tagIncest/TabooThe Tree

The Tree

byharding©

This is my submission for the 2013 Christmas Story competition. Anyone who has read any of my stuff will know the topics I keep coming back to over and over again. So you'll find brother-sister incest, talk of anal sex, and the story will be long. There is sex here if you give it time, but there is also romance.

I hope you enjoy.


***

The last time I had seen my sister Jen was on her wedding day two years earlier. Back then she'd been dressed in white and crying tears of happiness. Mom had been there too, but even then she was losing too much weight, and we all knew it was only a matter of time. Now here we were on a wet afternoon on the Cape standing in rain turning to snow, six days before Christmas, and this time the clothes were black and the tears were of grief. We had come together to bury our mother. She had lasted four years longer than Pop, but I knew she'd have given those years up if it meant she could have gone at the same time as him.

I caught a sob from Jen and reached out, found her icy hand and gripped it. She wound her fingers between mine and squeezed. I didn't say anything. What was the point? We both knew what we were feeling and words wouldn't change a damn thing.

The preacher spoke about the good woman who had attended church every Sunday and made sure there were always fresh flowers, but the speech washed over me as I fought back tears of my own. There were only the two of us left now, and I was the man of the family. I felt it my duty to bear up, though God knows why.

Jen's hand trembled inside mine, but I hoped she was taking a little comfort. She'd been a better daughter than I was a son. I pretended it was because she lived forty miles away while I was in L.A., but I knew that was a lie. Jen had visited because she wanted to and would have done so even if our positions were reversed. I'd considered myself too important, too busy, too something. No, I knew the truth—too big an asshole.

The walnut coffin was lowered into the grave and more words spoken. Then we were expected to throw some dirt in after her. I stepped forward and managed it, choking back a sob, wiping angrily at my eyes. When I moved away Jen replaced me but her knees started to go and she almost toppled forward. I moved fast, grabbing her around the waist and hauling her up.

She pulled away and leaned over, picking up a handful of soil, but when she straightened her legs went again and I reached around once more and held her as she scattered it in, the sound sad and final pattering against the wood. Her body jerked against mine as sobs wracked her chest and I felt her stomach jerking in and out beneath my hand.

"It's OK, Jen, she's gone to a better place," I said, even though I didn't believe it myself. "She's with him now." Jen knew I meant Pop. I couldn't remember if Jen still believed or not. It wasn't the kind of thing came up in conversation on the rare occasions we got together.

I drew her back from the graveside, keeping my arm around her waist, not sure how strong she could be, but soon enough we moved away.

There were handshakes and hugs and kisses on cheeks and pats on backs and words spoken that I let wash over me. I nodded and thanked and moved on, Jen doing the same, the two of us the centers of our own little whirlpool of grief as people wanted to touch ours.

Within twenty minutes we stood side by side as more people filed past to help themselves to a buffet and drink. There was lemonade, beer, and hard liquor for those who needed it. Neither Jen nor I touched anything.

An hour later the room emptied and I wondered how many of the mourners had actually known Mom. Maybe a few of them—she was that kind of woman. I don't think I recognized anyone. The people we had grown up alongside had mostly cashed in their houses and moved to Florida.

I paid the caterers, adding a sizeable tip because money meant little to me and a lot to them, and then drove Jen back to the house where we'd been born and raised.

It was nothing special other than being worth seven figures. Pop had bought early and bought well, before Cape Cod became sprinkled with gold dust. The single-story stood on Ocean Drive, only a long spit from the ocean. Growing up Jen and I had fallen asleep to the sound of surf. A sound I still missed.

Pop had bought the craftsman bungalow new in 1952, the year they got married, and other than adding a second porch out back nothing had changed. The wooden siding got a coat of paint every two years and that was about it.

It felt odd unlocking the door that I never recalled being locked, but walking inside was like stepping back thirty years. I felt five years old, standing beside Jen in the family room as she reached for my hand once again.

I had almost made it through the day. Would have made it if she hadn't said, "Oh, Jack, what are we going to do now?" and the words caught in her throat. She turned toward me and I opened my arms. Her head rested on my chest and I let her sob, tears wetting my shirt, and then I started too, not noticing at first until I felt something drip from my chin onto the top of her head.

Jen knew, though. She hugged me tighter as I started to match her sob for sob. I don't know how long we stood that way, but it was Jen drew back first, wiping her face with her hands, sniffing hard.

"What we're going to do," I said, "is get changed, make something to eat, and then I might just drink until the hurt goes away or oblivion finds me."

Jen looked at me, her face pinched and red, and nodded. "Oblivion it is," she said, and I almost smiled.

***

When I returned from the bedroom—smiling, because without either of us thinking about it Jen had gone to her old room on the side of the bungalow and I to mine at the back—Jen was in the kitchen and I smelled something good.

I went up to her and slipped my arms around her waist and kissed the top of her head.

"What's cooking, sis?"

"Bolognese. Is that all right for you?"

"Sounds perfect. When did you find time to make that?"

She shook her head. "It's Mom's. I found it in the freezer."

"Oh." I let her loose and walked across the kitchen to the refrigerator, opened the door and peered inside, although I knew what I was looking for because I'd put it there myself that morning. "You want wine?"

"Rhetorical question, I take it. You got something stronger for later on?"

"What do you think?" I uncorked the Pinot, poured a glass each and went to sit at the table.

I watched Jen working. I'd always enjoyed watching her, and even today it was a pleasure.

"Hey—when did you lose weight?"

She glanced back at me and shook her head. "Have I lost weight?"

"Ten pounds," I said. "At least ten."

She shook her head again and returned her attention to the pot. "I guess I might have been skipping a meal here and there."

"Doesn't Marty make you sit and eat with him?"

I saw her shoulders tense and she stopped stirring the pot.

I waited, knowing I'd asked the wrong question, but there was no taking it back now it was out there.

I thought Jen might say something, but she kept on stirring and sipping her wine and after a while when her glass was empty I went across and topped it up. I rested my hand on her shoulder and said, "Sorry, Jen."

She gave a half-shrug, half-nod kind of movement and I went back to the table and filled my own glass.

Jen came and twirled pasta into two dishes, ladled thick, aromatic Bolognese over it. I sprinkled Parmesan and ground too much pepper onto mine.

Jen, watching me, said, "Nothing much changes in Jack-land, does it?"

"Why risk spoiling perfection," I said, then, "When?"

Jen took a mouthful of spaghetti and sauce, sucking it up between her lips. The spaghetti fought back and swiped across her chin and I saw her mouth twitch in a smile. I got up, brought kitchen roll back and put it on the table.

"How about you and Marsha?"

"Old news. Don't change the subject."

"So that's two marriages you've fucked up," she said.

"Wasn't all down to me," I said. "Yours?" I wasn't giving up.

"Mistake from the start, but sometimes it takes a while to realize."

"You looked so happy that day," I said, not adding 'And so beautiful.' It wasn't the kind of thing you said to your sister. A brother isn't meant to notice such things.

"Delusion," Jen said. "When did you and Marsha...?"

"Over the summer. She started getting home late from work, making excuses. Seems she'd found a younger man could give her things I couldn't."

"Like what?"

I lifted my shoulders. "If I knew that I'd have tried to give 'em to her."

"Wasn't money, then."

"Of course not."

"Sex then? Were you not fucking her enough, Jack?"

I stared at Jen. She'd always been open with her questions, but this was the first time she'd asked anything like this.

"How much is enough?"

Jen considered as she sucked up more pasta and sauce. She wiped her face.

"You mean for me or for Marsha?"

"You know how much sex Marsha wanted?"

"Never even met her, remember? I asked you to my wedding, but you forgot my invite when you got hitched."

"It was a spur of the moment thing," I said. "And I asked you to the first one. How much?"

"I liked Alice. Didn't you fuck her enough either?" Jen poured herself a third glass of wine and I got up and fetched another bottle.

"I told you why that ended," I said as I sat back at the table. "Frequency wasn't the issue. My simply being a man was."

"How old was this toy-boy Marsha left you for?"

"Twenty-one, twenty-two, somewhere around there."

"Did you fight to keep her?"

I lifted my shoulders. "Seemed a bit late by then."

"Bolting the stable door," Jen said. "Hey, maybe that was why. You think he was hung like a horse?"

"How would I know?"

"Did she ever complain in that department?"

"Not once."

Jen nodded. "Keeping it to herself, I expect. Three or four times a week?"

"Three or four times a week what?" I said.

"Sex. I'd say three or four times a week for most women, somewhere around there."

"For most women," I said.

"Sure. Most women."

I wanted to ask her how much was enough for her but hadn't the courage, so I filled my mouth with food as an escape.

Jen wasn't ready to drop the subject yet.

"So—did you fuck her that often? More? Less? Don't tell me you fucked her less than three or four times a week!"

"I fucked her plenty," I said, and Jen laughed. It sounded good to hear her, even if we were both getting a buzz on and the laughter was an escape from the pain and what we knew we had to do over the next week.

"Where?"

"What?"

Jen smirked. "Only wondering." She smiled as though butter—or anything else—wouldn't melt between those lips.

"Where did Marty fuck you then?" I said, regretting the question even before I'd got it all out, but Jen didn't seem to mind. Alcohol could be a wonderful drug sometimes.

"You want all the details or just the highlights?"

I drained my glass, topped it, reached across and Jen pushed her glass toward me to be filled. Her eyes stayed on mine the whole time and I felt something tremble inside my chest I'd never experienced before and didn't recognize.

"How much time we got?" I said.

Jen continued to lock eyes with me and I felt my cock thicken inside my pants.

"What's wrong?" she said.

"Nothing's wrong."

"You just got this strange look on your face, that's all. I wondered what you were thinking about."

"It's been a rough day," I said.

"Amen to that, brother." Jen lifted her glass and we clinked. "You want to help me wash up and then we can get the hard stuff out."

I nodded. It seemed a damn good plan to me.

***

We sat in the family room with logs burning in the fire the only illumination. The battered and faded leather couch was still there, the one we had used as kids, and neither of us had to think about where to sit. The couch was meant to rock, but all it ever did was move at random intervals in seemingly random directions.

I dragged the heavy coffee table over and put two glasses and a bottle of Maker's Mark on it. I don't know if Jen liked bourbon whisky but I'd brought a bottle of mixer if she didn't. Besides, this was about getting completely steamed, not about taste.

Jen sat in the corner of the couch and tucked one leg under her. After her shower she'd discarded the mourning attire and changed into a light dress that buttoned up the front. She looked closer to eighteen than twenty-eight.

I'd pulled on an old pair of jeans and t-shirt.

Only one of us looked good.

I sat on the other end of the couch. Jen made a sound when I leaned forward for the bourbon and her hand gripped my arm as I almost tipped her off face first. The couch still had a few tricks up its sleeve.

"Hey, give a girl a little warning. Jeez, no wonder you can't stay married you go acting like this all the time."

"All the time?"

"All the time you're with me, anyway."

"You drink bourbon?"

"Is the Pope catholic?"

"Arguable these days." I passed her a good measure. "You want anything in that?"

Jen shook her head and swallowed half the contents. She smacked her lips.

"The good stuff. You splashed out for me?"

"Me too," I said.

She drained the other half of her glass and held it out.

"You might want to take it easy," I said.

Jen shook her head, harder this time, dark curls flying across her face. "Not tonight. Tonight I get totally wasted. You too. Tonight is for memories and celebration and good, strong bourbon whisky."

I poured into her glass.

"You got another bottle if we finish that one?"

I laughed. "You're gonna drink half a bottle of bourbon and still need more?"

"Who says I only want half?"

"There are two more bottles in the car. I thought we might need them this week."

Jen nodded. "Good." She leaned back and lifted her knees so her heels rested on the edge of the cushion, looked at me the same way she had over dinner.

I responded the same way too. What was this all about?

"So," she said, "We can get all maudlin and talk about Mom and Pop and how much they loved each other and how much they loved us, or we can talk shit."

"I say we talk shit," I said.

"Me too." Her eyes captured mine. She lifted her glass and sipped at the warm liquor. It left a sheen on her lips and I had a strong desire to lean across and see how they tasted. Mistake, of course, and I didn't do it. I wasn't that drunk. Not yet, anyway. Maybe never drunk enough that that.

Besides, I knew damn well what the whisky tasted like because it was on my lips too.

"So..." Jen wriggled a bit, getting settled into the corner of the couch. "Where were we?"

I watched her, waiting. I studied her legs, long and lean, the skin smooth. I raised my gaze and took in the swell of her breasts: nothing spectacular, but there all the same. I imagined they would have a good shape and she wouldn't need a bra unless she chose to wear one.

I swallowed.

Was she wearing one tonight?

"Oh, yeah..." As though she'd spent the time trying to remember. I raised my gaze to her face to find her watching me. I wondered if she knew what I'd been thinking, but the whisky was working its smoky magic on me and I didn't care if she'd seen my slow study of her. "So how many times did you fuck Marsha, Jack?"

"More than you recommended."

Jen shook her head. "No, no, no—I need details, bro. I need all the sticky wicked details." She tucked one leg underneath herself and leaned forward, eyes bright.

"Is that what we're going to talk about tonight?"

She studied me a moment. Sipped her drink. I sipped mine.

"You got a better offer?"

"Nope."

"We gonna have any rules?" she said.

"What are rules?"

Jen grinned. "We should have done this years ago."

"Maybe so."

The shoulder of her dress had worked loose as she moved and I stared at the bare skin where no sign of a bra strap showed. My mind imaged the sweetness of her small breasts beneath, the sensitivity of her nipples against the cotton.

My cock was twisted painfully but I couldn't adjust myself with her leaning so close.

"Of course we should." She reached out with her free hand, the one not gripping her glass, and touched my arm. She left her hand there. The touch almost burned. "Tonight we let the barriers down. Tonight is magic." Dark brown eyes drew me in. "There's only me and you left. The last of the McAligheny clan."

"There's bound to be a few others somewhere," I said.

"No. Me and you. We're it. For tonight anyway. Tonight it's only me and you."

I was putting meanings into her words I knew she didn't intend.

I straightened up, pulling my arm away from her touch as I reached for the bottle. I slopped bourbon into my glass and Jen held hers out for a refill.

"Promise me one thing, Jack?"

"If I can."

"Should I happen to pass out in an ungainly mess you must be a gentleman and put me to bed."

"I can do that. If I'm upright, I will do that for you."

"Thanks." She leaned all the way across, her free hand cupping my cheek, and then her lips pressed against mine. It wasn't a long kiss, neither was it short, but I did taste the whisky on her lips, and I'm sure she tasted the same on mine. I was suddenly more sober than I had been all night. Jen had worked herself loose and it was down to me to look out for her. It's what big brothers are for.

She kept her hand on my cheek a while longer when she drew back, staring at my face. Then she grinned.

"O-K. Now, who's going first? Come on, hugs for your little sis, bro." She turned around and slid back against me. The move took me by surprise and before I knew it she was reclining along my chest, wriggling her pert little ass into my lap. I only hoped she wouldn't notice the boner which lay trapped along my leg.

I held onto my glass in one hand, laid the other across her stomach.

We lay there for a moment, both sipping whisky, as breath moved in and out of her body, my hand rising as she breathed. Oh man...

"You first," I said, expecting her to object.

"Fine. What do you want to know?"

"Is three or four times a week really enough?"

"For who? You? Me? Marsha?"

"Maybe not for Marsha," I said, "seeing as she left me."

"How often did you fuck her, Jack?"

"No, you first," I said.

"Not often enough for me." She sipped at her drink, maybe gathering her thoughts. I pulled her a little tighter against me and she gave a small laugh. "No trying anything on," she said, but she squirmed her butt against me, tighter than before, and she sure as hell had to feel my cock now because I sure as hell felt her ass cheek pressing against it.

"Tell me how often you like having sex then," I said, and she laughed softly again, her belly moving beneath my hand.

"You promise you'll tell me stuff too? I'm not going to open myself up to you here and then have you clam up on me."

"Promise," I said.

"Seven," she said.

"Times a week?"

I felt her nod. She sipped her drink. I sipped mine. I didn't recall when it started but now my fingertips were tracing small circles over her dress.

She giggled. "What if I said a day?"

"I'd know you were lying."

"Are you so sure?" she said.

"What's your favorite time of day?" I said.

"Uh-uh, I've given my answer. Your turn now. How often, Jack?"

"How often would I like sex, or how often did we have sex?"

"Were they different?" She twisted, trying to see me, but couldn't move far enough. I took the opportunity of the move to shift my hand a little higher, wondering if I was really going to let my fingers do what they wanted.

"Aren't they always?" I said. "I bet they are for you, too."

"Answer," Jen said, settling back against me. I was desperate to shift the position of my cock before I started screaming.

"If it was up to me..." I breathed in, breathed out. Jen shifted. Sure, she knew what was going on here. Why it was happening was another question altogether, but she knew and I knew. The other, deeper question, maybe, was why? Was it just tonight, our grief twisting and coming out as arousal? I had no idea. I'm no deep thinker, despite the big bucks they pay me to write software.

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