August 12, 2008


Josephine Brooks was bored.



Actually, she wasn't just bored, she was (as she was tempted to write in her journal every day) bored bored bored bored bored bored bored bored bored bored.

Her days were too long. She woke up before sunrise to jog, then spent the rest of the day in the empty house, reading or writing in her journal but mostly just sitting around, wasting the summer. Her mother was busy preparing Beaumonde for the upcoming school year, but even if she'd been at home more it wouldn't have necessarily been much better. Who wants to spend the summer hanging out with their mom?

And then, to make things even worse, a few days before her sister Catherine had called from Los Angeles to deliver her "big news." She had been hired to work as a PA on a movie that was filming in New Orleans, and in August she'd be home for "a few weeks, maybe even a month or two." Oh, fantastic.

At least the disgust and annoyance she’d feel when her sister arrived would be a break from the boredom. The night before, Josephine had picked up her cell phone and stared at it, thinking of calling someone in The Gang and asking if they wanted to...what, exactly? Josephine didn't know, she just wanted to do something. She considered calling David, but now that his trip to Chicago was only two weeks away he was radioactive.

Then, in the middle of the night--just before she had to get up for her run--David had actually called her. He had to deliver something to Andre (he wouldn't say what) and he wanted her to ride with him.

"At two in the morning?" she asked in a whisper.

"Oh hell yeah."

Josephine always slept in her running clothes, so all she had to do was put on her Sauconys, untied, and sneak down the street to his driveway.

Andre lived only about ten blocks over, and the errand hadn't taken long at all. On the way, David played a dance song he was in love with over and over again and talked about his upcoming trip, which he had apparently planned in great detail. Josephine waited in the car while he ducked into Andre's garage with his package. He hadn't asked her to come in with him, which has fine by her. She paused his iPod so she wouldn't have to hear that song for the fourth time, and instead she listened to Mrs. Sebastian's Prius humming softly in the dark.

Just a few minutes later, David got back in, restarting both his new favorite song and his discussion of the trip, and drove them home. Josephine wanted to ask him to take her somewhere, anywhere, but she couldn't think of how to say it and so she hadn't said a word. He'd pulled up in front of her house and pretended to make out with her until she pushed him off, squealing, and jumped out of the car.

And that was it, the only big adventure of her summer: going for a twenty-minute car ride with David at two in the morning. Exciting stuff.

She couldn't get back to sleep after that, so she just stayed up until it was time to go jogging. The run had been pitiful, of course, and all day she had been exhausted and even more out-of-sorts than she usually was. And then, to top it off, her mother had gone out to dinner with Roger and another couple, and Josephine had fallen asleep heavily on the couch, only waking up when her mother came in at eleven. So now her sleep was thrown off for another night, and the next day's jog would be ruined as well.

After saying good night to her mom, Josephine put on her running clothes and went out on the back deck to do her nightly stretches. She left the lights off because her mom's window--just now going dark--faced the back of the house, and because the bugs might not bite as badly. There was an almost-full moon struggling to stay above the neighboring houses.

Josephine eased herself down to the wooden deck and crossed her legs, then bent over at the waist as far as she could, putting a hand under her knees to pull herself as far down as possible. The muscles of her lower back pulled taut. She counted to thirty, relaxed the stretch, then leaned forward again.

Because she had to get up so early for her run, she was usually asleep by nine, so to be awake and outside stretching at eleven pm made her feel miserable. She must have gotten the "early to bed" gene from her mother, who just that evening had come in complaining about being kept up that late. On the other hand, Josephine's father was well-known for staying up deep into the night when he was working on a project. Her sister Catherine was the same way.

Josephine straightened up and opened her legs out, forming a wide V. Her next stretch involved leaning forward as far as she could, stretching her fingers out in front of her. She always did her stretches in the same place on the deck, and when she did this stretch there was a certain knot of wood she aimed for every morning and evening. With the lights off, she could only barely see the dark spot a few feet in front of her. If she looked to the side she could just make it out, but it disappeared when she looked right at it.

But she never leaned forward, never reached out towards the elusive knot with outstretched fingers. Instead, she stifled a yawn and shook her head, then stared out across her backyard, just sitting there in the purple dark. At first she considered the summer jobs she was still planning to apply for, but eventually she became lost in thought, or rather, lost in no-thought, and the stretches and jobs were forgotten. Later, she would suspect that she may have drifted off, fallen asleep with her eyes open. She didn't know how long she sat there, watching the moon rise and the trees refuse to budge in the sodden air, but she finally stirred when the dogs of the neighborhood began barking, many of them muffled by patio doors and all of them ignored, and when the man lifted himself clumsily over Josephine's back fence.

She swallowed hard, too shocked to do much else, and carefully scooted her butt backwards on the wood deck, towards the shadow of the house. The bearded man, wearing sweatpants and a shirt that was too large for him except over the gut, seemed to be coming right towards her, until he stopped about fifteen feet from the deck and looked around the yard, then squatted down in the shadowy grass.

Josephine made a low sound in her throat that she couldn't control, but the man seemed to be too far away to hear it. He was wearing mittens, and he took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes with the back of his wrist, then cleaned off a lens with one of the gloves. No, wait...they weren't mittens, they were dress socks. It was hard to make out, but there seemed to be maybe another sock rolled up inside, too, over each of his palms.

The man put his glasses back on and didn't move, except to tilt his head to the side. The dogs, one by one, gave up their barking.

Josephine slowly moved her palms down to her side and flexed her forearms. When this man stood up, if he took a step towards her she could be up and through the back door in seconds. There was a phone by the door, and knives in the kitchen. With a torturously cautious movement, she bent one knee to make it easier to jump up and back.

The man in the yard didn't seem to notice. He was still squatting in the yard, but he was intently studying the fence that separated the headmaster's residence from Beaumonde Academy. He seemed to be looking for something.

Neither of them moved for many minutes. The sound of her heart beat in her ears.

Suddenly, the man looked up and over her, the full moon reflecting fully in both lens of his glasses, so it looked like his eyes were pools of mercury. Josephine caught her breath. He tilted his head to the side, listening as a car drove past the front of the house, then he turned back to the fence. He hadn't seen her.

He hadn't seen her, but she had seen him. Josephine recognized him now as Lucas Budd, the twins' father, now bearded and skinny (yet also somehow paunchy) but undeniably him.

Mr. Budd leaned forward and tore up a few blades of grass with his woolen padded fingers, then sprinkled them out on the ground. Josephine wondered if he even knew whose backyard he was in. And she wondered if she should speak to him--the idea made her want to pee--or if she should continue hiding in the dark.

Before she could decide, though, Mr. Budd pushed himself up, shaking one leg and then the other, and walked quickly around the side of her house, hunched over at the waist in a concession to the concept of sneaking. Josephine listened closely, and she heard him trying to open the gate that connected Josephine's yard with the grounds of Beaumonde Academy. It would have been hidden in deep shadows from the house, and it had taken him a few minutes of squatting in the grass to find it.

Mr. Budd continued trying to get the gate open, but there was a small latch that had to be moved. It was hard to find in the daylight, much less the middle of the night. A few of the closer dogs began rumbling and pacing at the noise. Finally, he got the gate open.

Josephine always made a point, during the school year, of going out her front door and entering school through the main entrance. But her mother went through the gate several times a day, and Josephine knew that it squeaked loudly. Mr. Budd evidently discovered this on his own, because soon the hinges to cried out loud enough that all of the dogs in the neighborhood began barking again. A calico cat that Josephine hadn't seen scrambled off her back fence and disappeared under one of the neighbor's garden benches.

The gate squealed again, this time a few octaves higher but much shorter, and there was the sound of the latch closing. Josephine glanced up at her mother's window, but no light came on, no curtain parted.

Mr. Budd came back into view, hugging the shadows of Beaumonde's auditorium, as he snuck through the grounds of her school. Something caught a streetlight and flashed silver; Josephine realized that he was wearing a backpack, and the light had hit a piece of reflective tape. (She caught herself wondering where in the world he'd found a backpack...there was no way the twins would have knowingly allowed it in their home.)

At the back of the school was a large garage, where trucks could make deliveries without blocking the street. Leading up to the garage was a long paved entranceway, a bit more extensive than a driveway but not exactly an alley, which emptied out onto a side street. Mr. Budd seemed to be headed for this.

There was a low fence, hip-level to a ninth-grader, separating the school grounds from the drive. And the end of the school day, many students would make sure that Dr. Hayes wasn't around, then carefully lace their fingers between the pointed ends of the fence and vault cleanly over to the pavement on the other side. It saved them the hassle of going all the way through the school again, and it was an easy jump.

Well, easy for a teenager. Middle-aged men in the middle of the night seemed to have a bit harder time with it. Mr. Budd placed his sock-covered palms directly on the top of the fence, pulled himself up until he could swing his feet to the top, then jumped noisily to the other side. The dogs went bonkers.

Mr. Budd loped down the drive. He held back long enough to let a white hatchback pass on the main street before he slipped out and down the sidewalk.

Josephine realized that she was still crouched on the deck, her muscles tight and ready. She relaxed and looked up at her mother's window again. She needed to go inside right then and tell her mom what had just happened. That would the smart thing to thing to do. That would be...

That would be totally boring. Josephine pursed her lips. She pulled herself up by the banister, paused a moment with her back almost parallel to the deck, then swung slowly through the railings and landed softly in the grass. (The maneuver had come so easily to light and muscular Josephine that she had barely realized she'd done it, though surely any spectator would have whistled approvingly at the move, if not resorted outright to profanity.)

She ran her foot back against the grass, supposedly to see how slick it was, but really so she could rid herself of the last traces of nervousness. She took off at a sprint, covering the thirty yards of her backyard in seconds.

Somehow her feet knew exactly when to jump. In the light of the next day, examining the distance and height she'd covered, then she would felt anxious and even a little sick to her tummy. But tonight her body was in charge, launching her into a silent slow roll, almost a sideways somersault, over the chest-high fence.

The jump wasn't perfect--she had too much momentum going into the landing, and her fingertips grazed the grass as she dipped low to right herself--but it was good enough to get her over the fence and on her way.

She continued her spin until she was facing the right way, took a stuttering half-step, then took off again without a pause. She sprinted towards the fence at the end of the yard, her stride lengthening until she was flinging herself forward with every step. She reached the low fence, and with a grunt she stepped up and hurdled over it, one leg out before her and the other curled back almost behind her.

The night held its breath as she flew, then the slap of her soles landing safely on the pavement echoed damply in the hedge-lined corridor. Josephine ran a few more steps, shaking off her speed, then turned back to look at the two fences she had just silently cleared. A very unjosephinian grin bubbled up to her face, and she coughed out exactly one half-laugh, equal parts joy and nerves and adrenaline and fear.

Oh hell yeah.

She went to the end of the drive and looked out cautiously for any cars. In a city of waiters and bartenders, late-night jogging wasn't unusual, but New Orleans DID have a curfew for teenagers, and until her birthday in two weeks she had to be at least a little bit careful.

Down on the corner, Mr. Budd had stopped to go through his backpack. Josephine held back behind a large fern and saw him strip the socks off his hands, then pull out a black baseball cap that he pulled down low, almost to the top of his glasses. He turned the corner, slinging the backpack over a shoulder, and was gone.

Josephine looked back up the dark drive, over the two fences, and at her house sitting shadowed in the distance. She caught her breath, then turned away and stepped onto the sidewalk.