“I don’t want to die. I really don’t want to die.”
“You’re not going to die, that’s just your father scaring you, scaring us all. The world’s not going to end tomorrow or next week. Just look around, there’s nothing wrong at all. You’ve got many many years to enjoy without worrying about his silly crazy ideas.”
“There’s no harm in making provisions for trouble.”
“John, you’re making things worse. Can’t you see how upset our daughter is. Can’t you see the damage your crazy ideas are doing to this family. Can’t you cool it with the prepping and let things settle. At least let the kids have a normal life and stop the neighbours thinking we’re strange.”
“I’m doing it for you all. I want you all safe. I want to protect you from the trouble coming. Aren’t I supposed to be the protector for the family?”
“Scaring Carlie and hunting Jake away is not protecting your family.”
“He didn’t hunt Jake away Mom, Jake just wanted to go play football.”
“Anyhow, Jake’s not interested in this survival stuff. In fact if anything happened he’d be the one to protect us. He’s the strongest one around here,” Sue said, a smug look on her face at the barb she’d unleashed.
“If he was here,” John said under his breath.
“He’s a stronger man than you,” Sue said defiantly.
John looked down at the remains of their meal on the table before him. He knew this argument a thousand times over. He’d never won before, he wouldn’t win now. “You won’t mind if I continue myself though,” he said quietly, without looking up.
“You go and play frontier man if you want and we’ll stay here and enjoy a normal life,” Sue said, her arms crossed over her chest.
“Can I help dad sometimes?” Carlie asked quietly, squirming in her chair.
“Oh if you really must, but don’t let him put crazy thoughts in your head. Try and be sensible about things. You can help me clear up now, at least do something useful.”
John sat watching the two women clear the table, Sue prancing around enjoying her win, Carlie acting like her slave and doing what she was told. She took after him in so many ways. Jake on the other hand was exactly like his mother. I should have spent more time with him when he was little, John thought, remembering those early days when they were trying to set up home with a new baby and no money. Hours of overtime. Weekend job for extra. Home to hand over the paycheck before starting the next job. It was his fault really, Jake hardly saw him. By the time Carlie came, things were more stable, and he was able to be there more for her. Daddy’s little girl. It still brought a smile when he remembered. Truth be told, he loved her more than anything else in the whole world. If it wasn’t for her, he’d have left years ago. Every time he made plans to go, he saw her. There was no way he’d ever hurt her. He always stayed.
“You’re making the room untidy. Haven’t you got something to do?”
There’d be no stopping her the rest of the night. Not that it was anything new, their marriage was in name only now, and had been for some years. John stood and retreated to his tiny workshop. Dad’s Den the others called it. Prepping books to read and plans to make, if not for them all, then at least for Carlie. She was his reason for living now and he planned to make sure she’d survive the coming troubles.
”Can we talk?”
“Of course you can Princess.” He only called her that lately when no one else was near. She was standing by the door and he saw her smile as the word came out. “You know you can always talk about anything with me.”
He watched her looking for a place to sit amongst the boxes and piles of books scattered. A ballerina. That’s what she reminded him of. Body delicate, movements graceful and precise. He could gaze at her for hours. She shifted some books to make room to sit, then turned to face him, her dark eyes bright, her hands lightly clasped in her lap. He looked up towards her face. She still had a smile, only now it was deeper.
“Mom was mean to you.”
“She has other ideas. I don’t want to upset her.”
“I don’t know how you stay with her.” She’d said it very quietly, almost too quiet to be heard.
“I’ve got a family to care for. Sometimes that’s hard, but I want to see you and Jake grow up to be happy and content people.”
“I want to learn more about prepping. I really do. I’m not like Mom. I do think trouble might come and I’d like to know how to survive.” Her smile was gone now, replaced with her serious face.
“I’d love to teach you what I know. There’s an expo next weekend about two hours away. We could go together if you liked.”
“I’d love that. Just us two, and you wouldn’t have to look over your shoulder before calling me Princess.” Her smile was back bigger than ever. “I’ll start working on Mom later. She’ll let me go, eventually.”
She was getting up now. Still graceful. A truly beautiful girl – young woman now. Hard to think something so perfect could come from me, John thought as he watched her straighten her clothes as she stood fully, looking down at him now. “Thanks Dad.” She came close, close enough to bend forward and give him a peck on his forehead with her naked lips before turning and floating out the door.
John turned his eyes back to the book on the bench in front of him but his eyes wouldn’t focus on the words he needed to read and the tightness in his groin was distracting. She’s my daughter, why am I thinking like this? Closing his eyes only made it worse. She was naked before him, her eyes inviting him closer. “Hold me Daddy. Feel how my body’s grown.” His eyes forced open in a vain effort to stop the illusion. Breath coming in pants, body on fire, groin tight as a teenager on heat. Then he felt the tension growing even more. Not now. Not here. But his body was determined to show how it felt whether he wanted it or not. He sat still in the chair as his underwear received several blasts of sticky goo. A wet dream and he wasn’t even dreaming. Well maybe a little, but not like a full sleeping dream. Too long without a woman he thought as the tension drained from his body. So long without love.
- - -
“Carlie says you want to take her to some survivalist expo next weekend.” John had his mouth full as his wife started the discussion over dinner.
“She’s interested in learning more. It’s only a couple of hours drive. Be a nice trip in the country for her.”
“If she likes mingling with those crazies and learning how to cook roadkill and dry beans, I won’t stop her,” Sue said, “As long as you don’t want Jake and me to come, we’d rather stay here and behave like normal people. She said it went for both days. I suppose you want to stay overnight too.”
“We could, though I was only thinking one day.”
”If you both want to stay, then stay and get it out of your system, Jake will keep me safe here.”
John looked across the table to Carlie, she was nodding for him to agree. Something’s not right here, that was far too easy. What have I missed? For the hundredth time, he felt an outsider in his own home. He glanced around the table again. Even Jake was here for the meal. All three looked happy with Sue’s suggestion. It was rare to have complete agreement. “If you don’t mind, it would be good to stay overnight, we could attend the seminars then too.”
“You better try and book a motel now. You’ll need a twin, and not some sleazy place either. Remember she’s your daughter, not some cheap tart.”
“Dad will look after me,” Carlie said. “I’ll help him find a nice place on the net.”
“You do that,” Sue said, returning to her food, decisions made, no more discussion needed. John had a growing feeling in the pit of his stomach. These sort of plans usually took days of argument. What am I missing? What didn’t I see?
After dinner, he retreated to his den. Over the last few years it had become his nightly nest. Six actually he thought. It’s been six years since I had a real wife.
“We can find a motel now if you like.” He looked up to see his Princess with her tablet in hand smiling at him. “Mom was easy to convince.”
“I didn’t say about staying overnight.”
“I wanted to, and you wanted some time away too, didn’t you?”
“Show me what you’ve found.” He cleared some clutter from the bench and gave her his seat while she poked the tablet screen with her long fingers, images sliding left and right, too fast to fully digest.
“I like this one best. It’s not too expensive and close to the expo address, and it doesn’t look sleazy to please Mom.”
Standing behind her, John watched as she manipulated the pictures slowly enough for him to study them more closely. The scent of a thousand sacrificed flowers rising to his nostrils. She’s my daughter. His arms aching to surround her. No touching, she’s out of bounds. Compromise position, arms around her like a horseshoe, holding the edge of the bench either side of her, her head twisting from the screen to glance at him.
“Do you like it?”
I love it. I want to hold you and smell you and feel you and touch you every single day and night. “It seems fine. You think your mom would be happy with it?”
“I’ll go and show her. You agree if she does?
The flowers lingered, filling the small room with her even when she wasn’t there. We need more space, I need to make this room for two. The idea offered a distraction. Shifting and moving, tidying and stacking. I need shelves. He heard her bouncing back while he was deciding whether to make or buy some bookshelves.
“Mom agrees. I’ve brought my phone so we can book now. I’ll dial the number for you.”
He watched her transfer the number from the screen to the phone and press the dial button before holding the phone out for him. Twin room for two on Saturday night booked with ease. He felt almost as excited as his daughter appeared.
“I’ll go and start packing,” Carlie said as she gathered her phone and tablet.
“It’s still a week away.”
“I don’t want to forget anything. Thanks Dad.”
She was gone, bounding along the hallway towards her room.
He sat alone, staring unseeing at an open book while the shaking started. His whole body trembling in torment as his mind raced between wanting his daughter as a daughter and wanting her as the most perfect lover in the world. It was bed time and still he hadn’t decided for certain and the guilt of not deciding kept him sitting way after midnight.
“You sick?” Sue said when he finally felt able to go to bed with a slim prospect of sleep.
“Bug passing around, be fine tomorrow.”
“Don’t give it to me. Keep well away.”
Six years he’d kept away. Why would tonight be any different.