Here’s the thing with Maddie: I always know when she’s near me, but it’s never by the sound of her voice. In a place like this—a place with other people around, I mean—she doesn’t talk at all. But I still hear the rubbery squeak of her pink sneakers a pace behind me, smell the candy-sweet scent of her shampoo, feel her fingertips brush against my palm even though—so she says—she’s really too old to hold hands.
This time my senses have let me down. She’s nowhere near me, and it takes me about twenty seconds to figure out that she’s not in the store at all.
Rio must have seen something in my face. Suddenly he’s by my side, exactly in the spot I expected Maddie to be.
“What’s wrong?” he asks, but I don’t even have to answer, because right away he registers that my little sister sidekick is not where she’s supposed to be.
I know I should be sliding right into Emergency Procedure Plan A: if Maddie disappears, pull cord to release oxygen mask, cover mouth, assume crash position. Or maybe it’s stop, drop, and roll. What am I supposed to be doing? Tell somebody, yell for help—but I can’t seem to make myself move. Instead a million stupid thoughts are whirling in my head, like, how can I possibly tell my mother I’ve lost Maddie? Why can’t I have a little sister who’s completely, boringly normal? How come I always have to play guardian angel? I never asked for the job.