I poke my head under the table, slowly padding beneath it. The children giggle as my fur tickles their toes, but the man glares at me and shoos me away. The children groan and, sufficiently distracted now, reach down to pat my head.
I glimpse the table as I receive my pets. The boy and the younger girl each have a sheet of paper in front of them and long yellow pencils in hand. The older girl has lined paper and an open book filled with numbers and lines. The man lightly taps my backside with his foot and I lope away, flop onto my rug, and drift off listening to his voice explain nouns and verbs and negative numbers.
The older girl is curled up in the corner of the black leather couch, a book balanced precariously on her knees. Her blue glasses, smudged with small fingerprints, are sliding down her nose and her lips are quietly mouthing words.
She is always reading. Whenever I walk into the living room after the children have come home, she has a book in her hands and, while the other two wrestle between commercials, she sits up high, laughs at their antics, and reads.
I walk forward and nudge her leg. She looks down and smiles, rubs my ears, and tells me about her book. Something about boy wizards and castles, or something. She offers to read aloud and I flop to the carpet below her, and while she pushes her socked foot along my back, she reads:
“‘Welcome to Hogwarts,’ said Professor McGonagall. ‘The start-of-term banquet will begin shortly…’”
The three children sit at the table again. Except they are not children anymore. They are all bigger than I am, and the little boy is much bigger than his sisters. The table is littered with papers, white and lined and colored, and thick, heavy-looking books. There are more words on the pages and stranger combinations of numbers and letters. All of their handwriting has improved: the older girl’s is small and neat, the younger girl’s is round and loopy, and the boy’s is large and squarish.
Now, the older girl is leaning across the table, looking at the younger girl’s work, pointing at the type-written words. They argue, the older girl’s voice pinched with irritation and her sister’s bored with the exercise. The boy yells at them both.
I trot under the table and poke my nose against one of the girls’ bare legs. The argument tapers off and the three children pat my back and smile just as the woman marches into the room. She shoos me away and I walk back to my rug, and the children work quietly now.
She is the only one home most of the time. She rolls into the dining room a long time after sunrise, her hair frizzy and wild, her glasses cockeyed on her nose, and opens the door. I sit up when I hear her bare feet step onto the deck, and she smiles and calls out to me until I bound up the stairs. She calmly pats my head, her eyes drawn not to me but to the backyard, lingering on the flowers. She fills up my water dish and goes back inside, and I sit outside the glass door and watch her.
She sinks into one of the wooden chairs scattered around the table and opens her blue laptop. There is a large stack of papers on her left and a larger stack of thick books all the colors of the rainbow on her right. She sits and stares at the glowing computer screen for hours, her fingers dancing along the keys and occasionally reaching for the pencil tucked into her ponytail. She always looks spent and weary by the time the others come home.
She leaves later than the rest of them too, more books and binders in her arms than them, her body leaning to the left because of her bag. She always makes an effort to wave goodbye as she’s leaving.
“Bye Brandi,” she calls out, and she disappears out the door.