Jeff stayed in his room the rest of the night. The truth was that he dreaded the inevitable talk that he would have to have with his father the next time he saw him. As Allison suggested, he backed up the pictures and then deleted them from his computer. Then he sat down with a book and tried to read, but found that he just couldn't concentrate.
When Brit crept into his room at bedtime, Jeff shook his head.
"I don't think that's a good idea," he told her.
"But can't I even sleep in your bed any more?" she asked. "Even with our clothes on?"
"Do you realize how bad that would look if Dad walked in on us? I don't want to make things any worse than they are right now. Look, we need to be extra careful right now. Maybe in a few weeks we can reevaluate things, but for right now, I think you ought to sleep in your own bed."
With a disappointed look, Brit nodded, then turned around.
"Brit," said Jeff. "This doesn't change how I feel about you. I still love you."
She nodded again, then disappeared into her own room.
The dreaded confrontation happened the next morning at the breakfast table. Greg and Allison were already sitting there waiting when the children came down for breakfast.
"Good morning," he greeted them with an attempt at a cheerful smile.
"G'morning, Dad," Brit smiled back, but without enthusiasm. Jeff just nodded.
"Look, you two," Greg said immediately. "I've had some time to think about things. We've all made some terrible mistakes, but I think if we work together, we can overcome them."
Jeff didn't want to overcome them, but he had to respect his father's wishes in this, so he merely nodded.
"Nobody's going to get punished, but things will have to change around here," continued Greg. "First of all, I want you two to try to stop being so affectionate with each other."
"You mean I can't sit on Jeff's lap any more?" Brit complained.
"I think that's the first thing that has to stop. And tonight after school we're going to do some rearranging. Jeff, you're going to switch rooms with Lissa. I don't want you two sharing a bathroom any more, because it's too easy for you to sneak into each other's rooms."
Jeff sighed. This really didn't surprise him.
"What about if I get scared at night?" asked Brit. "I love sleeping in Jeff's bed because I'm never frightened with him holding me."
"If you ever get scared, you can come downstairs to Allison and me. We don't mind if you sleep in our bed with us sometimes, do we, Allison?"
"Of course not," Allison smiled.
Brit looked unhappy about that, but at least she didn't try to argue the point.
"Now Jeff," Greg continued. "There's something else you need to think about. Of all the people that have been hurt by this, I think you hurt Kari the most."
"Kari?" he asked, surprised.
"Yes. It's really not fair for you to go behind her back like this."
"Just hear me out. Kari is a wonderful, sweet girl, and she deserves a man she can trust, not someone who will cheat on her. Now I'm not going to tell her what you did, and I'm not going to make you tell her either. You're not a bad man; you just made a mistake. I do, however, insist that you think about what you've done to her, and decide what you need to do to make things right."
"She already knows," said Jeff.
Now it was Greg's turn to be surprised. "She does?" he asked, astonished.
"Kari's a lot more open-minded than you give her credit for. Not only was she in on it from the beginning, she was in favor of it even before I was. And just for the record, I would never cheat on her."
"Oh," said Greg, staring at his son for a few seconds. "Oh," he said again.
"Look, Dad," said Jeff, "everybody in this house knows you've slept with Rachael."
"Jeff!" Greg exclaimed.
"I'm serious, Dad. It's no secret that Allison doesn't mind you having sex with other women. The only two I know for sure are Rachael and those naughty pictures with Lissa, but there may have been others. That's fine; as long as your own wife is okay with it, then I'm okay with it too. I just bring it up because it shouldn't be hard for you to understand that Kari's no more the jealous type than Allison is. Maybe with all the time she spent here last summer getting tutored, some of Allison's personality rubbed off on her."
Greg stared at his son for a few seconds. Then as soon as he realized he was staring, he turned his gaze away. "Well then," he said, "I suppose I misjudged you. And her. Okay. So then I'll leave it up to you to tell her that you've broken off your relationship with Brit."
"I'll do that," Jeff nodded.
As soon as he saw Kari at school that morning, he asked her if he could come over to her house that afternoon. She was more than happy to agree, although she could sense that something was bothering him.
That afternoon at her house, he explained the situation to her and Crystal. Both of the girls opened their eyes wide with shock. As he explained how furious their father had been, Kari put a comforting arm around him, sensing that it wasn't easy to talk about it. By the time he was through, he had both girls hugging him.
Crystal asked how Brit was taking it, and Jeff said that so far she was putting on a brave face, but he suspected that it was all for show. Maybe he was still just a little overprotective of his little sister, and maybe he still thought of her as a little girl, but he could sense that it bothered her more than she let on.
When he arrived home that night, Greg immediately set him to work rearranging the bedrooms. No longer would he be permitted to sleep in a room accessible to Brit's without going through the hall. There would be no locking both doors to keep out their parents while the children had full access to each other.
It was a surprisingly quick job, mainly because Jeff had more things on the floor than in the dresser, closet, desk, or other containers. After moving the furniture from both rooms out into the hall, Jeff just gathered up his belongings in armfuls and dumped it on the floor in his new room. Greg was tempted to lecture him about keeping his room clean, but decided that now wasn't the right time.
Over the next couple of weeks, he found himself slipping into a minor depression. Every time he saw Brit, it pained him that he could no longer snuggle with her or sleep in the same bed or hold her on his lap. Sometimes the pain was just too much to bear, and in these times he retreated to his room and didn't want to talk to anyone.
To spare himself the pain, he began to spend more and more time at Kari's house. At least then, Brit's presence wouldn't remind him of what he had so recently lost. Unfortunately, Crystal reminded him of Brit, so even that refuge didn't work so well. Still, it was better than having to look on his little sister's beautiful, loving face, knowing that he could no longer love her the way he wanted.
He wasn't the most sociable person during these times. Kari could usually, with a bit of effort, cheer him up, and after twenty minutes talking and joking and flirting with her, his mood usually improved. Over time though, it took longer and longer to bring him out of his melancholy, which worried both Kari and Crystal.
One thing that almost always worked still was having sex with one or both of them. It was hard to stay depressed while making love to a gorgeous girl, even harder with two of them. Crystal told him that their job was to make him forget all about Brit, but that was a mistake. The problem was that he didn't want to forget about her. He wanted to love her like he used to. Forgetting her was just a way to make the pain go away, not a real solution. When Crystal saw how her statement bothered him, she never brought it up again.
Jeff wasn't the only one affected by the change in the family. While Allison and Greg seemed to be over it, Brit was not. Just like Jeff suspected, she hurt inside. Every night when she went to bed, she felt lonely having to sleep by herself. If it was only for one night, she might have been able to bear it, but the thought that she could never sleep with her big brother again made it impossible to stand. On more than one occasion she cried herself to sleep.
When it came right down to it, she just sometimes needed to snuggle with someone strong and caring. Jeff fit both of those qualities, plus he was handsome on top of that. But it really didn't matter what he looked like; he could be the most hideous man in the world, as long as she knew he loved her. He had been so tender and gentle with her, not once trying to take advantage of her. How could she not fall in love with someone like that?
As she lay in bed sobbing one night, she suddenly realized that there was one more person in this house that loved her almost as much as Jeff did, someone she could still love and trust. If she couldn't feel the loving arms of her brother, at least she could get it from her father.
One night, a couple of weeks after the discovery, Brit knocked on the bedroom door as Allison and Greg were just about to go to bed. She came in, looking a little sad and depressed.
"What is it, honey?" he asked her.
"Oh, I was just feeling kind of..."
"Lonely?" Allison suggested, and Brit nodded.
"Do you want to sleep in here with us tonight?" Greg asked. He had hoped to make love to Allison that night, but if Brit needed him, he would make himself available for her.
"Maybe not all night," she said. "I think if I just snuggle with you for a few minutes I'll be all right."
"Of course, Angel," he smiled tenderly. He understood that sometimes girls just needed someone to hold them every once in a while. Actually, now that he thought about it, it wasn't just limited to girls. He felt the same way sometimes.
The three of them climbed into bed and lay down, with Brit between them. She turned over on her side and lay her head down on his chest. He held her to him, relaxing in the warmth and softness of her body and enjoying her affection. No doubt she still hadn't gotten over Jeff yet, and as long as this mood of hers lasted, Greg was happy to cuddle with her like this.
Allison reached over and gently stroked Brit's hair, causing the girl to sigh. They lay like that for half an hour, saying nothing and not needing to. Suddenly Greg felt fortunate. Brit would turn fourteen in a couple of months, and there weren't too many teenage daughters willing to snuggle with their fathers like this. He would enjoy it for as long as Brit wanted to do it.
She eventually got up and kissed them both, then with a smile she returned to her own room. Greg smiled too, happy that he was able to give a little joy to his daughter that he loved so much.
The next Saturday, he found himself alone with Brit for a few hours. Jeff had gone over to Kari's place, and Allison had to run into town to do some shopping. That suited him just fine; he had been meaning to have a talk with Brit, to find out how she was feeling now that some time had passed since he had discovered her secret. Ever since the talk he had had with her after the incident, his heart had gone out to her. She was still his little girl after all, and he felt that he would be willing to do just about anything for the sake of her happiness.
He would have taken her into his office for a little privacy, but with no one else at home the living room served just as well. He sat down on one of the couches, but instead of taking one of the other chairs or even sitting next to him, she dropped down onto his lap, causing him to chuckle.
"How are you feeling, sweetheart?" he asked her.
"A little better," she said. "I really miss Jeff though."
"I know you do. You're being very brave right now, and I appreciate it. I know things look pretty bleak right now, but I promise you that they're just going to get better over time."
"Thanks, Daddy," she said, hugging him. He wrapped his arms around her and gave her a tight squeeze. The one good thing that had come out of the ordeal, he decided, was that Brit was more affectionate with him. He loved to hold her like this, tenderly and gently, the way a father should. This, at least, was wholesome and beautiful, a tender moment between father and daughter.
She drew back, but kept her hands on his shoulders. He noticed then just how tiny she still was. He had always been a broad-shouldered man, and in comparison his daughter was a small little child. No matter how old she got, he would always think of her as a little girl.
She smiled at him, and he couldn't help but fall in love with that smile.
"I love you, Daddy," she said, kissing him on the cheek.
"I love you too, sweetheart," he replied.
"I love you too, Daddy," she said again, kissing him on the other cheek. He chuckled.
"I love you too, sweetheart," he told her.
"I love you too, Daddy," she repeated, kissing him on the nose.
"I love you too, sweetheart."
"I love you too, Daddy," she repeated, but this time she kissed him on the lips.
It was just a quick peck, but suddenly alarms went off in his head. Images of her sitting on Jeff's lap, playing games just like this, flashed through his mind. What was she doing?
"Is this how you seduced your brother?" he asked without thinking.
Immediately tears welled up in her eyes, and Greg realized he had hurt her. Her lower lip began to tremble.
"How could you, Daddy?" she sobbed, then jumped up off of his lap, and bursting into tears, ran out of the room and upstairs.
Greg felt absolutely horrible at that moment. He had been so callous, bringing that up. To see Brit hurt was bad enough, but to know that he was the one who had done it was the worst feeling in the world.
He stood up and followed her upstairs. At the far end of the hall, he could hear her weeping behind the closed door of her bedroom. He approached it, then knocked on it. She didn't answer, but just continued to cry. Greg opened the door and stepped inside.
Brit lay on her bed, face down and sobbing into her pillow. He pulled up a chair and sat down next to the bed, reaching out to stroke her hair. She immediately pulled away from him, and he withdrew his hand.
He didn't know what to say to her. What could he say that would make it all better? What a heel he had been! Well, he could at least start with an apology.
"I'm sorry," he told her.
She turned her head away from him. "I've been trying so hard!" she said, refusing to look at him. "I've been trying to stay away from Jeff, or even to think of him, because I want you to be happy with me. It's the hardest thing I've ever done. And then you go and throw it all in my face like that! I hate you!"
"Brit, please don't say that," he told her.
"I hate you!" she shouted at him again.
Suddenly he could feel tears in his own eyes. She had found the one thing she could say that could sting him like he had stung her. He put his face in his hands and broke down crying.
She turned around and stared at him, astonished.
"Please, Brit," he sobbed. "Forgive me. You have to understand that grown-ups make mistakes too sometimes. I can't bear the thought that one of my mistakes hurt you."
"Oh, daddy," she said, then sat up and threw her arms around him. "I forgive you." He held her back and continued crying for a few minutes. It was ironic; he had come up here to comfort her, and now he was the one in need of comfort. But feeling her in his arms made it all much better.
Finally he pulled away from her. She had an encouraging smile on her face.
"So do you love me again?" he asked.
She giggled. "I thought I was the one who needed to hear that."
"Trust me, I need to hear it sometimes just as much as you do."
"I love you," she said, and suddenly everything was better again.
"Believe it or not," he explained, "grown-ups need hugs and kisses, and to be told they're loved too."
"I'll remember that," she smiled.
"So are we friends again?"
"We're friends again," she answered, giving him a hug. "But why did you say... what you said earlier?"
"Are you sure you want me to tell you? Even if it involves Jeff?"
"Yes," she replied. "And tell me the truth, just like you promised."
The truth. She was going to hold him to his word. Well, she deserved that much.
"All right. When you were kissing me, it felt really good. Too good, in fact. I know you're really an affectionate girl, and I'll admit I like it. But I also know that you've taken it too far before. I suddenly started thinking about Jeff, and about how you said you had been the one to... take the initiative. Remember, the first time I saw you two after you had started liking each other, you were sitting on his lap asleep. It just struck me how similar this situation was. So I said the words without even thinking how cruel they were."
Brit nodded. "So you think I was trying to seduce you?" she asked innocently.
"Don't lie, Daddy."
"All right. I thought it might have been a possibility."
"And if I was?"
She giggled. "I'm just kidding, Daddy. Look, you told me the truth, so I'll tell you the truth. I get lonely sometimes, especially now that I'm not allowed to spend time with Jeff. It's not about sex; it's about being held and hugged and kissed by someone with strong arms to wrap around me and a shoulder I can lay my head on. I just want to snuggle up with someone that I know loves me, to let go of all my worries and feel safe and protected. That's what I love most about Jeff, and that's what I love most about you, Daddy. I know I took it too far with him, but is all the rest of what I said all right? I mean, is it appropriate to do all those things with you?"
Greg smiled down at her. He was glad she was baring her soul to him, because now he understood her. He could see how things might have gotten out of hand between her brother and her, and even though he had already promised not to get angry, he hadn't really been able to forgive them until now. But he finally realized now that all that his children had done was confuse affection with passion. Both of them were still emotionally inexperienced, and so it was natural for that kind of confusion to arise.
"I think that's just fine," he told her. "I don't think you know where to draw the line yet, but that's all right; you're still learning. It's part of growing up. But I think until you learn, you shouldn't go doing that with Jeff, because he doesn't know where to draw the line either."
"What about when we're not alone? What if you or Allison are there with us?"
"I think it's all right if you hug him sometimes, but I don't want you to sleep in his bed or sit on his lap, even if we're around. Whenever you want to snuggle with someone I want you to come to me instead, because I'm mature enough that I can keep you from crossing the line. Just remember that when I tell you to stop doing something, it's not because I'm mad at you or that I think you're a bad person. I just want you to learn what is and isn't appropriate, okay?"
"Okay," she smiled, and hugged him again. "Thank you, Daddy."
"You're welcome, angel."
For the rest of the day, she seemed in much better spirits, to his relief. It looked like she would be okay after all. He was glad to help, especially since she was so nice to cuddle with. In fact, he hoped she might find another opportunity to sit on his lap. He spent most of his time in the front room sitting on the couch hoping for just such an opportunity.
In the end, it paid off. After a couple of hours, she decided she wanted to cuddle some more, so she climbed onto his lap and lay her head against his chest. He held her to him, enjoying her affection probably as much as she did. Yes, sometimes he needed someone to cuddle with just as well.
When Jeff arrived home, he immediately spied Brit sitting on her father's lap, head against his chest, eyes closed, and a smile on her face. He stood and stared for a few seconds, jealousy starting to build within him.
It wasn't fair. He was no longer allowed to hold her like that, and now his father was doing it. It was like he was flaunting it.
Worse, Brit seemed to be enjoying it. She didn't seem to care whether it was Jeff or Greg whose lap she sat on. Now that Jeff was no longer an option, she hadn't taken long to move on to her father.
Brit's eyes opened, and she smiled at him. "Hi, Jeff," she said.
"Go to hell!" he snapped, then stormed up to his bedroom and slammed the door behind him, leaving his father and sister staring in shock.
The mood in the Primdale household changed for the worse after that. Jeff fell back into his old ways of not speaking with anyone, preferring the company of a book to his own family. He even spoke to Allison only rarely now.
Kari noticed the change in him, and once she got the details from Allison, she spent all her time trying to comfort him or keep his mind off of his sister. But even that didn't help much; it seemed as though Jeff simply didn't want human companionship any more. He even stopped spending time over at her house.
Worse still was the change in Brit. Although more subtle in some ways, it was still painful to see. At first she tried to talk to Jeff, but when he didn't respond, she fell into a gloomy depression. She still spoke with the rest of them, but where she had been playful and vivacious before, now she had become bored and apathetic, as if life no longer held any joy for her. Even the sparkle had gone out of her eyes.
Greg couldn't help noticing the change in his children, and it pained him. He was particularly worried about Brit; everything he loved about her had vanished, leaving a girl that he no longer recognized. A certain degree of mellowing was expected as she matured, but this abrupt transformation seemed unhealthy. She no longer laughed, or joked, or teased like she used to. He asked Allison about it, but she confessed that she was as worried as he was. A cloud of melancholy had settled on the whole family.
January ended with no resolution in sight for the disaster in the Primdale household. Jeff and Brit hardly spoke to one another, but occasionally they could be seen glancing at each other and trying to hide their looks of yearning. Greg and Allison both tried to stay cheerful, and they both tried to engage their children in friendly conversations. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes they forgot themselves and ended up having fun. Unfortunately, those occasions were rare, and more often nothing they did could cheer up either of the kids.
Jeff spent most of his time in the library reading or in his room playing games on the computer. Neither interested him particularly any more, but at least it was a way to pass the time. With nothing to interest him any more, it was as good a way as any.
Kari kept trying to cheer him up. Despite his lack of enthusiasm whenever he saw her, she remained loyally by his side through the ordeal.
While his moping could be considered just a phase he was going through, when it began to affect his grades it became somewhat alarming. He didn't pay attention in class, but just stared out the window, not really thinking about anything but not listening to the lecture either. His test scores started dropping, and more than one of his teachers gave Greg and Allison a call to ask about it. His parents didn't mention any details of course, but used the vague term "family problems," and promised to have a talk with him about it.
Greg let Allison handle the confrontation. She was much better with words, and Greg knew that if he talked to Jeff about his grades, it would no doubt come off sounding like a lecture.
Jeff was lying on his bed reading a book one night when Allison knocked on the door and asked if she could come in. She stepped into the room, then came over and sat down next to him.
"Jeff, may I talk to you for a minute?" she asked.
He put the book down and sat up. Allison stared at him for a second, then sighed.
"It's not easy, is it?" she asked.
"Putting Brit out of your mind?"
"Oh, it's all right."
"No it's not. I can tell. You haven't said two words to any member of this family without being prompted for weeks now. Your grades are slipping in school, you haven't even gone over to Kari's house or invited her over in a week, all you do is sit in your room and read. I'm getting worried about you."
"I'll be fine."
"Jeff, what's bothering you?"
"Nothing's bothering me." He turned away. "That's the problem. Nothing bothers me any more, nothing excites me any more, nothing makes me feel anything any more. I just don't care."
Allison put an arm around him. "Want to look at porn with me?"
He shook his head.
"That's not like you!" she exclaimed, shocked. "This is serious."
"It doesn't matter," he said.
"Jeff, you've got to keep living. You're too young to be giving up like this. You've got a loving family, a beautiful girlfriend, lots of friends at school, and if you get your grades back up to where they were, good prospects to make something of your life later on. But you have to put forth some effort."
"Fine. I'll try to do better in school."
"That's not good enough, Jeff. You have to want to do better, and not just in school. How do you think Kari feels, with you ignoring her like this?"
"I suppose I've been pretty rude to her lately."
"Yes you have. And if you keep it up, you're in danger of losing her. She's willing to put up with your moping for a while, but she won't wait forever. You have to start enjoying life again."
"I'll try," he said without enthusiasm.
"You still don't get it, Jeff. This isn't about trying, as if it's a duty or something. Don't you realize how wonderful life is, especially for a boy like you?"
He shrugged. "I used to. I don't know what's come over me lately, though."
"I do," said Allison.
He glanced at her, but his eyes held no interest.
"You're still in love with Brit," she told him.
"I don't know any more. She certainly doesn't seem in love with me."
"Oh, stop playing the martyr, Jeff!" she exclaimed. "You're both good kids, so you're both trying to do what your father told you. But it's very difficult, so what do you do? You try to ignore each other as much as possible, so that you don't have to deal with the pain of being so close yet always separated. Am I right?"
Jeff stared at the floor, but he nodded.
"So there it is. She's hurting inside just as much as you are, not because she doesn't love you, but because she does. I wish there was something I could do to spare you that pain. You don't deserve to be hurt like that; you're the kindest, gentlest boy I know."
"Thanks, Allison. I think I just need to find a way to get Brit out of my mind. They say falling in love is hard, but I think falling out of love is even worse."
"So invite Kari over this weekend. I'm sure she'll be eager to help you forget Brit. If you want, I'll arrange for Greg and Brit to get out of the house all day, so that will leave just you, Kari, and me. I'll even make myself scarce if you want."
Jeff nodded. "I guess it's a good place to start."
It didn't work. Kari did come over to visit him that Saturday, and Greg and Allison took Brit on an outing to leave the two of them alone together, but Jeff just couldn't work up the enthusiasm to do anything. They spent some time talking about what had happened, and Kari tried to get him to tell her how he felt, but he didn't feel like talking about it.
They made love, but Jeff's heart wasn't really in it. It felt nice of course, but it lacked any kind of passion. Kari noticed the difference, and after it was over, instead of snuggling with him like she usually did, she simply lay down beside him on the bed. Afterward, they took separate showers, then Kari went home early.
When Greg, Allison, and Brit returned home later that day, Allison could tell that his attitude hadn't changed. She took him aside and asked how it went, and he explained that it hadn't helped after all.
Brit also noticed his gloominess, but after everything that had happened, she was in no mood to try to help him get over it. They stayed away from each other as much as possible; when Jeff was downstairs, Brit stayed in her room. When she came down, he went upstairs.
They at least ate supper with their parents that night, but they weren't in the mood to talk. Greg and Allison tried to engage them in conversation, but they answered in single words and just stared at their plates as they ate. Eventually Jeff excused himself, then headed back upstairs to his bedroom to stare at the ceiling. He really didn't feel like doing much else.