It wasn’t until we’d walked half-way across the plaza in front of the convention center that I realized Dad was nowhere in sight.
“Wait, did anyone see where Dad went?” I asked.
Jodi shook her head. Nate kept walking like he hadn’t even heard me.
Dad was probably still inside, talking to someone. I didn’t dare go back in, though. I didn’t want to risk loosing track of Nate again. Out here at least I could see him, and the plaza went all the way to the river, no road on this side of the building. He could run around out here and chase pigeons for a while.
I waited for ten minutes. Dad still didn’t show up. Jodi was hopping from one foot to another, complaining about the cold and asking could we please go back in and look for Dad.
“I’ll just call him and tell him we’re out here. He’s probably in there looking for us.” I dug around in my purse for my phone. My fingers hit something a little bigger, smoother. I pulled it out. Dad’s phone. Dad’s phone was in my purse. It was there because he’d almost left it in the hotel this morning, but I’d spotted it and grabbed it, meaning to give it to him.
Missing Mom hadn’t been like I’d expected it to be. Most of the time I felt just fine. Almost normal. But then sometimes the pain would hit, like an ocean wave I didn’t see coming, the kind that would just pick me up and slam me down and fill my nose full of salt water and sand. Like right now.
I wasn’t old enough for this. I wasn’t old enough to be the mom. I wasn’t old enough to stand up to Dad and tell him we would have been safer if he’d just left us locked in the house with enough DVD’s and boxes of mac’n’ cheese to last us the weekend. No, he had to bring us along on his conference trip. And now I had no idea where he was, and Nate was climbing the railing.
“Nate!” I screamed, “Get down from there!” I ran toward him across the plaza. I could just imagine him falling over, down into the river, disappearing under the dark water. I never used to think of stuff like that, but for some reason since Mom’s accident, the universe seemed out to get all of us.
Nate climbed down, but I grabbed him and jerked him away from the railing anyway. “Don’t you dare do that again!” I told him.
He didn’t even shrug, just kind of wandered off to look at a crumpled gum wrapper blowing along the wall below the railing.
I thought about going back to the hotel. We could walk, maybe. Would that be safer than staying here and waiting for Dad to come looking for us?
“Excuse me?” a man’s voice said behind me. He sounded kind, and smart, like he was maybe another professor at the conference. I turned around and was surprised by how young he looked. His voice could have belonged to someone Dad’s age. “Are you the children of Doctor George Cummings?”
“Yes,” I said, tremendously relieved. “Is he looking for us? Do you know where he is?” I grabbed Nate’s hand and took Jodi’s too for good measure.
The man smiled and nodded. He pulled out a pocket watch and glanced at it, then reached out his hand to Nate. “Come with me,” he said.
“It’s all right, he’ll take us to Daddy,” I said to Nate.
The moment Nate touched the man’s hand, the world went crazy. Everything spun, and I was sure we’d somehow fallen through the plaza and were plunging down into the river.
Next thing I knew we were standing in what looked like a dark attic room, with sloping-roof sides and a very strange clock by the wall at one end. It was the skinniest grandfather clock I’d ever seen. There were no doors, and only one tiny window.
“Don’t be afraid,” the man said as soon as Jodi stopped screaming. “I’m only trying to stop your father from inadvertently destroying the world.”