Summer was always a weird time for Josephine Brooks. It was often too hot to go running by 8 am, so she frequently had to wake up at sunrise to jog before the temperature got too high. But that meant that the only item on her to-do list—work out—was crossed off before the rest of the world even got out of bed.
And it’s true, too, that Josephine’s house wasn’t the most entertaining place to waste away long summer days, either. Her and her mother had a television, but it was a small and ancient black & white set, purchased before Josephine’s birth for occasional PBS viewings. For the last few months the screen had been blocked by a stack of textbooks that Josephine’s mother was evaluating for the upcoming school year. The rabbit ears had gone missing a few years before—Josephine suspected that her sister had taken them with her to L.A.—so now the only stations they could get were a staticky NBC and four separate “Jesus channels” which, of course, came in crystal-clear. So TV wasn’t really an option.
Neither was the Internet. Josephine had a computer for schoolwork, but she wasn’t allowed to have it in her room; her mother, after a rare night of insomnia and television, had decided that the internet was populated almost exclusively by sexual predators who possessed endless tricks for ensnaring underage girls. Therefore, Josephine had to move her computer into the “office,” where the monitor faced the doorway. For about two weeks, Josephine’s mother would silently sneak up and spy on her daughter as she looked at running websites, calculated the caloric content of various foods, and shopped unsuccessfully for a new bicycle.
Eventually, Josephine’s mom was satisfied that her daughter wasn’t trawling the web for sexual partners, or running a voyeuristic webcam, or innocently falling into the ingenuous trap of a pedophile, and she stopped spying on her. In her mother’s defense, she had never seriously thought that Josephine was up to something like that, but that episode of Dateline had been very convincing.
The Internet never really interested Josephine that much to begin with, and after an hour online Josephine would come away feeling bored and itchy. One of the few things Josephine remembered about her father was that he would lullaby her with a song from his own childhood, one that went “All the lonely people, where do they all come from?” Well, Josephine didn’t know where they came from, but she knew where they went: they all had blogs.
(Also, the office was actually her sister Catherine’s old room, kept pretty much as it had been years before, and Josephine didn’t like being in there.)
Both of her parents were academics—her father had been a teacher at Beaumonde before he died of lymphatic cancer when Josephine was in second grade—and their house had a lot of books, so Josephine did read a lot. In fact, she was probably one of the most well-read members of the Gang, but nobody knew because she never made a big deal about it. (Also, she suspected that others got more out of books than she did.) For the last few years she’d been working through her father’s library. Every now and then she would find some light underlining or a small dot in the margin. Occasionally, she’d even come across a little handwritten note: a few weeks before she’d found a section in Benvenuto Cellini’s autobiography bracketed off, with “Ridiculous!” penciled in softly in her father’s handwriting. It had made her happy for days afterwards.
But, despite her best efforts, Josephine couldn’t spend fourteen hours a day reading. She also wrote in her journal everyday, but as summer stretched on and the days became longer, her diary got caught in a sort of feedback loop where the only thing she had to write about was having written in the diary the day before. It was depressing.
That afternoon, in fact, Josephine was just finishing up her journal entry for the day. She wrote about her jog, and how long she had written in her diary yesterday, and (just to have something to write, really) an essentially pointless story about finding a dead caterpillar on the back porch as she did her before-bed stretches.
She usually wrote in her room, but today she had felt cooped up and restless, so she’d moved to the kitchen table. Her mother, Dr. Ellen Hayes, the headmaster of Beaumonde Academy, was sitting across from her, working on a grant proposal for the school. The house was completely silent, as her mother preferred to write without music, something she picked up from Josephine’s father, who often decried the modern world’s “mania for constant distraction.”
Josephine reread what she’d just written with a sort of flinching disgust at what she saw as a useless entry told with the most uninteresting and straightforward prose possible. She closed the plain fake-leather journal—it was actually a sketchbook, and she had twelve identical volumes stowed away under her bed—and frowned at the blank cover. She was experiencing a foreign emotion, something she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She was…anxious? No, that’s not quite right. She was listless? No. She flipped through her mental thesaurus, trying to come up with the right word for what she was feeling. Finally, she realized what it was.
“Mom?” she said.
Her mother held up a finger and continued writing, finally coming to the end of her sentence. “Yes?”
Her mother capped her pen and tilted her head. “I thought it was nice, the two of us sitting here…”
“No, it is nice, I just mean in general. I’m bored. Summer days are too long. What am I supposed to do all day? How does a person fill up a day?’
“Oh, honey, just wait a few years…the world has a way of answering that question for you.” This caused her mother to giggle a little, which briefly angered Josephine. Seeing this, her mother tried a different approach. “Why don’t you walk down to David’s house, see what he’s doing?” The Sebastians had lived three doors away from Josephine since grade school.
“No, he’s been weird ever since Mr. Budd got arrested. Well, we all have, but him especially.”
Her mother tapped the table with her pen. “Well, let’s see. I’d let you borrow the car to go…wherever, but I need to run over to St. Odo’s at 5:30. Do you want to come with me? Maybe a few of your old teachers will be there.”
“Not really. I wonder what Grandpa’s doing?”
“I’m sure he’s at the jewelry store. You know, a couple weeks ago he suggested getting you a summer job down there, but I didn’t think you’d be interested.”
“I guess I’m not. I don’t know. I’m just bored.”
Her mother sighed and looked at her, with what Josephine thought was a not-entirely-sympathetic look. “Maybe tonight, after my meeting, we can go see a movie. There’s a documentary about Uganda playing downtown…”
“Maybe.” Josephine folded her arms on the table and put her head down, her chin on the diary.
“Oh, I talked to your sister. She said she has some big news, but she didn’t want to ruin the surprise because it might fall through.”
“Maybe she’s knocked up,” Josephine mumbled.
“Or maybe she’s getting married.”
“That would be nice,” her mom said. “I just hope it doesn’t involve her quitting her job again.”
Josephine smirked. “I don’t know, I thought her designer t-shirt company was a good idea.”
“I can never tell when you’re joking, Josephine, but if you are: be nice. Your sister’s just ambitious. She’ll find her place in this world eventually.”
“I just hope she finds my bike…”
“You really need to let the bike thing go, okay? She was moving to a big city, I thought you were about to outgrow bike riding. Do you want a new bike for your birthday?”
“No, I’m too old for bikes.”
Her mom stood up and put her papers back in a manila folder. “Well, you’re certainly in a mood today…”
Josephine sighed. Her mother was right, she was being a brat. “No, I’m sorry. I’m just…you know.”
“Well, honey, I’m sure something will turn up. Look, I’ll be right back.” Her mother opened the kitchen door and stepped outside. She had quit smoking when Josephine was a little kid, but lately she had been dating this guy (his name was Roger!) and she’d started back up again. Every morning, when Josephine crept out of the darkened house, she would always grab her mother’s improvised ashtray and empty it out in the garage, noting with dismay that over the last few weeks the number of cigarettes had grown from three to four and now to five.
Josephine stayed at the table, her head resting on her forearms, when she heard the oddest sound. It was a loud chirping, like an annoyed robot bird, and it was coming from the back of the house. Josephine straightened up. Was it the smoke detector?
Josephine crept down the hallway, following the bird call. It seemed the sound was coming from her room. She wondered what was in her room that would make a noise like that. They’d moved her computer out, so that wasn’t it. But when she got back to her bedroom, the noise had stopped.
She looked around, confused and little bit freaked out. Finally, she saw that her cell phone was blinking on its charger and the screen said 1 missed call – Andre. Now, I’m sure it was obvious to you that it was a phone ringing, but nobody ever called Josephine and it really never occurred to her that somebody would.
Josephine had never liked the idea of phones, frankly. There were machines that—if the right buttons were pushed—made a bell ring in her house? It was weird. She sat on the edge of her unmade bed and gently, as though it were very hot, picked up the phone and stared at it. Why in the world was Andre calling her? What did he want?
She was still staring at the phone a few seconds later when a loud beep announced that she had a new voicemail. Josephine yelped, almost dropping the phone, and quickly put it back on the charger. She scurried out of the room, pulling the door shut behind her just in case.