Jeff sat on the school bus, staring vacantly at the back of the seat in front of him. He felt literally sick from worry, wondering where his little sister could be.
He had to admit, he had been pretty much useless all morning. All he had done was sit and stare, trying to fight back the tears. Allison had broken down and cried, and only his father had managed to keep his head. Greg had immediately called the police, then the Williams house to see if she had spent the night with Crystal, then his work to tell them he wouldn't be coming in. Eventually even he broke down and began to weep though. Jeff had been shocked; except for the night Greg had discovered his children's affair, Jeff had never seen his father cry before.
Now Greg and Allison were out looking for Brit, but they had insisted that Jeff go to school because he couldn't do anything for her. He felt so helpless, but worse than that was the guilt. If only he hadn't tried to make her angry or jealous. Or if he had put on a good face for her birthday, or even just apologized last night. If he had done any of those, she would be sitting here beside him instead of lost and alone out there. The thought of never seeing her smiling face again almost made him want to scream.
Fortunately the rain had stopped and the clouds had mostly dispersed, but Brit had been out in it all night. He knew it was possible for someone to die of exposure in weather like that, especially someone small without a lot of fat to insulate them. And Brit was still kind of a skinny girl.
As soon as he arrived at school, he was greeted by the volleyball team.
"I told them all about what happened," Kari explained. "They said they want to help."
"We'll probably get detention for this," said Tracy, "but we're going to leave in a few minutes and start searching the town."
"Really?" he asked, in both surprise and gratitude.
"Absolutely. We told you we're your guardian angels, and that applies to your little sister too. We've all arranged transportation of one kind or another, and we've all got our cell phones so we'll keep in contact. Don't worry; we're going to find your sister."
"Thanks," he said with a weak smile. Tracy came over and hugged him.
When she stepped back, she glanced at Kari. "You stay here and take care of Jeff. I've arranged it so that for any class you don't share with him, one of the other girls who's in that class will come back for that time in case he needs us for anything. Oh, and Jeff, can we get the numbers of your parents' cell phones? I want to coordinate with them."
Jeff was too overcome with emotion and gratitude to speak, but he wrote the numbers down on a sheet of paper and handed it to her.
All through his first class he felt sick with worry. He tried to keep it in as much as possible, but finally broke down crying. There were a few snickers from some of his classmates, but he didn't care. Mr. Greenville stopped his lecture and asked if it was another headache, but Jeff blurted out that his little sister had gone missing and he was worried about her. A silence fell on the class then; no doubt those who had laughed at him were feeling guilty about doing so.
"Miss Williams, would you be so kind as to take Jeff to the nurse's office?" asked Mr. Greenville. "I think he needs a place where he can be alone for a while."
Kari nodded, and put a comforting arm around his shoulders. "Come on, Jeff," she said quietly.
He allowed her to lead him to the nurse's office. Kari explained the situation, and Mrs. Browning let them go into the back room. Jeff lay down on the cot, and Kari sat by him without saying a word, her eyes filled with pity.
Jeff was grateful to have someone like her to help him through his tough times. She had stuck with him after Brit and Jeff had been found out, even though he gave her no sign that he even wanted to be around her. For months she had stayed loyal without asking for a single thing in return.
"Thank you, Kari," he told her. "I don't deserve someone like you."
"Oh, hush," she replied. "Let's have no talk like that. I love you, Jeff."
"I love you too, Kari. I'm just sorry I haven't shown it lately."
"It's all right. You're just going through a hard time right now. If I were to leave you just because things aren't going so well, I'd be missing out on so much in the future."
"But what if we never find Brit? What if she's... what if she's dead?"
"Don't say that, Jeff! Don't even think of things like that. I'm sure she's just fine, wherever she is. I'll bet your parents or my friends find her before the day is out."
"But the storm last night. She was always afraid of storms. To think of her out there, unprotected from it... I can't stand it!"
"I know. You care for her deeply. I'd probably be the same way if it were Crystal out there. But right now there's nothing you can do, so try not to think about it."
That was easier said than done. He expected the nurse to come in at any minute and say, "They found your sister's body." Those words echoed over and over in his mind, terrifying him. What would he do if it happened? If only it were him out there alone in the cold instead of Brit. He would gladly let the storm take him, if it would mean Brit came home where it was safe. Why, Brit? he wondered. Why did it have to be you?
Half an hour later, the nurse entered the room, just like he had imagined. He could still hear those words in his head, as clearly as if she spoke them. When she opened her mouth, he dreaded what would come out.
"Good news," she said. Jeff started crying in relief even before the nurse could explain the situation to him.
"Erica Bryant found your little sister. Your father's with her right now."
"See, Jeff?" Kari said. "I knew my friends would come through for you." Then she turned back to the nurse. "Is she all right?" she asked for him, as he was too emotional even to speak.
"She's fine. A little cold and scared, but nothing that a hot bath won't cure. The only problem is, she refuses to come home. Jeff, your stepmother's on the way over here to pick you up and take you to her. She seems to think that you might be able to convince her."
"Thank you," he managed to say between his sobs.
"It's all right," she smiled, then left the room.
Kari hugged him then, whispering comforting words in his ears. He was so preoccupied with his thoughts that he didn't know what she said, only that it felt nice to hear them.
A couple of minutes later Kari's cell phone rang. She put it to her ear. "Hello?" she said. "Yes, I heard. Erica found her. Are you coming back? Yeah, he's fine. Just a little shaken up right now. We're in the nurse's office. What's that? Yes, his stepmom's coming to pick him up. You guys should get back to school. If you hurry it'll only be first period and part of second period that you miss. Okay, bye." She hung up.
"That was Tracy," she explained. "She's just calling everyone to make sure we know Brit was found."
Jeff suddenly threw his arms around Kari and hugged her tightly. "This is for you and all of your friends. Especially Erica." Kari held him to her, not saying a word.
They were still sitting there like that twenty minutes later when Allison opened the door and stepped through.
She immediately hurried over and threw her arms around him. Kari stepped back, letting him cry on her shoulder. Right now he just needed a mother to comfort him.
Once they broke apart, Allison took his hand. "Brit's all right, but we need your help. Kari, thanks for staying with Jeff. Why don't you go back to class? We'll call you tonight and let you know how it works out."
Kari hugged her, then the three of them left the room.
Allison and Jeff made their way out to her car. She started it up, and then they drove in the direction of the city. Jeff was shocked at just how far Brit had traveled. She must have been walking all night! They followed the road until Jeff spied their father's car on the side of the road near an open field by a large billboard. Allison pulled over behind the car, and they hurried toward the billboard.
The first thing Jeff saw was Greg standing there, staring down at something on the ground. Then he realized that that something was Brit! She lay there in the dirt, facing away from them with her arms wrapped around one of the poles suspending the billboard.
"As soon as I tried to pick her up, she grabbed hold of that pole and wouldn't let go," Greg explained as soon as they arrived. He looked tired and haggard, even a little frightened. "We could force her, but Allison says if she doesn't come home willingly, she'll just resent what we've done, and she'll run away again. I think..." He sighed in resignation. "I think you're the only one who can convince her."
Jeff nodded, then knelt down beside her. He ran his hand through her hair, but she pulled away. Then he leaned over, brought his head down, and nibbled on her earlobe.
Brit burst out laughing. Greg and Allison stared in surprise. "I don't believe it," Greg breathed.
"Let's go home, Brit," said Jeff.
"No!" she insisted.
"Come on. You must be freezing."
"I don't care."
Jeff lay down on the cold, hard ground behind her, put an arm around her and hugged her to him. Greg took a step forward, but Allison placed a hand on his, giving him a look warning him not to interfere. He hesitated, then stepped back.
"You're soaking wet," said Jeff, "and you're shivering like crazy. You're going to catch pneumonia out here."
"I'm not going back," she stubbornly insisted.
Allison suddenly turned around and jogged back to the car. When she returned, she had the blanket that they kept in the trunk for emergencies. She knelt down and spread this over the two children. Brit sighed.
"Won't you at least tell us why you ran away?" asked Jeff.
"It's your fault!"
"Mine?" he asked, taken aback.
"Yesterday at my party, you just stayed in your room the whole time and wouldn't come down. It was my birthday, Jeff! But you didn't even say happy birthday to me!" She began to sob again.
Jeff's eyes filled with tears as well. "Oh, Brit, I'm so sorry!" he said. "If I had realized it would hurt you this much, I wouldn't have done it. I was just sulking because... because I've seen how affectionate you are with Dad, and I got jealous. I miss how you used to be that way with me. Please come home, Brit. I'll make it up to you, I promise."
"How? Everything you could do to make me feel better, you're not allowed to do, remember?"
"I know, but I'll find a way. I love you, Brit. Please come home."
"I can't go home. Things are just going to be the same, and I hate it there. Even though I know you love me, I can't just keep going on like that. I can't stand being near you and not being able to touch you, Jeff. Please don't make me go back to that."
"Okay," he said soothingly. "If you'll be happier running away, then that's fine. Just tell me one thing."
"Where are we going?"
Brit's eyes went wide. "What did you say?" she asked.
"You've made up your mind not to come home, and I don't want to either if you're not there. So there's only one thing to do. I'm coming with you. Wherever you go, I'm going too."
"Do you think I'd just leave you alone? If you're going to run away, then I'm going to run away with you. I promised I would protect you. I even said I would give my life for you, don't you remember?"
"So how can I look after you if you leave me home?"
Greg had to look away. His emotions were too conflicted right now. He hadn't seen before just how good Jeff was for Brit. If not for the fact that they were related, Greg would have been overjoyed to have Jeff date his daughter. Here was a boy who was strong, and gentle, and kind to her. On the other hand, that kind of relationship between them was impossible.
"So you never answered my question. Where are we going?" asked Jeff.
"I don't know," Brit replied. "Some place warm."
"How about Hawaii?" asked Jeff. "We could lie out on the beach all day soaking up the sun, then at night we could rest in a hot tub. Wouldn't that be nice?"
"I like hot tubs," Brit commented.
"Me too. It's too bad we can't go home and get into the tub right now."
"You're trying to trick me," she said.
"Yes I am. Is it working?"
Brit actually giggled at that.
"So you're off to Hawaii?" asked Greg. "Okay, I'll call for the plane tickets right now."
Brit turned her head to stare at him. "You mean... you mean you don't want me to come home?"
"Of course I do," Greg replied. "I'll probably cry the whole time you're gone, but I'd rather see you happy. If you think running away to Hawaii will make you happy, then I'm willing to give you up. But only if you have Jeff to look after you."
"You would really cry for me?"
"I started crying all this morning after you turned up missing, and I don't think I stopped until we found you."
"I'm so sorry, Daddy. I didn't know."
"It's all right, Angel, now that I know you're safe."
"We all cried for you," said Allison.
"Even Jeff?" asked Brit.
"Absolutely," said Jeff. "I was so worried that I had to go to the nurse's office."
"Really. Remember how scared you were when I hit my head on the stairs and knocked myself unconscious?"
"Well, I was ten times as scared for you this morning. You're my little sister, and I don't think I could survive if anything ever happened to you."
"I'm so sorry, Jeff."
"It's okay. As long as I can be with you to look after you, I don't care where we go. I don't know how we'll get money to eat or pay for a place to stay, but just being with you so I can protect you is enough for me."
Brit hesitated for a minute, just lying there with her brother's arm around her. "Jeff?" she asked.
"I want to go home now."
Jeff rose up to a kneeling position, then slid his hands under her and lifted her into his arms. He stood then, letting her rest against his chest. He followed Greg and Allison back to the car, and by the time they reached it Brit was asleep. She probably hadn't slept all night because of the storm.
"Greg, if you don't mind, I'd like to ride home with you," said Allison. "We can come back and pick up my car later."
"Is it all right if I ride in the back with you two?" asked Allison, and Jeff nodded. He managed to slide into the seat with Brit still in his arms, and Allison went around and climbed in the other door. Jeff let Brit spread out on top of both of them, her head resting in Allison's lap and the blanket still covering her. Greg started the car and they began the drive home.
For a while nobody said anything. This had been an emotional experience for all of them. It was Greg who finally broke the silence.
"Jeff, I'm very proud of you," he said. "This is the third time you've saved Brit's life."
"Actually it's only the second," Jeff replied. "The first one Brit just made up. You know what kind of imagination she has."
Greg laughed. "Okay, so it's the second time. Still, I'm in your debt. I don't think I can ever repay you fully for what you've done."
Jeff glanced down at the girl sleeping in his arms. "I'll be honest. There's only one thing I want, and I know it's something I can never have."
"I know," said Greg. "It's hard for you both. Just so you understand, I think you're wonderful for her. I hope some day she finds someone just like you to marry. If you weren't her brother, I'd give your relationship my blessing. But you understand, this can never be."
"Tell you what. She's been through a lot, and I think she needs you right now. It's okay with me if she wants to sleep in your bed tonight. Just make sure you keep your clothes on, and don't... you know."
"Thanks, Dad. I think she'll appreciate that."
As soon as they reached the house, Jeff climbed out of the car and carried Brit to the door. She woke up and glanced around.
Allison hurried and unlocked it, and Jeff carried her inside. Instead of heading over to the living room or even up to her bedroom though, he started down the stairs.
"Where are you going?" Brit asked.
"You'll see," he told her.
Once at the bottom of the stairs, he crossed the rec room toward the bathroom at the far end. He slipped inside it, then out the other door into the alcove. There he slipped off his shoes and pulled the blanket off of Brit. As he ascended the steps to the hot tub, Brit gasped, "You wouldn't dare!" She managed to kick off her shoes at the last minute, realizing that he was serious.
"Oh wouldn't I?" he asked, then plunged into the water with her. She squealed and laughed and struggled to get away, then finally gave up and let him hold her there in the water.
"You said you liked the hot tub, so I figured this should be the first thing we did when we got home."
"But with our clothes on?"
"You were already soaked from the rain, and I don't mind getting wet. So why not?"
She giggled and climbed off his lap, then sat down next to him. He wrapped his arm around her.
The screen opened and they saw Greg and Allison standing there. Both of them started laughing. Jeff and Brit joined in too.
Then Greg did something unexpected. He took off his coat, slipped off his shoes, removed his belt and wallet, and climbed in with them. Allison followed. The four of them sat in the hot tub, fully clothed, laughing almost to the point of tears. It was a well-needed release after the ordeal they had all been through.
"I'll bet this feels nicer than that cold ground you were sleeping on, Brit," said Allison.
"Much better. Nice and warm. I think I'll have to cancel the trip to Hawaii after all."
"Brit, I want you to promise never to run away again," said Greg. "If you have a problem, any problem at all, you can come to Allison or me. I meant it when I said I wanted you to be happy."
"And I meant it when I said I would do anything to protect you," Jeff added.
Greg looked at him then as if seeing him for the first time. He didn't say anything, though.
"I promise I won't run away again," said Brit. "I'm still a little sad that I don't get to spend time with Jeff, though."
"Well, maybe I was a little harsh," Greg told her. "I think it will be all right once in a while to let you two spend some time together alone, as long as you promise to behave. Jeff, I'm going to trust you to make sure you don't cross the line."
"Oh, thank you, Daddy!" Brit beamed, sloshing over to him and throwing her arms around his neck.
They sat there another ten minutes before Jeff pointed out that since they were all in the tub and none of them had a dry change of clothes nearby, they had a problem.
"Actually, my bathrobe's hanging in the bathroom," said Allison. "I was in the hot tub the other day and I forgot to take my robe back upstairs. I think it's time I got out anyway."
She climbed out of the tub and headed into the bathroom, closing both doors. A couple of minutes later she re-emerged wearing her bathrobe, and tossed her wet clothes in the corner. "I'll get some robes for the rest of you," she said, heading toward the stairs.
Later, they all sat in the rec room in their robes. Brit spent the rest of the morning sleeping on Jeff's lap, her head against his chest. Greg looked like he didn't know whether he approved of that or not, but at least he didn't try to put a stop to it. Allison sat by him, holding his hand.
"Jeff," said Greg. "I need to apologize to you."
"For what?" asked Jeff.
"For misjudging you. You know how conservative I am. I was always raised to think that sex is a bad thing, except between husband and wife. Your mother and I even saved ourselves for our wedding night. I've always believed that anything deviating from normal sexual relationships between husband and wife is wrong. That includes incest. So when I saw those pictures with you and Brit... well, I jumped to the wrong conclusion."
"What wrong conclusion? It was true."
"I'm not talking about the act itself. I'm talking about the emotions involved. You see, I had never even considered the possibility that a deviant sexual relationship could actually involve love. To me, what you did with Brit was pure, emotionless sex, and that's what I wanted to protect her from."
"I'm not sure I understand."
"How do you feel about your little sister?"
"I'm in love with her."
"Exactly. That's what I couldn't see, because I had never even considered that that was possible."
"So are you saying that now you approve of our relationship?"
"No. I don't. I still think it's bad. Just maybe not as bad as I thought at first. You love her, and that at least means something. At least part of your love for her I can approve of. I mean, it was because you love her that you saved her life twice. If it was a choice between her being with you and being with a man who abused her or treated her like dirt, well, I suppose I would have to pick you. You have to understand, though, that she's still a little girl. She just turned fourteen, after all. To have this kind of relationship with anyone, especially her brother, can really hurt her."
Jeff shook his head. "I'm sorry, but I don't agree. I might as well be honest, Dad. The only reason why I've stopped having sex with her is because you've made it a rule in this house and in this family. It's a rule that I happen to disagree with, but because I love you and don't want to disappoint you, I'm following it. But I'm not happy about it."
"All right, I can respect that. I suppose it comes down to this. We both want Brit to be happy. We just have conflicting ideas of how to make that possible."
"So can we at least not be enemies about it? We have the same goal, after all. Are there maybe a few things we can agree on?"
Jeff stared at him in surprise. It was the first time that he could remember that his father was treating him like an equal. Greg had always been his father, always the authority figure but also the strong one in the family. Now he was talking to Jeff on an equal level.
Jeff didn't want to disappoint him. If his father was willing to reach out to him like this, Jeff wanted to prove himself worthy of such a gesture.
"I think if we start listing what we know about her, we can figure out what she needs," he said. "And then we can discuss what the appropriate role is for each of us."
Greg nodded with a smile on his face.
"I think you're right," he said. "So what do we know about her?"
"Well, first of all, she's very emotional."
"And vulnerable sometimes."
"She has a wonderful imagination."
"And she needs to hear the words 'I love you' as often as possible."
"I think that at least is something we both can do for her," Greg told him. "I'm a little concerned about what you do to show your love for her, but I don't think there's any harm in telling her, even though there are some components of your love for her that I don't approve of."
"Dad, do you think maybe her imagination is part of the reason why she fell in love with me?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, when I saved her life that first time... I think maybe she got a case of hero worship. She probably saw me as her knight in shining armor."
"I can say with a pretty good degree of certainty that she was in love with you before that incident," Allison said. "No, whatever happened, it happened while we were taking Lissa to school."
"Any ideas of what that might be?" Greg asked Jeff.
Jeff thought he knew exactly when it had happened. She had suddenly become very affectionate after they had seen those naughty vacation pictures. And that meant that it was probably because he had been there with her when she had her first orgasm. Perhaps to Brit, it was like he had taken her virginity at that point.
"I think I know," said Jeff. "I suppose after everything that's happened, there's no harm in telling you, but I made a promise to Brit that I wouldn't say. So unless she releases me from that promise, I can't reveal it."
"I wouldn't ask you to break your promise to her," Greg told him. "It's all right to keep it a secret."
"So anyway, I'm going to loosen the rules a little. It's okay for you two to be alone together once in a while, but just to avoid temptation, you're not allowed to touch each other unless you're with Allison or me. When one of us is around, you can be affectionate with each other. You can hug, and she can sit on your lap if she wants. No kissing, though, even on the cheek or forehead. And you have to obey Allison and me. If we tell you to stop doing something, you have to stop. And you're not to sleep together unless I give you permission. Do you understand?"
"I understand. And thank you. I think if we're allowed to hold each other like that, that will be enough."
"Make no mistake about it, though. The goal is still to have you fall out of love with each other. I just think in light of what's happened, it's better to do it gradually. I made a mistake the first time in thinking it was better to end it abruptly."
"Well then, you know I disagree with the goal, but I'll follow the rules. And I'll make sure Brit follows them too."
"That's all I'm asking."
They sat in silence for a while then, each lost in their own thoughts. Finally Greg broke the silence, bringing up the point that they still had to go get Allison's car. They agreed to let Jeff and Brit stay home from school for the rest of the day, because Brit hadn't gotten much sleep last night, and they didn't want to leave her alone while they went for the car. There was also the practical issue of her being asleep on Jeff's lap, which meant he couldn't get off the couch without waking her. Greg and Allison went upstairs to their bedroom to change their clothes, and then left the two kids alone while they drove back to where they left the car. Brit continued to sleep soundly on Jeff's lap the whole time, and he gently stroked her back. She was still asleep when Greg and Allison returned.
When Brit awoke a while later, Greg gave her a kiss on the forehead, then they went over the new rules again with her. Since the part of the relationship that Greg mostly objected to was the sex, and Brit was more interested in just the intimacy of being held by Jeff, she immediately agreed to the rules. She joked that she would agree to anything that allowed her to sit on his lap, and proved her point by doing so all the rest of the day, with the obvious exceptions of lunch and dinner.
They brought up the subject again of when exactly she had fallen in love with him, and she admitted it was when she had her first orgasm while sitting on his lap looking at those naughty pictures. Once they started talking about it and Greg simply listened without being judgmental, they found it easier and easier to keep going. Almost like a form of therapy, it felt relieving to finally get it all out in the open. The only things they didn't mention were Brit's lesbian encounters with Allison, Kari, and Crystal. They had seen his reaction to finding out that Lissa had a girlfriend, and by unspoken agreement they decided that for the time being at least, they wouldn't tell him that Brit was also bisexual.
That night just before bedtime, Kari called Jeff. "How's Brit doing?" she asked immediately.
"Much better," Jeff replied. "Tell the girls we really appreciate what they've done."
"About the girls," Kari said, "They've all got detention to serve next Monday after school. Principal Foster called it 'truancy.' Basically, leaving school grounds during class time."
"That asshole!" Jeff exclaimed. "They saved Brit's life, and he's going to make them serve detention for it?"
"Yeah, he said he approved of their motivations, but he couldn't allow that kind of rule breaking, no matter how noble the purpose."
"I think I'll tell Principal Foster exactly what I think of him!" Jeff growled.
Suddenly, Kari burst out laughing. "Well, maybe you can tell him on Monday," she giggled.
"What? You mean I have detention too? But--"
"He didn't actually assign you detention, but he said you're still invited, especially if you swing by the junior high after school and pick up Brit."
"I don't understand."
"He's going to have some pizzas and sodas delivered."
"Exactly. It's detention in name only."
Jeff laughed. "Maybe Principal Foster isn't such a bad guy after all."
"By the way, you're sworn to secrecy for the rest of your natural life. He says he doesn't want to be seen as promoting truancy or gangs."
"'An organized group engaging in anti-authoritarian activities,'" she quoted in her best impersonation of the principal. "In this case, skipping out on school. He said what the girls did could be misconstrued as gang activity."
"I can see that. First they start by finding lost children, and before you know it, they're adopting homeless puppies! Just think where it could lead!"
"Anyway, we're not to let on that this is anything but detention. You can keep a secret, can't you?"
"I won't tell a soul. Like I never told anyone that Lissa's really a boy. Oops! I let that one slip, didn't I?"
Kari laughed. "It's good to hear that you're in a good mood again. You really haven't been fun at all for the longest time."
"I'm just happy that my little sister's back home safe. I never did get to thank the girls for their help. Tell them... I don't know. You're much better with words than I am. Just let them know how much I appreciate them."
"I will. And by the way, Crystal's anxious to see Brit again. Did you know that she cried as much as you did?"
"Tell her she's a sweet girl. She's been so good for Brit these past few months. If there's anything I can do for her, I will."
"I'll tell her. Thanks. So I'll see you tomorrow at school?"
"I'll be there."
After hanging up the phone, he ascended the stairs to his bedroom. He changed into a tee-shirt and sweat pants, then climbed into bed. A few minutes later, Brit came into his room, holding her father's hand. Allison stepped in behind them.
Jeff glanced at his little sister. She was wearing a cute little set of pink pajamas that made her look three years younger. He was well aware of how grown-up she could sometimes be, but tonight she was a little girl.
"Jeff," said Greg. "I'm going to trust you not to do anything. Please take care of my little angel."
"I'll take care of her," he promised. "Come on, Brit." He opened the covers, and she skipped over to him, then climbed into bed with him. He threw the blankets back over them as she snuggled up next to his chest.
Greg came over, then knelt down and kissed her on the forehead.
"I love you, Brit," he told her.
"I love you too, Daddy."
"Now I want you to behave. I know how much Jeff loves you, and I know he wouldn't do anything he's not supposed to with you. But I also know that you can be irresistible sometimes, so please, don't do anything to tempt him. Okay?"
"Do you promise?"
"Good," he smiled. "Now I don't have to worry, because I know I can count on both of you." He turned and headed for the door. "Are you coming, Allison?"
"In a minute," she told him. "I'd like to talk with Jeff and Brit for a while first."
"All right. I'll be in the bedroom." He vanished through the door and closed it behind him. Allison turned back to the children.
"Jeff, Brit," she said. "Despite what I've said in the past, I'm going to re-emphasize what your father told you. Make sure you behave yourselves. Brit, you especially. Don't flirt with Jeff, don't be too affectionate, don't even tease him."
"I would think Dad would be happy if I went back to teasing Jeff," she said.
"You may not realize this, but lately your teasing has become... well, to be perfectly frank, sexy."
"Sexy?" she giggled.
"Yes. Something that is just cute or innocent when done by a little girl is downright provocative when done by a fourteen-year-old teenager. So be careful of what you say or do with Jeff. Your father was right; Jeff is absolutely wonderful and would never take advantage of you, but you can sometimes make it really hard for him."
"Okay. I understand. No teasing. But Allison, why are you telling us this? I thought you were in favor of our relationship."
"Can you keep a secret?"
"You too, Jeff?"
"Of course," he replied.
"I think your father's wearing down. I'm working on him, and I think there's a chance he'll come around. But we have to be cautious; if we push him too hard, he'll just close up and we'll lose our chance. That's why you two need to be very careful. If you can just hold out for a few months, I think Greg will give in."
"You're serious?" Jeff asked, surprised.
"Jeff, I want you to continue to be a good brother to Brit. Do nice things for her and spend lots of time with her, especially when your father's watching. Brit, you need to be careful about being too affectionate with your brother. The occasional brief hugs are okay, but don't kiss him, even on the cheek. And although your father said it's okay for you to sit on his lap or put your head on his shoulder, try to keep it to a minimum, at least while your father's watching. Do you think you can do that?"
"I think so," said Brit.
"Good. We'll have another talk in a couple of months and I'll let you know how far Greg's come along."