The first half of the day she spent calling every missing children’s organization she could find. None of them put Gemma high on their list, because of her age and because she’d left willingly.
Once Harper had exhausted all the organizations, she sat by the phone at the kitchen table trying to think of other people to call or anywhere else to look. But she was coming up empty.
Harper and Gemma had lived their whole lives in Capri, and they didn’t have close ties with anybody outside it. Their grandparents were dead, and they had an aunt and a couple cousins who lived in Canada, but they didn’t really know them.
That was when Harper noticed the state of the house and decided to do something about it. There was really nothing else for her to do, at least not anything that could help her with Gemma or the sirens, and she had to put her nervous energy to work. She couldn’t just sit there staring at the phone all day, willing it to ring.
So she cleaned.
Harper started with the laundry, since it was overflowing, and then moved on to the living room. She threw away garbage, vacuumed, and dusted. In the kitchen she scrubbed the floors, cleaned out the fridge, and rearranged the pots and the pans in the cupboards.
Alex came over shortly after Harper decided to tackle the basement. Every Christmas, when they brought up the tree and the ornaments, Harper vowed to go through the old boxes and get rid of junk and organize the keepsakes. She finally decided that today would be the day.
“Harper?” Alex was upstairs calling her name, and, based on the creaking of his footsteps above her head, she guessed he was in the living room.
“I’m down here!” Harper shouted toward the basement steps, hoping he’d hear her.
She was sitting in an old lawn chair, which she’d had to steal from a very large daddy longlegs spider. Once the chair was clean of cobwebs, she’d sat down with an old box on her lap and started rummaging through it.
So far, the box’s contents appeared to be papers and projects from when Harper and Gemma were little. All of the papers had their mother’s writing on them, like Harper—First Grade, Age 7 or Gemma—Mother’s Day Card, Age 3 scrawled across the back.
That also explained why the box only contained items from until Harper was in third grade and Gemma was in first. That was the year when Nathalie had been in the car accident, and although Brian loved his daughters, he’d never been as good about keeping things as their mother had.
Harper pulled out a photo that was bent and faded with age. It had been glued onto a piece of pink construction paper cut into the shape of a lopsided heart. In sloppy cursive across the top, it said My Family in Gemma’s handwriting.
The photo showed the four of them, Brian, Nathalie, Harper, and Gemma, at the beach. Gemma and Harper were wearing matching bathing suits—purple, with white flowers and a ruffle around the bottom. Harper had nearly forgotten about that day, but it was eleven years ago.
They all looked so happy—even Gemma, who hadn’t wanted to come out of the water for the picture. Nathalie had had to bribe her with an ice-cream cone.
“Harper?” Alex said uncertainly from the top of the basement steps, pulling her from her thoughts.
“Yeah.” Harper put the picture back in the box, then set the box aside.
“Sorry, I just let myself in,” Alex said as he came down the steps. “I knocked, but you didn’t answer.”
“No, it’s okay.” Harper stood up and brushed the dust from her knees. The boxes had been sitting down here so long, they’d collected a lot of dirt and cobwebs. “I must not have heard you knocking.”
When Alex came downstairs, he glanced around the basement, which was dimly lit by a few bulbs hanging from the ceiling. He had a brown leather laptop bag slung over his shoulder, and he readjusted the strap before turning his attention back to Harper.
“What are you doing here?” he asked her.
“Just cleaning up.” She absently wiped at her eyes, which had welled up a bit while she was looking through the box. “I’ve been meaning to reorganize this junk for a long time.”
“I see,” Alex said, but he didn’t sound like he really did. “Anyway, I came over because I wanted to show you what I’ve been working on all morning.”
“You’ve been working on something?” Harper asked.
When they’d spoken yesterday, neither of them had been able to come up with a concrete plan for what to do about Gemma. The best they’d come up with was Harper making a few phone calls. Alex had offered to help, but they both agreed it would sound better if the calls came from a family member instead of Gemma’s boyfriend.
“Yeah, it’s on my laptop.” He tapped the bag hanging on his hip. “If you wanna take a look.”
“Yeah, sure, of course.”
Alex glanced around for a place to sit. Looking past the old lawn chairs, which still looked rather cobwebby even after Harper had wiped them off, he sat down on the basement steps. Then he pulled out his laptop, setting it across his knees.
“I know you were making calls, but I wanted to do something, too,” Alex said as Harper walked over to him. She tentatively sat on the step next to him, peering over at his computer screen as he clicked away. “So I went to the Internet.”
Within a few seconds a big picture of Gemma popped up, nearly filling the screen. She was smiling, with her long waves of hair shimmering in the sunlight. Harper had taken the picture a few weeks ago on the last day of school.
“I took the picture from her Facebook,” Alex explained.
In large bold letters above Gemma’s picture, it read Have you seen me? Alex scrolled down below the picture, where all the pertinent information was listed, like Gemma’s age, height, when she was last seen, and a contact e-mail address given as [email protected].
“What do you think?” Alex asked, watching Harper expectantly.
“This is her own Web site?” Harper asked, avoiding answering him right away.
He nodded. “Yeah, I got a couple missing kids sites to link to it, too. And I also set up a Facebook page for it.”
He made a few more keystrokes, and the Facebook page popped up, displaying the same picture he’d used on her Web site. This one had the tagline Have you seen Gemma Fisher?
“A few people have already written on the wall,” Harper remarked, and leaned in closer to read the messages.
The only people who had written on the wall so far were a couple girls Gemma had gone to school with and her swim coach, all of them sharing the same sentiment—that they hadn’t seen Gemma, but they hoped she came home soon.