The Audi lurched across yet another muddy pothole and I cursed my own stupidity for the hundredth time. I knew that my uncle had lived out in the sticks, but this was ridiculous. The road was a series of water traps roughly defined by overgrown ruts, and I was lucky that the car hadn’t bogged down. I picked my way around another turn, and a dilapidated shack came into view through an opening in the woods.
With a last jarring trip through yet another mud hole, I drove up into a fairly level stretch of ground sheltered under a monstrous cypress that also shaded the shack. I stopped at the back corner of the house, shut off the engine, and got out.
The house – it was well built, I could see, certainly not a shack, despite the weathered, unpainted clapboard exterior – sat next to a creek that meandered its way through the swamps. Past the corner, I could see the end of a wooden dock, and the fog shrouded swamp beyond. The air was warm, but much cooler than the sweltering highway I’d left behind a half hour before. I plucked my briefcase from the passenger seat, straightened my tie, and walked around the corner toward the front of the house.
The ground was uneven, so I looked down to pick my way across to the dock twenty feet away. I looked up toward my destination ... and froze in my tracks. A young woman stood in front of me, and I stared, transfixed by her. She was facing away from me, working with a basket of what looked like mushrooms at her feet. Her cutoff shorts, half shirt and skin were covered with dirt and mud, and she was barefoot.
She had bent over at the waist, reaching into the basket, and I found myself looking directly into her crotch. The seat of her cutoffs was frayed and had slipped to one side, revealing her sex to me. Her labia were delicate folds of pink flesh, framed by a dense nest of auburn hair. Her top had ridden up, and I could see the undersides of her generous breasts. My mind raced, wrestling with how to start this conversation. “Uhh...” I began.
A second later, I had forgotten all about her charms. At the first sound from my throat, she whirled around, and I found myself staring down the barrel of a revolver. “Who the hell are you?” she barked. Her green eyes bored into mine, and I dropped my briefcase and raised my hands.
“My name is Matthew Robbins, Samantha, and I’m your cousin.” I tried to keep my voice calm, and I looked into her eyes. “I’m Uncle James’ lawyer, uh, sort of.” At least her finger wasn’t on the trigger, I noted.
“Daddy is away right now,” Samantha grated, “and I’ll thank you to go away and leave me alone.”
“I can’t do that, Samantha. I have to ... talk to you about your father.” I started to put my hands down.
“Don’t you move!” The pistol rose higher, and her index finger started to move inside the trigger guard. The noses of hollow point bullets showed in the cylinder mouths; a single shot would be fatal at this range.
“I’m not armed, and I haven’t moved. I’ve also done nothing remotely threatening.” My anger was rising, and rapidly overcoming my fear of being shot. I willed myself to stay calm. “Can we just talk?”
Samantha shook her head. “I don’t trust you. You could have a gun under that jacket.”
“Fine.” My mother had always warned me about my temper, and I stripped off my suit coat with a jerk. “See? Nothing.” I dropped the jacket on the ground, and pulled my shirt open. “Nothing there, either.” I unbuckled my belt, and shoved my pants down to my knees. “And, nothing there, either.”
Samantha’s mouth dropped open, and she lowered the pistol to point somewhere south of my groin. “Uhh, okay.”
I felt much cooler all of a sudden, and I looked down. I’d totally forgotten that I went commando in the summer, and I hastily reached down and tugged my trousers up to my waist. “Sorry, I forgot I don’t wear underwear.”
Samantha laughed, a clear, lovely sound that I felt somewhere in my middle, and lowered her weapon. “I don’t, either, as I think you’ve seen by now.” She turned, replaced the pistol in her basket of mushrooms, and straightened up with the basket in hand. “Well, come on in, Cousin Matthew.”
“You remember me, now?” I buckled my belt and retrieved my briefcase and jacket.
“I wasn’t sure until I saw that birthmark below your belly button. It didn’t have all that hair on it the last time, though.” She grinned at me. “You coming?”
“ ... so, that’s why I’m here.” I sat back as Samantha gathered up the sheaf of legal papers I had presented her with ten minutes earlier. She read them silently as I reviewed the news I had come to give.
Samantha’s father – my mother’s brother – had moved to this secluded spot in the swamps some twenty years ago. About four years later, my uncle and his then girlfriend were blessed with Samantha. They were about to be married, when the lady was killed a car crash. My uncle never remarried, and he raised Samantha in this secluded house.
My involvement in Samantha’s life, aside from infrequent family visits when I was young, had started two years ago. I was recruited by a well-known attorney as an intern, and was promptly assigned to help manage my uncle’s affairs. I had immediately made my relationship to him known, but I was encouraged to continue managing the case. So, I made sure all of my uncle’s financial affairs were kept in order. He paid what few expenses he had from a bank account, always withdrawing cash at an ATM at a nearby store.
What no one knew, until four days ago, was that my uncle had been dead since Samantha was twelve, some five years. A bridge inspection team had found his pickup, with my uncle’s body in the driver’s seat, under a bridge, out of sight from the road. The medical examiner had determined that his death had not been the result of foul play, and so his death was ruled to be from natural causes. An ATM receipt and the matching amount of cash in his possession determined the approximate date of his demise. When my office was notified of his death, I asked to be the one to break the news to my cousin.
“I have a question, Samantha,” I said quietly.
“Call me Sam.” She sat back and regarded me with those intoxicating green eyes.
“Sam.” I nodded. “Why didn’t you call someone when your father didn’t return home?”
“Daddy would sometimes go away for a week or two at a time,” Sam said with a shrug. “After a month, I thought that he’d gone out, and didn’t want to come back. I had the house, and there was always money in the bank for food and things.”
“It didn’t bother you that he’d just up and left you here?”
She nodded. “It did, at first. Then, I don’t know. After a few months, I saw that he wasn’t withdrawing money from the account, and then I knew something had happened. I found the legal papers, so I knew that the bills were being paid.”
“Why didn’t you call the lawyer’s office?”
“And I would tell them what, Matthew? ‘Oh, hello, I’m a twelve year old girl, living by myself back in the swamp. I’m perfectly able to take care of myself, and there are other people out here who watch out for me.’ What do you think would have happened?”
I sighed. “They would have made you a ward of the state, and put your assets in legal limbo until your father could be declared legally dead.”
“That’s right,” Sam said with a sigh of her own. “I am quite capable of caring for myself, Matthew. Look around.” She waved her hand at the cabin’s interior.
I looked around. Despite the scruffy exterior appearance, the inside of the cabin was anything but dilapidated. The décor was dated; wood paneling, wood floors, and a plastered ceiling set off furniture and rugs that were twenty years out of style. We sat at a small kitchen table of chrome and vinyl, and the tidy kitchen was done up in avocado green and that yellow I always hated.
A pair of chairs, a side table, and an antique secretary desk with a computer system on an adjoining table dominated the living room. A saxophone rested in a stand beside the desk, and a bookshelf stuffed with books rounded out the furniture. Two closed doors led to the back of the house, and I assumed they were bedrooms.
I eyed the computer. “You have electricity out here?” I didn’t recall paying a utility bill.
“Nope, I run a generator to charge some batteries to run the computer and the lights.” Sam smiled. “I put in LED lights, and that helps a lot with power consumption.”
“How do you run fuel to it?”
“You know that Daddy had several gas wells?” I nodded. “Well, one of those wells is close by, out on some more solid ground about a quarter of a mile away. That is one of his natural gas wells, and he had them run an underground line to a storage tank. I have gas for the generator, the fridge, and for cooking.”
“What about water?”
“I can run a pump for the kitchen sink, but Daddy never got around to putting in a bathroom. We still have the outhouse. I’ve had it moved once, but I expect it will last a while now.”
“So, how do you bathe and wash clothes?” I felt like an interrogator, but Sam just smiled.
“There’s a shower rigged up on the porch, and I have an old ringer washer. I string up a clothesline in here when I need one. Most of the time, I just wear this.”
‘This’ was a pair of shorts and a half T-shirt that had seen better days. The shirt had been blue at one time, but it was worn thin, and torn in spots. It showed an alarming amount of her youthful breasts, and I pulled my eyes back to her face. “I noticed regular transactions on the account, but they were all ATM withdrawals.”
“I knew someone was watching Daddy’s money for him,” Sam sat back and crossed her arms, “so I’d use cash for groceries, and I bought prepaid cards or money orders for the rest. Otherwise, someone,” she lowered her eyebrows in a mock glare, “may have decided to come for a little visit even sooner.”
“So, the people out here, they leave you alone?”
“I have some friends,” Sam explained. “I take the boat up to the little community, and do all of my stuff there. I think they’ve figured out that I’m alone up here, but no one’s bothered around. Much.” She looked away for a moment.
“Your pistol,” I said in a flash of inspiration.
“Yes,” she replied quietly. “One guy decided he wanted to sample my goodies. Daddy taught me to shoot, and he always had a gun when he went out. There are all kinds of critters in this swamp, and not just the four-footed ones.”
“What happened?” I sat firmly on my outrage and simply looked at her.
“I shot him, and then I took his body way up in the swamp and dumped him.” She clasped her arms tightly around her chest. “I didn’t have a choice, and then I didn’t want to go into foster care. It wasn’t right, but I did it.”
“The only part you’d get in trouble about is hiding the incident. Since you’re our client, I can’t divulge any of this, not that I’d want to, anyway.”
“I’ve never told anyone,” she sniffed as she wiped at her eyes. “I had no choice, Matthew.”
“I believe you, Sam, and I understand your position.” I decided to change the subject, and my eyes fell on a textbook lying on the desk. “What about school? You don’t sound like someone who’s never cracked a book.”
“The Internet is a wonderful thing. I had a deal with the energy company; they let me piggyback off of their monitoring system. A couple of years ago, the wireless got good enough, so I dropped the landline. That brought the school to me. I’ve had a GED for a year, but I lied about my age to receive it. Now, I’m taking college courses, but I haven’t decided on a major. I’m thinking either something to do with the energy industry, or something related to studying nature.”
“You’ve done amazingly well for yourself, Sam. I’m impressed, really.” She smiled happily, and then sobered as I continued. “Why didn’t you contact Mom and me? We would have helped you.”
“I thought about it,” Sam admitted. “But, I was always busy; getting food and supplies, working on the house and property, and trying to keep my head down so I wouldn’t be found out. Honestly, I didn’t know my aunt that well, and I just couldn’t take the chance.”
“And then she died barely a year later than your dad,” I said sadly. “I went through the whole foster care system, so I can attest that your way was better.” I shook my head. “I finally ended up with an older couple when I was sixteen. They showed me a better path, and I took it. And, now, here I am.”
“Here you are,” Sam replied as she leaned toward me. “What will you do now?”
“I don’t really know what will happen now, Sam. I mean, we knew that something was going on with the account, because of the ATM withdrawals. That’s one reason I’ve come out here, to clear up that issue.” I held up my hand. “The only people who know are me, and my boss. He’s pretty laid back for a lawyer, so I think we can work with him.”
“I will be eighteen in seven months, Matthew.” Her implication was clear, as was the hard look in her eyes.
“I know, Sam, and so does my boss. He asked me to come see how you were doing out here, and, to be blunt, to see if you were still alive. He will be impressed to see how well you’ve done for yourself.”
“You have to go back right away, then?”
I nodded. “I told him it might take me a few days, but yes, I do.”
“I would like to accompany you, then,” she said formally.
“I think that would be a good idea.” I hesitated for a moment. “Do you have something to wear that might be a little more appropriate?” I tugged at my dress shirt, having laid my jacket on the counter beside us.
“No,” Sam smirked at me. “I go everywhere with my boobs and butt on display, and I run barefoot just to show how much of a swamp rat I am.”
“Yes, and you have very nice boobs, and a great butt,” I blurted out before I could trip the circuit breaker to my mouth.
“Anyway,” a bit of color rose in her cheeks, and she glared repressively at me. “Yes, I do have a nice dress, thank you, and even some shoes that match. Hell, I might even have one of those fancy little purses to go with it.”
“I stand corrected, Samanthina,” I used the name I’d hung on her as a kid, purely as an endearment, and not to be mean.
She sat back and looked down. “I remember that you used to tease me with that name, but you weren’t unpleasant about it.” She looked up at me. “Thank you for not treating me like crap.”
“You are my family, Sam. And now, we are the only family the other has.” It was true; my grandparents were long dead, as were our parents. Sam and I were only children, and I’d never heard anything about more distant relatives when I was growing up. Family reunions were with Mom, Uncle James, and Samantha.
“It’s getting late,” Sam observed as she looked out the window toward the creek. “Do we have to go back now?”
“Do you have somewhere I can sleep?”
“You can sleep in Daddy’s room. I’ll get you some clean sheets. I’ll make dinner, if that’s okay. I have some fresh fish in the live well, and, of course, some vegetables and mushrooms.”
“Of course,” I smiled, glancing at the basket on the floor. “Just don’t cook the revolver in with it.”
“But, the gunpowder adds such a nice flavor,” she batted back.
“I’ll pass,” I laughed. “Now, if you will excuse me, I’ll get my bag out of the car.”
We rose together, and I noticed that she was nearly as tall as me, and that her face was decorated with a spray of freckles across her nose. I hesitated for a moment, just looking at her.
“What?” She looked down. “I know I need a bath.”
“You’re even prettier than I remembered.” My mouth’s control system apparently needed serious maintenance.
The color rose higher in her cheeks. “Go get your luggage.”
I went out, and came back in a few minutes later with my travel bag. Sam showed me into the bedroom, and brought me the bedclothes. While I made the bed, she stepped into her own room, and then went out front.
I made the bed, and then busied myself with unpacking my bag. I hung up my suit, and changed into jeans and a T-shirt. I slipped on a pair of deck shoes, and went out to the kitchen. The house had a single door that led out onto the front porch, which faced the water. I caught a movement off to my right, and I turned to see what it was.
The kitchen window faced the side of the house, where the porch wrapped around the side of the house. Sam stood on the porch, and she was nude. I watched as she stepped under a shower spout and turned on the water. I retreated back to my room, embarrassed to have seen my younger cousin bathing.
I busied myself with my phone, checking my email at work, and reporting that I’d found Samantha safe at her father’s home. Soon, it was dinner time, and Samantha called for me from the kitchen. I walked into the kitchen, and found her in the process of setting the table. “Let me help you with that.”
“Thank you, but I have everything set. What would you like to drink? I have milk, tea, cola, and wine.”
“I don’t drink very much; I like it and it goes well with fish.”
“I’ll try it, then.” She motioned for me to sit, and I did so, since the kitchen was small, and I didn’t want to get in her way. I watched her as she worked; she wore a simple cotton dress in a floral pattern that came to just above her knee. Her toned legs were bare, with equally simple leather sandals on her feet. She’d pulled her shoulder length auburn hair back in a ponytail, and secured it with a pink tie. She was lightly tanned, and her freckles seemed to glow on her skin.
Sam noticed my gaze, and the color came back in her cheeks. She turned and pulled a dish out of the oven. “Dinner is ready,” she announced. “Will you bring our plates?”
I did so, and she served up baked fish with cubed and seasoned potatoes, vegetables, and fried mushrooms. I carried the plates back to the table while she brought the wine. The food was wonderful. My mother had been a good cook, but Sam was a step above. We ate, drank our wine, and talked. She told me more about how she’d grown up, and how she’d had to figure things out for herself. I told her about my life after my mother’s passing, and how I’d ended up in law school. I had another year to go, and then I could sit for the bar exam.
We finished the meal, cleared the dishes, and sat back down to drink more wine. I wasn’t much of a drinker, and I was buzzing when Sam poured the last of the bottle into my glass.
“Cheers,” she said with a giggle.
“I think, my dearest cousin, that we are both drunk.”
“I am your only cousin, Matt.” She giggled again. “Wow, I’ve never drank this much before.”
The sun was setting, and Sam stood, grasping the counter to steady herself. “Woah, that’s weird.”
I stood, not completely steadily myself, and stepped over to face her. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I usually take like a week to drink that much wine.”
“Can we sit and talk, maybe outside?”
“The skeeters will carry us off out there, but we can sit in the other room.”
I walked with her to one of the upholstered chairs, and moved a footstool in front of it. She slipped off her sandals, and propped her feet up with a sigh. I sat down in the other chair, and looked over at her. “I have a confession.”
She smiled at me. “What?”
“I came into the kitchen while you were showering. I didn’t know it was on the porch.”
“I know,” Sam nodded. “I saw you.”
“Oh.” I frowned. “You’re not mad?”
Sam giggled. “Matthew, we used to go swimming together, and I don’t think either of us even owned a bathing suit.”
“You were eight, and I was twelve, Sam.”
“Have I changed for the better?”
“Don’t fish for compliments. You are a beautiful girl, no, woman, not a girl.”
“Do you think so?” She looked at me with an expression I couldn’t parse in my inebriated state.
“Yes, I do. I always thought you were a cute kid, and now you’re all grown up.”
She changed the subject then, and we talked about school and other things. Soon, Sam announced that she needed to clean the kitchen. I went to help, and we soon finished washing and storing the dishes and cookware. Afterwards, Sam made coffee, and we sat at the kitchen table in companionable silence as the alcohol worked its way through our systems.
“Coffee usually wakes me up, but I’m still sleepy,” Sam said as she finished her cup.
“It’s getting late,” I pulled out my phone to check the time. “We should probably get up and go in the morning.”
“We can go after breakfast.”
“That works. Well, then, I’m off to bed.”
Sam stood and pulled me in for a hug. She smelled of jasmine, and I hugged her a little tighter than I’d intended. She released me and stepped back with a smile. “Good night, Matthew.”
“Good night, Samanthina.” I walked to my room and went to bed.
The next morning, I woke and dressed in a pair of shorts, a T-shirt, and flip-flops. I walked into the kitchen to find Sam working at the stove. She, too, wore shorts and a T-shirt, but these were clean and in good repair. “Good morning, Sam.”
“Good morning, Matthew,” she smiled wanly. “I’m not feeling all that great today. I think I have a hangover.”
“Drink plenty of water and take aspirin,” I advised.
She lifted a water glass. “Yep, I went online to find that out.”
She was smart, and able to take care of herself, I reminded myself. “Can I go take a shower?”
“Sure. There’s soap and shampoo, and the hot water tank is full. Just remember to pull the mosquito nets closed, or they will drain you dry.”
I went out onto the porch, and turned the corner. I pushed aside the netting, and carefully arranged it in place. The shower was an antique coated iron tub, with a freestanding shower head at one end. I stripped off my clothes, and stepped into the shower. The water was warm, and I let it run for a minute, soaking away my own hangover. I used the soap and shampoo, scrubbing myself clean with my hands. That done, I shut off the water and looked for a towel to dry myself. Oops. There were no towels.
“Looking for this?” Sam said from the entrance. She’d pulled the netting aside, and was standing there with a large towel in her hands, and an even larger smile on her face.
I started to cover myself, and then I gave up the idea and just nodded. “Yes, I forgot to ask for a towel.”
“I know,” she replied as she extended it to me.
I took the towel and pressed it to my chest. “Thank you.”
“No problem,” she giggled as she turned around to leave. “I’ll get changed so we can go out.”
I toweled myself dry, went to my room, and dressed in my work clothes. I felt silly wearing a tie out in the swamp, but my boss expected a certain level of decorum at the office. When I came out, Sam was waiting in the living room. She wore another dress; it was medium green, and fell to just below her knees. She was stunning, and I barely managed to keep from gawking at her.
“What do you think?”
“Wow, Sam. That’s a great look for you.”
“Thank you, Matthew. Are you ready?”
“I am.” I escorted her to my car, to her amusement, and we drove off down the treacherous lane to the main road. Two hours later, we were seated in the conference room at my office. My boss met us there, and we got down to business, as my boss was fond of saying.
He laid out Samantha’s legal position, which was she would not be able to conduct her own affairs until she was eighteen. What she could do, though, is petition the court to emancipate her. My boss recommended a judge, and told Sam that she should ask for an immediate hearing. Sam agreed, and my boss called the judge. Sam had an appointment for early the next morning.
We left the office, and went to eat a late lunch. Again, I escorted her into the restaurant, which she again found amusing. We decided that it was too far to drive back to her home, so I suggested that we could stay at my apartment. Sam agreed, so we finished our meal and I took her home.
When we arrived, I immediately noted another problem. My apartment was tiny; I was single, and I didn’t need much room. I had a kitchen, a sitting area with a TV, a computer, and my office chair, a single bathroom, and my bedroom.
“Looks like we’re bunking together again, Matthew,” Sam observed.
She was right, we’d shared a bed on our visits, but again, she’d been a kid at the time. “Looks like. I’m sorry; I didn’t think of that when I invited you here. I can get you a hotel room if you’d rather do that.”
“Are you going to accost me if I sleep with you?”
“No, of course not. I love you, Sam, and I would never hurt you.”
She looked at me for a moment, her expression inscrutable. “I love you, too, Matthew. It’s been a long time since we’ve said that to each other.”
“Yes, it has.” I left our conversation at that, and busied myself with settling her in. She hadn’t planned on an overnight stay, so we went out shopping. She bought casual clothing, some toiletries and other things young women apparently needed. We walked through the mall on the way to my car from the food court, when I noticed a jewelry shop, and, glancing at her, I saw that she was wearing no jewelry.
“What are we doing in here?” Sam looked askance at me as I pulled her into the shop.
“I think you need some jewelry,” I explained. “It will help with your emancipation hearing tomorrow. I think a pair of earrings and a necklace would be good.”
“Matthew, I can’t afford this,” Sam protested as she saw the prices for a diamond set that’d caught my eye.
“I’m giving it to you, Sam. Just try it on.”
With a friendly sales lady’s help, Sam selected a set that suited her beautifully. Then, the lady pointed out a ring. “Your girlfriend might like this, too.”
I nodded and smiled. “We may come back later for that, but thank you.” I paid for our purchases, and we left the shop. “I hope you have your ears pierced.”
“Of course I do, and what did she mean about me being your girlfriend?”
“I’m sure the first relationship that popped into her mind wasn’t ‘cousin’, Sam.”
“It’s not funny, Matt. That was embarrassing.”
“Well, I didn’t want to make a scene by trying to correct her.”
“It didn’t bother you?”
“Not at all.” I glanced at her. “Did it bother you, beyond being embarrassed?”
“No – well, I don’t know,” Sam said in an exasperated tone. “But we’re cousins, not boyfriend and girlfriend.”
“So? There have probably been more marriages between cousins in history than between people who were unrelated.”
“That’s just weird, Matthew.”
“Why? What’s really wrong with it?” I kept my voice level; I wanted to talk and not argue with her.
“I don’t know; maybe it’s because I’m a swamp rat, and people expect me to inbreed.”
I laughed. “What people are you talking about?”
Sam sighed. “I know two cousin couples, Matt. I mean, they’re nice people, and their kids seem to be normal, but, I don’t know. It’s odd for me to think about it, especially with you.”
“So you wouldn’t even consider marrying me?”
“Matt, please, I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” She tugged at my arm a little to emphasize her point.
It was then that I realized she hadn’t let go of my arm as we walked and talked. “Okay, I will stop,” I said in a gentler tone. We arrived at my car, and I drove us back to my apartment.