Ali…you shouldn't come in…anyway, it's not his feeding time yet…!"
"That's ok. Cassius won't mind it being early."
Before I know it the girls have disappeared into the kitchen. Ali knows exactly where Cassius' food is kept because she has been over to feed him many times with one or both of her parents. My resolve to get them out of the house dissipates like a puff of smoke. Good judgement flies out of the window. "Ok then," I call after them, "But you must leave as soon as you've fed him. I'll be in my office. Just call out when you're going."
All I get in response is a muffled, "Ok."
I return to the report I am writing on my Solomon's project. All is quiet at the other end of the house. I assume that the Ali and Tina are watching Cassius eat. Fascination with watching cats feed seems to be a young girl thing; I see it wherever I go. I become so immersed in my work that I do not notice the time passing, but suddenly, when I reach a natural break point I realise that I have not heard the girls leave. I am just about to go and look to see what is going on when I hear quiet giggling and whispering outside my partially open office door. A few seconds later Ali carefully steps in, biting her tongue in concentration and carrying an overfilled cup of tea, with brownish liquid slopped over into the saucer. Tina is right behind her, grinning. The two little minxes have poked around and found my store of chocolate biscuits!
The tea is awful! It is miles too weak, swimming in milk and with enough sugar to make one's teeth ache. For a guy who has learned to drink tea black with no sugar because the alternative could easily lead to a bout of dysentery, this concoction is sheer torture. But, not wishing to put them down, I swallow it like a man and accept graciously when I am offered one of my own cookies. The girls take two each!
Then, before I know it I have Ali sat astride my right knee demanding to be shown how the computer works. Meanwhile, Tina's warm form is pressed against my left shoulder and her arm is draped around my neck while she looks on. Remember we are in the early 90's here. Computers in the home are as rare as hen's teeth. DOS is king. There's no Internet or e-mail. We have WP51, Lotus 1-2-3 and DB2 or was it still the original DB program? Jesus, how the world has changed in the relative blink of an eye!
And I was lost! Utterly, hopelessly, stupidly, crazily, head over heels in love! Ali and Tina may have been nine years younger, but they were nevertheless fully equipped with the basic female instinct. They knew they had now gained an abject slave who would pander to their every wish and be totally at their beck and call. And in return I got innocent affection; sudden, delicious little hugs; hearts and bunny rabbits decorated notes in round, childish hand welcoming me back from my travels; and soft little-girl kisses on my cheek when they had to go home after spending most of a day with me.
So, for a period of just under three years on every Sunday I was at home in New Zealand, my two little visitors would appear. Sometimes they arrived a couple of hours later than usual, which made me worry and fret that I was 'past my use by date'! But then, sometimes they would come on a Saturday as well. Ali always came. On the odd occasion Tina was absent Ali would bring another of her friends, but never the same one twice. As far as Ali was concerned I belonged to her and Tina.
There were games of hide-and-seek, and practical jokes and little demonstrations of what they had learned at their dance and gymnastics classes. There were discussions about my travels, school happenings, pop music and their horrible brothers. And there were unavoidable, searching questions about sex and boys that I answered as frankly as I could; they were too bright to lie to. They cooked me weirdly imaginative little meals and even asked to be shown how to iron my shirts. And three times, all on a Saturday, they told Ali's mother they were visiting me and I was allowed to entertain them in the early evening for dinner. I will never forget their bright eyes shining in the candlelight and the toasts with 'glasses or wine', which were in reality cherry flavoured fizz. On one of those occasions Ali 'phoned her mother, without me knowing, to ask her if she and Tina could stay at my place for the night. Naturally, Maureen said, 'No.'
I confess to not feeling very honest about the trips to the mall they persuaded me into, with them crouched hidden in the back seat of my car when we left my house and returned. It was also a worrying time for me whilst we were at the mall, because Ali and Tina were not slow in wandering off to do their own thing. All hell would have broken loose if something had happened to one or both of them!
And, enthralled, I watched them grow, from truly little girls to the very brink of womanhood.
By and large the Ali-Nathan-Tina triumvirate was one of innocence and trust. There were times when they sailed very close to the wind with their self-initiated physical contact with me and things could have turned out otherwise, but nothing serious ever transpired. One precociously breasted, slightly older 'Tina replacement' called Sarah determinedly tried to make it otherwise by 'losing' her bracelet and then coming back later on her own to ask me to help her find it. I got rid of her straight away, telling her that I would pass her jewellery on to Ali to give to her if I came across it. Thankfully I did, because I found the damned thing tucked under my duvet when I got into bed that night!
Then, Ali and Tina had a falling out. At about the same time, Chris was offered a much better paid job down in Christchurch, in the South Island, and within six weeks Ali and her family were packed up and gone. I was not here to see them leave. While all this was happening I was managing the installation of a sewerage treatment plant in a small city in Sumatra for the NZ Government. So, when I got back three months later my perfect little world was no more. Even Cassius was gone. Chris and Maureen e-mailed and asked me if they could take him with them. And, because he was now more their cat than he was mine I agreed.
And now, after a colourless, barren ten years, Tina suddenly pops out of the woodwork!
"So, what have you been up to in the last squizillion years?" I ask her.
"Oh, this and that. Uni, of course…I went to Dunedin with the idea of getting a medical degree and going into general practice, but the course was too tough for me in the end. So, I ended up at nursing school and am now based at Greenlane Hospital. I'm back home to visit mum and dad at the moment."
"Have you ever heard from Ali since…" I ask her.
"Oh yes, we've kept in touch nearly all the time. I stayed with her for a few days a couple of weeks ago in fact and she was asking about you."
"How is she?"
"You know Ali, always in a hurry. She's on her fourth baby now, copped the first one when she was fifteen. She's in Motoeka, living with a Maori guy."
"Most of the time…funny, his name is Nathan as well. Yeah, she's happy, except when he comes home from the pub a bit pissed and knocks her around…it doesn't happen all that often though."
"Three kids and one on the way, eh?"
"Yeah, all different fathers too. Ali is still a bit of a wild one. But you don't need telling that! She showed all the signs back when we came to see you."
"I don't remember. What on earth do you mean?"
"Oh, come on Nathan! She was in one hell of a rush to grow up! Remember when we asked you all those questions about sex and things…who was the one asking nine out of ten? And really explicit stuff too!"
"Hmmmmmm, you could be right…"
"Could be right! Bloody hell! I didn't where to look when she asked you some of that stuff! And, remember when she asked her mother if we could stay the night with you that time?"
"Maureen told me afterwards…"
"Well, Ali had it all worked out. She was going to get into bed with you in the middle of the night completely starkers and get you to have sex with her."
"Shit! She was only eleven!"
"Just turned twelve-and-a-half…"
"Nathan, would you have done anything…you know?"
Ouch! What a question to ask me! My mind is going at a zillion revs!
"I suppose it would have been hard not to, well touch…explore a little bit. She was…well you were both starting to 'develop' then. But, would I have had intercourse with her? No, I don't think so."
"Knowing Ali, you have had a hard time saying 'No'. She was a determined little cow…was really shitty with her mother for nearly three weeks afterwards when she wouldn't let us stay."
"Well, you weren't exactly slow yourself! Wasn't it you who initiated that 'let's get Nathan's trousers off' episode?"
Tina has the good grace to blush. The little witches tricked me into lying flat on the floor so that they could 'show me' an exercise from their gymnastics class. Ali doing a full press with her bare belly across my face to hold me down was one thing. Her tee-shirt had ridden up and the track pants she was wearing that day had dragged down, making it doubly difficult to place my hands in a 'safe' place to help get her off me. But, Tina undoing my pants and pulling my zipper down was something else again. Luckily I managed to get free from Ali without being too violent and stopped things from going too far. And afterwards I gave them a long stern lecture on how dangerous it was for them to do things like that to grown men, which resulted on an angry flouncing out and vows never to come back ever again. I think it took them about thirty minutes to change their minds.
I press home my 'attack', "And what were you going to do while Ali was busy seducing me? Stay in the spare room and twiddle your thumbs?"
Blushing redheads are a sight to behold! And Tina's face couldn't get any pinker!
"Well…um…Ali pretty much had me convinced to come in with her..."
Tina starts laughing, "Nathan! I can see your mind working! Two naked, nubile little bits of nooky at once! Could you have handled it?"
I shift in my seat that she can't see what else is working! "Handled it? Christ, I would have had a bloody heart attack! I'm almost having one now, just at the thought!"
We burst out laughing again together.
"Actually, it was the wicked Ali that brought all of this up again. Apparently her man is simply awesome in bed and, while I was staying with them, she tried to persuade me into a threesome. I'm sure it was her idea; her Nathan was having a birthday that week and she wanted to give him something really special. I wouldn't have a bar of it, but it got us talking about the way we used to torment you."
"Ummmm, it surely was torment sometimes…and, young Tina, you were very good at it. Remember when you came and sat astride my leg that day?"
Tina wriggles her bottom uncomfortably and sets the rocker moving rapidly. Her face is now almost beetroot red! "No, I don't remember anything like that…"
"Surely you remember when Ali went to the loo, and you didn't do the girl thing and go with her? You came and sat on my leg and pulled the zipper on your jeans down a little way while we were talking. You had bright blue panties on."
"Ooooooh, Nathan, you rotten beast! You aren't supposed to remember that! And you put out your hand and took hold of the little tag…"
"And you thought I was going to pull it right down and look inside your knickers…I was very tempted."
For some reason, Tina looks very pleased to hear me say that. "But instead, you pulled it up again…And then Ali walked in and thought she'd caught you with your hand between my legs…"
"And then you two went down to the lounge and had one hell of a row…"
"Ali never really forgave me for that. She thought I was trying to take you away from her…she really fancied you, you know."
"I guessed as much, but I could never really come to terms with it. Hell, I was fifty-one or fifty-two by then!"
"It didn't seem all that strange to us. Yes, you were old…much older than our parents were…but in lots of ways you seemed closer to us in age than they did. And you were…are a good-looking guy. You had…have an intense way of focussing on someone when they are talking with you. I always felt as though you were trying to see into my mind through my eyes and find out my true thoughts…you're doing it now! It made me very aware of myself and all hot and fluttery inside. I'm sure Ali felt the same. And you never talked down to us or treated us like little kids either…"
"But I don't make you feel 'all hot and fluttery' any more…"
Tina laughs, "Now, that would be telling!"
"Bugger! I can't read your mind!"
"Ha! Ha! Good…!
"And then there was all that stuff going on at school…the boys in our age group proving their 'manhood' to their mates by grabbing at our boobs or our bums when we walked past at break times…they had no idea of how much they hurt our breasts! And there were the sixth and seventh form guys divvying the junior girls' cherries out amongst themselves as if we were some kind of meat market. Ali and I didn't want any part of that, so we decided that nice, kind, sexy Nathan would take our virginity and show us all about sex properly. "
"I find this all rather flattering…sexy Nathan even, already! But, even if you'd have come right out in the open with all this…"
"But, Nathan, you did find us very 'interesting' didn't you? We knew you liked to look at pictures of young girls with no clothes on."
A guilty feeling creeps into my gut, "How did you work that out?"
"We found your books…"
"Found my books? But they were locked…"
"Locked away in that box in the garage…you weren't very clever at hiding the key you know. Ali found it on its hook in the linen cupboard when we were playing hide-and-seek one day. And then, when you were off on one of your trips, she took the key that you left with her parents and we came in and had a look. Actually, we came in for lots of looks, because there was lots to read."
Damn! I had no idea that they'd broken into my little collection of erotica. I had deliberately kept it locked out of the way to keep it away from them. The 'young girls with no clothes on' book was David Hamilton's 'Dreams of a Young Girl'…something of a collectors item now.
"Nathan! You look stunned!"
"I feel a bit betrayed actually. That stuff was my private…"
"And we felt betrayed at first when we found out you were a Dirty Old Man!"
"Not a Dirty Old Man! It is all 'good stuff'…recognised works of erotic art and literature…none of it is porn! I kept it locked away because I didn't want you two to think I was trying to give you ideas by leaving it lying around"
"I know that now, but it seemed pretty hot to us at the time…sorry, we shouldn't have looked at it."
"Do you still have the pictures you took of us?"