Owen lifted his head from his hands and saw his eldest daughter staring at him. "Emily, whatever it is, call Mum and ask her. I just can't today, sweetheart."
"I know." Emily walked up to the armchair Owen was sitting in and gave him an awkward hug around the shoulders. "It's going to be okay," she said, giving his shoulder blades little pats with her hands.
Owen noticed for the first time that Emily could reach all the way across his back with one arm. "You're getting bigger, kiddo."
"Oma always said I was going to be tall like you and Opa."
"I want to be in between. Taller than Mum, but shorter than you."
"It's not something you really get any say in." Owen untangled himself from Emily's hug and pulled her onto the chair's armrest, their usual way to sit together. "Look, don't give up hope yet. The police are still checking hospitals, asking around the neighbourhood. Some people got temporarily blinded by that meteor or falling satellite or whatever it was, but no mention of Oma. She was just here last week, and we only found out she was missing three days ago. It could be anything. Her suitcase is gone — for all I know she's gone to visit Bea and Dine, and she just forgot to tell us. You know her; it's the sort of thing she would do."
"They checked the departure lists for Pearson airport," Emily reminded him. "Toronto Island too."
"I don't know." Owen spread out his hands. "When I was driving her to the bus station, she was talking about how her and your Opa never planned to move to Toronto. She could be on her way to BC, or traveling back to Montreal and then taking a plane to Holland from there. She might want to surprise us with a postcard from Amsterdam or... where does Bea live... "
"It's okay, Dad. I don't even know where Amsterdam is besides Holland."
"We should go there, it's long past time you and Mercedes were old enough... But listen, don't you and Mercedes worry about Oma. Let me and Mum do that."
"I'm not worried," said Emily. She took a deep breath. "I am positive Oma is fine. If she was hurt or dead it would feel different."
Owen reached up to ruffle Emily's hair, decided she was getting too old for that, and just gave her pony-tail a little tug. "Keep thinking that for me, okay?"
"Okay." She gave Owen another quick hug, then slipped off the armrest and ran up to her room.
Mercedes was hiding out in the basement, avoiding the family drama by burying herself in a video game. If their mum saw how violent it was there'd be a fight, but Beth had just left to buy groceries. Emily closed her door and hung a jingle-bell left over from Christmas on the doorknob. That way she'd know if someone was trying to sneak in on her.
The carpet in Emily's room was the original short-pile wall-to-wall that had been installed when the house was built. It kept indentations from furniture and other heavy objects placed on it so well that Beth was reluctant to move things around when vacuuming, in case she couldn't get the furniture arranged exactly the same way again. It made hiding things under the night-table a cinch. The table had a plinth in the front, but there was a big gap between the bottom drawer and the floor.
Emily carefully placed her reading lamp on the bed and slid the night-table out from the wall. Her hiding-place was almost full now: some Japanese comic book figures that were her friend Stacy's but that her parents disapproved of, so Emily was keeping for her; her diary; and now, Oma's book and the old laptop that was really Stacy's, but that Stacy said she could borrow, because her brother was away at military college and Stacy was using his computer until he got back.
Emily turned the laptop on and entered the password for the house's wireless. No new e-mails from Oma, just the same one from a week ago:
Emily: I wasn't planning on it, but the opportunity for the trip of a lifetime came into my hands, and I've decided I must go. It means I won't have Internet access for a year, and I don't know if I'll get a chance to send you a letter or a postcard — where I'm going is very far off the beaten track.
But I want to ask you to do a few things for me: first, keep this a secret. If your parents find out, they'll ask a lot of questions you won't be able to answer, and everyone will get upset. Second, if they decide to give up my apartment, please try to convince them to save the books and photos. Say you want them if you have to. I don't care about anything else.
Third, remember that no matter what, I love you. I love you, and Mercedes, and your father, and your mother.
A year from now, we'll see each other again, and I will have the most wonderful story to tell you of where I've been and what happened while I was there. I promise.Emily heard steps in the downstairs foyer and shut down the computer. The steps sounded like they went back and forth a few times, as if her father wasn't sure if he was going upstairs to her or downstairs to Mercedes. Finally she heard him going down into the basement.
She slid the computer back into its hiding place, and pulled out Tilly's copy of We Came from Outer Space: A Study of the Human Extraterrestrial. She flipped to the foreword and read: "In the past hundred years, civilization has advanced by larger leaps, and at greater speeds, than in all of the centuries preceding..."