Jeff explained the situation with his headaches and dizziness to Kari as soon as he saw her at school on Thursday morning, and she agreed to help take him to the nurse's office if he needed it. He happened to share most of his classes with her, which worked out well. They stopped by the nurse's office before school started to explain it to her, and then they spoke to each of his teachers before class so that they would be prepared in case he had a sudden headache or dizzy spell.
That turned out to be a good decision, because in fourth period just after lunch, he suddenly felt a thundering pain inside his head. He raised his hand and told the teacher, who dismissed Kari and him. Because his headache was accompanied by dizziness, he wasn't able to walk on his own, but leaning on Kari for support, they managed to make it to the nurse's office without any problems.
This headache was even worse than the one last night, and he was moaning in pain by the time they reached the office. Mrs. Browning, the nurse, a kind-faced older woman, had him lie down on a soft cot. She gave him some painkillers, but it only slightly dulled the pain. Kari watched over him, worry in her face.
When it was clear that the pain was going to last more than just a few minutes, Mrs. Browning decided he had better go home for the day. She called Jeff's house, but there was no answer, so he gave her Allison's cell phone number. As it turned out, Allison and Rachael were out shopping. Upon hearing the news, Allison agreed to drive over to the school right away.
Mrs. Browning suggested that Kari return to class, so Kari told Jeff she would get any homework assignments he needed from the rest of his classes and stop by his home after school. Then she disappeared out the door.
Allison and Rachael appeared in the nurse's office about twenty minutes later. Allison immediately strode over and put her hand to his head to feel for a fever.
"He's all right now," the nurse told them. "He told me the doctor said he just needs to lie down for a while when these headaches come over him, but considering how bad this one was, I think under the circumstances he'd better go home for the day."
"Thank you," said Allison. "I think you're right."
"Oh, and Kari Williams said she would talk to his teachers and get any homework assignments he needs. She said she'll stop by this evening."
"How are you feeling, Jeff?" asked Rachael with genuine concern in her eyes.
"A little tired," he replied. "I just want to go home and sleep."
"I have to admit I never tried anything as drastic as a concussion to get out of school before," Rachael laughed. "You're an inspiration."
The women collected his things, and the three of them headed out to the car. Jeff climbed into the back seat, lay back, and closed his eyes. Between the rough night he had had and the headache today, he was exhausted.
As they drove home, Allison and Rachael talked, although in quiet voices so as not to disturb him too much.
"I'm sorry we had to cut our excursion short," Allison told her sister.
"Oh, it couldn't be helped. Besides, you know I like to spend time with Jeff."
"Too bad, because as soon as we get home, he's going straight to bed."
"That's not funny, Rachael."
"I thought it was. Anyway, I had an idea. Since Jeff's going to be unconscious the whole time, there's really no reason for me to stick around, and I need to pick up a few groceries if I'm going to make you all dinner tonight. Do you mind if I borrow the car? You can stay and take care of Jeff, and I'll try to contain my jealousy."
Allison laughed. "All right. At least then I won't have to worry about you sneaking up to his room while I'm not looking."
They arrived home, and Jeff immediately climbed the stairs to his room. Allison and Rachael followed him just to make sure he was all right. Once he was tucked into bed, Allison leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. Before she could stop her, Rachael did the same. Allison rolled her eyes, then Rachael left the room and descended the stairs again. Jeff merely closed his eyes and allowed himself to drift off to sleep.
He awoke two hours later, his headache completely gone. He glanced around, but Allison was nowhere in sight. Part of him wanted to lie there in bed for a while longer, but another part wanted to get up and go look for Allison. He didn't get much chance to spend time alone with her, so he wasn't about to waste this opportunity sleeping.
He sat up, yawned, then rose to his feet and groggily made his way downstairs and looked around for her. She wasn't in the living room or the dining room, so he checked her bedroom. She wasn't there either. Normally he wouldn't worry so much about being by himself, but since the doctor's orders had been that he shouldn't be left alone, he wondered why Allison would leave the house when she knew that he was coming home soon.
His misgivings proved unfounded, however, as he exited the back door to the deck overlooking the pool and spied her down below in the water.
He sucked in his breath when he saw her. She had on the same tiny little bikini that she had worn on that sailing trip last summer.
She waved to him when she saw him, and he descended the steps to the deck. She swam over to him, then stood there in front of him in the pool, rivulets of water streaming down her perfect body.
"I know I'm not supposed to leave you alone, but on a day like this, it's a shame not to put the pool to good use," she explained. "Your Dad's probably going to have it covered in a few weeks once the weather gets too cold, so this might be my last chance. I had planned to be out here only a few minutes. I didn't expect you to wake up during that time."
"Do you mind if I join you?" he asked.
"That's probably not a good idea, Jeff. What if you have a fainting spell? You could drown. It's probably time for me to get out anyway."
"Oh, come on. Tell you what. I'll just sit on the edge and dangle my feet in. I'll even do it over the shallow end."
She considered for a moment. "Oh, all right," she replied. "Go get your swimming trunks on."
He smiled, then hurried up the stairs. This was an opportunity he didn't want to miss, and he really had no intention of just sitting on the edge. He might do it for a couple of minutes, but he would find some excuse to get into the water with Allison. He knew from past experience that she liked to horse around in the pool. While it was more or less innocent while she wore a more conservative swimsuit, it would be something quite different with her in that bikini.
He headed up to his room and quickly changed. Grabbing a towel out of the bathroom, he hurried downstairs, out the back door, and down the steps to the pool patio.
Unfortunately, a case of bad timing ended his fantasy. As he was about to head over to the pool, he began to feel dizzy. He had just enough time to reach the nearby deck table to steady himself and keep himself from falling.
Allison apparently noticed it. "Jeff!" she exclaimed. "Are you all right?"
"No," he mumbled, trying to stop the world from spinning. The feeling was scary; he couldn't focus, and his sense of balance was out of control. He felt that at any moment he would topple over, and on the hard concrete of the deck, that could be painful. The last thing he needed was another concussion.
He could see Allison hurrying to climb out of the pool. Not even stopping to dry herself, she rushed to his side. Slipping an arm around his waist and draping his arm over her shoulder, she helped to steady him.
Even in his dizzy and panicked state, he felt an electric thrill from her touch. He had never felt her body against his like this. Of course, he had hugged her plenty of times before, but it was always when she was fully dressed. Now, they were both mostly naked.
"Let's get you somewhere where you can lie down," she said.
"The lawn chair's close," he commented.
"That's too uncomfortable. My bedroom's just inside the house."
A soft bed did sound nice, so holding onto her for support, he allowed her to lead him up the stairs to the deck and into the house. They left a trail of water on the floor; she had not had a chance to towel herself off. But she didn't seem to mind at all. They made their way through the house to the bedroom, where she helped him onto the bed.
He could see a strange look on her face as he lay there, something he didn't recognize. It was a look of uncertainty and indecision, but there was something else as well. Anxiety? Anticipation?
She turned away and headed into the bathroom. Not even closing the door, she grabbed a towel and began to dry herself off. Jeff watched her, not surprised that she could make even such a simple act look sexy.
Then she returned to the bedside, and he noticed that same look in her eyes. Suddenly, she climbed into the bed next to him.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Hush," she cooed, putting a hand out and stroking his cheek. "I'm going to take care of you. Just close your eyes and relax."
That was easier said than done. Closing his eyes was simple enough, but with his heart beating in his chest from excitement, he found it impossible to relax. At least with his eyes closed, his dizziness was minimized.
"My poor baby," Allison breathed, her hand sliding from his cheek to his neck, and then down to his chest. "My poor, sweet Jeff, who must be hurting so much right now."
Actually, there was no headache this time, only dizziness, but he decided not to tell her that.
"You were so brave to rescue your sister," she continued. "So brave, so strong." Her hand went to his upper arm. "Yes, very strong. I can feel those muscles. My little boy has grown up into a strong, handsome young man. I think I would be scared to be this close to you if you were anyone else. If you were to attack me, I don't think I could hold you off. You could do anything you wanted to me, and I wouldn't be able to resist you."
Jeff felt both uneasy and excited at the same time. That almost sounded like an invitation!
"Yes, you could easily overpower me," she breathed. "I would be completely helpless, and at your mercy. But I know you would never hurt me like that, would you, Jeff?"
His excitement turned to disappointment, but he still enjoyed just being this close to her.
"No I wouldn't, Allison," he replied.
"Of course not. My Jeff loves me, and wouldn't ever do anything to hurt me. He only uses his strength to protect." He could feel her moving next to him, and then suddenly he felt her body rolling over on top of him! It was the most exquisite feeling in the world, to have this half-naked beauty that he had lusted after for years with her body pressed up against his.
"Hold me in your arms, Jeff. Make me feel protected," she whispered.
He slipped his arms around her waist, thrilled to be touching her like he had always wanted to. He was tempted to take her up on her earlier offer, but wondered if she was as willing as she had seemed.
"That's right, Jeff. When you have your arms around me like this, I know you love me. You do love me, don't you, Jeff?"
She was beginning to sound like Brit. But he was enjoying this game, so he played along.
"Yes I do. I love you, Allison."
"And I love you too, Jeff. How could I not love such a brave, strong, handsome boy like you?"
Jeff just smiled, enjoying the attention. Right now he felt that he wouldn't mind the dizziness all the time if it meant that they could lie together, mostly naked, like this.
"Oh, but a boy in your condition shouldn't be wearing any constricting clothes that might hamper your breathing," she said, and Jeff suddenly realized what she meant. Her hands slid down his chest, past his stomach, and right to the waistband of his shorts. He gasped as her fingers slid under and made contact with the tip of his cock, which by now was fully erect. She continued to lower her hand down across the shaft, then took hold of the drawstring on his trunks and pulled on the end to unfasten the knot. Once more her hand reached inside his shorts and slid along his shaft, but this time she kept going, pushing his swimming suit down to expose his member to her view. Her eyes lit up with delight as she saw it, and he saw her actually lick her lips.
She lifted herself to a kneeling position just long enough to pull the garment the rest of the way off, then lay down once more next to him.
"I hate to see you in pain, Jeff," she breathed. "Do you want Mommy to kiss it better?"
He nodded enthusiastically. Allison slid her body up along his until her lips were at the level of his forehead. This had the effect of placing her marvelous breasts only inches from his chin, and he got a good closeup view of her cleavage. She kissed him gently on the forehead. "How does that feel?" she asked.
"Wonderful," he replied.
"Good. Mommy's going to make you feel so much better, better than you've ever felt before. Would you like that, my dearest Jeff?"
"Yes, Mommy," he smiled, playing along.
"Good. Now just relax and let me take care of you." She lowered herself to his cheek and kissed him there, causing him to sigh in pleasure. Then she lowered further to his neck. This time she did not kiss, but instead tickled him with her tongue. He gasped as the contact send tingles through his body.
"Did you like that, Jeff?" she cooed.
"My god, that feels great."
"I'm not done yet," she smiled. Then she crawled on top of him, causing his eyes to open in astonishment. He could feel her bare stomach pressed against his manhood, and he almost lost it right there. Though she had touched it a couple of times before with Kari, this time it was different, more sensual.
She lowered herself again, making sure to rub her hot, moist skin against him. Her lips went to his chest, and she started to kiss him all over.
"Oh Allison!" he exclaimed.
"That's right," she said between kisses. "I'm your Allison. Your mother. It's my job to take care of you, to see that you have everything you need. And right now I know exactly what you need."
He groaned in pleasure, as she flicked her tongue against one of his nipples. It was one of the most erotic feelings he had ever felt. She giggled as she heard the raw, bestial sounds he was making, but he didn't care. She was doing it to him, and she knew it.
She worked on his other nipple for a while, then lowered again. By this time, the head of his cock was at the base of her tits. As she kissed his sternum, she wiggled herself around on top of him so that his dick came in contact first with one, then the other of her breasts. It was getting harder and harder to hold back. She teased him that way for several minutes, then slid down again. This time he gasped as his member slipped under the string of her bikini and right into her cleavage.
Now she stopped kissing him and stared up into his eyes. She rubbed her body up and down him, sending wave after wave of pleasure through him.
"Look at me," she told him without stopping the rhythm, and he stared down at her as she gazed up with adoration at him. "Can you see how much Mommy loves you?" she asked.
"Oh god yes, Mommy!" he moaned.
"And do you love your mommy?"
"I do!" he exclaimed. "I do, I do, I do!"
"Thank you, Jeff. You're the sweetest boy a mother could ever have. You're so sweet, I could just eat you up! In fact, I think I will."
She lowered herself again, and this time the bikini string snagged on the base of his cock, threatening to pull her top completely off if she wasn't careful. On the other hand, maybe that was the point. The head of his cock brushed against her chin, and he realized exactly what she was about to do.
At the other end of the house, they heard the door open. Allison blinked a couple of times as she stared at Jeff, then her eyes suddenly went wide as she realized what she had been doing. "Oh, Jeff!" she breathed. "I'm so sorry! I shouldn't have..."
She scrambled off of the bed and dashed into the bathroom, where she quickly threw on a robe. Jeff reached for his swimming trunks and pulled them on a moment before Rachael's face appeared in the bedroom door. She spied him lying there mostly naked, and for a moment he thought he saw her eyes light up with delight.
"Waiting for me?" she asked with a grin.
"As a matter of fact, no," said Allison, striding out of the bathroom, wearing her bathrobe.
Rachael noticed Allison's similar state of undress. "So what have you two been up to?" she asked.
"Absolutely nothing," Allison stated coldly. "I was out swimming, and Jeff was coming to join me when he had another one of his dizzy spells. I helped him into the house and put him in my bed because I didn't want him to have to go up those stairs to his own room."
"Oh," said Rachael, sounding disappointed. "So are you feeling better now, Jeff?"
"A little," he replied. "It wasn't a headache this time, fortunately, just dizziness."
"Good. I'm going to make a special dinner for everyone tonight, and I would hate for anything to spoil it for you."
"Thank you, Rachael," said Allison. "Come on, let's go to the front room. I'd like to talk to you alone for a minute."
As the two women left the room, Jeff lay back and thought about what had just gone on. So Allison had her little fantasies about him like he had about her. And she had just about acted on them. While it was fortunate that Rachael had stopped them before anything happened, he couldn't deny that he was disappointed.
A few minutes later, Allison came back in. "Jeff," she said, "I'm sorry. Despite my innocent-sounding words, you and I both know what was going on, and we both know that it's wrong. So let's forget it ever happened."
"I don't want to forget," he replied.
"What you keep in your own mind is up to you, as long as you don't act on it, all right?"
"Good. Rachael doesn't suspect anything. She's going to go sit in the hot tub for a while, but just because she's out of the room doesn't give us an excuse to do anything."
"I understand, and I agree."
"Good. And... I'm really sorry that I got you all excited and then left you like that. That's really not fair of me, but unfortunately there's nothing to do about it."
"That's okay, Allison. Maybe next time."
"Just kidding. I know, there won't be a next time."
"Exactly." She went to the dresser and rummaged through it looking for some clothes. After selecting a few items, she disappeared into the bathroom again and closed the door. When she emerged a few minutes later, Jeff couldn't help but wonder just how firm her resolve was. She wore a pair of denim shorts and a spaghetti-strap tank top that was low-cut enough to display a healthy amount of cleavage. It certainly did nothing to quell his arousal.
Allison stared at him for a second as if wanting to say something, then changed her mind and slipped out the door. Jeff lay there a few more minutes, then decided he had been there long enough.
Even though he had taken a nap, he was still exhausted. It had been a good idea for him to stay home that afternoon after all. He didn't think he would have been able to make it through the rest of his classes. He left the room and made his way to the front room. He had no energy to do anything but sit and stare at the TV.
Allison was already there, sitting down. She had her eyes focused on a spot on the floor until he appeared, at which point she turned her head in his direction.
Jeff came and sat down beside her. She hesitated for a minute, then put an arm around him. "Are you still tired?" she asked, and he nodded.
"Look, there are certain things we shouldn't do, but I think it would be all right if you laid your head in my lap," she said, pulling him gently down. That actually sounded quite nice, so he turned and lowered himself until he lay on his back with his head cradled in her lap. It was extremely relaxing, and he soon found himself getting drowsy again. The last thing he remembered before falling asleep was her beautiful face smiling serenely down at him.
When Brit walked in the house, the first thing she noticed was Jeff, lying on the couch with his head in Allison's lap. He wore nothing but his swimming trunks, and her outfit, though less revealing, was quite sexy. Jeff's eyes were closed, and he seemed to be sleeping as Allison ran her hand through his hair. There was something not quite innocent about the whole scene.
"What are you doing?" Brit demanded coldly. She didn't know why it bothered her; she had seen Jeff with other girls before, and had even been with him when Crystal had performed oral sex on him. But this was different somehow.
Allison looked up at her, apparently startled by her presence. "Oh, Brit. I didn't see you come in." Was there a guilty look on her face? It was hard to tell.
"You didn't answer my question." What had Allison and Jeff been doing? Brit clenched her teeth as she imagined what might have gone on. Jeff had always been smitten with Allison; even Brit could see that. Only the fact that Allison seemed to have no interest in him had kept things from getting out of hand. But was it true? Was there more going on between them than Brit had thought? Maybe that was what bothered Brit about the situation. Allison could have Jeff any time she wanted, while Brit had to work hard to get him to come around. Kari was his girlfriend so Brit had to accept her, and Crystal was in a sense part of the secret, while Allison was competition, or actually, someone that Brit just couldn't compete with.
"Jeff had another one of his dizzy spells," Allison replied casually. "I had him lie down here. It seemed to calm him."
"Oh, is that all?" Brit demanded.
"What's gotten into you?" Allison asked her. "You seem angry about something."
"Well what do you expect?"
"I'm afraid I don't understand."
Allison's eyes suddenly turned to pity. "Brit," she said, "I think I know how you're feeling."
"No you don't."
"Please, Brit, don't do this," said Allison. "Am I not allowed to take care of my stepson? Jeff just needed a little motherly attention right now. That's all."
"You're not his mother!" Brit shouted.
Jeff stirred, but didn't open his eyes. Apparently this was one of those deep sleeps that the doctor had mentioned.
"Jeff doesn't need a mother like you," Brit continued. "To him, you're just a--"
"Britney!" Allison snapped. "Don't you dare finish that sentence!"
"Go to hell!" Brit responded.
Allison stared at her for a moment. Then, slowly, tears started forming in her eyes. Brit was taken aback. She had rarely seen Allison cry before. The woman had always been so confident, so sure of herself, so perfect.
"I'm sorry, Brit," she said. "I meant it when I told you that I know how you feel. Because I'm jealous too."
"What... what do you mean?" Brit asked, in a more subdued tone. In truth, she was feeling a little guilty about bringing Allison to tears.
"I know how you feel about Jeff, and I know he feels the same way about you. You two share something special, a kind of love that very few people get to experience. It's something so beautiful that I wouldn't dare to come between you two."
"But I don't..." she started, but cut herself off. The truth was that she had been feeling inappropriate things toward her brother ever since Lissa left.
"It's okay, Brit," said Allison. "It's all right to lie to me about your feelings as long as you're honest with yourself."
Brit considered. It really sounded like Allison knew what was going on between them. Or maybe she was reading too much into it; they hadn't done anything after all.
"I have to admit, I see the way you and Jeff treat each other, and I get jealous. What you two share is something that I can never have."
"You have Dad," Brit said quietly.
"I know," Allison sobbed. "And he's good to me. Your father likes me, and we have a lot of fun together, but we've never been in love. He could give me up at any time, because he doesn't need me. Maybe he did at first, to help him get over your mother, but that was a long time ago. And a girl just wants to feel needed. I thought... when I married your father... that I could live the rest of my life without being loved. I thought it would be easy, but it isn't. So I have to take advantage of the few chances that I get, meager as they are. Right now Jeff needs someone to mother him. Please don't take away these few precious moments. They're the only thing I have right now."
Brit's heart went out to her. So that was it. Allison had been working hard these past few years, trying to be absolutely perfect, but she wasn't getting the attention she deserved. Jeff had maintained a respectable distance out of necessity, and Brit hadn't really spent much time with her alone. Perhaps out of the whole family, only Lissa had truly been close to her, and now Lissa was gone.
"Oh, Allison," said Brit, sitting down beside her and throwing her arms around her neck. Allison allowed herself to cry into her shoulder.
"We do need you," Brit insisted. "All of us. Me, Jeff, and especially Dad. You say he's not in love with you, but have you even asked him?"
"Oh, I could never do that."
"Do you ask every boy you like if he loves you?"
"I asked Jeff, and he said yes."
"That's not the same thing."
"Why isn't it?"
Allison sighed. "Because you already knew the answer. What if I asked your father and he said no?"
"Then you're no worse off than you are right now, are you?"
Allison laughed through her tears. "No, I suppose you're right. You know, you're starting to remind me of your big sister. Lissa always knew what to say to cheer me up. But I still couldn't ask your father because... well... just asking the question might put some kind of expectation on him. I don't want him to feel obligated to love me if he doesn't. That might spoil things between us, and I don't want to lose what I've worked so hard for. Even the slightest chance that I could lose this family terrifies me."
Brit nodded. "I know you've worked hard, and we all appreciate it. Maybe we don't come right out and say it all the time, but don't confuse that with a lack of gratitude. I think you're the best thing that ever happened to this family."
"Now you're exaggerating," said Allison, but she seemed to enjoy the compliment.
"No I'm not. I really think things are even better now than before our mother left, all because of you."
"So you're not mad at me any more?"
"Of course not. I just saw you two together and jumped to the wrong conclusion. And you're right. I really was jealous, because I know how much Jeff adores you."
"Not half as much as he adores you."
Brit smiled. "So you really... you really have no problem with me loving Jeff... in that way?"
"I told you I think it's beautiful. Sometimes I wish I had a brother that I could fall in love with, to help me explore those emotions without any uncertainty or fear of rejection. I've been hurt too many times. But I know Jeff would never hurt you, because he loves you in exactly the same way as you love him. He just doesn't realize it."
"And you wouldn't mind if we... took things a little further?"
"Not at all. Just be careful."
"Thanks, Allison," she whispered, kissing her on the cheek. "So it's settled."
"What's settled, dear?"
"I'll ask Dad for you."
"Oh, no, please, I couldn't," Allison said with a look of fear on her face.
"What? I'll do it when you're not there, and I won't tell him you wanted to know. It won't even be a lie, because I also want to know."
Allison considered. "Yes, I suppose that would be all right. If you would do that, I would be so grateful to you."
About that time, Jeff groaned. He opened his eyes, stared around groggily for a second, then sat up. Brit immediately came over and sat down beside him, throwing her arms around his neck.
"My poor big brother!" she said. "Allison said you had a terrible headache." It was an exaggeration; he had only had a dizzy spell. But that had never stopped her before. Jeff slipped his hand around her waist, to her delight, and kissed her on the forehead.
"I'm all right now," he told her. "I'm going to go get dressed."
"Do you need any help?" she asked, and he wondered what she meant by that. Once again, it could be completely innocent or it could have all kinds of naughty implications. He decided it must be the former; even if she was flirting with him she wouldn't say it in front of Allison.
"I'll be fine," he told her. "You stay here. I'll be back down in a minute and then you can be my nurse if you want," he grinned.
He got up off the couch and headed for the stairs while Allison went into the master bedroom, leaving Brit alone.
She didn't remain that way for long. A few minutes later, the doorbell rang, and she hopped up to answer it.
It was Kari. She held a notebook with a few papers tucked into it as well as two textbooks.
"Hi Brit," the girl said. "I came to bring Jeff his homework assignments. Is he around?"
Just then, he appeared a the top of the stairs, fully dressed. "Kari!" he exclaimed with a grin. "Come on in." He made his way down the steps and hurried over to her. As he kissed her, Brit noticed with surprise just how jealous she wasn't. She simply smiled and watched them.
"I've brought you your homework," Kari explained. "I wasn't sure if you had your economics book or not, so you can borrow mine."
"I've got a better idea," he said. "Why don't you stay and study with me?"
"I was hoping you would say that," she grinned. "I told my dad that I might not be back until later tonight, but I wasn't sure if you would be flat on your back all evening."
"I had a couple of naps this afternoon, so I'm fine unless I have another headache or dizzy spell. Why don't you stay for supper? Rachael's fixing something special."
It was. Rachael made shrimp in a garlic cream sauce, served over brown rice with salad and steamed vegetables. Apparently Allison wasn't the only one in her family who could cook. Everyone enjoyed the meal, and Rachael absolutely beamed with delight as they all complimented her on a job well done.
Surprisingly, Kari took to Rachael immediately. Of course, Rachael had that same extremely likable quality that Allison had, but Jeff wondered if Kari had forgotten that Rachael was the one who had taken his virginity. At any rate, the two of them seemed to get along great.
After dinner, Kari and Jeff retired to his room to work on their homework together. Greg went to his den, but Allison stayed on the couch reading. She gave Brit a wink, signaling that now was a good time for her to go talk to her father. Brit made her way upstairs and knocked on the door.
"Come in," he said, and she entered. She wasted no time, but came over and sat down on his lap.
"Brit!" he chuckled. "I'm trying to work here." But he made no move to push her away.
"Daddy?" she asked sweetly.
"What is it, darling?"
"I'm worried about Jeff."
"We all are. But the doctor said he's going to be just fine."
"I don't like it when he has his headaches. Sometimes I think I hurt just as bad as he does, just thinking about his pain."
"I know, dear. I don't like it either. But think of it this way. Do you think he would have refused to catch you if he knew it would make him feel that way?"
"Of course not," she giggled.
"Because he loves me."
"Then in a way, you could say that the headaches are a symbol of his love."
"I like that way of thinking of it," she said with a smile. "But it still hurts."
"Tell you what. Since he loves you, I think you should do the same. So every time he has a headache, I want you to tell him you love him. I guarantee it won't hurt anywhere near as bad anymore, for you or for him."
Brit hugged him. "Thank you, Daddy. That's a great idea."
Father and daughter remained in that embrace for a few minutes. Greg really did have to get back to work, but ever since his wife left he treasured every moment with his family. Especially now that Lissa was gone, he only had one little girl left in the house.
"Daddy?" she asked again.
"Allison's been really good to Jeff these past few days, hasn't she?"
"Allison's been wonderful."
"I don't want her to ever go away."
"Why should she go away?"
"Oh, I don't mean it like that. I was just wondering something."
"What is it?"
"Do you love her?"
Greg didn't answer right away. He continued to hug his daughter, gently caressing her back.
"I don't know," he finally said.
"How can you not know if you love someone?"
"Because I never really thought about it. Usually when a husband and wife get married, it's because they love each other already. With Allison, we were clear right up front that that wasn't the case, and there was no expectation that that would ever change. So neither of us has pushed the issue. We haven't even talked about it ever. In fact, this is the first time I've even considered it, so I can't really answer right now."
"When will you be able to answer?"
"I don't know. Maybe never."
"Daddy, that's not fair. Even if it takes you a few days, you should be able to figure out if you love her."
"Okay, you have a point. I'll tell you at the end of the week. But angel, don't be disappointed if the answer is no. Even if I don't, it doesn't mean I'm ever going to send her away. I like having her here."
She hugged him again. "Okay, Daddy. I love you."
"I love you too." He kissed her, and she hopped up off his lap.
She descended the stairs and entered Greg's and Allison's bedroom, where Allison lay on the bed looking at a magazine.
"I asked Dad if he loves you," Brit told her.
Allison looked up with a momentary flash of hope in her eyes. "And what did he say?"
"He said he needs time to think about it. He'll tell me this weekend."
Allison nodded. "That's not surprising. Your father has always been very cautious. I've been thinking a lot about it myself, and I don't know if I really want him to love me."
"Why not?" asked Brit.
"Because it wouldn't be fair. How can I expect him to love me if I don't even know if I love him myself?"
"What are you saying, Allison?"
"This afternoon I told you that I wanted to feel needed. I wanted to feel loved. But I never stopped to realize that love works both ways. I should be more focused on whether I love him than whether he loves me, don't you think?"
Brit shrugged. "Sometimes grown-ups can be so confusing."
Allison laughed. "I'll tell you what. Greg's thinking about it, and I'll think about it too. This weekend I'll also tell you whether I love your father or not. And then we'll all know where we stand."