by Allison Mulder
It took Jessup several days to realize she'd been kidnapped, mainly because it had been a
long time since anyone truly wanted her.
Ever since her grandfather died, and her grandmother found it too difficult to care for a
child alone--especially a child like Jessup--the girl had been shuttled through a series of
increasingly distant relatives. Some were friendly, some were not friendly, and no guardian really
stuck out as family. The greatest resemblance between all of them, passed down through the
ranks of cousins and second cousins and all the other branches of the family tree, was the family
frown: a pinched, down-turned look appearing most frequently during times of irritation, grief, or
awkwardness. All feelings brought out by Jessup's presence in a room, thanks to "that whole
business with her parents," which no one ever told Jessup about.
But it was more than that. They frowned when Jessup sat by herself and didn't speak to
their children, or any of the adults, either. They frowned when Jessup refused to eat the same
meal as everyone else, and when she shoved her plate across the table after being pressured. They
frowned at the idea of her throwing one of her tantrums once she started
kindergarten--something already overdue. Even when the friendly ones smiled at her, there was
usually a hint of the frown.
The idea someone would want Jessup enough to steal her seemed outside the realm of
So when Jessup sat on the park bench waiting for the next relative to collect her, and
when Uncle Douglas slipped away after forty-five minutes of waiting to call his very late cousin
Gerald where Jessup couldn't overhear, and when a nice, dark red car pulled up to the curb and
the man inside called her by name, she just assumed Gerald had arrived. His eyes crinkled the
same way Jessup's grandfather's had when he was teaching Jessup to read.
There was no trace of the family frown. But that didn't seem like a bad thing.
Jessup pushed her thick-lensed glasses further up on her nose, then slid forward on the
bench until her shoes met the pavement. She wrestled her backpack--bigger than she was--onto
her back like a hermit crab's shell. Gerald left the car even though it was still running, and went
to open the door to the backseat for Jessup. His white shirt was stained with coffee blots and pen
smears, but his pants and shoes were nice and black and neat. A matching suit coat dangled from
a hanger wedged on a tiny hook above the backseat window. The coat probably wouldn't look
much different hanging from Gerald's skinny frame.
Jessup hung back on the curb. No one had ever held a car door open for her.
"Is someone else sitting up front?" she asked.
The man smiled. "Sort of. Mostly, I thought you'd like to sit with your backpack next to
you, where you can get at everything. It's a little cramped up front."
This made more sense than most of the things Jessup's relatives said. It made more sense
than insisting she stay in the family--like an attic-dwelling heirloom--when most family
members were not on good speaking terms.
So, Jessup wrestled her backpack into the car, where it took up a seat all its own. Gerald
reached out to help, but dropped his hand when she curled her arm protectively around the
bulging purple bag. Jessup crawled up onto the seat next to the backpack's, and pulled her
favorite book from the front pocket onto her lap. She skimmed her palm across the glossy cover,
the big red words--FIND ME!--and the tiny pictures of a million tiny objects all crammed onto
the same page. Trebuchets and long-named dinosaurs and tiny, detailed microscopes. Grandpa
had called the book "an education," and they'd spent hours on it together.