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 (8 page)

BOOK: House Rules
8.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

In spite of the fact that Buff Wings wanted Selma‘s insurance to cover his medical bills, I had two strikes in my favor.

1. Buff Wings‘s convoluted argument was that Selma should be held responsible even though she (a) didn‘t know about the pig, (b) had expressly banned the pig, and (c) had evicted Elmer Hodgekiss as soon as she learned that he had loosed his killer pig on the general populace.

2. Buff Wings had chosen to represent himself.

I had trotted out experts to refute Wings‘s claims about damages both emotional and physical. For example, did you know that there is a guy from Ohio who actually is an expert on driving with one eye? And that in almost all states you can continue to drive even a motorcycle as long as your other eye has 20/20 vision? And that in certain circumstances, the term
blind spot
can be politically incorrect?

After the judge had ruled in our favor, I followed Selma and her caretaker to the elevator at the courthouse. Well, the caretaker said, all‘s well that ends well.

I glanced down at Selma, who‘d been asleep for most of the proceedings. It‘s all fun and games till somebody loses an eye, I replied. Please extend my congratulations to Mrs. Frack on her victory in court.

Then I ran down the stairs to the parking lot, punching my fist in the air.

I have a hundred percent success rate in my litigation.

So what if I‘ve only had one case?

Contrary to popular belief, the ink is not still drying on my bar certificate.

That‘s pizza sauce.

But it was an honest accident. I mean, since my office is above the town pizza joint, and Mama Spatakopoulous routinely blocks my ascension on the staircase to thrust a plate of spaghetti or a mushroom-and-onion pie into my hands, it would be downright rude to turn her down. Coupled with that is the fact that I can‘t really afford to eat, and turning away free food would be stupid. Granted, it was dumb of me to grab a makeshift napkin from a stack of papers on my desk, but the odds of it being my bar certificate (as opposed to my recent Chinese take-out order) had been pretty slim.

If any new clients ask to see my bar certificate, I‘m just going to tell them it‘s being framed.

Sure enough, as I am headed back inside, Mama S. meets me with a calzone. You gotta wear a hat, Oliver.

My hair is still dripping wet from my shower at the high school locker room. Ice has started to form. You‘ll take care of me when I have pneumonia, won‘t you? I tease.

She laughs and pushes the box at me. As I jog up the stairs, Thor starts barking his head off. I open the door just a crack, so that he doesn‘t come flying out. Relax, I say. I was only gone for fifteen minutes.

He launches all twelve pounds of himself at me.

Thor‘s a miniature poodle. He doesn‘t like to be called a poodle within hearing distance he‘ll growl, and can you blame him? What guy dog wants to be a
? They should only come in female denominations, if you ask me.

I do the best I can for him. I gave him the name of a mighty warrior. I let his hair grow out, but instead of making him look less effeminate, it only makes him look more like a mop head.

I pick him up and tuck him into my arm like a football, and then I notice that there are feathers all over my office. Oh, crap, I say. What‘d you do, Thor?

Setting him down, I survey the damage. Great. Thank you, mighty guard dog, for protecting me from my own damn pillow. I drag the vacuum out of the closet and start to suck up the debris. It‘s my own fault, I know, for not putting away my bedding before running my errand. My office is currently also doubling as my living quarters. Not permanently, of course, but do you know how expensive it is to pay rent on a law office
an apartment? Plus, being in town, I can walk to the high school every day and the janitor there has been very cool about letting me use the locker room as my own personal shower. I gave him some free advice about his divorce, and this is his thanks.

Usually, I fold up my blanket and tuck it with my pillow in the closet. I hide my little thirteen-inch TV inside a cavernously empty filing cabinet. That way, if a client comes in to retain my services, they won‘t get the vibe that I‘m hideously unsuccessful.

I‘m just new in town, that‘s all. Which is why I spend more time organizing the paper clips on my desk than actually doing any legal work.

I graduated with honors from the University of Vermont seven years ago with a degree in English. Here‘s a little nugget of wisdom for you, just in case you‘re interested: You can‘t practice English in the real world. What skills did I have, honestly? I could outread anyone in a quick draw? I could write a totally smoking analytical essay about the homoerotic overtones of Shakespeare‘s sonnets?

Yeah, that and $1.50 will get you a cup of coffee.

So I decided that I needed to stop living in the theoretical and start experiencing the physical. I answered a classified ad I‘d found in the
Burlington Free Press
to be a farrier‘s apprentice. I traveled around the countryside and learned to spot what was normal gait for a horse and what wasn‘t. I studied how to trim a donkey‘s hoof and how to shape a horseshoe around an anvil, nail it into place, file it down, and watch the animal take off again.

I liked being a farrier. I liked the feel of fifteen hundred pounds of horse pressed up against my shoulder as I bent the leg to examine the hoof. But after four years I got restless.

I decided to go to law school, for the same reason everyone else goes to law school: because I had no idea what else to do.

I‘ll be a good lawyer. Maybe even a great one. But here I am, at twenty-eight, and my secret fear is that I‘m going to be just another guy who spends his whole life making money by doing something he‘s never really loved

to do.

I have just put the vacuum back in the closet when there is a tentative knock at the door. A man stands there in Carhartt coveralls, feeding the seam of a black wool cap through his hands. He reeks of smoke.

Can I help you? I ask.

I‘m looking for the lawyer?

That‘s me. On the couch, Thor begins to growl. I shoot him a dirty glance. If he starts scaring away my potential clients, he‘ll be homeless.

Really? the man says, peering at me. You don‘t look old enough to be a lawyer.

I‘m twenty-eight, I say. Wanna see my driver‘s license?

No, no, the man says. I, uh, I got a problem.

I usher him into the office, closing the door behind him. Why don‘t you have a seat, Mr. …

Esch, he says, settling down. Homer Esch. I was out in my backyard this morning burning brush and the fire got out of control. He looks up at me as I sit down at my desk. It kind of burned down my neighbor‘s house.

Kind of? Or did?

Did. He juts out his jaw. I had a burn permit, though.

Great. I write that down on a legal pad: LICENSED TO BURN. Were there any casualties?

No. They don‘t live there no more. They built another house across the field. This was just a shed, pretty much. My neighbor swears he‘s suing me for every penny he put into that place. That‘s why I came to you. You‘re the first lawyer I found who‘s open on a Sunday.

Right. Well. I may have to do a little research before I can take your case, I say, but I‘m thinking:
He burned the guy‘s house down. There‘s no way to win this one.

Esch takes a photograph out of the inner pocket of his coveralls and pushes it across the table. You can see the place in the background here, behind my wife. My neighbor says it‘s twenty-five thousand dollars I‘ll have to pay out.

I glance at the photo. Calling this place a shed is generous. Me, I‘d have said shack.

Mr. Esch, I say, I think we can definitely get that down to fifteen.


Here are all the reasons I hate Mark, the boyfriend Jess has had since last September.

1. He makes her cry sometimes.

2. Once, I saw bruises on her side, and I think he‘s the one who gave them to her.

3. He always wears a big orange Bengals sweatshirt.

4. He calls me Chief, when I have explained multiple times that my name is Jacob.

5. He thinks I am retarded, even though the diagnosis of mental retardation is reserved for people who score lower than 70 on an IQ test, and I myself have scored 162. In my opinion, the very fact that Mark doesn‘t know this diagnostic criterion suggests that he‘s a lot closer to actual retardation than I am.

6. Last month I saw Mark in CVS with some other guys when Jess was not around. I said hello, but he pretended that he did not know me. When I told Jess and she confronted him, he denied it. Which means that he is both a hypocrite
a liar.

I was not expecting him to be at today‘s lesson, and for that reason I start to feel out of control right away, even though being with Jess usually calms me down. The best way I can describe it is like being in the path of a flash flood. You might be able to sense that a catastrophe is imminent; you might feel the faintest mist on your face. But even when you see that wall of water rushing toward you, you know you are powerless to budge an inch.

Jacob! Jess says, as soon as I walk in, but I see Mark across the room sitting in a booth, and just like that, I can hardly even hear her voice.

doing here?

You know he‘s my boyfriend, Jacob. And he wanted to come today. To help.

Right. And I want to be drawn and quartered, just for giggles.

Jess links her arm through mine. It took me a while to get used to that, and to the perfume she wears, which isn‘t very strong but to me smelled like an overdose of flowers.

It‘s going to be fine, she says. Besides, we said we‘re going to work on being friendly to people we don‘t know, right?

I know Mark, I reply. And I don‘t like him.

But I do. And part of being social means being civil to someone you don‘t like.

That‘s stupid. It‘s a huge world. Why not get up and walk away?

Because that‘s rude, Jess explains.

I think it‘s rude to stick a smile on your face and pretend you like talking to someone when in reality you‘d rather be sticking bamboo slivers under your fingernails.

Jess laughs. Jacob, one day, when we wake up in the world of the Painfully Honest,
can be

A man comes down the stairs that lead up from the entryway of the pizza place. He has a dog on a leash, a miniature poodle. I step into his path and start patting the dog.

Thor! Down! he says, but the dog doesn‘t listen.

Did you know poodles aren‘t French? In fact the name
comes from the German word
which is short for
or splashing dog. The breed used to be a water dog.

I didn‘t know that, the man says.

I do, because before I used to study forensics, I studied dogs. A poodle took Best in Show at Westminster in 2002, I add.

Right. Well, this poodle‘s going to take a whiz if I don‘t get him outside, the man says, and he pushes past me.

Jacob, Jess says, you don‘t just accost someone and start rattling off facts.

He was interested in poodles! He

Right, but you
have started off by saying, ‗Hey, that‘s a really cute dog.‘

I snort. That‘s not informative at all.

No, but it‘s

At first, when Jess and I started working together, I used to call her a few days before our lesson just to make sure it was still on that she wasn‘t sick, or expecting to have some kind of emergency. I‘d call whenever I was obsessing about it, and sometimes that was three in the morning. If she didn‘t pick up her cell phone, I‘d freak out. Once, I called the police to report her missing, and it turned out that she was just at some party.

Eventually, we agreed that I would call her at 10:00 P.M. on Thursdays. Since I meet with her on Sundays and Tuesdays, that means I don‘t have to spend four days out of touch and worrying.

This week she moved out of her dorm room and into a professor‘s house. She is babysitting for the house, which sounds like an immense waste of time, because it‘s not as if the house is going to touch the stove if it‘s hot or eat something poisonous or fall down its own stairs. She will be there for the semester, so next week we are going to meet there for our lesson. In my wallet I have the address, and the phone number, and a special map she‘s drawn, but I‘m a little nervous about it. It will probably smell like someone else, instead of Jess and flowers. Plus I have no idea what it looks like yet, and I hate surprises.

Jess is beautiful, although she says this was not always the case. She lost a lot of weight two years ago after she had an operation. I‘ve seen pictures of her before, when she was obese. She says that‘s why she wants to work with kids whose disabilities make them targets because she remembers being one, too. In the pictures, she looks like Jess, but hidden inside someone larger and puffier. Now, she is curvy, but only in the right places.

She has blond hair that is always straight, although she has to work hard to make that happen. I have watched her use this contraption called a flat iron that looks like a sandwich press but actually sizzles her curly, wet hair and turns it smooth and silky. When she walks into a room, people look right at her, which I really like, because it means they are not looking at me.

Lately I have been thinking that maybe she should be my girlfriend.

It makes sense:

1. She has seen me wear the same shirt twice in a row and doesn‘t make a big deal about it.

2. She is getting a master‘s degree in education, and is writing an enormous paper about Asperger‘s syndrome, so I am hands-on research for her.

3. She is the only girl, other than my mother, who can put her hand on my arm to get my attention without making me want to jump out of my skin.

4. She ties her hair back into a ponytail without me even having to ask.

5. She is allergic to mangoes and I don‘t like them.

BOOK: House Rules
8.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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