Since they turned twelve and ten, Jill and Tommy were allowed to be home alone after school, though it wasn't for very long. The bus dropped them off at 3:30, and at least one parental car would come into the driveway at five. An hour and a half was time enough for many things, and not enough time at all. There are certain things that are just better without the adults around, crying about safety, "what were you thinking", "do you have homework", all that garbage.
Across the street, in two different houses, one an old widow and one an old bachelor, their dark windows like watchful eyes. Grown ups in case of emergency, Mom always said. But not once yet had Mr. Sharp come barrelling outside to prevent them from doing anything, like to keep Tommy from going down the garage roof on his rollerskates with the biggest umbrella they could find, but maybe that was only because Tommy got stuck in the trapdoor from the garage loft onto the roof, his couch cushion armor catching on loose nails, or maybe he just misjudged the opening. His wheeled feet kicked inefecually at the rickety ladder that Dad only went up when it was time to hang the Christmas lights.
That was the best time of year, when Tommy and Jill learned all their new vocabulary. Christmas, and any other time Dad had to go on the roof, or down to the basement, or have the car jacked up in the garage. They would go back to school after the weekend and rule like tiny Gods, vocabulary their currency and their power. Dad had been in the Navy, and the words he said were not always in English, and Tommy once got Bill O'Malley's lunch Doritoes for a week after he taught him one in Spanish that might have actually just been about eggs.
But that was how Mom found Tommy and Jill, Tommy grown too heavy now for his sister to lift and pull out of the trap door, Tommy yelling some of Dad's words so they didn't hear the car pull in.
"What on earth are you two doing? Why is Tommy stuck partway on the roof? Are those the couch cushions?"
Jill let go of her brother's legs and turned around. She had no idea where she was going to take this, but she said "Mom, I can explain."