The empty kind, when you know nobody's there but you.
"Dad?" I yelled anyway, running into the hallway. "Dad? Tom?"
Heart pounding, I took the stairs two at a time.
Looked in my parents' bedroom. In Tom's. In mine.
Neat - except for my room. Empty.
Which made me feel a little better, but not much.
"Jake," Marco said from right behind me.
"Yaaahh!" I yelped, going airborne.
"Don't do that!" I said harshly, pushing past him and heading back down the stairs to the kitchen.
I swung around, searching the kitchen for something, anything that would tell me where they'd gone.
Cabinets. Sink. Glass jars full of cookies and pasta and coffee, lined up on the counter. Coffee machine. Refrigerator. Toaster.
Orderly. Nothing out of place.
Slammed against the side of the refrigerator.
One of the magnets fell off. The apple, which had been holding my mother's note about Grandpa G.
Only the second note, the one that had been tacked beneath it was gone. Had someone taken it? Why, when it had the flight number and details about what to bring when we drove out?
Frantically, I grabbed the plastic can and flipped open the lid. Knelt and peered inside.
Lying crumpled atop the banana skins and the coffee grounds and the empty yogurt container was a wad of pink paper. Crumpled. I rose and smoothed it out on the counter.
The top of the note was the one from my mother with the flight information. At the bottom of that note was my father's handwriting.
Jake: Went to a Sharing meeting with Tom to explain why he can't help them out this weekend. Be back soon.
"Oh, God," I whispered.
My father hadn't thrown away the note. Tom had. He'd been covering his tracks.
Tom was taking my father to The Sharing.
But not so he could be excused from his obligations.
He was going to make our father a Controller. He would watch as they forced him to his knees and pushed his head down into the thick, sludgy Yeerk pool. He would listen to his pleas. Listen to his cries. His screams of horror and disbelief and panic. Listen and laugh.
I started to shake.
I should have known. Should have seen it sooner. Marco had seen it, why hadn't I?
"We have to find them," I said, searching my mind frantically for a way to do it.
"How?" Marco said. "We don't even know where they are."
"Marco, this is my father!" I shouted, losing it. "I'm not letting them take him."
"Even if we find him, you may not have anything to say about it," he said quietly. "It might already be too late."
No, it couldn't be too late. Couldn't...
No. They wouldn't have my father. I was going to stop them. Even if it meant stopping my brother.
Any way I had to.
Marco re-crumpled the notes and put them back in the trash.
Placed the apple magnet back on the fridge.
I stood there, frantic, vibrating with impatience, waiting to go, go GO somewhere, anywhere, just get going and find my father.
"We have to cover our tracks, Jake," he explained. "We can't let Tom know that we know."
"Right, whatever," I said, hurrying towards the door.
I didn't tell Marco, but at that moment I just didn't care about keeping our secrets. I didn't care about saving the world. I was saving one man. The rest of the world could take care of itself.
There were some losses I wasn't willing to take, no matter what. I'd lost my brother. That was it. I wasn't losing anyone else.
"The Chee," I said suddenly.
I reached for the phone, Marco pushed the receiver back down. "Not from the house, man. Look. Jake. Jake, listen to me."
"You're the boss, Jake. You're the fearless leader. But not right now, okay? You're too messed up over this. Let me call the plays."
I knew he was right. I said nothing. I hated Marco, right then. Hated him because he wouldn't have made the mistake I'd made. He would have seen...
Hated him because he'd already lost his mother and he knew what the inside of my head was like, because he knew I was scared and just wanted to cry.
"Come on, man," Marco said.
We went down the block to a pay phone to call Erek King. He's a Chee.
The Chee are a race of androids. Pacifist by design. But definitely anti-Yeerk.. The ultimate spies. Our friends. At least as much as a nearly eternal machine can ever be a friend to a weak, short-lived human.
The Chee would know of any Sharing meetings scheduled.
"There's nothing scheduled," the human-sounding voice said.
"But there has to be," I said desperately, pacing the length of the stupidly-short phone cord. "Tom's taking my father to it! C'mon Erek, please!"
"Jake, you know I would tell you if I knew," Erek said with calm regret. "Perhaps Tom asked for an emergency meeting to deal with this problem."
"Then how are we ever gonna find out where they are?" I said, glancing at Marco to see if he had any suggestions.
He shrugged, looking miserable.
I turned away, wanting to cry.
Fighting to get hold of myself.
If the Chee didn't know where the Yeerks were gathering, how were we supposed to know?
"Wait," I blurted. "Stupid! I don't have to find the Yeerks to find my father. All I have to do is find my father and we'll find the meeting. Should have thought of it."
"All right," Erek said cautiously.
"No, it's easy. He always carries a cell phone. I'll just call and ask him -"
"You can't," Marco and Erek both said at the same time.
"Why not?" I said.
"Jake, if you call and ask your Dad where he is, and then the meeting gets broken up by us, don't you think the Yeerks'll put two and two together?"
"I don't care," I said, before I could stop myself.
The sympathy on Marco's face evaporated. "You're not getting me killed to save your father!" he snapped.
"There may be another way," Erek said, interrupting. "Give me the cell phone number. You hang up, dial the cell phone and I'll tap into the frequency. You call but don't speak. If your father picks up, I'll analyze the auditory data and we may be able to determine his location."
I didn't look at Marco. Couldn't. "Good. Great." I gave Erek the number, hung up and redialed my father's cell phone number.
It rang once.
My hands were shaking.
Marco was staring at me, eyes narrowed. His body was tense, ready to snatch the receiver if I as much as opened my mouth.
I closed my eyes, willing my father to answer.
Praying it wasn't too late.
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