Startled, Sophia jumped in the spinny office chair in her dad's den when she heard his unexpected voice behind her.
"Sophia," he said gently from the doorway, but expressing his surprise. "I thought you'd gone to Britt's house for the night."
That's what she'd told her dad, John, about four hours ago, after school. It had been her intention. But as she was riding her bike over there on the sunny Spring afternoon, she had gotten a text from Britt saying that the sleepover had to be cancelled, because of some stupid thing with her parents.
So, Sophia had texted her friend back, and, having been told by her dad that he was going to be running some errands, the skinny, black-haired 7th grader had decided to go to the little shopping center on the corner of Rogers Road, as a detour on the way back home. Of course, going to the downscale strip mall alone, she was quickly bored to tears. The selection at the dollar store still featured only cheap-ass crap (go figure), and the novelty and paper products store lacked novelty, featuring mostly just utterly stationary stationery. After about an hour, she had returned home. She neglected to inform her dad with a message of the change of plans - she figured that he'd find out soon enough. Anyway, she liked the idea of having the house to herself for a bit.
She had felt certain he'd be gone at least two hours, because he'd said he was going to the Home Depot store, which was a bit of a drive away. So she did something she'd done several times, recently when she found herself bored at home with the house to herself. She snooped. She wasn't really suspicious of anything. She was just curious. She had this idea that there must be some interesting secret in her dad's house, where she spent weekends and summers under a joint custody arrangement between her divorced parents. Her interest had been piqued after her other main friend, Stacey, had revealed how she'd found a stash of dirty magazines and sex toys in her parents' closet.
Unfortunately, her recent efforts and searchings had revealed nothing more interesting than the old tattered copy of "Joy of Sex" that looked to be about the same age of her dad. She'd found it before, and it wasn't really revelatory of anything more than her dad's fairly liberal attitudes, which was a well-known quantity. It didn't seem incriminating in any way, although there was no denying she'd perused it cover to cover the first time she'd run across it, last summer. There was no denying, either, that it had been quite informative - but it was a bit clinical, and she didn't like the dated, "hippie" feel of the illustrations, with their all-too-earnest and excessively hairy people. The internet was more interesting, when it came to that kind of thing. She was always grateful that her dad was sufficiently permissive and her mom sufficiently clueless that they had never restricted her internet access, except to the extent of sometimes limiting her time on devices in general.
Anyway, yesterday, at school, she'd had a bit of a brainstorm, after hearing some boys talking about some disgusting video they found online. Maybe she could find something on her dad's computer.
So, when she'd gotten home, she'd gone straight to her dad's home office and booted up his computer. He would sometimes let her use it, but since she had her own laptop she rarely had been interested in it before. When she thought of her dad using his computer, she tended to visualize him poking at some Excel spreadsheet. Still, she wasn't ignorant, despite lacking experience, obviously - she was just 12, after all, although her recent growth spurt had left her with a confident feeling she could pass for 14 if she wanted to, and recently a popular 8th grade boy at her school had said something in passing to her that managed to be both vaguely crude and mildly flattering. Not that she was interested - she didn't like those kinds of guys.
She'd seen a few things online, no doubt about at that. That wasn't what she was looking for. She wanted something that felt more like a discovered secret. She couldn't even have told you why, if you'd asked.
Once she set her mind to it, it didn't take long at all. Basically, she hit a jackpot. She found a folder with a bunch of pictures.
They seemed pretty mild, for the most part, as they weren't even X-rated - well, except for a limited few of them. Almost all of them were what you might call PG, or at most, a few you could call R-rated. The thing that Sophia immediately noticed about them, though, was that they were almost all pictures of girls, meaning, as compared to being of women. Essentially, about 90% of the pictures were teenagers, and even a smattering of "tweens" like herself. Most were pretty obviously in middle school or high school.
A lot of them were of girls wearing bikinis, or like selfies of girls posing in their mirrors in underwear or lingerie. They were definitely "real" pictures in the sense that they were clearly not models and if they were posed, they were the sort of poses that would just happen messing around with a camera rather than like in a photo shoot.
Many of the photos had watermarks of various websites. On an impulse, she typed the name of one of the most common watermarks into the browser, and saw it autocomplete - showing that it was a site John visited frequently. "Showcaseofgirls" was its name. It was just a site of pictures like the ones she's seen downloaded into the folder on his computer. Thousands of them. It wasn't clear who was putting them on the website - just various "members," putting up pictures they "found," it seemed.
She was a little bit puzzled by it all, but she also felt a kind of thrill - it was exactly the kind of "secret" she'd imagined finding. As has been said, Sophia wasn't particularly naive - her liberal parents and full internet access had long disabused her of the illusions of childhood, but all of her knowledge was still what you might call "theoretical" - she didn't have any experience, and she didn't really have a clear idea of what she wanted or was interested in, when it came to sexual things.
Sophia wondered, briefly, if her dad was a "pervert" or a "pedo," ideas which she understood mostly abstractly. But she loved her dad, and furthermore, believed him to be a decent-hearted and kind person through and through. It just didn't compute. There must be a legitimate reason for this "hobby" of his, of collecting pictures of young girls in stages of undress. Either there was a reason, or ... instead, maybe the concept of "pedo" was illegitimate, to begin with? This latter thought resonated with her inherited iconoclasm.
She'd had some crushes on various boys, but never had had a boyfriend or girlfriend or any sexual experience with anyone. She'd recently gotten her period, and she'd been masturbating for about 2 years, with a significant increase in frequency over the last six months or so. Her breasts were well underway, although only an A-cup so far, and she'd shot up to become rather tall for her age (5'-8") but was still gawky-skinny, with no hips to speak of, really, and a "boy butt" she sometimes felt self-conscious about. She had a little swatch of dark pubic hair on her mons, of which she felt weirdly possessive and proud - she had heard of girls shaving it but had rejected the idea, both because she didn't want to risk cutting herself there, and because she rather liked the contrast with her somewhat pale skin. It made her feel like a grown-up when she looked at herself naked in the full-length mirror in her room - a fairly frequent activity.
Sophia had an imaginary boyfriend she'd rather self-ironically named Dick. He was who she fantasized about when she masturbated. He was very kind and romantic and he had a buff body and wasn't an asshole like most of the actual guys she knew in school. Since her parents were divorced, she'd wondered once whether her dad had an imaginary girlfriend. She kind of had taken for granted that everyone who wasn't in a relationship must think that way. But seeing these pictures, it dawned on her that these pictures might be her dad's imaginary girl friends. "Haha ... Dad's got a whole folder of Janes," she joked, to herself, playing off the concept of "Dick and Jane."
She felt strange, as she slowly clicked through the pictures, trying to imagine how her dad saw them. She couldn't really wrap her mind around it. She had some notion that she should be thinking "eww, gross," and be feeling disgust. But she didn't, and she felt like there was nothing wrong that she didn't, but she did wonder if she was normal. She had been raised to have a lot of self-confidence, and one aspect of that was that when other kids called her "weird" she tended to take it as a compliment. Likewise, in this moment, her reaction to her own lack of disgust in her discovery was a kind of pride, actually. It was like it was simply more confirmation of her weirdness, which could only be a good thing.
Mostly, what she felt was a kind of curiosity, combined with an emerging awareness that her dad had a sexuality that she hadn't ever thought about before. She even found herself wondering if he masturbated when looking at his "Janes." Thinking about that, again, she felt like there was something odd in herself that she didn't find that gross to think about. Kids were supposed to hold that their parents' sex lives were disgusting and "TMI" - she'd become aware of this standard through immersion in popular culture. That she didn't feel it only meant she was special.
It was all just interesting.
What Sophia definitely had not intended, however, was to get caught snooping on her dad's computer. Although it was interesting, it was not something she could imagine really having a conversation with him about. She'd looked at the clock repeatedly, confident that she knew her dad's schedule and would off the computer and lounging on the couch playing on the xbox or watching TV long before he got home.
So yes, she was startled. She spun around on the chair. "Uh. Hi dad," she said, and went on, fast, "Britt cancelled. Her mom and dad apparently needed to have a big fight." Even in her discomfiture, her sarcasm kicked in.
"Can I ask," John said, fairly mildly, with his calm voice, "What you are doing?" There was no strict rule against using his computer. But it simply wasn't something she would normally do, and the precedent was that she would ask his permission on the rare moments when she had used it in the past.
Sophia evaluated her situation. The pictures were open on the screen. The website was open. He had likely been standing there for at least a few seconds before saying something, so she wouldn't even try to lie. She had to solve this some other way. A possible way to weasel out of this awkwardness took shape in her mind, even as she talked.
"So yea, I'm uh ... sorry I was like snooping on your computer. I ... I wanted to look at the bigger screen, 'cause I was looking for some pictures." Did that sound plausible? Was it a lie? Borderline. She continued. "But yes I confess I was looking in folders. I found these ... uh, pictures," she paused, gesturing back behind her at the screen, where some girl in panties was snapping a selfie a mirror while making a hand-bra with her arm. She could easily have been Sophia's classmate, to appearances. "Actually, they're pretty cool pictures."
Even as she said this, she knew she had found her solution. She would make it a positive thing. But ... she didn't want to make it sound like she was some kind of lez, looking at the girls. She had to explain their "coolness" from a different perspective. Then it hit her, as she saw her dad's raised eyebrows at her assertion.
"I mean ... of course everyone takes pictures like that. Like playing around or whatever. I mean, I have too." Indeed, this was true. She'd hammed for her mirror snapping selfies more than once. She just had always immediately deleted the pictures. She was even really smart about it, using a little digital camera rather than her phone, so that the pictures wouldn't get stored in the cloud somewhere by accident. Every kid got told horror stories about such things, these days.
She paused, and in rush recounted these thoughts to her dad. She knew as long as she kept talking, and making sense, he'd let her give her explanation before making any kind of decision or even getting mad. He really was a pretty cool dad.
Then she continued, "So, when I saw these pictures, I was like, whew, I guess everyone does pictures like that. Like, I felt relieved. And ... well, you know, actually it's pretty cool how, like, girls can put their pictures online." This last seemed like a plausible misunderstanding, though looking at the site she had been been looking at, clearly it was men uploading the pictures, for the most part.
She tried to gauge how this whole thing was going over. Was he going to be mad about it? Was he going to think she had some problem that would mean his talking to her mom? That was what she most wanted to avoid. Although she got along with her mom, there was no denying that she was much more strict in most respects than her dad. She had to somehow "share" the secret with him, so that it would stay between the two of them.
She went on, letting her mouth run ahead of her mind, "So actually, I was thinking, um ... wondering, like, could I put some of my pictures on there? It's not like they're like dirty or something," she rationalized. "They're just like fun to see who gets the most thumbs up but where it's like no one really knows who you are since they're from all over."
She felt satisfaction, now - this last was clearly quite unexpected - as much to herself as to her dad. She could see him kind shrink back, slightly, as he understood this suggestion of hers. He had been placed off balance - just like in Taekwondo. She saw it was time to "move in for the kill," inventing on the spur of the moment the whole time. "And I was looking at all the pictures, and wondering what kind of poses I could do, or what would look best, and I realized, well, obviously, you have this collection, you're probably pretty expert. You could help. Like be my photographer and tell me what are the best poses, and we could make some photos and put them up there on that website."
This was clearly so far out of left field that John had now forgotten her initial transgression. This was the sort of thing that required a careful answer, with typical parental waffling and caveating. She grinned, and, kicking out her legs, she stood up and strode past her dad. She felt very clever.
Later, after having some time to do some thinking about it, Sophia did take a moment to tell her dad something to the effect of "by the way, I'm sorry I was snooping" - a risky move but one that revealed that she knew she hadn't escaped some kind of judgment. In fact, that was the only further mention of it by either of them, as far the rest of her visit that weekend.
But in her room, later that night, she had realized there would likely be consequences. John was not the sort to just forget something. He tended to follow up on things. That's why her normal strategy was to just keep under his radar. But it was too late for that, this time. So she started thinking about how this would play out.
One possibility is he would simply say "no" to the idea. She actually thought this had a good chance. But it seemed just as likely he would make some rules or restrictions and then say OK to it. How would it work, then?
As she pondered these various scenarios, she gravitated to her mirror, and, stripping to just her panties, soon found herself striking various poses in imitation of the photos she'd been looking at last when she'd been caught. Very much "candid" shots and selfies, in that they weren't like specifically sexy, but there was definitely an aspect of "showing off."
Then she tried to imagine her dad taking pictures of her, and putting them on that website. On the one hand, she realized that although there would be some awkwardness with her dad, she didn't find it unbearable. She completely trusted him - in fact, if she was told she HAD to do such a thing - meaning, have someone take pictures of her doing poses like that - she could think of almost no one besides her dad, and maybe Britt, who she would trust to do it.
It was her reaction in contemplating second step that she surprised herself, however. She found she liked the idea of her pictures going on the website. This struck her as odd - she wasn't exactly a slutty girl, in how she dressed or behaved. It wasn't her style, and she wasn't really that outgoing in some ways, despite her general confidence. But she enjoyed imagining the pictures on the website, and various people (well, probably, various men, mostly) looking at them. Looking at them and saving them to their secret folders on their computers, as her dad did. Looking at them and maybe even masturbating, as it had occurred to her that her did might do, too.
She felt a strange feeling, then. It felt very ... intense. A kind of excitement. And she realized that what had been simply something she "made up" in the moment, to put her dad on the defensive when she'd been caught on his computer, was in fact something she wanted to do.
Although it took her a few more days to figure out, she also came to realize that part of her viewed her dad's interest in all those pictures of girls as a kind of competition. More so than she would have felt if it had been pictures of older women. Somehow their being her age felt like they were competing with her, directly, for John's attention. In the light of this insight, she felt she had rather accidentally stumbled on a great way to pull his attention back to herself.
So, the issue sort of simmered for the week while she was at her mom's, across town, without discussion with John. When Sophia came back to his house the following weekend, however, it was at dinner on Friday night, shortly after she'd gotten there, when he raised the subject. In fact, she could tell he was feeling a bit nervous about it.
"You know," he said, "I was so surprised last Friday, I didn't really know what to say."
"I know," Sophia responded, laconically but a bit jokingly. More seriously, she said, "Anyway, sorry to freak you."
"I'm not sure I 'freaked, '" he clarified. "I just didn't know what to say. It was ... unexpected." He grinned, to show he wasn't mad. Sophia felt a knot relax in her stomach, in that moment, because that was the moment when she was certain there would likely be no consequence for her original snooping.
She had spent the week playing with the scenarios in her mind, of course. Most notably, she had rather surprised herself when, one night when she was doing a sexy pose for herself in her mirror, in that moment when she would normally imagine that it was Dick the imaginary boyfriend watching her, she found that rather than Dick, she was imagining dad, and a camera, and pictures of it all put online for anonymous men. It was definitely a moment when she felt she was "weird," but, as usual, she unconventionally viewed this as a positive development. "God I'm weird," she moaned to herself, and opened her legs even wider for the mirror, pulling the floral print of her panties taut on her shape, just like in some of the pictures.
Now at the dinner table with her dad, she made the decision. She could see him wavering over whether to just drop the whole thing, but she had become too curious, now, about exploring her feelings around this idea. "Well I'm glad you didn't freak, then," she said. "So, uh ... will you help me with it?"
"Well, I'm not sure it's a good idea," he said, "I feel like I have to protect you. I think parents are supposed to discourage their kids from putting their pictures online, rather than HELP them do it." He laughed, wryly.
Sophia hadn't expected this line of argument from him, but the argument against it was obvious. "But dad," she immediately protested, "then you're a hypocrite, since you're, like, looking at those pictures, right?"
John was surprisingly honest, in that moment. More than she'd expected. "Of course. And ... you're exactly right, Sophia. I realized that. So I mean ... obviously I want to protect you, and obviously part of me thinks it's a bad idea, but because of what you said, I really feel like I have to support you. I have always said, the way to get kids to act more grown up is to treat them as grown-ups."
Sophia clapped her hands briefly in excitement, as she tended to do when winning an argument.
John held up a finger, showing he had a bit more to say. "So I will make you a deal," he offered.
"Well, first of all, I want you to think carefully about the possible bad aspects of putting your pictures out there. Just as we've discussed before, and I know they've discussed it in your school, too. But if, after thinking about it, you still want to, I will help you. I want to suggest some steps, to allow you a chance for second thoughts. If you still want to, next weekend, we can take some photos. But we won't upload any until at least another week later."
His silence showed he was done. Sophia was so pleased with her victory, she was unconcerned about the details. She agreed readily.
So it was that they planned a "photography session" for the following weekend.
Far from getting second thoughts, Sophia found herself getting more and more excited. On Sunday of that weekend, she was in her sleepshirt when she came out from her room, and her dad was in the kitchen. Impulsively, she pulled up her shirt showing her panties. "I'm thinking about what kinds of things to wear and what poses," she said by way of explanation. "I think these might be a good pair of panties to use." They were an older pair of pink, low rise, brief panties, and thus, they were tight on her recently somewhat grown frame. There was a Hello Kitty logo on them, which was a girlish touch that she felt was exactly the "style" of the most popular pictures on that website.
John chuckled after getting over his initial surprise. "Uh, sure," he finally said, non-committally.
Sophia spun around, holding her shirt up. She had a sudden inspiration. "If there was a pic of me in them would you download it?" She thought that this could be a useful standard for judging whether a pose or clothing item was a good one or not.
John made a bit of a mime performance of considering it. Finally, he said, simply, "Definitely."
"Cool!" Sophia grinned broadly and, letting her sleep shirt slip back down, skipped out of the room.
During the week, she went on the website and spent some time studying the pictures, and figuring out what the ones that had the highest votes had in common. Panties or bikini bottoms definitely had to be tight. The best ones kind of showed the shape of the girls underneath, what the commenters tagged "cameltoe." She tried to remember the ones her dad had in his download folder, and what features they had, too. She couldn't really detect a pattern, exactly. She figured she'd study them more when she got over there. Then she had an idea. She texted her dad.
"Hey dad wud u do me a favor? Like maybe look thru all those pics u have and choose 12 where u think u want me to do the poses or the style of clothing they have?"
She didn't actually text her dad that often. The answer didn't take long. "Um ok sure :/".
Unsure of his feeling, she pestered him again. "What do u mean by :/?"
"I <3 u" he sent back. That was enough. She was so excited.
To be clear, part of it was sexual - there was no doubt about that, even in her own naive mind. But she wasn't seeing it as sexual excitement related directly to her dad. She was excited by the idea of the anonymous audience online, and she viewed her dad's involvement as being a kind of thing where he would help her by mediating that process, and make it less risky-feeling. Which thus satisfied two different needs - the desire for something "exciting" sexually, and the desire for (non-sexual) attention from her dad. It was complicated - even she would have admitted it.
When Friday rolled around, she raced over to her dad's house. She had packed a fat gym bag with close to every panty, bra, shirt, shorts, skirt and swimsuit she owned. Her bike fell over one time, from the awkward load.