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Jack and Jess


by Deedee Nevers



Smashwords Edition


Copyright © 'Deedee Nevers', 2018. All rights reserved.


This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Cover design by 'Deedee Nevers'.


Jack and Jess is a work of fiction. Any resemblance between the characters depicted herein and any persons living or dead would be entirely accidental.



Dedicated to

my love

my best friend

my lifelong partner


CHAPTER 1

JESS

Jessica McCann normally hated funerals—but this one, on a dreary day under a leaden grey sky, with a fine drizzle, driven by errant gusts of wind, drifting under useless umbrellas and soaking the mourners standing around her father's grave—this one she hated not at all. It had been far too long in coming.

Standing here, soaked by the drizzle herself, watching the priest holding a wet bible and his robes becoming a soggy, drooping mess, put a fitting full stop under the life of a man she had grown to despise. Never mind that the setting was Springvale Botanical Cemetery, Melbourne's most expansive, expensive, rich-people-only graveyard. When you were dead you were dead, and you rotted away and got eaten by worms and decomposed by bacteria no matter where they interred you—unless you had yourself cremated, of course, which Arthur McCann would never have allowed to happen. Not even God could put back together Humpty Dumpty once he had been reduced to ashes, mixed in with the ashes of a coffin that must have cost thousands of dollars, in a hot furnace that would have done Satan proud.

Jess didn't believe in God. Believing in that kind of nonsense made even less sense than the fact that men like Arthur existed. And even if God did exist, he—she, it, whatever-the-fuck-gender-identity God cared to claim, if any!—was just a narcissistic, egomaniacal, sadist asshole who allowed people to suffer and tended to ignore their pleas for a better world. Certainly had ignored hers; uttered in silence and in those moments of existential and rational weakness when she had felt the need to ask someone for help. Because Jack wasn't here, and she was all alone; despite Nana, the saving grace in this dysfunctional family, but she was too old to really understand.

Screw you! she thought at the coffin being lowered into the ground by electric winch at a carefully controlled rate, calibrated for the best balance between 'dignified' and 'get-it-over-with'.

Jess had a notion to spit on the coffin, but controlled the urge. Arthur wasn't worth even a waste of saliva. Not even another thought or emotion, really. Even brain-energy was wasted on the bastard.

The priest read tracts from the soggy bible over the too-slowly disappearing coffin. In Latin; because Arthur would have wanted it that way. Probably.

Jess glanced at the people beside her. Mother, one Vivian McCann, nee Danes, on one side, and Nana Eleanor Danes, whose relationship with her daughter was about as fucked up as it could get, on the other. Both soaked, just like everyone else, though Nana managed it to look dignified despite it all.

Jess looked up, at the ring of trees surrounding the ostentatious gravesite. From them, fat drops of accumulated rain cascaded down in erratic rhythms. With a bit of luck, in due course, some of their roots would pierce the coffin and Arthur's exquisitely embalmed leftovers. Jess just hoped that the toxins in that last resting place weren't going to hurt either the trees or the worms coming to feast on Arthur.

Presently the winch stopped. The priest intoned some more platitudes, before the attendant watchers, all but Nana in her wheelchair pretending to be mourners, threw a ritualistic handful of wet soil into the hole.

Jess didn't. She wasn't going to get her hands dirty for the swine in the grave. Instead she flicked him double middle-fingers, occasioning gasps from those who saw her do it.

Tough shit!

And then, as she was about to turn away to see if Nana's wheelchair was being properly maneuvered back toward the waiting car, she saw him.

In the distance, leaning against a tree—

Jack!


CHAPTER 2

JACK

"Hi, Jess," Jack whispered.

She had seen him, because she froze with her face turned in his direction.

Four long years—

I missed you so.

But now the man responsible was in a cold, dark grave. Where he belonged. Forever. The world was better off without him in it. Except for one thing of course. Just this one. Or two actually. Without him and their mother neither Jess nor he would exist. Would never have—

How can we ever pick this up again?

Apart from the danger of even trying. The danger that had always been with them, ever since those days in Bora Bora. Since that third day.

Or maybe it had really started even before that, at the Year 12 Formal, when they decided, for reasons they at that time hadn't even fully understood themselves, to forego the agonizing procedure of procuring dates and instead go with the one person they were actually comfortable with? The person they knew better than anybody; who had always been their refuge from the world and its vicissitudes and uncertainties.

Each other.

And that certainly set tongues wagging, especially among the students at Woodleigh Grammar, which both of the twins had attended for their last four years—after an extended fight with their parents, who refused to take them out of the Catholic torture chamber they had been forced into from prep year.

For the males, landing Jess as a Formal date had been something akin to a sport. Significant amounts of cash changed hands as bets were placed on whom she would choose from the final three considered, by peer assessment, the favorites: Jeremy Snyder, Frank Lister, and Joshua Feinstein.

Since Jess didn't have a boyfriend at the time, the competition was considered 'open' and the three had tried their best to score Jess; not only for the bet but also the prestige.

The school did, of course, frown on such competitive activities, but could do little to stop them, as they were clandestine and conducted off-campus. But everybody had known anyway. And how could they not?

Jess, who wouldn't have picked either of the three final candidate anyway—not even for a million dollar reward!—was so disgusted that she almost decided to skip the Formal altogether. Only family pressure—her absence was considered 'unthinkable', and how dare even she even 'think' it!—and Jack's gentle prodding made her acquiesce to attend after all.

"Only if you're my date."

"That's going piss off a lot pf people. Parents included."

"Fuck them!"

"Jess—"

"Please, Jack!"

"You just want to give everybody the finger."

"Both fingers." She looked at him pleadingly. "You haven't got a date either, have you?"

"Don't want one. Don't want to go!"

"If I'm going, so are you!" she snapped.

Softer: "Please. But you know that it's not really about giving them the finger, right?"

And he did.

They both did.

At least they thought so.

But until Bora Bora they didn't know what it really was.

Bora Bora had been the 'deal' negotiated between Jack and Jess and their parents; meaning mainly their father, who ruled the household like a patriarch from another time, and never mind that the 21st century had started a long time ago.

Said deal had been that if both of them did status-conscious daddy proud and aced their curriculum with an ATAR of 95% or more, they would get an all-expenses-paid week at the Conrad Bora Bora Nui, with a luxury Deluxe Overwater Villa for each of them and enough spending money to go diving whenever it pleased them, and generally have a good time. A prize for kids of one of the rich crowd, but why the hell not?

Well, they aced it. Jess got 99.8%, while Jack had to content himself with 99.5%, which Jess hadn't let him forget since. That and the fact that she had been born almost ten minutes before him—and even a few minutes more before their cousin Mary, who had been born in the same hospital and on the same day and almost at the same time to their mother's sister, Jean.

And so they'd gotten their Bora Bora holiday, straight after the Formal. Which had been the beginning of their troubles.

We should have known!

Why hadn't they?

Well, sometimes things just happened. And Jack knew that he at least had never felt the slightest regret.

I missed you so.


CHAPTER 3

4 YEARS EARLIER, BORA BORA

JESS AND JACK

It was the evening of day three of their stay. They had spent most of it on a diving cruise, which had left their skins wrinkly and salt soaked as they immersed themselves in the 80+ degrees waters around the islands.

"See you soon."

Jess gave Jack a quick hug, then proceeded to her obscenely opulent 'Deluxe Overwater Villa' to have a shower and get dressed for dinner. Maybe have a glass of wine beforehand and just sit with Jack on the deck of his unit and watch the water and just chat about anything and everything, or maybe say nothing and just enjoy being around each other. Which was cool, because he was the one person she was comfortable with. Even Nana couldn't come close. Jack and her loved Nana dearly, but she was from another time and another world, and that created a distance that simply didn't exist with her and Jack. It had been like that for as long as she could remember. Even their occasional fights—who didn't have those?—were more like friendly sparring matches.

Jess entered her 'Villa'. It was right next to Jack's, separated from his by a walkway and water. Again she reflected that it had been a waste to rent one for each of them. They had been greedy when asking for it, and she felt a touch of shame for being so shallow. She'd talked to Jack about it, and it sounded like he had similar afterthoughts. But in typical Jack fashion he'd gone further and reminded her that it had been done more out of spite and the desire to score a couple of goals against their father than actual greed. Initially, they had planned asking for a ticket to the French Riviera and maybe Paris, too. But then they'd remembered that the weather in Europe around that time of year would be shithouse. Besides, diving in Bora Bora—who could beat that?

Jess resisted the urge to check her phone. But that had been the agreement between her and Jack. Phones off at all times. No social media of any kind and no SMS for the duration of their stay; from the moment they got off the plane and informed Nana and the parents that they had arrived, to the moment just before boarding. No smartphone photos or selfies either. All photos to be done with their SLRs. Of which they already had quite a few, but they had agreed that they would 'share' the minimum possible. With anyone. These were their private pictures, and screw the world and the nosey parkers surrounding them.

Nana probably would be the one to see most of the pictures though. But Nana was a special case.

Jess had a quick shower, then started dressing with something suitable for going out for dinner in the resort's restaurant and bar. But suddenly she stopped.

Why go out? They had done it the previous two nights, but that novelty had worn off completely. She'd rather spend some quiet time with Jack, sipping wine, curling up on the bed facing the vast expanse of blue water, and just talking or being around each other. If they wanted something to eat there was room service, and that was good enough.

Jess stepped out of the loose skirt and dumped it on her bed. The blouse also went. As did the bra, because she'd been wearing that bikini all day, and it would be nice just to feel the air flowing around her body. So, a loose black T-shirt and a pair of Levis shorts would have to do. Jack wouldn't mind. She had a notion that he'd only suggested going out for dinner because he thought she would like it. Considerate of him, but not tonight, thanks.

Jess stood in front of the mirror in the ridiculous ensuite. It reflected itself in an identical mirror on the opposite side, which meant that she could see her back as well. Plus a gazillion reflections fading into infinity and darkness. She pondered the woman she was looking at, front and back, and decided that she was going to skip makeup as well. Maybe some night crème later, before she went to bed; but right now, after having been exposed to hours' worth of salt water, her skin looked fresher than she had seen it for a long time.

Or maybe that's just because stupid school and Formal is over, and I can have some quality time with my twin before we head off to university.

Could be. Who knew?

When she knocked on the door to Jack's Villa his voice called for her to come in.

"Just finishing my shower!"

Jess glanced at the table and saw why he was late. His Fuji was still hooked up to his Macbook Pro. He had probably been downloading and looking through the photos of the day.

Jess approached the door to the ensuite and leaned against the wall.

"I've been thinking—" she started.

"Wanna skip dinner out?" he said.

His head poked through the door. The hair was still wet.

When he saw her he grinned.

"Looks like you do," he said.

"Great minds think alike."

"Ours certainly do."

"Are you hungry though?"

"Maybe."

"Maybe?"

"Not sure yet. Maybe later. If you need something to nibble on, there's stuff in the minibar. I'll be out in a tick."

"Today?"

He gave her one of those crooked grins of his.

"Today."

"I'll open a bottle of red."

"Read my mind again. Park yourself on the bed. Or if you prefer the recliners outside. Whatever. As long as we're lying down. It's been a long day."

He winked at her and retreated out of sight.

Didn't close the door though.

Well, it hadn't been closed before—

For a teeny-tiny moment Jess considered doing something she hadn't done for like ten years, namely surprise him in the buff and see how he'd react.

Be good!

Not that there was much to be surprised about when you spent most of the day together with seriously little fabric covering your birthday suit.

Be good anyway!

Jess told the little voice to shut up and proceeded to pour two fancy designer glasses—everything was fancy designer shit here!—of a New Zealand Pinot Noir, and headed to the bedroom, which opened up into a giant set of sliding doors that, when pulled aside, provided a wide vista onto the ocean. Four super-comfy deckchairs waited on the broad deck outside.

Outside or in? The inside was practically outside anyway, and the king-size bed was indecently comfortable. And Jess was in the mood for 'comfortable'. So she pulled one of the two small tables right close to the bed and placed bottle and glasses on top of that. Then she sat herself cross-legged on the bed and looked out over the ocean while waiting for Jack.


Jack heard Jess rummaging about as he was drying himself. He hadn't been looking forward to another dinner out, but thought that Jess might like it. And after the shit she'd copped recently he was keen to please her as much as he could. She deserved it.

School hadn't been plain sailing, and especially not in the last four years or so. They might have aced the ATAR—with Jess of course beating him by a nose!—and almost made it to Dux status, but not everything was about academic achievement; especially if said achievement was motivated by a desire to ensure that their parents could never ever bitch at them for anything academic. Their father was a domineering asshole and their mother a social snob with few equals. Their response to their offspring's failure to excel academically would have been—well, 'unpleasant' was probably the mildest word for it.

Neither Jack nor Jess had lived up to their parents' expectations in the 'society' space, and probably never would. And their closeness hadn't helped them in their school social circles either. They might have been privileged, but being born to rich parents was an accident. Nobody's fault, and certainly not the kids'. But just about everybody at the school had a somewhat different view of that. They either felt guilty or else they thought they were entitled to be who they were and had somehow earned it. That kind of environment wasn't exactly a breeding ground for a social love-fest between the likes of Jess and himself and the rest of the school crowd.

It was another reason why they had pulled even closer together over the last few years. United not only against parents, but also against school society; with very few friends, apart from the misnamed social media variety. And Jack had serious issues with the way the guys saw Jess as a potential trophy for their self-validation. More than once he had been itching to punch out a few of them—a futile urge that would never be realized, for any number of valid reasons.

Jack's urge to protect Jess against the world was something he didn't quite understand himself. But it was real enough, and he told himself that there was nothing wrong with it. Maybe their own family hadn't exactly been an paragon of 'family values'—unless one measured it by their father's standards—but Jack told himself that, apart from being his friend, Jess also was the closest family he had. Couldn't really get any closer than twins, unless they were identical.

Right?

Right!

With no need to go out tonight, Jack decided to dress down, just as Jess had. His favorite nightwear was a long XL-size The Last Jedi T-shirt that hung very loosely on his M-size frame. The T and a pair of underpants, of course. He wasn't alone.

Jess sat cross-legged on the king-size bed, looking out across the ocean. Sunset was still a couple of hours away, so it was quite bright. The deck faced west, so they would be able to see the sunset. They had watched it twice now, but Jack thought that they'd never get tired of it.

She smiled at him when he came in. She had, he thought, the loveliest smile of anybody he knew. Biased maybe, but who cared?

Jess patted the bed beside her. Since he wasn't quite as flexible as her, he pointed at the head of the bed. She shrugged, reached for the wine glasses and scooted up to join him there, sitting herself on his right.

"Really slumming it, aren't we?" she said, glancing at his shirt. "I hope you're wearing more underneath than the Scotsman under his kilt."

Jack grinned and took one glass off her.

They clinked glasses and took a sip each, before moving even a bit closer together. Jack reminded himself that it was the kind of thing they didn't dare do with anybody watching, because it would surely produce an unwelcome response in any watchers, family, friends, acquaintances, and academia alike.

Jess sighed and leaned her head against Jack's shoulder. She said nothing, but he knew when stuff was on her mind.

"What is it?"

"Nothing much. Just thinking about stuff."

"Stuff?"

"Stuff."

"Like?"

She sighed again.

"Like this. Us. Here. No phones. Nobody to bother us. We can just do what we want basically. Until Tuesday."

She fell silent, leaving things unsaid.

Jack switched his glass to the left hand and put his right arm around her shoulders, pulling her closer. He hesitated, then placed the glass back on the table. Spilling red wine on the white sheets went against his grain.

"Here," she said and handed him hers, which he put away as well, before wrapping both arms around her.

"So," he said, "what is it?"

She took a deep breath, wriggled herself into a more comfortable position. But that was all she did. Whatever was bothering her was still bottled up inside. Still, as he knew from experience, it was a question of waiting her out. In the end she would tell him. She always did—at least when she knew that he knew that she was holding back.

"DNA," she finally whispered.

He knew exactly what she meant.

"Yep."

"You know, sometimes—actually quite a lot!—I imagine what it would have been like. Like if I were Mary—"

"Don't!" Jack tightened his hold. "If you were Mary then Jess might be dead instead. And even if she weren't, you still wouldn't be Jess. And I want you here. Got it?"

She sighed again. Her head briefly pressed against him a little harder.

Nothing was said for a while, as they both followed their own thoughts. As far as Jack was concerned, those thoughts were familiar enough, and he suspected the same applied to Jess. If their DNA weren't what it was, they'd be doing something very different to just sitting here like this.

Each time he had had that thought—and he'd had it before, though not in a context like this—it had resulted in the same conclusion.

Don't do it!

Why?

Well, one could get around the biological stuff readily enough. And he and Jess would certainly not suffer from devastating guilt at having broken the ultimate sexual taboo. In fact, they'd probably not feel any guilt at all; and the psychological damage shit was nonsense as well. They were eighteen and very mature eighteens at that. And their relationship was special, and they trusted each other. They probably even loved each other—and quite possibly as more than just brother and sister. And they certainly loved each other as that!

But there was something called 'the law', and Jack wasn't willing to face that. And even more importantly, it was something he didn't want Jess to have to face. Like ever.

Reflexively he tightened his arm around her. She made a small sound and dug her face into his neck, so that he could feel her breath play over him. Then she drew back a little, reached out with one hand and touched his face; pulled it around so he had to look at her. Which he did. At the face he knew so well; the green, golden-tinted eyes with the slight upward tilt at the sides; the strawberry blonde hair framing it all.

"We've never talked about this," she said. "We talk about everything. So why not this? I'm sure they did at school. How could they not? Especially with what we did at the Formal."

Jack shrugged.

"Lots of reasons, I suppose."

"Like?"

"Like it's something—"

Scary.

"Like there's a line we mustn't cross" he continued. "Cause if we do, we can never go back to where we are right now. Not you and me. You know that as well as I do. And—"

He cupped her face in his left palm, and she kind of pushed herself against it. Not rejecting the touch, but trying to make it closer.

"And what?" she whispered.

"You know what they would do to us?"

She gave him that I'm-sure-you-do look she got when she just knew that he was asking one of those questions that he already had an answer to.

"Up to five years jail for what's technically labeled 'penetration'. Plus I-forgot-how-many years of one's life in the sexual offenders register. Consent is not an valid defense. Ignorance is though. That's the Victorian statutes anyway—which are subject to Federal Law, and that's quite clear that you and I cannot indulge in sexual activity involving 'penetration'."

She studied him thoughtfully. He knew that look as well. She was going to analyze what he'd just said to bits and—

"So," she said. "We could kiss, yes?"

"Sure. Maybe we shouldn't like play serious tongue games in public, or even kiss each other on the mouth—which we don't anyway—"

"If someone's looking," she said. "We've done it often enough otherwise."

"Well, yes," he admitted.

"So, kissing's fine."

"Sure. But—"

"How about touching? And I don't mean hugging, like we're doing now."

"I know what you mean."

She grinned. "I know you do. Looks like you've been thinking about it just as much as I have."

"Which you knew anyway."

The grin faded as she turned serious again.

"I know, Jack. I always know."

"Then you also know that it we step over that line—"

"Which we wouldn't if we didn't include the 'penetration' bit."

"Technically, that's true."

"Or if nobody could prove that we ever did it."

"Technically—"

"Technically, technically, technically," she mimicked him.

He pulled her to him again, and she kind-of melted into the embrace. The feel of her against him did nothing to make things any easier.

"There are other issues as well," he said.

"Like?"

"Like life. Like we couldn't live anywhere in the world, because we'd be ostracized or criminalized no matter where we go."

"Unless nobody knew."

"This kind of stuff always comes to light. Later if not sooner. It would be almost impossible to hide these days. You can't just go somewhere and pretend to be someone else but who you are. Once upon a time people could fake birth certificates and passports. But the way things are going, all of that is becoming almost impossible."

"Which is," she said, "why you're going to go ahead and study info science and figure out a way to get around it. And I'm going to do psych and figure out how to change people's attitudes. So, we're both gonna get to work on this. Right?"

She hugged him a bit tighter and fitted herself closer and definitely in a more dangerous way. And he knew that she knew she was doing it.

Bad girl!

"You've been thinking about this a lot, haven't you?" she whispered.

"Like you haven't!"

"Oh, I have. Ever since we planned this trip. And every day all day long since we've boarded the plane. And I'm definitely thinking about it right now."

What could he say to that?

I could start by admitting that it's been on my mind as well. All day. Whenever I look at her it's on my mind.

"Seriously," he said. "Have we been working our way to this from the day we blackmailed the parents into shouting us this trip?"

"Maybe," she murmured. "That's a lie. Not 'maybe' at all. Right?"

"Right."

"Which is why, as you well know, I've had the implant done months ago."

"I know."

"Good. So, what are we going to do about this?"

"Well, unfortunately I'm not prepared for this at all."

He felt her silent laughter against him.

"So," she murmured, "you didn't bring condoms?"

"Sorry."

"I'm sure they sell them at the hotel shop. Something to put on your—our!—to-do list for tomorrow."

"Might be an idea if I went there myself."

"Good thinking," she said. "That way you can claim you were trying to pick up one of the other visitors for a quickie."

"There's something else," he said.

He felt her take a deep breath.

"You're thinking again," she said.

"Can't help it."

"I know."

She wriggled herself into another position, like trying to find how to get even closer.

"One of the reasons why—"

A moment's silence.

"Why I love you, Jack," she finished.

He kissed the top of her now-tousled strawberry-blonde hair.

"Secrets," he said. "They can come back to haunt us. They will. And this one? I can't think of anything that'll have to remain more secret. Like forever. And secrets divide people. Ourselves and those we keep them from."

"But they unite people, too," she said.

She looked up at his face for a moment, then settled back into her cuddle position.

"Us," she murmured.

"Us," he agreed. "But what about other people? What if—you know, one day when you—"

He couldn't bring himself to say it. But it was a reality he had to face. Both of them did. One day there would be someone who wasn't her brother to fall in love with. And what would it do to her if she had to keep that secret even from that person? And how could he ever love someone that he could never share this secret with?

Not that I will.

"Don't want to think about it," she whispered. "What will happen will happen. I'll deal with it, Jack. Somehow. But not now. Please."

He tightened his hold for a moment to signal his assent.

"Which still leaves us with the question of tonight," she said.

She slid herself higher until her face was level with his.

"Kissing is all right?"

"Hmm."

"Anywhere?"

"Mouth to mouth. Mouth to skin. After that it gets complicated."

"How about touching?"

"Hands to skin are fine. After that, it gets complicated again.."

"And the biggie? Penetration? Like where? And how? Just trying to remain legal. And knowing you, you checked."

"I did."

"So?"

"If we do anything beyond kissing and touching superficially we become criminals in the eyes of just about any law on the face of the Earth."

"Seriously? How about French kissing?"

"Technically that's 'penetration'."

"Seriously?"

"Yep."

"Means we really need to close those curtains. Right?"

Her steady, green-golden eyed gaze was unwavering.

"Jess—"

"Yes?"

He took a deep breath. "Yes."

"Yes what?"

"Means we need to close more than just the curtains. Just in case the wind blows them aside."

Her lips twitched. "Means that if we're going to become criminal offenders tonight anyway—which we will!—you can get those condoms tomorrow, because it's not going to make any difference."

"Just to be totally safe," he agreed. "Before we—"

"Who's going to close the curtains and doors?"

"Race you for it."




CHAPTER 4

JESS

"Come on, Jess! What are you waiting for?"

Her mother's impatient voice tore Jess's attention away from the distant figure for a moment.

Everybody was moving away, eager to get out of the rain. The truth was that not a single one of those who had stood in poses of reflection and grievance around the grave of Arthur McCann had actually wanted to be there. They were either because they thought they should be there, or because they were pressganged into it.

Jess considered herself in the 'pressganged' group, with maybe a small component of 'should be', mainly because of Nana, who needed moral support, because Arthur had been a real bastard to her—and because both Jess and Jack owed her.

Jack!

Jess looked around at the distant tree.

But Jack was gone.

Please don't go away again! I'm not angry with you. Really, really not!

He'd really had little choice but to disappear. None at all, if the truth be told.

But someone had to stay behind to take care of Nana, who was the only family they both cared about. And she had done that. As much as she could. Though what happened recently had shown that when it came to the crunch, she, just like Nana, had been powerless.

Except that now Arthur was dead—though how he had been driven to off himself, that was the question of all questions.

"Jess!" her mother repeated; louder and more demanding this time.

"Shut up!" Jess snapped. "Just shut up and leave me alone!"

Her mother gaped at her.

"I'm your mother! Don't you—"

Jess raised her right hand and jerked it up in the air with the middle finger sticking up.

Her mother's eyes widened in shock.

Get used to it!

Jess cast another look behind her, hoping that maybe Jack was there somewhere after all; fearing maybe that she had just imagined seeing him, or that it had been someone else.

Where are you?

With a heavy heart, Jess turned back to the departing crowd and followed them, unheeding of the rain that continued to soak her.

The seats of the limousines taking them back to the house were soaked like everything else. The interment was like a cosmic joke on Arthur, and if she had been so inclined she would have thought it evidence of the existence of deity. But she wasn't so inclined, and it appeared that neither was Arthur—despite his Catholicism, which had forced Jess and Jack into the straightjacket of a denominational school until they were fourteen, whereupon they staged a determined protest that enraged their father to the point of violence, embarrassed their mother to the point of hysteria, and had only succeeded because Nana had managed to persuade her daughter and son-in-law that not yielding to their offspring's demands was very likely to have much more excruciatingly severe consequences for the social status of the family than acquiescence.

Embarrassment may have been avoided then, but the consequences of Arthur's suicide and persistent rumors of his alcoholism and prescription-drug addiction, were just as bad, if not worse. Not that Jess gave a flying fuck. Indeed, she thought it deliciously ironic, and she was pretty certain that Jack did, too. Arthur offing himself. What a joke!

Still, the question was, what had prompted him to do it? In the last year, and particularly the last few months of his life, he had become progressively more erratic, moody, and violent; especially toward Jess and Nana—while Vivian, their mother, had somehow escaped Arthur's sporadic attacks of unprovoked wrath.

There was going to be a reading of the will the next day. It would be interesting to see what that would bring. It might be that both she and Jack would be disinherited. Jeff Moreton of course knew, but he wasn't letting on. Couldn't.

Tomorrow we'll know.

Just as well that Nana had her own financial resources, inherited from granddad Jonah, who had made some shrewd investments that ultimately paid off handsomely. Only reason why she was living in Arthur and Vivian's mansion was that this had been the condition attached to Jonah in his will transferring his investments in Arthur's now-international furniture business back into Arthur's control. And the reason why granddad had done that was that he knew that Nana would want to be close to Jess and Jack. A clever ploy that Arthur had to live with, because otherwise the investments, on a pro-rata basis, would transfer back to Nana, and she had already indicated that she would bestow them to Jess and Jack. Vivian had not been pleased about that either.

Too fucking bad! Jess thought, as she slid closer to Nana and took her hands in hers.

She's getting so frail!

Jess sniffed and wiped her nose.

Nana glanced at her and leaned closer.

"Are you all right, dear?"

Jess nodded.

Nana leaned even closer.

"I saw him, too," she whispered into Jess's ear.

She winked at Jess and patted her hands.

"Everything will be fine. I promise."

Jess couldn't help but hug the old woman. How Nana could promise anything was a mystery, but if she wanted to believe it and that helped her, then what was the harm?

"I know," Jess said lowly.

"Nothing will be fine," her mother, who sat opposite them, snapped irritably.

"Oh, do be quiet, Viv," her mother scolded her. "You can be so terribly tiresome."

"It's your fault he's dead!" Vivian said viciously, glaring at Jess. "You made him do this. It was the disgusting thing you did! Arthur never got over that. Never!"

Jess opened her mouth to say something, but then changed her mind. Instead she made a rude gesture that had her mother gasping. Her mouth worked, but whatever she wanted to say though got stuck in her throat as both her daughter and her mother stared her down.

'Disgusting'?

Jess considered the woman who apparently had given birth to her.

My mother?

Sometimes it was difficult to believe.

You wouldn't even begin to understand how wonderful it was.


CHAPTER 5

4 YEARS EARLIER, BORA BORA

JESS AND JACK

The doors had been shut. The curtains were drawn. The world, including the blue ocean, had been shut out.

Jack was facing her, standing close enough to she could feel his body heat, despite the sultry air and the Tees they wore.

Or maybe she was just imagining it?

Didn't matter.

She felt it.

It was real.

With the drawn curtains the light was low, but as her eyes accommodated she could see him as clearly as if it were in the brightest sunlight. His eyes were level with hers, their blue now grey in the dim illumination. In them she saw reflected her own feelings.

Anticipation.

Apprehension.

Desire.

Love.

Not puppy-love either, but something that had grown for years into what it was now. In both of them.

"Last chance to turn back," he whispered. "We'll never be able to undo this."

She stepped closer. Their bodies touched. Though the layers of the Tees were between them, the heat was almost too much to bear.

"I don't want to undo this," she said.

Because she was so close to him, she felt her chest rise and fall; and his, too, as they stood there—

She felt his arousal against her.

Jack started to move back, but she took his hands and drew his arms around her.

Their hearts were pounding in synchrony, and she thought that she must surely burst.

But still he was holding back.

She knew why of course—and it not only made her love him even more, but it also stoked the already-consuming fire inside her. And so she took hold of his hands again, guided them under her Tee and to her breasts, felt a delicious shiver coursing through her as his hands cupped them and his thumbs, almost as if of their own volition started stroking them.

They had touched each other before, but not like this.

Not like this.

Her breath caught in her throat. Jack's face blurred as her eyes grew hot and tears clouded her vision.

"Jess," he whispered.

His thumbs ceased their movement.

"No!" she whispered. "Don't stop. Don't stop! Please don't stop! Never. Never ever stop!"

She pressed his hands against her breasts, prompted them to continue the caress and the thumbs to resume their teasing circular stroking.

She felt his breath catching, too.

Again he whispered her name; almost reverently, as if it were the most important word in his world.

She loved him so much.

So much!

Their faces were so close together that their breaths mingled, became one, drinking each other's exhalations. Mouths not touching. Not yet. For once they did everything would change. Once their lips touched as lovers who had decided that this was how things would be, there could be no going back to sibling kisses; those ostentatiously brief and non-sensual ones that aroused no suspicion because of their obviously casual nature.

They would close that door behind them, leaving themselves with only one way to go.

Their lips brushed against the other's. A fleeing touch. Pausing again. Inhaling each other; allowing the tension to build. Both impatient, yet knowing that they had this night, this time; that these first moments were precious and should be savored, remembered forever, no matter how long they lived or what their lives would bring.

Another brush of lips; exquisite, promising imminent fulfillment of long-held dreams, imagining, fantasies, desires, needs.

This time they did not separate.

Another few heartbeats.

Their mouths closed on each other, coming to a perfect fit.

She sighed into his mouth as his hands finally didn't need any more prompting—and as their tongues touched and embraced, the hands slid down her back to cup her buttocks and pull her to him; hard, strong, possessive.

Before she lost her ability to reason, she reminded herself that, even though the final closure would have to wait until tomorrow, tonight was the beginning of the rest of their lives; and that she fully accepted and indeed welcomed the knowable and unknown consequences of what they were doing.

There were things that mattered, and things that didn't. And what she and Jack were doing here and now was the most important thing either of them had ever done in their lives.


Much later, when even the energy of youth needed to be replenished, when she had lost count of her climaxes and they both lay in relaxed languor facing each other. There had been some mutual cleaning before they finally collapsed here, but for the moment, at the crazy hour of 3:30 a.m. they were satiated.

They studied each other in silence for a long time, hands laced together or caressing faces or stroking bodies now profoundly and intimately familiar.

"Amazing," she finally murmured, "what you can do without needing condoms. Still—I guess, we're outlaws now."

Jack grinned. "Too many 'penetration' violations."

"Mutually agreed upon," she reminded him.

"Definitely."

"Any regrets?"

"Do I look regretful?"

"No."

She pulled herself closer and kissed him hungrily.

"You look," she whispered, "very happily screwed. As I suspect, do I."

A moment's silence.

"You know I love you?" he said.

"I do. I love you, too."

"I don't ever want to be where you are not."

It took her breath away. She wrapped her arms around his neck and drew herself as close as she could. She couldn't hold back the sob that rose from deep inside her.

He obviously understood, because he just held her tight and stroked her—as her tears of relief, joy and despair about the hopelessness of their plight mingled with their perspiration and soaked into the sheets beneath them.





CHAPTER 6

JACK AND JESS

Jack paid the cabbie and got out. As the taxi drove off, he stood there for a few moments and considered the broad driveway leading up to the tacky colonnaded entrance. Cars of rich people and those who wanted to project the appearance of significant wealth and I-can-afford-a-Lexus-and-a-Merc lined the drive.

Jack smiled to himself, but there was no humor in it. Nothing had changed; not in some ways. Except that Jess was inside, and he was outside. And Arthur was dead.

Don't rest in peace, asshole. Burn in hell.

In the rain, which had abated to an insignificant few drops, Jack made his way up the drive.

As he entered, a contemporary incarnation of a footman, wearing a uniform that might have come from the costume collection of Downton Abbey, assessed his definitely-not-fit-for-a-funeral-of-a-rich-man jeans-casual-shirt-and-sneakers outfit and made is if to stop him as he entered; but a glare from Jack—something he'd learned during his last few years on the job—stopped him before he could open his mouth.

Jack grinned crookedly.

"Jack McCann. Prodigal son. Something like that. Returning home."

The footman didn't know where to look, so Jack clapped him on the shoulder.

"It's all right, buddy. I'm not one of them."

He winked at the man and proceeded inside.

Another footman sidled up to him.

"May take your coat, Sir?"

Geez! Seriously? Fucking 'Sir'?

'Sir' man casually glanced at Jack's sneakers, around which a puddle was forming.

"What coat?" Jack said.

The footman, a young guy with a fashionable hipster haircut who was probably gay, pointed at Jack's denim jacket.

"Your jacket, Sir?"

"I'm good, thanks."

The imitation footman nodded and withdrew. What else could he do. And in Jack's professional opinion he didn't look as if he gave a shit either.

Jack turned away to consider the people milling around in the lobby and beyond, and steeled himself against the potential consequences of running the gauntlet of people he couldn't stand and who almost certainly looked down on him; if for no other reason but that he wasn't dressed as he should have been.

"Jack!"

Ahh, shit!

Well, it had to happen. Might as well get the Jim Moreton stuff out of the way.

Jack turned to face Jim, formerly lawyer and confidante of Arthur, and now probably executor of the estate. Moreton hadn't changed much during the last four years, though it seemed to Jack as if he was more relaxed than he remembered. He was also fatter, but in his job that was to be expected. Lawyers of that generation had a tendency to go that way.

Jack had an idea why. Moreton was middle-aged, kind-of-openly gay, and had been living with his significant other for years. He kept it low-key, but it must have come as a huge relief to him when Australia finally did the great social all-love-is-equal thing in late 2017, sanctioned marriage between anybody and anybody else, without regards to the gender of the marriage participants.

One side effect was that legalizing 'gay marriage' normalized non-cisgender-hood. If anything it sacralized it, and even changed language use. Where once upon a time it was considered cool for married couples to refer to each other as 'partners', the pendulum had swung firmly back to marriage-related terminology. 'Spouse', 'wife', 'husband', similar appellations were allowed to come back in from the cold and be accepted by the cool crowd.

Moreton had finally married his former mere 'partner' and seemed to enjoy it. What Arthur would have thought about that nobody would ever know. In any case, Jack had always found Arthur's acceptance of Moreton as a confidante just a tad odd.

"Long time no see!"

Moreton's face creased into a smile.

"Hey, Jim."

"Glad you made it back."

Jack chuckled. "Don't pretend you didn't know where I was and what I was doing. The PI wasn't all that good. Besides, I expected him—after Arthur's previous performance."

Moreton shrugged. "Arthur was Arthur."

He looked Jack up and down.

"Missed the funeral?"

When Jack said nothing—

"Anyway. Sorry about Arthur. It was a shock to us all."

"Do I look like I care?"

"Well, maybe you should."

"Because—"

"I'll be reading Arthur's will in my office tomorrow at ten.

"Whatever. Doesn't concern me."

"I'm afraid it does; whether you're there or not. Here—"

He handed Jack a business card.

Jack glanced at it.

"Same old place, eh?"

Moreton chuckled.

"To quote Jack McCann: 'Don't pretend you didn't know where I was and what I was doing.' Besides, things don't change much around here. As you know."

"Except when someone dies I guess. And even then—"

"Ten o'clock," Moreton said.

"Feel free to go ahead without me."

"Please think about it. Fact is, you need to be there. It'll make things much easier for everybody involved. Not necessarily more pleasant, but it'll clear the decks, so to speak."

"If I don't show up? World's gonna end?"

"Just complications and wasting everybody's time."

Jack tucked the card into a pocket and looked around him.

"Your mother's in the library," Moreton said. "So's Jessica and Eleanor."

Jack nodded and turned away. He had no intention to show up for the reading of the will. All he wanted was talk to Jess to tell her what had happened during the last four years.

And to see if we still—

That was the real reason, and Jack knew it. And now that Arthur was dead and he was about to accept a job in Canberra, he really wanted to talk to her. In truth, he ached to hear her voice.

"Jack?"

Moreton from behind him again.

Jack forced himself to hide his irritation. He didn't want to talk to anybody but Jess.

"What?"

"About Arthur."

"Yes?"

"You know he shot himself, right?"

"I may have read something."

"Did you know that he shot himself in the heart?"

"The things people do?"

Moreton grimaced. "Weird, huh?"

"Well, yes. I mean, who shoots himself in the heart? What's wrong with the head?"

"That's what I've been asking myself as well."

"Maybe he wanted to look good in an open coffin."

Moreton shrugged.

"What?" Jack asked. "Coroner ruled it a suicide. The autopsy and the circumstantial evidence is pretty consistent. So, that's that. Besides, if anybody else did it, tell me who. I'll hug and kiss them—Russian politician style only, of course."

"So you have seen the report."

"I may have. Or maybe someone just told me what was in it."

"Of course," Moreton said. "Motive?"

"I prefer 'cause'. My favorite is stupidly large dose of sleeping tablets, with too much whiskey to wash them down. His liver apparently was pretty shot. Arthur wouldn't have made it past the next two years anyway; unless he paid someone to give him a liver, which would have been the worst case of wasting an organ ever. Still, I admit, I find it a bit hard to understand how even a drugged, drunk Arthur fridged himself and risked not going to heaven."

Moreton cackled. " 'Fridged'? Haven't heard that one before."

"Look it up sometime."

"By the way, did you read the obits in the Age and the Herald Sun?"

"Age. Big mother of an obituary about Arthur McCann, who took a small carpenter's shop and made it into an Australian Dream designer furniture business. Dies of a heart-attack. Leaving behind grieving widow, daughter and son. Neglected to mention the son had gone AWOL. That the wife hated him, and that he had done a serious DV on the daughter some years back. On the son, too."

"You really don't care? I mean, whatever he may have done, he was your father."

"An unfortunate accident of birth. Don't remember being consulted beforehand."

Moreton studied Jack for a moment.

"What really happened between you two? I kind of know about the DV, but there's more to that, I'm sure."

"There always is. He didn't tell you?"

"He told me a lot of things. But this he kept to himself."

"Then let's leave it where it belongs—dead and buried with him."

Jack was about to turn away, but stopped himself.

"But you're right, Jim. Arthur was far too religious to brave the wrath of God—and too much of a bastard to do us all a favor and off himself."

"What about the Coroner's findings?"

"I think maybe the Coroner is full of shit. Seriously—who shoots himself in the heart? Unless it was by accident. Or murder."

"Murder? The police eliminated that. As you probably know."

"You know, some years back I considered it myself a few times. Still, whoever did it, whether it was Arthur or someone else, did the world a favor."

"I didn't hear you say that," Moreton said.

"What did I say?"

Jack turned away and continued to push through the crowd, trying not to touch or jostle.

"Jack!"

What is it with the world?

Why Jeremy? Of all people!

Why, oh, fucking why?!

Jack considered ignoring Jeremy, but decided not to.

Jeremy had changed. He was about Jack's age, but there the similarities ended. Jeremy was entitled and he knew it; or thought he did. It showed. His costume was right on the mark. Immaculate dark suit. Dark blue shirt. Black tie. And one of those trendy haircuts of course; short at the sides, long on the top and held in place with lots of product. Extra weight, too. Gym bunny.

Jeremy Snyder had been one of the creeps competing for dating Jess for the Formal. And now he was on his way to becoming a lawyer. Corporate. Which was stupid, because that was an overpopulated field, and the likes of Jeremy, whose ATAR just touched 90% and who only got into law school because of his influential lawyer father and uncle, didn't have a chance with the real big guns. They'd eat Jeremy for breakfast in a protein shake—and probably got food poisoning as a result.

Jeremy was what Jack thought of as a 'true asshole'. A budding Donald Trump; without the money, but the same attitude toward women and the truth.

"Jeremy."

"Good to see you back!"

Liar.

"Where've you been all this time?"

None of your damn business, though I bet you have a fair idea.

"How's things?" Jack said.

"Good, good! How is it with you? Sorry about Arthur. Must have come as a terrible shock."

"Yeah. Really terrible."

"This community won't be the same without him."

Had this idiot really missed the sarcasm?

Let's try that again, shall we?

"That's for sure."

"It really is!" Jeremy said.

Why try?

"You back here for good?"

No.

"Maybe. Don't know yet."

"What're you doing with yourself these days?"

"Don't you know?"

Jeremy's expression told him that he did.

"Well," Jack said, "if you know, why ask? Anyway, if you'll excuse me. I have to go and see someone."

Jeremy reached into a pocket and came out with a business card.

"Sure. Here's my—"

But he was talking to Jack's back

Did I actually hear him mutter "asshole", or was I just imagining it?

Jack stopped at the door to the library that was never really used as a library, since nobody would ever want to read the books here—which were mainly for show and showing off, with a whole shelf of expensive first editions of Australian and international fiction, dating back to the 1800s.

Jess was there, as was Nana and their mother, surrounded by a bunch of women that Nana and Jess definitely would rather have done without. Entitled socialites all, with no redeeming features in sight.

Jess and his mother's back were to him. Nana was in her favorite library chair, half-obscured by the others.

No point sticking around here. He'd find Jess later.

Jack started to turn away—

—just as Jess suddenly looked around. Their gazes met and held. Time stood till—wound back—was annihilated by his memories as her hitherto solemn expression became a smile that lit up his world, which had been dark for far too long.

Jess slowly backed out of the circle and started for where he stood—attracting his mother's attention.

"What are you doing here?" she shouted, apparently heedless of those surrounding her, who, with the exception of Nana, looked at her aghast.

"Get out of my house! You have no right to be here! Go! Now!"

"Leave Jack alone!" Jess snapped.

But Vivian McCann—he just couldn't think of her as 'mother'—wasn't having it.

"Out! I want him out! Now! He doesn't belong here!"

"Come now, Viv," Nana said. "He's your son!"

Vivian ignored her,

"Out!" she shouted at Jack.

Jack glanced at Jess, who stood there with an I'm-so-sorry expression. He winked at her and turned to leave.

"Screw you!" Jess shouted at Vivian and started after him.

"Jessica! Come back here immediately!"

Vivian turned to Nana.

"You tell her! She listens to you."

"Let them be," Nana said.

And suddenly Vivian remembered where she was. She looked around her, mortified; then hurried out through another door, with everybody looking after her.

The old woman leaned back and closed her eyes.

Jess, who had almost reached Jack, looked back at Nana.

Jack nodded at Jess. "Look after her. We'll talk later."

"Promise?"

"Promise."

Jess rushed back to Nana and knelt beside the chair.

"You ok, Nana?" he heard her say.

Nana looked up at Jack and smiled at him. She turned to Jess and whispered something in her ear.

Jess appeared to make a feeble protest of some kind, but Nana pointed at Jack and waved imperiously, as she did when she had made up her mind about something, and that's the way things were going to be.

Jess rose and presently joined Jack at the door. She stopped a step away from him, looked back at the assembly around Nana and grimaced.

The urge to take her into his arms was like a physical force, but he resisted it; and he knew that she was fighting a similar battle.

"Outside," he whispered.

"Let's go around the back," she said lowly. "I really don't want to face those people."

There was a spot around the back of the house, where the guests couldn't see them. They stopped, looked around—and flew into each other's arms.

The years were there, but they didn't matter.

It took superhuman control not to turn the embrace into a kiss, and the kiss into a make-out right there and then. But they managed it, because they knew the stakes. What happened four years ago had shown taught them a bitter lesson. The slightest slip could undo everything they had. Still had.

Almost had.

"Where have you been?" she whispered

"Too far away."

She let him go.

"Too far to call? Email? Facebook? Messenger? Whatever?"

"I'll explain. Promise."

"Are you going away again?"

"Not without you."

"You mean that?"

"Have I ever lied to you?"

She studied his face from close up.

"No," she said softly.

They walked around to the front of the house, where people could see them again. Keeping regulation distance.

"Can I hike a ride with you? Left my car at the cemetery. Maybe we can go and visit Mary."

"I'd like that."

"Get away from her!"

Their mother stood in the door, waving her arms at them.

Behind her appeared Nana, now apparently quite awake and sprightly.

"Let them be," they heard her say.

She took hold of her daughter's arm and tried to pull her back into the house.

Vivian shoved her aside.

"I'm going to call the police!" she yelled at them, heedless of the curious guests trickling out of the entrance, wondering what the hell was happening on what should have been a sedate, stately post-interment kind-of-wake for Arthur. Jack was sure that the current excitement would produce ample ground for endless gossip and social sniping for weeks, maybe months, to come.

He grinned at Jess.

"Oh, this is just too good!"

"What do you mean?"

Jack laughed.

"I said, let them be!" Nana's voice was sharp and clear.

"How can you say that. After what he—"

Suddenly Vivian finally caught herself and fell silent.

"Car's in the garage," Jess said to Jack.

"You lead. I follow."

"And what if I led you into temptation?" she whispered.

"Again?"

They smiled at each other.

I've missed her so!


"You gonna tell me about what happened to you?" Jess asked him as they were driving to the cemetery where Mary and Auntie Jean were buried. Not Springvale Botanical but St. Kilda. Not quite as upmarket and ostentatious, but dignified enough.

"How about I tell you and Mary together. All right?"

He placed a hand on her leg and squeezed.

"You'll have to tell it again anyway. To Nana."

"Umm. Well, about that—"

"What?"

She took a right turn with her usual devil-may-care style.

"Nana knows."

"What?? How? Why does she know and I don't? I thought we—"

"To protect you, Jess. To protect us."

"This better be good, buddy."

Jack chuckled.

"Not funny," she said.


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