To Play the Fool
"Jenny, your sister's missing."
I dropped my chemistry homework on the floor and collapsed into my chair. Mom was near hysteria. "What happened? Where did she go? Did someone see something?"
"We don't know. She just vanished. The school says she was there for all her classes, and a bus driver remembers seeing her get off the bus, but after that ... Jackie's just gone. No one saw anything."
"She didn't leave a note or anything?"
"Jackie didn't run away. Something terrible has happened to her. I can't get this feeling of dread out of my stomach."
Mom's gut rarely lied to her. As much as I was inclined to disbelieve it, I had to admit that we'd been saved on more than one occasion by Mom's intuition. "Have you called the police?"
"Of course we did. They're trying to find her, but they haven't turned up a thing."
"They'll find something. People always leave evidence of their presence behind."
"Right. They'll find her. It's just ... I'm not sure they'll find her soon enough."
"Look, Mom, I'm going to come home tonight."
"It's past midnight!"
"Well it's not like I'll be getting any sleep tonight. I'm catching the first flight home. I'll call you when I get back to New York. Love you."
I hung up and took a deep breath. I would have expected something like this in Gotham City, where girls go missing left and right. Not so in Syracuse. If anything, I was the one that should have gone missing by now.
I started throwing a few things into a backpack, just the stuff I didn't want my roommate to steal and everything essential for getting onto an airplane. Within three minutes, I was ready to leave everything behind.
"Jenny, you need to go to bed," said Dad groggily.
I myself was absolutely wired, and not from caffeine. I had a map pinned to the wall in Jackie's room, a laptop open on the local sex offenders list, and a white board with a rudimentary time line propped against the bed. "Can't. Jackie's not home yet."
"If you go to sleep, you'll be able to think better." He's tried this tactic on me before, and it doesn't work.
"I'm thinking just fine. You can go to bed, though."
He sighed and took a look at my map. "Have you been hacking the FBI Database again?" he asked.
"You need to use something other than Mom's favorite plays as your passwords. I've also put together a list of our possible enemies." I handed him a legal pad with a short list on it. "Those are mine," I turned the page over to reveal three full columns of names, "and these are yours. I decided that Jackie doesn't have any."
"You keep an updated list?" He noticed that I had used a few different pens over some time.
"You don't?" I continued with my map. "I think something happened in the neighborhood. Most everyone would have been at work or taking a nap at the time. We should be looking in backyards in case she cut through them."
"The police won't have warrants for that."
"Then ask around. Someone has to have seen something. All the witnesses we have are from school or the bus drivers. For at least an hour a day until Mom gets home, Jackie is all on her own. How would someone know about and use that time to their advantage?"
"You think someone kidnapped her?"
"I'm trying to entertain all possibilities, Dad, but this one seems more likely. She wouldn't have run away. There aren't any serial killers or rapists nearby. She's not staying the night with a friend. And the lack of evidence of any foul play right now is just making me think she ceased to exist altogether. I need to retrace Jackie's route home for myself." I started looking for a good Teenage Hoodlum disguise in Jackie's clothes.
"If you get caught, I'm not bailing you out," he warned.
"I'm finding Jackie," I snapped. "End of story."
Day Fourteen. Two weeks, and not a word. Not a scrap of clothing or stray hair to tell us what happened. We knew that she had not run away, but the evidence, or lack thereof, had convinced the police that she had. They moved on to bigger cases, and the media followed. We couldn't sit still because Jackie was still gone, and Mom just felt worse and worse.
At six that evening, someone knocked on the door. Eager for some sort of message of hope, Dad and I abandoned watching the news to answer the door. We tore it open, half hoping we'd find a policeman with his hat in his hands and a solemn expression on his face. We just needed to know something.
And there she was. Red hair braided over her left shoulder, Doctor Who t-shirt, boots 'n' jeans with a heavy backpack slung over her shoulder. Looking just like she would have any other day of the week apart from
"I'm sorry I'm late. I got lost on my way home from school," she said.
Before I knew what was coming out of my mouth, I said, "For two weeks?"
Mom pushed past the two of us and then just froze in place with her mouth wide open. Then, crying, she pulled Jackie inside the house and hugged her like if she let go, she'd lose Jackie again.
Dad didn't know what to make of all this. After working on hundreds of missing persons cases, he'd never seen one end like this. When Mom finally let go of her, Dad took Jackie by her shoulders, looking her in the eye to make sure the girl in front of him was really her. He decided she was, and enveloped her in a hug. "Where have you been?" he demanded.
"I don't know."
"How can you not know?" I exclaimed.
"I just don't," Jackie said simply, her voice muffled by Dad's shoulder. "I wish I could tell you, but I can't."
"I thought you were dead."
"Not yet." She smiled like she was joking, but her eyes weren't. There was something she wasn't telling us. There was a lot of stuff she wasn't telling us. So many questions were filling my head all about her. My little sister had turned into a mystery, an enigma, with a distinct air of authority. She straightened up to look at me, and she towered over me without actually being taller.
She noticed my confused stare. "What happened to you, Jackie?" I said.
Then she wrapped me in a hug and my questions and the mysteries didn't matter anymore. Jackie came home, and she still needed me to be a big sister.
"What is this?" I demanded.
Jackie's head popped out of the closet with her arms full of clothes. "A bedroom?"
I pointed to the half-full suitcase on her bed. The big kind, not the overnight kind. "What do you think you're doing? You can't just leave."
"Jenny, how do I put this?" She dropped her pile of clothes in the suitcase. "I don't want to go, but I have to leave. People are counting on me."
"We're counting on you! We need you!"
"No, you don't. You want to keep me close because you're scared of losing me."
"It's a valid concern. You disappeared for two weeks without a word, and you act like it didn't matter. Do you have any idea how horrible that was for us?"
"Better two weeks than four years." She turned away from me to go through some things in her dresser.
"I cannot believe you. You don't care about any of us, and now you're just going to abandon Mom and Dad. This is going to tear them apart."
"It's my choice this time," she snapped. Her hands clenched in painful memory. "My choice. Believe me, I've lost a lot of sleep thinking about this. How heartless do you think I am?"
"Incredibly. And I think you're selfish, self-centered, egotistical–"
"That was rhetorical," she grumbled.
"You can't pretend that everything's gone back to normal after two months and just go traipsing off to Europe."
She slammed a drawer shut. "No, things aren't normal anymore, Jenny. Our dynamic has been altered and I can't fix it. There are so many things that I can fix, but I can't fix us." Jackie turned around with a stony expression. "I hate to be so vague, but there are lots of things out there that are a lot bigger than you and Mom and Dad. Earthquakes, murders, assassinations, explosions, tsunamis, volcanoes, riots, wars, big things that I can't sum up in one word, and I am capable of helping people and saving lives now."
"You don't have superpowers, Jackie. You disappeared for a couple of weeks and came back with some new tricks. You're not special, you're not psychic, you're not smart, you're not talented, you're not helpful! You are going to get yourself killed!" I shrieked.
She didn't react to anything I threw at her. Nothing. She took a deep breath and replied calmly, "I'm sorry I didn't consult you or ask for your sage advice. I'm leaving for Egypt today. I'll write you and I'll have my cell phone so you can call if you want to yell at me some more."
That snapped the last string holding me together. With what little strength I had, I grabbed the handle of Jackie's suitcase and flung it off the side of the bed, spilling the contents everywhere. Jackie started picking it up, not surprised at all and without an ounce of hurt or anger in her at all.
That night, I left for Gotham once more.