Excerpt: 'Along for the Ride'

There was something so familiar about this, it was like a tug on my subconscious. When my parents had first started to fight at night, this had been part of what I'd repeated—shh, shh, everything's all right—-to myself, again and again, as I tried to ignore them and fall asleep. Hearing it now, though, felt strange, as I was used to the sound being private, only in my head and the dark around me, so I moved on.

"Dad?"

My father, sitting in front of his laptop at a desk facing the wall, didn't move as he said, "Hmmm?"

I looked back down the hallway to the pink room, then at him again. He wasn't typing, just studying the screen, a yellow legal pad with some scribblings on the desk beside him. I wondered if he'd been there the whole time I'd been sleeping, over seven hours. "Should I," I said, "um, start dinner, or something?"

"Isn't Heidi doing that?" he asked, still facing the screen.

"I think she's with the baby," I said.

"Oh." Now, he turned his head, looking at me. "Well, if you're hungry, there's a great burger place just a block away. Their onion rings are legendary." I smiled. "Sounds great," I said. "Should I find out if Heidi wants anything?" "Absolutely. And get me a cheeseburger and some of those onion rings." He reached into his back pocket, pulling out a couple of bills and handing them out to me. "Thanks a lot, Auden. I really appreciate it."

I took the bills, feeling like an idiot. Of course he couldn't go out with me: he had a new baby at home, a wife to take care of. "No problem," I said, even though he was already turning back to his screen, not really listening. "I'll just be back in a little bit."

I walked back to the pink room, where Thisbe was still going full blast. Figuring at least this time I didn't have to worry about waking her up, I knocked twice. After a second, it opened a crack, and Heidi looked out at me. She looked more haggard than before, if that was even possible: the ponytail was gone, her hair now hanging limp in her face. "Hi," I said, or rather shouted, over the screaming. "I'm going to get dinner. What would you like?"

"Dinner?" she repeated, her voice also raised. I nodded. "Is it dinnertime already?"

I looked at my watch, as if I needed to confirm this. "It's about quarter to seven."

"Oh, dear God." She closed her eyes. "I was going to fix a big welcome dinner for you. I had it all planned, chicken and vegetables, and everything. But the baby's been so fussy, and…."

"It's fine," I said. "I'm going to get burgers. Dad says there's a good place right down the street."

"Your father is here?" she asked, shifting Thisbe in her arms and peering over my shoulder, down the hallway. "I thought he went down to campus." "He's working in his office," I said. She leaned closer, clearly not having heard this. "He's writing," I repeated, more loudly. "So I'm going. What would you like?"

Heidi just stood there, the baby screaming between us, looking down the hallway at the light spilling out from my dad's barely open office door. She started to speak, then stopped herself, taking a deep breath. "Whatever you're having is fine," she said after a moment. "Thank you."

I nodded, then stepped back as she pushed the door back shut between us. The last thing I saw was the baby's red face, still howling.

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