What’s up, Sam?”
“What birthday?” he panted.
“What birthday, Anna?”
It took a while for her to absorb his fear. It took a while for the reason for his fear to dawn on her.
“Fifteen,” Anna said in a whisper.
“What’s the matter?” Emma asked, sensing her twin’s mood. “It doesn’t mean anything.”
“It doesn’t,” Anna whispered.
“You’re probably right,” Sam said.
“Oh, my God,” Anna said. “Are we going to disappear?”
“When were you born?” Sam asked. “What time of day?”
The twins exchanged scared looks. “We don’t know.”
“You know what, no one has blinked out since that first day, so it’s probably—”
The other older kids took notice, the littles, too.
“Oh, my God!” Anna cried. “Emma. Emma. Oh, God!”
She grabbed Sam’s hands and he held her tight.
The prees, some of them, caught the fear. Mother Mary came over. “What’s going on? You’re scaring the kids. Where’s Emma?”
Anna just kept saying, “Oh, my God,” and calling her sister’s name.
“Where’s Emma?” Mary demanded again. “What’s going on?”
Sam didn’t want to explain. Anna was hurting him with the pressure of her fingers digging into the backs of his hands. Anna’s eyes were huge, staring holes in him.
“How far apart were you born?” Sam asked.
Anna just stared in blank horror.
Sam lowered his voice to an urgent whisper. “How far apart were you born, Anna?”
“Six minutes,” she whispered.
“Hold my hands, Sam,” she said.
“Don’t let me go, Sam,” she said.
“I won’t, Anna, I won’t let you go,” Sam said.
“What’s going to happen, Sam?”
“I don’t know, Anna.”
“Will we go to where our mom and dad are?”
“I don’t know, Anna."
“Am I going to die?”
“No, Anna. You’re not going to die.”
“Don’t let go of me, Sam.”
Mary was there now, a baby on her hip. John was there. The prees, some of them, watched with serious, worried looks on their faces.
“I don’t want to die,” Anna repeated. “I…I don’t know what it’s like.”
“It’s okay, Anna.”
Anna smiled. “That was a nice date. When we went out.”
For a split second it was like Anna blurred. Too fast to be real. She blurred, and Sam could almost swear that she had smiled at him.
And his fingers squeezed on nothing.
For a terribly long time no one moved or said anything.
The littles didn’t cry out. The older kids just stared.
Sam’s fingertips still remembered the feel of Anna’s hands. He stared at the place where her face had been. He could still see her pleading eyes.
Unable to stop himself, he reached a hand into the space she had occupied. Reaching for a face that was no longer there.
Someone cried out, other voices then, the prees started crying.
Sam felt sick. When his teacher had disappeared he hadn’t been expecting it. This time he had seen it coming, like a monster in a slow-motion nightmare. This time he had seen it coming, like standing rooted on the railroad tracks, unable to jump aside.