"Was that the door?" Ollie raises an eyebrow, curious rather than concerned. In fact, he looks animated. An unexpected guest on a weeknight! Who could it be?
Ollie is the social one of the two of us, the one that volunteers on the Parents and Friends' committee at the kids' school because "it's a good way to meet people," who hangs over the back fence to say hi to the neighbors if he hears them talking in the garden, who approaches people who look vaguely familiar and tries to figure out if they know each other. A people person. To Ollie, an unexpected knock on the door during the week signals excitement rather than doom.
But, of course, he hasn't seen the cop car.
Edie tears down the corridor. "I get it, I get it."
"Hold on a minute, Edie-bug," Ollie says, looking for somewhere to put down the tray of burgers. He isn't fast enough though because by the time he finds some counter space, Edie has already tossed open the door.
"Poleeth!" she says, awed.
This, of course, is the part where I should run after her, intercept the police at the door and apologize, but my feet are concreted to the floor. Luckily, Ollie is already jogging up behind Edie, ruffling her hair playfully.
"G'day," he says to the cops. He glances over his shoulder back into the house, his mind caught up in the action of a few seconds ago, perhaps wondering if he remembered to turn off the gas canister or checking that he'd placed the burger plate securely on the counter. It's the classic, unassuming behavior of someone about to get bad news. I actually feel like I am watching us all on a TV show—the handsome clueless dad, the cute toddler. The regular suburban family who are about to have their lives turned inside out . . . ruined forever.
"What can I do for you?" Ollie says finally, turning his attention back to the cops.
"I'm Sr. Constable Arthur," I hear a woman say, though I can't see her from my vantage point, "and this is Constable Perkins. Are you Oliver Goodwin?"
"I am." Ollie smiles down at Edie, even throws her a wink. It's enough to convince me that I'm being overly dramatic. Even if there's bad news, it may not be that bad. It may not even be our bad news. Perhaps one of the neighbors was burgled? Police always canvased the area after something like that, didn't they?
Suddenly I look forward to that moment in a few minutes' time when I know that everything's fine. I think about how Ollie and I will laugh about how paranoid I was. You won't believe what I thought, I'll say to him, and he'll roll his eyes and smile. Always worrying, he'll say. How do you ever get anything done with all that worrying?
But when I edge forward a few paces, I see that my worrying isn't unnecessary. I see it in the somberness of the policeman's expression, in the downward turn of the corners of his mouth.
The policewoman glances at Edie, then back at Ollie. "Is there somewhere we can talk . . . privately?"
The first traces of uncertainty appear on Ollie's face. His shoulders stiffen and he stands a little bit taller. Perhaps unconsciously, he pushes Edie back from the door, behind him, shielding her from something.
"Edie-bug, would you like me to put on The Wiggles?" I say, stepping forward finally.
Edie shakes her head resolutely, her gaze not shifting from the police. Her soft round face is alight with interest; her chunky, wobbly legs are planted with improbable firmness.
"Come on, honey," I try again, sweeping a hand over her pale gold hair. "How about an ice cream?"
This is more of a dilemma for Edie. She glances at me, watching for a long moment, assessing whether I can be trusted. Finally I shout for Archie to get out the Paddle Pops and she scampers off down the hallway.
"Come in," Ollie says to the police, and they do, sending me a quick, polite smile. A sorry smile. A smile that pierces my heart, unpicks me a little. It's not the neighbors, that smile says. This bad news is yours.