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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Cousin(s) (05/22/08)

TITLE: The Almost Cousin
By Ann Grover


When Emma Ruth was eleven, her cousin came to live with her and her parents.

There was nothing to mark the day from any other; the sun rose as usual, the kettle boiled, and smoke swelled from the chimney, oblivious to the small drama unfurling on the verandah.

Emma Ruth’s father lifted the cardboard box from the backseat of the car and passed Emma Ruth, his mouth stiff, his eyes stony. Emma Ruth glanced at her mother. A sheen gleamed on her brow, and she was pale, her fingers jerking at the pearls circling her throat.

“Emma Ruth, say hello to your cousin, Lucas.”

The boy was tall and thin, nondescript. He neither smiled nor scowled. He bore no expression at all.

Emma Ruth’s mother went into the house, leaving Emma Ruth and Lucas to the weight of the sultry afternoon, uncomfortable silence hanging between them like a line of damp clothes, ponderous and heavy. Emma Ruth stared at his trousers, thin-kneed and short, and at his choppy, plastered-down hair.

“What are you gawking at?”


“Don’t worry. I won’t stay long.”

But Lucas did stay. The spare room was fitted out with proper furniture; a bed, bureau, and desk were brought down from the attic. Clothes were purchased to replace the colourless, ill-fitting rags Lucas had arrived in.

Warily, Emma Ruth and Lucas tried to weave a relationship, made fragile by Emma Ruth’s childishness and Lucas’s curious arrival and unknown history.

“Can you ride a bicycle?” queried Lucas.

“No,” Emma Ruth replied with a pout.


“No. Can you play the piano?”




No mutual ground could be found. They seemed to be as different as sunshine and shadow, water and stone, sand and stars.

Emma Ruth, with the persistence of a terrier, was consumed with the desire to find something in common with her cousin, and if nothing else, to discover his roots. Why had he suddenly arrived on their doorstep? Nothing was forthcoming from her mother, whose face turned away, cold and rigid, at the sight or mention of Lucas. How odd, thought Emma Ruth, and it gave rise to shivers of suspicious thoughts.

The summer drew on, muggy days followed by firefly nights tossing beneath sodden sheets. Fall came, and Lucas grew tall, outgrowing the new clothing rapidly. Emma Ruth’s father took him hunting up north, and she watched her father and Lucas load gear into the back of the black car, then felt a stab of envy as the vehicle disappeared into the golden foliage, with the two of them sitting side by side, shoulder to shoulder.

Winter passed, and spring.

And when Emma Ruth was twelve, she discovered her cousin wasn’t her cousin at all.

There was nothing to mark the day from any other; the sun rose as usual, the kettle boiled, and smoke swelled from the chimney, oblivious to the small drama unfurling on the verandah.

It was unbearably hot. Emma Ruth sat on the porch swing, taking advantage of the small breeze made by the motion of her swaying. Damp tendrils curled around her temples, and she’d loosened her sash, out of sight of her mother’s eagle eyes.

Lucas lay sprawled on the lawn, trying not to move, except to occasionally shift a limb to a cooler spot in the grass. The sun was merciless, brassy.

Lucas suddenly got up, and wiping his brow with his sleeve, strode down the lane. Emma Ruth wondered how he could bear to move in the heat, then realized he was going to the pond. It’d be worth it for a swim.

Emma Ruth had removed her pinafore, but she was still damp with perspiration and lightheaded by the time she arrived at the pond. She hid behind some shrubbery to undress. She watched Lucas, who was already floating in the middle of the pond, his clothes flung over a nearby bush.

Before she could step out, Lucas swam to shore and flopped down in the grassy verge near Emma Ruth. Cool water streamed down his body, but it was his right leg that drew Emma Ruth’s attention.

There was a star-shaped birthmark. Nothing special, perhaps, except that Emma Ruth’s father bore one exactly like it.

So did Emma Ruth.

A flood of compassion overcame Emma Ruth as she remembered angry whispers, strange mailings, then Lucas’s sudden appearance, and the stony silences of her parents. She understood.

My brother...

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Member Comments
Member Date
Verna Cole Mitchell 05/29/08
This is an awesome story. The descriptions, the emotions, the characters, the story line are all masterful. If envy of another's writing were not a sin...
Sara Harricharan 05/29/08
Amazing! I love the emotion that comes with this atmosphere. The repeating words of how the day was just the same, really stood out for me. And your title fits wonderfully-I didn't really see the end coming because I was enjoying the story so much! Nice job. ^_^
Shirley McClay 05/29/08
Excellent. I had a feeling from the mother's reaction that he might not be a cousin... loved it right to the very end. Nicely done. Awesome descriptions.
Lynda Schultz 05/30/08
Ahhhhh, you did a great job of keeping us glued to the page right to the end. Nice twist.
Peter Stone05/31/08
Great mystery, but plenty of clues as to the boy's real parentage. The mother refusing to acknowledge him, and the father taking him fishing. Not a cousin, but a half-brother.
LauraLee Shaw06/01/08
Awesome, incredible writing here.
Love this line:
They seemed to be as different as sunshine and shadow, water and stone, sand and stars.
Well done!
Sharlyn Guthrie06/01/08
Seamlessly woven tale. I felt very sorry for Lucas. Very enjoyable read.
Joanne Sher 06/01/08
Wonderful descriptions and detail paint this masterpiece of a story. This begs to be expanded upon. Wonderful.
Amy Michelle Wiley 06/01/08
Ah, I guessed the twist right at first and wasn't dissapointed. Good story.
Cheri Hardaway 06/01/08
Wow! Unexpected twist... good suspense building. I guessed it before you revealed it, but wasn't positive until you confirmed it in the end.

I loved the repetition of this paragraph: "There was nothing to mark the day from any other; the sun rose as usual, the kettle boiled, and smoke swelled from the chimney, oblivious to the small drama unfurling on the verandah." Very effective.

Great job, Cheri
Lyn Churchyard06/01/08
An exceptionally well written story. I loved the repetition of "There was nothing to mark the day from any other..." Everything about this story draws you from beginning to end. Great job Anja :)
Dee Yoder 06/02/08
It's no surprise to me that you've woven another great and absolutely wonderful tale! Love every line and word in this story-it is beautifully written.
Jan Ackerson 06/02/08
Beautiful, as always. What I love most about your writing is your gift for atmosphere. You just plop us right into the scene!
Joshua Janoski06/02/08
Your stories always leave me waiting to see what happens next. Usually I am good at guessing endings early on in a story, but this one really surprised me at the end.

Of course I could picture everything happening, because you know how to suck the reader into the environment and not let them go until the very end.
Debbie Wistrom06/04/08
Truly a masterpiece. Loved the muggy days and firefly nights.
Sharlyn Guthrie06/05/08
Congratulations, Ann. So glad your beautiful piece placed.
Lollie Hofer06/06/08
I agree, "masterpiece" fits this story pefectly. I liked how you described their differences. Well-deserved recognition. Congratulations!
Betsy Markman06/06/08
Well done indeed.