"Which do you think we should use as a tree topper, Merri?"
"Beats me. And who cares anyway? What's this need for a tree? It's Christmas Eve already. You'll just want to take it down tomorrow anyway. And it's a lame tree; you sure you got all of the branches it's supposed to have out of that box?"
Paul had been buzzing around the silver aluminum artificial tree he'd taken out of the attic earlier in the day. He had propped it up as best he could in the corner of the living room. Then he had spent all of the time he had planned to have to take on the total job just getting the strings of lights untangled and had completely forgotten to make dinner in the process.
Merri was irritated, not so much because she had missed eating dinner—although it was his turn to fix it, there wasn't anything he knew how to fix in the kitchen anyway—but because he had forgotten to make it. He was getting forgetful about a lot of stuff of late. If she hadn't been so engrossed in the book she was reading, she could have made it herself. But it was the principle of the thing. It was his turn.
"There. I think leaning it into the corner will keep it from falling into the room."
Merri took a long look of mixed emotions at her father. Anyone could have pegged him as the retired professor that he was—complete with slightly bent back, leather-elbowed cardigan, and glasses on top of his head where he would have forgotten he'd perched them. He was still a fine-looking man, though. He hadn't gone to fat like most of his colleagues had done, and she was quite fond of the gray. But she didn't know how much longer they could go on like this. She couldn't even remember which side of sixty he was on.
But he took her breath away when he entered her deep.
"I think it would be nice for Stevie if we had a tree. Just like we used to."
Merri snapped back into the present. "What? You're going to send Stevie photos in Seattle?"
"Well, hardly. He can see it for himself. He said he'd be here before noon."
"Before noon? What noon?"
"Tomorrow. He's coming for Christmas."
"Steve here? With us for Christmas? What the? . . . and how long have we known this?"
"Oh, I don't know. You sure I didn't tell you?"
"No, you friggin well didn't tell me, Dad. Steve in this house . . . with us?"
She looked at her father. He had such an open, innocent look on his face that she couldn't go on. He didn't understand. He'd never been able to understand. It was like he had no idea what all of this had done to the family.
"You don't remember what happened two Christmases ago? It wasn't explosive enough that you didn't—?"
The telephone rang. The two of them remained there, looking at each other. Paul was holding an angel ornament in his hand and giving her a sloppy, lovable grin.
"You gonna answer that?" Merri asked.
"Oh, for the loving . . ." Merri slapped the copy of Fifty Shades of Grey down on top of the table next to the La-Z-Boy recliner, flipped back her straight, black bangs, and lurched off toward the telephone in the kitchen.
Paul turned back to the tree, humming an off-tone rendition of "I'll Be Home for Christmas" absentmindedly to himself as he walked around the tree looking for the best place to hang the angel. "Wahla!" he exclaimed when he'd hung it on the tree. "Perfect."
"Yes, just perfect. Just frigging perfect." Merri didn't sound even as happy as she was when she had left the room.
Paul turned toward the door into the kitchen, looking a little confused, but giving his daughter a tentative smile. This despite Merri looking like a Valkyrie rising up from the depths to tear someone limb to limb, which wasn't that easy to do in her twenty-four-year-old, slim, boyish five-foot-four frame. Tossing her straight, black tresses over her shoulder, placing her hands on her hips, and fixing Paul with her flashing, heavily black eye-shadowed eyes, she was almost hissing, with steam coming out of her ears.
"What is it, honey? Dinner not going the way you planned?"
"No, Dad, dinner is not going at all the way I planned. But that's not the problem at hand. Do you have any idea . . . any idea at all . . . who that was on the phone?"
"The Republican Party? Didn't know the elections were over? And that they lost?" Paul chortled softly and with satisfaction to himself on this brilliant joke.
Merri couldn't control herself enough to answer for a moment, which was long enough for Paul to forget where they were in the conversation. He leaned down, running his hands through the ornaments in the box next to the tree, trying to decide which one to hang next.
"That was Muriel, Dad. And do you know what she asked?"
"Look, honey, it's that felt Nutcracker soldier you made in fifth grade. I'm not sure whether the missing arm is here someplace, though. No, what did your mother ask?"
"She asked if she should bring white or red wine. She said it would be a waste to bring both. And she said to make sure we had plenty of beer. Although, I don't know why. She never drank beer that I know of."
"Tell her rosé would be a good compromise." Paul looked up, beaming at Merri. He was quite proud of himself for having found the perfect solution to the problem at hand. He wished all of their problems were this simple to work out.
"She's not still there. I hung up on her, of course. The issue is why she's asking about bringing wine at all—why she would bring anything here?"
"Well, I thought she really should bring something. It would be a vast improvement over the twenty-four years we spent together. I don't remember her bringing anything to the marriage in that time—except a lot of demands and fistful of bills."
"Focus, Dad. You didn't invite mother for Christmas too, did you?"
"But, of course. They'll be here sometime after noon."
"Mother in the house? And Steve too? Don't you . . . wait, they? Who they? Oh, my god, you didn't invite Clifford too, did you? Not Clifford!"
Paul just stood there, giving her a slight smile. "That's probably why we need beer. Clifford drinks beer. Lots and lots of beer. It will be nice to have the whole family home for Christmas. Don't you think so? And Clifford was married to you before he was married to Muriel."
"Oh, Mary, Joseph, and the Angel Gabriel," Merri cried out. "I don't know what I'm going to . . . well, shit." She collapsed into the La-Z-Boy, pursed her lips tight, tossed her head to get the bangs out of her face again, and picked up her book.
Paul started humming again and turned to the tree, taking an ornament out of the box, examining it, sometimes starting to say something to his daughter about the shared experience of its provenance but, seeing that she was lost in her book, placing it carefully on the tree in just the perfect spot, and then dipping his hand into the box again.
This went on for several moments, and he could have been lost in this activity for much longer, but he heard the low moan from across the room. He looked over at Merri. She was licking her lips, and the hand that wasn't holding the book close to her face was roaming down her body, from the small mounds of her breasts to her lap.
Paul stood there and watched her a little more attentively. It was good to see her happy. That's what Christmases were for—to bring the whole family back together. He leaned down and scrounged around in the box of ornaments until he found what he was looking for.
"Look, honey, mistletoe," he called out to her in a low, hoarse voice.
Merri looked up. It indeed was that silly felt clump of fake mistletoe he had hung in the archway between the living room and dining room for years, causing everyone to avoid that route through the downstairs rooms.
How disgusting, she thought. But what she had been reading had her all hot and bothered.
"It's late, sweetheart. It's time for bed, I think," Paul murmured. The tone of his voice told Merri precisely what he had in mind.
She snapped her book closed and rose from the chair.
The master bedroom was dark. Merri was spooned into her father's torso on the queen-sized bed. His hands were covering her breasts and he was nuzzling the hollow of her throat with his lips. She could feel the need of him running up the small of her back. That was the one part of him that would never seem old to her—not thick, but so, so long. When it was inside her, she felt connected with life and her history as at almost no other time. It didn't fill her as Clifford did, but it fulfilled her. She felt like she'd won the lottery.
And she had actually won a lottery recently. Not a big payoff one, of course, but big enough to know how good and at peace with the world one feels when they have won the lottery—big enough for a cruise somewhere certainly.
It was all fire and explosion with Clifford. It was peace and fulfillment with her father.
Her mind was racing over the pages she'd just been reading in her book. With a sigh, she took one of his hands and moved it down her naked body, pressing his fingers between her folds, helping him to find her clit. Although he didn't really need help. He may be getting forgetful, but he'd always been able to find himself home there.
Merri arched her back into his body and moaned as he started a circular motion with two fingers. A third was moving deeper inside her. What was on that page she'd just read. Could they? Would he?
His other hand was off her breast now, moving between their spooned bodies along her back and down along the inner lines of her cheeks. She could feel him finding his cock and moving it down, between her legs. The fingers of the hand she had holding his fingers to her clit felt the spongy smoothness of his cock bulb, now also pressing at the pearl.
"So nice to be having you for Christmas," he whispered in her ear. His voice was thick with want.
"No, Daddy," she murmured. "You know not there. You know we shouldn't. Here I'll help. No, keep rubbing with that hand. I'll help the other move to where it needs to be."
"Don't you think we could . . . just this time . . .? It's Christmas. And I know you liked it at the beginning."
"Just wouldn't be right, Dad."
"Don't you think we're well beyond what some would consider 'right' already? I don't see the difference—"
"Well, there are some who think its . . . well, you know what . . . only if you stick it where I could have a baby. That it's not, you know . . . incest otherwise."
"They what?" He voice had lost its bedroom tone. He was the professor again. "That's got to be the most boneheaded . . . by that logic as long as there was no baby it wasn't incest, and Steve and I wouldn't have to face that at all. I just don't see that there's much difference, honey, and we're already—" He'd regained the cooing baby-talk level he used here, with Merri.
"I just wouldn't feel right."
Paul gave up with a deep sigh. She helped him reposition the head of his cock at her ass, which she had heavily lubricated before they'd gone to bed.
"Yes, Daddy. Oh, yes, Daddy," she whimpered, gasping and panting, as he slowly entered her there and entered and entered, in deep. He held there, moving ever so silently in more as she relaxed. This was what she meant by being connected to him. She groaned her pleasure. Then he began a slow pump. "Oh, Jezuz yes, Daddy!"
Later, as they lay there, bringing their breath under control, Merri barely heard Paul whisper something.
"I think, while the others are here, you should sleep in your own bed, sweetheart."
"Ya think?" Merri asked, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
But then she mellowed. His mind wasn't completely gone. That was the most sensible thing he'd said all day.
* * * *
Nearly lunchtime Christmas Day and no Steve. Merri was so worn out worrying that he was coming that she'd taken her nose out of her book every five minutes to look at the clock and grouse that he wasn't here yet. It was her turn to fix the meal—they'd just both scrounged around separately for breakfast and the missing dinner the previous evening—but she wanted to reach the end of this chapter before she scavenged in the kitchen. Besides, now she didn't know if she would be fixing for two or three. Muriel and Clifford weren't expected until later in the afternoon.
There had been a brief moment of tension this morning, when Paul had begged to be able to take her again "properly" just to mark Christmas, but he had given the idea up quickly enough when she'd moved down his body and taken possession of him with her mouth. She didn't often do this, because he had revealed that he'd had better in that department, but it took his mind off a "proper" fucking.
After breakfasting Paul was back at the tree. He was getting close to the end of the ornaments.
"Umm, Dad," Merri said when she'd looked up at the clock and then let her gaze sweep the room. "What's that pile of stuff over there on the other side of the tree?"
Paul looked down. "Those are the tree lights, honey. And I wonder who got in here last night and tangled them up again."
"Umm, Dad. Don't you think you should have put them on the tree before the decorations?"
"Oh, you think so? I'm not sure . . ."
"Dad, you were a professor of engineering. Surely you could have—"
They both stopped and froze, Paul in mid movement of taking an ornament off the tree to return it to the box.
"Do you hear that?" Merri asked.
"No, I didn't hear anything," Paul said. "It sounded like a motorcycle . . . in need of a muffler or something."
"Clifford. They came on his bike."
"I guess so."
"How long did Muriel say she was coming for?"
"She didn't say."
"That used to mean a week or more when we went to other people's houses. I guess it's not them then. She couldn't manage with fewer than three bags for more than the weekend." Merri went back to her book, only to almost jump out of her skin as the front door banged open and a Hells Angel burst in. He was wearing a Santa cap on his head. It looked a bit out of place with his black leather pants and vest, with no shirt, however.
Merri did a little hiccup gasp. God, he still looked the totally sexy hunk. She wondered if he styled his chest hair to get it in such a sensual pattern. Her fingers brushed a nipple through the material of her shift and she enjoyed another little moan—perhaps a bit more intense than her book had been giving her. Somehow seeking it in the flesh rather than in a book or backlit on a Kindle . . .
"Ho, ho, ho. Gonna spike Merri for Christmas," the Hells Angel burst out. The man was almost too overpowering for the room. Hulking and hunky at the same time. Muscles bulging on muscles and one whole arm in a swirl of color in a pattern that almost could be figured out but then went all wild again.
"Not likely," Merri muttered under her breath. But then she took another look at him. It had always been that second look that had hooked her—the one taking him in below the waist this time. She didn't have to use her imagination on what was down there—or what it was ready for. She'd been married to the man for seven months and he'd kept her pinned to the mattress with it most of that time. And she couldn't remember when it wasn't hard.
Her attention moved to the door behind him, however. There she was, the bitch. Impossibly blonde ringlets, off-tone jangly bracelets, snapping chewing gum, glumpy eye lashes out to "here," and the slip of a gold sequined something or other with the bust line trying to reach for the hemline. There was no way Merri thought the woman would be able to take even one more step on platform heels that tall—even if she could get her thighs to move in that tube dress. Still for all that, she was in pretty good shape. She was nearly twenty years younger than her ex-husband and she'd always striven to look like his daughter—often exactly like his daughter.
Merri shuddered to think that she herself had looked much like that the day her mother had flounced out of the house with Clifford in tow.
Muriel snapped her fingers. "The luggage, dumbbell."
Clifford just turned slightly and growled at her.
Paul gave her a lopsided grin and loped out of the door and down the front steps.
"Gawd, when did you go Goth?" Muriel asked as her eyes lit on Merri.
"Good to see you too, Mother," Merri answered. "The day you left. I changed to this look the day you left. I was afraid I'd meet you on the street and be recognized—or worse, that we both would have been seen on the street together. I preferred people think I was the walking dead."
"Still fucking your father?"
"Still fucking my ex-husband?" Merri countered.
Muriel smiled, pleased by something. She'd always encouraged Merri's show of spunk. She stood there and studied her daughter for several moments. There was no way the two would be taken for mother and daughter, she was happy still to be able to say convincingly. And it went beyond them looking more like sisters age wise. Whereas Muriel cultivated the sluttish blonde look, she hadn't been far off the mark in tagging Merri's style as Goth—a black, straight shift dulled down a slim, nearly flat-chested body, very much in contrast to the bazooms Muriel let lead her around and that she was happy to purport were J cups ("for jagantic, sweetie," she loved to say). And Merri's straight hair was jet black—again, almost impossibly so—with purple tips and scarlet roots—and she was wearing elbow-high black-lace gloves. The lip ring itself was a dead giveaway.
Looking beyond her daughter, Muriel saw the Christmas tree for the first time. "What the hell? Who dragged that in? And why are all the ornaments on one branch?"
By this time Paul had brought in the second suitcase. "How nice of you to come for Christmas, Muriel. I'll just take these upstairs. I'll put them in . . . umm . . ."
"The master bedroom, of course," Muriel commanded. "There should be two other cases. I hope to hell you haven't lost those between the bike and the front door. What is it I don't smell? Shouldn't the turkey be almost done?"
"We haven't started fixing lunch yet, Mother," Merri answered. "You weren't coming until later in the afternoon. I'm not sure there's anything in the kitchen to fix at all. Dad was supposed to, but—"
"But the two of you couldn't get out of bed long enough to go to the store?" Muriel asked, her voice dripping with something poisonous.
Merri was about to answer "something like that," but her retort wasn't fired off soon enough.
"Let's go upstairs and fuck," Clifford burst out. "Fuck the food. I haven't fucked you for, what, two years?"
"Are you talking to me?" Merri asked icily. "Just who do you think you're married to now? Every letter Muriel sent me before I had the post office cut them off reminded me that she had your dick now."
"OK, then how about a beer?"
Merri thought he took that rejection well. Perhaps too well, She did want him to fuck her.
Paul had entered, huffing and puffing under the weight of two more suitcases. He raised up straight, with some difficulty, and smiled benignly again at his circle of loved ones.
"I didn't find the wine on the bike," he said to Muriel. "You said you'd bring the wine."
"I think you missed what kind of whine she was bringing," Merri muttered under her breath.
"I wasn't told what kind to bring," Muriel answered. "We got disconnected when Merri and I were discussing it." She gave a level, challenging stare at her daughter. "However, since we were going to be gone a while, I did bring a bag of our trash. I think you brought that in in the first load. Yes, that's it over there. And don't be squeamish, Paul, dear. It isn't all Tampons and used condoms."
"If I'm not humping Merri or getting a beer in the next five minutes, I think I'm going to explode."
"Shut up, Clifford," Merri snapped. "When we get lunch sorted out, we can go upstairs and you can hump me." She hadn't thought before she said that. Getting humped by Clifford again had been in the front of her mind since he had burst into the room, but she'd had no intention of admitting it. Merri gave her mother a wary look, wondering why the woman hadn't zeroed in on Merri being more concerned about the fuck than the beer.