Lucia sat on the steps of her home, looking into the street. She crossed her legs, uncrossed them, and crossed them again. All of her friends were gone to college again: another summer’s end plagued with boredom and loneliness. It wasn’t as though her parents couldn’t afford to send her to college, but Daddy said she wasn’t ready. Just like she wasn’t ready to have a job or a license. Daddy paid for tutors and music and dance lessons to keep her busy, but the most invaluable thing- her freedom- was something he could not afford.
She watched two boys on bicycles ride closer to her house. Their torsos glistened with sweat and their long, thin arms absently guided their bikes as they casually swerved through the street toward her. She waved, though she didn’t recognise them from her neighbourhood. They stopped and walked the bikes onto the sidewalk, approaching her porch. Their legs were covered in mud and they filled the air near her with the scent of river water.
“Hey,” the smaller boy said as the taller of the two lifted his arm to scratch a hairless armpit. “You see the ice cream truck around here lately?”
“Not while I’ve been sitting here,” she answered. She smiled. Neither boy returned her smile.
“You got any cards?” the taller boy asked. “We wanna make our bikes loud.”
“Sorry,” she said. They shrugged and rode away without looking back.
“Who were those boys?”
She jumped and turned around. “Jesus, Daddy. I don’t know. Just some kids.” Her father raised an eyebrow and said nothing. “Daddy!” She looked away from his eyes. “They’re twelve. They wanted ice cream and playing cards.”
“Why don’t you come inside, Luci? It’s hot out.”
“It’s not that hot,” she said. She stood and followed him in.
The doorbell rang. Lucia lifted the remote to quickly turn off the television in the den before she ran upstairs. She looked in the mirror next to the door and reached up behind her head to tighten her ponytail. As she unlocked the door, she showed all of her teeth in a smile. “Mr Tomas,” she said. “It’s nice to see you.”
“Good evening, Lucia.”
She moved aside to let him into the foyer and closed the door behind him. He stood and looked at her for a few seconds before asking, “Is your father home?”
She laughed. “Oh. I’m sorry, Mr Tomas. My parents went out for dinner. They left maybe half an hour ago. You’re welcome to wait.”
“No, I just needed to drop off some paperwork. I can leave it with you and come back tomorrow to speak with him.”
“I’ll tell him you stopped by,” Lucia said, still smiling. He smiled back.
“You’re very beautiful tonight, Lucia. You didn’t want to have dinner with your mother and father?”
“I’d rather watch TV,” she admitted, gesturing into the house.
“No college again this year?”
She shook her head. “Maybe next year,” she answered.
“By the time you’re ready to go back to school, your friends will all have graduated!” he exclaimed. She turned her head away from him. “I’m sorry,” he said softly. “Maybe for the spring semester?”
“Maybe,” she said. “I’ll tell Daddy you were here.” She moved toward the door and he moved with her. As she closed the door behind him, she felt her eyes fill with tears. She wiped at her face with the backs of her hands and sighed. So Daddy was telling his partners it was her choice not to go to University? It wasn’t fair. He wouldn’t even let her apply.
The doorbell rang again. She stared at the door, then walked toward it and opened it slowly. Mr Tomas stood with his hands behind his back.
“You’re a bright girl, Lucia,” he said, smiling into her widened eyes. “Your future will outshine you.” He revealed in both hands a single rose. He’d pulled it from Mrs Grosch’s garden, she could tell. She reached up to grab it and a thorn stabbed her thumb. Putting the finger in her mouth, she lifted her other hand and carefully held the stem of the rose. For a second, he didn’t let go. Then she slowly and gently tugged the rose toward her chest and he dropped his hands. “Goodnight, Lucia. It was wonderful to see you.” He pressed his lips to the top of her head and walked toward his car. She stared after him until the car drove away, then she shut the door.
She realised she was breathing quickly and laughed. Mr Tomas was always so nice. She walked slowly into the kitchen and grabbed a small vase from beneath the sink, then carried the flower to her bedroom. She placed the flower in the vase in the middle of her nightstand and ran downstairs to the den. She collapsed on the couch and reached for the remote. The television coated the room in a soft blue dim. She tried to watch the show but her mind could only focus on Mr Tomas. Had he ever kissed her before? Of course he had. The year his wife died, he’d spent that Christmas with them and she was certain he’d given her a peck on the forehead that evening before her father made her go to bed.
Mr Tomas was old, but he wasn’t as old as Daddy. And Daddy was always telling Mum about Mr Tomas’s girlfriends- not a long series of women since Mrs Tomas died, but a pretty consistent presence. He wasn’t bad-looking. He took good care of himself, she knew.
She lifted her dress and pressed her fingers against her panties. Pushing her hand hard against her crotch, she lied down on the couch, facing the back, and began thrusting her hips into the cushion, pressing hard against herself. She thought of Mr Tomas handing her the rose, of his lips against her hair, of his fingers against her breasts… Her eyelids squeezed together and she bit her lip. She humped harder and her heavy breathing made the couch around her hotter and she suddenly convulsed twice and lay still.
She turned around to face the TV and pulled her dress to her knees. Her eyelids fluttered at the screen. Seconds later, she was asleep.
“Honey. Luci, honey.” Her mother’s fingers rubbed her calf. She woke up slowly, her eyes focused on the halo of light above her mother’s head.
“Sorry, I fell asleep,” she said. She sat up. “Did you and Daddy have a good dinner?”
Her mother nodded. “He’s waiting for you in the kitchen.” She walked to the TV stand and pushed the button on the side of the set. The screen went black.
They walked upstairs together, slowly, not speaking. Lucia considered saying something, but she couldn’t think of what to say. She could never start a conversation with Mum. Mum never spoke- not much at all to anyone but Daddy.
He waited for her with a small pink box wrapped with a red bow. “Brought you dessert, Luci,” he said.
She squealed. “Thank you, Daddy!” She walked to the kitchen sink and grabbed a fork, then sat at the bar and unwrapped her dessert .
“Did you have dinner?” he asked her.
“I ate a sandwich,” she lied. “How was your dinner? Oh! Mr Tomas stopped by.” She licked cream from the tongs. “I think it was about 7:30. He had paperwork, he said. He’ll stop by at the same time tomorrow.”
“Yes, he called me,” he replied. “He left a voicemail and asked about you going to college.”
She licked the fork again. “Well, you said I wasn’t ready,” she answered.
“And what did you say to Mr Tomas about it?”
“He said maybe I’d be ready for the spring. I agreed.”
Her father walked out of the kitchen silently. She continued to eat the pastry as she watched Mum look in the sink and dishwasher, open a cabinet, and finally follow Daddy out of the room. Would Mr Tomas talk Daddy into letting her go to college? That would be a dream. Maybe he’d fall in love with her and take her out of here. Daddy trusted Mr Tomas enough to share a company with him. Mr Tomas stayed in their guest room on several holidays. She was allowed to speak to Mr Tomas. So Daddy couldn’t distrust him. And he’d said: she was bright. Maybe he could tell she was suffocating here.
She finished her dessert, licking the cream from the gold platter that held it. After putting the fork in the dishwasher, she ran upstairs to her room. In the drawer of her nightstand was a pad and pencil and she lay across the bed on her stomach and began to draw.
She drew for hours, lost in her head, until her father came into the room.
“Your mother and I have told you many times we don’t like you falling asleep in front of the television,” he said, sitting at the end of her mattress.
“I know. I’m sorry, Daddy.” She wiggled until she was on her back, then sat up and pulled her knees to her chest, sitting on top of the pad and pencil.
“Where’d you get that rose?” He gestured toward the nightstand.
“Mrs Grosch’s garden.”
He nodded slowly. “It isn’t right for you to pick the flowers other people worked so hard to blossom. We’ve talked about that, too. It’s very rude and lazy.”
“I won’t do it again.” The sentence came out as one word.
“I know you won’t. And the next time your mother or I catch you sleeping downstairs, you will lose your den privileges. Do you understand?”
“I understand, Daddy.”
“Get ready for bed and I’ll be in shortly to tuck you in.”
When he left the room, she pushed the pad and pencil into the nightstand and went to brush her teeth. After undressing in the bathroom and putting on her nightshirt, she crawled beneath her blankets and waited. Her father came in several minutes later, unplugged her night light, bent over her bed, and kissed her on the cheek. It was a routine they’d had for as long as she could remember. Every night he was home.
“Goodnight, Princess,” he said.
Every night was the same.
When she awoke the next day- Saturday- she was remarkably restless. Her afternoon piano lesson was interminable. Her teacher rapped her fingers so often, she felt arthritic in the evening. She wore her favourite dress and braided her hair and when the grandfather clock in their living room indicated it was 7 PM, she was sitting on the couch next to her mother, watching her knit and eating a croissant.
“Lucia,” her mother said, looking at her over the needles. “If you get crumbs in that chair, I will see to it you never sit again.”
“I have a napkin, Mum. And I’m not dropping anything.”
Her mother returned to knitting without responding.
“Are you making a scarf?” Her mother shook her head. “Socks? A shawl? A hat? A sweater?” Her mother nodded and held the needles up toward Lucia, but she did not raise her eyes.
Lucia finished her snack and moved to toss the napkin when the doorbell rang. “I’ll get it!” she announced loudly. The napkin still folded against her palm, she met her father at the door.
“Throw that away,” he said as he opened the door to his business associate. Her shoulders sunk and she watched her feet as she walked into the kitchen. She leaned against the counter, her lower lip protruded. He never even let her answer the door when he was home. She thought about how much she hated the house as Daddy walked Mr Tomas into the kitchen.
“Lucia, please grab Mr Tomas a beer.”
Lucia moved quickly toward the refrigerator, not meeting either of their gazes. “Do you want one, too, Daddy?” she asked as she grabbed a beer.
“Sure, Princess,” he answered.
She removed two beers from the door and placed them on coasters on the bar in front of her father.
“Good evening.” She smiled up at Mr Tomas as her father set a pile of papers on the counter.
“She is always so polite,” he responded, looking at her father then at her. “Good evening, Lucia. Thank you for the beer.”
“Let’s sit in the living room,” her father suggested, crossing through the hallway without bothering to check if he was being followed. Lucia’s mother stood as they entered the room.
“Oh, Gregg,” she said, grabbing Mr Tomas’ hand. “How nice to see you.”
“Always a pleasure, Helen.”
She sat and resumed knitting. Lucia sat at her feet and pretended to watch her. Daddy and Mr Tomas sat in chairs facing each other and began to talk about business. She watched Mr Tomas from the sides of her eyes, trying to catch him looking at her, but he never did. It was all her stupid imagination, her desperation for freedom. Mr Tomas was just a nice guy. Why would he be interested in her? She was young and she didn’t know anything.
But he’d said she was bright.
Lucia waited until Daddy’d finished his important meeting, then offered to dispose of their beer bottles. She hoped this would work, but she knew it might not. That she could get in a lot of trouble didn’t terrify her enough to deter her. As she grabbed the bottle from Mr Tomas, she slipped a piece of paper into his hand and walked away.
In the kitchen, after rinsing the bottles and noiselessly placing them in the recycling bin, she allowed herself to breathe.
Please don’t tell Daddy.
She counted slowly to 90 and, when not hearing either of her parents calling after her, she returned to the living room and sat next to her mother on the couch. Mr Tomas was standing to leave and her father stood with him. Her mother tried to rise but Mr Tomas motioned for her to stay seated. “Lovely to see you again, Helen. Lucia. Have a good night.” The two men disappeared into a corridor. Lucia stood and went to her room.
Gregg Tomas sat in his car and unfolded the sheet of paper Lucia’d handed him. The creases were grey and slightly damp but the paper straightened without tearing.
It was a drawing of him holding out a rose. The detail and artistry made him blink rapidly and he placed the paper on the passenger seat before turning the ignition and driving away.
Lucia watched as well as she could from the window. When the car pulled off, she sat on her bed and started trying to draft a letter. She moved around the room, thinking of what she needed to say and what she wanted him to do.
She went through several dozen drafts before her father walked into the room.
“Your mum says you got croissant crumbs in the chair cushions,” he said.
She sat cross-legged on the floor, the pad open in her lap. She closed it and looked up at him. “I used a napkin, I promise.”
“She asks that you not eat in the living room.”
“I won’t eat in the living room anymore, Daddy.”
“Particularly not when we’re having guests.”
“Time for bed, Princess.”
She was in and out of the bathroom as quickly as possible. Her father sat waiting for her on her bed when she returned to her bedroom.
“I’ll get the light,” he said. “I love you, sweetheart. Goodnight.”
But it would be impossible for Lucia to sleep.
She knew exactly what to say.
Gregg Tomas visited the Venns once a week. He had a partially legitimate reason- they were considering taking on another partner- so he spent a lot of time discussing possible temporary salary decreases as he tried to watch Lucia.
They wrote so many letters. Lucia was passionate, but the risk excited Gregg just as much. It made him feel younger; the nostalgia of a relationship he’d maybe read about- or seen somewhere, anyway- but certainly never had. She’d once pressed against him in a brief, wild embrace and it moved his heart more than his cock, but she was a beautiful young girl. Talented, and with such imagination. Sheltered, for certain. Often too enchanted by her own fantasies.
So it surprised him, though it shouldn’t have, when he came by on a Thursday evening and her parents weren’t home- though he remembered William mentioning the benefit that night- and Lucia threw herself at him. Literally hurled her body into his, her mouth demanding to be kissed, and he submitted. When she took his hands and guided them into the pink oversized sweater she wore, he felt there was nothing beneath, and he yanked her away and looked at her.
She was ready.
He was ready, too. She’d manage to move both his heart and his cock, this time. As one worked to fill the other, he carried her into the kitchen and laid her down on the bar, first placing his head between her legs and she gyrated against his face until the stubble irritated her, and he fucked her there and she was mostly silent, but she bit her lip and stared up at him the whole time. It was too much; he came too fast.
Then she admitted she was a virgin, which was another shocking surprise. And he asked if she came, and she told him she hadn’t. He promised to come back and repay the favour, feeling guilt but also not certain when William and Helen would be home. Then she kissed him again and wrapped her legs around his waist and his fingers were inside of her and she humped against him until the shock of her orgasm went through her and he had to hold her up so they didn’t both fall.
Gregg kept coming back. And any time she was alone, they’d go to the den and make love on the sofa. She tried to learn his body, but she was too inexperienced, and he’d rather his patience go to learning hers.
Their letters got heavier and their meetings wilder. He knew she was falling in love with him and, though he’d anticipated it, he was not quite ready to deal with the repercussions. The outcome, he knew, would damage some relationship. He wasn’t sure which one, yet.
So he tried to delay.
William Venn sat on his sofa, flipping through the channels on the television. Trying to get tired enough to sleep. His fingers dug absently in the cushions and he felt a piece of paper. When he realised what he held, he carefully pulled it out. He unfolded the creases and read.
Then he read it again.
He felt nauseous. He recognised the handwriting immediately: it was Gregg’s. But why would he write these things? And why would it be in his house?
William stood. He walked from the den to the garage, got in his car, and drove away.
When Gregg Tomas opened his door the next morning, William stood there.
“We need to talk,” William said, pushing his way into the house. Gregg closed the door and followed William into his living room. “Why Helen? Of all the women? Is it because I don’t think you should take a bigger percentage?”
“What are you talking about?” Gregg asked, his forehead wrinkled and arms out, palms up, toward William.
William pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. “‘My sweet flower,'” he read. Gregg’s mouth opened and closed. “‘The next time your petals open for me, I will pick your fruit. You will be open to me through all seasons and I will care for you as the treasure you are-‘ Gregg, this is just bullshit. What woman falls for this?”
“Look. William. I can explain.”
“Why my wife, Gregg?” William put the letter back into his pocket and folded his arms.
“I’m not having a relationship with Helen!” Gregg said, his voice only slightly elevated. “It’s Lucia, alright? I’ve been seeing Lucia.”
William stepped back, almost tripping on his own feet. “My baby Luci?”
“Your daughter, yes. Not your wife. Look, I’m sorry-”
“She’s just a child,” William interrupted.
“She’s an adult, William. She’s a young woman.”
“She’s my princess!” William’s eyes grew wider as the context of the letter grew more real to him. “You pig!” He lunged at Gregg suddenly, who struck out and missed. William kneed him in the stomach and punched him in the jaw. His knuckles throbbed the moment they made contact, but he pounded both his fists into Gregg’s back and when Gregg managed to pull him down, William swung his legs away and ended up on top of him. He poked his thumbs into his eyes and tried to press down, but Gregg began kicking wildly and screaming, so William wrapped his hands around his throat and Gregg tried to pull at his wrists but William held on tighter. He felt Gregg’s body go heavy beneath him after what felt like an eternity, but he couldn’t stop holding the throat, spitting onto Gregg’s face in rage.
William finally stood and howled, then drove the heel of his foot repeatedly into Gregg’s crotch until he fell on top of him.
He turned and looked into Gregg’s bloody face and knew he was dead and that didn’t change what Gregg did to his baby girl, to his Princess. And he walked out of the front door and closed it, looking at the blood on the doorknob. He got in his car and took a deep breath. He drove away, toward the river, and when he got there, he kept driving.
Her mother came into her room, her footsteps and breathing preceding her physical presence so that Lucia was already alert, standing, the moment she stepped through the doorway.
“Daddy and Mr Tomas are… they’re… they are-”
“They’re dead!” The grief escaped the word through Helen Venn like a tornado and she left the room weeping. Lucia stood, her mouth open, knowing what it meant but not understanding.
Lucia’s mother sent her to college but the very first year, she met Roger and Roger was definitely too quick to marry her- he met her mother for the first time at the wedding- and insisted she drop out. So she did, and she was happy for a while because her life felt almost like it’d gone back to normal and she could really breathe.
And she loved Roger, she still really did. Even though the reason she’d loved him so much initially (he didn’t ask any questions about her life before meeting him) was what drove her mad today. They’d been married four years and she bet he didn’t even know her favourite colour. In fact, she knew he didn’t; she’d mentioned it in this argument and he’d responded with, “That is the dullest thing anyone could possibly know about another person.”
“I just feel like you don’t fucking hear me!” she exploded.
Her eyes grew wide slowly and her mouth dropped open. “I’m so sorry,” she said quickly.
“Lucia Martin, we do not speak that way in this house. Go upstairs and wait for me.”
She ascended the stairway as slowly as she could and walked to the bathroom like a zombie. Once in the bathroom, she undressed, folding each item of clothing as it came off, and bent over with her face on the counter facing the sink.
Roger came in after her, looking at his reflection in the mirror, then hers, then her. As she lay with her face against the counter, she took a deep breath. He turned on the water and lathered up his hands. Then he pressed himself against her and said, “Open.” She opened her mouth and he shoved a soapy hand inside. She tried not to bite him. She’d bitten him the first time and it made him very angry. She tried not to choke and accidentally swallow the soap. She swallowed a lot last time and it made her very sick.
Lucia tasted the soap on his fingers as they moved inside her mouth, trying to rub against every surface. He looked down at her, never glancing away. Behind her, she heard his pants unzip and the tip of his cock- always impossibly rigid- pressed against her pussy and as he slid inside her, she did choke a little and he removed the fingers individually and told her, “Spit,” pushing her head toward the sink. She spat into the large ceramic bowl. He turned on the water, the rhythm of his hips still pushing his dick into her, and lathered his hands with liquid soap once more. He shoved his right hand into her mouth and held her head to the sink with his left, fucking her harder, bringing his dick out of her as far as possible without popping out, and driving it back in with as much force as his body could manage. She moaned against his fingers, her tongue constantly moving to avoid biting him.
He spat on her face. “If you’re going to speak like filth, I will treat you like filth,” he said. Shifting his weight to his left hand, he pushed his right hand into her mouth as far as it could fit and leaned into her, his hips moving faster. She started to choke and he pulled his hand out of her mouth, pushing her face toward the sink where she lay and drooled until he grabbed her hips and began to pull her into him as fast as he could push into her and she couldn’t stay on the sink anymore and she tried to push her ass into him as quickly as he was pulling her waist and she leaned back into him as he came inside her. They took a couple of heavy breaths and he pushed her back onto the sink.
“Lucia,” he said. “I love you. Especially you. I married you. So don’t bother me with this nonsense of calculating it or putting it into categories. And I won’t keep telling you to watch your language in this house.”
“I’m sorry, Daddy.”
“Take a shower,” he said. He buttoned his pants and walked into the hallway.
She turned on the water and sat on the toilet, rubbing the mark the sink left in her stomach. She tried to wipe the soapy spit from her face, then reached into the tub to feel that the water was warm. She stepped into the stream and put her face beneath it and didn’t breathe for 30 seconds.
She knew he’d have a gift for her tomorrow and wondered what it’d be. This was the true test of how much he paid attention to her. In a way, he did love her just as much as her father had. Why else would she marry him?