Jack plunged through the gap in the hedges, coming up short, looking through the overgrown yard. The grass showed signs of recent passage. He saw a footprint in the softer dirt of the yard, and a handprint. The postcard from Lima lay a little way away. Jack circled around Beth’s trail, so as not to disturb it, picked up the postcard.
He slipped it into his back pocket, continued across the lawn, up the creaky steps of the front porch. A set of muddy handprints marked where Beth had helped herself up the steps. The doorjamb, too, was marked with a faint impression of muddy fingers.
Jack knocked, twice, then tried the door. It was unlocked.
“Beth?” He said, as he stepped into the dim foyer. He stood, letting his eyes adjust to the change in lighting.
“Beth, I’m sorry. I wasn’t listening, and I’m sorry.” He roamed through the downstairs rooms, the dining/living room turned into an office, walls still lined with boxes upon boxes.
The green-walled kitchen looked just as they’d left it on his first visit. The cocoa canister was still on the counter, the spoon stuck to the stove’s spoon-holder in a dried puddle of hot chocolate.
He roamed through the other doorway out to the hall, knocked on the bathroom door. No answer, and nobody in the white-and-light blue-tiled half bathroom.
Jack took the stairs two at a time, knocked on the door to Beth’s room.
“Beth, I’m coming in.”
He opened the door. The room was just as they’d left it, not a sign of anyone having been there since.
Jack checked the master bedroom (much the same as Beth’s room, minus the desk with twice as many boxes). The upstairs bathroom was empty as well, except for the pink bristled toothbrush.
He went back to Beth’s room, double checked the closet. She did, in fact, own several dresses, Jack saw. And half a dozen more pairs of shoes.
He looked a the boxes. The stacks read “A. BDRM. MISC” “A. BDRM. DESK” “A. BDRM BKS1” “A. BDRM PRSNL”
He opened the “MISC” box, found it full of what looked like knicknacks. The one marked “DESK” held letter trays, a box of feathers, two calligraphy sets. Heavy paper that Jack knew took ink very well; he’d worked with similar stuff in one of his art classes.
Books were in the other box. His sisters, though, hadn’t read any books like he saw packed here. Volumes of psychology texts on Jung, Freud, dream interpretation, the sleep cycle.
This is what she reads in her spare time? Jack thought. No wonder her head always seemed to be slightly elsewhere.
He came to one of the last boxes within easy reach, marked “PRSNL.” He peeled up the tape, pushed some crumpled newsprint away from the contents.
He withdrew a photo album, flipped through it. There were pictures of animals — pets, maybe? An apartment. A crib. Birthday party pictures, a cake with five candles, “Happy Birthday Beth” scrawled in red icing. Smiling kids in the picture. The candle flames leaning to the right.
Jack dug out the other three scrapbooks from the box. He hurried down stairs. He grabbed a couple of the pictures off the downstairs office desk.
He nearly ran into his mother in the doorway.
“Jack! Did you find her?”
Jack shook his head. “Mom, she’s gone.”
“Maybe she’s in the back yard, or the woods.”
Jack put his hand on his mother’s arm as she turned to leave.
“Mom. She’s not here. She’s gone.” He held out one of the pictures from the desk. Beth’s father smiled out from the picture, but it was oddly centered.
She frowned. “Well, that’s her father, yes—”
“Come on!” Jack fairly dragged his mother back across the yards.
“Hannah, I need your camera,” Jack said, as they entered the house.
“Look, if you and Beth are going to take pictures, you’re not using my—”
“You took her picture last night, right?”
Hannah’s smile faded somewhat. “Yeah. Charlotte wanted to capture the—”
“Go get it. I need to see it.”
“Miss her already?” Charlotte cooed from where she was getting a drink in the kitchen.
Jack dumped his armload of picture albums and picture frames on the dining room table.
His father clomped up the front steps, wiping his hands on an oil-stained cloth. “What is going on around here today? Jack, are you feeling all right?”
Hannah came down the stairs, her fingers working at the buttons on her digital camera. “I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Look, here she—” Hannah’s voice died. She frowned, pushing more buttons. Her frown deepened.
“Hannah?” her father asked.
“Very funny, Charlotte,” the other girl said. “What did you do to my camera?”
“I didn’t do anything — just took some pictures of your makeup job in case we ever needed anything from Jacky boy.”
Hannah held the viewscreen out for her sister to look at.
“Thats—” Charlotte said. “You saw it. Saw the flash and everything. She blinked in one of them, remember?”
“Girls!” Jack’s father said, and they all jumped. “What is this all about?”
Jack opened the photo album to the birthday party picture of the cake, turned the book so everyone could see it.
Hannah handed the camera to Jack, and he looked down at the screen. His father looked over his shoulder.
It was a picture of the sofa, with a bit of the coffee table and TV in the background.
“Now you know what I mean when I say she’s gone.” Jack said.