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 (7 page)

BOOK: House Rules
10.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

I‘m not one of these parents who swings so far to the other side that she eschews immunization. When Theo was born, he had his shots. In my opinion, the benefits of vaccination still outweigh the risks.

I believe in vaccines, I do. I just believe in spreading them out.

It is because of Jess Ogilvy that Jacob went to his junior prom.

It was not something I ever expected him to do, to be honest. There are a lot of moments I used to consider definites for a child of mine that, after Jacob‘s diagnosis, became

wishes instead. Going to college. Holding down a job. Finding someone to love him. I suppose Theo bears the brunt of all my dreams. I hope for Jacob to blend into the world more seamlessly, but I hope for his brother to leave his mark.

Which is why, when Jacob announced last spring that he planned to go to his Spring Fling, I was surprised. With whom? I asked.

Well, Jacob said. Jess and I haven‘t quite worked that out yet.

I could see why Jess had suggested it: the photographs, the dancing, the table conversation all of these were skills he needed to know. I agreed with her, but I also didn‘t want to see Jacob hurt. What if no one he asked would go with him?

Don‘t think I‘m a bad mother; I‘m just a realistic one. I knew that Jacob was handsome, funny, and so smart it sometimes left me reeling. It was hard, though, for others to see him in that light. To them, he just seemed odd.

That night, I went into Jacob‘s room. The pleasure of seeing him excited for once about initiating a social interaction was tempered by the thought of a string of girls laughing in his face. So, I said, sitting down on the edge of his bed. I waited for him to put down his reading material the
Journal of Forensic Sciences
. The prom, huh?

Yes, he said. Jess thinks it‘s a good idea.

How about you? Do you think it‘s a good idea?

Jacob shrugged. I guess. But I‘m a little worried …

I seized on this. About what?

My date‘s dress, Jacob said. If it‘s orange, I don‘t think I could deal with it.

A smile tugged at my mouth. Trust me. No girl wears orange to a prom. I picked at a thread on his blanket. Is there any particular girl you‘re thinking of asking?



That way I won‘t be disappointed, he said, matter-of-fact.

I hesitated. I think it‘s terrific that you‘re trying this. And even if it doesn‘t work out

Mom, Jacob interrupted, of
it will work out. There are 402 girls in my school. Assuming that one of them finds me remotely attractive, the probability of getting one of them to say yes is statistically in my favor.

As it was, he had to ask only 83. One finally said yes Amanda Hillerstein, who had a younger brother with Down syndrome and was kindhearted enough to see past Jacob‘s Asperger‘s, at least for one night.

What ensued was a two-week crash course in prom etiquette. Jess worked with Jacob to make small talk during dinner.
(Appropriate: Are you visiting colleges this
summer? Inappropriate: Did you know there‘s a place in Tennesseecalled the Body Farm
where you can study how corpses decay?
) Me, I worked with him on everything else. We practiced how to walk close to a girl instead of keeping a full foot of space between you.

We practiced how to look at the camera when someone takes your photograph. We practiced how to ask your date if she‘d like to dance, although Jacob drew the line at slow dancing ( Do I really have to

The day leading up to the prom, a thousand pitfalls raced through my head. Jacob had never worn a tuxedo; what if the bow tie aggravated him and he refused to put it on?

He hated to bowl because he disliked the thought of putting his feet in shoes that had housed someone else‘s feet moments before. What if he pitched a fit about his rented patent leather loafers for the same reason? What if the prom decorating committee had not gone with an under the sea theme, like they‘d planned, but a disco party instead with flashing lights and mirrored balls that would overstimulate Jacob‘s senses? What if Amanda wore her hair loose, and Jacob took one look at her and ran back up to his room?

Amanda, bless her heart, had offered to drive since Jacob couldn‘t. She pulled up in her Jeep Cherokee at 7:00 on the dot. Jacob was waiting for her with a wrist corsage he‘d picked out at the florist that afternoon. He‘d been standing at the window, watching, since 6:00.

Jess had come over with a video camera to record the event for posterity. We all held our breath as Amanda stepped out of her car in a long peach gown.

You said she wouldn‘t wear orange, Jacob whispered.

It‘s peach, I corrected.

It‘s in the orange
he said, all he had time for before she knocked. Jacob yanked the door open. You look beautiful, he announced, just like we‘d practiced.

When I took their picture on the front lawn, Jacob even looked at the camera. It remains, to this day, the only photo I have of him where he‘s doing that. I admit, I cried a little as I watched him extend his crooked elbow to escort his date to her car. Could I have asked for a better outcome? Could Jacob have done a finer job of remembering every lesson we‘d worked on so diligently?

Jacob opened Amanda‘s door and then walked around to the passenger side.

Oh no,
I thought.

We totally forgot about that, Jess said.

And sure enough, Jess and I watched Jacob slide into his usual position in a car, the backseat.


This is it, I say, and my mother pulls the car over in front of some random house I‘ve never seen before.

When do you want me to come get you? she asks.

I don‘t know. I‘m not sure how long it‘s going to take us to write up the lab report, I say.

Well, you have your cell phone. Call me. I nod and get out of the car. Theo! she yells. Aren‘t you forgetting something?

A backpack. If I‘m doing schoolwork with an imaginary lab partner, I should at least be smart enough to carry a freaking notebook.

Leon‘s got everything, I say. It‘s on his computer.

She peers over my shoulder to the front door of the house. Are you sure he‘s expecting you? It doesn‘t look like anyone‘s home.

Mom, I told you. I talked to Leon ten minutes before we left the house. I‘m supposed to go in the back door. Relax, okay?

Make sure you‘re polite, she says, as I shut the car door. Please and thank

I mutter under my breath.

I start up the driveway and along a path that leads around the house. I have just turned the corner when I hear my mother pull away.

Of course it looks like there‘s no one here. I planned it that way.

I don‘t have a lab report to do. I don‘t even know anyone named Leon.

This is a new neighborhood for me. A lot of professors who work at UVM live here.

The houses are old and have little brass plaques on them with the years they were built. The really cool thing about old houses is that they have crappy locks. You can jimmy them open most of the time with a credit card slipped in the right way. I don‘t have a credit card, but my school ID works just as well.

I know that no one‘s home because there aren‘t any footprints on the driveway after last night‘s snow something my mother didn‘t notice. On the porch, I kick the snow off my sneakers and walk inside. The house smells like old people oatmeal and mothballs.

There‘s a cane propped inside the entryway, too. But weird there‘s also a Gap hoodie hanging up. Maybe their granddaughter left it behind.

Like last time, I go to the kitchen first.

The first thing I see is a bottle of red wine on the counter. It‘s about half full. I pop the cork and take a swig, and nearly spit the shit out all over the countertop. How come people drink if it tastes like this? Wiping my mouth, I rummage through the pantry for something to make me forget the taste of the wine, and find a box of crackers. I rip it open and eat a few. Then I check out the contents of the fridge and make myself a Black Forest ham and sage-cheddar sandwich on a baguette. No ham and cheese for this house. It‘s even too fancy for good ol‘ yellow mustard I have to use champagne mustard instead, whatever that is. For a second I worry it will taste like the wine, but if there‘s alcohol in it, you could have fooled me.

Trailing crumbs, I walk into the living room. I haven‘t taken my sneakers off, so I‘m leaving behind a trail of melting snow, too. I pretend I‘m superhuman. I can see through walls; I can hear a pin drop. Nobody could ever take me by surprise.

The living room is exactly what you‘d be expecting. Couches with crackly leather and stacks of paper everywhere, so many dusty books that even though I don‘t have asthma I feel it coming on.

A woman and a man live here. I can tell because there are books on gardening and little glass bottles lined up on the mantel. I wonder if they sit in this room and talk about their kids, way back when. I bet they finish each other‘s sentences.

Remember when Louis found a piece of felt on the driveway after Christmas …

… and he took it to show-and-tell as proof of Santa Claus?

I sit down on the couch. The television remote is on the coffee table, so I pick it up. I put my sandwich down beside me on the couch and turn on the entertainment system, which is much nicer than you‘d think for ol‘ Grandpa and Grandma. They have shelves of CDs, with every kind of music you can imagine. And a state-of-the-art, flat-screen HDTV.

They have TiVo, too. I punch buttons until I reach the screen to show what they‘ve recorded.

Antiques Roadshow.

The Three Tenors on Vermont Public TV.

And, like, everything on the History Channel.

They‘ve also taped a hockey game on NESN and a movie that aired last weekend
Mission Impossible III.

I double-click that one because it‘s hard to believe Mr. and Mrs. Professor watching Tom Cruise kick ass, but sure enough, there it is.

So I decide to let them have that one. The rest, I delete.

Then I start adding programs to tape.

The Girls Next Door

My Super Sweet 16

South Park

And for good measure, I go to HBO and add a dollop of

When that movie came out, it was playing at the same theater as
Pirates of the
Caribbean 3.
I wanted to see
but my mother said I had to wait a decade or so. She bought us tickets to
and said she would meet us in the parking lot after the film, because she had to go grocery shopping. I knew that Jacob would never have suggested it, so I told him that I wanted to let him in on a secret but he had to promise not to tell Mom.

He was so psyched about the secret he didn‘t even care that we were breaking the rules, and when I sneaked into the other theater after the opening credits, he came along. And in a way, I guess he did keep his promise he never actually told my mother that we‘d gone to see

She figured it out when he started quoting lines from the film, like he always does.
Very nice, very nice, how much? I like to make sexy time!

I think I was grounded for three months.

I have a fleeting vision of Mrs. Professor turning on her TiVoed programs and seeing the Playboy bunnies and having a heart attack. Of her husband having a stroke when he finds her.

Immediately, I feel like shit.

I erase all the programming and put back in the original shows.
This is it. This is the
last time I‘m breaking in somewhere,
I tell myself, even though there‘s another part of me that knows this won‘t be true. I‘m an addict, but instead of the rush some people get from shooting up or snorting, I need a fix that feels like home.

I pick up the telephone, intending to call my mother and ask her to come pick me up, but then on second thought I put down the receiver. I don‘t want there to be any trace of me. I want it to feel like I was never here.

So I leave the house cleaner than it was when I first entered. And then I start walking home. It‘s eight miles, but I can try to hitch once I reach the state highway.

After all, Leon‘s got the kind of parents who wouldn‘t mind dropping me off.


I‘m feeling pretty good, because this Friday, I won my case against the pig.

Okay, so technically, the pig was not the one who filed the lawsuit. That honor belongs to Buff (short for Buffalo, and I swear I am not making this up) Wings, a three-hundred-pound motorcyclist who was riding his vintage Harley down a road in Shelburne when a gigantic rogue pig wandered off the side of the road and directly into his path. As a result of the accident, Mr. Wings lost an eye something he showed the jury at one point, by lifting up his black satin patch, which of course I objected to.

Anyway, when Wings got out of the hospital, he sued the owner of the land from which the pig wandered. But it turned out to be more complicated than that. Elmer Hodgekiss, the owner of the pig, was only renting the property from a landlord who lived down in Brattleboro an eighty-year-old lady named Selma Frack. In Elmer‘s lease was a direct clause that said no pets, no animals. But Elmer defended his forbidden pig keeping (and his equally subversive chicken keeping for that matter) on the grounds that Selma was in a nursing home and never visited the property and what she didn‘t know wouldn‘t hurt her.

I was representing Selma Frack. Her caretaker at the Green Willow Assisted Living Facility told me that Selma picked me out of the phone book because of my Yellow Pages ad:

Oliver O. Bond, Esquire,
it read, with a graphic that looked like 007‘s gun except it was OOB, my initials.
When you need an attorney who won‘t be shaken OR stirred.

Thanks, I said. I came up with that myself.

The caretaker just stared at me blankly. She liked the fact that she could read the font. Most of them lawyers, their print is too tiny.

BOOK: House Rules
10.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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