Stepping outside with his brother that first spring night called up something inside Bill. He was smiling and as full of energy as a little kid slipping out of the house to play hide-and-seek with the other little kids in their neighborhood
“You don’t have a clue, do you?” Robert asked with a worldly shrug. Bill replied, as sarcastically as possible, “Yes, big brother, of course I have a clue. This has to do with girls. Isn’t that right?” And Robert nodded. But he gave Bill a condescending look because he knew that Bill didn’t know the details. Bill had some crazy suspicions--like maybe Robert had arranged to set him up with Frannie Leland, who was supposed to be a slut, but then again, he couldn’t imagine Robert doing something like that. He knew Robert to be a quiet fellow outside their family, not really the type even to say hello to Frannie Leland, let alone make a wild arrangement with her.
They lived on River Road, the oldest and poorest neighborhood of their village. There was also Station Street, the in-between part of town, and then Hilltop where the new people built their houses and where the doctors and lawyers and bankers moved when they’d made enough money to build a new house. Hilltop was the direction in which Robert started walking. They took the shortcut, a path off their road that had probably been carved into the hillside by old Mr. Levesque’s cows before he sold his land to the O’Haras, who started building houses up there. It was a clear night with a sky full of stars. There was even a hint of barnyard fragrance in the air, though perhaps Bill just imagined that smell because of thinking about Mr. Levesque’s farm. He knew about it only because their father liked talking about the old days in White Brook. No cows had been pastured on that land since before Bill and Robert were born.
Robert led Bill up the hill to a high hedge along which they followed until they came to an opening. Easy as that, they stepped into someone’s yard. Robert lifted his hand and they came to a stop, facing the back of a house. A flickering light came from a TV in a downstairs room. After a moment Bill could make out the silhouette of the head of a woman watching TV. A brighter light shone in an empty kitchen. Upstairs was another light in what must have been a bathroom, but though they stood still at least five full minutes, they saw no one else. For all the movement she made, the woman in the TV room might as well have been dead.
Robert tapped Bill’s shoulder and led him back through the opening in the hedge and around a garage. Now they were on an access road behind the houses along Hilltop Drive. Whenever they came to house with a lighted window, Robert and Bill stopped on the road and stood still for some moments. Though they didn’t talk, Bill nevertheless liked being out there with his brother. He and Robert ordinarily had little to do with each other--over everybody in the family Bill was closest to his sister Katie, who sort of worshipped him--but now he had this peculiar sense of Robert’s being a lonely boy who might have appreciated his company more than he’d imagined. The night had cooled down considerably, there was a three-quarters moon showing just above the horizon, and the sky was huge and just amazing with its stars. The rear ends of houses had begun to bore Bill, so that he was paying more attention to the way the moon shone on the grass, how the dark trees made darker shadows, and how the town made a pattern of lights down in the valley. Then Robert tapped his shoulder again and pointed toward an upstairs window. They made their way through a metal gate into the back yard of someone’s house.
Upstairs, behind the scrim of a curtain was the profile of a girl or a woman whose shoulders were bare but who seemed to be wearing a slip or a bra. She sat--perhaps on a bedside--and held quite still, either lost in thought or more likely studying her reflection in a mirror, which wasn’t visible to the boys. Their view from the cool darkness below her was tantalizing. Though her hair was short and dark, they couldn’t make out her face enough to know how old she was or if she was pretty. Had her shoulders not been bare, Robert and Bill probably would have gone on their way.
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