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Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen - page 11 / 18





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louder and louder, expecting to see an open window or back door. Instead, I found myself in the living room, where the noise was deafening, and Heidi was sitting on the couch, holding the baby in her arms.

At least, I thought it was Heidi. It was hard to say for sure, as she looked nothing like the last time I’d seen her. Her hair was pulled up into a messy, lopsided ponytail, with some strands stuck to her face, and she had on a ratty pair of sweatpants and an oversize U T-shirt, which had some kind of damp stain on one shoulder. Her eyes were closed, her head tipped back slightly. In fact, I thought she was asleep until, without even moving her lips, she hissed, “If you wake her up, I will kill you.”

I froze, alarmed, then took a careful step backward. “Sorry,” I said. “I just—” Her eyes snapped open, and she whipped her head around, her eyes narrowing into little slits. When she spotted me, though, her expression changed to surprise. And then, just like that, she was crying.

“Oh, God, Auden,” she said, her voice tight, “I am so, so sorry. I forgot you were…and then I thought…but it’s no excuse….” She trailed off, her shoulders heaving as, in her arms, the baby—who was tiny, so small she looked too delicate to even exist—slept on, completely unaware.

I took a panicked look around the room, wondering where my dad was. Only then did I realize that the incredibly loud ocean sound I was hearing was not coming from outside but instead from a small white noise machine sitting on the coffee table. Who listens to a fake ocean when the real one is in earshot? It was one of many things that, at that moment, made absolutely no sense.

“Um,” I said as Heidi continued to cry, her sobs punctuated by an occasional loud sniffle, as well as the fake pounding waves, “can I…do you need some help, or something?”

She drew in a shaky breath, then looked up at me. Her eyes were rimmed with dark circles: there was a pimply red rash on her chin. “No,” she said as fresh tears filled her eyes. “I’m okay. It’s just…I’m fine.”

This seemed highly unlikely, even to my untrained eye. Not that I had time to dispute it, as right then my dad walked in, carrying a tray of coffees and a small brown paper bag. He was in his typical outfit of rumpled khakis and an untucked button-down, his glasses sort of askew on his face. When he taught, he usually added a tie and tweedy sport jacket. His sneakers, though, were a constant, no matter what else he was wearing.

“There she is!” he said when he spotted me, then headed over to give me a hug. As he pulled me close, I looked over his shoulder at Heidi, who was biting her lip, staring out the window at the ocean. “How was the trip?”

“Good,” I said slowly as he pulled back and took a coffee out of the carrier, offering it to me. I took it, then watched as he helped himself to one before sticking the last on the table in front of Heidi, who just stared at it like she didn’t know what it was.

“Did you meet your sister?” “Uh, no,” I said. “Not yet.” “Oh, well!” He put down the paper bag, then reached over Heidi—who stiffened, not that he seemed to notice—taking the baby from her arms. “Here she is. This is Thisbe.”

I looked down at the baby’s face, which was so small and delicate it didn’t

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