“Half Man” by David Huddle, page 2

         Suddenly--as if she’d realized they were outside staring in at her--she stood up, stepped directly to the window, and pulled down the shade. In the two or three seconds Bill had seen the front of her, he realized that it was a bra she had on and that she was one of their mother’s friends. If he thought long enough, he’d probably remember her name, but he didn’t really want to put his mind to that task.
        “Ha!” Robert said under his breath. He gave no sign he’d recognized the woman. “What do you think of that, Billie boy?”
        “I don’t know,” Bill whispered. That was the truth. To see a lady in her bra was a thrill, but it was horrifying to know she was somebody he might run into in town the next afternoon, somebody he’d have to speak to politely if he happened to be in the company of their mother.
        “That’s nothing,” Robert said, turning back toward the access road. “We can do lots better than that. We’ll finish doing the scouting, find out which places are good. Then it’ll get really interesting.”
        Without saying anything, Bill followed him. He was happy enough being in his brother’s company, though it began to bother him that he probably wasn’t getting what Robert thought he should getting out of the experience. He wondered if he would ever get it or if maybe there was something wrong with him.
        For the next several nights, Bill thought of making an excuse to Robert about why he couldn’t go out. At the same time, the outings began to seem a personal test, something he had to do, aside and apart from what Robert thought he was supposed to gain from it. As Robert had prophesied, their scouting did lead them to narrow down the number of houses they visited. The tour became more interesting. They witnessed several ladies undressing and slipping their nightgowns over their heads. They saw Stacy Mercugliano sitting on her bed in her underpants, but since Stacy was only eleven years old, Robert turned away without saying anything and Bill felt embarrassed. They moved on to Station Street, and they even scouted out a couple of houses on River Road, but it went without their saying it aloud that they didn’t want to be caught spying in their own neighborhood. So it was when they went back up the path through the former cow pasture to Hilltop that they found what Bill apparently needed to see: Nadine O’Hara.
        Because her father and grandfather were the men who started developing that part of town, Nadine lived in one of the first houses built in Hilltop. She was a junior, a couple of years older than Bill but a year younger than Robert. And Nadine was a geek. That’s how everybody in school thought of her--a tall, drab girl who wore glasses, didn’t wash her hair, and got A’s from all her teachers even though she was too shy ever to do more than mumble an answer to a direct question. She was in their sister Katie’s class, and even Katie--who had to be one of the shyest and kindest people in their whole school--would have sadly agreed that Nadine O’Hara was a geek.
        Something Bill learned from those outings with Robert was that households have habits. More or less at the same time each night, the people of a house eat dinner, wash the dishes, sit down to watch TV, turn out the lights, and go to bed. At the O’Haras’, night in, night out, they did it by the numbers--TV off at 10:30, lights out, Mrs. O’Hara trudged upstairs to join her husband in the master bedroom. Downstairs, at the opposite end of the house at 10:30, Nadine sat at her desk doing her homework until she heard her mom call goodnight to her. Years ago the O’Haras had hired an architect to design their house, and maybe if he’d laid it out differently, Robert and Bill wouldn’t have had such a clean line of sight from the backyard shrubbery through Nadine’s shades-up downstairs bedroom window. But then if the house had been laid out differently, maybe Nadine would have never gotten started with what she did.
        Bill knew a little something about private rituals invented and refined by people who think they’re alone. Because he and Katie spent so much time with each other at home, and because there were three kids in their family, he almost never got to be by himself. From his first moment of spying on Nadine, he was envious of the privacy she believed she had.
        She stood up from her desk and stretched--a long, luxurious stretch. To Nadine it probably meant At last I’m free to do what I really want to do. And to Bill it meant Now I’m going to see, I’m really going to see!

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