Harriet turned the key as slowly as she could, hoping that the tumblers inside the locking mechanism wouldn’t make any sort of noise. When she felt the click, she hesitated as she grabbed for the handle. She forced herself to take ten long breaths. When her heart wouldn’t calm down anyway, she opened the door and prayed that Susan always kept it well oiled. The great, carved oak door pushed in with no resistance or sound. She sound of her bare feet padding on the hardwood was the only sound in the house beside the soft snores of Paper Boy, their black and white spotted Great Dane who was sleeping on the hall runner like some sort of cat. Normally she would have stopped to greet him, but now Harriet was just happy he was a deep sleeper.
She carried her shoes awkwardly up to her room, both close to her body and well away at one. She didn’t allow herself to breathe until she was upstairs and safely in her room with the door shut and locked. Harriet was beyond fortunate that no one was up. Her mom sometimes had trouble sleeping and her dad would sometimes like to look through his telescope late at night. And Susan, their maid…Harriet didn’t even know her sleeping schedule. Sometimes she would be up late studying and Susan would just come into the office at two in three in the morning to dust. There was no one else in the house. Harriet didn’t have any siblings or friends. She only really saw her cousins when they flew in on holidays from the east coast. She didn’t know them that well anyway.
Harriet went into her bathroom and closed the door, leaning her forehead against the fluffy pink robe on the back of it. She dropped her shoes on the floor and swore at herself, something she hadn’t done in a long time. She just stood there like that for a long time. The clock on the wall of her bedroom when she’d walked in had read 1:38. She had no idea they’d spent that long in the car together. And Mr. Montez…he was an old friend of her father’s. They’d gone to med school together, but Mr. Montez had developed an affinity for forensics. Harriet didn’t know at what point he decided to be a cop instead of an annalist, but it had done well for him. When she’d recognized his voice outside the car, she hadn’t been able to breathe. Realistically, there was no reason to tell her parents. They were both of age and consent and…
Harriet shucked off the soiled, ugly, wrinkled dress and threw it in the white wicker hamper along with the pantyhose. She almost winced at the look of them. She hadn’t wanted to get…stuff all over his new leather seats so she’d wiped herself clean with the first thing she could find. And when they’d done it a second time, she used the other leg of it. She tossed them in and closed the lid, trying to block the whole thing out. She started a shower and stepped in, knowing that it would be too hot. She stood under the water and scrubbed until her skin was raw. She didn’t know if she was trying to clean of Andrew or trying to clean off her own stupidity. She knew what she wanted the moment she saw him up on those rocks, but she hadn’t really thought about what that meant.
She’d had $ex before, of course, but it was usually after months of dating. It was planned by both her and her boyfriend for a specific night and dealt with accordingly. Neither of the two she had slept with or the two she hadn’t stuck around long. Not many people could deal with such a hectic schedule or her over controlling parents. Or the fact that a woman was set on a path destined to make her more successful than they were.
Harriet found herself lying in her bed without the slightest idea of how she’d gotten there. Her pink pinstriped pajamas were on and her hair brushed and braided, but she couldn’t remember doing it. She had been so lost in thought, she’d just went through her nightly motions without even thinking about it. She had studying to do, she knew. Even if classes hadn’t quite started yet, she needed to study hard. Now that she had no internship there was nothing to distinguish her from every other med student in UCLA apart from her young age. She’d had multiple internships before and had worked in hospitals and ERs and even dental practices, not to mention shadowing her dad at his practice since she was fourteen. But this internship…it was the best. Her dad said one more thing, one more thing on her application before her residency and even more interning for that.
Breathe. She told herself. Just breathe. Becoming panicked, losing control, those were not things she allowed herself to do. And yet they were the very things she’d done tonight. God, she didn’t even know Andrew! She didn’t know his favorite color or his middle name or anything.
No, she knew one thing, one important thing.
Twelve years ago she’d gone to the beach after hours of crying and she’d climbed a pile of rocks. She’d held up her arms and embraced the sunlight. A little boy with sad eyes and glasses maybe a couple years older than her had asked what she was doing and had joined him. And today… That was the beach, that was the rock pile, that was the sad, lonely boy with the glasses. Only now he was handsome and bright and happy. How had she become the sad and lonely one?
At what point in their lives did they switch places?
Harriet fell asleep before she found the answer.
Andrew wrestled with the stuck lock on his front door. The damn thing required anyone who wanted to enter to push hard on the upper half of the door and the left bottom corner as they interest the key, then turn in to left as if you were trying to look it. He had to jiggle the key around a bit until he felt a click then turn it slowly to the right. The shove the door in with your shoulder and you were in. At which point you would be arrested already if you were a burglar. Their door was the mother of all guard dogs.
Though it was a bit anticlimactic, the only step to relocking the door once inside was simply to turn the little dial thing above the handle. Andrew dropped the keys into the ceramic dish he’d made in high school that rested on the little table beside the door. He didn’t care much about being quiet. Even from downstairs he could hear his mother’s bear snoring.
The house was one you would expect the find only in San Francisco. It was tall and skinny, though sadly it didn’t extend into the backyard as far as those houses did. The stairs were in the living room and the living room and the kitchen were practically the same thing. There was a small bathroom on the first floor and a mudroom they used as a laundry room. Upstairs was the bathroom direct in front of the landing then his room to the left and Quinn’s to the left of that and pushed up against the wall beyond Quinn’s room was a large wire cage where his mom’s parot Joseph slept. His parents’ room was to the right of the bathroom and the door was shut firmly.
He didn’t even bother going into his room before he headed to the bathroom. The shower in their house was incredibly loud for some reason, so loud it could wake even the bear, so he ran a bath instead. He sat in the warm water and tried to remember anything but Harriet’s face when she recognized the officer. Actually, he didn’t even see her face, but he had felt how stiff her body had become and how her voice had cracked, how desperate she sounded when she’d asked him not to tattle on her. She sounded like a kid. She was only two years younger than him, but she’d sounded like a little girl who’d just been caught cheating on a test.
God, maybe she had been cheating. What if she had a boyfriend? She hadn’t said anything about one at all, but then who would mention they were dating someone while sleeping with someone else?
No, she probably wasn’t dating someone, but still it made him wonder. And it wasn’t like he could check now. He had forgotten to get her number and hadn’t given her his either. He now knew that she lived in that big white house on Tod Way that he passed every day when he went to get Quinn from school. But you couldn’t just stop by at a girl’s house like that. So he would have to just let it go.
Let her go. She was in her last year of medical school. She’d already gone to Berkeley and some other school and was going out to the east coast to her family home in the Hamptons with her other doctor cousins to do her residency—whatever that was. She wasn’t interested in a slacking business major who liked clothes. And even if she was, he knew better than to pursue her only to have his hear broken when the moved to the east coast. He could never do that, not with Quinn here. His poor brother was already taking a turn for the worst. He’d been especially quiet lately, even at home, and he didn’t want to climb the big tree in the front yard anymore and he wasn’t playing with the few friends he had.
No, that wasn’t a good topic to think about either. So Andrew let himself float in the water until it became so chilled he was forced to climb out and wrap himself in his robe and head into his room. He opened the door which creaked with familiarity and the little coiled doorstop spring vibrated when he closed it. He dropped his clothes in the pillow case he used as a hamper that was hanging on a nail on the back of the door. He began to rifle through his dresser for a shirt and boxers when a noise came from behind.
Andy spun around and hissed and swore. “Quinn! What are you doing?”
His little brother was lying in his bed with his plaid green and red bedspread tucked up to his nose. He slept with his spare pair of glasses that made him look like some creepy doctor from an old horror film. He refused to sleep without glasses and their father refused to let him wear his everyday pair, so creepy doctor was the compromise.
“That old home-less man is in the backyard again” Quinn said.
Andrew groaned and pulled on his boxers and a shirt and tossed his robe on the floor. “There is no homeless man in the backyard. We’ve gone over this. We’ve look a THOUSAND times.”
“Not hard enough.” He whispered, but he was staring wide eyed at the desk in the corner of the room near the window. Andrew didn’t even bother looking at it.
“Look, Quinn. You have to go sleep on your own room. You can’t keep doing this every night.” Andrew was far too tired to deal with this. It was almost three in the morning.
“Just for tonight,” He said. “Promise.”
“That’s what you said last night.” Andrew knew he had already lost. So instead he just crawled into the double bed and shoved Quinn against the wall. He was an unwanted guest and didn’t deserve comfort. He didn’t even seem to notice. He was just stared at the wall, freckles like marker dots against his paled skin until he finally pulled the covers up and over his glasses.
When he got himself straightened out and his pillow plumped, he reached and turned off the soccer ball lamp. The wonderful, peaceful darkness lasted all of two seconds before Quinn launched himself over Andrew’s body and tuned on the light before pulling back under the covers.
“Quinn.” Andrew wanted to scream, but he didn’t. “Your head is under the covers anyway, let me turn off the lights.”
His only answer was to shake his head under the covers.
“Fine.” Andrew hissed, tossing the sheet and blanket from his body. “Then I’ll go sleep in your room near the backyard hobo.”
“No!” Quinn cried as he pulled the covers off his head. “Don’t! Don’t go in there.”
“Why not?” Out of every boy in the world, how had THIS one become his brother?
“Because.” Quinn said quickly and grabbed his hand, tugging him back. “Please don’t, I’ll let you sleep with the light off.”
Andrew looked through the thick glasses into the terrified eyes of his little brother. His eyes were blue like an Alaskan lake with specks of red-brown freckled throughout, like rust floating over water. They were as incredible as they were terrified. Andy bit back his sarcastic remark and instead just crawled back into bed, knowing fully well that he wouldn’t turn off the light.
It was maybe two sleepless hours later that Andrew heard his brother whisper from under the covers into the dead silence. “I don’t want to. I won’t.”
“Quinn!” His mother’s voice shouted, waking Andrew up. It felt as if he had only just fallen asleep. “What are you doing in here? You slept through your alarm. Get up, you’re going to be late.”
Quinn pulled back the covers from his head. His skin was pale and clammy and his eyes had bags under them. Andrew wondered if he’d slept at all. Quinn always had trouble sleeping, but some nights were worse than others.
“I don’t want to go to school.” Quinn grumbled. “Not ever. I hate it, I hate everyone there.”
“You love school.” His mother said, leaning up against the door frame. “Come on Quinny, get up.”
It took another minute or two of convincing, but they got him up and into the shower. Andrew had about two seconds of reprieve before his mother came back in, all sympathy and love gone out the window.
“Where were you all night?” She demanded.
“I was at Em’s party.” He said. Only would think that at twenty-four he’d be allowed to stay out late without being questioned. But one would also think that at twenty-four he’d move out.
“Em.” His mother scoffed. “You know Elias asked THAT GIRL to marry him without even asking her father for his blessing?”
“Yes mom.” Why did his head hurt so badly all of a sudden? “I know that, we’ve been over it.”
“You better not be getting any ideas from him.” She went on. Her curly hair was as frizzled as her mind. “No good Christian girl would ever stand for it.”
“I would hope not mother.” He said and she gave him the stink eye before leaving.
Andrew almost laughed his frustration when the phone rang as soon as his mother left with Quinn. He got himself downstairs and into the kitchen right in time. “Hello?”
“So did you get laid?” The voice on the other end asked as greeting.
Speaking of the devil. “What’s it matter to you Em?”
“So that was either a ‘yes, but shut up because I’m not sharing’ or a ‘no, so shut up so I don’t have to confess my broken manly hood.”
“You’re a real @ss, you know that Em?” He said and his friend just laughed.
“So which was it?”
“None of the above.” He said and sat down on the painted stool beside the counted where the phone was.
“Oh, do tell.”
“Gossip like high school girls?” Andy laughed a single bark and rubbed his brow.
“Yes please, gossip away.”