The Invisible Girl
“Can I tear you away from that game for a minute?” Julie Jordan plopped down on the floor next to Zach.
“Uh huh.” Zach made a sound that sounded like agreement but showed no sign of stopping the game.
“So when I ask to tear you away from the game, and you agree, that should mean that you actually stop playing the game for a second so I can have your attention.” Julie was never one to shy away from teasing her children. While they did many things differently, teasing their kids was one topic on which she and Jay were firmly in sync.
“Okay, okay.” Zach paused his game, turned to look at his mother, raised his eyebrows, and let out an elongated “Yesssss?” Zach was no stranger to sarcasm either.
“I want to talk to you about Binny.”
Zach’s shoulders slumped a bit and he let out an audible “ugh”. “I know what you’re gonna say.”
“What am I gonna say?” Julie mimicked her son’s intonation as she asked him the question.
“That I should be nicer and be a better big brother.”
“I have to ask Zach, if you already know what I want, why don’t you just do it?” Julie pushed gently.
“Just because I know what you want, doesn’t mean I don’t feel I’m already doing it.” Zach responded.
“Ah. Well played my son. Well played. But despite your cleverness, this is where you and I disagree.”
“She could be a better sister you know. She yells and goes crazy on me.” Zach said.
“And I’m sure that on 100% of the occasions where that’s happened, you’ve been completely innocent.” Julie asked rhetorically.
“Yes.” Zach nodded earnestly. “Completely innocent.” But even Zach couldn’t stop the corners of his mouth from turning up in a smile that told his mother all she needed to know.
All Julie had to do was raise her eyebrows and Zach caved, reassuring her that he would be nicer to Binny in the future.
Julie continued, “She’s having a hard time you know. It’s tough to be the middle kid. She gets it from you and from Cassie all the time. Since it’s always the kids closest in age that argue, there’s no Jordan sibling fight that she’s not a part of.”
“Has it occurred to you that if she’s part of every fight that maybe she’s the problem?” Zach smiled, proud of his clever argument. But before his mother could get really annoyed at him, he added, “Just kidding. I know. I know. I’ll be nicer. I promise.”
Julie shoulders un-tensed just a touch with the hope that Zach’s promise wasn’t an empty one. Julie continued, “Sweetie, it’s just that I can’t always be around to protect her,” Julie paused and then hastened to add, “because I’ve had to be at work a lot. So I need you to go a little easy on her. Okay? Sorry, I’m done. I know you get it. I’ll stop now.”
After giving her son what she hoped looked like an expression of satisfaction, Julie switched topics. “Honey do you mind helping me find Cassie? She’s out and about somewhere. It’s been way too long since she’s had a bath, and I can’t find her. Would you mind looking outside and corralling her while I get the bath started?”
“Can we play a game of chess later?” Zach negotiated for something in return.
“Yes. Of course sweetie.” Julie agreed. And then added, “I love getting humiliated at chess by a twelve-year-old.”
Zach picked himself up off the floor to go find his sister, but not before he added with a winking smile “I love that part too.”
Now where would that little mop of curls hide herself, Zach thought to himself. His mother had apparently scoured the house, so Cassie must be somewhere outside. On his way out the front door he thought of just yelling for her but caught himself at the last second as he knew that would earn him a reprimand from his mother – something along the lines of “I could have done that.”
Zach started his sweep by walking around the perimeter of the house itself, eliminating some of the most obvious spots. The dense shrubs in front of the house were perfect to hide in. No Cassie. The little shed on the side of the house was probably too full of spiders to be of Cassie’s liking. The narrow backyard was empty as well.
Much to Zach’s annoyance, Binny’s words from earlier that day started playing back in his mind. Binny had been worried that Cassie was in danger. Was that it? Or was it just that she was mad Cassie was breaking the rules? In Zach’s opinion, Binny was often more focused on the rules than on their sister’s welfare. Yes, Cassie didn’t exactly use common sense on a regular basis, but she could repeat the rules her parents had laid out for her being outside with surprising accuracy. Zach reassured himself that it was probably just Binny being Binny. Cassie was perfectly fine.
While the man had taken this very route earlier that day, Rembrandt was a convenient excuse to repeat it. Like an itch in the middle of his back that he couldn’t reach, his conclusions from the morning were still bothering him. The little girl had definitely disappeared. No other explanation made sense. But if he thought that deciding on the facts of the incident would calm his mind, it had quite the opposite effect. It had only brought up more questions and speculation that were swirling through his brain in an absolutely distracting manner.
The man thought a walk with Rembrandt might clear his mind a little and help him think in a more orderly fashion. And of course, his thoughts brought him up the hill towards the very same spot he’d surveyed that morning. And much like that morning, the little girl was again out in front of her house playing.
This time however, the little girl noticed him first. As Rembrandt tugged him up the hill, the little girl strode down to meet him. As it turned out, it wasn’t so much the man in which the little girl was interested, it was the dog. While he would never claim to be an expert on what seven-year-old girls thought – especially seven-year-old girls who could wink out of existence – there was at least one thing they could both relate to – once you got to know him, Rembrandt was extremely lovable.
Zach headed up the hill. It shouldn’t be that hard to locate Cassie, he thought. She knew she was only allowed to go as far as two houses in either direction. She wasn’t there though. She must be below. Zach regretted his earlier decision not to just stand and yell for her — he was getting annoyed at the amount of trudging around he had to do.
When Zach headed down past his house, Cassie wasn’t within sight either. He started to get a queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. Could he have been wrong? Was Cassie wandering about the neighborhood getting into trouble? Would she walk beyond their neighborhood? The thought that his sister could be hurt was worrisome. And if he was being completely honest, so was the thought that Binny might have been right.
Zach pushed those thoughts out of his mind and tried to focus. Cassie wasn’t an adventurous sort exactly. Just more lost in her own world. Zach imagined she probably just went a little further than she should. If he widened his search he was sure he’d find her soon enough. Zach continued downhill, picking up his pace hoping that moving faster might ease the knot in his stomach.
While the little girl petted Rembrandt, the man weighed his options. Since he’d already accepted the events of the previous day, what remained was to decide what to do next. But he needed more data. How did one get information from a seven-year-old? Even more important, how did one get information from a seven-year-old in a way that wouldn’t garner unwanted attention from passersby?
“Sometimes he likes to hide from me so I have to search for him. I think he thinks it is amusing.” The man offered as the little girl gently stroked Rembrandt’s muzzle.
She seemed not particularly interested in a discussion, but the man pushed forward anyway. “I bet you are pretty good at hiding.”
Still not more than a muted “Uh huh” from the girl. Apparently the man’s skills at small talk were equally good with women of all ages, he thought to himself.
The man took a risk: “You did a pretty amazing job hiding from your big sister yesterday when she came looking for her mirror.” Would the girl understand what he was really asking about?
“Yeah. She gets crazy when I take her stuff.” The girl replied without missing a beat. If she did understand, then she’d done an excellent job deflecting.
After a pause, she looked up directly at him, and with a sparkle in her eye she added “I’m good at sneaking.” Had the little girl winked at him, too? There it was! She as much as admitted that she had disappeared the previous day! Not only that, she was proud of it. The man supposed that if he could pull off a trick like that, he’d probably want to show off a bit too.
Just as Zach was reassuring himself that Binny was wrong, and Cassie was safe, the sidewalk curved enough to broaden his line of sight and reveal Cassie talking to a man he didn’t recognize. She was well beyond the two house limit. Zach started running.
The man hadn’t expected to get a confirmation so quickly. But on second thought, was that really a confirmation? What had she really said? Just that she was good at “sneaking”. And she’d winked. Maybe? What did that even mean – “sneaking”? Did he read too much into what the girl had said? Ultimately, while the man believed in facts, and science, he wasn’t immune to the value of a good gut feeling. And the man’s gut was screaming that this girl could become invisible at will.
“You are not just good at sneaking…” The man was now crouched down and looking at the girl eye-to-eye. She was still petting Rembrandt. “…you’re great at it. I would love to know, what is your…”
“…secret?” was the only word Zach heard as he arrived, out-of-breath, on the scene, just as the dog started barking. Zach was not a fan of dogs. Not in the least. He didn’t mind the smaller ones so much, but these big ones scared him. He’d been so focused on the man that he didn’t even see the huge dog right next to his sister.
This was definitely the pair that Binny had been worried about. Zach stopped in his tracks still a few feet from Cassie.
Binny didn’t know how crying worked, but if there was a tank somewhere in her body that stored tears, it was now empty. Dry as a bone. She simply couldn’t cry anymore. Her eyes were puffy, and her whole body slumped as she reversed her course through the forest, trudging back towards home.
“It’s time to come home, Cassie.” Zach called to his sister. He tried to sound assertive and at ease, but the nervousness in his voice was still slightly evident. Surprisingly, his trepidation was coming less from his fear of the large dog, and more from his suspicion of the dog’s owner, who seemed just a little too comfortable around Zach’s baby sister.
Cassie kept petting the dog. Had she not heard him? Zach got an inkling of how his parents must feel when Cassie ignored them.
The moment stretched out for Zach as he wondered how he would get Cassie home without he himself having to get any closer to either the man or the dog. Zach felt a nervous anger rising in him — Binny was right to be concerned. The man seemed to be waiting for Cassie to respond.
After an uncomfortably long pause, the man finally broke the silence. “Cassie, you should listen to your brother.” The dog seemed to take that as a cue and started heading back down the hill, pulling the man behind him. As the man started after his determined pet, he added, almost as an afterthought, “Take good care of your sister, Zach.”
Awash with relief that the man and the dog were leaving, it took Zach a couple of seconds to realize that the man had known his name. The man knew his name. What might normally have been an offhand remark now felt like a warning. How did the man know his name?
Binny had no interest in seeing anyone, let alone the strange man who had been talking to her sister. But there he was, coming down the hill towards her. Didn’t he have anything better to do than patrol the neighborhood with that big dog of his? Binny didn’t trust him. And she certainly didn’t want him to see her like this.
Binny walked faster and kept her head down. She couldn’t tell if the man was looking her way, because she was doing her best to avoid eye contact as she walked past. Only when she was clear of him did she realize she was almost on top of her sister and her brother, standing right where the man had just come from.
When Binny arrived, Zach was yelling at Cassie for straying too far from the house. He was pretty angry.
“You were more than two houses away from home.” Zach lectured his baby sister.
“No I wasn’t.” Cassie defended.
“One. Two. Three. Four.” Zach counted the houses up the street. “Four is not two. It is four. And the rule is two. Not four.” Zach was really upset now.
“Binny said I could break all the rules.” Cassie pointed at her sister.
“You said what?” Zach turned to Binny accusingly.
Binny’s eyes widened as she sputtered in defense. There was something different in her brother’s voice. “I didn’t say that. And I told that girl next door to keep an eye on her. It’s not my fault that she didn’t listen.”
“You did say it!” screamed Cassie. You said I could break all the rules and go wherever I want. You said it! You said it!”
“Are you insane?” Zach glared at Binny.
“I, I, I…” Binny stuttered.
“And what is that smell?” Zach started wondering. “Is that you? You smell awful.”
Cassie didn’t miss a beat and held her nose with a loud “Pee-yoo”.
“I sat in dog poop.” Binny said quietly.
Zach started laughing, and it turned out Binny’s tear tank wasn’t empty after all. At the sight of Binny sobbing, Zach stifled his laughter and turned serious, awkwardly trying to comfort her with a soft, “Sorry. Sorry. It’s okay.”
Zach mercifully changed the subject by turning his attention back to Cassie’s transgression. “She was talking to that scary man and his scary dog again. You shouldn’t have told her to break the rules.”
Binny now started screaming through her tears. “Break the rules? You were the one who told me that she was fine on her own. And knew how to use her brain. I told you about that man who was talking to her, but you didn’t listen. Neither of you would LISTEN to me.” Binny’s anger was rising even further and now it was Zach’s turn to be defensive.
“I’m not the one who told her to go wherever she wanted. If something had happened, this would have been YOUR fault!” Zach was yelling now as well.
The yelling and pointing escalated back and forth between Binny and Zach. It had started out heated and now it was growing out of control. The kids were name-calling and trading shouts back and forth. Each was blaming the other for what might have happened to their sister. Cassie, standing between them, tried to shield herself from their verbal blows.
First her hands went to her ears, and then she lowered herself into a half crouch. And then, the thing that the man had suspected, the thing the man hadn’t actually seen, the very thing the man was deep down certain had happened – did actually happen.
Bright silver tendrils of light snaked their way around Cassie’s limbs, body, and head. They looked like ivy made of white lightning. The ivy grew quickly to form a loose web around the little girl. Suddenly, Cassie herself appeared to go out of focus, like they were looking at her through a camera where the lens had been zoomed in too far.
Zach and Binny’s argument halted abruptly mid-sentence as they both stared at Cassie. The two siblings froze – and then, before they could say or think anything at all, their baby sister, curls and all, winked out of existence.