"I found it the old-fashioned way," I tell him. "By accident."
He starts moving down the hall. "Well, I knew it would turn up eventually," he says. "Everything always does. You have time for a cup of coffee?"
"Not really," I say, but I follow him to the little kitchenette anyway and let him pour me a mug, then trail him into his office. When I was a little girl, he'd bring me here and keep me entertained while he was on the phone by doing sleight-of-hand with binder clips and handkerchiefs. I pick up a paperweight on his desk. It is a rock painted to look like a ladybug, a gift I made for him when I was about Sophie's age. "You could probably get rid of this, you know."
"But it's my favorite." He takes it out of my hand, puts it back in the center of his desk.
"Dad?" I ask. "Did we ever plant a lemon tree?"
"They were hers," my father says, and he guides me to the mirror that hangs on the back of his office door. I have a vague recollection of the wedding photo from last night. He fastens the clasp behind me, so that we are both looking in the mirror, seeing someone who isn't there. .
I navigate through the ocean of clothes he's left discarded on the floor and the stacks of books that seem to reproduce like rabbits. Fitz is sitting in front of his computer. "Hey," I say. "You promised to lay a trail for us."
The dog bounds into the office and nearly climbs up onto Fitz's lap. He rubs her hard behind the ears, and she snuggles closer to him, knocking several photos off his desk.
I bend down to pick them up. One is of a man with a hole in the middle of his head, in which he has stuck a lit candle. The second picture is of a grinning boy with double pupils dancing in each of his eyes. I hand the snapshots back to Fitz. "Relatives?"
"The Gazette's paying me to do an article on the Strange But True." He holds up the picture of the man with the votive in his skull. "This amazingly resourceful fellow apparently used to give tours around town at night. And I got to read a whole 1911 medical treatise from a doctor who had an eleven-year-old patient with a molar growing out of the bottom of his foot." ;
"Oh, come on," I say. "Everyone's got something that's strange about them. Like the way Eric can fold his tongue into a clover, and that disgusting thing you do with your eyes."
"You mean this?" he says, but I turn away before I have to watch. "Or how you go ballistic if there's a spider web within a mile of you?"
I turn to him, thinking. "Have I always been afraid of spiders?"
"What if I were?" I say.
Copyright © 2005 by Jodi Picoult. Printed by permission. Excerpted from the book Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult published by Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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