It's open mike night at Meadowlark Coffee.
There's a signup sheet by the cash register, where the baristas are busy with double espressos and hot tea.
Women knit next to an old upright piano. A game of double solitaire plays out by the windows. Laptops glow, electronic galaxies at tables of one.
Two women walk in. Sisters, slim with narrow faces and long hair.
One sister - Jannel Rap - carries a shopping bag stuffed with sheet music.
The other - Tammy Smith - carries a guitar.
Jannel spreads fliers on an empty table, like stacks of circulars for garage sales or housecleaning services.
Missing Person: Randa Jawhari.
MISSING: Jason Jolkowski.
Vanished: Erin Pospisil.
MISSING PERSON: Regina Marie Bos.
Regina Bos, their middle sister. Their missing sister.
Gina disappeared on a night like this one nine years ago.
She'd been to a baby shower, went home to her three kids and then sang at open mike night at Duggan's Pub, just south of downtown.
Shortly before the bar closed, she put her guitar in the trunk of her car, not quite latching the lid.
Then she disappeared.
Today - Nov. 4 - is her birthday.
* * *
"We smell bad, girls," Jannel says, settling in at a table. "All that cigarette smoke. All those bars."
She's next to the makeshift stage with Tammy and "Grandma Pat" - Pat Williams, Gina's mother-in-law, the woman who finished raising Gina's kids.
All three are young adults now, out on their own.
They coped their own way, Pat says. They didn't want to talk with her about their mom. But sometimes they'd congregate in a bedroom with the door closed.
"Their huddles," she calls them.
Earlier today, Tammy's phone beeped. A text from Gina's middle child, her only girl.
Happy birthday to Mama ... Love to you all.
Gina's family is slowly gathering here tonight. It's informal. Later, there will be cupcakes and singing.
Tammy picked Jannel up from the airport a few hours ago.
The musician and music teacher flew in from Vegas and a gig on The Strip - another concert for missing people.
* * *
The Rap family was always musical. The seven brothers and sisters grew up on gospel and hymns. Gina's guitar was like her fourth child. She even named it: Harley.
So it made sense to Jannel to use music to get the word out about her little sister when she disappeared.
She called them "Gina Concerts" that first helpless year. A way to keep her name and face in the public eye.
Later, she started 411Gina.org, a place to tell Gina's story and stories of other missing people who didn't have the ear of the media.
Then came her Squeaky Wheel tour, 19 days of concerts starting on the day Gina disappeared, Oct. 17, and ending on Nov. 4, her birthday.
The attention helped find dozens of missing people.
But not her sister.
* * *
From the beginning, police had considered the petite Lincoln woman a missing person under "extremely suspicious circumstances."
And even though they investigated hundreds of leads - from heroin overdose to Mexican mafia kidnapping - nothing ever came of any of them.
But one thing is certain: Gina's family never thought they'd be sitting here, now, with nothing.
"Nine seems harder," Tammy says. "It's so close to 10, and that's a decade. We've missed all of her 40s."
And she's missed theirs.
For the longest time, her family assumed Gina was dead. They knew she'd never leave her kids.
But then they hear about strange cases, women turning up in some sicko's backyard, years after disappearing.
So they keep showing up on nights like this.
"What if she were out there somewhere and we stopped looking," Jannel says.
"It's about honoring my sister."
They pull up memories while waiting for the stage to open.
The last time Jannel saw Gina, walking away.
"She was in one of her one word answer moods."
The way Tammy's little boy grew distant and cold after his Aunt Gina disappeared.
I'm trying not to love you so much, he told his mom, so I won't miss you as much if you're gone.
Grandma Pat remembers Gina on the sidewalk, her son's white baby blanket draped around her shoulders.
Her way of knowing God was close to her.
* * *
Two moms share a table near the stage where Jannel will perform.
They've come to support her. They know Gina's story.
Kelly Jolkowski's 19-year-old son vanished in Omaha a few months after Gina. Carolyn Pospisil's 15-year-old daughter turned up missing in Cedar Rapids that same year.
An unfortunate kinship.
"No one else knows what it's like," Kelly says.
"I know I can call Jannel and say, 'This is where I'm at,' and I don't have to explain."
Their children's fliers are on the table by the door.
Pick one up, Jannel tells people as they leave. Put it up somewhere.
"Someone might be found because you did."
* * *
Jannel sits down at the old piano near the stage.
Tammy will take her back to the airport tomorrow morning. Back to California, and her work, her kids, her life.
Things will become routine, as routine as they can get when a part of you is lost and you don't know where to find it.
Jannel runs her fingers over the keys. Pulls the microphone close.
"It's a special night because 50 years ago my sister Gina was born."
The table of knitters keep knitting. Cards are dealt. Laptops glow. But the big room settles, gets quiet.
Before she starts to sing, Jannel tells a story she's been telling for nine years.
How her sister played at an open mike night and then walked out with her guitar.
"And that's all we know."
Reach Cindy Lange-Kubick at 473-7218 or firstname.lastname@example.org