"Cleaner than it's ever been," she said.
Those words still ring clear in my head, weeks after the fact.
See, we had decided to visit Grandma K in eastern Oregon during Christmas break. But because our elderly kitty, in the beginning stages of renal failure, needs daily attention, we didn't want to leave her alone.
So we called upon Sister S to look after her. All we asked was for her to visit the kitty twice a day for feeding and cleanup.
This kitty was hers, technically. Michael's Mommy had gotten this cat many years ago, when Sister S was just a sprout herself. S was the cat's caretaker and friend, so it seemed natural.
We knew, though, that if S were to be at the house, her boyfriend would be there too. There was no way we were going to prevent that. So rather than fight it, since S is technically a "grown up", we decided to bend the rules a bit and say it was okay for him to be there with her while we were away.
But we made it clear: No friends over, no parties, no booze, no dogs, nothing weird or damaging. Keep the house clean and secure. Simple enough.
So it came as rather a surprise when on the very first night we were away, we noticed weird things going on.
See, we got a security system some time back. This was on the heels of another mysterious and weird thing: the front door was somehow broken. Sister L, who was home at the time of this incident, swears up and down that she came home and found it that way. Odd, because nothing was taken or damaged other than the door. And even odder, the door appeared to have been broken from the inside: it was the door itself that was damaged, not the frame, as would be seen if someone had kicked the door in from the outside. This little discrepancy paved the way for our decision to get a security system complete with door-watching cameras, so there would never be a question about how that might have happened. We would know, because it would be on camera.
The security system tells us when a door to the outside is open or closed and what time the opening or closing occurs. We can also set it up to record snippets of video around the time when a door opens or closes, so we'll know who's coming or going.
That first night at Grandma K's house, we checked the security system and noticed a couple of strange things. First, the door to the garage opened and closed about every five minutes for a good solid three hours.
Open. Close. Open. Close. Open. Close. Ad infinitum.
Second, the camera that normally points to the front door was pointed at the floor.
Michael's Mommy and I were very concerned about this strangeness.
"Please put the camera back," Michael's Mommy texted to Sister S. "Point it at the door."
"We can't reach it," the text came back. Strange how it got moved if they couldn't reach it...
"Get a step ladder," we replied.
After an hour or so, the camera was moved back to the right position. No more weirdness that night. We chalked the garage door opening and closing to wind pressure: if the door isn't shut tight, it might register opening and closing with each wind gust. We were willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.
The next night, New Year's eve, something just as odd happened, only more of it. The camera was again pointed at the floor. The door to the garage opened and closed. We recorded a whole lot of video of the side door to the garage, only it showed nothing. Sister S knows where the camera's blind spots are. One of the biggest is the front of the garage: the big roll-up garage door itself. If someone, say a devious 20-year-old daughter, wanted to sneak in big wads of friends, that would be the way to do it.
What she didn't consider was the fact that the other cameras also face the front yard, if only just a little. So on those cameras, we were able to see cars parked along the street, lights going on and off in the garage, and legs walking by.
Furthermore, that entryway camera was once again pointed at the floor.
"We need you to put the camera back," Michael's mommy texted, angrily.
"I just want my privacy," came the reply. "I'm not doing anything wrong, mom. And it's weird that you keep watching what we're doing."
"It isn't about you. This is about us being able to make sure our house is kept safe. We don't want weird things going on like what broke the door."
The conversation moved on from there, but we were left with the questions about why she thought she could expect privacy in a place that isn't hers to begin with, and more importantly, whether we'd have a house and personal property of any value when we returned. We asked for pictures of the TV, the computer, and the other items potentially worth a quick buck on Craigslist.
Oddly enough we got back pictures of doorknobs along with the pictures of the valuables.
We congratulated ourselves on having the foresight to lock up the liquor cabinet and hide the cash and jewelry in our bedroom, and locking the door.
We told her that we expected the house to be spotless when we get home.
"Don't worry, mom." she said. "It will be cleaner than it's ever been."
Imagine our surprise, when we finally came home, and she and her boyfriend were still there.
The house was a pigsty: dishes in the sink, miscellaneous bits of trash everywhere, furniture in disarray, and Michael's toys had been used. Evidently they thought it would be fun to have a war with a few of his ping pong ball shooters and laser blasters. There will little yellow and white balls scattered all over the house. I'm still finding them tucked under chairs and in corners.
And the house had a particular... funk about it. Couldn't really put my finger on it, just that it smelled weird.
When asked why the house was so dirty, she gave us the story that the place had been much worse when she got to it, about how hard she and her boyfriend had worked to clean it up as much as it was. She probably figured I'd forgotten that we'd spent a week beforehand cleaning it from top to bottom, since my wife and I both like coming home to a clean house.
The very next day, Michael's Mommy and I went to Home Depot and got a door re-keying kit and changed the locks. We also bought an air purifier in hopes of clearing the air of the funk.
And next time we go out of town, we'll just take the kitty with us.