It was cold out, and I was early. The door was locked, so I sat on the front steps of the church, listening to the woman who took her piano lesson before me. She was good, better than I was, and the music she played was complicated, flourished.

I thought of my teacher and where he was while the woman played—leaning back in his chair near the windows, or sitting next to her on the bench with his hand covering her face? I wondered where Mrs. Spence was—probably at home, rattling around in the kitchen, waiting for me to get back.

My parents had found her ad in the local newspaper offering her services as a house sitter, and had hired her to stay with me while they were away.

I had tried to tell them that a house sitter normally takes care of an empty house. But they told me that a single individual— especially a fourteen year old—staying alone in a large house like ours actually makes the house seem emptier than with no one there at all.

"It's an issue of scale," said my father, who w…