“What?” Binny stepped out from behind Caleb. Caleb remained silent but his eyes got a little wider as he paused his efforts for a moment.
Zach noticed Caleb’s concern, “Uh, well, not missing exactly, she’s just gone out to play somewhere in the neighborhood and I’m not sure where.”
“Sounds like she’s missing to me.” Binny’s hands moved to her hips.
“Mom and Dad asked me to watch her before they went out on errands, and I was playing my game, and all of a sudden she’d disappeared. Can you help me find her before they get back?”
“You want me to help you find her so that you don’t get in trouble?” Binny recalled her anger at her brother from earlier.
“I need your help Binny. Please?” Zach was desperate, the apology she hadn’t allowed him to make earlier now clearly visible in his eyes.
“Fine. I’ll help you.”
The older Jordan siblings were about to leave the woods in search of their sister when they heard Caleb clear his throat, indicating he’d like their attention. They stopped in their tracks and looked at him expectantly.
“I’m sure your baby sister is fine and just found something that caught her interest,” Caleb said slowly and deliberately. But, if you don’t find her in fifteen minutes, I expect you to call your parents and ask for their help. Even if it means you’ll get in trouble. OK?”
“Yes.” They answered in unison. Then they turned on their heels and sprinted out of the woods.
“I know you made it seem like you were less worried in front of Caleb, but… you’re scared… aren’t you?” Binny got the words out between the big breaths she was drawing as they ran.
Zach wasn’t sure how to answer her. He didn’t want to make her as nervous as he felt, and he didn’t want to confess to being worried about getting in trouble with their parents either. “Let’s just find her, okay?”
“Do you think he has her?” Now it was Binny’s turn to sound nervous.
“Knowing her, she wandered over there to play with that dog. ‘Cause she felt like it.”
The man’s house was close by. They crept up to their familiar spot behind the man’s back fence in time to witness him entering the yard with that large dog and their little sister in tow. Binny was about to stand up and call out to Cassie when Zach shushed her.
“What?” Binny hissed at Zach.
“First of all, we’re spying again and I don’t want to get in trouble for that too. Second of all, you wanted to know what the man wants with her, now we’re going to find out.”
“You’re, you’re,” Binny stammered, “you’re using her as bait!”
“Binny, we’re right here. We can see her. She’s not going anywhere. And if anything looks fishy we can grab her up.”
“You don’t think a strange man inviting a seven-year-old girl into his house is already fishy?”
“Of course it is, but we need to know why.”
Binny chewed on this for awhile. She definitely did not like the idea of leaving her sister in potential harm’s way even for a brief moment. But Cassie certainly looked in good spirits.
“I still think you’re afraid of getting in trouble with Mom and Dad.” Binny’s whispered admonition hung in the silence between them.
The man took the leash off his dog so the big creature could run around the fenced in back yard freely, and then turned his attention to the back door. The man used his key to unlock the sliding glass door. There was a keypad just inside the house. They could see the man pressing a sequence of keys presumably to turn off an alarm.
And then it was done. Cassie was now in the man’s house. Binny’s heart jumped.
As if he could tell that she was nervous over the missed opportunity to rescue their sister, Zach put his hand on her arm to keep her calm.
Their view from the fence was such that they could see into the man’s living room and kitchen. The man had disappeared for a moment into another room and come out with what looked like a stack of paper and some colored markers. He laid them out on the coffee table and Cassie started coloring dutifully. The man then prepared a plate of cookies and a glass of milk for Cassie and placed them next to her. Cassie didn’t miss a beat and started chomping away, not pausing her coloring as she ate.
Zach and Binny both seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, but they still weren’t sure they could trust the man. Zach said, “Well, I guess at bad guy school they showed him how to serve up a mean plate of cookies.”
Binny caught herself laughing but interrupted it abruptly with a less charitable thought. “I still think he’s up to no good, no matter how nice he’s being.”
“Let’s just watch for a few minutes. Maybe we’ll get a clue as to what he’s up to.”
After a few minutes it became clear that other than entertaining their sister with milk and cookies and coloring materials, the man spent a lot of time talking on the phone in what must have been a home office of sorts. But unlike the last time Binny and Zach had been spying, the man stayed inside, not coming out on his wraparound deck. There would be no eavesdropping this time, but Binny was already sure she knew what the man was doing.
“He’s calling his boss at the government – Sam – and asking him for instructions on what to do next now that he’s lured Cassie here with junk food.”
“Or he’s just being nice.” Zach countered.
“Or, he’s telling the people he works for to come and pick her up and take her to their secret lab.”
Zach tried to reassure her before she spun out of control. “Maybe, but we’re here. We won’t let that happen.”
“Mom and Dad told her not to go anywhere with strangers.”
“How do you know he asked her to go somewhere? Maybe Cassie she just showed up here looking for snacks and some time with the dog.”
Binny thought about how impulsive her sister could be. “I guess.”
“Remember last year at the park playground. Cassie was playing with that little boy she met, and then suddenly he was crying? Cassie had kissed him. Right on the mouth! Dad had to explain to her not to give ‘uninvited kisses’.” Zach did his best impression of Jay being stern.
The corners of Binny’s mouth turned up temporarily as she remembered one of her sister’s more outrageous acts of impetuousness, but it still didn’t make her feel much better about Cassie’s current predicament. “When can we get her out of there?”
Binny rose, about to march towards the house when Zach grabbed her by the arm and brought her back down behind the fence. And then in a low but urgent whisper he continued, “now, but I want to get her out of there without seeing the man. I don’t want him to know we’ve been watching.”
“If the man is just a nice guy, I don’t want him to know we were spying. And if he’s dangerous, I don’t want to have a confrontation with him. Why not just sneak away and leave him wondering what happened?”
Other than the urgency Binny felt, Zach’s logic seemed to make sense. Except for one thing. “What about the dog?”
Rembrandt had curled up, chewing on an old tennis ball, just outside the sliding glass door that led into the house where Cassie was doing her coloring and polishing off her dwindling supply of cookies.
“Ugh. We need a distraction.”
“How about a steak?” Binny joked.
“That’s not a terrible idea actually.” Zach sounded surprised.
“I was kidding.”
“No, it’s not a bad idea at all. I’ll run home and get one.”
“And leave me here? What if something happens?” Binny was getting very stressed.
“You keep watching, see what you can figure out. And don’t worry, if something happens Cassie will probably do her disappearing trick anyway.”
Binny contemplated that for a second and with a glance over at Cassie answered, “well at this rate the only way she’s going to turn invisible is if its triggered by a junk food overload. He just gave her huge bowl of potato chips.” Binny shook her head in disapproval.
Zach looked at her, his eyes wide waiting for permission.
“Fine, go. But please hurry!” she urged. Binny settled in to keep watch.
Zach turned to go and then stopped momentarily. “Binny?”
“I’m sorry about before. With Mom and Dad.”
“Don’t bring that up now. I’m still mad at you. It would just have been nice for them to believe me and now they think I’m stupid or crazy.”
“I don’t think you’re stupid.” And then after a pause Zach added with a smirk, “Maybe a little crazy though.”
“Go get the steak. And hurry up before I change my mind and get you in trouble for all this!”
Zach sped off and Binny settled in to watch, hoping the dog wasn’t a vegetarian.
The routine in the house hadn’t changed. The man was doing something in what was presumably his office and then would briefly check on Cassie every few minutes. Periodically Cassie would need more paper for coloring and would take more from the pile the man had left on the nearby kitchen counter. The routine of it calmed Binny a bit until she heard footsteps shuffling behind her. She turned around with a start.
It was Penny. Her hands were in her pockets and she had a look on her face like she felt bad about something. Caleb’s words rang in Binny’s ears.
“Oh, hi.” Binny offered with a smile, and motioned for Penny to sit down next to her behind the fence. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. Sorry I got mad.” Penny settled down next to Binny with her legs crossed, her elbows on her knees, and her hands propping up her face.
“It’s okay. I get mad and run off all the time. I’m really good at it.” Binny joked.
Penny laughed. A moment passed, and Penny picked up the conversation again. “I broke the typewriter.”
“Oh. I’m sure it can be fixed.”
The girls looked at each other and laughed some more knowing full well that there was no way that huge pile of pieces was fixable.
“I broke other stuff too.” The resigned expression reappeared on Penny’s face.
“Not on purpose of course. It just happened.”
“Of course.” Binny reassured her.
“No really, I just, I just,” Penny seemed nervous about finishing her sentence. She looked Binny straight in the eye and said, “I just touch stuff and it breaks.”
Binny could see clearly that Penny was opening up to her and felt bad that she hadn’t done the same earlier. Binny yearned to make the girl feel better.
“Oh, I’m clumsy too. That skateboard I broke was the fourth one. I still haven’t told my parents.”
Penny smiled briefly, but then turned more serious, “No. Not being clumsy. Literally, I touch stuff, and it breaks. It just started happening in the last couple of days. Not always. Not every time. But a lot.”
Binny was paying rapt attention.
Penny continued, “I touched the remote control for the TV and it fell to pieces. I touched the ukulele my Dad sent me and it just came apart. I didn’t drop it, I didn’t smash it. I wasn’t rough with it. I just held it normally and it fell to pieces. I was so upset. My mom told me to take a break and write down my feelings. She even said I could use her old typewriter. She knows I like the sound it makes when I type. But now that’s broken too.” Penny fell silent for a few seconds but it was clear she still had something on her mind.
Penny was back to looking at her hands, “I think the only thing I’m good at is breaking things. Breaking things into so many pieces that they can never be put back together.” Penny looked up again. “When my mom and I moved here from out-of-state, my dad didn’t come with us.” Penny started crying – big tears spilling down her cheeks.
Binny wanted to cry herself she felt so bad for Penny. Binny went to put her arms around Penny and give her a hug, but Penny shrank away from Binny’s touch. “No, no. What if, what if I break you?”
The thought that she might spontaneously disassemble into her component parts with fingers and eyeballs lying around on the ground struck Binny as funny for some reason. “I’m not a typewriter.” Binny responded with her chin set indicating that this simply wasn’t a possibility. Penny laughed, and Binny gave her a short but strong hug and said “See? I’m still all put together.”
Binny wasn’t sure if it was the reassuring words, or just getting her fears off her chest, but Penny seemed to feel a little better. Binny added cheerily for good measure, “And besides, I’m sure there’s a good use for a skill like that.”
Penny smiled a bit at the last comment. Once she had rubbed her eyes and dried her cheeks and her nose with her sleeve she looked around and asked, “Um, what are you doing here anyway?”
“Well, it’s funny you should ask.”
“I’m in!” Penny responded emphatically.
Binny had told her everything. It all came spilling out of her, glad to finally have someone she could talk to without getting into a fight. Cassie’s power. Trying to tell her parents. The strange man’s interest in Cassie. Zach’s plan to rescue their sister. All except for the part where Caleb told Binny she could be more open-hearted with Penny. It didn’t seem necessary to share that detail.
“You believe me?” Binny was a little bit surprised at Penny’s immediate support.
“Of course. Why wouldn’t I?”
“But I just told you that my sister can turn herself invisible.”
“My mom believes in magic, and so do I.”
“She does? You do?”
“I think lots of things are magical. And besides, you believed me, didn’t you?”
“Binny thought for a second and answered, “Yeah. I guess I did. I mean, I do. I believe you.”
The girls went back to monitoring Cassie and the man, waiting for Zach.
Binny, still looking through the gaps in the fence said, “Penny, can I ask you something?”
“Your dad – does he live in an apartment?”
Before Penny could answer, the girls heard a voice behind them. “I got it!”
Zach had arrived with the bait.