EXCERPT: 'The Kids Are All Right'

"The thing that holds the car together," Dad said quietly as he got up off the ground and brushed gravel from his hands and knees.

As he went in search of a pay phone, I climbed out of the car and sat on the pavement, determined to get some sun before it set. I pulled the bottom of my T-shirt up through its neck to make a bikini top, rolled the sleeves up on top of my shoulders, and leaned back on my arms with my face and body lined up with the sun. Eventually, the cab came, taking Mom, Dan, Diana, and me back to the condo while Dad waited for the tow truck. The following day, while our car was still at the shop, Aunt Barbara called Dad to say Grampy was in the hospital. He had pneumonia; his lungs were filling with liquid. His doctor gave him only a few more days to live.

Dad flew to Boston the next day to see his father one last time, leaving us three kids behind with Mom. Suddenly, the vacation was less fun. Mom didn't know how to throw a perfect spiral football with Dan, and she kept telling me I was spending too much time in the sun. Worse, I had given up the chance to be in Star 80. Three days into our vacation, my agent had called to say that Bob Fosse was considering making the sister older for me and would I fly back for another audition. I had told Mom that I didn't want to, that I was having too much fun. Now I wasn't so sure.

The Jeep got fixed, and the ride home seemed twice as long without Dad. He liked to play punch buggy, and he let us eat at Burger King. Mom only liked word games and made us eat soggy tuna fish sandwiches on Bran - ola bread that Auntie Eve made the night before. Plus, we were all worried about Grampy. Mom said she wasn't sure we'd ever see him again.

We made it back to Bedford by nightfall. I was happy to be home, happy to see Max, our German shepherd, who jumped up to look inside the car as soon as Mom parked. We had dropped Auntie Eve off at her son's house in Yorktown Heights, so I helped Mom unload. I already knew that I wanted to wear my white button- down shirt to school the next day, since it would best show off my tan, so I emptied all of the suitcases and started a load of whites. An hour or two later, just as I was ironing my shirt, the phone rang. It was Dad.

"Hiya, toots," his voice boomed through the receiver.

"How's Grampy?" I asked.

"He's a fighter," Dad replied. "He's going to make it."

We chatted a bit more, and then he said, "Tell Amanda not to pick me up at the airport. And tell your mother I'm renting a car and driving home."

And then, "Kiddo, don't worry about a thing. I have everything all figured out."

And with that, he hung up.

Amanda's room was on the third floor. I walked up the two flights of stairs and knocked gently on her door. It had a sign on it that read, do not enter under penalty of death in chunky block letters. Supertramp was blasting on the stereo. "Take a look at my girlfriend / She's the only one I got" wafted through the closed door.

I pounded harder, and then heard the scratch of the record needle and a gruff "What?"

She wasn't going to let me in, so I shouted through the door, "Dad says don't pick him up. He's renting a car."

Instead of answering, she put the record needle back down.

DAN I woke up to Mom sitting on my bed, crying, her hands covering her face.

It was a clear night. I remember the blue glow of the moon reflecting off the wallpaper and the silhouettes of my hobby toy cars and planes and my battery collection.

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