Gary tossed me the keys. I caught them, breaking their flight across the kitchen.
"Well, it's all yours, Will. At least till next month. Make yourself at home; garbage day is Thursday, my mailbox is number 20, it's all on the fridge, there, actually."
I asked him again about what he would be doing in São Paulo. Some kind of entrepreneurial work, that's his thing. He was a knowledgeable guy, well-connected, and he always found little jobs. He was divorced. He lived in this condo with his daughter, Annie. He had no steady income, yet he always made ends meet. I never really understood guys like that. Guys with that kind of reckless ambition. I supposed that was the difference between us. And the reason I was stuck in my programming job.
"So I'm sure you're glad to get a little extra time to yourself. That Linda of yours keeps you on a short leash, doesn't she?"
He chuckled. I smiled, though I didn't think it was funny. But at least I was willing to admit to myself then that it was true. Even more willing now. Linda was my wife; she was also my boss. It just sort of happened that way. We had been together since we started dating in high school. Not that it stopped everyone I knew from cracking jokes all the time. Gary is actually a friend of a coworker of mine, the three of us had a few beers together a couple of times, so I've gotten to know him a bit. Gary had originally offered this job to my friend - watching his condo and daughter for a month, but my friend's busy with kids of his own, so he asked me instead. I had met Annie a few times before, she was cute and kind of quiet. She was in high school, but I didn't know much else about her. She didn't seem like too much trouble. She was a teenager. How hard could it be, right? Piece of cake, I thought. I would basically be living here for a month. I figured she could pretty much take care of herself, and I could relax in Gary's comfortably furnished home. He had even offered to pay me. Sweet piece of cake.
"So you want to say hello to Annie?" he asked. "Oh - just make sure you don't say the "B" word. She's sixteen. You know, too old for a 'babysitter'."
He called his daughter. After a brief exchange of shouts through the hall, she entered the kitchen. She was a slight girl, with hazelnut eyes, and matching, medium length hair. Her face had a curious cuteness which seemed more befitting a small woodland creature than a human girl. She was cloaked in a hooded sweatshirt, and wore pajama bottoms. Her bare feet kissed the wooden floor as she walked. She deposited herself on a stool across from me, the porcelain breakfast counter between us. She locked eyes with me, and grinned amiably.
"Annie, you remember Will, right?"
She nodded, not releasing me from her gaze. Her eyes glistened with a strange, youthful wisdom. Gary waved his hands in front of her eyes.
"Hello?... Hey, quit being a creep, kiddo!" he said, laughing.
She snapped out of it, letting out a somewhat miffed "harumph."
Gary would be leaving the next morning, a Monday, for São Paulo. So the plan was, I would come here and get settled in after work. He laid down some ground rules for Annie, I wished him boa viagem, and then I left. Annie's pretty face still stared at me in my mind as I drove home.
"Honey, I'm home."
Getting no answer, I walked up to the bedroom. I found my wife sitting at her desk, poring over paperwork. She was still dressed in her business blouse, despite having come home hours ago. She often wore her work outfit around the house. A strange quirk of hers. She looked up at me from the chair, eying me over her glasses.
I kissed her cheek.
"Well, I'm all set for tomorrow."
"Good, so you've worked out the kinks in the database."
"Well, er-- I was talking about the babysitting, but, yes... yes, I did that too."
"Good," she said, turning back to her desk.
I wished she wouldn't bring work home so much, especially tonight. I massaged her shoulders.
"Come on, honey," I said. "You're too tense. I'm not going to see you at home for a month. How 'bout a little love to hold me over?"
"I don't know honey, I have a lot of work tonight..."
A familiar scene for us. I knew I had to play the negotiator now. I pleaded with her some more to no avail. But I knew her weak point. I knelt down in front of her, and took off her black high heels. They clacked as I dropped them on the floor. For a split second, I thought I caught her cracking a smile. I massaged her stocking-clad foot and toes.
"Come on... come to bed," I beckoned.
She gazed at her paperwork, smiling and humming, pretending not to notice me. I kneaded her toes some more. I removed the stocking.
"Please, dear," I said.
I dug my fingers into her sole, rubbing away the stress of the day. Finally she began to moan softly in contentment.
"Oh, All right," she sighed.
After a night with my wife like I hadn't had in a while, and then a day at work like any other, I had arrived at the condo complex. It was the time of year it got dark out early, and the plain stucco walls glowed with a dim, incandescent orange. I mounted the front steps, carrying a heavy duffel bag with my provisions for the month. Though I had a key, I figured it was courteous to knock on the door. I knocked. There was no answer. I tried the handle, and the door opened. I walked inside and saw her huddled up on the living room couch, hugging a bowl of popcorn, watching TV.
She looked up and smiled. I placed my bag on the floor, and took off my coat. Annie's attention returned to the television.
"You know, Annie, you should be more careful. You shouldn't leave the door unlocked like that."
"So how was school?"
She didn't seem one for smalltalk. She was watching that Japanese cartoon show, Intergalactic Princess Hero Team. I'm not that great with entertaining kids, and I figured she would keep herself busy for the most part, so I brought a book. Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out my reading glasses, and laid them on the table beside the couch. After settling into Gary's room, and unpacking my clothes and things, I grabbed my book and returned to the living room, and sat on the couch next to Annie. I reached out for my glasses on the table, but they were missing. I looked around and checked my pockets again.
"That's the strangest thing. Annie, have you seen my--"
I looked at Annie, and she started giggling. She was wearing my glasses. "Ha-ha, you got me," I said dryly as she returned them. As I started to read my book, I couldn't help but smile. I was able to get through about a chapter and a half, before Annie broke the silence.
The end credits to the show were playing on the TV. I was feeling peckish as well, so I figured I should try to whip up something. Luckily, there was some leftover meatloaf and vegetables in the fridge. I warmed it up and Annie set the table.
"How old are you, Will?" asked Annie. She shoveled some meatloaf into her mouth.
"So, did you go to college?"
"Cool. Was it fun?"
"It was fun. It was also a lot of hard work."
I was glad she was getting more talkative. She seemed to be staring at my food for some reason.
"So how's school, Annie?"
She chewed a piece of meatloaf, still staring at my food.
"Oh, I'm sorry. School is fine. Um, thanks for dinner, Will. I have to go do my homework now. Excuse me."
She got up from the table. I looked at her empty plate incredulously. She had finished her dinner in no more than two minutes. That was astonishing, even considering she was going through puberty. I finished my meal, and started cleaning the dishes. While doing so, I noticed something even more puzzling. When Annie had set the table, she gave herself a larger glass than I had used. I inspected her glass, then mine, and I quickly realized something wasn't right. Annie's glass was tall, and widened towards the top. Mine was identical, except it was 3/4 the size. I assumed they had a set of cups in different sizes, but the strange thing was, the smaller one was made of thinner glass. When I put them back in the cabinet, I saw that all of their glasses were the same size as Annie's, except for mine. I started to wonder why that might be, but when I started thinking strange things, I dismissed the thought.
I decided to check on Annie. Pushing open her door, I saw her sitting at her desk. I walked up to her chair and stood beside her.
"Boy, Annie," I said, "I've never seen a girl your age who could eat like that."
"Thanks. Yeah, I kinda have a big appetite."
After the fact, I realized what a faux-pas my comment could have been; she could have thought I was calling her a pig. But she took it as a compliment. She was definitely not your average teenage girl. I asked about her homework. It was algebra. I helped her out a bit. Though it comes easy to me now, I remember it being difficult for me when I was Annie's age. Suddenly, Annie put her pencil down and looked up at me.
"Will, can I tell you something?"
"This may sound weird but... I don't want you to think I'm a little kid or something, you know, just because you have to watch me and all. I'm a lot more mature and grown-up than a lot of the girls I go to school with. My dad is just being careful having you here. You understand, right Will?"
"Sure," I replied.
"Then you don't think I'm just a little kid?"
"I guess not."
"You promise me you're telling the truth?"
"I swear," I said.
"Thank you, Will," she said, smiling sincerely. She hugged my waist tightly, pressing the side of her head against my stomach. This took me by surprise, and not knowing how to respond, I just patted her on the head. She let me go, and returned to her homework. I wasn't sure what to make of the whole episode. I figured she looked up to me, and needed to diffuse some teenage insecurity.
Afterwards, I was in the bathroom shaving. I was sure Annie had gone to bed. I was planning on taking a shower after, and had already disrobed. Just as I finished shaving, and was inspecting my face in the mirror, I noticed another face in the mirror. I spun around, and saw Annie peeking in the doorway. Startled, I nearly dropped the razor, fumbling with it in the air. When I remembered that I was naked, I let it drop and grabbed a towel instead. I thought Annie would be startled, too, but she just smiled at me before retreating behind the door. I had only been living here one day and already she had seen too much of me. I had a feeling this was going to be an interesting month.