Lilly and Jake sat together on the flight home. For two people that felt such a jolt at the slightest hint of physical contact, their conversation was mundane. They commented on the mountains they crossed, what movies they liked, and food. When she looked out the window Jake watched her, trying to penetrate her impeccable exterior. He examined her freckles that he had become so fond of. Then he’d see her smiling and knew she was aware of his attention. He’d have had better luck trying to crack fossilized dinosaur eggs on the side of a wok, than trying to read her thoughts.
That purest emotion, the one transcending beyond the normal feelings of friendship shared between friends and colleagues, the realm reserved for those who were joined at the heart, began to take hold. Yet, they had no more than kissed dispassionately, as relatives, or friends might. Something about her held Jake’s rushing hormones damned behind a wall of politeness.
He thought it was the mystery surrounding her. He knew very little of her life previous to that summer and the fact that she was Bill’s daughter made it even stranger. Any man would be attracted to her. She was intelligent, pretty, and funny, but he knew there was more, but he didn’t have a clue what that was.
While he sat lost in his pondering, Bill came up behind them. “Jake, could I see you for a minute?”
“Sure Bill, what do you need?”
“I’d like to talk to you in private. No offense Lilly, just a little man talk.”
“Well, by all means,” Lilly said sarcastically. “The last thing I would want to do is keep Jake from a rousing discussion of booze and babes.” She gave a wry smile and turned back to the window. Jake couldn’t help smiling. When he looked at Bill, he dropped his smile like a bad investment. He followed Bill back to his seat.
“What is it Bill? Someone steal your case of rum?” Jake asked, unsuccessfully trying to sound like he was making a joke.
“I looked over the list you gave to the Peruvians.” Bill said gravely.
“Oh.” Jake replied with more than a twinge of guilt.
“Why aren’t the scrolls on the list?” Bill looked him dead in the eyes.
Taking the seat next to him, Jake tried to fathom his own actions. Lately he’d been feeling as if someone else was on the fly bridge of his Chris Craft. He was no longer in conscious control of all his actions. “I’m not sure I can explain, Bill.”
“Well, where are they?”
“I’ve got them.”
“Damn, why didn’t you put them through channels like everything else?” Bill was more upset now that he realized the slip up was intentional, though he’d already suspected, due to the uniqueness of the artifact.
“They’re mine, Bill.” Jake said hesitatingly not really understanding his own thinking. “I don’t know what’s come over me. I couldn’t take the chance they might not let me take them with me. They have a message for me…” Jake met Bill’s eyes. “… not in general, but for me specifically.” Jake paused, feeling more than a little Waco for insisting on this line of reasoning. “I can’t explain it, Bill. Call it a gut feeling, but it’s not that simple. If it doesn’t pan out. I’ll add it to the inventory and tell the Peruvians they were left off by accident. Sorry.” Jake bowed his head.
Bill looked at him for a long time. “It’s not your style kid.”
“I know.” Jake said, wishing he would be struck with an explanatory lightening bolt. Nothing was his style anymore. His normally relaxed composure had been fried, scrambled and served with toast and jam. He felt as if he were urgently racing to a palace of enlightenment, but the lights were dim and the map was old and hard to see. He could have easily studied the scrolls legally. Since the dream, a-la Psychic Friends Network, showed him the cave, he’d been dancing a jig to an Irish folk song that never ended. He felt as if, behind his glossed over eyes, he were in a constant state of panic.
“Hell, I guess it really doesn’t matter.” Bill said with detachment. Jake had dropped into a fog again and was lost in his own mind. The sudden appearance of Bill’s voice, snapped his brain like a bull whip and left his CD spinning without a track playing. His shook his head and looked at Bill. Bill look down at his own lap. “As long as no one notices the discrepancy in customs.”
“We’ll make it.” Jake said, examining his hands as he flexed his fingers.
“What makes you so sure?” Bill asked returning his gaze to Jake.
“I just know.” Jake said meeting his gaze.
Neither spoke for a moment as Bill searched Jake’s eyes. Bill broke the eye contact first.
“Well get back to my daughter before one of those runny nosed kids makes a play for her.” Bill didn’t care about the governments and their rules, but he did care about Jake more than life itself and hoped he was right. He wouldn’t feel better until they were back at the lab and unpacked.
Halfway back to his seat, Jake realized that he hadn’t called Amy to let her know he was coming home, so he turned back to Bill. “Did you talk to Amy’s father when you called the states Bill?”
“Yeah, I took care of it for you. She’ll be at the airport when we get there, waving a flag and rolling out the red carpet.”
“Thanks Bill.” Lilly was still looking out the window when he sat back down, she looked up suddenly as if she’d been lost somewhere.
“What did dad want?”
“He just wanted to go over the inventory with me.” Jake said, in his best non-committal voice.
“Hmm.” Lilly stared at Jake, visibly turning over a thought behind her green peepers. Then as if diverting her own attention she asked. “Who’s Amy? That’s not the first time I’ve heard her name brought up, but you’ve never talked about her.”
Jake grinned, her voice seem to carry overtones of jealousy and that made him happy. “Amy is my sweetheart.” He said, obviously letting his voice trail off from further explanation, savoring the moment.
Lilly looked at him blankly, as if awaiting further comment, when he said nothing else she spoke up. “How long have you been seeing her?”
Pausing deliberately before answering, he considered his response. “I’d say about seven years now.”
“Oh,” Lilly turned her head back to the window.
“Yeah, it’s a shame,” he continued absently. “I had to miss her twelfth birthday last month.”
Lilly’s head whipped in his direction. She had a flash of anger in her eyes and the scarlet color of embarrassment streaked up her tanned neck. “Her twelfth?!”
“Yeah, you might say that Amy is my self adopted kid sister.” His lips spread in a sheepish grin. He had to shove his tongue against his cheek, to keep from laughing, in a rather unsuccessful attempt to maintain an innocent continence. He couldn’t help but feel a little elated that Lilly showed signs of jealousy.
As Lilly let out a long sigh, he heard her say Bastard, under her breath, but the subject dropped without any additional comment.
At the airport, Amy was waiting at the customs isles. He waved to her while waiting in line and as soon as he passed through she ran into his arms. He swooped her off the floor and spun her around, holding her tightly.
“How’s my beautiful first lady?”
“Wonderful now. God Jake, it seems like you’ve been gone forever!”
Setting her down, he stepped back to take a look at her. “My goodness, you’ve grown! Have I been away that long?”
“You sure have.” Her eyes were sparkled, her pure and innocent feelings of elation caused Jake’s throat to tighten painfully. He felt an arm slip around his waist as Lilly stepped up beside him.
“Aren’t you going to introduce me, Jake?” Amy reacted quite visibly, backing up and firming her expression she looked back and fourth between Lilly and Jake. The claws were out.
“Sure, Amy, this is Bill’s daughter Lilly.”
“Hello Amy.” Lilly said reaching out her hand.
Amy took her hand and shook it. “Hi, Lilly.” Jake watched the womanly exchange of expressions pass between them as they sized each other. Amy could easily pass for an adolescent version of Lilly. He decided to break the silence, all though he have to admit, he found it amusing.
“Well, I’ve been out of the States for a long time, and I’m hungry for some good old American home cooking. What do you say we all go out for a pizza?”
Reluctantly, Amy took her eyes from Lilly. “Anything you want Jake. I’m just glad to have you back home.”
Jake looked at Lilly for conformation.
“I am but a lamb waiting to be led.” Lilly said, then she noticed Amy staring at her. “But you know Jake I think I’d like to get settled in first. I’ll go with dad and catch up with you later.” Amy beamed brightly at the alternative plan. She watched closely as Lilly kissed Jake on the cheek, and went over to where Bill was standing.
Winking at Amy Jake said, “Well my dear, I have you alone at last!” He put his arm out and she stepped under it, and put her arm around his waist. “I want an extra large, extra cheese, double crust, kitchen sink pizza.”
“You’ll be a fat old man if you keep eating like that.” Amy poked her finger in Jake’s gut.
“Well somebody has to play Santa Claus.” Jake chuckled.
She laughed and it made him glad to be home. Amy’s smiles were little energy shots that made everything okay. She had a way of making the whole world seem wonderful and stable. With the way things had been going, it was something he needed.
The following morning they started unpacking. Lilly worked right along with Jake and Bill and the mood was jovial and spirited. It was just like Christmas, with way more presents than you usually got. Their departure from Peru was so fast that it was their first relaxed look at what had been found.
Lilly nudged Jake, with her elbow, as they were both bending over the same crate. “How did your date with Amy go?” She said teasingly.
“Fine.” Jake replied. “We decided, we’re going to have to go to Mexico.”
“Yeah, we couldn’t think of any states that allow for marriage at the age of twelve.”
Lilly looked at Jake cross-eyed for a second, then laughed. “I didn’t know it was that serious.”
“Well we have run into a little snag. She has to be in every night by nine thirty, or her father will ground her and that makes it a little hard to get the trip done in one day.” They both laughed. “She was certainly interested in you, I think she asked me in the neighborhood of a thousand questions concerning your person.” He smiled slyly. “She wanted to know if that was the natural color of your hair.”
“That little vixen, what did you tell her?” Lilly said smirking.
“I said I did know, I hadn’t checked.” Jake conspicuously did not meet Lilly’s gaze.
This remark earned Jake a painful elbow in the ribs. “You tell her it’s my own hair!”
“I did.” He said, chuckling at her reaction. “She also asked me if we were going steady.” Lilly looked at Jake seriously, but didn’t say anything, so he continued. “I said I didn’t know, we spent a lot of time together but we had never been on a date. So she told me to ask you out. So you must have passed her inspection.”
“Are you in the habit of taking little girl’s advice?” Lilly’s voice was punched with sarcasm. Jake shook his head and smiled.
“Why she’s not a little girl,” Jake’s cockney accent was lacking authenticity and Lilly chuckled at the absurdity of it. “She’s a young lady.”
“So are you in the habit of taking young lady’s advice?”
Jake, straighten the lines of his face and dropped the dopey accent. “I always trust the lady.”
They stood staring at each other for a moment, until Lilly sighed. “So is this your lame, non-committal way of asking me on a date?”
“I, ah,” The geography of Jake’s face scattered out of control like a heard of stampeding rabbits, then quickly regathered in close order drill. “I guess it is.”
“I’m glad I already know you…” Lilly chuckled.
“Why?” Jake became infected and began to laugh.
“Because that last move you’re face did made me think you were going to morph like the girl in Species.” They both started laughing. They turned and saw Bill standing and watching them shaking his head and they laughed harder.
Bill waved his hand at them and turned away. “Ah love,” He said to his private muse. “First you laugh and then you cry.” He looked back and saw them embrace, kiss innocently for the last time, and laugh again. He turned away and smiled.
On the way back from lunch, Jake stopped Lilly outside the door. He put his arms around her and kissed her on the mouth like he’d been doing it for years. Bill came through the door while they were still embraced. They looked dumbly at each other for a few seconds before Bill finally spoke up.
Jake’s face turned an array of crimson shades. Bill snorted and shook his head. “Don’t look so stupid boy, I was worried you’d never get around to it.”
“What are you talking about daddy?” Lilly pulled away from Jake, but slid her arm around his waist.
“Do you think I want my only daughter to go out with any college dandy that comes along? And do you know how long I’ve listened to this one complaining he can’t find a woman that touches his soul? Whatever the hell that means. I put two and two together, if you’d brought home any one else, I would have thrown their candy asses out of the house until you came back with the right one.” Lilly put her hands on her hips.
“You set me up?”
“No I just asked you to go to Peru.” Lilly’s mouth opened, then closed with out a word. Bill smiled like had Donald Trump fantasized himself being proclaimed King of America. “Well, let’s go have a drink and celebrate. This stuff has waited for over a thousand years, it can wait until tomorrow.”
The next two weeks blurred by like a movie montage of young sappy love. The only thing Jake and Lilly were missing was John Williams to give the a dramatic score to roll in whenever they looked at each other. While Bill highly approved, he found them a little unbearable at times. Lilly worked by Jake’s side, searching to unlock the mysteries of the relics they had uncovered together and their feelings, for each other, consumed them like a dime store romance. The only dark spot was Jake’s complete inability to decipher the scrolls, or find any sort of reference material that might give him a clue. He could find nothing in any of his research that identified the characters. Lilly would come over and squeeze his tense shoulders as he sat hunched over his books and kiss him on the top of the head and tell him not to worry. The answer would come to him.
One Saturday afternoon, he sat elbows on the table, palms holding up his face, staring at copies he had made of the scrolls, so deep into his work, he didn’t even notice Amy coming up behind him.
“Jake?” Her sudden presence and voice made him smack his knee against the desk.
“Hello, Amy.” He rubbed his knee then turned to give her a hug.
“Jake, I thought, ah,” Before she could finish what she was saying, Lilly came into the room carrying a pot of coffee. She stopped her sentence and gave a glance in Lilly’s direction that could have burned the shielding off the space shuttle. It was quickly covered, but Jake caught it like a fast ball to the forehead.
“Hi, Amy.” Lilly said pouring the coffee. “How are you doing today?”
“Okay.” Was Amy’s chilled response. “Jake, we haven’t been to the movies, or anywhere in the two weeks you’ve been back.” Her statement blurted out quickly and with considerable effort. She turned her attention to Jake, without letting their eyes meet.
He looked at her carefully. He glanced at Lilly and she motioned her head toward the door. He gave her a nod.
“Jake, I think I’ll catch dad, coming out of his lecture, and take him to lunch.” Amy glanced at Lilly and twitched her lips into a smile. Then looked back to Jake, catching his eyes this time. Lilly picked up her jacket and slung it over her arm. “I’ll be at home later if you need anything.” She resisted the perfunctory parting kiss and said, “Bye Jake. Bye Amy.” as she left. They both responded with quick goodbyes and turned back to each other.
“Now, sugar, what’s wrong? Where’s that award winning smile I love so much?”
Amy smiled and put her arms around Jake. “I never get to see you any more. You’re always with her. I’m not your number one girl. I don’t even feel like number two,” She looked down. “I’m just your forgotten girl.” Jake held her tightly, stroked her hair, and rocked her gently back and forth.
“Amy, I’m sorry. You’re my number one girl, you’ve always been there for me and no one could ever replace you. You’re permanent in my heart.” He paused and gave her a squeeze. “You’ll always be my little sister, even when your 93. I love you, Amy.”
She pulled away from him, her eyes wide. “You do?” she sniffed.
“Of course I do, sugar. Just because I’m seeing Lilly, doesn’t mean I feel any less for you. Maybe we could start making Saturday afternoon our time. It would be good for me to take a break from all of this and you always make me feel better. Whatever you want to do.”
Amy wrapped her arms around his neck and let out a little squeal. “Thank you Jake. You’re the best brother anyone could ever have.”
“Thank you Amy, but I’m the one who’s lucky.”
They spent the day bowling, walking through the park, going to get pizza, and then took in a movie about a space ship that came alive and killed all the crew. By the time he dropped her off at home, she had returned to her former perky self.
Jake’s phone call found Lilly at home snuggled in with a book. She accepted an offer to help her snuggle, and the passage of fifteen minutes brought him to her door step, with his finger on the bell. Bill lived in one of the oldest neighborhoods in town and was an old English Tudor that would probably look right at home in England.
She opened the door and he stepped in and put his arms around her, without saying a word. Feeling her soft warm lips, smelling her slightly damp hair, mixing with her natural scent aroused him. He released her and stepped back, and noticed her nightgown for the first time. It was not see through, but shape through. It was long, and white, seductively cut and clung to her like a first skin, not a second. The feel of the silk was so soft it gave him chill bumps.
“You look, staggering Lillian.” His voice was husky. He tried to clear his throat to cover it up, but he wasn’t anymore successful at that than denying the erection pushing against his khakis.
“Lillian?” Lilly smiled.
“You, ah, some how, you don’t look like Lilly right now.”
“Thank you, Jake.” She smiled and turned. He followed her into the living room. Watching her hips slide back and forth under the silk was enough to make him stumble on the Middle eastern carpet, but she wasn’t looking at him and he’d recovered by the time she turned around. She motioned him to sit on the couch and picked up a silver goblet and began to pour wine. Jake occupied himself by looking around the room. It hadn’t changed since he was young. Big, dark, leather furniture. Dark wainscoting, overly burdened book cases on every available wall, and the big fireplace that dominated the room.
“Oh, I’m sorry is burgundy all right? Seems to be the only wind Daddy stocks.” she asked over her shoulder.
“That will be just fine.” Jake was trying to decide if he should drink. He had a difficult enough time keeping himself in check as it was. While they and done a lot of snuggling they hadn’t progressed passed high school petting and he had a feeling that was where she needed to keep it for reasons of her own. He hadn’t pushed it, because he’d honestly never wanted anything more and didn’t want to risk spoiling it.
“How did things go with Amy?”
“Fine, she doesn’t hate you any more and I’ve promised not to neglect her again.” Jake said taking the goblet from her and sitting on the couch.
Lilly smiled and sat down next to Jake. “I hope you don’t mind that I’m dressed like this, I was already in bed when you called.”
“You’re kidding, right?” He said taking a healthy drink of the wine. “My blood has soared to 212 degrees and is about to bubble out my ears. Aside from that I don’t mind.” He took another drink of wine.
Lilly chuckled, as if she thought he was making some kind of joke. He wasn’t. The physical distance he’d kept, to allow their relationship to develop before total intimacy, was in real danger. He could feel his heart throb, beating like base drums in his ears and choking his throat. It was making him more than a little tense. “So where’s the old bear?”
“He’s got a hot date, he said he wouldn’t be home tonight.”
ALARM! ALARM! Jake coughed. He set down his drink to keep from spilling it. Cautiously he put his arms back around Lilly. Her skin felt like rose pedals, and coming close, her fragrance made his nostrils flare. He could taste her scent all the way into his lungs.
Her open mouth met his and set his skin ablaze as if he were covered in napalm. Lilly traced her fingers up and down his back, setting off electric shock waves everywhere she touched. He kissed his way slowly down her neck and shoulders and her breath sped up an octave with every kiss. They moved in a flowing motion, gradually sliding down until lying side by side on the sofa.
Lillian’s nipples were swollen, and pressed firmly against their thin covering. Jake bit and nibbled at them gently through the silk. She groaned and her hips began to grind. Her fingers worked quickly on the buttons of his oxford shirt and he rose to pull it off. As he moved over her, she raked her nails softly down his chest and belly. He kissed her neck and hooked his fingers through the straps of her gown and pulled them over her shoulders, exposing her quickly rising and falling breasts.
Pressing against her, and he could feel her hardened nipples drilling into his chest, like two points of hot desire driving through him. Their heat wrecked havoc on his nerves. His lips devoured hers and they kissed like kids necking for the first time. Their bodies moved in a rhythm of want and desire. He was swollen and pressing painfully against his pants.
Just as Lilly reached down to free him and something happened. She went suddenly rigid and started to cry.
Lifting up on his arms, Jake looked down at her. “What’s wrong baby?” He asked, his voice a whisper.
“I can’t Jake, I just can’t! I…” Her voice was broken up by her tears. Jake didn’t really try to make sense out of what she was saying, but heard himself answer.
“It’s all right Lilly.” He said pulling her gown up and slipping the straps over her shoulders. He was pinched painfully inside his boxer briefs. As unobtrusively as he could, pulled at his pants to give himself some room in his pants, though he was already retreating from the shift in mood.
“Don’t worry about it, everything is going to be all right.” He kissed her cheeks and forehead, and pulled her head to his shoulder and let her cry. Her tears softened him and he was able to corral his bucking emotions and focus on Lilly.
“I just can’t Jake, I can’t explain it now. I want to, I want to very much, but I…” She buried her head in his shoulder without finishing her sentence.
“SSSSHHHH, Lilly you don’t have to explain anything to me right now. It’s all right, I love you.” He whispered in her ear over and over again, then kissed the tears from her cheeks.
She managed a half smile and looked at him with swollen eyes, through fallen hair and glistening lashes. “You must think I’m a fool.”
“Lillian, you’re a part of me now and I accept you just the way you are. No explanations necessary. The last thing I want to do is rush you into something your not ready for.”
She looked grateful and snuggled under his chin. He felt warm with her so close and strangely confident. He would have never guessed, it would be their last night together for a very long time.
The next morning, Lilly got a call from her stepfather. He had been diagnosed with stage four terminal cancer. It was found much too late to do anything, but the most drastic measures, and instead of going through a lot of painful procedures that would destroy his quality of life and might not even make him live any longer, he decided to return to his native Switzerland to spend his final days. He’d had a full life and simply wanted to die with dignity in his homeland.
Lilly said she had to go to him, he had raised her as his own and been a good father. She owed him a lot and she wanted to repay him for his kindness and take care of him in his time of need. Jake offered to go with her, but she refused the idea. She said his place was at the university and that death was a private thing, to be shared between her and her father.
Before leaving, they took a long walk. She told him to stop trying to decipher the scrolls with books. It was not a language of text; he should let his mind clear and just read them. The spirit of the author would guide him and if he kept an open mind he would find the answer.
He heard her as if she were a distant voice on the wind. The only thing on his mind was that Lilly wasn’t going to be with him anymore and that hurt as much as being an orphan. He was going to be alone again in a way he’d never been alone before, because he’d never really loved a woman before Lilly and it stung like a bullwhip.
Watching her jet take off from the observation deck, knowing she was inside, leaving without him, was one of the hardest moments of his life. It felt as if a giant had stabbed him in the chest with a pitch fork and was twisting his insides like spaghetti. He watched until the jet was a little speck that disappeared entirely. His concentration was only broken when a rough hand came down on his shoulder. He turned to see Bill standing behind him.
“Buy you a drink?” Bill said, almost grunting.
“I could use several.”
Bill winked at Jake and they both started off the deck, each suffering a different personal loss over the same event. Bill had never been able to show open affection. Lilly had brought it out of him, as only the daughter of a gruff man, such as Bill, would be able to. A year before, he hadn’t known she existed, now she was the single greatest joy in his life. His sadness was a beast that had chased him all his life. He’d held it off by running around the world chasing adventure and with countless bottles of rum. Lilly brought the sadness back to him, but in the same moment gave him his first relief. Now she was gone and some how, though it defied explanation, Bill knew he would never see her again.