9:30 AM – Gardens. Looks for, finds, and discards cigarette butts.
1:00 PM – Leaves house in car. Errands?
5:00 PM – Pleads with Kara and Olly to begin chores “before your father gets home.”
Kara’s (sister) schedule
10:00 AM – Stomps outside wearing black boots and a fuzzy brown bathrobe.
10:01 AM – Checks cell phone messages. She gets a lot of messages.
10:06 AM – Smokes three cigarettes in the garden between our two houses.
10:20 AM – Digs a hole with the toe of her boots and buries cigarette carcasses.
10:25 AM–5:00 PM – Texts or talks on the phone.
5:25 PM – Chores.
HIS Dad’s schedule
7:15 AM – Leaves for work.
6:00 PM – Arrives home from work.
6:20 PM – Sits on porch with drink #1.
6:30 PM – Reenters the house for dinner.
7:00 PM – Back on porch with drink #2.
7:25 PM – Drink #3.
7:45 PM – Yelling at family begins.
10:35 PM – Yelling at family subsides.
His family calls him Olly. Well, his sister and his mom call him Olly. His dad calls him Oliver. He’s the one I watch the most. His bedroom is on the second floor and almost directly across from mine and his blinds are almost always open.
Some mornings he sleeps in until noon. Others, he’s gone from his room before I wake to begin my surveillance. Most mornings, though, he wakes at 9 a.m., climbs out of his bedroom and makes his way, Spider-Man-style, to the roof using the siding. He stays up there for about an hour before swinging, legs first, back into his room. No matter how much I try, I haven’t been able to see what he does when he’s up there.
His room is empty but for a bed and a chest of drawers. A few boxes from the move remain unpacked and stacked by the doorway. There are no decorations except for a single poster for a movie called Jump London. I looked it up and it’s about parkour, which is a kind of street gymnastics, and explains how he’s able to do all the crazy stuff that he does. The more I watch, the more I want to know.
I’ve just sat down at the dining table for dinner. My mom places a cloth napkin in my lap and fills my water glass and then Carla’s. Friday night dinners are special in my house. Carla even stays late to eat with us instead of with her own family.
Everything at Friday Night Dinner is French. The napkins are white cloth embroidered with fleur-de-lis at the edges. The cutlery is antique French and ornate. We even have miniature silver La tour Eiffel salt and pepper shakers. Of course, we have to be careful with the menu because of my allergies, but my mom always makes her version of a cassoulet—a French stew with chicken, sausage, duck, and white beans. It was my dad’s favorite dish before he died. The version that my mom cooks for me contains only white beans cooked in chicken broth.
“Madeline,” my mom says. “Mr. Waterman tells me that you’re late on your architecture assignment. Is everything all right, baby girl?”
I’m surprised by her question. I know I’m late, but since I’ve never been late before I guess didn’t realize that she was keeping track.
“Is the assignment too hard?” She frowns as she ladles cassoulet into my bowl. “Do you want me to find you a new tutor?”
“Oui, non, et non,” I say in response to each question. “Everything’s fine. I’ll turn it in tomorrow, I promise. I just lost track of time.”
She nods and begins slicing and buttering pieces of crusty French bread for me. I know she wants to ask something else. I even know what she wants to ask, but she’s afraid of the answer.
“Is it the new neighbors?”
Carla gives me a sharp look. I’ve never lied to my mom. I’ve never had a reason and I don’t think I know how to. But something tells me what I need to do.
“I’ve just been reading too much. You know how I get with a good book.” I make my voice as reassuring as possible. I don’t want her to worry. She has enough to worry about with me as it is.
How do you say “liar” in French?
“Not hungry?” my mom asks a few minutes later. She presses the back of her hand against my forehead.
“You don’t have a fever.” She lets her hand linger a moment longer.
I’m about to reassure her when the doorbell rings. This happens so infrequently that I don’t know what to make of it.
The bell rings again.
My mom half rises from her chair.
Carla stands all the way up.
The bell sounds for a third time. I smile for no reason.
“Want me to get it, ma’am?” Carla asks.
My mom waves her off. “Stay here,” she says to me.