The view aside, I had my doubts. I was never one for spontaneity, and the farther I got from my mom's, the more I started to consider the reality of a full summer of Heidi. Would there be group manicures for me, her, and the baby? Or maybe she'd insist I go tanning with her, sporting matching retro I LOVE UNICORNS tees? But I kept thinking of Hollis, in front of the Taj Mahal, and how I'd found myself so bored all alone at home. Plus, I'd hardly seen my dad since he got married, and this—eight full weeks when he wasn't teaching, and I wasn't in school— seemed like my last chance to catch up with him before college, and real life, began. I took a deep breath, then got out. As I started up to the front porch, I told myself that no matter what Heidi said or did, I would just smile and roll with it. At least until I could get to whatever room I'd be staying in and shut the door behind me.
I rang the doorbell, then stepped back, arranging my face into an appropriately friendly expression. There was no response from inside, so I rang it again, then leaned in closer, listening for the inevitable sound of clattering heels, Heidi's happy voice calling out, "Just a minute!" But again, nothing. Reaching down, I tried the knob: it turned easily, the door opening, and I leaned my head inside. "Hello?" I called out, my voice bouncing down a nearby empty hallway painted yellow and dotted with framed prints. "Anyone here?" Silence. I stepped inside, shutting the door behind me. It was only then that I heard it: the sound of the ocean again, although it sounded a little different, and much closer by, like just around the corner. I followed it down the hallway, as it got 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.