“You’re not in trouble. We were just worried that Zach wasn’t answering his phone.” Julie told the kids.
Zach and Binny exchanged a knowing glance.
“You should have left a note that you were going to play in the woods, or called and told us.” Jay added, not completely satisfied with Zach’s babysitting efforts on this day either.
“Hi, I’m Julie.” Julie stuck out her hand to Penny who had hung back behind the Jordan kids.
“Hi, I’m Penny.”
“Penny lives in the gray house across the street.” Binny added cheerfully, relieved that they weren’t in trouble.
“Your parents must be wondering where you are, too, Penny.” Jay said as more of a statement than a question.
“It’s just me and my mom. She knows I’m playing somewhere in the neighborhood, but I should probably get home now.” Penny responded, still not entirely sure whether the Jordan siblings were in trouble or not.
“Nice to meet you, Penny.” Julie tried to smile, but it was strained with worry.
As the Jordans walked through the woods and up the hill to their house, Binny thought hard about how to make all the risks they’d taken worth it. How would she convince her parents that Huitre and Luce Laboratories were not to be trusted? How would she make sure her parents kept Cassie out of harm’s way? She still wasn’t entirely sure, but she knew she had no choice but to confront her parents about this. Whatever was distracting her parents would have to take a back seat. Cassie was simply more important.
Upon entering the house, Cassie peeled off to go watch TV. “Could you two come with us?” Jay asked quietly as he and Julie led the older Jordan children through the kitchen out to the backyard.
Maybe they were in trouble after all. Binny was getting annoyed in advance of whatever it was that her parents were going to yell at them about. It was finally time for Binny to tell her parents everything and this time they were going to believe her. She was sure of it. “Listen, I’m sorry that we didn’t leave a note, but we have some very important things to tell you.”
“Binny, Zach, we’ve actually got something to tell you.” Julie answered.
Binny suddenly noticed that her mother’s eyes were puffy. It looked like she was about to cry. Mom never cried. Binny looked at Zach. He was stone-faced, staring ahead at some point across the yard she couldn’t see.
“You know we love you very much.” Julie tried to continue, but by the end of the sentence, the tears started coming in earnest. Jay put reached out and held their mother’s hand, giving it a squeeze.
“It’s happening isn’t it?” Zach spoke in a monotone, never shifting his gaze. His nostrils flared.
There was a long pause and then Jay began to explain.
Binny’s world caved in around her.
“I don’t want you to get divorced.” Binny wailed. She watched her brother’s face crumple when her father had said the words – “Your mother and I have decided to get a divorce.” She’d never seen Zach like this. Binny herself was barely hanging on, but everyone knew that she was emotional. The tears were flowing freely on all four of the Jordan’s faces, and the family sat on the sloping grass on this beautiful ruined summer evening.
It didn’t make sense. Binny asked “why” over and over again. Zach just sobbed, not asking any questions. Why were her parents getting divorced? They said they still loved each other. They said they would all still be a family. Divorce happened when parents hated each other. Her parents didn’t seem to hate each other at all.
But they had been so absent lately. So busy. So – and then it hit Binny, this was what Zach had been worried about. Zach had been protecting their parents because he knew they were talking about getting a divorce. In his own way, he’d been trying to avoid giving them anything else to worry about. Her brother who could be such a jerk was now wiping away tears, tears that she’d never seen before. He had been trying so hard to keep it together. How long had he known? How long had he lived with this secret?
Binny had thought the kids were the only ones keeping secrets in the Jordan family. She turned to her mother, “You’re going to move into an apartment, aren’t you.” Binny’s tears were ebbing a little but her anger was surging. Without waiting for an answer she continued, raging, “I don’t want you to move out of the house. I won’t go there. Please don’t do this. I’m not okay with this. I won’t let you!”
Jay and Julie assured their two oldest that it wasn’t their fault, that it was in fact nobody’s fault, and that adults sometimes need to make changes, and that they would still spend lots of time together. They apologized for having been so absent lately, but promised that from now on they would be there more, to spend time with the kids, and of course to keep them safe.
But the explanations and reassurances melted into a sad messy blur for Binny. She didn’t really hear or understand most of them. They would be repeated in later conversations when Binny’s thinking was less stormy. All thoughts of Cassie, all thoughts of experimental drugs, and danger from strange doctors were gone – as if none of it had never happened. The only words occupying Binny’s head now were “why” and “no”.
There were more tears, and lots of hugging. It seemed like the Jordan parents, especially Julie, shed even more tears than the children, which was no small feat. The pain in Binny’s heart started to dull from sharp lightning to a low booming thunder. She suddenly understood what people really meant when they said their hearts were heavy.
Everything felt heavy. When most of the tears had subsided, and the children didn’t have any more questions. Jay and Julie slowly helped each other onto their feet and went in the house together to tell Cassie the news. Binny and Zach remained alone, in the yard, in silence.
Binny didn’t see her parents linger at the door to the backyard watching their two oldest children exchange a few words of comfort, and then a long hug. Binny would never know how her parents felt at that moment, powerless and defeated by the pain they’d inflicted, and yet so amazingly proud of their children relying on each other for support when their parents couldn’t offer any solace.
“Can we have a divorce party?” Cassie asked. That was her second statement after hearing the news. The first being “Now I’m in the divorce club like my friend Sarah.” Sarah was a little girl who Cassie knew from school. Cassie already knew how divorce worked: depending on the weekend, a sleepover at Sarah’s might mean staying at Sarah’s mom’s house, or at her dad’s house.
Eventually Cassie cried as well. More from the looks on her parents’ faces than from a genuine understanding of the implications for her future.
“I’ve never seen Mom cry like that.” Binny interrupted the sad silence between her and her brother. She never felt so safe in her brother’s presence before.
“I know. Me neither.”
The object that Binny had been so angry about, so obsessed with, the mirror, was now out of Binny’s pocket and in her hands. Her thumb was tracing endless circles on the filigreed surface of the gift her father had given her mother many years earlier. “You’ve been trying to protect them, haven’t you.”
Zach couldn’t even get a word out as he started to cry again. His failure to staunch his parents’ looming divorce caused an irreparable crack in a dam of emotions that were now spilling out.
Binny had been feeling so sorry for herself, and so angry, that her brother’s incredible vulnerability touched her deeply. She absent-mindedly popped open the mirror with her thumb and looked down, giving Zach a tiny bit of privacy as he tried to choke down his tears.
The engraving on the inside of the mirror’s cover said, “You’re a vision. I will always be there for you.” Her father had told her it was an antique when he’d bought it for her mother, but the engraving was his addition. His sense of humor was there – giving his wife a compliment and making a joke out of it. But there was also a promise. His promise was burnished into the metal Binny was now holding in her hand. But her father wasn’t going to be there anymore for her mother, was he. Her parents weren’t going to be there for each other, and that’s why they hadn’t been there for the kids either. They’d said as much. Despite their promises, how could her parents protect the family that they had just ripped in two? The engraving on the mirror was meaningless now. Wasn’t it?
Binny was swimming in her family’s pain. She could feel the hurt in her brother, and in her parents. And at this moment Cassie was going through the same thing she and Zach just had. At first Binny was overwhelmed, but the throbbing in her chest had a clarifying effect. Binny wanted to take it all in. Her siblings’ sadness, her parents’ fears, she wanted to protect them. It wasn’t enough to protect just Cassie, Binny felt it was now her job to protect them all. She didn’t just feel it, she knew it in her heart – her impossibly heavy heart.
Binny threw the mirror across the yard as hard as she could into the stone wall. She saw it shatter into a million pieces. Her mind showed her the mirror’s destruction in slow motion, the pieces flying and bouncing in every direction. But in reality, no such thing happened. In reality, Binny closed the mirror gently, protectively, and carefully slid it back into her pocket for safekeeping.
Binny and Zach found their way into the house, joining their parents and Cassie, everyone trying to understand the new weird reality.
“Are we going to go back and forth between Mom’s apartment and this house?”
“No, this will still be the family house. But you can sleep over there sometimes. Mom will be here at the house lots.”
“Will we have to change schools?”
“No. Same school.”
“Will we get two sets of birthday presents?” Everyone laughed at this query from Cassie.
“Nope. Just one from the two of us together!”
“Will you get remarried to other people?” Binny asked this last question accusingly.
Jay and Julie looked at each other. They hadn’t anticipated every question they would get from their perceptive children. After a long pause, Julie finally responded, “We really have no idea. I suppose it’s a possibility someday in the far off future honey, but that’s not something any of us should worry about right now.”
“Right now, I think we should worry about dinner.” Jay gamely tried to change the subject.
Nobody felt that hungry for dinner. The news appeared to have taken everyone’s appetite.
“I understand if everyone’s not feeling super hungry. But you couldn’t possibly say no to ice cream could you?”
Binny and her mother exchanged a knowing look at Jay’s suggestion.
“Ice cream? For dinner?” Cassie thought this suggestion was hysterically funny.
“Why not?” Jay responded enthusiastically. “We’re going to have to invent a bunch of new rules for our family. I think the creativity should start with tonight’s meal.”
Ice cream meant Soul Repair, the bohemian coffee and treats shop located in the quiet retail heart of Madrona on the site of the former shoe repair shop. The new owner had kept and modified the original ‘Sole Repair’ sign. Jay never failed to chuckle at this bit of serendipity. The kids liked the spot mostly for the creatively flavored and accessorized homemade ice creams served during the nice weather as well as the ridiculously ornate hot chocolates served in the cold and rainy months.
“Hello Jordans! What can I get for you on this lovely Madrona evening?” Kay Athanasios, Soul Repair’s owner was in her early seventies but looked much younger. Her long wavy still jet-black hair was punctuated with only a few scattered thick gray streaks. There were small shiny beads in her hair as well as on the surface of her black dress so it wasn’t clear where one ended and the other began. Kay always had a cheery smile for her customers, but she seemed especially fond of the Jordans and their children.
“We’re having ice cream for dinner!” Cassie announced to Kay.
“I think that’s a fantastic idea. Why don’t more people do that?”
Cassie continued with her declarations, “My parents are getting divorced.”
This premature announcement by Cassie seemed to catch everyone off guard except for Kay who responded without missing a beat, “Change can be hard, huh. I have a strong feeling you’ll always be a family no matter what changes your parents make.”
Jay and Julie looked more relieved to hear Kay’s pronouncement than even Binny and Zach. Cassie seemed less interested and was already reviewing the flavors trying to decide what she would have.
Each of the Jordans exited Soul Repair feeling a little more upbeat and holding an even more generous than usual sized ice cream that required their immediate and focused attention. Cassie eagerly started in on her Strawberry Kiwi Bubblegum covered with rainbow sprinkles. Binny got French Toast Maple Chip. There were bits of warm French toast worked into the ice cream and real maple syrup had been drizzled on top. Zach went with Choconut Lime. A super-sized scoop of coconut ice cream had been dipped in liquid milk chocolate and then after a moment to harden, was brushed with a few additional strokes of darker chocolate giving it the appearance of an actual coconut resting atop his cone. Zach took a few bites revealing the white inside the chocolate shell, completing the illusion.
A single scoop of her regular Green Tea and Ginger sorbet in a cup with a “half portion please” of Sour Cherry gastrique on top was enough for Julie. Jay tried to get his regular choice, a scoop of vanilla, but Kay insisted that he try something different. “How about something just a little bit new?” She didn’t wait for him to say yes. She adorned his scoop with what she was calling “chicken bones”. Much to Jay’s relief these turned out to be home-made combinations of chopped almonds, coconut, and cashews covered in butterscotch. Kay stuck the “bones” in Jay’s scoop, making it resemble a vanilla porcupine with butterscotch quills. “Eat carefully.” Kay said with a wink as she handed Jay his order.
The Jordans carefully made their way down the street to the park to eat their meal.
The park was just down the block. Jay and Julie settled on a bench where they could keep an eye on Cassie, who was walking in circles on the elevated edge of a sandpit. Zach and Binny wandered off out of earshot, settling down on the grass to eat their ice cream.
Binny could tell that Zach was a little bit worn out, despite no longer having to keep secret his fears about their parents’ relationship. Something still seemed to be weighing on him. She caught his eye between licks.
“I have something to tell you.” As painful as his other secret had been, Zach now appeared to embrace the release of getting everything off his chest.
“OK.” Binny steeled herself, not sure if she could handle more upheaval.
“Cassie’s not the only one who can do something.”
Binny stayed quiet, waiting for Zach to elaborate.
“I can remember things.”
Binny put her hand on his reassuringly, “It’s okay. I know. I saw what you did with the alarm code. That was pretty cool!”
“It’s not just the alarm code. I saw Huitre enter it and I remembered it. But that was easy. I seem to remember,” Zach searched his thoughts for a moment, “just about everything.”
“Everything. Every word of the books I read. Scenes and dialogue in movies. What people say. It’s like I have this enormous memory bank in my head and I can access any of it, any time I want. Sometimes too often. It feels crowded in there.”
“Wow, that must be kind of overwhelming.”
Zach was touched by his sister’s concern. It wasn’t the reaction he was expecting. “You’re not upset?”
“Why would I be upset?”
Zach’s shoulders slumped in defeat as he finally surrendered, telling Binny the other thing that he was really worried about. “Because, well, Cassie and I, and you, well –”
“Because you and Cassie have a special power and I don’t?” Binny raised her eyebrows and the corners of her mouth were turned up a little.
Binny of course had thought about this before many times. But she had decided that the challenge of taking care of her family while being the only sibling without a super power was just part of the hand she’d been dealt. In some way, shouldering that responsibility made her actually feel special. Grown up. Not despite her lack of a power, but because of it.
Zach looked like he was about to get teary again. Binny hurried to reassure him. “It’s okay. Really. I’ve got enough on my plate.”
“You’re not mad?”
“No. I’m not mad.” Binny thought for a second, “How long have you known you could remember stuff?”
“I don’t know. It feels like I always could I guess. But I’m not really sure.”
“Well that would make sense; that you’ve always had these powers. Dr. Huitre gave mom that drug before you were born.”
Zach had collected himself and now looked Binny straight in the eye, “But Binny, he was your obstetrician too.”
“Maybe it didn’t work on me?”
“Or maybe your power just hasn’t appeared yet.” Zach pulled a set of folded papers out of his pocket. When he unfolded them, Binny recognized Cassie’s coloring again. He turned them over and showed them to Binny one at a time. “See? Cassie Jordan, Zachary Jordan, and Binah Jordan. There’s one for each of us.”
“Great, so they’re interested in me too, even though I’m the only one who didn’t get any powers. That sucks.” Binny was trying to make Zach laugh.
“Well, according to Huitre, they’re only interested in anyone exhibiting strange behavior. And luckily, Cassie is the only one that he’s seen doing that so far.”
“We need to keep it that way.” Binny surprised Zach at the forcefulness of her tone. She continued, sounding as if she’d made a decision, “And that goes for you too. We can’t tell anyone, not even Mom and Dad.”
“You changed your mind about telling them?”
Binny cast a sideways glance at her parents. They looked somehow weaker than she’d ever seen them. “I don’t think they can handle any more right now.”
“What do we do about Huitre and Luce Labs wanting Cassie then?” Zach asked pointedly.
“I don’t know yet. I don’t know.”
Cassie was a notoriously slow, not to mention messy, ice cream eater. She always tried to make her cone last as long as possible, even though she almost never finished the whole thing. She was only half finished after everyone else had eaten theirs, and Jay insisted that she eat the rest of hers on the walk home.
Binny’s mind was finally calm enough to return to the original problem at hand. She was still scared and upset about her parents’ news, but it had made her feel more responsible for saving her sister from Dr. Huitre and Luce Laboratories now that she knew what her parents were going through. It also made her feel more responsible for them.
Binny knew that if the people at Luce Laboratories could see first-hand Cassie demonstrating her power, they would do everything in their power to hold onto her and do all kinds of experiments on her. Binny shuddered. And after Cassie, they would no doubt want to experiment on Zach and Binny, too.
With Huitre knowing what he knew, how could Binny keep him from telling the people at Luce? He promised that he wouldn’t tell them, but he also thought they should go to the lab and submit to an examination! The only way to fix this was to throw everyone off the trail. She had to show them that not only Cassie, but none of the Jordan kids had any powers. Her thoughts drifted back to Huitre: What would happen when Huitre woke up? Would he think it was an accident? Or would he blame them and be even more determined to get them to the lab?
Once the family returned from their ice cream excursion, Binny wandered up to her room and sat on the bed as she mulled over the options. She knew there had to be a solution. She knew she could fix things for her family. But like a word on the tip of her tongue, the solution stayed just out of reach.
The sound of car doors slamming jarred Binny out of her deep concentration. From her room she viewed the street which now contained two vehicles that hadn’t been there when they’d gotten home a few minutes earlier – a car and a windowless van. She didn’t recognize the car. The van was white and had the Luce Laboratories logo on the side. What was a Luce Laboratory van doing in front of her house? And more importantly, where was Cassie?
Binny flew out of her room, almost falling down the first few stairs yelling “Cassie, Cassie” the whole time. Halfway down she ran into her father who held her up saying, “Slow down. What’s wrong?”
“Where’s Cassie?” Binny demanded breathlessly.
Jay raised his eyebrows but mostly ignored Binny’s demanding tone, answering, “She’s finishing her ice cream on the porch. She got so messy, I told her to stay outside until she was done. I figure I’ll hose her down out there when she’s finished.” Jay chuckled to himself.
Binny dashed around her now annoyed father and descended the remaining stairs in two large leaps. She sped towards the front door, desperate to get to Cassie before anyone else did.
By the time she’d made it onto the front porch, it was already too late.