Sitting on the pool coping, legs dangling in the water, Jenna (15) and Thomas (11) watched their father in the shade talking to the two women who figured in their lives now their mom was gone.
Debs died four months ago of breast cancer. As their dad Sean Munro had said, forty-two was too young to die but the family was mostly over it now. He also said life must go on and he’d begun dating Isobel, a beautiful and stylish woman assistant who worked in the architectural firm in which he was principal partner.
The kids had been unsure about Isobel and the shock of seeing her in their mom’s side of the bed last Sunday morning was already a dimming memory. Nothing had been said to them. Their dad just put his fingers to his lips and whispered, “Shhhh, Isobel’s sleeping.”
The kids had left the one cup of coffee and two slices of buttered toast on Sean’s beside cabinet and fled to the kitchen in confusion.
“God, dad’s fucking her,” Jenna said, cheeks red.
“I didn’t see nothing,” Thomas declared. “Anyways you said she’s too young for dad.”
“But not too young for doing what they were doing last night,” Jenna said grimly. “That bitch is as good as dead.”
“Goddamn it Jenna, dad will whack your butt with a rolled newspaper if he hears you calling Isobel a bitch.”
“Watch your mouth Thomas. You know too much for your age. What are we going to do about this?”
“Nothing of course, it’s none of our business.”
Jenna said less than convincing, “We must do something, we can’t sit back and let this happen.”
Thomas sniffed and put two pieces of bread in the toaster.
“Can’t we? Well you just wait.”
Jenna looked thoughtfully at the back of her brother wondering how was it he was running the show?
A few days later after their rude awakening, the uncertainty over their father’s intentions with Isobel came to a head. Isobel was over for dinner and took Jenna aside and said, “Your father wants me to move in with you guys. I’d like your opinion about that?”
Jenna shrugged and said, “It’s all right I suppose. Dad need’s his piece of ass.”
Isobel cried, “Jenna,” and looked rather startled, perhaps never have been referred to like a piece of meat. She recovered quickly and placed a hand on Jenna’s shoulder.
Jenna looked at the hand but left it there and heard the intruder say, “You must understand your father needs more than that other thing. He also needs adult conversation and adult company and the affection and rivalry that goes with an adult relationship that molds us into more complete persons.”
Jenna said she supposed so. She recognized that little speech as philosophy and wondered how an architectural draftswoman came to believe she was authorized to speak like that to the wounded daughter.
She decided to have a swipe at smug Isobel.
“What do you think Mrs Rose will think about you carrying on with dad?”
“I’m not carrying on with anyone,” Isobel cried defensively. “Anyway you know very well the relationship I intend having with your father is designed to make us better people. What your father and I decide has nothing to do with Laurel.”
“Is that so? Mrs Rose was here helping to look after us before you arrived on the scene. What if Mrs Rose was having sex with dad?”
Jenna thought smugly, well that little bit of a tease should place smart-ass Isobel on the back foot. Isobel would burst into tears and leave, never to be seen again.
But she was surprised that the reaction was the opposite of what she’d expected. Isobel’s face turned dark and her jaw pushed out and she yelled, “Sean fucking Munro your two-timer, where are you?” and went striding from the room like a Warrior Queen.
Oh shit, Jenna thought, anticipating the consequences, and ran and locked herself in her room.
The door handle rattled and then ‘Thump, thump’ her dad’s fist rattled the door.
“Jenna you lying little bitch, open the door or I’ll break it down.”
Close to panicking, the tall and slender blonde said, “You promise not to hit me?”
There was a brief pause and her father said he promised.
She opened the door, he entered and closed the door behind him gently and sat on the bed alongside her bed and he commanded, “Sit, we need to talk.”
“First we’ll talk about Thou Shalt Not Lie and then what my feelings are for Isobel and then belatedly I’ll ask do you mind if Isobel comes to live with us.”
He frowned. “You lying little bitch, you are responsible for me almost getting my head knocked off.”
“Well pity you. If you talked to ask first none of this would have happened.”
“Us? Who the hell are us? Thomas is too young to understand.”
“Dad, keep your voice down and don’t be so bad-tempered. We are adjusting after mom leaving us and you are expected to be our leader. And if you must know ‘we’ includes Mrs Rose.”
“Why is she been dragged into this?”
“Dad, are you prepared to listen to me?”
“Yes of course,” he said, resting sideways on a forearm. “I plead guilty to not having consulted. This tragedy appears to have changed you from being an off-the-wall teenager into almost a woman.”
“Oh thank you very much,” she grimaced and added, “Apology accepted. Well the first thing to point out is although he’d only eleven, Thomas is no dummy. He knows enough to have discussed with me about why you and Isobel were screwing. He also understands the consequences of her moving into this house.”
“No dad, shut up,” she said, noticing her dad about to comment. “Let me finish. So please be aware Thomas has feelings too and that his understanding of situations is perhaps much greater than you are aware and if he doesn’t understand anything or is confused he comes to me and not you and while I’m on that point dad, that shift occurred when mom fell sick. You have a big job to win back your son.”
“Christ,” Sean breathed, his dark eyes glistening.
“I’m okay dad. Although I have moments of uncertainty, I’ll get through this because I can think things out and am not afraid that the kids other than my friends treat me like some kind of freak because my mother died.”
She saw he father close his eyes and shake his head briefly.
“As I said, I’m okay and as for Thomas, the mothers of his pals are no longer talking to him as if he were a freak and had no family. I know it’s called adjustment.”
“The second thing I wish to say is I think as a family we coped with this thing very well because we got better coping the sicker mom became and our acceptance that her time was near arrived when she was hospitalized. But now I think we have become a bit cav.. cav…”
Sean offered, “Cavalier?”
“I think we have become a bit cavalier with each other. The glue that held us together is missing. I’ve read about that.”
“The third thing is as I’ve just said, we all knew our family spun around mom and now mom has gone. You are not going to like this dad but Thomas and I have discussed it when we could see where you and Isobel were heading. Thomas and I believe we would rather be with you spinning around Mrs Rose. And why dad? Because we think she’s the better fit. Isobel is okay but Mrs Rose reigns supreme.”
“That’s all,” Jenna said, watching her father gape.
He began defensively.
“It’s absurd to say Mrs Rose reigns supreme. Laurel radiates nothing and we barely notice her about the house. She’s nice looking but in comparison Isobel is beautiful with an outstanding figure. Grant you, Laurel is about my age whereas I give Isobel eleven years and her laughter is ever so musical and…
Jenna sighed and pulled two pillows and lay back against the wall to listen to the long reply, regretting she hadn’t placed a time limit on him. By the time he’d finished and they went out to the living room, Isobel had left the house.
His son asked, “What’s up dad?”
Sean said a little vaguely while peering out the window, “Oh nothing er… er…”
“Thomas,” Jenna offered icily.
Sean spun around and looked at his children in dismay. Finally he said, “It’s Saturday tomorrow, do you kids want to go with me and watch a game?”
“Yes dad,” Thomas shouted. “Benny and his parents are going to watch his bigger brother’s team play for a quarter-final place in the morning. Can we go to that?”
“I’m really not interested dad but after what I said to you, I’ll go in support of family unity.”
“Benny’s oldest brother is also going in support. He’s your age.”
“What’s their family name?”
“Omigod, you mean Luke McDonald?”
“Of course. Benny only has two brothers.”
“I’d love to go out somewhere with you guys in the morning,” Jenna said, straightening her hair.
* * *
The weather forecast for the day of Deborah Munro’s funeral was for showers and a 10 mph wind. In fact it was a sunny, still early spring day and the birds were singing and not all that many of the more than 250 people there were dressed entirely in black.
Sean had left it to a group of Debs’ four closest friends to arrange the service, to choose the order of service and he had no requests to make.
Laurel Rose, also a recent widow, took the lead because she’d have recent experience at a funeral.
There was only one hymn, right at the end following the blessing as the casket was shouldered from the church. The first and two following songs were three of the more toned-back of Debs’ favorite songs that Laurel had typed out and the words of each song was projected on to the drop-down screen in front of the congregation.
The clergyman entered into the spirit and at the burial at the lawn cemetery he and his wife and Debs’ four best friends she’s gone through senior high and college with, led the singing of ‘Shall We Gather at the River?’
It was so appropriate and so beautiful that many people had tears running down their cheeks as they sang and for Sean and for Jenna who was holding Thomas’ hand and Debs’ parents, they felt their grief lift a little.
The four friends had taken turns being around Thomas and Jenna during those final days before Debs died and Sean was ever so grateful for that. It wasn’t long before Thomas and Jenna were agreeing their favorite counselor was Mrs Rose. The others were great but Mrs Rose, well, rose above them.
The cheerful, pretty brunette Laurel Rose was forty-four, just a few months younger than Sean. She and her late husband had been unable to have children and had decided against adoption but, according to Jenna, that seemed to make no difference to Laurel who didn’t act toward her and Thomas any less understanding and enthusiastically and her three married friends who were mothers.
Although refreshments had been served in the hall attached to the crematorium chapel, many of those who attended the funeral accepted the invitation to later visit the family home. A large number of people accepted the chance to enter what was arguably the finest looking home in the city fronting Lake Hope and designed by Sean and his late mother who’d established the architectural firm.
Some of Sean’s pals arrived with barbeques and many people stayed late.
Laurel in the last group to leave and Sean called her back.
“Thomas has been asleep but has awakened and is dressed and won’t go back to bed and Jenna is now weeping because she regards this as her first night without her mother now Debs is buried. Would you please stay with us a little longer?”
“Of course darling,” she said, kissing Sean and that was nothing out of the ordinary. The four friends had always thought Debs had landed the best of the five guys and they all fell into the habit of kissing Sean and calling him darling as their special friend.
They played cards until Thomas was almost out on his feet. Sean carried Thomas off to bed and feeling alone again Jenna resumed crying and Laurel lay beside her on the sofa and hugged her and stroked her hair.
That’s where Sean found them. He smiled fondly and covered them with a rug and he lay on one of the other sofas and fell asleep.
Thomas awoke everyone yelling, “I’ll be late for school.”
“You don’t have to go to school,” Sean said but Thomas said he would feel better at school than hanging around the house.
Jenna decided she’d stay home all week.
Laurel rushed to the bathroom and then rushed to the kitchen to make breakfast for Thomas and make up his lunch box.
He looked at the kitchen clock as Laurel was combing his hair and said he’d missed the bus.
“No problem, I’ll drive you.”
Early afternoon on the third day after the funeral, Jenna decided to cycle to the mall and go to a movie.
Laurel, who’d returned each day to help around the house, offered to accompany her but Jenna said dully she’d be happy just being left alone. Laurel said she’d go home and Sean said he’d drop into the office but would be home before Thomas came home from school.
But he wasn’t. There was a problem with faulty window installation in a building under construction and he dealt with the irrationally complaining client and went on an inspection tour.
He arrived home to learn that Jenna arrived back from the mall to find Thomas swimming in the pool unsupervised.
“Oh god,” Sean groaned, and hugged them and said he was so, so sorry.
“We need a new mother.”
“Well Jenna that’s unlike to happen, well certainly not any time soon.”
He told them he’d advertised for a housekeeper and at breakfast next morning Jenna said to Laurel, who’d arrived to prepare their breakfast and get Thomas off to school and to do the laundry and other housework, “Dad’s going to advertise for a housekeeper Mrs Rose. Do you want the job?”
Sean lifted from his newspaper and said sharply, “Jenna.”
“Yes I’d like to be interviewed as a day housekeeper, hours 8:00 till you or your father arrive home. Someone needs to do the housework and to be here when Thomas arrives from school.”
Sean said, “Laurel I’m sorry I was going to approach you but…”
“Hush please Sean. We have a potential businesswoman here beginning to feel her responsible side.”
Ten minutes later Laurel was appointed day housekeeper on salary.
Before long, Laurel and Sean became aware their casual kiss and hi darling remained roughly as always but when they kissed at the end of the day if Sean was home early they became aware the kiss was not so casual and a couple of times Laurel had to haul Sean’s hand off her breast in case Thomas came to the door. She was aware she was pressing into Sean a bit when saying good night.
One Friday evening Thomas and Jenna were staying overnight with a school friend, Sean called Laurel.
“Hi the kids have gone and have my cell phone number. Would you like me to take you to a movie?”
“Sean we shouldn’t?”
“Why not, we are both respectable single people.”
“Um I’m no thinking straight. There must be a reason. Oh yes it’s too soon after the funeral.”
“Hmmm,” Sean said, entering a mode automatically used when dealing with difficult clients.
Predictably, Laurel waited as a couple of seconds ticked by, and that allowed her time to think whatever was he about to say.
“How short is long enough?”
“What? Oh you mean what is considered an acceptable period of respect?”
“Oh was I meaning that?”
“Look we are in a period of vagueness. Let’s go to a movie and have dinner.”
“But that’s a date.”
Sean snorted and said it was a meeting of convenience to seek clarification.
“Clarification as to what?”
“You need to decide if you wish to go to bed with me.”
Laurel flared, “Sean Munro, I will not consider going to bed with you until more water has passed under the bridge.”
“How much water?”
“Omigod,” she snorted. “This is like dealing with a kid with its bottom lip pushed out. Right I shall go to a movie with you this evening and then to dinner and the condition you do not leave the vehicle when you take me home.”
She said, sounding surprised, that she hadn’t thought she’d win that one so easily.
Sean said vaguely wasn’t she lucky, aware there was more than one way to skin a… er fish.
As Sean’s big Volvo pulled to a stop, Laurel said she’d really enjoyed the film and the foo d and company had been fabulous.”
“Good,” Sean yawned deceptively.
With one hand on the door handle, Laurel leaned across for a kiss.
She was seized, pulled away from the door and Sean was kissing Laurel who was caught by surprise and had her mouth opened. Now their tongues were touching.
“Oh god,” she whimpered, and took Sean’s hand and steered it under the V-front of her dress and he felt the built-in bra pull away as his hand cupped a cute and very warm breast with a nipple raised like a pencil tip rubber.
“Oh god,” murmured Laurel again, feeling herself dribbling into Sean’s mouth and their tongues sloshed.
Sean’s confidence was boosted by her unexpectedly tactile reaction and he squeezed a tit.
“Oh heavenly,” she sighed. “I’d forgotten dating could be like this and that I’m able to moisten my panties this way.”
Sean took the risk.
“Move your butt closer so I can get at you over this damn center console.”
She shifted nearer before he’d had time to wonder if she would respond, spread her legs and pulled her panties aside for him. In went Sean’s fingers and Laurel had a release almost immediately.
“Don’t stop, don’t stop,” she moaned. “It’s been such a long time for me.”
She had soaked his fingers and hand and Sean answered the call and any hot-blooded guy would do. He twisted and counter-twisted his fingers and dabbed at her clit with his thumb and finally she got off big time and she sunk down into the seat, breathing heavily. Sean thought well that was it, but it wasn’t.
Laurel unzipped Sean and dug his piece out and said something about this was not a one-way street and momentarily he wondered about that but threw back his head in delight when her skill as a cocksucker went to work on his needy erection.
When she finally sucked and jacked him off to a messy conclusion, for a moment Sean worried he’d lost his eye-sight because everything turned into blackness with red popping spots and sheets of flashing yellow light. As he regained his vision he saw Laurel lifting her head from him and wiping away globs of cum at the sides of her mouth and was left with a cum replica mustache. She ignored his giggle and wiped her top lip clean.
“Please come into the house,” she smiled seductively although looking a bit tired but he said no, they had an agreement to keep. She looked mortified and kissed him without arguing and turned and waved as she reached the door.
Driving home with that image of her standing and waving, Sean said in awe, “God what a great fuck in-waiting.”
He’d reached the bedroom when she called.
“Hi Laurel, how are you feeling?”
“Tired but riding a beautiful wave emotionally. You have left me feeling like a woman again. I think until tonight I thought of myself as a withering stump.”
“Oh I can’t have you feeling like that. You need to be repeatedly and frequently fucked.”
“Well that’s just it. I’ll want to have frequent sex again but I don’t wish to rush into it and with anyone else until I’m ready and allow for what I believe is a suitable period of mourning for her over the loss of her husband.”
“Fair enough and so when will that be, next week?”
Laurel sighed and said several months she would think.
“But I don’t expect you to wait for me,” she said. “I’m happy for you to find someone else. I would like to keep on as housekeeper until you have your domestic arrangements settled.”
“Fair enough. The let’s keep on as we have been doing Laurel, er prior to tonight.”
And that’s what they did.
A fortnight after Deb’s funeral, the firm’s leading AutoCAD drafter, Isobel Tanner entered Sean’s office, he seeing her approach and waved her in.
“May I talk, um personally?”