Excerpt: 'Along for the Ride'

"It's mutual," I said. She glanced at me, and I smiled. "She's in the kitchen. Long black hair, in the green dress. You can't miss her."

"Great!" Too quick to prevent, she was hugging me again. "Thanks so much." I nodded. This confidence was a hallmark of all my brother's girlfriends, at least while they still considered themselves as such. It was only later, when the emails and calls stopped, when he seemingly vanished off the face of the earth, that we saw the other side: the red eyes, the weepy messages on our answering machine, the occasional angry peel-out on the road outside our house. Tara didn't seem like the angry drive-by type. But you never knew.

By eleven, my mother's admirers were still hanging around, their voices loud as always. I sat in my room, idly checking my Ume.com page (no messages, not that I'd expected any) and e-mail (just one from my dad, asking how everything was going). I thought about calling one of my friends to see if anything was going on, but after remembering the awkwardness of my last few social outings, I sat down on my bed instead. Hollis's picture frame was on the bedside table, and I picked it up, looking over the tacky blue beads. THE BEST OF TIMES. Something in these words, and his easy, smiling face, reminded me of the chatter of my old friends as they traded stories from the school year. Not about classes, or GPAs, but other stuff, things that were as foreign to me as the Taj Mahal itself, gossip and boys and getting your heart broken. They probably had a million pictures that belonged in this frame, but I didn't have a single one.

I looked at my brother again, backpack over his shoulder. Travel certainly did provide some kind of opportunity, as well as a change of scenery. Maybe I couldn't take off to Greece or India. But I could still go somewhere.

I went over to my laptop, opening my e-mail account, then scrolled down to my dad's message. Without letting myself think too much, I typed a quick reply, as well as a question. Within a half hour, he had written me back.

Absolutely you should come! Stay as long as you like. We'd love the company!

And just like that, my summer changed.

The next morning, I packed my car with a small duffel bag of clothes, my laptop, and a big suitcase of books. Earlier in the summer, I'd found the syllabi to a couple of the courses I was taking at Defriese in the fall, and I'd hunted down a few of the texts at the U bookstore, figuring it couldn't hurt to acquaint myself with the material. Not exactly how Hollis would pack, but it wasn't like there'd be much else to do there anyway, other than go to the beach and hang out with Heidi, neither of which was very appealing.

I'd said good-bye to my mom the night before, figuring she'd be asleep when I left. But as I came into the kitchen, I found her clearing the table of a bevy of wineglasses and crumpled napkins from another of her get-togethers, a tired look on her face.

"Late night?" I asked, although I knew from my own nocturnal habits that it had been. The last car had pulled out of the driveway around one thirty. "Not really," she said, running some water into the sink. She looked over her shoulder at my bags, piled by the garage door. "You're getting an early start. Are you that eager to get away from me?"

"No," I said. "Just want to beat traffic."

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