The rental car makes its way down the street, then slows in front of the familiar suburban two-story and pulls into the driveway.
"Are we sure we want to do this?" Lexie asks as Luke turns off the engine.
"It's a little late to change our mind now, don't you think?" says Luke.
"We could take the car back to the airport and get the next plane back to Africa," Lexie notes, but she doesn’t really mean it. Mostly.
Luke seems to realize this, because he starts to open his door.
“Wait,” she says, then slips off the handcrafted wooden ring on her left ring finger and moves it to her right hand’s ring finger instead. “Okay, let’s go.”
They get out of the car, retrieve their luggage from the trunk, then walk slowly up the walk to their parents’ house. Lexie rings the doorbell. It seems strange to wait outside the house, and isn’t strictly necessary--Lexie left the U.S. with a housekey still on her her keyring, and strongly doubts her parents have changed the locks in the intervening time. But this isn’t her house anymore, just her parent’s house and the house she grew up in. She knows she and Luke will always be welcome here, but it’s no longer their home. That’s back in Côte d’Ivoire.
Their parents open the door, and Lexie, then Luke, pulls each of them into tight hugs. To say that her and Luke’s relationships with their parents is complicated would be an understatement, but she does love them, and her father just loss his mother. “I’m so sorry,” she tells him, and he just gives her a sad, wistful smile and pulls her back into a second hug.
The silence that follows then is so awkward as to be painful, as the four members of their family just stare at each other without knowing how to break the silence. Finally their mother asks, “How was your trip?”
“Long,” Luke answers, which--well, he’s not wrong. It was the torrential mix of emotions which had made it particularly exhausting for Lexie, sorrow over losing her grandmother mixed with trepidation about returning to the States and her family. The only thing which made it bearable despite the turmoil was having Luke at her side every step of the way. She wants to take his hand in his now, or to lean into his side and have him put his arm around her, but refrains, wondering if those actions would be too intimate for brother and sister.
“Well, at least you’ve made it home in time for dinner,” their mother tells them, “Go get settled in and I’ll call you two when it’s ready.”
They go up the steps to the second-floor. Luke reaches out and gives her shoulder a quick squeeze, and then they part directions as they enter their separate childhood bedrooms.
Itr had never occurred to her to think it weird the way her parents had preserved Luke’s room the first five years he was in West Africa, during her last couple years of high school and into college, but now that they’ve both been gone for another five years it all seems a little eerie, as if their parents simply can’t let go of the children they once were, cannot accept that they have their own lives and their own home halfway around the globe.
Her eyes skim the bookcases which line one wall of her bedroom. Many of the books on the shelves are old friends; most have duplicates on the shelves of their house in Côte d’Ivoire. There’s the light-hearted YA lit and paranormal romances of a teenaged girl mixed liberally with classic science fiction, as well as the more highbrow reading of a college student with a minor in English Literature and a love of the early modern poets. She reaches out and passes her finger across the spines: Shakespeare, Marlowe, Spenser, Sidney. A wry, involuntary chuckle passes her lips as she comes to a much-worn edition of ’Tis a Pity She’s a Whore, but she moves on and pulls out a collection of John Donne’s poetry.
Death, be not proud, indeed, she thinks, remembering her grandmother--the only grandmother she had ever known, really, since her mother’s mother had passed when Lexie was still only a toddler. The last of her grandparents and in failing health at 87 years old, her death had hardly been a surprise, but over the last few days Lexie’s found the knowledge she will never again see her grandmother alive to be a shock nonetheless.
Lexie sits on her bed and flips through the book to the Holy Sonnets.
Here the admiring her my mind did whet
To seek thee, God; so streams do show the head;
But though I have found thee, and thou my thirst hast fed,
A holy thirsty dropsy melts me yet.
But why should I beg more love, whenas thou
Dost woo my soul, for hers offering all thine:
And dost not only fear lest I allow
My love to saints and angels, things divine,
But in thy tender jealousy dost doubt
Lest the world, flesh, yea, devil put thee out.
She doesn’t consider herself to be Catholic anymore. She doesn’t really consider herself anything anymore, not unless you consider incest to be a religion. (“To make our love a god and worship it,” that line from ’Tis Pity, wafts back into her consciousness,) Yet she finds something which speaks to her in Donne’s conflicted meditations on mortality and divine love.
She may not be sure if she believes in a God or an afterlife, but she does believe that death is a natural part of life, and that life isn’t simply chaotic or meaningless. She believes in beauty and justice and transcendental meaning. And most of all, beyond everything else, she believes in love and its ennobling power.
Leaving the book on the bed, she stands up and crosses her room to the closet, then pulls out her funeral dress. She’s already buried two grandfathers in that dress, a simple black cocktail gown with a hem well below the knee, a demure portrait neckline, and a matching jacket.
Lexie tries it on and finds that, thankfully, miraculously, it still fits her and is in good condition. She takes it off and hangs it up, then changes into a casual skirt and blouse for dinner before returning downstairs to her family.
Her brother’s already in the kitchen helping their mother with dinner. She sits down at the kitchen table and watches them work. None of the three speak much, but the fact that their mother doesn’t kick them both out of her kitchen is a testament to how much is changed between them,
Soon dinner is ready, and she and Luke set the dining room table as their mother brings the food in from the kitchen. When the table is set, they all take their seats in the same arrangement they did when they were children, and wait for their father to say grace,
“We thank you, Lord,” he prays, “for this food before us, the fruit of your bounty and the work of human hands. We ask that you bless it to the nourishment of our bodies and us to your service, and make us mindful of the needs of others. Thank you especially for bringing our children Luke and Lexie home safely to be with us during this time of sorrow.”
He pauses, takes a deep breath. “Be with us as and comfort us as we mourn the loss of Bernadette, our beloved mother and grandmother,” he continues, “and may your perpetual light shine upon her. Amen.”
“Amen,” they echo.
It’s obvious all the stops have been pulled out with dinner: chicken cordon bleu, creamed asparagus, baked mac and cheese, and garlic mashed potatoes, plus salad and hot butter rolls. Lexie would object to so much effort being expended for their sake at a time like this, but she knows that throwing herself into those sorts of projects is her mom’s way of dealing with grief. Katherine Matthews had always gotten along well with her mother-in-law and, given how close their entire extended family was, the two women had been very much present in each other’s lives, especially after the deaths of Lexie’s maternal grandparents.
So Lexie lets herself enjoy the dinner, appreciating the delights of well-prepared comfort food. While Luke’s taste in cooking tends towards the exotic much more than their mother’s, it’s clear he gets his basic ability from her--a genetic trait that seems to have skipped Lexie herself.
With the social lubricant of their mother’s cooking and their father’s favorite red wine, conversation comes much more easily during dinner. The topics remain light, mostly amusing anecdotes about their jobs or daily life, but Lexie finds herself relaxing, surrounded by the love and warmth of her family.
If only she and Luke didn’t have to hide such a central element of their lives together from their parents, she thinks wistfully. She glances down at her empty left ring finger. The feeling of absence is already so profound it almost feels as if the finger itself were amputated. Apparently Luke caught the gesture, because he silently gives her a knowing, wistful look from across the table.
Their mother gets up from the table and comes back from the table with a warm apple cinnamon cake for dessert. Two slices of cake and another glass of wine later, Lexie decides it’s time to retire.
“Good idea,” Luke says as he exits the kitchen where he had been helping their mother with the wishes. “We have a big day tomorrow, after all.”
Luke leans in for a quick kiss, then turns and enters his room.
Lexie stands in her black funeral dress in front of her grandmother’s open coffin, flanked on either side by Luke and their cousin Gwen. Luke is dressed in a black suit with a white dress shirt and a solid red tie. Gwen is dressed in a tight black minidress which emphasizes her cleavage and a pair of five-inch heels.
A dark-haired woman whose striking features seem familiar, but whose identity Lexie cannot place, steps forward. “So sorry for your loss,” the woman says in a British accent, her voice practically a purr. “But the daisies must be disciplined.”
Lexie blinks at the non sequitor, unsure how to respond, when another mourner comes up. Faceless stranger follows faceless stranger in an unending line of meaningless condolences and well-wishes.
“I’m going to powder my noise,” Gwen says, then heads for the bathroom, her hips swaying from side to side as she walks, the hem of her dress only just barely covering the curve of her ass, her waist-long bottle-blonde hair trailing behind her,
A few more of the strangers pass by before Luke excuses himself and heads for the bathroom himself. As soon as he enters and closes the door behind him, Gwen wordlessly drops to her knees and begins unbuttoning Luke’s pants. She pushes down his boxers, then leans forward, pushes her platinum locks away from her face, and takes his cock in her mouth.
Luke emits a wordless moan of pleasure as his already erect shaft disappears into her lipsticked lips. She locks her lips around him and sucks, hard, then slowly pulls back, running her tongue along the underside of his cock as she does.
She reaches up to fondle his balls with her hand as she leaves a line of kisses across his cock, starting with the glans and working her way up towards his navel, then back down again. When she returns to the glans, she begins to play with it with her tongue, smiling when Luke gasps, then shudders..
“Liked that, huh?” she asks, then licks the length of his shaft, the first time slowly, then more quickly.
“Don’t stop,” Luke answers, his breathing heavy.
Gwen doesn’t. She wraps her lips around his glans, then takes more and more of his shaft into her mouth until she’s deep-throating him.
“God, yes,” Luke says. He places his hands on her head, his fingers in her hair, and begins thrusting back and forth, fucking her moth. “God, I love your mouth so much, Gwen.”
Gwen doesn’t reply, her mouth full as it with her cousin’s cock. Instead she reaches around Luke and begins to massage his perineum from behind. Luke gasps, then increases the rhythm, his body tensing.
“I’m going to come in your mouth,” Luke says, and then he does so, shuddering,
Gwen swallows quickly, then stands up and straightens out her dress, a triumphant grin on her face. Luke leans in and kisses her, long and hard, “I love you, Gwen,” he tells her after they break the kiss.
In horror, Lexie spins around and looks in the coffin. The body which lies inside is not her grandmother’s, but her own.
Lexie’s eyes snap open, suddenly awake. With intense relief, she realizes it had only been a--what? A nightmare? A sex dream? Both?
Reflexively, she reaches out for Luke, only to find that he’s not in the bed next to her. Indeed, the bed itself is way too small. After a split second of disorientation, she remembers where she is: back in the States, in her childhood bed, with Luke across the hall in the room that he grew up in.