Sara (with no H) sat at the attic window like a puppy waiting for its owners to come home. From outside the two-story townhouse anyone looking up would see nothing but a pair of glasses and a pair of purple pigtails peeking out of a narrow window. When the dirty white taxi pulled up to the house, those pigtails turned into a jumping, screaming, laughing monster.
David could hear the machine-gun thumping of his step-sister running down a fight of stairs just as his step-mother opened the front door of the house. His father came out first and held out his hand to shake.
“Welcome-” but the greeting was interrupted by a teenager in multicolored clothes who tackled the tall young man who had just exited the cab.
“David!” Sara shrieked. She half hugged and half sat on him as he tried in vain to hold on to his suitcases.
His father just smirked and shook his head, “call me crazy, but I think she missed you,” he said as he watched his step-daughter’s face go from pure glee to pure anger.
“How come you don’t call me anymore?! How come you don’t answer my emails? How come you never come on AIM?” she asked her prone step-brother, punctuating each question with a punch on his arm.
“Ok, ok, sorry. Can I at least get into the house before the homecoming interrogation starts?” David asked, trying to dislodge himself from under her.
Sarah was eighteen, barely five feet and holding on to more than a little baby fat. She wore a wild array of clothing; multicolored converse sneakers, pink and black striped knee high socks, a plaid pleated schoolgirl skirt, and black t-shirt with the letter “i” then a picture of a metal screw and then a picture of a 50’s style sci-fi robot. She had a dozen bangles around each wrist and a black satin choker. Her glasses were thick and framed in purple. Her hair was mousy brown, but had streaks of purple and pink in it. It was pulled into two rather stubby pigtails.
She smiled as she stood and grabbed her step-brother’s hand trying to pull him up. David smiled and groaned as he rose. It was good to be home.
At twenty-six, David stood a hair over six feet; he was thin and clean cut, with brown hair and glasses. He was one of those twenty somethings who had grown from being an awkward geek into being someone comfortable in their skin, but he held on to enough of the nerdiness to work the geek chic look.
He had just finished his Masters at a reasonably good college in Philidelphia and hardly been home since getting his BA, four years before, at the local college. He was only staying the summer before moving to the New York to start his doctorate, a new job and basically his adult life.
He let his step-sister pull him into the house and he deposited his suitcases near the stairs.
David sat in the living room with his father and Sara and her mother. As they sat and caught up, David told them about taking far too many classes and having to write a thousand papers and how it would all get worse after he moved because then he would be working on his PhD and working full time.
Sara told David all about starting college and how she hating living at home and how she was obsessed with Japanese animation and culture, Harry Potter and various other popular things David had hardly heard of. Their parents talked about their jobs and their lives and how Sara had been worrying them because of all the time she spent on the computer.
“Well, I did too,” David remarked.
“Yes, but you also had a job every summer and got into a great college and you are going to be an English professor, your step-sister’s ambitions are less academic,” their father said with a frown.
“Oh, Sara what do you want to be when you graduate?”
Sara shrugged, “a fairy princess astronaut ninja?”
Everyone laughed and David’s father shook his head.
“Well you talk some sense into her while we go shopping,” their mother suggested and patted David on the back.
David nodded. “Ok, but just remember I’m making dinner. I’ll start on the sauce while you guys are out. Maybe it’ll inspire Sara to become a chef or something.”
In the kitchen David started gathering produce and took out a large knife. Sara watched from the door and seemed to be a little nervous now that their parents were gone.
David’s father had married Sara’s mother a little over ten years ago and David was placed in the precarious position of being in a house with a precocious ten year old and her 30 year old mother. In the preceding decade it had all gelled into a family, but there were still moments when he felt like he was in a house full of people he didn’t know that well.
Sara was no stranger though. As silly and awkward as their childhoods were he always adored her and so the strange and somewhat serious look on her face made him a bit concerned.
“Yeah, so I wanted to talk to you about something now that mom and dad are gone.” Sara said nervously.
David put an onion on the cutting board and looked at his step-sister with concern.
“Not really. I mean, nothing bad. Well, kind of bad. I mean- I did something that might make you mad.”
David’s eyebrows wrinkled a bit.
“Something that might make me mad?”
“Yeah,” she said, giving his a crooked frown and then continuing to look at the floor instead of his eyes.
David couldn’t imagine anything that she could have done. Anything of value in his room he had taken with him to college except for his old computer, but everything on it had been copied to his laptop. Sara stood there leaning against the refrigerator, her brown and blue hair in pigtails. She wore one of David’s old hooded sweatshirts with their High School logo on it. The arms were way too long and hung down past her hands. She pulled on one of the long arms and stared at the floor.
“I read your stories,” she said in a volume just over a whisper.
He stopped chopping the onion, but didn’t look up.
She smiled at the floor, but didn’t look up.
“Well, the first summer you didn’t come home I decided to take over your room. I always heard you typing in there, on that old computer… I wanted to see what you were always doing.”
David put down the knife.
“You knew I wrote stories. I’ve shown you a bunch of them,” he clarified, cleaned off his hands on a towel and turning to loo out of the window above the sink.
“Yeah, but I wanted to read more. I liked your stories, especially the science fiction-y ones. Plus I missed you.”
David turned on the faucet and started rinsing off a plate.
“So I looked around your room and I turned on your computer and it was empty. I guess you deleted all of your important stuff, but I poked around some more and looked at your browser and I saw you had all these links in your history, story webpages. I saw the same screen name over and over again and so I wrote it down and I did a search for that screen name.”
“You taught me how. Remember? That time you were looking for links about somebody in your class in high school and you showed me how to google stalk them.”
“You shouldn’t have done that, Sara.”
She sighed. She slipped down the refrigerator until she was sitting on the floor, the sweatshirt covering her legs completely.
“So I found all these stories and I could kind of tell that they were your stories, but they were different. They weren’t like the space stories you showed me when I was a kid. They were all about sex.”
He didn’t turn around.
“That was private.”
She continued as if she didn’t hear him.
“The first story was called ‘Tomboy’ and it was very different. I liked it right away. It was completely different from your other stories. It wasn’t science fiction or horror. It was really moody and beautiful. It was about a girl who was an artist. And she drew a picture of her father- and it took me about a page to realize what was happening.”
David looked angry. “I know what that short was about I wrote it. You shouldn’t have read that.”
“I know, I’m sorry. But remember that time we had that talk and you were like ‘Some people are just naturally curious, they are insatiable-’ yeah well that’s us, right?”
“That wasn’t…” he struggled for the right word, “appropriate.”
She let out a little laugh.
“Not appropriate? Come on. I didn’t tell anyone- you would have done it too. Remember that time you broke into the abandoned house at the end of Rocky Hill Road? Or that time you got a hold of Grandma’s old diaries?”
“When did you get so fucking… smart.”
“Anyway, I’d read stuff like that before. I mean, not exactly like that… but”
David finally turned around.
She smiled at him.
“Have you seen my room? Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, all that manga and anime.”
He stared blankly.
“Haven’t you ever heard of fan fiction? Slash? Hentai? Yaoi?” David shook his head.
“You read… slash? Like stories about Harry Potter having sex with…”
She smiled brightly.
“Draco! And Ron and Snape and also Ginny and Hermione and pretty much everybody. And I don’t just read them, I write them.”
He let out a little laugh and shook his head. It was funny, but knowing that made things a lot less uncomfortable.
“Well, once I read the 20 stories I found, I wanted more, but you stopped posting when you were away at college.”
He looked stunned.
“You read 20 of my stories? You’re my step-sister! Your not supposed to be reading that! I mean-”
He tried to remember exactly what stories were on there and cringed.
“There was a lot of- really- inappropriate stuff on there. You didn’t read…”
“The stories about the brother and sister?” she finished, her grin a little more wicked.
He blushed and stammered trying to find the right word to express his complicated emotions.
“They’re just stories,” he mumbled.
She let out a loud laugh followed by a snort.
“I know they’re just stories, stupid. I think I would have remembered if they were autobiographical.”
David couldn’t look at her. He was embarrassed, he was more than a little turned on but that made him feel guilty. Some part of him had always feared this. He was a sexual person, very sexual. He was a curious person, too. He had always tried to put that side of himself far away when dealing with his step-sister. She was smart and sweet and innocent, at least when she was younger.
Now she sat on the floor with her knees drawn to her chest and his oversized sweatshirt over her and her pigtails and it was becoming one of his stories, with weird sexual tension and guilt and secrets.
She caught his eye. They locked. He realized that she was eighteen and by the time he was that age he’d written dozens of stories, had sex a few times, and was basically addicted to porn.
“I like the dirtier ones,” she whispered looking up at him for the first time.
He looked away.
“It is like in Harry Potter you have the twins and there is all this fiction online and they do it. The twins. And then there is Ron and his little sister and some of the stories are like what you write only different. In those stories it is all happy and it is almost like they are not really brother and sister, that is just an inconvenience.”
David poured himself a glass of water from the tap.
“In your stories it is all dark. Like the stories about the tomboy and her father. That’s my favorite story. It is soooo dirty. The way she watches her father from the closet and she-”
David choked a little on his water.
“What?” she said, feigning innocence.
“It’s not cool, us talking about this.”
The front door of the house opened and both of them slipped into silence. David’s face was red and so was Sara’s. They didn’t look at each other as their parents walked in.
“Why is it so quiet in here? Are you still pestering him with questions about college life Sara?”
David’s father was a tall and heavyset guy. He had a good sense of humor, though he was a lot more old fashioned than the rest of the family. Sara’s mother shooed Sara away from the refrigerator and started putting away the groceries they had just brought in.
“Say, David, why don’t you go take a look at Sara’s printer? She thinks she is so smart ever since she fixed my laptop, but she took apart that printer and it hasn’t worked right since,” his father said while loading the cupboard with cans.
Sara looked at her step-brother and grinned wickedly.
“Yeah big brother, come help me with my printer,” she said jumping up off the floor and grabbing David’s hand.
She practically pulled him up the stairs, the whole time he tried to clear his mind of all this sex talk. Still, looking up at her knee high striped socks and her short skirt and that patch of leg between the two was hitting him hard. He had to be the adult; he had to maintain control.
“So this is my room.”
She let go of his hand and dove into her bed. He looked around the now unfamiliar room of his step-sister. When he left five years ago she was 13 and still had a big purple room full of teddy bears and unicorns. Now the walls were covered with vivid glossy posters of Japanese cartoon characters, pictures of effeminate elflike characters wielding huge swords and glowing balls of magic. Her desk was a pile of papers and books and comics covering an old PC that was covered in stickers.
“The printer is toast, don’t bother. I was trying to fix it but I ended up completely destroying it. It costs more to buy ink for it than buying a new printer, anyway,” she sighed, laying on her bed and watching him.
“So listen, you didn’t tell anyone about-”
She cut him off. “Of course not, I’m not stupid.”
Then there was a pause.
“But I have commented on your stories on the newsgroups.”
David swallowed hard and tried to remember who had commented on his stories lately. He hadn’t posted very much since he had been in school. He had too much work to do, too many classes and papers and in the summer too much work and too many parties.
“BeatLoveDown,” she said simply.
“That’s my screen name. Beat Love Down. I commented, but you never replied. Well, you sent one ‘thanks’ when I wrote how much I liked your stories,” she shrugged.
“Beat love down? Like… Romeo and Juliet?” he wondered out loud as he looked at her chaotic bookshelf.
She looked at him and smiled brightly. She laughed a little and for some reason blushed red.
“You’re the first person who ever got that,” she said kind of shyly.
“Mercutio- ‘If love be rough with you, be rough with love. Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down.’” he recited.
She giggled and nodded vigorously.
“Well, I am going to be an English professor.”
She eyed him hungrily now and it made him very nervous.
Suddenly a voice from downstairs. “David, are you going to make us dinner or should I just order a pizza?”
“We’ll continue this talk later.”
She nodded and bit her lip.
“I hope so.”
Dinner went well. David made pasta and everyone enjoyed it. Sara was curiously silent and that left time for their parents to find out all about school, all about David’s plans for his PhD work after graduation and all about his girlfriend who had dumped him a few months ago.
“Her name was Alexis and she was a psych major. I should have known it was doomed from the start. People major in psychology so they can try to solve their own problems,” David mused, bitter but not angry.
Sara cleared her throat.
“Did she like your stories?”
David face turned pale.
David father brightened. “Yes, David have you been writing more? I know that magazine published your robot story last year. Any other bites?”
“Oh, no bites. I’ve been studying too much to do any writing lately.”
David mother stood and patted him on the shoulder and then took his plate.
“That’s okay dear. You have all summer to work on writing.”
Sara watched her step-brother with a wicked look in her eyes.
“Yeah. It’s going to be a long summer full of writing, right David?” Sara said licking her lips.
After dinner Sara ran off to her room. David sat in the living room thinking and then after a bit he went up to have a talk with his step-sister.
He knocked twice and waited. She opened the door and smiled, but frowned when she saw his face. David come in and closed the door behind him.
“I’m your step-brother and you love me, right?”
She nodded, a look of concern on her face.
“So… I’m asking you as your step-brother to cut it out with this weird flirting thing. I get that you read my stories and that you read other stories about sex and that’s fine… well it’s not fine, but there’s nothing I can do about it, so I want to just move on.”
He continued, “I love you and I care about you and when you talk about sexual stuff with me and talk about my stories it makes me very uncomfortable. My stories are part of my personal life and they are separate from you and my family life, understand?”
She nodded. She was about to say something, then stopped herself.
“Sara, I know you are growing up and when I was your age I was thinking about this kind of stuff, but just remember that people write about fantasies and they aren’t always real desires… they are just explorations… I mean…”
Sara looked away from her step-brother.
“I get it… just because you write stories about incest doesn’t mean it is something you fantasize about.”
“It’s just a… taboo thing. It’s an element of the forbidden that makes it… just dirtier and more shocking.”
“I understand that… and I’m sorry if I got weird… but…” She tried to figure out how to word her question.
“Maybe sometime we could talk about the writing a little… I mean if it grossed you out then we could stop, but I have stories I wrote and I just want to show them to someone… I am not sure about posting them online.”
David swallowed. As much as reading his step-sister’s stories about sex made him feel really strange and guilty (and completely turned on) the idea of her posting them online and talking to a lot of older adult strangers about sex made him even more uneasy.
He squeezed the bridge of his nose and rubbed his eyes.
“Ok, but… not for a while, ok? And… we will just do it online… I mean we will only talk about the stories online, ok?”
She smiled and hopped up and down a little.
“Ok, I promise! I will wait and only online,” then she ran over to him and hugged him hard. He hugged her back awkwardly, patting her on the back and trying desperately to make the erection he had go away.
He got a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach about the whole situation.