Read House Rules Online

Authors: Jodi Picoult

Tags: #Fiction, #Murder, #Suspense, #Mystery & Detective, #Murder - Investigation, #General, #Literary, #Family Life, #Psychological, #Forensic sciences, #Autistic youth, #Asperger's syndrome

House Rules (33 page)

BOOK: House Rules
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There are chat rooms and message boards for Aspies like me, but I don‘t frequent them.

One of the house rules in the family is to not go to websites my mother has not vetted.

When I asked her why, she made me sit down with her and watch a television show about sexual predators. I tried to explain that the website I wanted to chat on wasn‘t quite the same thing that it was only a bunch of people like me trying to connect without all the bullshit that‘s part of face-to-face meetings but she wouldn‘t take no for an answer.
You
don‘t know what these people are like, Jacob,
she said to me. In fact, I did. It was the people in the real world I didn‘t understand.

It takes only a few clicks to delve into his cache even though he thinks he‘s emptied it, nothing is ever really gone on a computer and to see where he was last surfing the Net. Orbitz.com, flights to San Jose.

When I bring downstairs the printout of the webpage that has his ticket information on it, Oliver is trying to convince my mother to call the police. I can‘t, she says. They won‘t want to help me.

They don‘t get to pick and choose their cases

Mom, I interrupt.

Jacob, not now, Oliver says.

But

My mother looks at me and starts crying. I watch one tear make an S-curve down her cheek. I want to talk to you, I say.

I‘m getting the phone, Oliver says. I‘m dialing 911.

I know where Theo is, I tell them.

My mother blinks. You what?

It was on his computer. I hand her the printed page.

Oh my God, my mother says, holding her hand up to her mouth. He‘s going to Henry‘s.

Who‘s Henry? Oliver asks.

My father, I answer. He walked out on us.

Oliver takes a step backward and rubs his chin.

He‘s connecting in Chicago, I add. His plane leaves in fifteen minutes.

You can‘t catch him before he takes off, Oliver says. Does Henry know? About Jacob?

Of course he knows about me. He sends checks every year for my birthday and Christmas.

I meant does Henry know about the murder charge?

My mother looks down at the fault line between the cushions of the couch. I don‘t know. He might have read about it in the papers, but I didn‘t talk to him about it, she admits. I didn‘t know how to tell him.

Oliver holds out the phone. Now‘s the time to figure that out, he says.

I don‘t like to think of Theo on a plane; I don‘t like planes. I understand Bernoulli‘s principle, but for the love of God, no matter how physical forces are being exerted on the wings for lift, the hardware weighs a million pounds. For all intents and purposes, it should fall out of the sky.

My mother takes the phone and starts to dial a long-distance number. It sounds like the notes of a game show theme song, but I can‘t remember which one.

Christ, Oliver says. He looks at me.

I don‘t know how I‘m supposed to respond.
We‘ll always have Paris,
I say.

When Theo was eight, he became convinced that there was a monster living underneath the house. He knew this because he could hear its breath every night when the radiators in his room hissed awake. I was eleven and very into dinosaurs at the time, and as thrilling as it was for me to assume that there might be a sauropod rooting around under the foundations of our house, I knew this was not likely:

1. Our house was built in 1973.

2. To build it, there would have been an excavation.

3. The probability of the world‘s sole long-lost dinosaur surviving the excavation and residing beneath my basement floor would be pretty slim.

4. Even if it had survived, what the hell would it be eating?

Grass clippings, Theo said, when I told him all this. Duh.

One of the reasons I like having Asperger‘s is that I
don‘t
have an active imagination. To many teachers and guidance counselors and shrinks included this is a great detriment. To me, it‘s a blessing. Logical thinking keeps you from wasting time worrying, or hoping. It prevents disappointment. Imagination, on the other hand, only gets you hyped up over things that will never realistically happen.

Like running into a hadrosaur on your way to the bathroom at 3:00 A.M.

Theo spent two weeks freaking out in the middle of the night when he heard the hiss from heating registers in his room. My mother tried everything from warm milk before bedtime to an illustrated diagram of the heating system of the house to an unnecessary dose of children‘s Benadryl at night to knock Theo out but like clockwork, he‘d start screaming in the middle of the night and would run out of his room and wake both of us.

It was getting old, frankly, which is why I did what I did.

After my mother tucked me in, I stayed up with a flashlight hidden under my pillow and read until I knew she had gone to bed, too. Then I took my pillow and blankets and sleeping bag and camped outside Theo‘s bedroom door. That night, when he woke up screaming and tried to run to my mother‘s room to wake her up, too, he tripped over me.

He blinked for a second, trying to figure out if he was dreaming. Go back to bed, I said. There‘s no stupid dinosaur.

I could tell he didn‘t believe me, so I added, And if there
is,
he‘ll kill me first before he gets to you.

This actually worked. Theo crawled back into bed, and we both fell asleep again.

My mother was the one who found me sprawled on the floor the next morning.

She panicked. Assuming I‘d had some kind of seizure, she started shaking me.

Stop, Mom, I finally said. I‘m fine!

What are you doing out here?

I
was
sleeping …

In the hallway?

Not the hallway, I corrected. In front of Theo‘s room.

Oh, Jacob. You were trying to make him feel safe, weren‘t you? She threw her arms around me and held me so tight I thought I just
might
have a seizure after all. I knew it, she babbled. I knew it! All those books; all those idiot doctors who said kids with Asperger‘s have no theory of mind and can‘t empathize … You
do
love your brother. You wanted to protect him.

I let her embrace me, because it seemed to be what she wanted to do. Behind Theo‘s door, I could hear him starting to stir.

What my mother had said was not technically inaccurate. What those doctors and books all say about how Aspies like me cannot feel anything on behalf of others that‘s total bullshit. We understand when someone else is in pain; it just affects us differently than it affects other humans. I see it as the next step of evolution: I cannot take away your sadness, so why should I acknowledge it?

In addition, I hadn‘t slept in front of Theo‘s door because I wanted to protect him.

I‘d slept in front of his door because I was exhausted after a week of midnight crying, and I only wanted to get a good night‘s rest. I was looking out for my own best interests.

You could say, actually, that this was the impetus behind what happened with Jess, too.

Oliver

Emma wants to call US Airways and make them stop the plane from departing, but the entire system is automated. When we finally do reach a human employee, he‘s in Charlotte, North Carolina, and has no way of contacting the Burlington gate. Here‘s the thing, I tell her. You can beat him there by flying direct to San Francisco. It‘s almost the same distance to Palo Alto from the San Jose airport. She looks over my shoulder at the computer screen, which has the flight I‘ve found. With the layover in Chicago that Theo‘s going to make, you‘ll still get in an hour before he does.

She leans forward, and I can smell the shampoo in her hair. Her eyes flicker over the flight information, hopeful and then land on the bottom, and the price. $1,080? That‘s ridiculous!

Same-day fares aren‘t cheap.

Well, that‘s not in my budget, Emma says.

I click on the button to purchase the ticket. It‘s in mine, I lie.

What are you
doing
! You can‘t pay for that

Too late. I shrug. The truth is, financially, I‘m a little shaky now. I have one client, and she can‘t afford to pay me, and worse, I‘m okay with that. Surely I missed the Bloodsucking Your Client class in law school, since all evidence points to me being the poster boy for Financially Ruined Defense Attorneys. But at the same time, I‘m thinking that I can sell my saddle I have a beautiful English one that‘s in storage below the pizza place. No use having it when I don‘t have a horse anyway.

I‘ll add it to the bill, I say, but we both know I probably won‘t.

Emma closes her eyes for a moment. I don‘t know what to say.

Then just be quiet.

You shouldn‘t have to get involved in this mess.

Lucky for you the only other thing I had to do today was organize my sock drawer, I joke, but she‘s not laughing.

I‘m sorry, Emma replies. It‘s just … I don‘t have anyone else.

Very slowly, very deliberately, so that she will not startle or pull away, I thread my fingers through hers and squeeze her hand. You have me, I say.

If I were a better man, I wouldn‘t have eavesdropped on Emma‘s conversation with her ex-husband.
Henry,
she said.
It‘s Emma.

No, actually, I can‘t really call back later. It‘s about Theo.

He‘s fine. I mean, I think he‘s fine. He‘s run away from home.

Well, of course I know that. He‘s on his way to your place.

Yes, California. Unless you‘ve moved lately.

No, I‘m sorry. That wasn‘t an insult …

I don‘t know why. He just took off.

He used my credit card. Look, can we just talk about this when I get there?

Oh. Did I forget to mention that?

If all goes well, I‘ll land before Theo.

Meeting us at the airport would be great. We‘re both on US Airways.

Then there is a hesitation.

Jacob?
she replies.
No, he won‘t be joining me.

It is decided that I will camp out for the night to be the over-twenty-five-year-old adult watching Jacob while Emma hauls Theo‘s ass back across the country. At first, after she leaves, it seems like a piece of cake we can play the Wii. We can watch TV. And, thank God, it‘s Brown Thursday, which is relatively easy: I can cook Jacob a burger for dinner. It isn‘t until an hour after she leaves that I remember my hearing tomorrow the one I had not yet told Emma about, the one I will have to take Jacob to by myself.

Jacob, I say, while he is engrossed in a television show about how Milky Way bars are made. I have to talk to you for a second.

He doesn‘t respond. His eyes don‘t even flicker from the screen, so I step in front of it and turn it off.

I just want to have a little chat. When Jacob doesn‘t answer, I keep speaking.

Your trial starts in a month, you know.

A month and six days.

Right. Well, I‘ve been thinking about how … hard it might be for you to be in court all day long, and I figured we need to do something about it.

Oh, Jacob says, shaking his head. I can‘t be in court all day. I have schoolwork to do. And I have to be home by four-thirty so that I can watch
CrimeBusters.

I don‘t think you get it. It‘s not your call. You go to court when the judge says you go to court, and you get to come home when he‘s ready to let you go.

Jacob chews on this information. That‘s not going to work for me.

Which is why you and I are going back to court tomorrow.

But my mother‘s not here.

I know that, Jacob. I didn‘t plan for her to be away. But the fact of the matter is, the whole reason we‘re going is something
you
said to me.

Me?

Yes. Do you remember what you told me when you decided I could run an insanity defense?

Jacob nods. That the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination by the state or local governments, including the courts, he says, and that some people consider autism to be a disability, even if I don‘t happen to be one of them.

Right. But if you
do
consider Asperger‘s syndrome to be a developmental disability, then under the ADA you‘re also entitled to provisions in court that will make the experience easier for you. I let a slow smile loose, like a card that‘s been played close to the chest. Tomorrow, we‘re going to make sure you get them.

Emma

From Auntie Em‘s column archives:

Dear Auntie Em,

Recently I have been dreaming about my ex. Should I consider this a sign from a higher
power and call him to say hi?

Sleepless in Strafford

Dear Sleepless,

Yes, but I wouldn‘t tell him you are calling because he‘s starring in your dreams. Unless he
happens to say, Gosh, it‘s so strange that you called today, because I dreamed about you
last night.

Auntie Em

I asked Henry out on our first date, because he didn‘t seem to be picking up on hints that I was his for the taking. We saw the movie
Ghost
and went out to dinner afterward, where Henry told me that, scientifically, ghosts could simply not exist. It‘s basic physics and math, he said. Patrick Swayze couldn‘t walk through walls
and
tag along behind Demi Moore. If ghosts can follow someone, that means their feet apply force to the floor. If they go through walls, though, they don‘t have any substance. They could either be material or be unmaterial, but they can‘t be both at the same time. It violates Newton‘s rule.

He was wearing a T-shirt that said FULL FRONTAL NERDITY, and his corn silk hair kept falling into his eyes. But don‘t you wish it could be true? I asked him. Don‘t you wish love was so strong it could come back to haunt you?

I told him the story of my mother, who one night had woken up at 3:14 A.M. with a mouth full of violet petals and the scent of roses so thick in the air that she could not breathe. An hour later she was roused by a phone call: her own mother, a florist by trade, had died of a heart attack at 3:14 a.m. Science can‘t answer everything, I told Henry. It doesn‘t explain love.

BOOK: House Rules
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