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“They said they were coming back,” I tell the policeman, “but they didn’t. And they always do what they say. It says in my book that I’ve called them sixty-seven times.”
The police station is a gray building with an orange tiled roof. It is boring on the outside, and inside it is boring too. The reception area is small, with a little row of three blue chairs by the window.
The man who is sitting at the reception desk is being polite, but he doesn’t think my problem is the most interesting thing that will happen to him today. He has a bald head, which is shining under the electric light. There is a piece of paper in his hand and he keeps trying to read it. I know it has nothing to do with me.
“Sixty-seven?” he echoes. He looks up at me with a little frown. “Seriously?”
“They always tell me what they’re doing. Always.”
“Your parents are visiting your brother and have not come home when you thought they would?”
“Have you contacted your brother?”
“I don’t think so.”
“And they are fully functioning grown-ups?”
“As are you?”
I see him looking at the words on my hand, trying to read them. He looks at my face. He stares into my eyes for a few seconds, and his manner changes. He pushes his papers away.
“Oh. I know who you are.”
I don’t know what to say to that, so I say nothing.
“What are you?” he says. “Sixteen or so?”
“I’m seventeen and I kissed a boy on a beach. Before that I was ten and I was going to the amusement park. I met Paige when we were four.”
I only meant to say the first two words out loud. The rest of it was supposed to be in my head. He looks as if he wants to laugh at me, and I hate that.
“Yeah. You’ve been here before. You’ve met my colleagues. OK. I’ll call someone for you. Have a seat. Do you have a friend? Neighbor? Any other family around?”
“Paige is my friend.”
“Let’s have Paige’s number then. I’ll get her to come and pick you up. Maybe you can stay at her place.”
I look at my phone, searching for Paige’s name and number. Paige will pick me up and take care of me. But I know as I say the words in my head that they are not right.
There are texts on my phone, but they are all from me. All of them say things like: “Hello Paige. Are you going to be back soon?” She has not replied. I hope she is OK. I scroll up and up until I find her last text to me. It is from a few days ago, and it says: “Flora. This is the last time I’m going to answer. I am not your friend anymore, not since you kissed my boyfriend. WE ARE NOT FRIENDS. Leave me alone.”
I stare at the words. I did kiss her boyfriend. That happened: I can remember it. I kissed a boy on the beach. He was Drake. I love him. That means Paige and I are not friends.
I look up. I am in the police station because my parents haven’t come home, and there is a man with a shiny head and a pen and a yellow Post-it note in front of him. He is waiting for me to tell him Paige’s phone number so he can ask her to come and get me.
I stand up.
“It’s OK, actually,” I tell him, and I walk to the door, and then through it, and then I run down the road, all the way home. I am on my own. It is suddenly exciting. I skip down the road. I dance. I can do anything.
I scrawl the words on my arm. Contact Jacob. Maybe Jacob might help me.
If the policeman called Paige she might try to help me in spite of everything. I could go and bang on her door and she would probably let me in. Yet I cannot do that because I would not be able to tell her about my e-mails with Drake, and she would find out instantly because his name is everywhere in my world. It is on my hands and arms and a hundred new little notes perching around the house like butterflies.
I need to take the new notes down in case my parents get back. I must remember to do it.
There is too much to remember.
“Hello?” I call. There are no extra shoes on the porch, no coats, no luggage, no voices. I want my parents to be here. “I’m home!” I add, and stand and wait.
My parents keep paperwork in a filing cabinet and in teetering piles in a bedroom that has a single bed without any sheets on it. I start with the teetering piles.
I write a note: Looking for Jacob’s phone number and stick it onto the edge of the table with tape.
There is nothing about my parents’ trip. There are no travel details, no hotel booking, no letters. I would probably find them if I looked harder, on the big computer.
I open the filing cabinets and look for traces of my big brother. This involves plowing through lots of boring pieces of old paper, checking each one for his name. I find an envelope that says flora on the front, and take out a sheaf of papers from inside, but words like “temporal lobe,” “associated confabulation,” and “GCS 8” jump out and make me nervous. I write down some of the strange words and put the piece of paper in my pocket. Then I shove everything back in its envelope and push it down into the cabinet.
There is a postcard with a picture of the Eiffel Tower on it. That is in Paris. I turn it over and see that it is addressed to me, in messy handwriting. It says: “Looking at this right now and thinking of you. You’re amazing. Jacob xx.”
I stare at it. I take a photo of it. It doesn’t have his phone number or his address on it. I put it on top of the filing cabinet. Jacob was thinking of me, in Paris. I must have seen this card before. I screw my eyes tight shut and tell him that I am thinking of him too. I hope he knows.
I find a passport, and oddly it turns out to be mine. It was issued two years ago and is valid for another eight years. I leave that out on the side, just in case, and write I HAVE A PASSPORT! in big letters down the inside of my left arm.
I think of Drake. He makes me remember. I can remember kissing him. The smell of the sea.
The black stone.
“We could spend the night.”
He is far away. I put the passport into the back pocket of my jeans.
After a long time I find a piece of paper with a handwritten address on it, topped with the words “Jacob.” It says, “Paris,” but it does not have a phone number.
It does not look like a new piece of paper. It looks like the kind of piece of paper that would fall out of an old book. It says: “Jacob, Apt. 3, 25 Rue Charlot, 75003, Paris, FRANCE.”
When I type the address into the computer it appears on a map: it really is in Paris, the capital of France, and it could be where he lives, or it could be a place he lived in once. There must be a better way of getting ahold of him, but since I can’t think what it would be, I write him a card saying who I am and that I am worried because our parents haven’t come home, and I ask him to call me if he’s well enough, or to get our parents to call me, as soon as he can if he gets this. I add my e-mail address, just in case.
I read it over. It sounds all right, I think. It sounds normal.
I find three first-class stamps in the drawer with the tape and semi-working pens, and I run outside and mail it.
I report it all back to Drake and write it in my notebook. Time passes, and then Drake replies.
He’s probably on Facebook, he advises. Have you looked? But there must be tons of Jacob Bankses.
I try to look him up, but I can’t log in, because I don’t have an account. I follow the instructions to make one, but when I put in my e-mail address, it says I do have an account after all. The laptop fills in the password with a row of dots, so I click “OK” and look at a part of me that I had no idea existed.
There is a photograph of Paige and me. We are cheek to cheek, smiling at the camera. I miss Paige. She is not my friend anymore, though she is listed as being one of my friends on Facebook. I only have five friends on here, and they are people I remember from primary school. My page has nothing written on it. I don’t know how this works. I remember Jacob being on Facebook when I was little, and I remember pestering him to get off the computer and come play with me. The website was blue then, and it is blue now.
I type “Jacob Banks” into a box, but then it comes up as my status, so I know I entered it in the wrong place. I type it in a different box and see what happens.
Many Jacob Bankses show up in a long list. Except it is impossible to see anything about most of the people who appear, and I have no idea what my brother looks like now. In my memories he is big and wonderful. In the photos in this house he is still a teenager, but I think now he is much older than that. Some of these profiles say things like “San Diego” underneath them, so I know they’re the wrong Jacob Bankses, while others show teenagers in their photographs (teenagers who do not look like my pictures) so I know they’re not him either. There is a photo of a man with a big red scar all down the side of his face. I don’t click on that, because that’s not my brother, and also it says that he lives in Gay Paree, wherever that is.
Whenever I click on a likely photo, I get: “Do you know Jacob? To see what he shares with friends, send him a friend request,” and a suggestion to “add friend.” I do that with everyone who I think could possibly be my brother, and the “friend request sent” messages pile up until there is nothing more I can do but wait.
I search the internet to find out where else you might find people. This leads me to a website called Twitter. There are lots of people with his name there too, but hardly any of them have privacy settings. This is easier, and I plow through until I have eliminated every single one of them. I try to do the same with a few other websites, but it is suddenly all too hard. When I check back in with Drake, he thinks it’s funny that I have asked all the Jacob Bankses to be my friends, and we agree that we have explored the obvious social media connections.
All we can do is wait. I decide to sleep.
Although it’s not actually night, I turn the corner of my parents’ duvet back and leave the chain off the door, because I might sleep until morning. I curl up on the sofa and close my eyes.
When I wake up it is light and I am scared. I read everything in my notebook and all the notes I can find, and get it into my head, and it makes me more scared, though my only rule for life appears to be that I mustn’t panic. I go to my room and read everything I have stuffed under the bed.
I sent Jacob a letter. My parents have not come home. Drake is in the Arctic and I love him.
My parents’ bedroom door is ajar, and I give a polite little tap before I push it open. The bed has not been disturbed.
I need help.
There is no one in Penzance who can help me. I turn on my phone and the computer. There is one new e-mail from Drake, and a string of messages from Facebook. I have eleven “friends”: six of them are named Jacob Banks and the rest are people I used to know.
According to my notes, I sent requests to more than twenty Jacobs. If any of them is the right one he will know who I am. I make tea in what a note on the fridge tells me is Mom’s favorite mug (World's Best Mom!) and sit at the table, which is covered in junk. There are yellow notes everywhere. They are scrawled with Jacob, Mom, Dad, France and Drake, Drake, Drake. As I start to make my way through the six Jacob profiles that are now open to me, my phone pings with a text.
I read it. Then I read it again. I copy it out to make it more real, and I read it again.
Darling, so sorry we’re late! Are you all right? Please text back immediately. We can’t use our phones in here. We missed our plane. We missed all your calls. I left you a message yesterday—did you get it? There was an emergency at the hospital and we couldn’t go anywhere. Jacob took a turn for the worse and for a couple of days we had to trust that you were OK and just focus on him. Stick with Paige. Emergency money is in a box at the back of Dad’s sock drawer, and a credit card, PIN 5827. Please reply. Jacob is now v. sick but we’re going to come home as soon as we can for a while at least. Will let you know more once we book a new flight. Thinking of you always. LOTS of love, Mom and Dad xxxxxxx
I read it again and again. They are all right. There is an explanation. It is not like them to forget me (I forget things, not them). They have me with them all the time, like a pet. I bet they are enjoying being away from me.
They are not enjoying it. There was a dire emergency. Jacob is very sick. He is probably about to die. He might be dead already. She might not have wanted to say it in a text.
I write 5827 on the inside of my wrist, and I go and find the money and the card and put it all in the middle of the table, where I can look at it.
I write to Drake and tell him that my parents missed their plane so everything is fine.
Everything is fine for me. My parents are still alive and they are still in France. Everything is not fine for Jacob and it is not fine for Mom and Dad either.
Jacob is my brother, and I have no idea what he is like now, why he went away and never came back. I know that I have looked at every piece of paper in this house, and I still don’t know. I cannot even miss him when he dies, because the only memories I have of him are from when I was very small.
But I do miss him. He let me paint his toenails. He picked me up when I was crying. I love him.
I am sad for my parents, sitting at their son’s deathbed. No wonder they forgot me.
I wander around, sit in different places, make some tea. All the time I am waiting for Drake’s reply. It arrives. Drake is the most dependable thing in my life. I have no idea what I would do without him.
He kissed me on the beach. He gave me a memory. He gave me a stone.
Hey, he writes. Have you noticed something? You’re living independently. You’ve been in that house on your own for days. You’ve been to the police, done some investigating, set up a FB account, and made friends with people mainly named Jacob Banks. You can do anything. You are brave.
I am brave. The thought is intoxicating.
I call Mom’s cell. It goes to voicemail and I leave her a message. “Don’t come rushing back,” I say. “Stay with Jacob because he needs you. I’m all right. Paige and I are fine here. Honestly we are.”
The house is beginning to close in, so I put on my shoes and a denim jacket as it is too warm for the beautiful furry coat that is hanging up with my name written on its label, and walk down to the seafront. The water is huge and splashy, the clouds low and bruised: I can see a storm approaching from the west, from beyond Newlyn. I turn my back on it and walk away, to the Jubilee Pool, where some people are doing laps and others are just splashing around with dry hair.
There are people sitting at the café drinking coffee, some of them eating pastries or sandwiches. I stop to look. I yearn for Drake. I need him to be walking along here holding my hand.
He thinks I can do anything.
He can’t come to me because of his studying.
I look at a note on my arm. I HAVE A PASSPORT, it says.
When I get home, there is a message on our answering machine from my mother.
“Darling,” she says. “Are you all right? Please call us back again. If you and Paige really are OK, then we will stay a couple more days. But I’m not doing it without speaking to you first. We love you. I so wanted to hear your voice.” Her voice cracks at the end and she hangs up abruptly.
I look at my cell and see there is a missed call from her. I cannot believe I missed the chance to talk to her. My eyes fill with tears, and for a moment I want to go to France so I can hug my family.
I want to go to France, but I want to go to Svalbard more.
Drake would meet me at the other end. I have a passport. And no one is here to stop me.
I call my mother back and carefully say all the right things.