Tighter, Tighter Excerpts

Chapter 1

 

2010

 

Getting in contact with Kath Branch wasn’t easy. A procedure had been put into place long ago that sheltered the rock star like a Faberge egg in a shipping crate.

Meredith started with Kath’s management company. That was smart, but lots of clever people never got any further. They received a polite message that the information would be passed on, but not to expect a personal response. In this case, an intern sent it to an administrative assistant who handed it off to publicist Beth Manoff who gave the message to Lori Silva, Kath’s manager and partner.

“Hey,” Lori called out when she heard the front door of their home close. “You know a Meredith Walker?”

Kath had just returned from walking their dog Marley. Though she and Lori had shared the Hancock Park house for ten years, recent interaction had been less than pleasant. Kath led Marley into the first floor home office and met Lori’s eyes. They silently agreed on a truce.

Kath shook her head. “I don’t think so.”

“Ellen Walker?” Lori asked.

The name sounded familiar. Kath struggled to process it.

“Maiden name Roland,” Lori said, looking down at her notes.

That did it. Kath’s hands shook so hard she could barely unleash Marley. “Where did you hear that name?” she asked.

“Meredith Walker called and wanted to get in touch with you.” Lori looked again at her paper. “This was a week ago. She said she’s the daughter of Ellen Walker. Who is she?”

“Ellen Walker broke my heart when I was eighteen.”

 

“You’re a difficult woman to get hold of.” Meredith chuckled.

“Uh-huh.”

It was the vaguest ‘uh-huh’ Meredith had ever heard. She could replay it a thousand times and not decode it.

“You know who I am, right?” Meredith asked.

“You’re Ellen Roland’s daughter,” Kath Branch said.

“Yes. I know you’re old friends. Knew each other in high school.” There was no response. “I called to ask a favor.” Meredith’s confidence wavered. “I’m in charge of fundraising for the St. James Community Center, and I—” She swallowed. The next words came quickly. “Would you give a benefit concert? We’re low on funds. The recession hit us hard. You could make a huge difference.”

It had gone differently in her head. Meredith rehearsed it dozens of times in front of Bill. She’d been smooth, professional, witty, charming. Bill had been impressed. On the phone she sounded limited, shallow, immature. I fucked up.

 

“I know it’s a huge favor,” Meredith said. Her voice was similar to Ellen’s. Both had a Midwestern accent. Ellen’s voice had been a shade deeper, a fraction more gravelly. Still, Meredith’s phrasing was almost exactly the same as her mother’s.

Kath remained quiet, hoping it’d make Meredith squirm. If it were Ellen on the other end, she’d call her on it. “I know you’re there,” she’d say. “Big, fancy rock star say what?”

Would she really say that? Ellen was a grown woman now. Middle-aged. Wrinkled. Menopausal. Of course, so was Kath, but she still played stupid games.

Meredith cleared her throat. “I’m sure you need time to think about it. I—”

“I’ll do it.”

What else was she doing? Lori called it ‘between projects.’ Kath called it a vacation. She walked the dog, occasionally scrapped with Lori. There were days when Kath was convinced the relationship was over. Other times she thought they were on the verge of reconciling.

Kath wandered. She wasted time, spending hours buying groceries or running errands. She was long past the time she needed to watch her money, but found herself comparison shopping, deciding which brown rice or tortilla wraps were the better buy. She carefully considered time-saving products. Many of them were stupid and useless As Seen on TV things, like Point ‘n Paint which enabled one to paint an entire room in less than an hour. She didn’t need one. None of the rooms needed painting, and, frankly, she and Lori would hire someone. The thrill of do-it-yourself projects wore thin years ago. Kath still watched HGTV and DIY, but mostly to catch the occasional soft butch. She had a huge crush on Amy Matthews.

Every once in a while, Kath picked up her guitar. Sometimes she tapped out a melody or wrote down lyrics on her laptop. She had lots of scraps. Someday she’d put together a new album. CD. Was she the last person in the world who still called them albums?

“Wow,” Meredith said. “Great.”

“What made you ask me?”

“I’m on the Community Center board. You knew my mother.”

“Is she on the board?”

“No.”

The silence probably made Meredith writhe. Give the kid a break. “My manager is Lori Silva. She’ll handle the arrangements.”

“I’m thrilled.”

“Good.” Thrilled? Whatever. Did Ellen play a part in this? Why now? For the first time in thirty-five years, Kath Branch was returning to St. James. The last time was the summer of 1975. Almost the last night of her life. She’d given hundreds of interviews, confided in friends and lovers, but no one knew the whole story.

 

“She didn’t seem the least bit suspicious.”

“You didn’t use your married name,” Bill said.

They’d done it. He’d been waiting for the call to end. He still wondered at the wisdom of it. The whole thing had become too big. He was in on it too. How did two or more people scheme to do something boneheaded, like murder someone or rob a bank? How could you get more than one person to be so dumb? Now he knew.

“No. She’ll find out at some point, but she’ll already be here. Do you think she’d make the connection if she heard my last name?”

“Carlson is a common name. Especially around here.”

“It’d be hard to forget the name of the guy you murdered, wouldn’t it?”

“Does she know you’re a lawyer?” he asked.

“I didn’t mention it.”

“I’m surprised she agreed to—”

Meredith was breathless. “It went better than I thought. I figured I’d have to beg or ask more than once. I just want her to tell me why.”

Mostly. She also wanted to ruin Kath’s life. Yes, she’d tell Kath what she’d discovered and ask what happened. But there was more. She’d give the story to a journalist. Once Kath was linked to Billy’s murder there’d be press coverage. It would be an international story. A rock legend, now in her fifties, accused of a murder she committed when she was eighteen. It’d be huge. Meredith was a big part of the story. A crusading assistant district attorney, married to the victim’s son, digging until she solved the crime. She hoped to remain modest. She even practiced lines she’d use in interviews. “The pieces started fitting together. Suddenly I realized, oh my God, Kath Branch is the only person who could have committed this murder.”

It would change her life. There’d be a book, probably a movie. A news show, maybe 60 Minutes, might devote a segment to the story. Kath must be a millionaire many times over. Perhaps they could get a settlement for Billy’s widow, Rhonda Carlson. She’d had a tough time since the murder. There couldn’t be a hint of extortion. Everything had to be carefully worded. There were many things to be worked out.

 

Lori chuckled when Kath told her about the conversation later in her office.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen,” Kath said. She hated when she sounded defensive. “You really don’t.” She leaned against the chair in front of the desk.

“Someone broke Kath Branch’s heart.”

“She was the first. You were the last.” Kath pretended to stab herself and fall to the ground. “Killed me at the time.”

“You ended up doing fine.”

“I guess she did too.”

“What happened?” Lori asked.

“She got pregnant. It wasn’t mine.”

“She was two-timing you.”

“Not exactly. She’d broken up with him to be with me. That’s how I remember it at least. Maybe she was two timing me. Who knows? Anyway, she told me she was marrying him. I never went back.”

“How many songs did you write about it?”

“About one hundred bad songs and a couple good ones.”

“Which ones?” Lori asked.

“‘Moans and Groans.’”

“Wow. No one knows that back story.”

“And they never will.” Kath smiled. “‘This Heart Ain’t Yours.’”

Lori’s eyes widened. “You think her daughter knows?”

“I can’t imagine Ellen telling her. I don’t have experience with mother-daughter talks, but that doesn’t seem likely.”

“She must have told her something or she wouldn’t have called you.”

“I don’t think Ellen would put her up to it. Not after this many years.”

“Maybe it’s a queer version of Parent Trap. Is Ellen divorced?”

“I have no idea,” Kath said.

“You didn’t ask any questions.”

“I kept my mouth shut. Ellen wasn’t married when I left. She hadn’t told her parents about the pregnancy. I called a friend about a year later. She told me Ellen married Rob, had the baby, and was living with his parents. That’s all I know. They might still be together. Maybe they had more kids.”

“You could call your Ellen—”

“She’s not my Ellen.”

“—and find out more.”

“I’ll see how it plays out.”

“You must be bored.”

“A little,” Kath said. “Want to see what she looked like?”

“You still have a picture? Of course, you do.”

Kath held up two tiny photos, cheap arcade photos they’d taken inside Kresge’s that summer. There’d been four photos on the strip. They’d torn it in half, and each kept two.

“I can’t see it from here,” Lori said.

Kath handed it over the desk. Lori made a gasping noise. “God, you were impossibly young.” She stared at it a long time. “You still look the same.”

“Give me a break.”

“You can tell it’s you. I hope she looks the same.” She handed it back. “Maybe I don’t.” Lori paused. “Women gain weight. Did she smoke?”

“No.”

“She may have started after you left. Prescription drugs age you. Alcohol. A bad life. You never talked about her.”

“It was a difficult time. Lots of things were going on. None of them good. I’ve never understood people who think being eighteen is the best time of their life. Wasn’t for me. It was terrible.” She shook her head. “Someone got killed around the same time. Lives were blown apart. It was an awful time.” Kath waved her hand. She was finished talking about it.

 

“I’ve got big news.”

Meredith and Bill met her parents for brunch at the Egg Harbor Café every Sunday in St. James. Always at 11 a.m.

Ellen and Rob were in good moods. Both were teachers. Ellen was a professor at St. James Community College, and Rob taught at Woodbury High School. It was June, and they’d been on break for a week.

They were smiling when they walked in. Perhaps one of them had made a comment about Bill and Meredith. It wouldn’t have been nasty. They liked Bill and adored her, but they joked about their peculiarities, including ‘chronic earliness.’ “Did you have to wait long before they opened the doors?” Ellen liked to joke.

Everyone hugged, sat down, and ordered their usual egg dishes and coffee. Ellen and Rob talked about tennis, a trip to a farmer’s stand, and their rascal of a dog Pita. Meredith told them about a couple of her cases at the King County Courthouse. Bill declared the summer heat had put a damper on new bankruptcy filings. The young couple talked about their dogs Sid and Nancy. Then Meredith nodded at Bill and made her announcement.

“It’s huge news,” Bill echoed. He rubbed his hands together. “It hasn’t been announced yet.” Despite his words, he didn’t look happy and sounded like a funeral director.

Meredith’s parents’ faces were expectant. Oh God, they think I’m pregnant.

“I contacted Kath Branch,” she said. “The singer.”

Ellen shot a look at Rob. He returned it and glanced back at Meredith.

“Why?” he asked. “Why in the world would you—”

“I asked her to perform at a benefit for the Community Center.”

“Why?” Ellen asked. She leaned against the table.

“You said you and Dad were friends with her when she—”

“That was a long time ago, Meredith. I doubt she remembers—”

“She said yes.”

“Did you use my name?” Ellen asked. She set her coffee cup on the table and wiped her mouth with the napkin. She picked up her fork and poked at her eggs.

“Of course. You think I could get through—”

“What did you say?” Rob asked.

“That I was Ellen Walker’s daughter and needed a favor.”

Ellen’s complexion changed.

“Was she surprised to hear from you?” Rob asked.

“I’ll say.”

“If you don’t mind, Meredith, could you please tell me how the conversation went?” Ellen asked. “Exactly. First, how did you make contact with her? I would imagine—”

“Oh, it wasn’t easy.” Meredith was pleased with herself. “She’s got lots of walls. Firewalls. Of people. To protect her.”

“Did she sound old?” Rob asked.

“She’s our age, Rob,” Ellen said. She took a bite of her egg.

“Old?” Meredith said. “No. She sounded tentative. It took time to explain what I wanted. I’d describe her as guarded. She’s someone for whom a simple yes or no required a minute of thinking before answering.”

“Did she ask anything about me?” Ellen asked.

“She wanted to know if you were part of the board.” Meredith chuckled. “So you don’t know her well? Gosh, it must have been weird for her to hear from me. I got the impression when you talked about her that you were friends.”

“We were friends, Meredith,” Ellen said, “but it was a long, long time ago. Before you were born.”

“Well, she remembered you.”

“Did she ask about your father?”

“No.”

Ellen took a deep breath. “Meredith, honey, if you can remember, could you tell me the first thing you said to her?”

Rob took a sip of coffee and leaned back against the back of the booth. He tore off a piece of toast and chewed on it.

“First, I talked to someone who said I would or wouldn’t hear from her. Something like that. This all took days. I got a call. The number came up private. I figured it might be her. She said something like, ‘I’d like to speak to Meredith Walker, please.’ She was polite.”

“You used your maiden name,” Ellen said.

“So she’d know I was your daughter. Anyway, she said, ‘I’d like to speak to Meredith Walker.’ I said she was speaking to her. She said something like, ‘This is Kath Branch. You’ve been trying to get in touch with me.’ I told her she was hard to get in touch with. Then I asked if she knew who I was. She said she did. Let me think. I told her I called to ask a favor. I needed to raise money for the Community Center and asked if she’d do a benefit.”

“Did she tell you she’d get back to you?” Ellen asked.

“No. She thought for a moment, and then said yes. She said her manager would call and make the arrangements. I told her I was thrilled.”

“You didn’t happen to tell her I was thrilled too, did you?” Ellen asked.

“We didn’t talk about you anymore. You are thrilled, aren’t you?”

“We’ll have to get used to the idea,” Ellen said.

“Of her coming here?” Bill asked.

Ellen didn’t answer. She stared straight ahead, took a sip of coffee, and looked at Rob.

“We don’t feel we know this lady,” Rob said.

“Don’t be silly,” Meredith said. “You’ll start talking, and things will go right back to where they were.”

 

Lori Silva was one tough lady. Not that she was rude. She wasn’t. In fact, she was exceedingly polite.

“Ms. Walker, I’m calling to confirm arrangements for Kath Branch. Would you prefer I call back at another time?”

“No. This is fine.”

“Good. Kath is eager to work with you to make this benefit successful. Once we finalize the arrangements I’ll fax you the agreement. Please sign and fax it back to me within twenty-four hours.” It went like that for several minutes. It didn’t sound like Lori was reading a script, but she’d said these same words many times.

Lori made it clear Kath would assume all the expenses, including transportation, hotel, and food. She also agreed to arrange and pay for the travel expenses of a four piece band. In addition, her hair and make-up person would fly in and out at Kath’s expense. They talked about the venue, the Todd, an old movie theatre now used for plays and musical performances, and possible dates. They agreed on a Saturday in the middle of August.

“Ms. Branch will arrive on the Tuesday before the date. She wants a few days—” This was the only time Lori wasn’t smooth. “She requests two days of rehearsal at the Todd before the date. She will leave two days after the performance.”

A week. She was staying a week. It might not be the worst thing. Meredith would make Kath comfortable before she ruined her life.

 

Meredith told him she was doing it for him, but Bill didn’t care who killed his father. For one thing, he never knew the guy. Yes, it was sad he was murdered before he was born, but William Carlson, Sr. was a stranger. He was a face in a picture frame. Bill thought about him like his friend Kyle Brady thought about his long-dead dad who’d been killed in Vietnam. “He’s dead,” Kyle said. “He died before I met him so I haven’t had the pleasure. Wish I knew him, but I didn’t. Don’t.”

For another thing, Bill had a difficult time wrapping his head around the idea that Kath Branch had murdered him. What if Meredith was wrong? She didn’t think she was. She liked to say “Two and two always make four.” Bill wasn’t so sure.

She said it was for him. It was more for her. Meredith was ambitious. If she was right, there was no telling what it might do for her career. She made offhand remarks about book and movie deals, but she was serious.

Bill wondered about the wisdom of dredging up a thirty-five year old murder mystery. It was like plumbing in an old house. The more you start pulling out, the more damage you find.

Meredith thought justice was black and white. Life had lots of gray areas. Let’s say Kath Branch murdered Billy Carlson in 1975. She lived the rest of her life productively. Her politics might have been more liberal than theirs, but she was a decent, law abiding person who gave time and money to worthy charitable events. She’d even agreed to do the benefit in St. James. If she committed a murder when she was an eighteen year old dummy, should she be punished when she was fifty-three? Meredith would have said “Hell, yes!” He wasn’t sure. He’d done dumb things all his life. Certainly not murder, but he’d put himself and others in danger enough times to realize things could have gone differently.

Meredith wasn’t interested in his doubts. He tried to be excited about her findings. In the end, though, it was her passion, not his.

 

Chapter 2

 

1975

“You’ll never make it.”

Kathy, chewing on a Breakfast Square, backed against the kitchen counter. Her mother, Shirley, held court at the oval Formica table in her quilted robe, smoking a Virginia Slim. The red ceramic ashtray was already filled with butts. She’d been up a while. A coffee cup and empty glass of orange juice were lined up in front of her.

Kathy loved the smell of coffee but hated the taste. Bitter and dark like her mother’s disappointment.

“I’m talking about the music business, Kathy,” Shirley said. “You’re capable, smart. There’s a million things you can do.” She coughed.

The radio was tuned to WGN. The host was Wally Phillips, a smart ass who’d been on the radio forever. Her parents loved Wally Phillips. He sounded like most adults, cynical and depressed. Sometimes he played music, mostly standards like the ones her mother sang. Lots of Sinatra.

“Do you think you could send a picture?” Phillips played the sound bite of an old, tired man for every occasion. It had grown tedious.

The radio was a wood and chrome Zenith atop the avocado refrigerator. It took forever to warm up. If it wasn’t on when Kathy came downstairs she clicked the knob and twisted it widely to the right, back to the left, and then up again until she heard something. It drove her parents nuts because it blared like an air horn before she turned it down. It was the most annoying radio. She was the most annoying daughter.

Kathy wanted to throw the damn radio across the room. She stared at it to see if she could mentally destroy it with her eyes. It didn’t work.

“I don’t want you to go through what I went through. I don’t want you to suffer. Trust someone who’s lived through it. The system is rigged, Kathy. It doesn’t matter how talented you are.”

Raymond walked into the kitchen. Kathy’s father was showered and dressed in a sharp suit. He poured himself a cup of coffee. Kathy looked at him, imploring him to put in a good word for her. He ignored her. Raymond wasn’t a great conversationalist in the morning. Of course, it was amazing either of her parents could function after a heavy night of drinking and arguing. They were medical marvels.

Kathy took another bite of the Square. She’d developed a taste for the dry, dusty chocolate chemical concoction. She wondered if she was slightly addicted to them, if any addiction could be considered slight. She suspected General Mills used an ingredient, maybe not even listed on the wrapper, to create cravings. Sometimes she ate two or three a day. Why not? It was billed as a “complete light meal in 2 frosted bars.” Kathy wanted to lose at least ten pounds, and figured she might be able to do it if she stayed away from the Sandwich Galaxy and lived on Breakfast Squares most of the summer.

Raymond took an inordinate time pouring his coffee. She waited him out, but instead of sitting at the table, he walked out of the room as though he’d forgotten something. Coward.

Shirley glared at her. She expected a response.

“Okay.” Kathy said.

“What do you plan to major in?”

“Not. Sure. Yet.” Kathy was seething, but her tone was polite if robotic.

“You must have some idea.”

Make up something, idiot. Anything to get her off your back. What’s the most boring thing you can think of? “Banking.”

“Banking? Is that a major?”

“Business. Specialize in banking. Or real estate.” Kill me now.

“I still think you should consider law.”

Kathy made a face. She finished the Breakfast Square. “Okay.” This was her typical response to her mother. It prevented arguments. Raymond should try it some time.

“You could spend years trying to make it in music,” Shirley said. “Waste your life. Do you want that?”

Kathy acted like she was thinking about it. “No,” she said.

“Of course not. You’ll register for classes at St. James Community College.”

“Okay.”

Her mother finished her cigarette and stamped it out. She emptied the ashtray, grabbed her coffee cup, and downed her One-A-Day vitamin. Shirley regularly took vitamins as though a magic pill could counteract years of alcohol and cigarettes. Maybe it could. She was fifty-four. Even if she looked like hell she didn’t have any health complaints. She headed off for her shower without glancing at Kathy again.

“Okay,” Kathy said again.

 

Her parents were the alcoholic version of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme. Raymond looked like Steve Lawrence. He had dark, wavy hair and blue eyes. He wasn’t much of a singer, but could play the heck out of the cheap upright piano in their living room. He was in a jazz band called the Branch Bunch when he met Shirley.

Shirley looked nothing like Eydie Gorme but bore a resemblance to actress Colleen Dewhurst. Shirley could sing, belt ‘em out like nobody’s business.

“I outlived my era,” she complained. She meant the big band era. As nights wore on, she got meaner. “It’ll happen to you too if you live long enough.”

Kathy’s parents never missed a day of work. No matter how late they stayed up or how drunk they got, both got up at six in the morning, drank coffee, smoked cigarettes, read the Tribune, showered, dressed, and reported to their respective jobs. That’s not to say they were chipper. They weren’t.

Her parents were older than most parents. By the time she came around, they were in their thirties. Shirley had three miscarriages before Kathy was born. Kathy guessed it might have been the heavy smoking and drinking. Shirley attributed it to “Bad luck.” She blamed lots of things on bad luck. Between that and bad timing, the universe had fucked her.

Every evening started out the same. Shirley came home from working as a secretary for real estate broker Milton Fells around 5:30. Ray arrived home around the same time. He was a salesman for a wholesale lighting company.

The two ended up in the living room pouring vodka from a bottle that sat on the antique oak coffee table. When Kathy was younger they’d fed her between drinks. Now she fended for herself, making cheese sandwiches or scrambled eggs. Or eating a Breakfast Bar.

“It’s time,” Shirley or Raymond would say at eight o’clock sharp.

Raymond played chords, waiting for the star to appear. “Shirley,” he’d say.

She’d look up as if to say, “Me? You’re waiting for me?” She took her place behind Raymond and faced the wall filled with framed photos of Kathy and long-dead relatives.

Shirley’s first number was always “Haunted Heart.” That was her signature song. She nailed it every time. The song’s conclusion was Kathy’s cue to leave. It would only get worse. If “Haunted Heart” was the highlight, by the time Shirley sang “I Only Have Eyes for You” the concert had disintegrated into a horror show.

Kathy was a regular in the show when she was a kid. She and Shirley sang duets. About the time she started introducing songs like “Crystal Blue Persuasion” and “In a Gadda Da Vida,” it was time to retire. Shirley and Raymond didn’t like the new songs, and Kathy had grown tired of the violent endings. Everything was fine until it wasn’t.

Sometimes Shirley stopped the show by hitting the back of Raymond’s head with her fist. Sometimes she stormed out of the room, weaving down the hall to her bedroom. She’d slam the door and lock it. Raymond was a different kind of drunk. He was quiet. Even when he got hit in the head he’d silently rub it and slump over, staring at the piano keys. Sometimes he left the house. He’d totaled two cars and had four drunk driving arrests that Kathy knew about.

 

“Mark. Cool it.”

Kathy took his hand off her ass. “I mean it.”

He sighed but followed her orders. It was all a mistake. She’d tried. She’d really tried. Mark was a decent looking guy. Not exceptionally bright but nice. His dad owned Gerske Auto Repair on the outskirts of town. Kathy knew Mark from school, but they didn’t have classes together. She was on the college prep track. He took vocational courses. She got to know him better when she took her ‘67 blue Impala to his dad’s repair shop.

“You’ll be here a lot,” Mark had said after examining her dead car the first time the tow truck brought it in. He was right. Within the first month the battery died, her alternator went out, a tire blew. Mark replaced the spark plugs, gas and air filters, and gave it an oil change.

“You’ve probably got a year before it blows a rod,” he’d said.

“How much will that be?” She’d already put three hundred dollars into it.

“You’ll need a new car. It won’t be worth it to fix it.”

Mark drove a red Mustang, a real beaut. Sometimes he loaned it to her. He had three other cars, a ‘60 Midget, a ‘65 Firebird, and a ‘72 Gremlin. They were in bad a shape, but he had a gift for getting them running, except the Midget. Kathy had never seen it on the road.

The Gerskes lived on Elm Street. They weren’t a nice family, and they didn’t live in a nice house. Their place looked like a junkyard—inside and out. Kathy went over one time. That was enough. The house smelled like a litter box which was weird because they didn’t have a cat.

She visited the house on a Sunday. The TV was blaring, tuned to a local channel that broadcast professional wrestling. Mark’s brothers—Kathy was never sure whether there were three or four because they looked the same and were around the same age—simultaneously watched and acted out what they saw. She was appalled, scampering out of the way as they knocked over furniture and shook cabinets crammed with glassware and china.

Kathy gained two important insights when she used the Gerske bathroom. It was the only one in the house, and Kathy realized having two bathrooms for three people meant the Branches had money. She also realized Raymond never once left up the toilet seat. Shirley had feminized him. Thank God.

The nasty, yellow-stained seat was up at the Gerskes that day. She’d used toilet paper to lower it, and debated whether to leave it down for poor Mrs. Gerske. Ultimately, she tore off more toilet paper and gingerly put the seat back up, realizing her little protest would do nothing to change the culture in this primitive, uncouth tribe.

Mark’s mother never said a word after weakly smiled introductions. She’d trudged through the living room, carrying a broken, spiky-looking wicker laundry basket, trying to avoid the bare-chested boys. She blinked a lot. Kathy wondered if it was code. It was either “Help. Get me out” or “Get out while you can.”

Kathy had immediately disliked Mark’s father. For one thing, she didn’t like the way he looked at her. He glanced at her face and then her boobs, back at her face, and landed on her boobs again. Gross. Second, he was mean. When they were in the kitchen, he’d slapped Mark’s ear and shoved him against the counter. Kathy pretended she hadn’t seen. Mr. Gerske gave Kathy the creeps and made her ache in embarrassment for Mark.

Kissing Mark wasn’t bad. Letting him feel her up was okay. Their first sexual experience was a failure. A complete, unmitigated disaster.

They did it in his Mustang off a gravel road near the old cemetery. It offered a nice view of the St. James River and an easy escape if a cop car came snooping. Mark’s penis hurt. Actually his penis didn’t hurt. He told her it felt pretty damn good. Her vagina hurt. When he put his penis inside her it hurt like a mother fucker. She told him to stop. He did. For the next week, she was sore. Leg and back muscles and sex organs. What was enjoyable about this?

They returned to kissing and fondling. When they first started hanging out together it was near the end of the school year. She was having a heck of a time in her Calculus class. Sometimes when she was with Mark she thought about math formulas.

Sometimes she thought about girls. There’d been this one girl in her gym class. Melody Page. Nobody called her Melody, except the teachers. She went by Mel. That was cool. She was fast. At least that’s what others said. Mel was the only girl Kathy knew who didn’t wear a bra. It almost killed her when they were in the locker room, and Melody dressed next to her. Afraid to look but fearing she’d miss something, Kathy crossed her eyes trying to peek. She wanted to push Melody hard against the locker and kiss her on the mouth, work her way down to her breasts, and head south. She never wanted to do anything like that with Mark, but he did with her. All the time. Fortunately, she could boss him around.

 

 

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