tagIncest/TabooFrom the Heart

From the Heart

byDamoiselle©

Author's note: Hello, all! This is my entry for the Winter Holiday contest, and it's fairly uncharted territory for me. I decided to go a little outside of my comfort zone for this piece, and any feedback you can provide is deeply appreciated.

All the characters depicted in this work of fiction are at least 18 years of age.

~ * ~

Christmastime in Santa Barbara is a technicolor experience. The verdant palm trees lining its streets are encircled with spirals of white lights, and behind them, the sky is a florid kaleidoscope. In the evening, shades of peach and creamsicle and fuchsia spread against a canvas the color of the Caribbean Sea. Hardly holiday colors, admittedly, but the coffee shops and bakeries do their best to make up for it with an abundance of spiced treats that permeate the air with peppermint and cinnamon.

Hunter drove his rented convertible through the sun-washed streets toward his parents' house, the wind just crisp enough to dance through the light brown waves of his short hair and to validate the warm turtleneck he wore. As he drove, it was his sister that he thought of, his sister that he—in every sense of the word—ached to see.

Hunter had doted on Amy since the first moment he held her in his arms.

He hadn't expected to. He was nearly four when she was born, and yearned for a younger brother with which he could share everything. It had seemed like a flagrant betrayal when his parents had brought home a girl instead.

Until she looked at him.

Her eyes were immense, taking up easily the majority of her round face, and they had opened when he—a little reluctantly—accepted a chance to hold her. It lasted for little more than a second, but for the child he had been, there was an eternity in the moment when she looked up at him, her newborn gaze adorably unfocused.

Soon after that, she closed her eyes and slept contentedly, her little head pressed against his chest, her rosebud lips opening and shutting drowsily. He held her for as long as they would let him.

Amy returned Hunter's attachment tenfold. She was a happy baby and seeing her parents enter a room was enough to make her smile, but she lit up at the sight of her big brother. She watched him with a reverent fascination, like a flower reaching toward sunlight, giddy and worshipfully solemn by turns.

When Amy learned to walk, nothing made her happier than to stumble into her brother's arms, and then follow him around everywhere. He went through a phase, naturally, where her tendency to wander after him became as much burden as blessing. There were times when he just wanted to play with his friends, grateful to have a chance to go over to other kids' houses where he wouldn't have to go slowly and look out for Amy every instant.

But then he would come back, and her smile would turn as bright as sunlight, and he would realize he missed her.

Amy was a cute baby and pretty girl, but Hunter never felt overlooked beside her, as so many older children do. Indeed, it was Hunter who was the golden boy. Hunter, who most excelled athletically and academically. Hunter, of whom their parents endlessly catalogued virtues.

It was perhaps partly because Amy didn't particularly resemble either of their parents very closely. She didn't look entirely unlike them, exactly—no one who saw her peridot green eyes could deny that she was part of the Daniels family. But some pre-parental influence in her bloodline had clearly surfaced in the form of her petite stature, in comparison to the towering form of her parents. Somehow the fusion of their father's square jaw and their mother's elongated, gracefully tapering features had given rise to Amy's heart-shaped face. Somehow the ski-slope shape of their mother's nose and the broad, Roman shape of their father's had merged to form something pert and daintily upturned in Amy's countenance.

Nonetheless, their parents certainly couldn't deny that Amy had talents of her own. Indeed, she had several. She was lavishly artistic, frequently drawing and crafting.

Of particular note was her knack for selling. With her bouncy brown curls and dimples that sweetened her sunny smile, Amy could charm the money right out of their wallets. She won an award for highest sales nearly every time their school hosted a candy drive.

The proceeds from such awards were primarily what funded his sister's other special talent: finding, without fail, the perfect gift for any occasion. Hunter was of the firm opinion that his sister had to be the best gift giver in the world. She was barely eight when she first developed the habit of making her own cards for birthday and thank you notes.

On his twelfth birthday, when he loved baseball more than anything, there was a certain trading card he had wanted desperately. He stared at it in the shop window every day for a month, and his father promised it to him if his team won the final game of the season. He had never focused on anything in the world more than winning that game.

They lost.

Hunter sat on the stoop afterwards, watching the drizzly evening turn to night. Amy joined him, pink umbrella in hand, and the two sat together in a state of gentle quiet until their parents insisted they come inside.

The next day, he awoke to a gift from Amy. It wasn't the card he had sought so desperately but rather a large, hand-drawn replica she'd worked on all that night.

He was touched. It wasn't the same as owning the real thing, but no one other than his sister could have made a substitution mean so much.

And then few days later, as he got ready to climb into bed, he threw back his covers to find a large envelope laying on his sheets. His breath caught at the sight of his name written in loopy marker print, and he opened it slowly, a dreamy hope filling his head like mist. There was a smaller envelope inside, and inside of that, there was his card.

He found out later that his sister had spent the entirety of her candy bar sale winnings on the gift. Their parents had found out, of course. They had demanded to know where the money had gone, and Hunter had told them to spare Amy the brunt of their ire.

He was allowed to keep the card, however, and the tradition of secret gifts had been born.

When Hunter hit puberty, he grew more distant, but as much as his hormones upended his peace of mind, he couldn't quite transform into the surly, aloof elder brother he sometimes felt like. For the first part, they shared a bathroom adjoining both of their rooms, making it impossible to hide from her the way he often could from his parents.

For the second, the occasional impulse to hide from their parents was one that they shared, one that bonded them together. It wasn't that they felt ill-treated, not in the least. Their parents provided for them and cared what became of them, which is more than some children have. But every once in awhile, Hunter would want to avoid one of the serious discussions with his father about the right college to go to or the right sports to play. Discussions that, over time, made him feel more like a clone than a son.

Luckily for him, Amy was always there when he needed someone to make him feel like his own person again.

By the time he turned sixteen, playing the guitar had replaced baseball as his passion, and his favorite band, Starfire Stereo Club, had replaced sports icons as his heroes. As far as his parents knew, Amy had given him a customized guitar pick with his name and an image of the band on it for his birthday.

Secretly, she'd also arranged for him to have a private session in a professional recording studio and had his playing recorded on disc. That time around, she had gotten most of his friends to pitch in for the gift, but it was Amy who had organized everything.

Every year, there was something, and every year it was perfect.

All the while, Hunter watched her blossom into a young woman, and watched other young men watch her as well.

It wasn't that anyone took him as jealous, or even unpleasantly protective. He was never rude or aggressive toward Amy's litany of potential beaux, but his concern loomed like a cloud around his spirit. He saw her insecurities surge against her hormones when she was thirteen, and felt an intense pang of empathy as her body turned into a treacherous landscape, always shifting what it wanted with little concern for her convenience. He knew the feeling.

When Amy turned sixteen, things shifted once again. Amy's body, previously lithe with an abundance of ballet practice and recitals to send her metabolism into overdrive, filled out. Her curves rounded. She was still rather on the dainty side, but she was no longer the svelte creature he'd lived alongside for years. She suddenly looked womanly.

Her voice lost its high, breathy pitch as well. Its musical tones turned lower, velvety. The sound of her laughter grew more sensual, unintentionally insinuating. Now when she smiled at him, a strange tightness would fill his chest, as though something inside of it was struggling to break free.

Of course, she was still his innocent, soft-hearted little sister, oblivious to the thoughts that began stirring in him. And he would make sure to keep it that way. Hunter took to retreating to his room more frequently, and to taking cold showers. Their family wasn't Catholic, but he developed, almost without realizing it, a kind of system of self-punishment. Think about Amy's body: a cold shower. Get hard thinking about Amy's body: stay away from her for at least three hours. It was unpleasant, but it worked.

All the while, he had made himself into the model brother, and the model son. He took the right classes, joined the right clubs, went to the right college. He did everything his parents asked of him, and made silent penance for the lurking desires he kept secreted behind every hug or kiss on the cheek.

Now Hunter was twenty two, and as he stood on the porch outside his home, there was really only one reason he was excited to be there. He took a breath before he rang the bell.

After a pause, he heard the sound of swift, small footsteps on the other side of the door. When the door flew open, and a very small, very sweet smelling person threw themselves into his arms.

"Hunter!"

Her bouncy curls had softened to gentle brown waves that framed her rose and honey complexion. She smiled at him, pure and luminous as a sunrise, and he felt a familiar tightness in his chest. And elsewhere, when he saw how closely her white sweater hugged her full chest.

Their eyes were the exact same shade of golden green; their hair the same shade of light brown. Even their grins matched as they looked at one another, their eyes more communicative than words could ever be.

He went inside then, to accept his mother's doting hugs and his father's testosterone-laced shoulder slaps.

Christmas Eve at the Daniels' house was a meticulously planned occasion. The house was replete with wreaths, lights, and numerous resplendent depictions of the virgin birth.

Their mother had prepared a fruit salad with mint and lime simple syrup, and ham with an apricot glaze. It looked like a magazine cover, and Hunter's mother was delighted when he said so.

When it was time for them to open presents, their mother circled with a camera, already planning to send thank you notes to particular family members. Marilyn Daniels was nothing if not fastidious.

Altogether, it was a good day. Their mother gave him and Amy clothing, as always, exactly the sort she preferred to see them in. Their father gave him the newest version of the same gold watch he'd gotten the past five versions of over the years, impersonal and ostentatious as ever. Hunter put it on with dutiful immediacy, while his mother cooed over how proud he made them and how much they felt he deserved something nice. Hunter smiled and thanked them, but couldn't help his eyes from drifting to Amy, who never received such prosaic speeches.

Amy, true to form, gave their father a fine leather case for his smart tablet embossed with a tasteful anagram of his initials. She gave their mother an anniversary edition of her favorite classic romance film, complete with a photograph book dealing with how it was made. She gave Hunter a handsome, leather-bound planner—a completely normal non-secret gift—but when he opened it up he saw that this time, she had included a surprise within the first gift. In the flap two tickets peaked out at him with the words "Starfire Stereo Club" printed in bold, and in finer print Hunter could make out "Reunion Tour." Amy had pasted a light blue post-it with the word, "Shh," written on it directly beneath that.

Across from him, Amy's eyes were sparkling. He repressed the urge to grin back at her, and thanked her for the planner for their parents benefit.

This time, at least, he felt he'd matched her efforts. He leaned back, pleased with himself, as he watched his little sister unwrap his present to her.

"It's a book of Danielle Fontaine paintings," said Amy, joy glowing from her eyes and turning her already disarming prettiness into something radiant. She hugged him, and kissed his cheek just like she had when she was little.

The rest of their evening was planned, naturally, with a sober church service followed by what was traditionally a very un-sober dinner party. They had time to wash up and dress beforehand, and Hunter managed to give Amy nearly a half an hour before he succumbed to the temptation to knock on her door from their adjoined bathroom.

She opened the door so quickly it was as though she'd been waiting for him. "What do you think?" she asked, beaming at him and drawing him into her room by the hand.

Amy's bedroom always struck him as a space apart from the rest of the house, as though someone had removed the real room and left an oversized doll's room in its place. It wasn't very large, but the large window contributed to a deceptive sense of spaciousness. Sheer curtains the color of ballet slippers veiled the glass, but not enough to hide the darkening sky.

"The concert's next week," she said. "I thought we could pretend we were doing something else, just for old time sake, but if that's too juvenile for your law student tastes we don't have to." She dropped onto her bed, still smiling up at him. "The thing is," she added, with a impish glint in her eyes, "I still kind of like keeping secrets from them, even if I don't have to anymore."

Hunter let out a short laugh, "I know the feeling. Secret works for me. In the meanwhile—,"

"I get to open whatever it is you have in your pocket?" she asked, her dimples showing and her eyes bright with anticipation.

"Brat," he said, with a grin to match hers, and extracted the small, silver gift box from his pocket. He didn't have her knack for wrapping, but he knew her taste. There was a delicate, swirling design etched into the box, and rose pink ribbon tied into a simple bow wrapped around it.

Her eyes sparkled just as much as they had when she'd watched him open his gift. Presents were Amy's favorite way of expressing affection, and she loved receiving nearly as much as she loved giving.

Hunter watched her open the box, and extract the smaller jewelry case from inside.

She let out a small gasp of delight, lifting a pendant necklace from the box, its delicate chain glinting between her fingers. Dozens of minuscule pink gemstones glittered in a white gold setting, and Amy watched the crystals catch the light, enchanted.

"Oh, Hunter," she said, "This is too much."

Her face didn't say it was too much, however, and it was her face Hunter watched most closely. His heart seemed to grow another size when he saw the delight in her eyes. "I'll help you put it on," he said, and drew her hair to the side so that he could manage the clasp.

"Hunter, it's the best—The most beautiful thing anyone has—," she couldn't finish, and Hunter heard her voice fill with raw feeling in alarm. Hunter knew Amy's reactions by heart. He knew when her tears were happy, when they were sad, and when they were too complicated to be described entirely as either.

He lowered to a knee beside her bed, his eyes dark with concern. "Amy," he said, his tone hazing between concern and excitement. "What's wrong?"

"Trey and I broke up," she said, with a watery attempt at a wry smile.

Hunter shifted closer, his brow drawn, and took her hand.

"It just made me think of it," she explained, shrugging. "I don't know why. He never gave me anything like this—not that I expected him to. I don't expect jewelry all the time, but..."

She looked down, at their intertwined hands, and traced the lines with the fingertips of her free hand. "We...It happened after our first time. Together."

"Oh," said Hunter, sensing something dark grumbling somewhere deep in his chest.

"He said that I—," she chewed her lower lip delicately, painfully self-conscious about sharing something like this with him. "That I wasn't very good."

It took Hunter a moment to process enough of his own rage, bewilderment, and disbelief before he could manage a coherent thought.

"It was your first time!" he said, his voice harsher than he'd intended, feeling slightly strangled. They had never discussed these things so openly before, certainly not when it pertained to them. "You're not supposed to be good."

"Well, we fought, and it was really bad." He watched her blink back the emotion that brimmed in her eyes. "I know it was probably true, and probably not a big deal. Like you said—first time." She shook her head. "It's just that it was my birthday and it was supposed to be...special. It was supposed to—I don't know, but it wasn't, and Trey made it seem like it was my fault. And I know he thinks he can just say things like that and crook his finger later on and I'll just come running back—,"

"Amy," Hunter said, squeezing her hand, "Trey is an idiot if he takes you for granted, and I promise—," he struggled to find the words, ignoring the way searching for them made his face feel hot and his throat feel tight, "It's not always that way. The first time is usually awkward. It's not someone's fault."

"I just...," she laughed, embarrassed, and wiped away the threatening moisture near her lashes. "Sometimes I wish I could find a guy like you."

Hunter felt the painful constriction in his chest sharpen as though it had grown a razor's edge.

"Amy," he said, his face close to hers. Her eyes seemed so large, shining with unshed tears and devoted fondness as she looked back at him.

And then, so gently and easily it was as though it was the most natural thing in the world, his lips touched hers.

She tasted like powdered sugar and garden sunshine, like comfort and warmth.

He felt the gentle gasp in her kiss, the stunned surprise, and it might have been a punch to the gut for how hard it drove the reality of what he was doing into his awareness.

He wrenched himself away as though he'd been scalded, though it had taken the entirety of his willpower to do so.

"Oh," she said, her fingers touching her lips as though the texture of them was new to her. Her eyes were wide with shock when they met his.

"Oh," she said again.

He stood and moved to the wall, turning away so that she wouldn't see the realization and shame coalescing in his eyes, placing his hands against the reassuringly firm surface.

"I'm sorry," he said, his head bowed. The shiver that raced along his spine was not entirely horror, not entirely unpleasant, and that only deepened his guilt. "God, Amy, I'm sorry."

He didn't know how long he stayed like that. He didn't notice her move, but when he felt her hand on his arm, it didn't startle him. It just sent more shivers through his skin like a static current. He felt as though his awareness had heightened, as though a forbidden box had opened inside of him and released every dark impulse he had buried since Amy had grown breasts.

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byDamoiselle© 38 comments/ 112143 views/ 173 favorites

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