MY COUSIN AUDREY ­ Chapter 1 ....

    It wasn't fair. It just wasn't fair! 

    All morning I had been sitting moping in what was now destined to be my bedroom, staring at the boxes of my belongings which Dad and I had moved out of my real bedroom to make way for dumb old, Aunt Betsy. 

    Sooner or later, I knew I would have to unpack and settle in. But to do that would mean admitting to myself that this arrangement really was permanent. Not only was Aunt Betsy going to be living here for the next two years while she earned her nursing degree, but so was her daughter, Audrey. Now I wouldn't be the only kid in the house anymore.

    There was a knock on the door. "Come in," I mumbled, grumpily, not looking up as my mother entered and seated herself on the bed facing me.

    "Steven..." she began, then paused as if collecting her thoughts. She took a deep breath. "Steven, I know it's hard on you to have to give up your bedroom for Aunt Betsy. It's going to require some adjusting for all of us. But please try to-"

    "What adjusting do you have to do?!" I demanded indignantly, "I'm the only one who has to give up his room!"

    "Steven Matson!" my mother snapped, her eyes flashing, "You are twelve years old and I think it's about time you started acting like it and thinking about other people besides yourself once in awhile!" She paused and took another deep breath, perhaps counting to ten inwardly. "Steven, you have had to move your room from downstairs to here.  But your Aunt Betsy and your poor little cousin Audrey have had to adjust to having Uncle Jack die. How would you feel if-" She stopped abruptly and bit her lip, a look of worry flickering briefly across her face before she regained her composure. 

    Changing course slightly, Mom continued.  "They have also had to adjust to moving twelve hundred miles," she declared, a bit hurriedly, "because they couldn't afford to live in their house anymore. Aunt Betsy is going to have to adjust to going to nursing school, and when she graduates she will have to adjust to earning a living for the first time. And don't forget Audrey. She has no friends here. She'll be going to a strange, new school, living in a strange house. Think of what an adjustment she is having to make!" 

    Before Mom had entered the room I had felt bad. Now I not only felt bad, I also bad about feeling bad. Great. Thanks Mom... Still, I tried my best to conceal the guilt which she had so successfully aroused in me.

    "I don't want to have to live with bratty little Audrey," I grumbled, sulkily. "She'll probably just tag along wherever I go and never leave me alone like she did the time we visited.  And she always grabs my stuff and says its hers!"

    "Now Steven," my mother replied, "Don't speak that way about your cousin Audrey. She's a delightful little girl. You haven't even seen her in five years. I'm sure if you ask her now not to follow you around or pick up your things she won't. After all, she is not three years old any more, she's eight. So please give her a chance. And Steven," she added, in a softer voice, her brows knitting, "do be kind to her. The last couple of months have been terribly difficult, so don't make her life any more unhappy than it already is. Is that understood?"

    I heaved a deep sigh of resignation. "Ye-e-s, Mom."

    "Well, Steven, if you are not going to unpack," she said, frowning at the disheveled piles of boxes clothes and books, "why don't you come downstairs to the living room with everyone else?" I groaned. "Come on, Steven, make an appearance. Let's go down stairs now."

    "O-o-h, al-l-l right," I said, grabbing a comic book and walking quickly out the door without waiting for her. In the living room, I curled up at the end of the big sofa, engrossed in the latest issue of Superman, doing my best to have as little to do with everyone else as possible. Dad was reading the paper, Audrey was across the room on the smaller sofa playing with her dolls.  Aunt Betsy, a poised, statuesque woman of thirty eight, with erect bearing, a full figure, and long, dark-red hair, was sitting at the fold-out desk filling out some forms, probably for her school, or maybe for Audrey's school.

    "Dinner's almost rea-dy!" chimed my mother from the kitchen.

    "Audrey," said Aunt Betsy, "go help your Aunt Marjorie set the table now."

    "In a minute, Mommy," my little cousin replied.

    "No. Not in a minute. Now. Aunt Marjorie will show you what to do,"

    "Awww, Mommy... I'm playing!"

    "Audrey?" Aunt Betsy inquired with an upward lilt to her voice, "do you want a spanking?" I felt a tingling sensation sweep through my body at these words. Audrey got spanked by Aunt Betsy?! The little girl stiffened almost imperceptibly at her mother's query, but she set down her doll and trotted off to the kitchen without further delay, wearing just a hint of a pout on her face.

    Suddenly I forgot all about the comic book, although I still pretended to read it. In my mind's eye Audrey lay crying across her mother's lap getting spank after spank. I had always had a secret fascination with the subject of spanking even though I had never experienced it myself. I scanned the funnies daily for pictures of cartoon spankings; looked up "spank" in the dictionary long after I knew the definition by heart. Having no brothers or sisters, I had never seen another child spanked, although I often wished I could. Spankings were given at my school, but only by the principal and only in private. Our rambling old victorian house sat on a quarter acre lot, too far from neighbors for a spanking to be audible, much less visible. Sure, there had been times when mothers had given their youngsters a swat at the supermarket or other public places. But I had always longed to see the real thing: an old-fashioned, over-the-knee spanking. Now, with Audrey and Aunt Betsy living with us, I might get my lifelong wish any day now!

    As Audrey scurried around the table in the adjoining dining room setting out the plates, my fevered mind seized upon one scenario after another. If she dropped a plate and broke it, would Aunt Betsy spank her for that? What if she stumbled and spilled something messy all  over the carpet? Maybe Aunt Betsy would turn her over her knee and spank her right on the spot! What a delicious sight it would be, with Audrey crying and rubbing tears from her eyes while Aunt Betsy slapped her little backside again and again! I held my breath as Audrey carried the gravy boat into the dining room. But the solemn little girl held it with great care, and set it down on the table without mishap. As the meal progressed, I kept glancing across the table in my cousin's direction. She appeared not to notice my attention at first as she hungrily spooned french fries into her mouth. Then she smiled shyly in my direction before I could look away. She had grown into quite a pretty little girl, with the same reddish brown hair as her mother, but cut shorter. Framed by her halo of hair was a puckish face with a cute, upturned nose and light brown eyes. She also possessed her mother's prim, straight posture. Sooner or later, she was bound to do something wrong and get a spanking from Aunt Betsy. Perhaps I could think of some way to get her into trouble so that I could be right there when it happened?

    "You don't seem very hungry, tonight, son," rumbled my father, "Are you coming down with something?"

    "Nah," I shrugged, forcing some meatloaf into my mouth.

    "Well, eat your peas, Dear, before they get cold," prompted my mother.

    That evening after dinner I arranged the furniture in my new bedroom and began to unpack boxes of stuff. There was a doorway from my room into Audrey's room which had been painted shut long as long as  I could remember. The door into the hallway still worked, of course, as did the door on the opposite wall which lead into what had once been servants quarters but was now storage. The back stairs which servants once used opened into this next room, so that was a plus. I would have my own staircase, which hardly anyone else ever used, leading to the kitchen. All three doors in my new room had glass transoms up above which had been painted shut. The builders of this house hadn't intended for this to be a bedroom, but a sitting room. I maneuvered my dresser so that it fit into the alcove of the door to Audrey's room, pleased at my cleverness in use of space, and put my bedside lamp on top of it. The head of my bed was against the same wall as the sealed doorway to Audrey's room, so I would have good reading light. On the other side of the bed I put my desk, where I worked on models and did homework. Next I began carefully unpacking my precious collection of models.

    "Au-u-dre-e-y," came Aunt Betsy's singsong voice from the foot of the stairs, "Bedtime!" "Okay, Mommy!" came the reply from the adjoining room, and pretty soon the sounds of washing and tooth brushing could be heard from the bathroom across the hall.

    My dinosaur and racer models could sit on the windowsill, dresser, desk and other flat surfaces, but my airplane models simply had to be airborne. I was standing on my chair, which I had placed on top of my desk and was pounding tacks into the ceiling from which to tie the airplane's strings, when there came a knock on the door. "Come in," I said, resignedly, expecting Mom to come in and complain about the hammering. Instead, Audrey came in, dressed in a white linen summer nightie. She looked so cute - if she'd only had wings she could have been one of the angels hovering around Baby Jesus in Christmas cards. For a moment, the image flashed through my mind of Audrey in her nightie turned over her mother's lap getting a spanking. My next thought was to say "Go away!"

    "What are you doing, Stevie?" she asked politely. "None of your beeswax! Go away!" Her face fell. Crestfallen, she turned and quietly left, closing the door behind her. On her face I noticed the same sad little pout she had worn earlier when Aunt Betsy had asked her if she wanted a spanking. I hammered in the last of the tacks and then suspended my World War One triplane from a thread. I climbed down to get another plane but instead wound up slumped in the armchair, brooding. Suddenly my heart just wasn't into the work any more. The more I thought about how I had just treated Audrey the crummier I felt. Funny thing was, it wasn't because of all the stuff Mom had said about why I should be nice to her. It was the sad look in her eyes that had really made me feel like a heel. After awhile, I decided to try and make things right. "Audrey?" I whispered through her darkened doorway from the hall, "are you awake?" There was a stirring of sheets and a creaking of bedsprings. "Um-HMM," came the reply. "Come into my room. I'll show you my models!" "Okay!" she chirped softly and quickly scampered out of bed into the hall and into my door.

    "Gosh!" she exclaimed, pausing just inside the door and looking around her in awe, "did you make all these models yourself?

    "I sure did!" I said, proudly.

     "Ooooh, you're really good! Wow! That's neat! That plane looks like it's really flying! Stevie, why does that plane have three wings?"

    "Six wings," I corrected, feeling rather puffed up with knowledge, "It's called a 'triplane. They don't make them anymore. The extra wings were needed to provide lift because-"

    "OOOOH, Stevie, is that a Tyrannosaurus!?" she gasped, pointing at the ancient carnivore on my windowsill. When I nodded my head "yes" she scampered to it's side, eyes alight with interest. "Gosh! I didn't know they were purple and orange!"

    "Well," I expounded, feeling smart and important, "No one really knows what color they were. All we have are their bones because they died a very long time ago."

    "How long?"

    "Sixty-five million years!"

    "Is that a lot, Stevie?"

    "Well, you know how long sixty-five million seconds is?" I asked, waiting as she shook her head 'no,' regarding me with wide, brown eyes. "Well, Audrey, sixty-five million seconds is the same as two years!"

    "Ooooo!" she murmured, and clapped her hands together. Then, regarding me with a look of frank, childlike adulation, she gushed, "You sure know a lot of stuff, Stevie!" After smiling warmly at me for a moment, she returned her gaze to the dinosaur model, her mouth agape, admiring every detail. I didn't quite realize it yet, but I was hooked. It is a cold heart indeed which the simple charm of a little girl's admiration fails to thaw. Letting out a faint gasp of wonder, she asked, "How did you paint his eyes white? They're so small! It must have been really hard! Oh Stevie, you're so-"

    "Au-u-dr-e-e-y?!? AUDREY!! WHERE ARE YOU!" cried the indignant voice of Aunt Betsy from out in the hallway.

    Audrey let out a little squeal of alarm and rushed to fling open my door. "I-I'm in here, Mommy. I was just-"

    ", young lady?!!!" demanded Aunt Betsy in a loud stern voice, sharply pronouncing each word. "Stevie was just, sh-showing me his room, Mommy, I-"

    "You KNOW you aren't supposed to be out of bed at this hour, you BAD GIRL!" Aunt Betsy was standing in my doorway, towering over her frightened daughter, while shaking her finger for emphasis. "You're going to get a SPANKING for this, young lady!"

    "NO, Mommy, NO!" stammered Audrey, suddenly on the verge of  tears, as she reflexively clasped both her hands behind her to cover her bottom. "PLEASE, Mommy, I'm SORRY, I didn't mean to-"

    "Not ONE MORE WORD out of you!" fumed Aunt Betsy, "You have been NAUGHTY and you are going to be PUNISHED! Go to your room!"

    So here it was, the opportunity I had been waiting years for - the opportunity I had been thinking about almost incessantly all evening long. Without a moment's thought, I blurted, "Please don't be mad at me, Aunt Betsy!" as I hurried to her side, "I didn't mean to break your rules, honest I didn't!"

    "What...?" snapped my Aunt, frowning at me in bewilderment.

    "I won't do it again, I promise I won't!"

    "Won't do... what?!" she asked in exasperation.

    "I promise I won't make Audrey get out of bed like I did just now! I told her to 'come into my room' and she did just as I told her to! Isn't that right, Audrey?" After looking blankly at me for a moment, Audrey abruptly turned back to her mother, emphatically shaking her head 'yes.' "Please don't be mad at me, Aunt Betsy!" I continued, "I've learned my lesson, really I have!"

    She fixed me with a withering, quizzical stare for a few seconds, and then turned to look down at Audrey, who gulped and lowered her eyes to avoid meeting her mother's gaze. The she turned back to me. "Well, Steven, I certainly hope you have learned your lesson. I require Audrey to obey her elders, but not when it means breaking rules which I have set. I shall speak to your mother about this, young man. Audrey's bedtime is at 8:30 PM, and she is not to be out of bed past that time. Is that understood?" After effusive agreements from me, she turned to Audrey. "We may be living in a new house now, but I am still your mother and you will still obey my rules. Don't you mind what Steven says. You mind what I say! Is that understood?"

    "Yes, Mommy!" blurted Audrey, looking intently up at her mother.

    "Well," Aunt Betsy concluded, her voice softer, "off to bed with you then," making little shooing motions with her fingers. Audrey vanished like a wisp of smoke. Aunt Betsy looked back at me, and with a disdainful sniff, headed down the hall and downstairs without another word.

    I turned off the light in my room but left the door ajar, and lay on my bed thinking. At last, the chance had come to watch a real spanking and I had stopped it from happening. I still wanted to witness a spanking but it had to be some other child, not my little cousin! A pale, ghostly silhouette appeared in the doorway. "Stevie?" came the almost imperceptible whisper, "Can I come in?" No sooner had I murmured assent than there was a soft scamper of little feet and the rustle of linen and to my amazement, Audrey, clambered onto my bed, threw her arms around my neck and kissed me on the cheek. Just as quickly she drew back and knelt on the coverlet, regarding me with the same grave expression she had worn while carrying the gravy boat earlier. "Thank you," she said slowly, her eyes solemn and serious. Fortunately, it was too dark for her to see me blushing. "Aw... shucks," I stammered out loud. "SHHHH!" she warned, glancing nervously over her shoulder towards the doorway. I reached out and squeezed her affectionately on the shoulder. In a twinkling, she seized my forearm and embraced it. She cradled my arm and swayed from side to side for a few seconds, as if rocking a doll, her eyes squeezed shut, rubbing her cheek against my hand.

    "Hey Audrey," I whispered, "After we get home from school tomorrow, I'll show you my secret hiding place in the yard!"

    "Okay!" Then she laid my arm back down at my side, and whispered, "I gotta go... Goodnight, Stevie!" Silent as an owl in flight, she slipped off the bed, and with the faintest rustle of fabric, tiptoed back out to the hallway and into her room. I'd never minded being an only child, especially when friends complained about their domineering older siblings or pesky, tattling younger ones. But if I had known that having a little sister was as nice as this, I'd have asked Mom for one a long time ago!

    Eventually I fell asleep with my clothes still on.  I dreamed that Audrey had become lost in the Late Triassic jungle. Suddenly a slavering, purple and orange Tyrannosaurus Rex  cornered her and was licking its chops!   But just in the nick of time, Captain Steven, World War One flying ace, swooped down in his triplane, put the monster to flight and whisked Audrey away to safety - all to her immense gratitude.

[MY COUSIN AUDREY  -  Chapter Two]