a bit extra, an unexpected gift
To untrained eyes and ears, the bayou was fast asleep. The sun was far from rising, but Spud knew what he was looking for was nearing the height of their day. Reaching over the side of his flat bottom, fiberglass boat to better arrange the battery of equipment he'd need for his task, the screen door screamed open and then slammed shut behind him. The spring had long since fallen into the sandy soil and was lost forever. His wife had nagged about him replacing the missing piece, but the clack of a tin door against the jab was an oddly comforting sound, except when it wasn't. This morning, the racket was followed by a loud, drawn out yawn, and echoed across the darkness, shattering his serenity.
"Dangit gal. Why you gotta make so much noise? If you weren't so keen with that rifle, I'd leave your citified ass here."
The response was a buzzing raspberry. "Here, Rose packed you some coffee. I already had some."
"What the hell, Itsy? You know I gotta get the first cup. I always gotta get the first cup. Dude, you're fuckin' up my mojo."
Shoving her cousin hard, Itsy laughed. "I'm just playin', Spud. Damn. I know better than to mess with your precious mojo." Itsy bugged out her eyes and wiggled her fingers mockingly in Spud's face.
"I guess big city livin' didn't totally screw you up, then. You ain't forgot where you come from," he teased, wrapping his little cousin, who was now quite grown up, in a tight embrace. He squeezed a little harder for good measure, making her gasp. "It's good to have you back, even if it's just for a few months."
She stumbled back once Spud released her. He tossed her a set of keys, which she used to unlock one of the tall metal cabinets lining the house. Inside was a treasure trove of lures, hooks, spears, nets, and traps. The other cabinets and workbenches held similar booty.
Itsy quickly loaded what they would need into a large bucket and stuffed smaller items into the many pockets of her low-slung, camouflage cargo shorts. Underneath was a simple cotton bra and panty set, covered by a ribbed tank top, and a military-style short sleeved button down shirt. For the work she was going to be doing this fall, she would live in this type of outfit. It was wash and wear, comfortable, and un-restricting.
Itsy went to the boot rack to grab her waders, thoroughly shaking them out to ensure no eight-legged critters took up residence there overnight. She swapped her Crocs out for the thick rubber footwear, and continued to help Spud load the truck and boat. They moved in silent synchronicity, having danced this dance hundreds of times throughout their lives. Early morning excursions such as these were a way of life down in the swamp.
If his family was to eat, Spud knew he had to get up and work for it. This was no nine-to-five gig. He punched nobody's clock. Life in the bayou was cyclical. Spud could make nearly a year's worth of salary in the span of a month if he had a good haul during gator season; not to mention the additional income generated by processing some of his own catch. Living off the swamp provided the McCartys a very comfortable life.
Itsy pulled a handkerchief from her back pocket and wiped the back of her neck. It was evident today was going to be a scorcher. The day was just a few hours old, but humidity hung in the air thick and weighty, barely giving sweat a chance to evaporate. Drawing the moist air into her lungs, Itsy once again felt whole. She had never gotten used to the dry heat of Phoenix. She hated the contrasting climates and brittle colors of the desert. She hated the dust and wide open nothingness of the desert. Itsy tried not to hate her mother for taking her away from lush flora and fauna of the bayou. She tried not to hate her mother for snatching her away from the abundant life that coursed through every inch of the swamp. She tried not to hate her mother for turning her back on a rich and colorful existence in favor of sepia-hued one. Most of all, she tried not to hate her mother for taking her away from her adoring, although wildly eccentric father.
Itsy shook her head to rid herself of regret—she was home now. Her heart knew. Her body had instantly become acclimated to her native land. There was no doubt her soul knew where it belonged.
Spanish moss dripped from the cypress trees while night birds called to one another through inky darkness. Moving in silence, the only other sound was the soft crunch of gravel under the wheels of the boat's trailer backing into the still water.
Itsy slid lithely into the boat, releasing its ties. She dropped the motor into the water, pulling the ripcord to bring the engine to life. She expertly navigated the vessel away from dry land while Spud parked the truck. He trotted along the weathered wood of the pier, his boots thumping hollowly with each step. Despite the darkness, Itsy could see happiness in her cousin's posture; she could hear it in the rhythm of his footsteps. He'd missed her just as much as she'd missed him. At his swift pace, Spud quickly ran out of planks and leapt into the boat, landing with an echoing boom.
"Why you always gotta show off, huh, Spud?"
He moved to the bow, rustling his cousin's hair as he passed. His world was set right at the sound of Itsy's nickname for him falling easily from her lips.
"Get that engine going. We got gators to catch. You ready?" He raised his right arm high above his head, and then lowered it like a dart. "Mush!"
Itsy laughed as she brought the engine back to life. "Aye, Captain!" she called, following her cousin's hand like a compass as he directed their path.
Dawn breaking over the swamp was a glorious sight, and one Itsy had desperately missed during her time away. Soft blues, yellows, and oranges streaked across the horizon in perfect strokes executed by a master painter. The warmth of the rising sun over the water was a comforting blanket. Dragonflies skimmed the surface of the marsh. Vegetation blurred the end of land and the beginning of water. Spud waved Itsy forward. They quickly cut through a field of water lilies, kicking up plumes of white blossoms and waxy, dark green leaves in their wake. Herons and Yellowlegs foraged in the nearby marsh grasses, barely taking notice of the passing boat.
Spying his tag hanging from a mangrove branch, Spud directed Itsy to kill the engine and allow the boat to drift toward the shaded spot.
"Hot pink leopard print, really?" Itsy chided as she got a good look at the fabric scrap identifying where Spud had baited lines.
"What? Rose made them for me."
Itsy gave her cousin a "you're so whipped" look.
Spud huffed, turning away to check his line. "Shut up and get to work. I'm not paying you to give me shit."
"News flash, dickhead, you're not paying me at all."
Spud slowly pulled the line up from the water hand-over-hand; his massive muscles flexing and extending as the rope smoothly ascended. The rising sun glinted across his honey tan skin.
"Contrary to what the title implies, your freeloading ain't free. Now, shut your yap and grab the damn rifle. There's a bigun on the end of this here line." Just as he finished speaking, a gaping, bright white mouth broke through the water's surface. Spud grunted and shored his footing as he wrestled with the beast on the other end of the rope.
Water sprayed up onto the pair as the gator thrashed against Spud's hold. Barely acknowledging the sudden deluge, Itsy wiped her hands on her shorts, and then cocked the rifle. She kept both eyes trained on the beast as Spud worked the gator's head above water and into position.
There was only one spot on the beast's leathered head Itsy's .22 rifle's Mangum bullet could penetrate to kill. A bullet to another part of the gator would only serve to piss the animal off, and they could not have that. An ornery gator was a thousand times more lethal.
The animal's head was huge. Spud's experience taught him how to gauge the size of his catch just by the tension in his line. This one was easily ten feet and weighed nearly six hundred pounds; a grand start to their day. Spud hoped that Itsy's skills hadn't fallen off; he did not want to fight with the behemoth for long. "Shoot! Shoot the damn thing!"
Itsy moved close to the side of the boat, taking aim at the back of the beast's head. The spot she needed to hit was roughly the size of a quarter, and rested just above where the last of the beasts raised armored scales ended and its head began.
The giant thrashed again, rising higher out of the water. "Itsy, shoot the summabitch already," he ordered through gritted teeth.
Realigning her shot, Itsy brought the butt of the rifle to her shoulder. Taking a deep breath, she exhaled as she squeezed the trigger. The loud pop of the gun's discharge set the sleepy bird in the trees above them aloft.
Immediately, Spud's line went slack. He worked quickly to stop the beast from sinking to the river bottom. Once the lifeless animal's snout was level with the boat, Spud's paw-sized hands grabbed hold. He squatted, bobbing the creature in the water, building up momentum to hoist the modern-day dinosaur into the boat.
Spud moved with the precision of someone who not only had completed this task thousands of times, but was born for this type of work. His thighs were thick and powerful, twice as big as the average man's, providing a low, and almost unfaltering, center of gravity. Although he was tall, he was also wide, built like a bear as his Uncle Charlie would say. Despite his size, Spud had a fine and precise hand.
Itsy secured the rifle and went to work helping Spud lift the animal into their boat.
"Woo!" Spud high -fived his cousin once their catch was secure. "You still got it, girl!"
Adrenaline coursed through Itsy's veins, flying high from the exhilaration of the hunt. Tossing a wet burlap over their kill, Itsy moved to re-bait the line, and then take Spud's place at the front of the boat.
They repeated this a few more times within the next couple of hours. All too soon, the sun was high over the bayou, and Spud's stomach grumbled loudly. "Itsy, you hungry? Wanna get out of the boat for a spell? An ole buddy of mine is nearby. Let's go say 'Hey'."
Itsy turned and nodded. She needed to answer nature's call, but they hadn't seen an outhouse for a while. She hoped Spud's friend had some semblance of indoor plumbing. There was no telling how folk lived out here. They were deep in the swamp where a person could live off the bounty of the land quite comfortably, if they had the know-how.
Spud and Itsy leisurely made their way to an area of the swamp not often traveled. The isolation was unsettling. It didn't really matter that spent her childhood in the wilds of the bayou, she still needed the comforts of modern technology like running water and toilet paper. She shivered at the thought of doing her business with a shovel in one hand and a pistol in the other. Getting bit on the ass by a cottonmouth in the backwoods of the bayou was not how she wanted to die. No siree. She seriously doubted that Spud would suck out the venom. She laughed heartily at the mental picture she painted, which was a bad idea. The jiggle of her bladder had her suddenly overcome with the need to use the facilities.
She fidgeted in her seat. "Ungh. How much longer? I gotta go."
"You look like EJ and Soph doing the potty dance. Don't worry. Dink's spot is just around this bend." He laughed, and then looked at his GPS before pointing the boat in the right direction. After a few more minutes, he killed the engine, lifting the Evenrude from the water. "Grab an oar. We gotta go manual for this stretch."
Spud stood and dipped his oar into the water, quickly striking the bottom of the riverbed. Itsy watched, and then followed her cousin's actions. Together, they pulled their boat, now heavy with nearly two thousand pounds of dead alligator resting in the hull, through the shallow waters.
"Ho there, permission to come aboard!" Spud called toward the vessel, pulling a thick rope that dangled above them. A bell clanged in response to his actions. Itsy laughed at the crude system of pulleys and ropes operating the mechanism, completely out of place against the sleek, modern lines of the houseboat.
Spud nodded, tying off the boat, and ushered Itsy up the ladder.
"I'll be down in a few," a smooth voice rumbled through speakers hidden all around the deck.
Spud pointed Itsy to the cabin, toward the bathroom. She was grateful for the stylish and modern home; most importantly, she was grateful for the plumbing.
Through the closed door, she instantly recognized her cousin's bombastic laughter; however, the other voice that joined him was unknown to her. She followed the voices to the kitchen where Spud was leaning against the fridge gulping down a beer. Spud's friend had his back to her. He was long and lean, and almost identically dressed as Itsy, sporting a ribbed tank and camouflage cargo shorts. His feet were bare, and his exposed skin was just starting to darken. He hadn't spent much time in the southern sun; he couldn't have been here more than a week judging by the pink and peeling flesh on his shoulders that was giving way to a luscious, sun-kissed cream.
The moment Spud spied Itsy he called out to her. "Itsy! C'mere and meet Dink."
The stranger rotated on his stool, and Itsy was suddenly tongue-tied. A garbled 'hey' was all she could manage. Itsy was surprised that her feet were able to move when Spud called. She seemed to have lost higher brain function at the sight of the man before her.
"Welcome aboard, Itsy." His eyes moved quickly over her body, but snapped back to her eyes; bright, wise, and rich, dark chocolate orbs fertile like the Louisiana earth: life giving, life sustaining, and life taking. This woman was powerful and didn't even know it.
"Much obliged, Dink."
Dink watched the woman move sure-footedly over to her hulking cousin. The gentle swaying of the boat didn't faze her in the least. Spud wrapped his arm tightly around Itsy, and gave his friend a warning glare. However, Spud couldn't see Itsy was just as captivated. There was no one behind Dink to provide a huffed admonishing, so Itsy continued to stare.
"How long y'all been out?" Dink asked in a weak attempt to get his mind under control. He hadn't met a creature as alluring as Itsy. She was refined elegance wrapped in khaki: the queen of the swamp. He'd been with women, personally and professionally, who were just as capable and passionate about the outdoors as he, but none of them were as captivating as the sticky, sweaty mess in front of him.
Dink's hands twitched as his mind went unbidden to thoughts of bathing Itsy; gently scrubbing away her heavy toiling. He knew firsthand how exhausting working in the sun was. He had spent countless hours working his family's ranch. Add the arduous task of fishing gators. Dink's thoughts of a toned, tanned, and perfectly sculpted form hidden under Itsy's clothing was disturbed by a sudden tightness in his shorts. She was just lagniappe, an unexpected gift.
"This is Itsy's first day back. She moved away for a while." Spud's happy face turned solemn for a brief moment as he relived when Renee packed her car, taking a ten-year-old Itsy to Phoenix never to return.
Itsy squeezed her cousin, who was really more of a big brother, tight, intrinsically knowing where his thoughts had taken him. "I'm here now, Spud. I ain't leavin' you like that again."
Dink sighed and looked away. In the intimacy of the moment, he felt like an intruder. He moved out of the kitchen and to the deck, deciding to grab Itsy and Spud's cooler so they could have lunch and restock their supplies. Dink knew his guests couldn't visit long, their catch would dry in the hot southern sun, rendering their hides and flesh worthless. He scooped a bucket full of cool swamp water, pouring it over the carcasses before moving nimbly back up the ladder with their lunch.
When Dink entered the main living area again, Itsy quickly pulled away from Spud, heading back to the bathroom. Spud's eyes follow her path, but he understood what she was feeling. Itsy suffered a lot while she was away; she needed her Spud, and she couldn't get to him. He understood. He needed his Itsy, too.
Clapping Dink on the back, Spud crowed loudly, breaking up the heaviness in the air. "Good looking out, man. I'm starving!"
Dink was surprised by the shattered silence. Worriedly, he looked down the hall toward where Itsy had run off. "Is she gonna be okay?"
Spud nodded through a thick bite of sandwich. He wiped his mouth before answering, "It's hard. We had it kind of rough. You don't know because, well, I never really told you. Why do you think I was always down by your house? My uncle was real messed up for a while after Itsy left. He pulls it together for her. Itsy, that's my heart. You can't find anyone better." Spud unwrapped another sandwich, practically inhaling it before opening a third.
Dink nodded in understanding.
Itsy reappeared with puffy and red-rimmed eyes; she had one hell of a crying jag just now. Spying her cousin devouring her lunch, she launched herself at the man. "Oh my God, you fucking greedy ass bear! That's my sandwich. Rose made it special for me!" she shrieked, swatting his shoulder.
"Here! Take it. Just stop hitting me!" Spud whined, handing his cousin the half-eaten ham and swiss. "It tastes funny anyway."
"That's because it ain't bologna, dumbass!" She looked over what was left of her sandwich. It would barely make a dent in her appetite. "Just…" She growled at her cousin. "…Just give me some tea and an apple. I'll be fine." She sat on the stool beside Dink in a huff. Forgetting he was there during her tirade; Itsy's cheeks blossomed a bright red.
Dink snickered at her behavior. She had a lot of fire that was for sure. With Itsy's proximity, the heat increased in the temperature-controlled space, yet Dink was the only one sweating. Shaking his head, he stood and stepped away from the petite furnace who sat beside him. "I have sandwich fixins, if you really want…what was that? Ham and swiss on rye?" Dink moved to his refrigerator to inspect its contents while discreetly cooling his suddenly overheated flesh. "Yeah, I got all that. You want mayo?"
Surprised, Itsy gaped at Dink's thoughtfulness. She might have ogled his ass when he bent to pull lettuce and tomatoes from the crisper—it's a strong possibility she may have stared at his long, lean form a little bit longer than what would be considered polite. She would gladly challenge anyone not to stare. Dink was a specimen.
He placed all the ingredients on the countertop, waving the mayonnaise jar in front of Itsy. She blinked rapidly to focus on Dink's laughing face; he truly was beautiful, with masculine and mature features. There were definite signs of youth, but the roundness of childhood had long since faded. Dink was ruggedly handsome with heavy eyebrows, and a dusting of stubble along his sharp jaw line. His body showed signs of years spent laboring with his hands. Long, lean muscles like his were not formed in a gym. Every inch of his body was perfection.
"Itsy, mayo? Yes…no?" He chuckled and raised an eyebrow at her.
"Oh God, it's like high school all over again," Spud teased. "Put the crooked smile away, Dink. I won't have you pullin' that shit on my deckhand. I need her."
Itsy snapped out of her Dink-induced stupor. "Uh, just mustard, please," she said shyly. "Thanks."
Dink constructed a new sandwich for Itsy, one that had Spud drooling. When he slid it in front of her and then sat down to enjoy his own meal, Spud whined, "What, I don't get one?"
Itsy paused, then picked up the knife, cutting her sandwich in half. She was more than satisfied with her portion. Dink had built a monstrosity, easily six inches thick.
The trio spent the better part of an hour laughing and talking. Spud took up the bulk of their time regaling Dink on how handy his cousin was with a rifle and utility knife. She had really impressed him today. "Itsy ain't lost a beat, boy I'll tell you! That girl is something else."
Itsy blushed at her cousin's praise.
"No need to be embarrassed when others appreciate your talent, Itsy." Dink reached out to pat her hand. He was certain he saw a spark leap from her skin to his before their flesh made contact. The jolt, powerful and unexpected, caused them both to gasp.
Itsy snatched her hand back, holding it to her chest. Dink cradled his, and rubbed his thumb along his palm. It didn't hurt, but the sensation lingered.
"Um, yeah. Thanks for that, for everything, Dink." Itsy jumped from her seat to pack their things. "We have a few more lines to check, and then get our haul to market. Right, Spud?"
There was no answer. They hadn't noticed Spud leave the room.
"What the hell was that?" Itsy whispered to herself as she busied her hands.
Knowing her question wasn't truly meant for him, Dink answered anyway, "You felt it too?" Dink moved close to where she was attempting to work. The heat swirling between them suffocated Itsy as Dink stalked closer.
Itsy, turning to face him, shook her head to slow his advance.
Dink continued to move closer. "Don't lie to me, Itsy. I can see the truth…I feel it." He took another small step until Itsy was pressed against the refrigerator, caged by his arms.
He ran his nose along the column of Itsy's neck. The scent of her sweat was intoxicating. She'd worked so hard today, grunting, sweating. Dink wanted to be the one who elicited that kind of a reaction. He hummed in satisfaction after darting his tongue out to taste the saltiness of her neck, a perfect complement to the glass of sweet tea he'd just finished.
"Itsy, you are perfection," he whispered just behind her ear, grateful that she'd worn her hair in a ponytail. He wanted access to as much skin as possible.
"Woo! Sorry man, but you know how it is. I lit a match, but I don't think it'll help much," Spud boomed, breaking up the tension in the room.
Dink quickly pivoted away from Itsy, pretending to be busy helping her replenish their supplies. Itsy paused for a moment before darting out the door.
"What's her problem?" Dink asked, expertly faking indifference.
"I don't know, but I gotta get the boat loaded. I hope she's not PMS'ing. I don't think I could handle being out on the water with a hormonal woman."
"Way to be sensitive to her feeling, man." Dink rolled his eyes. He was glad to be back with his old friend. Their relationship was always an easy one. They riffed off one another, yet knew when a supporting shoulder was needed.
Spud wasn't blind or as ignorant as he was made out to be. He saw something pass between Itsy and Dink. Hell, he probably looked just as dumbfounded when he had met Rosalie. Shaking his head, Spud laughed to himself. His friend and his cousin were in for a surprise, but that was life on the swamp. For a fleeting moment, he thought to blow the lid off their little game, but quickly changed his mind. It would be too much fun to watch all this fuckery unfold. "Note to self, stock up on beer and cracklins."
Itsy had found a shaded spot near the rear of Dink's houseboat. A sleepy cat greeted her with a sustained meow. Scooping the feline into her arms, she fell into one of the plush deck chairs that sat among the ferns and other potted plants.
"Ah, I see you found Jughead." Dink stroked the cat's sleek back, then took the seat beside her. Itsy noticed the little patch of white on the black cat's head. It was, oddly enough, shaped like a crown.
Itsy laughed. "You're so weird."
"You have no idea…"
They were quiet for a few pregnant moments before Itsy finally asked, "What was that back there?"
"So you did feel it?"
Itsy nodded and turned to face him. She was surprised that his eyes were hopeful and happy.
"Look, I'm not really staying. At least I don't think I'm staying. I'm just here for a few weeks. We can…we can hang out? Maybe you can come into town, have dinner?" Itsy offered a small smile and a shrug.
Dink reached out to brush her windswept hair back. That spark reemerged, but they both were now familiar with the sensation. It surprised them again, but in an altogether different way. "I'll take what I can get," Dink said with a breathy sigh. His words coolly washing over her, soothing her overheated flesh. "Come to me tomorrow. I don't know how I'll get through the next twenty-four hours, Itsy."
Itsy couldn't think, she could hardly breathe. Dink's proximity had thinned the air, making coherent thought impossible. Instinct won out, and she pressed her lips to his. She whimpered at his velvety lips pressing firmly against her chapped ones. Her breathing and heart rate picked up, and she feared she'd pass out from the lack of oxygen.
Jughead yelped from between them, breaking their lust-filled bubble.
Dink rested his forehead on Itsy's, panting in an attempt to calm himself. "Tu m'as ravi, ma beauté."
Itsy's eyes went wide at his words, his claim of her. She entranced him, he had said. She was his beauty, he declared. She pressed the back of her trembling hand to her mouth, and then moved quickly to where Spud had moored the boat.
Dink tromped behind her, whispering more loving words in their beautiful native tongue.
"Je veux que vous."I want you.
"Je doute que je serai jamais assez une fois que je vous dois." I doubt if I'll ever get enough once I have you.
"J'ai besoin de vous."I need you.
"Puissance et beauté. Reine du marais." Power and beauty, queen of the swamp.
By the time Itsy reached the ladder to lower herself to Spud's boat, she was a heaving mess. The smooth tenor of Dink's flawless French had caused her insides to melt; couple that with the meaning of his words, and she was ready to mount the man.
Dink watched Itsy descend the ladder and away from him. He had to shove his hands in his pockets to stop himself from grabbing her. "Lunch tomorrow? Come on through. I'll be here," he called.
Spud waved back and nodded. He turned to his cousin who slumped down in her seat. Her cheeks were flushed, her lips red and swollen.
"What's wrong with you?" He tried to hide his amusement.
"Nothin', just drive the damn boat to the next line. I need to shoot something."
"Yes, ma'am." Spud laughed harder at his cousin's sour mood. "Don't you worry, baby girl," he teased, "you'll see Dink tomorrow."
Tomorrow couldn't arrive fast enough.
Inspired and encouraged by my lovelies, CaligirlMon, Hood Fabulous, and ClanceyJane.This fic was originally beta'd for F4OK by JParke19 & Twi-Mom12292005; I've made a number of changes since. All errors are my own.
I have always had a fascination with the swamp. My story is meant as an homage to the colorful culture of the Bayou. I hope that I have painted a loving picture. My hubs was wonderful enough to take me down to NOLA this summer to I could experience some of the things I've written about.
If the French is off, I blame Google. I should have sought the help of a French speaker. Well I did, my daughter, but she didn't want to help me. I'm off to deliver that one to college. I'll post another chapter later tonight.
"Tu m'as ravi, ma beauté." You have entranced me, my beauty.
Please share your thoughts in a review.
Until next time...