Chapter 1: Now 1 Now
THE DAY Lulu’s daddy disappeared was, so far, the coldest morning of the year.
That’s why she was still curled up tight under the blankets and pressed, back to warm back, against Serena when the sun shot a ray at the mirror that reflected onto Lulu’s face, waking her hard. She squeezed her eyes and rubbed them, saying out loud, “What?”
She was asking the sun, What?
Lulu sat up. The Suburban’s windows were fogged and Serena stayed asleep. Their daddy was not in the back seat. His blankets were folded into squares, the way he always started his day. But today he’d started his day without waking them, without the usual rituals of wet cloth to wipe their faces, the bottle of water and toothbrush to clean their teeth, because as Daddy had said, “No matter what, girls, we will practice good hygiene. Cleanliness is right there next to godliness.”
Lulu, when he’d said this, when she was little and didn’t know her words, envisioned a pair of high jeans, what she’d now call mom jeans, on a saintly figure, halo, raised eyes, with prayerful hands.
Now that she was all of twelve she knew what hygiene was. She even knew how it was spelled.
Lulu rubbed at the window as her surprise was replaced by confusion and then by a knot in her chest. Her hand made a round hole on the foggy damp glass but she couldn’t see anything through the branches that encased the Suburban. Nothing moved, except the sun, which now filled the car with cold light.
It wasn’t Saturday. Or Sunday. It was Thursday, a school day, and they were going to be late.
Where was Daddy? The knot tightened.
“Reenie,” Lulu said, and shook her sister’s shoulder. “Wake up.”
Serena stirred, and her face emerged from the thicket of blankets. “Sup?”
“We’re late.” Lulu could tell, because it was September and the sun was at that particular slant, that they should already be well on their way. She grabbed the water bottle and wet the cloth and rubbed it rough over her face before handing it to Serena. She yanked on her sweatshirt and jeans and pushed over the seat back from the rear into the second seat where their daddy should be, then shoved the door open with her shoulder.
Man, it was chilly.
Lulu rubbed at her arms and hopped a little, foot to foot, before looking to make sure no one was able to see as she relieved herself behind the car. By the time Serena was dressed and out Lulu had cleaned her teeth and found their jackets and backpacks. She hopped foot to foot again against the shivers as she waited for Serena to finish her morning routine. “Let’s go, let’s go.”
“I’m hungry,” Serena whined. “Where’s Daddy?”
“No time. Gotta go,” Lulu answered. It was all she said because it was almost all she knew. Except for this.
When no one else could—could step up, could step in, could do what needed doing—Lulu would.
Where was Daddy?