The Lily Tattoo

Although she refuses to believe it Lily has always been the prettiest of girls. Growing up she would make such a fuss whenever I teased her about her looks and, most especially, when I used the word 'cute' to describe her. Her annoyance always made me laugh, but that is exactly what she was and still is, cute and perfect. It's one of the reasons why I love her so much, that and the fact that she is my daughter of course.

Now, at the age of nineteen, she has grown into a clever and special young woman. Her hazel eyes neatly complement the reddish brown of her hair. She keeps her hair tied back most of the time, even though she looks far more grown up when it's loose. Still, the way she likes to wear her hair and the glasses that she has since worn since childhood mask the pure simplicity of her beauty and, if I'm honest, I prefer that about her. She still carries just a slight trace of puppy fat around her middle and thighs. Most girls these days would attempt to starve themselves free of it, but with Lilly it just adds to the sweetness of who she is. She has a freshness and intelligence that shine out of her and, for me, it would be wonderful if she stayed just as she is forever.

Lily and I had always had a special bond. From the moment she was born I felt a deep need to be inextricably linked to every aspect of her life. I was the one that chose her name and the day straight after she was born I did something wholly uncharacteristic. I went out and had a small image of a flower (a lily of course) inked onto my chest just above my left nipple. Her mother was horrified and thought that I had gone mad, but that tattoo somehow signified for me the pride and love that I felt about being Lily's father.

That love has deepened and grown over the years. She has become a bright, beautiful and thoughtful young woman who makes me smile whenever I think about her. But it is more than that. I didn't see it coming but, even if I had, I couldn't have done anything to stop it. I know that now.

It was about the time of her eighteenth birthday when I began to realise that the way I felt about her went beyond what a father would normally feel for his daughter. It took me a while to recognise it and work it out for myself but it was at that time when I began to sense something. I remember how uncomfortable I felt when she started going out with boys. I am sure that every father shares those fears about the safety and happiness of his daughter but there was something else that gnawed at me. It wasn't just concern for her welfare. I wanted to protect her from the big bad world and I'm sure that is a natural response of a father to his daughter's growing up. But I wanted to keep her to myself. I had this nagging sense that I didn't want to share something so precious to me with other people.

****

In a strange way, my divorce from Lily's mother proved to be something that brought Lily and me closer than we had ever been. The weekends that she spent with me in my little apartment in the quiet town that I had moved to were heaven. She fussed around like a mother hen, determined to make the place clean and comfortable for her useless and wholly undomesticated dad and I enjoyed going along with the idea of her looking after me.

We spent long afternoons exploring the streets and surroundings of a place that was new to us and it became something that we shared together at the exclusion of the rest of the world. I loved that. We went out of our way to make the most of the time we had together and I treasured the thought that Lily wanted and needed to spend that time with me and me alone.

I also treasured the night times as well. For her first few visits, with no spare bedroom, I had to make do with the cold discomfort of a camp bed, until Lily insisted that we share the double bed. It was all completely innocent then. The two of us laughing as we pretended how terrible it was have to share our precious personal space with the other. And then, when we had finished that game, we would lie in the darkness and talk. I would ask Lily about how she was feeling, desperate to know that she wasn't suffering unhappiness as a result of the way her idiot parents had conspired to wreck their marriage. When we both fell quiet and ready to sleep, I would put my arm around her and hold her. Just as any father would do in order to show his daughter the tenderness of his love and concern for her. Those moments were the most important in my whole world. Those few minutes in which I could watch over my beautiful girl as she drifted to sleep safely under my roof.

And then Jennifer came into my life. She was ten years younger than me, good looking and someone that made me feel good about myself again after the drawn out misery of separation and divorce. I knew that Lily didn't like her because she told me so. In that typically belligerent way that a clever and confident young woman would, Lily told me that Jennifer wasn't my type and that she would never make me happy. I

knew that she was probably right and my first impulse was to end that relationship before it had really started. She didn't ever mean anything significant to me anyway. It was inevitable that I would meet someone sooner or later and I drifted into my time with her like a sleepwalker not truly conscious of what he was doing or why he was doing it. I suppose I was flattered by the fact that she was interested in me and went along with the whole thing because I just had no reason not to.

But as soon as I picked up the signals that Lily was uncomfortable about it, my first thought was to stop seeing Jennifer. But then, without rationalising things, my mind took me on a different route. I decided to continue seeing her because I sensed that it would provoke a reaction from Lily. I wasn't trying to hurt her but I continued with the idea of a new relationship because I knew that it was affecting Lily emotionally. That sounds cruel but, in my head, something was telling me that I needed to test my relationship with my daughter. I wanted Lily to focus on me and in a twisted way this was making that happen.

That was how mixed up and ridiculous my mind was back then. I felt some insane need to play head games with my own daughter. I know that I should have left it that. I know that I should have just let things run their course and allow middle aged boredom overtake my life, but I couldn't.

When I was with Jennifer I started to think of Lily. Not in a sexual way at first but in an emotional way. I wondered constantly about what she would be thinking and how she would be feeling. I thought endlessly about what was in her mind. She became the centre of my every thought and I couldn't help myself from thinking up different and subtle ways of getting her attention. I knew full well it was madness but I was inching myself along this strange pathway through my emotions.

In the end Jennifer became just an insignificant pawn in a game that I was daring myself to play. In truth, I struggled to take any pleasure from my relationship with Jennifer because I knew she wasn't Lily. That was the realisation that was slowly dawning on me, that I wanted to share the most important aspects of my life with Lily and nobody else.

I can't recall exactly when, how or why that led to sexual fantasies about her. The sex with Jennifer was satisfying in a basic and needy way, but it didn't excite me or thrill me like I knew that it should. Thinking about Lily did. I told myself that it was just a harmless thought and that, as long as I didn't act on it, nobody was being harmed. Maybe every man thinks about fucking his own daughter in the midst of some strangely curious and dark daydream. Most probably dismiss the notion as something crazy that emerges unwanted from the depths of the mind, but the more I thought about it the more that I couldn't leave the thought behind.

It became a preoccupation with me that took root and began to find its way into every corner and recess of my consciousness. Every time I saw her it simply made things more intense. The sound of her voice, the sight of her smile and the sweet presence of her every time there was any sort of simple and innocent physical contact between us. I thought about those things over and over and wondered how the hell I was ever going to find my way out of the swamp of helplessness that I was sinking into.

And so I ended things with Jennifer. Partly because I knew it was hurting Lily, but partly because I thought if things returned to normal then my obsession with my daughter might fade.

****

It was Lily's idea that we drive to the coast to celebrate my birthday. We were spending our weekends together again without anyone else involved in our lives and it seemed to make her happy. It certainly made me happy. As we drove through the sunshine we laughed and talked and I felt relieved to have her all to myself. We had rented a cottage next to a secluded beach in a place that we both loved. It was a part of the world that we had holidayed in when Lily was small, back when her mother and I were in love. It had happy, if distant, memories for us.

I think what we liked about it most of all though was the fact that it was a place where there was still a sense of isolation. That remoteness is so hard to find in this busy world and we loved to feel that we were running away to somewhere that was 'off grid.' The cottage was basic. No TV, a wood burning open fire and a mile walk to the nearest village or a five mile drive to the nearest town. It had the sea virtually at the back door and when the night time came there was a total blackness and quiet. That was magical.

We arrived late on the Friday evening, too late to do much other than light the fire, prepare a simple meal and open a bottle of wine. It was nearing the end of summer and felt cool as the light quickly faded. Lily got the food ready and we sat together at the table in the little kitchen, sipping our drinks and chatting about everything and nothing. This was what made me feel whole inside of myself. These ordinary moments when I could be close to her and enjoy her attention at the exclusion of the rest of the world. It was something that I kept safely locked away inside of me, never wanting anyone else to know that I craved the words, thought, glances and beautiful presence of my own daughter.

"Are you happy dad?"

"Of course, what makes you ask that?"

"You always seem to be under so much pressure, what with your job and now that you're on your own, it worries me a little."

Her face was serious as she spoke and I couldn't help myself from smiling at her, even though I knew she had set her mind on having a fully-fledged grown up conversation with me. It was so lovely to be able to see that part of her and I was torn between wanting to enjoy the moment and wanting to reassure her that there was nothing that could affect me as longs as she was in my life.

"I'm fine sweetheart, honestly, you never ever need worry about your dad. What about you, how are things at home with your mum?"

"Good I suppose. I think mum's sort of relieved now that you've ended things with Jennifer."

"Why ever would you say that?"

I was genuinely surprised. Any feelings that Lily's mum and I might have had for each other in twenty years of marriage had longs since faded and I didn't think it would matter one way or the other to her what I did with my life. Lily thought for a moment or two before answering.

"Oh I don't know, it just seems like she wants us all to live closed down lives. She knows that we aren't a proper family anymore but she doesn't seem to want you or her to start again with other people. She just wants us all to stay like we are now. I think she would be happy with that."

I really didn't mean to start prying but what Lily had said made me want to know whether that applied to her as well as me and her mother.

"Doesn't she like you having boyfriends?" I asked.

"No way. There have been a few little rows about that. Nothing too serious but she isn't comfortable with me going out with anyone. She said that I need to talk to you about it."

"Oh, and what does she think I can say about it?"

"I don't know really, maybe warn me about contraception or something, you know, the usual dad and daughter chats."

Lily smiled up at me as she spoke, obviously enjoying my discomfort as she teased me. I should have ignored it of course. I should have cracked a joke and left her to find her own sensible way into adulthood without my interference, but that part of me that needed to know everything about her fell straight into the pit that had been dug in the ground of our conversation.

"And do I need to do that, do we need to have that conversation?" I wasn't smiling now, reverting instead to the worried father routine that was probably all too predictable.

"Don't worry, I'm not stupid. I promise you don't have anything to be concerned about."

She did the smiling now, feigning cringed embarrassment as she averted my eye contact and hurried to change the subject.

"Anybody serious then, or are you going to stay your daddy's girl for a little while longer?"

We both smiled at that. It was said as a joke of course, but inside I wanted nothing more to know that I was the centre of her world as she was mine.

"I promise" she replied, "I'm only interested in one man just now and he's the birthday boy."

There was something about her playfulness in these types of conversations that caught me off guard. I could never tell if she did it deliberately, but she had a way of leading my mind towards hidden corners of myself. I knew what was happening in my head. There was a door leading to a strange part of my imagination and I was finding it harder and harder to stop myself from trying the handle to see if it was unlocked.

****

The next day with her was lovely. We spent it shopping, talking, eating and laughing, as I revelled in the company of this beautiful young woman. On those days I could switch off thoughts about everything else and just enjoy her.

We drove into town to find a place where she could buy something new to wear. In the end she bought two new dresses and I made out that my bank balance could never survive her living with me all of the time. We both knew I didn't mean it of course and I loved every second of being able to treat her to something special, even though I knew that, like her mother, she was too careful and thoughtful to buy anything extravagant.

When we got back to the cottage we agreed that we would eat at the little pub in the village, but first, Lily insisted that I help her choose which of her two new dresses to wear.

I sat on the edge of the bed in her little single room whilst she busied herself in the bathroom. She came into the room wearing one dress and carrying the other, smiling happily at her obvious delight at how she looked. Her enjoyment at something so ordinary was a delight and we both revelled in the act of her giving me a little twirl.

"You look beautiful" I said, and she did.

"Do you think so dad, really, do you like it?"

"Of course, you look perfect sweetheart."

She looked at me with a quick glance and that told me I had hit the right note. Her eyes made just a fleeting connection with mine that made me momentarily forget that this was my own daughter I was flirting with.

"OK" she said, "then what about this one?"

With that she reached behind herself and unzipped the dress. As she drew it down over her shoulders I saw the clean whiteness of the bra she was wearing beneath and my eyes skirted over the curves of her breasts. She didn't look at me now as she let the material slip down over her thighs.

She seemed to pause a while as she picked up and arranged the second dress ready to put it on and she made eye contact with me again as she straightened herself so that I could see the unspoilt loveliness of her body, hidden only by the simple but pretty underwear she was wearing.

She looked just as amazing in the second dress as she had done the first and I told her so. When she insisted that I chose which she would wear, I opted for the second. It seemed to please her that I had obviously made the 'right' decision and she rewarded me with a hug and a kiss on my cheek as she hurried off to finish getting ready.

****

As we walked back from the pub afterwards we held hands.

It was one of those moments that I wanted to go on forever. It was not that I had any thoughts in my head about her as anything other than my gorgeous daughter, simply that it was comforting and blissful to have her with me.

When we got back to the cottage we sat together by the fire and listened to the sea outside, comfortable in each other's company as we shared the pleasure of that place.

She went up to bed before me, telling me that she was going to read.

We told each other we loved each other and she hugged me as she went.

I stayed there watching the fire die out. Thinking and not thinking, Just letting my mind wander around aimlessly.

It was at least an hour later when I went into her room. I don't know what I intended to do or what I wanted to happen. She was sitting on her bed, propped up against the pillows at her back, reading by the light of a bedside lamp.

She looked up at me as I sat down on the bed beside her. Her hair was loose hanging down around her shoulders. She was wearing one of my old white shirts which made me smile. It reached down over her thighs and, being far too big for her, she had the sleeves rolled up over her wrists.

"Is this what you wear for bed," I laughed, "this old thing?"

"I like wearing it," she protested with a smile, "It makes me feel close to you when I'm not with you."

"Come on," I said, "It's late, time you were asleep."

I took the book she was reading from her hands and placed it on the bedside table. Then I reached to her face and took off her glasses, carefully placing them alongside the book.

I leant slightly towards her and touched her cheek, looking into her face.

"You're a beautiful girl Lily, you know that don't you?"

"I'm not dad, but I love you saying it."

There was a pause and she spoke again.

"I really do love you dad."

She looked at me with a slightly serious face as if she expected a response.

"And I love you too sweetheart."

"No dad, I mean that I really love you."

When she spoke she stressed the word 'really.' I wasn't completely sure what she meant or was trying to say, but my heart was full of her in that moment. I leaned in to embrace her and pressed my lips to her cheek.

I don't know which of us caused the movement of our faces so that our lips touched. I don't know who led the way as our mouths opened slightly. I don't know which of us encouraged the other to follow them as we began to twist what should have been an innocent act into something more.

Her kiss was crushing in its softness. The gradual motion of her lips and the sweetness of the sensation as or mouths caressed seemed unreal. She tasted like an angel.

My mind skipped back and forwards between two places like a light bulb flickering. I felt the love and care that I had every right to as a father and I let myself believe that this was some sort of natural expression of that love. But I was drawn to a different place now and I could feel a devastating rush of nervous energy coursing through me.

The knowledge that this was my own daughter flashed across my consciousness intermittently and I knew that I should stop what I was doing, but I was held still by the delicious sensation of the light swish of her tongue as it made contact with mine.

Then we paused. As if we were both waiting to see what would happen next.

I didn't look into her face now but looked down at the smooth skin of her thighs emerging from the white cotton of that old shirt of mine she was wearing.

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