Saturday Morning Post #71: Gratuity

In another short story from the 24 Exposures collection, Joanne and her husband have an… interesting relationship… and good reasons for it.

“That bush needs a good going over, see?”

Joanne pointed to a far corner of the yard. Pedro peered past the pool, nodded. “I’ll trim it for you, real nice. Real nice.”

“And, of course, mow the lawn. The mower is in the shed, all gassed up and ready to go. There’s lemonade in the kitchen, but try not to go upstairs if you don’t have to. We just had the hallway re-floored, it’s still drying.”

“Okay.”

“You can use the pool when you’re done, if you want. The yard’s very private.” Joanne checked her watch. “Shit, I’m late and I have to drive all the way to the Westside, excuse me.” She started for the door. “Uh — Pedro, right?”

“Yes.”

“What happened to Manuel, anyway?”

“He quit.”

“Really? That’s too bad.” She shook her head, thinking to herself that these gardeners kept getting better looking. And Pedro had to have been working out a lot. He didn’t get that t-shirt exploding body just trimming hedges. “I’ll be back in about three hours. Have fun.”

Joanne exited through the house and Pedro went right to work, putting on his gloves and heading for the recalcitrant shrubbery. She didn’t even glance back. She never glanced back. These were good kids, mostly. Hard-working. She was glad her husband finally found a decent agency.

Outside, she climbed into the Mercedes, checked her make-up in the mirror and started the car. She backed down the drive, then headed off and went around the corner. She parked the car, got out and locked it, then quickly walked back to the house, where she carefully let herself in and snuck upstairs, shoes off, tiptoeing up the stairs, gingerly across the carpet and down the hall until she was in the master bedroom, door locked behind her. The house was quiet. Big, empty and quiet. It never felt more empty than when her husband, Carl, wasn’t there, but never, ever felt quite full.

Through the bedroom windows, which were tinted on the outside, she could see Pedro working below. Not a shirker by any means. He was plowing into the bush with determination, but also a little artistry. Good. He wasn’t just hacking away at random, he was applying some shape to the thing. That was a positive sign. The agency had chosen well.

The phone rang. Joanne cursed under her breath, jumped to answer it, whispering, although there was no way Pedro could hear her from up here.

“Hello?”

“Is your pussy moist yet?” It was Carl.

“No, but I’m sure you’ve got a big stiffy,” she whispered.

“Why are you whispering,” he asked. “Where are you?”

“In the bedroom.”

“Naughty girl.”

“It’s the safest place to keep an eye on him, you know that.”

“So is he working hard or hardly working?”

“Working pretty hard, actually. It looks like he has a touch of topiary genius. What time are you going to be here?”

“I don’t know, how long do you think?”

“I told the guy I’d be gone three hours. That was about ten minutes ago. Figure it out from that.”

“Hey, so what do you think they’d think if they knew we were spying on them?”

“I’m spying on him. Who knows, nowadays, they probably half expect it, and that’s why he’s doing such a good job.”

“So, see you when I see you.”

“Sure.”

“I’m going to fuck you to within an inch of your life, you know.”

“I can hardly wait.”

“I’m waiting hardly. Bye.” And Carl hung up. Joanne smiled, went to the mini-bar and poured herself a drink. It’d have to be vodka on the rocks. She couldn’t risk all the noise the genesis of a proper martini would make. Outside, the lawnmower started up. She glanced out the window. Pedro was just starting to push the thing up the lawn, but already he was drenched in sweat. The white tank-top he was wearing was translucent, and he kept wiping his forehead with his arm. Joanne took a sip of the vodka — a little bit on the astringent side because she could never get it cold enough without torturing it in the shaker, but that was a small price to pay for knowing that the help was reliable. She wondered if the spying was the reason Manuel gave for quitting. Probably. Sometimes, people reacted strangely to having their diligence questioned. Still, the agency had never mentioned anything. They never did.

This new one looked very diligent, though. Joanne could just make out the tattoo on his left bicep, one of those blackwork faux tribal things that were so popular now, circling his arm like a garland of thorns. At least it wasn’t some gang thing. That would have made her very uncomfortable.

Then, Pedro stopped mowing. Joanne wondered to herself, “Now what’s he doing?” But, in due diligence, he only stopped long enough to peel off his shirt, ring it out and stuff it around his belt. Then he continued with his mowing. There was another tattoo on his back, same motif, running shoulder to shoulder. There were probably more and Joanne wasn’t sure, but when he turned around to mow the other direction, she thought she saw the glint of a ring in his left nipple.

“These kids,” she sighed to herself. When she and Carl were that age, the height of rebellion, if any, for a boy was a single earring on the “not gay” side, provided anyone could agree which side that was. Oh well, it was her generation that had pushed the envelope in the first place, so the increasing heights of body modification in this one were just some kind of weird karmic debt being paid off. Or so Joanne liked to think. At least the kid took care of that body, even if he was also defacing it. It was kind of like buying a new 750-i, then painting the hood lime green and keying the side panels.

Outside, the sound of the mower continued its gentle Döpplering — up, back, up, back — like a giant and very angry mosquito. She realized then that the sound would tell her whether Pedro was working or shirking, and so sat down in an armchair with her drink and a book and waited.

* * *

The lawn was enormous, bigger than most, Pedro realized. Manuel had warned him about that, but also told him that the Coopers were generous tippers. “She’ll tell you to use the pool,” he’d added. “And you can, they really don’t care.”

Quite a difference from some of his customers. He remembered one time, one of those hundred and ten-degree days, when he was working on a crew, hacking down the overgrowth on a house that had just been sold. End of the day, the boss jumped in the pool because he was about to pass out from heat stroke. Since they were already wearing shorts anyway, so did the rest of them, not really to swim, just to cool off. They’d all just gotten out of the pool when the new owner appeared from nowhere — she hadn’t even moved in yet — and launched into a shrieking tirade full of incoherent sputtering and legal threats and the more than implied statement that these little brown people had tainted the water and now she’d have to have it professionally changed. The woman was huge, four hundred pounds if she was an ounce. Hell, her arms were bigger than Pedro’s chest. All he could think was, “Jesus, lady, if I’d known your fat, greasy ass had ever been in that pool, I never would have gotten near the water.” The boss gathered everyone up, shooed them off the property, then followed them. They could still hear the woman from the backyard, making a call on her cell phone to bitch about the outrage to some acquaintance. The boss shook his head, laughing, as they all got into the truck. “Some people live for that shit,” he said.

No, the Coopers seemed like nice people, and the house was incredible. Two stories, sort of three, Spanish-style, gigantic yard with some kind of guesthouse at the back. There were high walls, cypress trees all around. It was like being in some kind of private park, an Eden with an impossibly green lawn.

Up and back. Up and back. It wouldn’t have surprised Pedro if he walked a good mile doing this. At least he could skip the Stairmaster tonight. He wondered what kind of business these people were in. He’d never met the husband, but the wife was in amazing shape and she had to be… well, old. Older, anyway. Maybe thirty. Or forty. Pedro was nineteen, so he had no sense of age when it came to adults. There were pretty much three categories: about my age, just kids or grown-up.

He wondered if they were drug dealers. There were two pretty expensive cars out front. But they didn’t have that look. Something too whitebread about the wife, and “Cooper” was one of those very WASPy, old English names. The kind of people who belonged to country clubs and supported D.A.R.E. and hung out in art galleries and at the opera. Pedro could tell they didn’t have any kids. The house was too neat inside. No toys, no play sets in the yard, and the wife did look way too young. Not too young to be a mother, but too young to have had kids. That was a subtle but important distinction. Being a parent wore people out. Pedro had seen it. He had a couple of friends who’d knocked girls up at sixteen, seventeen. Two years later, they looked like tired old men, transformed into beer-bellied vatos with dark circles under their eyes long before their time.

Up and back. More than halfway done and shit, was it hot today. One of those days when even the air sweats and the sky is so blue it hurts. He paused for just a moment, tried to wipe his face with his shirt, but they were both too wet. On every return trip across the lawn, the pool glimmered at him, more and more inviting. And he was invited, that was a nice gratuity even if it wasn’t money. These were the good kind of rich people, the kind who didn’t ever seem to notice what color someone was or how much money they had in the bank. Most likely, they’d started out piss-poor and worked their way up. Maybe the husband was a doctor, or he owned a business or something.

Pedro wanted that some day. Nothing fancy, just his own gardening company. No. Landscaping. That was the word, the big fancy word that brought in more money. Funny how words worked like that. A barber would charge you ten, twelve bucks for a haircut. A stylist would charge you thirty, forty, but do the exact same thing.

A landscaper. Not a gardener. Not and never just a gardener. Gardeners only maintained things. Landscapers created life, with artistry and planning and fertilization.

And there the garden ended. Pedro had made the last turn, come to the last row and gladly leaned down, shut the choke and killed the mower’s engine, which sputtered out into an ear-ringing silence. That was one of his favorite sounds. That and the little clicky-clack noise the thing made when you rolled it, done with, back to the shed.

The rye grass in the catcher was still warm as Pedro dumped it into the garbage, little bits and shards wafting up to stick to his sweat-drenched skin. The smell was rich and dark, almost a little overpowering. When the trashcan was full, he leaned over and took a whiff, shoved his hands in and played with the debris a little. Warm on top, cold beneath, it reminded him of his childhood, helping his father mow lawns. But there was also a muskiness to the smell that reminded him of something else.

He was almost done. All he had left to do was some edging, and then he’d have finished, so he grabbed the trimmer out of the shed, started it up, and neatly trimmed the borders of the lawns all the way around.

When he’d finished edging, he took the trimmer to the trash can and gently cleaned the grass off the blades, letting it fall into the bin as well.

A big ball of sweat rolled down his arm, dropped with a single plunk into the grass cuttings. Pedro took a whiff. He was pretty musky, too. He couldn’t have been happier about Mrs. Cooper’s invitation. He turned from the garbage and headed over to the pool.

He tested the water with his hand. Perfect. Not too cold, just the right amount of coolness. He sat down on a lounge chair, untied his boots and took them off. Now there was a strong smell that should be inflicted on no one else. He tossed his socks into one boot, did the same with his wallet and keys, then stood, undoing his belt. He felt a little bit weird doing this in a strange yard, but the place was quite secluded. He took off his pants, put them on the chair, walked toward the pool in his underwear. He dipped in a foot. Damn, it felt nice. An escape from this heat. He put in his other foot, stood on the step, ready to dive in, but then he realized he still had on his watch. Cheap thing probably wasn’t waterproof. He walked back to the lounge chair, taking his watch off, looking at the time, calculating. Realizing. Mrs. Cooper had said three hours, but it had only taken him forty-five minutes to do the yard. That meant at least two hours…

He scanned the yard again. Just walls and trees, no neighboring houses visible, and he knew the gates were locked. “What the fuck,” he whispered, then he slipped his boxers off, tossed them onto the chair and walked naked into the water. He waded in fast and dunked himself under, as much at this point to cool off as to slow down the raging hard-on that had popped up when he’d dropped his shorts. It was very strange to be butt-naked in someone else’s yard, but for the moment, the place was all his and he was in paradise.

* * *

Joanne thought she heard a splash, but she wasn’t quite sure. The edger had stopped a few minutes ago, and then nothing. She listened, then put down her glass and book, went to the window. The water in the pool was shimmering; Pedro was doing laps. The lawn looked immaculate, at least. He’d proven himself to be very good at his job, so far.

She crossed to the walk-in closet, turned on the light, surveyed her wardrobe, since her work upstairs was done. That was when she noticed the gun box on the top shelf, lid askew. She pulled it down and looked inside. Empty. She wondered if Carl had the gun. Probably. Just as well, she didn’t like that thing very much.

* * *

There was a raft next to the pool, and after swimming for a while, Pedro dragged it in, climbed on top of it and lay on his back to bask in the sun. This was nice. This was nice, the life a successful businessman — a landscaper — should have. He’d only just noticed that he was getting excited again, probably the sun, when he rolled over on the raft and saw Mrs. Cooper standing at the end of the pool, just standing there in a white dress, looking at him.

He kept rolling, right off the raft, falling into the water, getting a mouthful and sputtering. He came up for air, hiding behind the raft, looked at his employer, not sure what to say or do.

“Uh… you said I could… I didn’t want to get anything wet, I hope…”

“It’s all right, Pedro,” she said. “I thought I’d go for a swim, too, if you don’t mind.”

Before he could say anything, she dropped her dress and stood there in just her panties and damn, was she well put together and Pedro realized he was now living one of those Penthouse Forum letters, the kind he’d jerked off to so many times before. He didn’t know if she’d had a lot of work done or what, but he didn’t care. Her breasts were perfectly round, large but not ridiculously so, her nipples standing firm despite the heat. Her stomach was flat and toned. The raft drifted away, but Pedro didn’t even notice. He just stood there and little Pedro just stood there and Mrs. Cooper ran her hands slowly down her body, hooked her thumbs into her panties and rolled them off, an inch at a time, a process that seemed to take forever. She kicked them aside and stood up and Pedro could see that she was almost clean-shaven, just a landing strip of blond hair pointing the way to Nirvana.

She walked into the water, walked over to Pedro, grabbed his cock with one hand and kissed him, jamming her tongue into his mouth. Then she leaned back, rubbed her breasts against his chest, put his hands on them. “How about them apples, huh?” she said as he stared at them, wide-eyed. He shuddered, then kissed her hard, thrusting his hips. She ran her hands down his back, gave his ass a good squeeze, then pushed him away.

“Pedro, I want you to fuck me,” she whispered. He just nodded inarticulately. “Good,” she said, then she took his hand and lead him to the edge of the pool.

When they got out, Joanne took a good, long look at him for the first time. He was built like a little brick shithouse all right. Big pecs, full on six-pack, strong legs, great smile. And he was hung like an ox. Jesus, was she looking forward to having that thing inside her. She just hoped he didn’t cum too soon. He looked like he was about to shoot his load right now.

And he did have a nipple ring, which she found strange and interesting at the same time. She gave it a little tug and Pedro sighed loudly, closing his eyes. “A lot of you kids have these nowadays,” she said. “Why?”

“Keep doing that, you’ll find out,” he said and she noticed he got a little bit harder, a little bit impossibly bigger. She wished Carl could see that thing. It would put him to shame. She turned Pedro around, slapped him on his tight, round ass, which didn’t even jiggle when she did so. “Over there,” she said, indicating a lounge chair by the guesthouse. Like an eager puppy, he trotted over. She followed, knelt on the chair and spread her legs. He knelt in front of her, ready to just ram it home, but she put a hand on his shoulder, pushed him down.

“First things first, dear. It’s like a fine automobile. You have to warm it up before you drive it home.” He laid down, rolled over and buried his face between her thighs, his tongue snaking into her, and this kid was very good at it. She moaned and leaned back. Truth to tell, this part wasn’t necessary. She was more than ready as soon as she’d come downstairs. But muff munching wasn’t Carl’s favorite thing, so she might as well take the opportunity.

Ah, Carl. She wondered what he was doing right now. He was a good husband, really. A great husband. He’d started from nothing and worked his way up and everything around her now was his doing. From the moment they’d met, he was determined to give her everything she ever wanted and he had succeeded. Succeeded, she reminded herself, with one glaring exception, which was why she was sitting on the gardener’s face right now.

Carl had lucked out by inventing a fad, then he continued his streak of luck through a decade, one must-have Christmas item after another. He did all his manufacturing overseas, where labor was cheap. Then again, in some countries, eighty cents a day was a pretty good wage. He liked to think — and he’d pretty much proven to himself — that he was doing a good thing, helping impoverished people to have a better standard of living.

And Joanne liked to think she was doing the same thing. Pedro seemed to be enjoying himself, and the poor boy probably didn’t get a lot of this among girls his own age. Not if they were Catholic girls, naive enough to think that sex was some divine act. No, it was a pretty profane act, if you did it right, and Pedro sure as hell was doing it right.

He was still hard as a rock, and Joanne wondered if she should risk returning the favor. She didn’t want him blowing it before he’d fucked her. She ran her hands down his body, one hand down his thigh, and tickled his balls. His dick twitched and a single clear drop formed at the tip. Yeah, too risky, it was hair-trigger time. She pulled herself off his face.

“Fuck me now,” she said. He jumped up, nodding, and she lay down on the chair. Pedro got on top of her, that wild look on his face, took aim and plunged inside with no problem. His eyes rolled backwards as he started humping her, in and out, up and back, grunting and moaning like a pig in a vice. She leaned up and grabbed the nipple ring in her teeth, ran her hands down his back and grabbed his ass, which was nice and sweaty. He was banging her double-time now, but just in case he decided to be polite and pull out, she pushed a finger against his asshole. He reacted with a quizzical look for just an instant, but then she shoved her finger inside, holding him more or less like a bowling ball, pulling him forward. No backing out now. In any case, the finger seemed to do it. He reared up, every muscle tense, yelled out, “I’m gonna — “ and then he did, in mid sentence, slamming into her five, six more times, shaking and groaning, blowing his hot load home in a series of wrenching spasms.

Pedro could hardly see straight. That was a good one, and he’d have to remember that finger trick. He pulled his softening member out of Mrs. Cooper and found himself nose to barrel with a gun.

“Hi. Tending the wrong bush, hm?” The man holding the gun was Mrs. Cooper’s age, tall, perfect teeth, perfect hair, probably went to the same surgeons she did. He was wearing an expensive looking suit, holding a martini in his free hand.

“Carl…” Joanne said, but Pedro wasn’t paying attention to the conversation by this point. It was her husband, and he wasn’t here to make small talk.

Pedro jumped up, arms raised in about as submissive a gesture as he could muster, backing toward his clothes. He was halfway there before he noticed that Mrs. Cooper had already disappeared. He caught a fleeting glimpse of her backside racing toward and then through the open guesthouse door.

“Hurry up,” Carl said, gesturing with the gun. Pedro nodded, grabbing his boxers to put them on. “Just get out,” Carl added. “And if I hear about you telling anybody you fucked my wife, well…” he cocked the gun, “I know where you work, remember?”

Pedro snatched up his clothes, not putting them on, and ran across the lawn. He fumbled with the gate, then darted out into the street and took off, trying to hold his clothes in front of himself. He’d gone three blocks before he ducked behind a hedge, out of breath, and started to get dressed. Looked like he wasn’t going back to work on the Cooper’s house any time soon.

* * *

Joanne came out of the bathroom, adjusting her clothes. Carl was standing there, waiting. “Well?” he said.

She shook her head.

“You’re sure?”

“Yes.”

“But I saw him, he came inside you, didn’t he?”

“He came like a fountain, but…” She shrugged, gestured vaguely, fighting back tears.

“You’re sure about this?”

“Trust me, okay? It’s… believe me, I know. Everything is doing what it’s supposed to.” She tried to laugh. “She’s b-a-a ck.” Her attempt at a joke made her cry harder.

“All right. All right,” Carl said, walking to her and taking her in his arms. “We can still make this work. I really want this to happen, you know that. We’ll try again, next time it’s… next time you’re… you know.”

“Ovulating,” she said, the word sounding so cold. Carl nodded, held her tight.

“That last one was a good-looking kid, too,” he said. “It’s a shame. You don’t suppose he’ll be back, do you?”

She shook her head. They never came back, that was the whole idea. No complications later, in case…

She looked past Carl’s shoulder at the calendar on the wall, the X’s and circles. Carl noticed, glanced over. “It’s been two weeks,” she said. “If it was going to happen…” She trailed off, buried her face in his chest.

“So we’ll try again in another two weeks, don’t worry. Sooner or later.”

“There has to be something your doctor can do.”

He gently lifted her chin, kissed her forehead. “I wish, but… Hey, I made a promise to you, and we’re going to make it happen.”

Joanne couldn’t help but smile through her runny mascara. Carl really was a great husband. He’d do anything for her. He’d proven that half a dozen times, and she knew he’d keep on proving it, for as long as it took.

No matter how long that was.

* * *

Well, this is awkward…

A while back, I took a DNA test and submitted it to the same place that my half-brother’s girlfriend (HBG) had sent his, and then waited. And waited. It took almost a month after they received my samples back to post the results and, well…

What I was expecting: About half Irish, the rest mostly German, British, and French. That was what all of the genealogical research HBG and I had done over the years told us, and in going from either of us to our common father and then to his parents and, at least, his father’s ancestors, was pretty well-documented, back to an ancestor with our family name born in Germany in the late 17th century.

That ancestor, Joannis Georg Bastian, moved from the village of Völkersbach in Baden, Germany to Gaggenau-Michelbach, also in Baden, where he died and where all of his descendants lived until the mid-19th century, when our common great-grandfather and family set sail to America.

According to the genealogist/historian who gave me the treasure trove of records, descendants of all of my ancestors still live there, but it’s a small place, with only about nine families that have either interbred across distant cousin relationships or pounced on any marriageable foreign man to wander into the place.

German ancestry seemed pretty cut-and-dried, although my half-brother was clearly the first one of our direct line to do this particular DNA test. The closest relatives he got were someone listed ambiguously as a 1st cousin/nephew/uncle and that person’s daughter, a second cousin — but the name didn’t seem familiar at all.

He did show as having come from German, British, and French roots, which was to be expected. All the rest were clearly from his mother, to whom I’m not related.

So far, so good. Then my results came back with a few… surprises. First of all, they showed not a hint of any German, British, or French ancestry. None at all. Second, I was a lot more Irish than I’d thought. Not just 50%, but 64%.

And the rest of it? Scandinavian, Italian, and Basque.

Even weirder, neither my half brother nor the cousins he found showed up anywhere among my matches. But… I matched with a few people who were related to my father’s mother — the names matched exactly what I had in genealogical records.

My half-brother did not match any of them.

And he and I did not match each other at all.

So, at the moment, this seems to say that a large chunk of what I thought was my documented heredity may be completely wrong, although I’m still related to my father’s mother. And while my half-brother is at least related to my father’s line via a first cousin, he doesn’t seem to be related to my father’s mother. (Oh… I guess I’m not related to that cousin, either.)

It’s a conundrum with several weird implications. One is that our aunt, who married into the family, cheated on her husband, creating the son who had a one-night stand that made the cousin that showed the connection to my half-brother but not to me.

Second is that my half-brother’s own mother cheated, which is why he’s apparently not related to what should be our mutual grandmother.

Third is that my half-brother’s ancestors are legit and related to his dad in all regards, whereas I’m either adopted from a relative of my father’s mother or who knows what.

My mother did have a miscarriage during a previous marriage before I was born, and then I was allegedly two months premature — well, “allegedly” although it was documented on my birth certificate and since I was born eight months after they got married, they had to have conceived me within a few weeks.

Plus, after my dad died, I remembered finding old letters to my mom from former co-workers assuring her not to worry about me being premature, all dated just after I was born.

So there’s definitely a bit of a mystery to solve here. But here’s the summary: My presumable half-brother is clearly related to our presumable common father’s nephew, but not to his mother. Meanwhile, I’m related to my father’s mother, but not to his nephew.

As far as whether I am related to my mother, that’s inconclusive, because no one on her side of the family has done the DNA test, and my genealogical records for her only go back about four generations at most. But being way more than 50% Irish kind of indicates that this part might be right.

For the moment, though, I’ve suddenly found out that I have no WASP, Teuton, or Gaul in me, but I’m mostly Celt and Viking, with a dash of Roman and a dash of “weird loners who live somewhere between France and Spain and speak their own language.”

That would explain a lot about me, actually.

To be continued…