Family Ties: Disappearing Act

Tamy fretted over her suitcase. She’d forgotten to check what Tara was wearing today, so she didn’t know which color she should try and match with. Not that it really mattered. They’d stopped doing that in fourth grade, when they stopped looking quite as similar. But today it did matter. A tiny bit. She glanced at the window, trying not to stare at their neighbor’s yard, with the pool that hadn’t been there seven months ago. She didn’t like feeling that this little neighborhood, with the brand new elementary school–brand new three years ago–was moving on without her and Tara.

She sighed, dumping half her wardrobe on the floor. The other half she tried to organize by color, but gave up and started digging through her backpack. Her toothbrush, a little squished in the front pocket. Two packs of tissues for the long car ride here, even though it should’ve felt shorter with the teleporter trip somewhere in there.

Somebody screamed, and she jumped to her feet, fists ready. And then she realized it was just somebody with a pink floatie leaping into the pool. She untensed, muttering “thanks again Mad Murder Mayhem,” as she sat back down, putting all her clothes back in the suitcase. She didn’t think their secret, magical school had a pool anywhere. She was kind of grateful for that, actually, because whoever taught swimming would probably make them swim laps. She paused, wondering if swimming laps was better or worse than running laps. Then she stared out the window again as a small kid in blue screeched from the pool, splashing loudly. Maybe it wasn’t exactly that this neighborhood was moving on without them. Because clearly, she’d moved on too. “Not all of me,” she muttered to herself, digging through her suitcase again for a white top. White matched basically everything, right?

***

“What are the odds Quinn is still in bed?” Tara asked, brakes screeching. Tamy slammed her sneaker to the pavement and skidded to a halt beside her twin, glaring at the useless brake handles.

“What are the odds Mom’s going through our stuff?” Tamy returned. She sniffed, wrinkling her nose. The pink soap’s old lady scent still lingered.

“Oh I hope she’s not,” Tara shielded her gaze, studying the road ahead of them. It wound out of sight, but eventually ended at the new elementary school. The one Tamy still thought of as new. The one that was new, when it’d opened before they started third grade. That felt like a lifetime ago.

“She better not be. Even though my stuff is only clothes and shoes,” Tamy replied. “Did she think we were going to bring a bunch of knives back with us?” Tara didn’t answer. Tamy sighed, rocking her bike back and forth. “So…the plan is still to ask Quinn how long Alex is going to be gone, right? And I get to wake him up if he’s still in bed?”

Tara shrugged, finally glancing at her. “The plan is, we can’t ask Nick that, for obvious reasons, and Mom was already listening at the bathroom door. Which leaves, unfortunately, Quinn. Or Alex, but what if she doesn’t even know?”

“I bet she knows what day she’s supposed to magically reappear on the front porch,” Tamy said. She lifted her foot and resumed pedaling slowly, heading towards the school.

“Don’t forget we have no clue where Alex is right now,” Tara said, gliding next to her.

“Right,” Tamy nodded, the pink streamers on the other bike’s handlebars tickling her fingers. They were the reason she’d picked Quinn’s old bike, completely unaware they had no brakes. Until nearly crashing on someone’s lawn, that is.

“What if Quinn doesn’t tell us?” Tara asked. “Then what?”

Tamy glared at a dog barking from a house’s window. It disappeared, and she snorted at the idea of it falling off the couch. Why did people like dogs? “I guess we wait for Alex. Or, we ditch this whole mess, get all our stuff out and we sleep in the park.”

Tara eyed her quizzically. “For two weeks?”

“Minus one night,” Tamy reminded her.

“Can’t we go any faster?” Tara sped up. “Coach Blanco makes us run faster than this.”

“My bike doesn’t have brakes,” Tamy said.

Tara slowed again. “Why didn’t we just run in the first place? I feel stupid riding this,” she motioned to the pink streamers.

Tamy grinned. “That was your bike.”

“This was our bike,” Tara reminded her.

“Of course,” Tamy nodded. “But you wanted the pink streamers.”

Tara groaned. “Why did I ever like the color pink? It’s so…gross.”

Tamy stopped pedaling, coming to a halt beside the curb. Tara stopped a few feet ahead and squinted back, visibly confused.

“I decided I’d rather run,” Tamy explained, hoisting her bike under one arm. Tara glanced at the houses lining the streets. “I don’t care,” Tamy said. “Want me to take yours too?”

“Sure,” Tara hopped off. “But I am not stretching in public.”

“I’m not super-strengthing either,” she hefted Tara’s bike under her other arm. “These are made of cardboard.”

Tara grinned. “And we’re trying out for the track team.”

“Exactly,” Tamy took off at a sprint, Tara mere steps behind her.

***

She left the bikes in the grass, and wordlessly the two of them trod over wood chips to the swings. The school grounds were eerily silent; she was pretty sure the last time she’d been here was at the water fight her fourth grade class had on the last day of school. The teachers had confined their class to the wood chip circle of the playground, since screaming first and second graders had taken over the whole field. She frowned, hopping onto a swing with creaky chains, trying to remember the name of the kid who’d hurled a bucket at her from the top of the playground. There hadn’t even been any water left in it.

“I figured I’d find you two here.”

Tamy jumped at Alex’s voice, remembered she was supposed to be swinging, and kicked her legs forward. Tara was already swinging higher than Tamy’s head.

“Alex?” Tara asked, voice floating in and out. “How did you get here?”

Tamy twisted around in her swaying seat, staring at the taller girl, dressed like a snowman. “Did you follow us?”

Alex shook her head. “I was already here. Doing some snooping in Nick’s old classroom.”

Tamy tucked her knees in so she crouched on the swing. She’d hardly been moving, anyway. “What was in Nick’s old classroom? Don’t they take everything home with them over the summer?”

Alex nodded. “The elementary school only finished a week or two ago. I was checking if anyone had left something behind.”

Tara was still going, back and forth and back, rising steadily higher. “Did you find anything?”

Alex folded her arms. “The teacher left some old lunch tupperware in the sink,” she shuddered. “I was too afraid to touch them.”

Tamy stuck her tongue out as Tara groaned. “Ew, how did she forget those?”

“But no, the students didn’t leave anything,” Alex said. “Have you two found anything?”

“No,” Tamy said. “I tried talking to Nick. We didn’t learn anything.” She tried to meet Tara’s gaze, silently questioning, but her sister was swinging too fast. “How long are you supposed to be gone?”

Alex shrugged. “About a week, maybe longer. I just told them I’d be gone for several days. Since the two of you were coming, I decided I would take a behind the scenes position, while giving the two of you more space to investigate. You know, because Nick might behave more openly knowing I’m not around. And since I figured I might need to reappear in a pinch, I left my expected return time somewhat vague.”

“That’s smart,” Tara said.

“Yeah,” Tamy agreed, “Except Nick already thinks we talked to you.”

Alex’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “Really? That’s…odd,” she crossed her arms. “What made him ask that?”

Tamy hopped off the swing. “All I did was ask if he thought maybe you had special powers. Then he assumed I’d spoken to you.”

Alex pursed her lips, staring at the ground. “Huh. Maybe he doesn’t realize I even left.”

Tara laughed. “Maybe you were too vague about when you were going to get back.”

Alex shook her head. “I made it very clear I would be gone long enough that the two of you could have my bedroom. Maybe he forgot?” Alex paced to the curb, sitting down. Tamy followed.

“Maybe it doesn’t really mean anything,” Tamy suggested. “He’s just six; I’m sure he doesn’t pay attention all the time.”

Alex nodded, braids bouncing. “Yeah, yeah.” She went invisible. Tamy scooted away in surprise, and reached out for where Alex’s hand had been.

“Are you intangible too?” Tamy asked, still waving her hand about.

Alex didn’t reply, and Tamy strained to hear footsteps. Of course, if Alex was intangible, she wouldn’t make a sound either, right?

“I think Alex left,” Tamy called, glancing around for someone who might’ve seen them. Was Alex that paranoid about somebody spotting her?

Tara did a back tuck off the swing. Tamy sighed, but Tara just twirled around and bowed. Tamy reluctantly clapped. “Great job.”

Tara grinned, strolling over. “I couldn’t do that a year ago.”

“I can’t do that now,” Tamy replied.

Tara sat down where Alex had just been, eying her. “I bet you could. It’s a whole lot easier than doing spear forms, at least.”

“I still don’t want to try.”

They fell silent, until Tara motioned to the bikes. “Do you feel like riding home?”

She sighed. “Not really.”

***

They found Nick in the front yard, lying in the unmowed grass with his eyes closed. Tamy quietly set the bikes down on the sidewalk so she and Tara could wheel them to the front door.

“Hi Nick,” Tamy said as they walked by. He didn’t open his eyes.

“Hi Nick,” Tara repeated, pausing before the patio and leaning her bike onto Tamy’s. She glared, but Tara was already jogging over to Nick.

“I think it’s your turn to take both of them,” Tamy called. Even though she didn’t actually mind. Let Tara try to get Nick to talk about powers he didn’t seem to have. Not yet anyway. Tamy bit her lip, glancing down at the bikes as Nick sat up to face Tara. Straining to make out what the two of them were saying, she wheeled both bikes up to the porch. She propped them beside the house, then sat on the doorstep, thinking. Her and Tara’s powers didn’t show up until they were ten. And she was pretty sure fifth grade was the earliest grade their crazy, magical school had. That was probably for a reason, right? As in, there probably weren’t many kids who got their powers before fifth grade.

She winced as Tara laughed forcefully. Maybe neither of them were cut out for espionage, which meant Alex was basically doomed as far as getting any help went. How important was this assignment for her? Maybe Alex could just go back to her group and tell them no evidence was all the evidence she’d gathered. Because it certainly seemed like there wasn’t any to find.

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