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Sutherland

By Karen Trailor Thomas


Published by JMS Books LLC at Smashwords

Visit jms-books.com for more information.


Copyright 2018 Karen Trailor Thomas

ISBN 9781634865180

* * * *

Cover Design: Written Ink Designs | written-ink.com

Image(s) used under a Standard Royalty-Free License.

All rights reserved.


WARNING: This book is not transferable. It is for your own personal use. If it is sold, shared, or given away, it is an infringement of the copyright of this work and violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

No portion of this book may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the publisher, with the exception of brief excerpts used for the purposes of review.

This book is for ADULT AUDIENCES ONLY. It may contain sexually explicit scenes and graphic language which might be considered offensive by some readers. Please store your files where they cannot be accessed by minors.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published in the United States of America.

* * * *

Sutherland

By Karen Trailor Thomas

Chapter 1

“You’ve keyed it in wrong,” Gerald Preece said. “There’s no O in Sutherland.”

“Yes, there is.” Jane Preece watched her husband stare at his computer screen. “They were very specific,” she continued. “S-O-U-T-H-E-R-L-A-N-D, from Seattle and San Francisco, a suite and two doubles.”

Gerald looked at her over the rim of his half glasses.

“Honest,” his wife said.

“But that makes it south. You can’t say Sutherland if you spell it Southerland.”

“It’s their name,” Jane countered. “They can do whatever they want.”

Gerald’s little finger retreated from his delete key, but the former partner of Kreps, Helwig, Bibby, and Preece remained unsettled with this particular bit of disorder.

“Leave it alone,” Jane said from across the lobby.

“Is Jennalee practicing?” Gerald asked, paging down through a host of Sutherlands who managed the correct spelling.

“Why can’t you call her Lee like she wants?”

“Why can’t she practice for me?”

Jane shook her head and pinched a withered bloom off an aging summer bouquet. “Piano should be good for the pianist,” she said. “All you’re doing is pushing her away.”

“And if I stop pushing, she’ll do nothing at all.”

“How do you know that? You never give her a chance.”

Gerald reached the end of the reservations list and began to page up. “Who’s this Laidlaw?” he asked, but Jane had already left the room. “I thought they were all Sutherlands,” he mumbled. “Garden Grove. Where in hell is Garden Grove?”

When he keyed over to his bookings page and saw every room—one through fifty-five—reserved for the July Fourth weekend, he relaxed as much as was possible for a man of forty-eight who’d endured a quadruple bypass the year before and subsequently given up his law practice in San Francisco on orders of a doctor who remained in the city attending the symphony Gerald did not. “Find something less stressful,” Ben Mertens had counseled, and so Gerald and Jane Preece sold their Pacific Heights house and purchased the Malvern Gardens Inn, which rested quietly among California’s golden hills some hundred miles east. Malvern was a gold rush remnant trading on a colorful past that brought a good tourist trade much of the year.

“I wish they’d given us more information,” Gerald said as Jane sailed back through the lobby.

“Fifty-five rooms, four nights,” Jane replied. “What else do you need?”

“The reunion aspect, I mean. They’ve booked the Oak Room both Friday and Saturday nights plus Sunday morning, and I know they’ve hired Benita Witherspoon to cater, but she hasn’t called. I just think we ought to be more involved, or at least in the know.”

“They appear to know what they’re doing. Mrs. Burkett said this has been going on for twenty-two years.” Jane had returned to peer over the desk.

“They’ll expect us to do things,” Gerald insisted. “I know they will. And they’ll be expecting Ralph and Dorothy Burkett and find us instead.”

“It’s their reunion, Gerald, and they already know the Burketts are gone. Everyone who called or emailed asked for Dorothy or Ralph and I introduced us each time so they know, Gerald, they know. It’s not like we’ve committed a crime. We bought the place, we didn’t steal it.”

“If it’s a sit-down dinner, they’ll need tables and chairs. I should have been told which night Benita’s been booked for. Fifty-five rooms, how many people? Let’s see.”

Jane came around behind her husband and absently rubbed his shoulders. When she found him tense, she whispered, “Relax,” and began kneading as he keyed into his totals page. He was adept at Hotel-Motel, the software package he’d downloaded soon after buying the desktop computer. Ralph and Dorothy Burkett had done it all by hand, which Gerald found incomprehensible. “You can’t run a business without a computer,” he had insisted, and while Jane agreed, she sometimes thought it more maintaining a link to his old life in San Francisco than developing a tool for the new one.

“One hundred forty-three,” Gerald announced as he hit a print command and the laser printer behind him began to whir. “Do we have that many chairs?”

“Don’t you have that in your inventory program?” Jane rubbed his shoulders until he began to squirm.

“Don’t do that,” he said, shrugging her off. “And yes, I have it in my inventory, but I keyed it off Ralph’s list. We’ve never verified the number. We need to do that.”

“Lee and I will count the chairs and tables.”

“If she’s not practicing, where is she?” When Jane didn’t respond, Gerald glared at her. “You don’t know, do you?”

* * * *

Jennalee Preece would have enjoyed the moment had she not been otherwise occupied. Since the move, she had abandoned piano in favor of tormenting her father, whom she intended to make miserable for uprooting her from her senior year at Lowell High School, where she had enjoyed a multi-ethnic group of friends, intermittent study, and piano lessons with Mr. Mendel. That she had enjoyed a brief sexual relationship with eighteen-year-old Howard Li only heightened the anguish of departure, and she compensated by taking up with the Malvern boys, one of whom at this moment had his erect penis in her hand.

They were in his battered Dodge pickup, which sat atop oversized tires at the back of the Dunkin Donuts parking lot. His name was Jimmy and his main attribute was being nineteen. Jennalee also thought he resembled Bradley Cooper, which enhanced the pleasure she took in bringing him along. She liked to watch boys at this most vulnerable time, lost to primal urges, and she stroked until he bit his lip and spurted onto his belly.

“Why won’t you let me fuck you?” he asked as he mopped up with a paper napkin.

Jennalee sipped a Coke and watched his deflating penis. When Jimmy began to tuck himself back into his jeans, she stopped him. “Leave it out.”

“Why?”

“‘Cause I’m not done. Let’s go.”

Jimmy hesitated before turning the key, craning to see who might notice him in such display.

“It’s not like anybody can see,” Jennalee said. “I mean, they’d have to stand on their roof.”

Jimmy started the truck and Jennalee directed him out of town onto Highway 16, which led to the Inn and set Jimmy fidgeting. He appeared greatly relieved when Jennalee diverted him onto Briggs Road, which climbed a long hill and outran its paving on a bluff overlooking the Preece’s resort.

“Ever been up here?” Jennalee asked and Jimmy shook his head. “God, where do you go?”

“What do you mean?”

“To do it. Where do you go to do it?”

“Are we going to do it?”

“Maybe. Pull in over there.”

Jimmy did as instructed and parked near a sprawling oak. “I’ve got a blanket in back,” he said.

Jennalee laughed. “Forget it.” She was out of the truck and Jimmy, whose erection had risen anew on the drive, now suffered his first moments of constraint, searching for some sort of cover. Then Jennalee was at the bluff’s edge and had her T-shirt off, fingering the nipples of her small breasts, the sight of which erased any caution on Jimmy’s part. He sprang from the truck, member in the lead, and barreled to her, dropping down to suck her offering.

Jennalee kept her eyes on the Malvern Gardens Inn as the boy fed, considering her father and the awful banishment, considering also whether to let Jimmy in for the ultimate. She pictured him going at her from behind like some mutt because she knew he’d do it however she wanted and that would be what she wanted, but she decided against it, pulled him to his feet, kneeled, and took him into her mouth where he came almost instantly. As she swallowed his hot salty ejaculate, Howard Li came to mind, but she worked the recollection aside, visualizing instead her father’s surprise should he discover her at this particular activity.

It always amazed her that no Malvern boy ever asked after her needs, Jimmy no exception as he zipped up and smiled. Howard had been attentive that way, exploring with her, sharing a mutual pleasure that nearly managed a simultaneous climax before Gerald Preece learned of the relationship, which sealed his decision to leave San Francisco. In Malvern, Jennalee had found boys just as willing—maybe more so, they had a country desperation—but nearly oblivious to anything beyond their own rapid satisfaction. While she enjoyed taking them in a variety of ways, enjoyed them more than anticipated, she never once was asked, “What about you?” It was this that gave her the control she’d come to crave, and she likened herself to a queen of sorts with little erect pets to fondle, discovering an unlimited supply as she quickly gained a reputation at school as the San Francisco Slut.

As she slipped on her T-shirt, Jimmy leaned in to kiss her. “You’re so good,” he said.

“Let’s go.”

“Can I see you again?” he asked later, when he dropped her at the roadside near the Inn’s driveway.

“Sure,” she said. “Call me.”

She wandered up the long drive, annoyed with her morning. It was already hot—cool breezes never got this far inland—and the elastic of her panties had begun to pinch. She stopped and, without looking around, reached up under her tiny skirt and pulled them off. A warm wave swept against her genitals. It was better than braless and she’d been doing that for ages. She decided the issue then and there—no more panties,—and left the pink bikini pair on a tree branch as her personal greeting for the horde due that afternoon.

“Where were you?” Gerald demanded as she sauntered to the lobby desk. He was still at his computer, calculating the projected long weekend take. “You need to help your mother with the chairs.”

Jennalee said nothing. She lifted one boot onto a small table and suddenly wished she’d let in Jimmy what’s-his-name. She arched back with the idea as her father once again issued a print command. “So when are all these people getting here?” she asked. When her father didn’t respond, she prompted, “Dad!”

“Hm? What?” He was caught up in a sizeable figure that seemed even more substantial in hard copy.

“The people, this reunion. When? Are there any young guys?”

Gerald removed his glasses. “You are not to bother the guests, you know that.”

“What if they bother me?”

“Nobody will bother you if you keep to yourself.”

“Fun.”

“Go find your mother, help her count the chairs. One hundred forty-three, that’s how many we need. And tables, too.”

“One forty-three,” Jennalee muttered as she headed for the door. “Should be a few hunks in there somewhere.”

“Go help your mother,” Gerald said. “And practice.”

Jane Preece was already in the Oak Room storage closet counting stacks of folded chairs. “Where are all these people coming from?” Jennalee asked after she gave the official count to her mother. Jane Preece was a youthful forty-one and Jennalee wondered if she’d ever gone without panties, then dismissed the notion. She’d married Gerald Preece, after all.

“All over,” Jane told her daughter. “Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, just all over.”

Some of the chairs were on an old cart, and Jennalee helped Jane push it out into the room to get to the stacks behind it. “We’ve got enough,” Jane finally declared. “It’s tables that concern me. Let’s see, one forty-three.”

Jennalee wandered out into the Oak Room to stand at floor-to-ceiling windows that filled an entire wall of the sizeable banquet room. She always imagined this a movie screen, herself an actress, the audience scattered over the golden hills beyond. Inspired by her bare-bottomed freedom, she decided today it was a porn flick and she raised the hem of her skirt and thrust her head back to imaginary howls until her mother called and she shrugged, covered herself, and went to her parent.

“It wouldn’t hurt you to play, you know,” Jane said as they pushed the cart back into place. “It means so much to your father.”

“Then why doesn’t he play?”

“We’re not getting into that again and, to be honest, I don’t understand it, either. You used to love playing. You used to skip meals to practice. What happened?”

“This happened.”

“Malvern? Are you going to blame everything in your life on the move?”

Jennalee’s lips were set. It was harder to do this to her mother. She nodded.

“But don’t you see you’re just hurting yourself? All that work. If you don’t keep up, your skills will erode. That’s what Mr. Mendel says.”

“You talked to Mr. Mendel?”

Jane hesitated. “Well, yes. When you stopped playing, I grew concerned.”

“How could you! Oh, Mother, that is such an invasion. He’s my teacher. It’s not like he’s a pediatrician or something.” She whirled away so quickly, she felt heat against her bare buttocks. “I can’t believe this!”

“I’m sorry, but what did you expect me to do?” Jane called, but Jennalee was already outside. She reached the main building just as a silver Lexus full of people pulled up, followed by a tiny blue Kia, and she retreated to stand in shadow while the first of the Sutherlands spilled out onto the courtyard drive.

* * * *

Chapter 2

The biggest guy got out of the smallest car. He wasn’t all that tall but had a large, squishy midsection and thick neck, and the combination gave him a lumbering, animal look. Bear maybe, Jennalee thought, or polar bear, his skin was so white. He looked maybe thirty-five, the girl with him twenty and pregnant, her middle nearly as big as his. He pulled bags from the Kia and the girl kissed his cheek. Jennalee wondered how on earth the poor thing had chosen so badly.

Wesley, the handyman/bellhop the Preeces inherited from the Burketts, appeared to attend to the Lexus, dragging along a cart he soon piled with luggage. He spied Jennalee and grinned. In the six months they’d had the place, this gaunt, timeless creature hadn’t spoken a word to her.

The Lexus people were smartly dressed, middle-aged parents with four children: mother in white, blond, slim; father graying and trim in royal blue and tan. The kids, all boys and none Jennalee’s age, appeared starched. She turned her attention to the squishy guy and his wife who waited until the Lexus family had gone inside, then began pulling their wheeled bags up the walk. He had a nice enough face, Jennalee decided, but his rounded shoulders and heavy gait defeated everything.

When the courtyard was empty, Jennalee sat by the fountain at its center, a Spanish-style circular oasis with a low brick edge. She was glad Wesley had finally gotten it working. Tracing her fingers along the brick, she imagined a chord beneath them and recalled her final hour with Mr. Mendel, the Kruetzer filling his small studio, her piano, his violin, and she dropped her hand into the water as another car pulled in. It appeared to be the same family as before.

Jennalee managed in the next few hours to view a string of Sutherlands who looked decidedly unpromising, all with male children, preppy and scrubbed. One boy had noticed her as he stumbled from the car, but he appeared no more than fifteen. Still, Jennalee was drawn and uncrossed her legs when he dropped to tie a shoe which remained untied as he looked up her skirt and stumbled again. “For God’s sake, Kendall,” the father yelled, “tie your shoe!”

“Jennalee!” She let her father call several times before she went inside, where he asked her to show a Sutherland family to rooms fifty and fifty-one. “At the foot of the hill,” he told the man. “Very nice, very quiet.”

“And you’ve put the extra bed into the double.”

Gerald checked his register. “Ah, I don’t see that on the reservation.”

“Well, you do see three boys here, don’t you?” bellowed the man. “We’re not having them sleep together. My wife specified an extra bed in the double room.”

Phyllis Sutherland stood with her young sons, the smallest holding her hand while his free hand clutched his crotch. “Stop that,” Phyllis said, jerking the boy’s arm. He seemed puzzled until she added, “Stop holding yourself.”

The father—Noel Sutherland, he had announced as he initially strode to the desk—observed this apparently familiar ritual without comment. “You did ask for the bed,” he told his wife, who nodded. The older boys, who Jennalee guessed ten or eleven, remained at attention, avoiding their father’s broad gaze.

“There, you see,” Noel Sutherland said to Gerald.

“Jennalee, tell Wesley to put a rollaway bed in number fifty-one right away.”

“Fine,” Jennalee said.

He’ll probably pee his pants if I talk to him, she was about to add when Noel Sutherland’s right arm swept a wide arc and caught the smallest boy with a strong backhand. “She said to stop it!” he roared and Jennalee waited for the cry, surprised when the boy did no more than suck in a breath as a red welt rose on his cheek. “Lead the way,” Noel said and Jennalee started out, Sutherlands behind her like a string of ducklings.

Fifty and fifty-one were the first two rooms in Building Eight at the far edge of the compound. Malvern Gardens had eleven tile-roofed buildings on its eight acres: seven two-levels, two single-story, the main building, and what they called The Hall which contained the Oak Room, ballroom-sized, and the smaller Pine and Spruce Rooms. The main building, an imposing two-story with a cathedral-ceiling lobby, housed two suites and four rooms plus the office, supply room, kitchen, and the Preece’s living quarters. Jennalee hated that, too. She’d whined about it on first sight, asking to have a room at the furthest edge of the place, something Gerald Preece managed only to sputter about. Jane Preece had quietly told her daughter no and they’d taken up as planned in the apartment-sized quarters formerly occupied by Ralph and Dorothy Burkett. Jane worked a gradual redecoration while tending many other tasks, replacing ancient overstuffed furniture with pieces from the Pacific Heights house. Some of these, she had subsequently decided, looked out of place but they seemed to reassure Gerald, so she overlooked the culture clash that slapped her each time she made the transition from the Spanish-style lobby to the contemporary living area.

“Here you go,” Jennalee said, handing Noel Sutherland the key cards. She’d done no more than open the door and stand back.

“What time is the continental breakfast?” he asked as his family hurried inside.

Jennalee had no idea. “Seven,” she said.

“Until when?”

“Ten.”

He looked down at her tiny skirt before disappearing inside.

Back in the lobby Jennalee found clusters of Sutherlands hugging and squealing. She tried to sidestep them, planning to get her sunglasses from her room and hike up to the bluff, but her father spied her. “Jennalee, good. Show Mr. and Mrs. Sutherland to sixteen.”

“I have to get my sunglasses.”

“That can wait.” He handed her the key card.

She forced a long sigh. “The sun is blinding!” she wailed as she spun and walked away, key card in hand. Everett and Aldora Sutherland hurried to catch up. Across the compound she waited for them at the unlocked door. “Here you go,” she said, pushing the key into the elderly gentlemen’s hand.

“Thank you, young lady,” he said and she caught a wave of aged breath.

“No problem.” She squinted as she walked away. She was devising a plan to get her sunglasses without being seen when she heard the distinctive roar of motorcycles and ran toward the courtyard, hoping some biker gang was crashing this potentially mind-numbing weekend.

She didn’t remain in shadow now, but leaned against a supporting column on the wide porch. It was shady here, almost cool, and she forgot the heat as she heard the bikes closing, two at least, maybe three or four. “Dad is going to shit,” she said aloud as they came into view.

Harleys, she noted, full dresser in the lead pulling a small trailer, Sportster half a length behind, sleek and black, but still big and powerful. Then something else, she couldn’t make out what kind, with two riders, one in leather, one decidedly not, everyone helmeted in accordance with California law.

Sutherlands were drifting out the door, but most hurried back inside when they saw the small procession. Only a few children remained, plus the squishy guy, now minus his wife. He stepped forward and began to laugh. “Earl!” he called, shaking the Harley rider’s hand before the man got his helmet off. “How the hell are you?”

The rider, dressed in a battered Levi jacket and black jeans, remained concealed behind his black Darth Vader-like full-face helmet. He shut off his engine, rested the motorcycle on a side stand, and only then unstrapped the cover to reveal himself middle-aged and weathered, dark hair, dark mustache. Sinister, Jennalee thought, the gang leader. She moved on to the Sportster, as did the squishy guy, who lit up at sight of a woman emerging from the helmet, oval-faced with a mass of dark curls that spilled around her jacket collar. “Aunt Liz!” he gushed and Jennalee smiled. They’re part of it. Dad is going to major shit.

The woman, taller than her husband by a good two inches, also wore black jeans, but she topped them with a worn leather jacket split at the left shoulder. Behind her the other two riders had emerged, one in Levis and leather, the other in shiny blue slacks—they reminded Jennalee of Grandpa Preece’s gabardine—and a pinstriped black on white vest unbuttoned over an outlandish orange print shirt. They appeared in their early twenties, Levis and leather strikingly handsome in an Elvis way, the garish clown with him an obvious punk devotee. While the first one wore his hair slick and sideburned in a retro-fifties style, the second subscribed to the chaos Jennalee knew from school—Lowell, not Malvern—gelled high and wild on top, nearly shaved on the sides. The stubble that remained ran down onto his face and across his chin. He completed the look with an earring in his left ear.

The two worked at avoiding each other, Levis and leather moving up to the Harley once he’d parked his own machine, the punk shaking himself out and swinging a case from his back. Jennalee had seen such cases before—long, rectangular—but suspected this one didn’t contain what the others had. The punk handled it with care, however, and hung back near the motorcycle.

The squishy guy had shared a long embrace with Aunt Liz before moving on to what must be his cousins, and Jennalee heard him call out, “Garth,” followed by a “Hey, man,” and handshake. Garth—Levis and leather now had a name—flashed half a smile and unzipped his jacket to reveal a solid build beneath classic white T-shirt. He caught Jennalee looking and reached into his pocket to extract her pink panties, which he brought to his lips while never taking his eyes off her. For the first time in maybe her whole life she had no idea what to do.

Garth stayed with her until his father, Earl, punched his arm and said something. Jennalee felt almost relieved when the incredible specimen turned away. He stuffed the panties into his back pocket where a portion remained visible on what Jennalee decided was an enticing butt.

The squishy guy had, during this interlude, moved onto the punk to pummel and laugh and ultimately embrace. “Park!” the punk shouted and the squishy guy—how appropriate the name, Jennalee thought, so large—returned the greeting with an equally loud, “Harley!”

Jennalee had been directing her attention to Garth’s intriguing backside—he had a way of standing that thrust one hip and her panties toward her—but hearing the name brought her away from her supporting column and she ventured a few steps closer as she considered this man and this woman, these parents, these motorcycle people, had actually named their child after one of the bikes. And actually the other guy looked more Harley, that heavy masculine sound like the bikes themselves, but he looked Garth too while the punk, oh, who knew how he looked. She couldn’t fit a name to him because he had this smile and she left him with cousin Park and chatter that rolled nonstop, as if they hadn’t spoken the entire year.

Aunt Liz stripped away her leather to set free a pair of substantial breasts straining the buttons of a sleeveless blue chambray shirt. “I’ll check us in,” she told Earl, and she gave Jennalee a warm hello as she passed. She’s gotta be five ten, the girl decided as she turned back to the others. Harley was about the same height as his mother, while Garth seemed to match his more diminutive father.

Several small children ventured near the motorcycles and were yanked back by anxious parents. Then Jane Preece was beside her daughter. “Lee,” she said, then again, then, “Jennalee,” which finally got an acknowledgement.

“Hm?”

“We need you inside.”

“Has Dad seen this? Does he know?”

“Go inside and help.” Jane glanced at the men and turned away, missing Harley entirely. He’d wandered off with his cousin Parker, who he had indeed not seen in a year and who, though living a life far opposite his own, nevertheless remained closer to him than any Sutherland and possibly any Laidlaw.

For these were the Laidlaws of Garden Grove, as Gerald Preece discovered when his gaze dropped from Lizann Laidlaw’s breasts to the registration card she had completed.

“These are ground floor rooms,” she said. “That’s what I asked for.”

“Uh, yes, I believe they are.” Gerald’s hand wandered across his keyboard as he bent to look and his page scrolled away. “Yes, yes, of course,” he managed, the Laidlaw reservation temporarily gone.

Jennalee, having been herded to the desk by her mother, now stepped forward and offered to show the family to their rooms. “Fifty-two and fifty-three. They’re way at the back,” she said, taking the key cards from her father.

“Fine,” said Lizann with a broad smile. When they reached the motorcycles, she offered Jennalee a ride. “Point the way,” she said, and Jennalee climbed on and felt the Sportster’s rumble come up between her legs.

Garth pulled alongside and grinned. “Harley went with Parker,” he announced.

Lizann said no matter. “He’ll find us. He always does.”

The Harley—the motorcycle, not the boy—had come to life and Earl Laidlaw followed Lizann and Garth along the path that wound through the entire resort, going around the main building, past the middle buildings and pool, to the two single-storied ones at the back. This placed the Laidlaw residence next to the Noel Sutherlands, and Jennalee saw drapes pull aside as the motorcycles came to a stop.

After handing over the key cards, Jennalee didn’t retreat from this family as she had the Sutherlands. She hung about watching Earl and Garth unload the small trailer, which seemed bottomless as they pulled out several small plaid suitcases, a cardboard box, a worn briefcase, and two full grocery bags. Lizann popped in and out, directing traffic, while Jennalee held assorted poses nearby. She lost all composure, however, and stood stunned when, once bags and boxes were inside, Earl and Garth Laidlaw pushed the motorcycles inside as well, the Harleys in with Mom and Dad, the other—Jennalee finally saw it was a Kawasaki—in with Garth, who she assumed would share space with Harley, the punk.

Once everything was inside, Lizann came to the door. “Thanks for your help,” she said to Jennalee. “I’m sure we’ll be seeing you later.”

She closed the door and Jennalee only then, as she felt heat drying her tongue, realized her mouth was agape. “Super major shit,” she said as she started back toward the main building.

Passing the pool area, she saw Sutherlands of all sizes already splashing, desperate, it seemed, for relief from the heat which, now past mid-day, was at its peak. The air had that oven-like quality Californians dote on with the eternal observation, “Well, at least it’s a dry heat.”

Jennalee lingered near a cluster of lawn chairs, watching boy after boy—the only females the adult women—and she wondered if the little girls had been hidden away or maybe drowned at birth. She saw Noel Sutherland’s three boys, their mother keeping close watch, father nowhere in sight; she saw Everett and Aldora dangling their feet and cringing each time the children splashed with any significance; and she saw Kendall, the stumbling shoe-tying lad who now spied her and stared openly until wrestled underwater by yet another Sutherland boy.

“Miss?” A trim pale man had crept up behind Jennalee. “Do you work here? I ask because I want to know about the pool toys. You know, inflatable things? Ralph and Dorothy always put out a few. My boy especially likes the dragon.”

“They’re all boys,” Jennalee said.

The man chuckled. “Yes. Really something, isn’t it? Oh, that’s right, you’re new. Well, it’s some kind of genetic trait that Sutherlands only produce male offspring, mutant gene I suppose, some XY thing gone haywire. Six generations and only the one girl.”

“There’s a girl?”

“Well, she’s not a girl anymore. Elizabeth Ann Sutherland, my aunt. Surely you’ve seen her. If not, I know you’ve heard her. The Laidlaws never slip into town quietly.”

“Aunt Liz?”

He laughed. “Right. Aunt Lizann. She didn’t turn out exactly as Grandfather planned, but she’s a neat lady. By the way, I’m Kyle Sutherland. My father Charles is Lizann’s older brother. I’m here with my two sons, Kipp and Eric, and their mother, of course, Melody.” He nodded toward a blond woman holding a baby and a leashed toddler.

“I don’t know about the toys,” Jennalee said. “I’ll have to ask my dad. Be right back.” She was nearly to the main building when she almost ran into Wesley rounding a corner. “Wesley, oh yeah, I was supposed to tell you something, but I forget.”

He blushed and looked at his feet.

“Nope, can’t remember, “Jennalee continued. “Oh well, just ask Dad, okay?”

Wesley nodded and hurried away, cowboy boots giving him a distinctive clomp.

“Hey, Dad, the bikers put their bikes into the rooms!” Jennalee shouted as she came into the lobby, but Gerald Preece had a counter full of people, some signing registration cards, some pushing credit cards toward him, others deep in conversation with Jane, who had a local map spread and was highlighting in fluorescent pink. Gerald looked over his glasses at Jennalee and shrugged and Jennalee shrugged back. “What a hoot!” she declared and flopped onto a sofa, one leg perched up over the arm. She was as oblivious to her display as she was the inflatable pool toys.

* * * *

Chapter 3

“How about a ride?”

Garth Laidlaw found Jennalee where she intended, on a chaise she’d dragged from poolside to an unoccupied square of lawn.

“My dad would shit,” she said, secure behind her sunglasses

Garth said, “Whatever,” and turned away.

“Wait,” she called, and he stopped but kept his back to her, which threw the whole encounter off balance. “Okay,” she said and followed him to the motorcycle. When he handed her the battered white, half-shell helmet his brother had worn, she groaned. “Do I have to?”

He nodded. “It’s the law.” As she strapped it over her shoulder-length dark hair, Garth dangled her panties before her. “Want these?”

“Not really.”

He grinned and stuffed them into his pocket. “Let’s go.”

Jennalee climbed on behind him and felt the engine rumble to life, that same steady purr coming up through her as it had with the Sportster his mother rode, but this time Garth Laidlaw ran a hand along her thigh before starting out. He rode easy along the winding path, Jennalee’s arms around his taut middle, and Sutherlands stared and Wesley raised a hand to shade his eyes at the sight. For it was a sight as far as Jennalee was concerned, sitting behind this total hunk on the coolest bike. It felt almost San Francisco or no, more L.A., loose, laid back, and bad. She saw the image as if through a camera lens until they left the grounds, Garth twisted the throttle, and they shot onto the two-lane road.

Jennalee didn’t know where they were going, but Garth seemed to. She contented herself with his presence—he had to be at least twenty-two—and the exhilaration of escaping the inn and her parents and their awful suffocation.

Sailing along, she had no concept of time other than not wanting the ride to end. They were far from Malvern, past Sutter Creek and Jackson, deep into gold country, when Garth abruptly turned onto a dirt road that cut between low hills and wound back into a grove of oak trees. When he stopped and shut off the engine, Jennalee waited, and when he went no further than removing his helmet, she slid off the motorcycle, swinging the half-shell by its strap. “This is the coolest bike,” she said.

Garth asked, “You ride much?”

“Just with this guy in the city a few times, but he had a little one.”

“Well, I’ve got a big one.” Garth looked her up and down, lingering at her hem, and she spun away.

“Malvern is like being banished,” she said, whirling around the motorcycle. “We had this great house in San Francisco and I had a super life, all these friends, and then my dad dumps it all. God, I hate it.”

“What do you do for kicks?”

“Hang with some locals, but they’re like these farm boys, really limited. It’s another planet.”

“So you decorate the trees.” He produced the panties again, took his time locating the crotch, which he sniffed at length.

“I just did it today,” Jennalee said. “They were bothering me and it was like totally spontaneous. Funny, nobody else noticed.”

“You bet they noticed. The car in front of us drove halfway off the road and I could see the wife laying into the guy, his head whipping around. No, everybody noticed, but only one answered the call.” He was still astride the motorcycle and Jennalee could see the bulge in his jeans, and then he was unzipping. “How about a real ride?” he said as his erection sprang free. He wrapped her panties around it and stroked. “You ever fuck on a bike?”

Jennalee stared at her panties which he’d now looped over his organ, violating her even as she kept her distance.

“C’mon, show me what’s under there,” he prodded, and Jennalee whirled away laughing, unable to summon a quick retort and finally, any retort at all. “You’re not gonna tell me this is some kind of game, are you?” He was working his member in earnest now, panties at the base. He kept a grin throughout the exchange, but Jennalee felt something other than amusement. She wished she still had her panties under her skirt. “How old are you anyway?” he asked.

“Eighteen.”

“Sure.”

“I am. I graduated last month from Malvern High.”

He was shaking his head. “Sixteen’s my guess and cherry still ripe.”

“Wrong!” Soon as she said it, she wished she hadn’t.

“So you’re fucking the farm boys?”

“I do what I want when I want.”

“So do I. And you know, you’re the best-looking thing I’ve seen in a long time. I think we could have us one wild weekend and hey, I can always come back up. It’s not a bad ride if it’s worth my while.”

Jennalee inched toward the motorcycle and ran her fingers over the handlebar. When she leaned in to kiss him, he met her open-mouthed, tongue probing, and reached under her T-shirt to capture a breast, thumb against the hard little nipple.

He kissed better than any of the boys, better even than Howard, and she leaned farther, resting a hand on the gas tank and then his thigh. He pulled her shirt up and then was at a breast, licking and sucking as his hand reached under her skirt and drove up between her legs. She had a moment’s concern at this juncture, some point-of-no-return line, never mind what all she’d done before because this guy was man instead of boy and what she would be doing with him would be different from anything she did with a Malvern boy no matter how similar the organ.

He had a finger inside her, then two fingers, thumb pressing rhythmically at her center, sweeping away all concern, and she spread herself to him and pushed against his hand until he drew back and said, “Let’s fuck.”

He pulled her panties off his penis, but before he could assist Jennalee on board for her ride, she said, “Condom.”

“Oh, come on. You’re spoiling things.”

“Sorry, it’s the only way I’ll do it. Suit up.” Jennalee suddenly felt herself gaining the upper hand, her demand one of power.

Garth huffed, then reached in his pocket for the packet. In seconds he had expertly applied protection. “Now,” he said, edge to his voice.

She shuddered as he lifted her onto him and slid up inside her. His hands were around her waist and he began to rock her back onto the gas tank, thrusting slowly, then speedily until a “shit yeah” erupted and he slammed into her, setting the bike teetering on its center stand. “God, what a piece,” he said as he quieted, then, “You get off or what?”

Jennalee couldn’t speak. Heat had seared her throat shut and she shifted on the still hard member, aching for release. “No?” Garth said. “Well, we can fix that.” He pushed her off him, discarded the rubber, and eased her back until she lay prone along the seat and gas tank. “Put your feet up here,” he instructed, settling her boots against the engine. He then lifted her skirt to view where he’d just been. “Look at you, all swollen and juicy,” he said and he slid off the bike, bent over her, and began to work her with an expert tongue.

No boy had ever done this and she watched at first. He caught her at this, raising his eyes as he licked. She held his gaze until he had her near the summit and as he took her over, she lay back and pushed up at him. When he finally pulled away, she saw her juices smeared across his mouth and he leaned down and kissed her, ramming his tongue into her, chasing her own. She rolled with revulsion at her own taste.

Easing off the bike, she smoothed her skirt and thought they were done, but his jeans were still open, clinging to his narrow hips while allowing a renewed erection full play. “Now me,” he said with a slow thrust and when Jennalee hesitated, he added, “C’mon, suck me off,” and pushed her down. She kneeled as she had with Jimmy what’s-his-name and took the member into her mouth.

But he wasn’t like Jimmy or Howard or any of them, he didn’t wait for her but pressed his palms over her ears and began a choking thrust, calling out “tighter” as she curled her tongue to trap him while shielding her teeth. “Fuck it,” he called as he shot a stream into her throat and commanded, “Swallow,” while driving into her, adding “Every fucking drop.”

Jennalee gagged until he withdrew. “Christ, can’t you even handle a little deep throat?” he said, laughing. “Guys around here must have pigeon dicks.”

Jennalee was coughing as Garth zipped his jeans with finality. He climbed onto the motorcycle and hit the starter. “C’mon, you’re not gonna die. Just swallow.”

She wanted to spit, but was afraid to and finally did as told. “It’s good for you,” he said. “Pure protein. C’mon.” He revved the engine and Jennalee climbed on, noting as they rode away her pink panties lying in the dry yellow grass.

He didn’t kiss her goodbye. When she climbed off the motorcycle in front of his room and he asked what she was doing later, she had no answer. “How about a late one?” he asked. “You ever fuck in a pool?” When she didn’t respond, he laughed. “You know where to find me.” He stood outside his door as she walked away and she felt his eyes upon her as her residue slid down her leg.

* * * *

By five P.M., Sutherlands were deserting the Malvern Gardens Inn for nearby restaurants. The resort had no formal dining room or coffee shop, only the catered continental breakfast each morning in the lobby. The town of Malvern boasted several restaurants featuring upscale California cuisine as well as some home cooking, plus a newly opened McDonald’s and, of course, the Dunkin Donuts Jennalee knew so well. Gerald and Jane Preece took their own brief meal during this interlude.

“Why isn’t Jennalee eating?” Gerald asked. “And where did she get to this afternoon? We could have used her help. Doesn’t she realize this is a team effort?”

Jane had seen her daughter’s return as the motorcycle passed the pool area where she was blowing up inflatable toys with Kyle Sutherland, who had cornered her and led her to the shed where they were stored. When Jane encountered Jennalee in her room some time later, the girl’s hair was still wet from a shower. “It’s so hot,” Jennalee said. “I was sticky all over.”

Jane hesitated, conscious of her daughter’s ever prickly nature. “I saw you on the motorcycle,” she said as offhandedly as possible, picking up a lanky stuffed rabbit, smoothing its worn fur. “It looked like fun.”

“It was.”

“What’s the boy’s name?”

“Garth Laidlaw.”

Jane nodded but didn’t inquire further. The name had come on a familiar tone and she knew pressing for more would only irritate her daughter. “Must be quite a thrill. The motorcycle, I mean.”

Jennalee nodded and ran a brush through her hair. She hadn’t said she would miss dinner, but when she didn’t show, Jane wasn’t surprised and fabricated on both her daughter’s and her husband’s behalf. “She had something earlier in town with friends,” she told Gerald.

“Why doesn’t she bring anyone out here?” Gerald asked.

Jane simply sighed and ate her salmon, knowing Sutherlands would soon be drifting back to pester and inquire. And when she was back at the desk facing them, she couldn’t help thinking of Garth Laidlaw, who she guessed to be at least twenty-five.

Jennalee remained in her room among her stuffed animals until tears at last erupted. She fought them down by taking her phone to the bathroom, locking the door, and calling Howard Li. She’d texted him like mad when she first arrived in Malvern and he’d texted back, sharing the agony of separation, but after several months the texts had thinned, then stopped. After his failure to answer several, Jennalee retreated, but all bets were off now. She needed him.

When all she got was his voicemail, she couldn’t manage to speak. Instead she ended the call and tossed the phone onto the bed. She selected baggy white slacks, a red tank top, and blue cotton panties—the underwear decision had been rescinded—all this to lie on her bed and stare at the ceiling. She remained there until long after dark when she heard her parents settle in for the night. She then slipped out and sat by the pool until she heard the thin trill of a violin, the slow movement of the Kreutzer drifting by on a faint breeze.

* * * *

Chapter 4

Anyone else would have stumbled in the darkness, but Jennalee climbed the bluff like an antelope, leaping when the Kreutzer’s finale began. She knew the sonata well; she and Mr. Mendel had spent much of her final year on it, and her fingers fluttered in recognition. She ran toward the summit and hopped up onto level ground, where moonlight illuminated the area like a city street corner.

He was back near the oak, face in shadow, but she recognized the hair and the white vest which lost its pinstripe to the dark. She didn’t intrude, but waited near the edge and, when he’d completed the rousing presto, she applauded. “Do you know the Spring, too?” she asked as she crept forward.

He didn’t answer right away but stood there, violin in one hand, bow in the other. “Yeah,” he finally said. “Do you?”

“Piano. We had it down…” She began to cry and he slipped his instrument and bow into the open case, then came to her.

“I like the Kreutzer better,” he offered. “Do you know it?”

Jennalee nodded and cried all the harder, hands traveling from eyes to nose to mouth as she fought the onslaught. Harley handed her a rumpled handkerchief. “Let it go,” he said as he guided her to the bluff’s edge and sat her down beside him. They remained silent until Jennalee ran dry.

“I hope the Kreutzer didn’t do that,” he said.

She smiled. “Some. It was so moving. I heard it down below and couldn’t believe my ears. It came down the hill like some prayer.”

“I think God might be pissed at the analogy, but thanks.”

Jennalee sniffed and blew her nose.

“Harley Laidlaw,” he said, extending a hand.

“Lee Preece.”

“So there’s a piano down there now?” Harley asked, holding onto her hand.

“In the Oak Room where you have your big dinner or whatever. My folks put it in for me.”

“Our whatever. How long have you been playing?”

“Since I was four.”

“And now you’re…”

“Eighteen. How about you?”

“Piano at three, fiddle at five.”

“And now?’

“Nineteen.”

“You’re really good.”

“I’ll bet you are, too.” He squeezed her fingers and got up. When she stirred, he told her to stay put, and behind her began to play something she didn’t recognize, a slow piece that wrapped around her and made her cry all over again. “Elgar,” Harley said from the shadows and she asked for more.

“More Elgar,” he said and continued while Jennalee stretched out, shut her eyes, and let her fingers play over the dry grass.

“You better not be asleep,” Harley said when he finally sat beside her, concert over. She opened her eyes to his profile, sharp features lost to the cockscomb hair.

“Floating,” she murmured and he stretched out next to her. “I can still hear it,” she said, “that first Elgar.”

Salut d’Amour.”

“And that other one?”

Canto Popolare.”

“You don’t know which one I mean.”

“Yes, I do.”

“I should get back,” Jennalee said, sitting up. “It must be really late and my dad would shit if he knew I was up here.” When Harley said nothing, she asked, “Are you planning to stay up here all night?”

“Probably.”

“You share a room with Garth, don’t you?”

After a pause, Harley offered, “He’s an asshole, you know.”

“Yeah,” she managed and she sat for some time looking down at the inn and the lights that dotted the winding path. She pictured Garth in the pool ramming himself into one of the inflatable toys. “I should go,” she said.

“See ya.”

I should, she told herself, but instead she sank back onto the grass and closed her eyes. “I should,” she repeated before falling asleep next to Harley Laidlaw.

Vivaldi split the dawn and Jennalee opened her eyes and smiled as she thought the maestro might if he happened to be looking down onto this impudent protégé. Harley was grinning when she sat up, but it wasn’t his look that told her he loved this music, it was the music itself, high notes so pure and clear, lower registers so full they ached. She swam between the two as bow darted and fingers skated and she decided this was possibly the best start to a day she’d ever experienced.

The bluff was bathed in that early heat that still holds a measure of night, a residual cool on the ground that chilled Jennalee’s backside. The oak’s shadow stretched over the bluff, speckling everything, including Harley as he brought the piece to a thrilling conclusion. “What was that?” Jennalee asked. “It’s gotta be Vivaldi, but which piece?”

“Sonata No. 2.”

“What a way to wake up!”

“I hope the others share your enthusiasm.”

She almost replied, “Fuck them.” She would have if Jimmy what’s-his-name had been talking to her or any of the Malvern boys or even Garth Laidlaw, but it didn’t fit to say it to Harley, never mind how he looked. She was discovering appearance had little to do with him and yet she was starting to find that very thing appealing. “More,” she urged, and he nodded and took off on another baroque whirl.

“Think they’re all awake?” he asked later when he sat beside her. He kept the violin with him, and when Jennalee reached tentatively toward it, he handed it to her.

“I don’t play,” she said, but still she put the instrument to her chin and squeezed the neck. “It’s the only thing I have against piano, the distance. Sometimes I want to crawl inside and pluck the strings.” With her right hand, she stroked the G. “It must feel wonderful,” she said, “vibrations coming right up under your fingertips.”

She found him staring at her. “That’s what I like best,” he said. “The piano was this huge beast and it pretty much overwhelmed me, but that first little violin…” He laughed softly. “We called it the Lundstrom because this guy, Fred Lundstrom, pawned it and never came back. What kind of parent pawns his kid’s violin? My mom had already seen piano wasn’t going to fly with me so she brings this thing home and I start squeaking and scratching on it and it felt so good. It still does; it’s never changed except I’ve gotten past the squeaking and scratching.”

“It came from a pawn shop?”

Harley nodded and she handed him back his violin. “The family business,” he explained as he rested the fiddle on his knee. “Grandpa Laidlaw started it back in the forties and my dad got it when he died, but Mom really runs it. Dad’s pretty much what you see.”

“Is your mom a musician?”

“She was. Her grandfather Adair was a pianist, but her dad didn’t follow and then she came along, the new family hope, this little keyboard genius, but she met Earl Laidlaw and that pretty much did her in.”

Jennalee said nothing. She watched his playfulness fade. “She’s really good,” Harley continued, “but she got pregnant with Garth and they got married with all hell breaking loose because a Sutherland had broken ranks and her dad was ready to kill and then gradually I guess it all settled down and Garth was there and life goes on.”

“How come you’re the musician and not him?”

“Dad claimed him, practically cloned him. You’ve seen the result.”

“Then you came along.”

“Three years later, yeah, and Mom was ready this time. She offered Dad a deal he couldn’t refuse.”

“Deal?”

He was smiling now; she felt him relax again. “Harley Laidlaw. Think about it.”

“Then you are named after the bike.”

He nodded. “Dad wanted it the first time around and she said no way, but this time she knew it was the only card she had to play. He could name me Harley if he allowed her to teach me music.”

Jennalee laughed, then caught herself. “Sorry, it’s not funny.”

“Yes, it is.”

“So is your middle name Davidson?”

“No. There are limits. It’s Adair, after Great Grandad.”

“What a saga.”

He sighed, got up, and put the violin into its case. “Won’t they be looking for you?” he asked.

Jennalee hated the intrusion. It seemed that was all her parents did anymore, but she saw Harley’s genuine concern and conceded. “Probably. You hungry?”

“Yeah.”

“Then let’s get something to eat.”

Sutherlands had taken their coffee and rolls outside to settle at assorted tables and chairs scattered in clusters on the large patio immediately behind the main building. Several nodded to Harley, but none spoke. “They love us,” he told Jennalee as they reached the lobby.

Gerald Preece was deep in conversation with a tall, white-haired woman who flapped her arms as she gestured. She wore a sleeveless aqua jumpsuit with silver belt, silver sandals, and silver hair that looked to Jennalee like a hard hat. Jennalee was glad her father’s attention was diverted, but found her mother’s much the opposite, drilling her as she charged through Sutherland circles. “I want to talk to you, young lady!” She reached for her daughter, but Jennalee whirled and came to rest behind Harley.

“Mother, this is Harley Laidlaw. Harley, my mother, Jane Preece.”

“Mrs. Preece, it’s a pleasure.” He held out a hand and Jane took it, then quickly let go.

“That was Harley playing this morning up on the bluff. You heard, didn’t you? Wasn’t it great?”

Jane Preece was derailed exactly as her daughter intended, staring first at Harley’s hair, then his earring, then his shoes—black and white wingtips. “Harley,” she said tentatively, “yes, beautiful music, but Lee has some responsibilities she needs to attend to so—”

“Can’t I even eat?” Jennalee whined so loudly heads turned. “I’m starving!”

Jane’s jaw went rigid. “All right, but then I’ve got things for you to do.”

Jennalee nudged Harley’s lower back. “C’mon,” she whispered as her mother strode to the desk.

“You’re in trouble,” Harley said later as they ate donuts and coffee on a section of unoccupied lawn.

“Nah. She’s so busy it’ll all get lost and maybe I will, too. What are you up to today? What goes on at this shindig?”

Harley stuffed the last of a glazed donut into his mouth and took his time answering. “It’s already going on. Hi, how ya been, what ‘cha doin’, my how you’ve grown. It starts out like that, then somewhere along the way somebody gets drunk and says too much or too little, and somebody else gets pissed, and then we’re into the heart of Sutherland territory. By Sunday night, the real fireworks will be anticlimactic.”

“So what do you do?” Jennalee prodded, his elusiveness unsettling her.

“Practice. And stay out of the way.”

“Can you get one of the bikes? We could go for a ride.”

“No.”

“Don’t you ride?”

“Not anymore.”

His tone had such a finality that Jennalee went no further. She brushed crumbs from her lap and stood up when he did. “I’ll see you later,” he said and she watched him stride away.

She remained fixed until he was out of sight, then hurried after him, slipping behind corners to follow him to his room, where she saw Garth push the motorcycle out the door. Harley stood to one side and they spoke briefly before Garth hit the starter. He alone caught Jennalee looking—Harley had gone inside—and she froze when he rode up the lane, then cut across the lawn to her. “How about a ride?” he said, gunning the engine in a slow rhythmic pulse.

Jennalee ran a hand back through her hair and looked out toward the hills. She could hear her mother telling her no, herself telling her no, but he kept gunning the bike and she felt that familiar quickening. “Okay,” she said and climbed on. “But let’s go somewhere else.”

“Name it.”

“Turn right onto the main road, go about six miles, then make a left.”

They put on the required helmets and he settled back against her, pulling her arms around him and pushing her hand to his crotch. She could feel him growing there, and when his hand left hers, she didn’t retreat. At this he kicked the bike into gear. They loped easy through the grounds and she presented a studied aloofness to Sutherland glances, savoring both the promise and danger of her assignation.

Six miles of Garth Laidlaw’s erection set her squirming, and when his hand reached back to her thigh, she opened to him as far as was possible on the narrow seat. She leaned forward to give directions and he followed, guiding the motorcycle with only his right hand.

Jennalee led him to a forgotten shed she used with the Malvern boys. They’d made a sex nest of sorts: old blankets, empty beer cans, potato chip bags, and used condoms scattered about. As soon as they were inside, Garth was at her and she didn’t resist. “We need to use something,” she reminded him as he pulled off her tank top and kneaded her breasts. He kept at her until she added, “I insist.”

He pulled away, face flushed, extracted a condom from his pocket, applied it, then stripped away her clothes. He took a long look at her before pushing down his jeans and all but knocking her to the floor. He was inside her in seconds, pumping as his fingers dug into her hips. She felt herself rising, her own urgency pushing forward, but then he was coming, slamming at her, and everything within her retreated. Afterward she lay with her arms wrapped around him, rubbing his back while trying to feel something beyond a sense of abandonment.


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