Forest for the Trees
There are no explicit sex scenes but sex is talked about, implied and referred to. Also theres a bit of swearing. If youre too young or if you could get into serious trouble for reading this where you live, off you go.
This story is set in Australia so there may be phrases and terms that you are unfamiliar with if you are from elsewhere but if you get into the swing of the context they shouldnt bother you too much. (e.g. In the first para "what are you waiting for, Christmas?" means "hurry the hell up, I havent got all day"). Oh and our spelling is English - different than US usage (colour / color).
The other thing I should point out is that Christmas comes in high summer here the Summer Solstice is December 21. But you all knew that, right?
Enjoy and seasons greetings.
"What the blind crikey are you waiting for, Blue -Christmas?" Noel bellowed at me from where he stood high up in the enormous gum tree.
If youre a redhead in Australia youre called Blue. Its the way it is. Youre also doomed to spend your life paying through the nose for sunscreen that really works. This country is merciless to the pale and freckled.
I shifted my wide brimmed felt hat and wiped the sweat from my brow. "Keep your hair on," I roared back.
Noels my boss. Hes bald. He and I work for the State Forestry. This is my twentieth year. At the end of every November for the last few years weve mounted cameras up in the tall native trees that overlook the pine plantation down on the flat. We like the opportunity to work together and to get out into the field so although we could assign it to the younger Rangers we mostly see to it ourselves. This year the cameras are digital, tiny.
Were the closest forestry plot to the States capital city. Youd be amazed how many trees we lose just prior to Christmas. We wouldnt mind if it was just one here and there into the back of the family wagon and off to thrill the kids. But blokes come in with huge trucks shattering the silent night and take out whole sections. Im not big on your pines. Most of them are introduced species that pander to our inability to recycle or curtail our use of paper. I prefer a good hardwood.
"For Christs sake, Blue," Noel complained loudly. "If I dont get home before dark today Sue reckons shes gunna have my chestnuts roasting on an open fire."
"Shes very seasonal with her threats, Sue," I observed, attaching the small, weather proofed camera to Noels line and giving it a tug. "What was that she was going to do to you at Ramadan?" I asked as he hauled the camera up through the thick boughs. "Something about not eating?"
"I dont remember," he said.
"Hows that?" I asked cupping a hand over one ear.
"You know very well what she said, you bastard," he growled. "Cant you leave a man to work in peace?"
"Youd be the first, Noel," I grinned.
"Pass us up the cable will ya?" he said dropping the line back down to me.
"Rightio," I called cheerily attaching the cable to his line and watching as it snaked upwards. I started whistling a Christmas tune.
"Whats that youre whistling, Champ?" Noel asked. I told him. "What exactly does deck the halls mean?" he wanted to know. "Like put down new floor boards you reckon?"
"Nah. Like decorate. I think."
"Oh. Hey, whens that kid coming home for the holidays?"
"Tomorrow," I said, grinning like an idiot.
"Sue was just saying you two should come over for tea."
"Say the word," I encouraged enthusiastically.
Sue and Noel are both great cooks, their curry banquets legendary.
"Tomorrow then. Howd she go with her exams?" he asked abseiling to land lightly at my side. "All tops again?"
"She wont know until the 17th. She says she mucked up a couple of things. Something about being distracted."
"Boys," he grinned, nodding.
"What?" I asked him and it sounded sharp to my own ears.
Noel stepped away a couple of paces. I realised I was holding my pocket knife ready to open another cable box.
I closed the blade and fixed my colleague with a stare.
"I dont know anything," he said raising his hands defensively. "Shes just twenty, thats all Im saying."
"Jemma hasnt said anything to you?" I asked knowing our daughters kept in touch off and on down in the Big Smoke.
"No. Scouts honour Angie. Jems been away for work."
"Right. I forgot. Middle East, yeah?"
He frowned and nodded. "Wish she could have gone into reporting on sports or frocks or something. But no, not my kid. War correspondent. Shes making us grey, mate."
"Nah. Youre just getting old, pal," I chided.
"Just for that you can climb the next one," he said picking up half the gear and moving across the slope.
Hes a big bloke, Noel, and Jemma takes after him: his height and his pale blue eyes. Everything else is Sue: the coppery skin, the straight black hair that she now wears stylishly cropped for easy care when on assignment.
We used to laugh at the girls when they were little. My Pam a chubby little blonde tyke - scrambling along after her hero Jem. Jem has always been long and lean. Then she had jet-black hair to her waist - a beautiful girl. Luckily for Pam she was also the kindest child ever placed on Gods green. The ten-year age difference has never seemed to make any difference to either of them.
I had Pam young. I was seventeen. It was hard even though now I wouldnt change it for the world. Her father took off as soon as he heard his sister was the receptionist at the only Clinic in town so Pam and I made it up as we went along. Mum and Dad and my sisters and brothers pitched in where they could. I went to night classes and got my Graduate Diploma in Horticulture before Pam started school. I got a job with the Forestry almost straight away and the rest - as they say - is history.
A horrible rumbling announces the progress of a huge motorcycle up my lane. I can see Pam on the back wrapped around the rider like foil on fish. Im furious before they come to rest behind my Land Rover. A motorbike rider. Temporary Australians my Dad calls them. Ive almost decided to start with "who the fuck are you?" when the rider removes her helmet. Its Jemma. Im left stuck with my mouth hanging open. My daughter kindly hugs me and pushes it shut with a little snap.
"Ma," she says. "Relax, man. We were careful. Honest." She crosses her heart and pretend spits over her shoulder like she did when she was a kid. She grins over at Jem who returns it with interest.
"I believe this belongs to you?" Jemma said with a slight movement of her head in Pams direction.
"Yes. Thank you, Jemma. Where are its things?"
"At my place," Jemma said. "Ill bring a bag up next weekend. It was such a beautiful day we decided to ride."
"You staying tonight?"
"Absolutely. No way Im riding away from Mum and Dads curries," the tall woman said lightly.
"I didnt know they were expecting you?"
"Thought Id surprise them."
"Theyll be relieved to see you. They worry."
"Its my job, Aunty A."
"I know, love. You get home. Well be over shortly."
I watched as Jemma lifted the saddlebags from the bike and brought them over to Pam.
"See you soon," she whispered, kissing my daughter lightly on the lips and giving me a big grin.
My daughter stood smiling stupidly until the bike was out of sight. So did I, not understanding what Id just seen.
"What the bloody buggery was that?" I asked at last.
"Hmm?" my daughter replied.
"Jemma just kissed you," I said perhaps a little loudly.
"Yes," Pam replied running her fingers over her lips.
"Pam what the hell is going on?"
"Oh. Sorry, Mum. What?"
"You and Jemma?"
"Yeah. Great isnt it?"
"No it isnt great," I gritted out.
"But Mum," Pam said reasonably. "Weve always loved Jem."
"Not like that we havent."
Pam went very pale. "Mum. Youre a homophobe?" I tried to get some words out and failed so she soldiered on: "You, the butchest woman this side of The Black Stump."
"Now just you wait one minute, young lady," I roared, "dont you go pointing the finger and calling me names. How long has this been going on?"
"About six months off and on, obviously. Shes been away a lot this last year."
"Is she the first uh " I was a bad mother. I didnt know how to talk to my child about this.
"Woman Ive been out with? No. God. I think all the others were pale imitations of her though. Substitutes."
"And shes gay?" I tried.
"Well, no. Probably youd have to say bisexual. Well, actually men, men and men and me. Pretty well."
"Oh. So you "
" lead her astray? Yes. Absolutely. She was terrified."
"But not too terrified, obviously?"
"Well she does run around war zones for a living you know. Shes used to operating under stress."
"This is why your results have suffered?"
"Oh dont you start. Jemmas bad enough. How am I supposed to concentrate when every night at seven I have to watch bombs and missiles going off and bullets whizzing in the near vicinity of the woman I love?"
"You love her?"
"Not a doubt in my mind."
"Why cant you do just one thing the easy way? Why do you always choose the most difficult bloody Shit. Dinner. We have to go over there. Whats Noel going to say?"
"Am I going to have to slap you?" my daughter said.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Well youre obviously hysterical."
"Youre gay. Youre going out with my best friends daughter whos what do you say? gone gay for you? Of course Im hysterical. Why havent you told me?"
"It wasnt necessary until now. Jem and I are going to live together. We want you guys to be cool with it and we dont want to be pretending were just friends."
"What about your place?"
"Tony and Colleen are taking over the lease."
"Its because you didnt have a father isnt it?"
"Thats why youre gay. Its his fault the coward."
"Ma, it isnt anybodys fault. Its like Im blonde, Im
type AB neg, Im short. Wait, that is his fault."
I smiled at that. I couldnt help it. Shes adorable.
"Come on Ma," she said grabbing up the bags. "Lets go get dolled up for dinner."
"Does this mean no grand children?"
I cant say I was completely used to the idea yet but I was definitely coming around to it by the time we got to Noel and Sues. Jemma came out to greet us holding my gaze for a moment then smiling in relief at what she saw there. She put her arm around Pams waist and kissed the top of her head. I had to admit they looked great together. I suppose they always had. I threaded my arm through Jemmas and we three went inside.
"Uh oh," Pam whispered in my ear before we had made it through the door. "Do you hear what I hear?"
Jemma cleared her throat. "Uh. Mums taking it hard."
The banging coming from the kitchen was catastrophic. Pots and pans just dont make that kind of noise without a mighty lot of effort. I sighed. I hate having to be the reasonable one. It goes against the grain.
"OK. Let me at her," I said heading for the source.
Pam caught my hand. "Youre the best," she said.
"Yeah, yeah. Carve it on the stone," I growled. "Hows your Dad taking it?" I thought to ask Jemma.
"Good, actually," Jemma said frowning. "I thought hed be the one going berko and Mum would be calming him down. They always do the opposite of what I expect."
"They teach us that in parent school," I said, nodding. "I suppose hes out somewhere hiding?"
"Yeah. In the back yard getting the barbie ready for the tandoori. Well, thats what he said he was doing."
I nodded. "Go get him for me, will you Jem?"
"Sure," she responded automatically.
Sue was surrounded by small mountains of curry ingredients diced to within an inch of their lives. She was pounding vigorously on something with her mortar and pestle when I walked in. There were tears in her eyes.
"Sue?" I said just loud enough for her to hear.
She looked up without stopping her pounding. She was very angry. Never make the mistake of thinking a crying woman is a sad, defeated being. Tears come from lots of deep places and some of them are dark and mean. Sue pointed the paste-plastered pestle at me accusingly.
"You!" she said. It made me shiver how she said it. "You leave my house. You are no longer welcome here."
"Weve known each other a long time," I said calmly.
"It doesnt matter. Out."
"It does matter. Because I know how it was when you and Noel first started going out. You remember telling me? Man, people were horrible to you guys. Called you all sorts of names. Said terrible things to Noel. I remember Dad telling me that once at the pub Charley Watkins remember? the bloke used to have the sawmill? died of cancer? anyway Charley says to Noel Cant you get a white girl?. Noel walks right up to him, you know? He says Not in love with any of the white girls, Charley and you know what? Even when it hurts or when pricks like you make it hard loves never wrong. Ive loved your husband since I was nine years old because of that story. Ill be in the lounge room with the girls. Give us a yell if we can help."
Hoping wildly, I turned to walk out of the kitchen surprised to find Noel leaning in the doorway. He winked as I passed him and squeezed my shoulder lightly. I didnt hear any talking start up behind me but the pounding didnt either. I took that as a good sign. I couldnt find the girls so I made myself comfy on the sofa and flicked on the TV. A knock at the door saved me from finding out just how badly the Australian dollar was faring on the world market. How does that work anyway? Like, there are people whose job it is to buy money?
I opened the door. Noels youngest sister Michelle greeted me with a grin just like his. In all other aspects they are as different as chalk and cheese. Shes tiny and blonde with green eyes. She looks more like Pams mother than I do. She owns the only gym within a thirty kilometre radius. I stood aside to let her in.
"Hey, Ang, long time no see," she said handing me the armful of Christmas presents wrapped with her characteristic careless boldness. "I hear a rumour that niece of mine is home." She stopped for a moment and tilted her head listening. "This house is very quiet."
"Yeah. Jemma and Pam are here somewhere. Noel and Sue are around. So, how have you been keeping?"
"Good. You? Whats going on?"
"Cant complain. Probably Jemma should tell you," I said.
"Tell me what?" the compact woman asked. Then her eyes went wide and she grinned again. "Holy shit. Dont tell me she finally did it? She came out?"
I was surprised. To put it mildly. "You knew?"
"Aunts job to listen to all the stuff they cant tell their parents. Sacred trust. She seeing someone?"
Michelles eyes narrowed. "Someone we know?"
Those green eyes stared into mine for a moment.
"Pam?" she almost squealed, obviously delighted. "Jemma and Pam? Thats fantastic." She paused. "Right?"
"I suppose. Wait. You knew about Pam?"
"Well, yeah. Nothing wrong with my gaydar."
"Man, you straight people are stupid sometimes."
I thought hard for a moment. "Oh. You mean youre "
"You didnt know I was gay? God, I must have come on to you a hundred times when I used to drink. Huh. Noel never told you? All that embarrassment wasted."
"Come on to me?" I squeaked, clinging to the armload of presents so tightly I feared for the pretty paper.
"Sure. Youre a beautiful woman, Ang."
"Whoa!" Jemmas voice came from behind me.
"Hey Niecey," Michelle said without missing a beat.
"Youre gay. Good for you. And Pam?" she said to my daughter who appeared from behind Jemma. "Well done."
I had stood in that hallway with Michelle, Jemma and Pam before. In fact I could remember a specific Christmas when we had been in the exact same configuration. But the dynamic had changed completely. Now I stood with three gay women: my daughter, her lover and her lovers aunt who apparently fancied me. I felt like I was in some sort of alternate universe. I wouldnt have been surprised if I looked outside and there was a winter wonderland instead of the swelter of a subtropical deep summer.
I needed to get some space.
"Let it snow," I wailed, escaping into the lounge room to place Michelles presents under the tree.
When I stood up the three of them were in the doorway looking at me fondly. Pam smiled as she came to me.
"Youre freaking out a bit arent you, Ma?" she asked.
"Come sit," Michelle said sinking into the sofa and patting the cushion beside her. "Come on. I wont bite. Unless you want me to."
"Mich," Jemma growled in a warning. "Behave."
"But look how cute she is when she blushes," Michelle pouted prettily. "Come on, Ang, sit. Its only me."
I sank obediently down beside her.
"You girls go see how things are going in the kitchen," Michelle ordered. "Ill look after Ang."
The girls shuffled out obediently. Michelle sat looking at me for the longest time without saying anything. It was unnerving in one so chatty.
"So youre OK with those two?" she asked finally.
"Sure," I said. "It seems right."
"Yes. Youre worried?"
"Im her mother."
"And Ive known this family almost half my life."
"Sue not taking it well?" she asked quietly. I shook my head. "No. She found it hard with me so I can imagine."
"Shell be OK. I talked to her and Noels been in there for a while. How did you know they were in the kitchen?"
"Thats where my family always works shit out," she said.
"Ah. We use the back yard."
"Mmm. Ive made a bit of a study of you."
"Im not sure how to take that," I said suspecting I should be feeling uncomfortable that she was playing with my hair, pushing stray bits gently behind my ear.
"You want your Christmas present now?" she said changing the subject.
"No, thank you," I said. "I like to wait. Besides I dont have one for you."
"All I want for Christmas is you," she said softly.
Again I wondered why I felt no discomfort. I looked up into her eyes and the answer was right there. She would never want me to do anything I didnt want to. I knew that as surely as I understood that suddenly there were things that I did want to do. With her. To her. I smiled.
She tilted her head that way she does.
"What?" she asked.
"OK," I said.
"Really?" she asked in surprise and - I hoped - delight.
"But slowly," I said. "Please?"
She took my face in her hands and kissed me lightly.
"Of course. Anyhow if you want me you have to woo me."
The lightness of her tone made me relax. "Woo?"
"Yeah. Like courting."
"Thats the way," she encouraged me enthusiastically.
"Weekends on the island? Long walks under tall trees?"
"Thats my girl."
I stood and moved away, suddenly shy. "What are we doing, Michelle? I mean I dont know what I mean."
She looked me dead in the eye then stood and came to me without letting go. "Do you think you can love me?" she asked. "Like a lover? Do you think you could want me?"
I reached out for her and pulled her to me. "Yes," I said. "I dont know how or why but yes. I do want you."
She smiled at me then so sweetly I thought Id die. I bent and kissed her lips knowing it was my turn to be brave. She had played her hand all out, fearless. It was my move. I couldnt stop. My hands found their way under her shirt. Everything felt perfect. For the first time in a long time I realised I was getting overheated. She moaned into my mouth and my knees almost gave in. Then she was pulling back ever so gently moving away.
"No," I gasped, pleading.
She smiled, triumphant and placed a gentle hand on my hip. "Were in my brothers house. Your daughter and his have just announced theyre shacking up together. Walking in on us like this would I guarantee you give at least one of them a coronary. If I dont have one first," she added fanning herself dramatically.
"Im thirty-eight years old," I said. "I have a twenty-year-old daughter, a seven-year-old dog, a six-year-old Land Rover that isnt paid for yet, an old three-bedroom house in the middle of nowhere, a steady job, good friends. That stuff you already know, mostly. What you dont know is that given all that the only thing I care about at this moment is how your body just changed under my hands, how your lips felt against mine. Ten minutes ago I was terrified that you would touch me. Now I dont know what Ill do if you dont. I have never felt this way in my entire life. I feel like Ive got sunstroke."
She stood back from me for a moment, flushed, her eyes a deep ocean green. "Follow me," she commanded and I did.
That call had pulled me instantly awake from deep sleep for almost twenty years. This night my eyes flew open and for the very first time I felt real panic. Because this night I found I could not immediately rise. This night I was pinned underneath the small but muscle-solid body of the woman who had not long before made me scream her name repeatedly. I kissed her head and tried to get out of bed without waking her. No dice.
"No," she complained grabbing at me, still half asleep.
"Pams home," I whispered. "I need to talk to her."
"You sure?" she was awake now. "I can come with you."
"No. Stay in bed. Ill be fine. But thanks for the offer." I bent and kissed her. "I really dont want to be anywhere except inside you, you know? Is that normal?"
"God I hope so," she answered fervently kissing me back.
"Mum?" Pam called again sounding a little anxious now.
"I have to go," I said. "But I wont be long."
"Dont rush her," she urged gently. "Ill be here."
I pulled on my dressing gown and padded out into the hallway. Pam stood near her door Jemma at her side. I smiled at the sight of them. Pam peered at me closely.
"Are you OK, Mum? You look different."
I laughed. "I should hope so." They looked at each other oddly. "Come out the back, girls." Now they really looked worried. "Come on. I need to talk to you both."
We trooped out to the outdoor setting Pam and I had built when she was still at school. I pulled out a heavy chair and sank into it suddenly aware of a pleasant soreness. I blushed. Luckily it was very dark.
"So?" Pam prompted. "Whats up?"
"Did Mich upset you?" Jemma asked hotly.
"Upset me? No. Well, yes. I suppose. But in a good way." This wasnt going right. I took Pams hand. "You know I havent been with anyone for a long time?" She nodded. That wasnt right either. "You know Im happy for you two?" They both nodded, smiling uncertainly. "And youd wish the same for me, right?"
"I was just saying," Pam nodded. "You deserve to be happy. To have someone, I mean."
I nodded. "Well ," I had no idea what to say.
Soft footfalls on the veranda announced Michelles advance. I watched the girls eyes widen and dart between the two of us. Jemmas then stayed with her aunt. Pams came to rest on me. Michelle came to a stop behind me and cupped her hand on the side of my neck, possessively, protectively. I pressed into it then took the hand and pulled her around the chair onto my lap. I couldnt help it. She leaned into me. The smell of her almost made me swoon. She was wearing one of my dark green cotton work shirts long enough on her to be decent if not modest apparel and nothing else. Part of me was thinking this was a harsh way to declare our relationship to my child. The other part wanted to throw the beautiful woman in my lap over my shoulder and head back inside.
"You two?" Jemma finally managed.
We both nodded.
"How long has this been going on?" Pam said echoing my question to her earlier in the day with the exact same tone and inflection.
Michelle grabbed Pams wrist turning it so she could read her watch. "Five hours, thirty-three minutes and change," she announced proudly.
"Just now?" Jemma asked.
"Yes," I confirmed.
"Far out," the tall, dark young woman murmured.
"Pam?" I asked reaching for my daughters hand.
She pulled it away. "I need to speak with you," she said to Michelle fixing her with a glare. "Now."
Michelle patted me reassuringly. I helped her to her feet. They moved off into the deeper dark of the back garden. Jemma moved her chair closer to me and smiled.
To my relief and surprise she patted my knee.
"Its pretty amazing isnt it?"
"Mmm," I agreed readily because everything seemed that way to me although I was uncertain of exactly what she was referring to.
"The sex, I mean," she clarified.
I grinned, then realised she was talking about my daughter. This was going to be complicated.
"Isnt it?" she asked, misinterpreting my frown.
"Yes," I rushed to assure her, then I laughed. "Im sorry. Youre sleeping with my daughter. Im sleeping with your aunt. It just seemed an overwhelmingly complex situation for a moment."
"But it isnt, really, is it?" she asked. "We love them."
"When did you get so smart?"
"Ive had some good teachers," she smiled. "Should I go rescue Mich do you think?"
"No. Leave them to it."
"Are you OK?" the tall young woman asked.
"Yeah. I feel like shes knitted me a whole new world in a matter of hours out of love and sheer willpower."
"Shes really something, isnt she?"
"Yes she is."
We sat silently waiting there in the dark for our lovers to hammer out some sort of understanding.
"So how do you feel about being a lesbian?" Noel asked me as we loaded up the truck on Monday. That was his first question after I told him I was in love with his sister.
"So far Im pretty bloody pleased with it, actually," I said. "Im not stupid. I know it wont all be beer and skittles. But you know what Ive realised? Im still me, you know? I havent changed, I just got lucky."
"That sister of mine better treat you right."
I smiled. "Youre supposed to be on her side."
"I look at it this way, Blue. She always has been and always will be my sister. She and I were born to look after each other. You I had to find amongst all the dickheads and arseholes out in the world." He squinted up at the early morning sky. "Another hot one, I reckon."
"Looks like it," I agreed tossing him the keys.
Song Titles Used:
Blue Christmas LIST #2
Silent Night LIST #20
Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire LIST #3
The First Noel LIST #6
Deck the Halls LIST #4
Home for the Holidays LIST #8
Do You Hear What I Hear? LIST #5
Pretty Paper LIST #16
Winter Wonderland LIST #25
Let It Snow LIST #13
All I Want For Christmas Is You LIST #1