Gordian Knotbyadam applebiter©
* * *
"Luce!" Peter called out as he arrived home. There was no answer and he assumed she was next door with Lucy. It was only when he went upstairs to change out of his golf gear that he saw the ladder to the attic and the light from the open hatchway. Thinking Luce must have forgotten to switch it off, Peter climbed the ladder to reach the switch. He heard sobbing.
"Luce?" He climbed higher until his head was above the hatch. Luce was sitting, surrounded by notebooks, staring red-eyed at him. "Luce! What's the matter?" He clambered up the last few rungs and went to his obviously upset daughter.
"Don't touch me!" Luce screamed at him, batting his hand from her shoulder. "Don't touch me." She repeated quietly before returning to sobbing.
"Luce, honey, what's the matter?" Peter fought the impulse to hug her.
"You-you raped her... You raped my mother!" She screamed at him. "Our mother." Luce whispered.
Peter realized that the notebooks strewn across the bare boards of the attic must be Georgina's old journals. He felt suddenly cold. "Luce, I can explain..." It was lame, clichéd even, but it was all he could think to say.
"Explain?" Luce was shrill. "How can you explain raping your own mother, pretending to be her husband, fathering your own half-sister? How can anything explain that?" She shuffled away from him, pressing herself into a corner.
"Luce..." Peter said sadly. "Luce...I'm not your father. Georgina and I would never have risked that but I was her husband and, yes, I raped her. It was a mother's love for her son that let her forgive me and..." Peter could see he wasn't reaching her. He shut up and went back down the ladder.
Luce curled into a tight ball and cried. Eventually, sheer emotional exhaustion made her sleep. When she woke up, the house was silent. She looked at her watch: 11PM. She crawled to the hatchway, swung her legs down onto the ladder and descended, flicking the light off as she passed. The landing was dark except for the line of light under the guestroom door. She turned away from it and went to her own room, collapsing onto her bed still dressed in dusty, grubby clothes and hugging a pillow to her bosom. Now sleep evaded her.
"And what?" Luce demanded, standing over her 'father' as he shielded sleepy eyes from the glare of electric light.
He squinted at the alarm clock: 01:25. It took a few seconds to realize what she meant. "And I loved her – as a son and as a husband. You grew up in this house. Did you ever see anything but love between us?" His eyes could focus on her now. He was wide awake. He sat up.
"No." Luce answered. In all her internal tirade against her so-called-father, now half-brother, she had ignored the evidence of twenty years observation. No matter what else, she couldn't deny that they'd seemed to be in love.
"Sit, please." Peter patted the duvet next to him and waited. After a long moment's pause, she complied. "Better. Luce, I know this has come as a shock, following right on top of our mother's death but you must know I loved Georgina and she loved me. If anything, the fact we had two relationships made us even closer than other couples because our bond was more than just mutual attraction. What you can't possibly grasp is just how wonderful it is to lie in the arms of a woman who's loved you unconditionally since before you were born and who, no matter what, will never ever fall out of love with you. To make love and watch her face contort in ecstasy as she comes and to whisper "I love you Mom." as she comes back down.
I loved Georgina all my life. I loved her as a child and I loved her as a man and our love hurt nobody." Peter paused. He'd spent years rationalizing his relationship with his mother but he'd never expected to have to argue its case.
"For all this perfect love, you still went swinging." Luce sounded belligerent.
"Because of our love. Who we slept with for fun couldn't upset our relationship. How many men would Georgina have had to fuck before I was no longer her son? How many women in my bed would stop her being my mother? How many kinky games could match our own secret fetish?"
"So where do I fit in?" Luce got to the point.
"We wanted to be a proper family, to have a child of our own. I had a vasectomy before we even moved in together, during the weeks when Georgie was packing up all those journals I thought she'd burned. We both knew the risks inherent in incest and it seemed the best solution. But Georgina wanted a baby so much..."
"Who's my father?"
"I am. That hasn't changed just because you've read a few old journals. I was your father from the moment you were born. I held your mother's hand as she pushed you into this world. I cut your umbilical cord. I gave you your name and I loved you every moment since. But Jean-Paul did the one thing I couldn't."
"J-P? My godfather is really my father?"
"Your biological father, yes. But I will always be your father in all other ways. Jean-Paul was adamant about that. He never wanted you to know. He gave Georgina and I the greatest gift – you." Peter heard his own words and flinched at their triteness.
"So I'm named after Lucy because she let her husband stand at stud?"
"No. You're named after your godmother because she made it possible for Georgina to have a baby. She saw how much Georgina and I wanted a child and she persuaded Jean-Paul to help."
"So do they know about you and Mother?" Luce wasn't thawing.
"No! We told them I was infertile. We never elaborated. They wouldn't have understood."
"I doubt I'll ever understand either. Everything I've ever known has been a lie, hasn't it?" tears were welling in her eyes again.
"Our love for our daughter was never a lie." Peter tentatively reached for her hand. Luce didn't pull away. "I am your father, Luce. That isn't a lie. I am and always will be. You're all I have left in the world." He was in tears too now. Clinging to her hand desperately.
It dawned on Luce what he meant. He'd lost his wife publicly and his mother privately and was grieving both. Despite her anger, she felt a pang of sympathy for him and somehow the fact that they'd both lost their mother drew her closer to him. She pulled her hand away, but gently, got up and returned to her own bed without a word.
* * *
They avoided each other for the next couple of days. When Luce wasn't in her room, reading Georgina's journals, she contrived to be out of the house. Peter was kind of glad not to have to deal with all this right away. He had no idea how he could mend his relationship with his daughter but he figured the more of her mother's journals she read, the less he would have to explain. To this end, he left a box outside Luce's bedroom door. It was almost full of Georgina's later journals: all the volumes since their move to Ann Arbor. He noted with slight satisfaction that the box disappeared from the landing overnight. It was Wednesday evening before he saw Luce again. She came into the family room with one of the newer journals, folded herself into one corner of the sofa and continued to read. She didn't say a word to Peter.
Late in the evening, Luce closed the notebook – she'd appeared to be halfway through it – and burst into tears. Peter, guided by paternal autopilot, moved to his daughter's side and held her. He met no resistance as she pressed her face to his chest and sobbed almost soundlessly. Peter held her tight, saying nothing. He glanced at the notebook as it slipped to the floor. It was the last one Georgina had started. Luce had read them all. Thirty years of her mother's private thoughts in three days. Little wonder she was emotional.
"I'm sorry Dad." She mumbled against his shirt. "I – I understand now. Mom's... explained...Sorry." She made to get up, pushed herself upright and ran to her room.
Peter followed her. He tapped on her door. "Luce, can I come in?" He turned the handle without waiting for a reply. The door swung open and he entered. Luce was sprawled on her bed, her face pressed into the pillows. The room smelled musty with old books. Georgina's journals littered the floor. "Luce." Peter sat on the bed and rested a hand on her back. "You have nothing to say sorry for. You've done nothing wrong."
"But I called you a rapist... I thought... so many terrible things about you... I ..."
"I was a rapist... I was obsessed with our mother and I raped her. Anybody would have reacted the way you did. You're reaction is the only normal thing about this situation." They talked quietly for several hours and Peter told her his side of the story: about the inheritance from his estranged father, the pictures and video, the growing obsession and eventual rape, the reconciliation and consummation. When he'd finished, he was exhausted. Yawning, he kissed Luce's forehead and bid her goodnight. The guest room beckoned.
"Goodnight Dad." Luce's voice halted him in the doorway.
"Sweet dreams Luce." He turned out the light and closed her door.
Peter slept well and woke late. As he lay in bed contemplating the situation, he concluded that, these traumatic few days not withstanding, he was glad Luce knew the truth. The timing could have been better but there was no use crying over spilt milk.
When he finally got as far as the kitchen in search of coffee, there was a note for him on the counter. The Elles had gone shopping. Peter smiled to himself when he saw that the note was on the back of an Amex envelope. Some things were clearly back to normal.
* * *
"Hello stranger." Lucy answered the door and found Luce on the porch. "Come in. I've just made a fresh pot."
"I could smell it. Why d'you think I came round?" Luce followed Lucy to the kitchen.
"I thought perhaps it was to tell me you were still alive and well, so I could call off the FBI."
"Sorry. I had some issues to sort out. I guess I've been dodging everyone this week."
"I'm teasing you, Honey." Lucy patted Luce's knee maternally. "We missed you though. The twins 'll be home this weekend."
"Cool. How long for?"
"Just the weekend. I think they just want to make sure they see you before you go back to college. Have you decided how long you're staying home?"
"Another week or two. Dad's still in the guest room. I don't want to leave him all alone while he still can't sleep in his own bed."
"Still? Oh, poor Peter."
"This just arrived." Luce dug her new credit card out of a pocket. It shined, excitingly golden as she flexed it. "Fancy a bit of retail therapy?"
"You have to ask?"
The Elles finished their coffee and headed into town.
Luce steered them into an upmarket jewellers to look at gent's watches, settling on an understated and elegant piece by Patek Phillipe for a mere $30k. Lucy nearly had heart failure.
"Luce, are you insane?"
"Relax Lucy. It's a once in a lifetime extravagance. Trust me." Then to the sales assistant. "Can you engrave something on the back for me?"
"Certainly Miss." He slid a small notepad and an antique fountain pen toward her. "If you'd like to write down the inscription..."
"No peeking." Luce admonished Lucy as she wrote, shielding the pad from prying eyes. "It's a surprise." She tore off the top sheet, folded it in two and handed it to the assistant.
After a couple of hours of 'normal' shopping and a bite of lunch in a sushi bar, the Elles picked up the now engraved watch and headed home.
* * *
"Forgive me, Mother." Luce whispered to herself as she applied the finishing flourishes to her makeup. She had a lot planned for tonight and things were certainly going to change around here in the aftermath. She looked at herself in the dressing table mirror: Pretty hot, if she said so herself. This was the first time since coming home for Mom's funeral that she'd even felt like dressing up. Not that she was going all out like on a first date: She'd picked out her most conservative dress. Conservative it may be, frumpy it ain't.
Makeup complete, Luce slipped out of her robe and into the dress. She caught a glimpse of herself in a cheval glass and paused. "I hope to Christ, you know what you're doing, Girl." She said to her reflection. The girl in the mirror, half in, half out of a very blue dress, winked at her.
Peter wondered what his daughter was being so cryptic about. As he showered and shaved, he replayed their recent conversation. It still didn't make any sense. Why was tonight a special occasion? It wasn't anyone's birthday or anniversary and Jean-Paul hadn't known anything about it either. Oh well, there was nothing to do but play it out and see what Luce was up to.
When he'd finished dressing, smartly as per his daughter's orders, he was just deciding to wait downstairs with a cuddly bourbon when he heard a quiet knock on the door. He opened it and...
"Like it?" Luce reached up and with one finger gently lifted his lower jaw back into place.
"Why am I dressed up if you're off to the Prom tonight?"
"Shh. You're all dressed up because I am and I'm damned if I was going to be the only one. Besides, I couldn't wear Mom's diamonds with jeans and a sweatshirt." Luce brushed back her hair and turned her head a fraction so that the solitaire in her ear caught the light.
Peter smiled down at her. "Georgie would certainly approve." He bent and kissed his daughter's cheek.
"I know. Mom bought this dress for me – last Christmas. Remember?"
"No. But it should have come with a jacket."
Luce glanced down at her cleavage. It wasn't that revealing, just a bit of décolletage. "I think that may be the first time anyone's had anything negative to say about my boobs. I have it on good authority that I have very nice boobs. I can get references if you like. I know!" She raised one finger theatrically. "I'll give you the phone numbers of some boys so you can call them and ask." She wore an impish grin.
"You can give me the numbers of those boys so I can call a hit man."
"Daddy!" Luce feigned horror. The clock in the hall chimed the hour.
"Shall we make a move or are you planning on making us fashionably late?"
Luce took Peter's arm as soon as they were out of the front door. She'd insisted on the front door instead of the usual route via the little gate out back, asserting that they were not properly attired for knocking on kitchen doors. So they strolled arm-in-arm down one driveway and up the other.
Jean-Paul answered the bell. He was formally dressed too but had even less idea what for than did Peter. He was charmingly complementary about Luce's dress though, observing that the effort of dressing for dinner was now amply rewarded. Luce kissed him for that, then tutted at herself as she removed a neat lip print from his cheek.
Throughout dinner, Luce refused to be drawn on the reason tonight was a special occasion. She just fended off enquiries with a smile and told them to consider it payback for what they'd done to her last week. Lucy had some theories of her own – all wrong – but let her goddaughter keep the men in suspense until dessert was cleared away and the smell of coffee filled the dining room.
"Luce, haven't you kept us waiting long enough?" Peter asked.
"Yes Luce, what's the special occasion?" Jean-Paul wanted to know.
Luce looked across the table to Lucy.
"Don't look at me, Honey. This is your show." Lucy wondered how Peter was going to react to his present. She was as eager to see his expression as she was to find out why Luce had bought him such an expensive watch.
Luce shrugged and took the exquisitely wrapped box from her clutch bag, turning it over in her nervous fingers. Suddenly she had major stage fright.
"I-err-I've been trying for days to find the right words for this moment..." Three silent faces waited for her to continue. "I guess everything I really want to say is in here." As if coming to a snap decision, she thrust the box at Jean-Paul. "This is for you... With all my love."
Lucy was stunned. Jean-Paul? Not Peter? What was Luce doing? She stared in silence as Jean-Paul, looking puzzled and more than a little surprised, opened the package.
Peter watched impatiently as his friend removed the ribbon and paper with his customary care not to tear it.
Jean-Paul finally got the paper off. He frowned when he read Patek Phillipe embossed on the leather of the box. He opened it and ever so carefully lifted out the watch. It was truly a thing of beauty – elegant, understated, as flawless aesthetically as it was mechanically. Jean-Paul was speechless. Then he turned the watch over in his palm and read the inscription.
"Well, what does it say?" Lucy's patience was completely exhausted. Jean-Paul didn't say anything, just handed her the watch to read for herself. Lucy glanced at it then looked across the table to Luce. The girl had big tears in her eyes. As Lucy watched, the first of them rolled down her cheek. Luce tried to stand – hell bent on flight.
Jean-Paul was on his feet before her. He folded her into his arms and hugged her tight. He looked almost ready to cry too.
Peter picked the watch out of Lucy's unresisting hand and looked at it. The inscription read "Thanks for the DNA". He glanced up at his old friend and mouthed "Sorry."
Jean-Paul said "It's ok." But it was anybody's guess whether he was answering Peter or speaking to his eldest child. He held her for a long time, like a seawall, unmoving while the tide vents all its pent up energy against it. He had time to think. When he'd first agreed to father Georgina's child, he'd insisted that that child should never know. Peter would be the father in all but the biological sense. It had been a fine idea but over two decades it had been harder and harder to ignore his daughter next door. He'd followed her progress through school, all the little triumphs of childhood and her transition to womanhood as avidly as her 'parents' though from a further vantage point. So was he upset now that the secret was out? Hell, No! Now the shock was wearing off, he was euphoric. Holding her for the first time as her father, he lacked the will power to let go.
Peter felt Lucy's hand creep into his and squeeze his fingers. He tore his eyes away from the reunion to look at her.
"How?" Lucy asked. Peter filled in the rest of the question.
"It was all in Georgie's journals. Luce has been reading them. I had thought she wasn't going to say anything though."
"Silly man." Lucy smiled at him. "How could she keep quiet about this?" She gestured at the others.
"I suppose so." Peter was worried though. Was Luce going to reveal the other skeleton she'd found in the family closet? He tried to get his mind off that awful prospect by taking another look at the watch. "This is quite a thing." He turned the watch face up and examined it. "Our daughter certainly has a flair for the theatrical."
Our daughter. There! He'd said it. From now on, that's how he'd think of her. Jean-Paul threw him a reassuring smile.
* * *
There were a couple of emotional hours including an embrace for Peter and Lucy, in the kitchen while supposedly clearing dishes, that left Peter with the first erection he'd had since – well a long time before Georgina's death. He hadn't thought seriously about sex for months. He couldn't see Lucy's smile because her face was pressed to his shoulder but his gallant reaction pleased her. She remembered what Luce had proposed – she'd have to talk to Luce about that again.
Somewhere about midnight, Luce took Peter's arm home. The rest of him was attached to it but appeared to be playing host to a little too much wine.
"Wait one minute. I'll give you a hand with him." Jean-Paul offered as Peter swayed on the doorstep.
"It's ok." Luce pulled Peter closer so he could lean on her for balance. "We'll manage. Goodnight Lucy... Father..." Her eyes met Jean-Paul's as she said it. She blushed a little and looked all set to get emotional again.