Cousin’s Dilemma

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Cousins find themselves unwillingly drawn into a relationship.


Uncle Roger opened the door, grabbed my hand and slapped me on the back. “How’s my favorite nephew?”

I couldn’t help smiling back at him. “Couldn’t be better. Thanks for letting me stay here for a few days. It’s a lot better to spend time around family than in a hotel room.”

Aunt Ellie joined us and gave me a kiss on the cheek. “It’s been too long, Keith.”

I shook my head. “I’m treading water just to keep up with what I have to do. I can’t remember when I’ve had a vacation. I think things may settle down a bit soon, though”

Cousins Meredith and Robyn soon joined the gathering, throwing their arms around me for a hug, squealing and clamoring for attention.

I was pointed toward Meredith’s old room. She teased “I hope you don’t mind some girl stuff in the room. I never took everything when I got married and moved out.” Meredith looked over at Robyn. “Unlike SOME people who continue to mooch off of mom and dad.”

Robyn rolled her eyes. “I just haven’t found my niche yet.”

“Oh, I think you have.”

Good natured teasing had always been part of their relationship; Meredith always reminding Robyn that SHE was the oldest. As kids Robyn chased Meredith around after one of those ‘I’m in charge of you’ remarks. Sometimes they used to tussle, but have always been tight as sisters.

I settled in, laughing at the pink frilly bedspread and the dolls sitting on virtually every surface in the room. If I couldn’t be with my own parents these were the people I wanted to be around.

Aunt Ellie called us to the dinner table and as we sat down for an early dinner I had to laugh again. “You remembered that I love your meatloaf.”

Meredith finished and got up to leave, draping herself over my back as I sat at the table. “I gotta run and pick up Tommy from daycare before Dan gets home. You know mom moved up dinner just so I could be here, too. We’ll have to make time for a visit while you’re here. Maybe you can come over and eat with us one night. I’ve told Tommy all about you and he is anxious to meet you.”

“Sure, Mer.”

“Oh, and I guess my YOUNGER sister can come over, too.”

Robyn stuck out her tongue and aimed a slap at Meredith’s arm, but Meredith twisted out of the way and the slap missed, so Meredith escaped unscathed with a laugh.

I was in town to attend meetings with various people at a local company. I’m a technical writer and they wanted me to be sure I understood the concept of their product. I’ve worked with this company before and they like the way I can get to the heart of the matter and explain the user operation of hardware and software in non-technical terms. Usually I took time to learn how everything works and even try it out myself until I understood it. I didn’t understand how the things worked, but needed to understand how to use the product. I got into this field after being frustrated as I sat with a manual in front of me, going ‘huh?’

The next evening the meal did not include Meredith; she was doing something for Tommy. Without Meredith there I detected a bit of stiffness at the table, and gleaned that there was some underlying issue between Uncle Roger and Robyn.

It all became clear after dinner, as we all sat around talking. Uncle Roger addressed me, but looked at Robyn and slowly shook his head. “Can you believe, Keith, that this one, with all her smarts doesn’t want to finish her education?”

Robyn sighed “I keep telling you, dad, I’ve decided I don’t want to be an engineer. I know it’s what you do, but…I just haven’t figured things out yet.”

“Two years of college and she drops out. Can you believe it? And she’s a whiz at math and science.”

“I don’t have to listen to this. Keith is here for a visit. Give it a bone, dad.”

Uncle Roger threw up his hands and got up to fix a drink. I looked over at Robyn and mouthed ‘let’s talk later,’ and she nodded.

After Aunt Ellie and Uncle Roger had retired for the night I sat in the back yard with Robyn.

“Look, what dad says is true. My heart just wasn’t in engineering any more. I was real excited about it at first, but something happened my freshman year that got me thinking differently.”

She got up and paced back and forth, occasionally stopping in front of me to address me directly.

“Everything’s computerized today, but they still have us take a class in engineering drawing. I loved it. Not the idea of drawing plans and such, but we learned perspective and drew objects. I have a talent for it. I can draw anything and get the perspective right and can shade it and everything. All just pencil work. I took an art class sophomore year, and it opened my eyes to a whole new world.”

“So, you want to be an artist?”

“I don’t know. I think so. But I don’t know what kind of things I could do to make money at it. I really have limited experience. Dad thinks I’m wasting my time and, honestly, sometimes I do, too.”

“You need to sort things out.”

“Yeah. I need to get away from Escort here, but have nowhere else to go, so I’m stuck.”

I gave her a hug. “Let me think about it and maybe I can come up with some ideas for you.”

I could see her eyes glistening in the moonlight. “Thanks, Keith. Just knowing you’re on my side makes it bearable.”

I was a bit distracted during the three days I was at work, thinking about Robyn, but managed to wrap up what I had to do. Friday evening I had an invitation to eat with Meredith and her family.

Dan greeted me with “So you’re the one Meredith was in love with when she was a kid, huh?”

Meredith turned bright red. “I never said I was in love. I said I had a major crush on you. When I was ten or eleven I fantasized that we would someday get married and live happily ever after.”

“It seems to me, Meredith, that you have your happily ever after right here.”

Dan laughed. “Oh you’re good. Nice save. C’mon in and let’s eat, that is if we can get the rug rat gracefully to the table.”

Tommy was a very wiggly two-year old, but he seemed to like me and I promised to play blocks with him before he went to bed.

Dan volunteered to give the youngster a bath and get him settled in, so Meredith and I could talk. Talk eventually turned to Robyn.

“What is your take on her situation, Mer?”

She sighed and shook her head. “It seems to me she is confused. I don’t think she knows what she wants. It’s all just vague ‘art’.”

“It seems she and your father go at it fairly regularly. Do you think she would do better if she was away from the immediate family? Of course, if she were, she would also be away from you and I think you have some influence with her.”

“We’ve always been close, but I honestly don’t know if I’m helping any. I knew what I wanted right out of high school and I’ve got it. Dan is a good husband and father. He provides for us so I can be a stay at home mom. He talks about maybe having another one…or even two kids. He takes Tommy to the park or a kiddie movie so I have some grown-up time.”

“Seems like I was spot on with my analysis at the door tonight. I wouldn’t have expected anything less from you. You and Robyn were always my favorite cousins.”

“Really? I never knew that. Especially since Marie and Dorothy are about your age.”

“Oh, I’m close to them, always have been. But it’s different being around girls my own age and younger ones like you and Robyn. You’re six years younger and Robyn is eight. I had to shift gears to play with you two when you came to visit, and I kind of liked it. I think I knew both you and Robyn had crushes on me and for some reason that made me feel good. I felt protective over you two.”

“You taught us how to swing a baseball bat and catch a ball. You dragged out some of your old toys for us to play with. You got down to our level, and didn’t ignore us because we were ‘little kids’. It’s no wonder we had crushes on you. Do you know that I have my eye on some of those same toys for Tommy as he grows up?”

I laughed “Is that a fact?”

“Sure is. But to get back to Robyn, I’m glad you’re talking about her. Maybe, just maybe you can help her sort things out. If anyone can, you can.” She paused and looked at me intently. “You’re idea of her getting away from the family situation is probably what she needs, but she has nowhere to go. God, I hope you can help her figure it out.”

“No pressure here. My cousin’s life is in my hands.”

She laughed and slapped my arm. “I’m not putting pressure on you. But, seriously, if you can come up with an idea, any idea, I’ll support you one hundred percent. I trust you. We all trust you.”

Lying in Meredith’s old bed, surrounded by dolls, I thought about it. My meetings had been Wednesday through Friday. Tomorrow Uncle Roger didn’t have to go to work, so maybe I could have a few words with him about the situation.

After breakfast a sullen Robyn went for a jog “to collect her thoughts”, so I took a deep breath and approached Uncle Roger. We sat in the back yard sipping second cups of coffee. I didn’t even have to bring up the subject.

“Keith, I don’t know what I’m going to do with that girl. I’m just watching her throw her life away.”

“I’ve been thinking about it, too. I certainly remember the bright, inquisitive girl she used to be. Yet, I’ve talked to her and think I understand where she is.”

Uncle Roger scowled at me.

“I’m not saying I agree with her, just that I think I understand her situation. She’s conflicted.”

We sat, cradling mugs of coffee in silence for a few minutes.

“Look, I have an idea. I’m not sure how feasible it is at this point, which is why I’m bringing it up to you, for your input. I haven’t talked to her about it, and don’t even know if she would like it, either.”

“You’ve got my attention.”

I tipped my head back to stare up at the puffy cumulus clouds drifting overhead. “I’m wondering if she would benefit from a change of scenery. Maybe in new surroundings she’d be better able Escort Bayan to think about what she really wants. Maybe it would be good for her to be away from home, and maybe not having her here would lower your own blood pressure.”

After a silence I turned to find him staring at me. “You know she has no real job, no money. She spends a few hours a week working at a coffee shop to make enough to keep her old beat up piece of crap car running. It’s barely reliable enough to get her back and forth to work and to a silly art class at the local community college. I’ve had to jump start her several times. Where the hell is she going to go? A homeless shelter?”

“Here’s what I think. Listen to the whole thing before you react to it. I have a two bedroom townhouse, each bedroom with a private bath. She could come and stay with me for awhile. It would give her a roof over her head. Mom taught me to cook, hell she taught me everything I’d need to know to be on my own – cleaning, laundry, you name it. It would give her a chance to look at things from a different perspective and also give her a chance to fiddle around with her art and see if she can make anything of it.”

“You want to take her home with you?”

“Jeez. You make it sound dirty. I don’t even know if it’s something she’d be interested in. She could come down whenever she’s ready. Meredith tells me Robyn helps her with Tommy sometimes. I have an end unit and a family with children lives next door and maybe she could help out there to earn some spending money.”

He rubbed his chin. “That’s not something I’d ever considered. Let me talk to your Aunt Ellie. You can talk to Robyn about it and see if she’s even interested.”

“I have a flight out scheduled this evening, but I can change it to tomorrow instead if I have to. The only place I absolutely have to be is sitting and pounding away on my keyboard Monday morning.”

Robyn returned and showered. After she dressed I took her by the arm. “Let’s go for a walk over to the park.”

She gave me a funny look. “What’s up?”

“I want to talk to you about something.”

“Shit. Dad’s been talking to you, hasn’t he? I’m wasting my time, throwing my life away, yada, yada, yada. It’s a constant drum beat from him.”

“Actually, I talked to your dad about an idea I have. Let’s go sit someplace.”

At the park there were a couple of toddlers in the tot play area, but the larger area was vacant. We sat side-by-side on swings and reminisced about me taking my two cousins to the park when they were little.

In silence we managed to swing in unison for a few minutes before gradually slowing to a stop, but remaining seated on the swings.

“I know your dad and you have an uneasy tension between you, and he’s certainly filled me in on his perspective. You’ve told me a little about yourself and Meredith has talked about you also. What comes through loud and clear is that you are unhappy.”

“That’s an understatement.”

“I’m not going to beat around the bush. I’m offering for you to come and stay with me for awhile. I have two bedrooms. You can work on your art without all the negative comments. I even may have a way for you to earn a little money while leaving you lots of time to yourself. This is just an idea I’m tossing out here. Your dad is noncommittal about it, but seems to be open to the idea. I have no idea about your mom.”

She stared at me, slack-jawed.

“I just want you to think about it. I’m not talking about leaving today, but whenever you’re ready if you want to do it.”

She jumped up and came over to hug me. “What if I’m ready today?”

I laughed “Whoa! I haven’t even prepared the place for a guest. I sure didn’t come here to deal with this situation. Think about it, I mean seriously. Not as a way to get away from home, but as an opportunity for you to clear your head and grow.”

“If you’re serious…”

“I am. I have a job, although I do work from home occasionally, so you’d have the place to yourself a lot of the time. It would be quiet. There is a small college in town that has an excellent art program.”

The sun broke through what had been some early morning clouds, and the sunlight made her red hair glow like it was on fire. For the first time I began to have misgivings about the plan, wondering if it was wise. This wasn’t the little girl I remembered.

She jumped into my arms and kissed my cheek. “I love the idea of spending time with my favorite cousin.”

The mood walking back to the house was considerably lighter. She looked like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. My misgivings melted away when I saw her change in mood.

The four of us sat down at lunch and talked about it. Aunt Ellie was worried about her baby, but saw the change in Robyn and gave her blessings. Uncle Roger reluctantly gave his acceptance. Robyn almost danced around the table.

On the flight home I wondered what I had gotten myself into.

Three weeks later I met Robyn at the airport and helped her load a mountain of suitcases, backpacks Bayan Escort and bags into the car.

“Jeez Robyn. Did you bring everything you own?”

She laughed and kissed me on the cheek. “Almost. I don’t know how long I’ll be staying and have to be prepared for seasonal clothes changes. I can’t afford to keep buying new clothes. I have all my supplies”

We managed to wrestle all her stuff upstairs into the second bedroom and she began unpacking and settling in, giddy as a schoolgirl.

I introduced her to the family next door, and their two children hid behind their mother, but gradually came out as Robyn squatted down to talk to them at their level. Within a few minutes Robyn was led by the hand to the children’s room.

Al and Amy shook their heads. “We’ve had babysitters, but I’m never seen the kids take to someone like that. We don’t use daycare and I can sure use some help with them so I can get laundry and cleaning done and not have the constantly underfoot in the kitchen.”

I laughed “Her nephew is two and is the same way with her. They’ll sit on the floor and play for hours.”

Later, Robyn sat at my computer and browsed the catalog of the college. “They have some interesting classes. I’ve saved every penny I could and sold my car before I come here, so have a few hundred dollars. It looks like I’ll be babysitting quite a bit to make enough to take one class each semester.”

I finished the project I had been working on and had a few days before I had to dive into the next one.

She proofread my work before I sent it in. “This is good. Even I understand it.”

“You should have seen what they had at first. I took me an hour just to read one page. It looked like it had been translated from Chinese by someone who didn’t know much English. So many grammatical mistakes. More wrong words than I could count. Some of the time I had no idea what they were talking about. There were diagrams that were indecipherable.”

I looked at some sketches she had spread out on the table. “I’m not an art critic, but I think these are good.”

“I’m getting there.”

“Ever try paint?”

She shook her head. “Nah. I really like working with a plain old pencil. If you don’t mind I could set up my drawing board and supplies at one end of the table.”

“As long as you leave us room to eat.”

The next day I found her hunched over the board with a pencil in one hand and a gum eraser in the other.

“Can’t decide?”

She looked up. “It’s just not right. See? The road just looks like it goes…nowhere.”

She put down her implements. “I’m just learning landscapes. I can do city street scenes just fine. I want to learn more about figure drawing. I am pretty good at portraits, but not professional grade yet. Here are a couple of sketches I did of the kids next door.”

“These are really good.”

“That’s nice of you to say, but I need to learn more. I like their faces, but their arms and legs are just…just not right. I’m thinking of taking a human anatomy class before I get into figure drawing. They offer one during summer session.”

“That sounds challenging.”

She shrugged. “I’ve always been good at science. I’ll do okay. I don’t need to know enough to be a doctor, but do need to understand muscles and bones.”

We settled into a routine, and I’ve never seen her happier. She did the anatomy class and made a “C”, but said she got what she wanted out of it.

Every wall space began to fill up with drawings, and they leaned more and more toward some sort of figures. She redid the kids next door as they played in the backyard. Al and Amy were very pleased with them and offered to pay her, but Robyn gave them the drawings.

The townhouse community has a swimming pool and she took the children to the little kiddie pool several times a week. She and I sometimes swam in the evening, and I knew I was in trouble. She wore the tiniest bathing suits and I tried to look around at the pool scene to keep from staring at her.

One evening we had just showered after a swim and were eating some ice cream.

“Keith, do you think I’m pretty?”

“What the hell kind of question is that? I’ve always thought you were pretty. Even when you were a little girl I thought that.”

“I don’t mean little girl pretty.”

“Of course you are. You may be the most attractive young woman I know.”

“Then, why don’t you look at me when we swim?”

“Oh shit.” I ran my fingers through my hair. “Okay. Here it is, straight up. I think you are beyond pretty. I think you are…oh fuck…desirable. There, are you happy?”

She was quiet. “What about me is desirable?”

I was very uncomfortable and hesitated.

“Come on, I’m a big girl.”

I averted my eyes. “That’s the trouble. You’re a big girl now. You’ve always been my little cousin, but now you’re…grown.”

“I’m waiting for you to tell me, and you’re stalling. Look at me, Keith.”

I swallowed hard and raked my fingers through my hair again. “You red hair flames in the sunlight. You used to have freckles, but I don’t know what happened to them. Your emerald eyes are captivating. Your small upturned nose is still the cutest I’ve ever seen. You have legs that won’t quit, a long neck and a body fashion models would kill for.”

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