Home > Along for the Ride(12)

Along for the Ride(12)
Author: Sarah Dessen

I felt tears fill my eyes, the words blurring on the page, and pressed my palm to my face, trying to stop them. No luck. Instead, they were contagious: a moment later, I heard Thisbe start up again, followed by the sound of someone – Heidi, I knew – coming down the hall and a door opening, then closing.

She kept on for an hour, long after my own tears had stopped and dried. Maybe it was the guilt I felt about what I’d done that night. Or that I just needed a distraction from my own problems. Whatever the reason, I found myself stepping out into the hallway, then walking to the door to Thisbe’s room. This time, I didn’t knock. I just pushed the door open, and Heidi, her face ragged, streaked with its own tears, looked up at me from the rocking chair. ‘Give her to me,’ I said, holding out my arms. ‘You get some rest.’

I was pretty sure Your Baby: The Basics didn’t say anything about sunrise walks on the boardwalk as a cure for colic. But you never knew.

At first, I wasn’t sure Heidi was going to let me take her. Even after the hours of crying, and her clear and present exhaustion, she still hesitated. It wasn’t until I took one more step toward her and added, ‘Come on,’ that she let out a big breath, and the next thing I knew my sister was in my arms.

She was so, so small. And writhing, which made her seem all the more fragile, although with all the screaming she had to have some strength to her somewhere. Her skin was warm against mine, and I could feel the dampness at the base of her neck, the hair wet there. Poor baby, I thought, surprising myself.

‘I don’t know what she needs,’ Heidi said, flopping back into the rocking chair, which then banged against the wall. ‘I just… I can’t… I can’t listen to her cry anymore.’

‘Go to sleep,’ I told her.

‘I don’t know,’ she mumbled. ‘Maybe I should –’

‘Go,’ I said, and while I didn’t mean for my voice to sound so sharp, it worked. She pushed herself out of the chair, sniffling past me and down the hallway to her room.

Which left me alone with Thisbe, who was still screaming. For a little while, I just tried to walk her: in her room, then downstairs, through the kitchen, around the island, back to the living room again, which quieted her a bit, but not much. Then I noticed the stroller, parked by the door. It was about five when I strapped her in, still hollering, and began to push her down the driveway. By the time we got to the mailbox, twenty feet farther, she’d stopped.

No way, I thought, pausing myself and looking down at her. A beat passed, and then I watched her draw in a breath and start up again, louder than before. I quickly began pushing her once more, and after a few turns of the wheels… silence again. I picked up the pace and turned out onto the street.

By the time we got to the business district she was asleep under her blanket, eyes closed, face relaxed. Ahead of us, the boardwalk was deserted, a brisk breeze blowing across it. All I could hear was the ocean and the stroller wheels clacking beneath my feet.

We’d walked all the way to the Last Chance Café before we finally saw another person, and even then they were far off in the distance, just a speck and some movement. It wasn’t until we came back up on the orange awning of Clementine’s that I realized it was someone on a bike. They were in a spot where the boardwalk opened up to the beach, and I watched, squinting, as they went up on their front wheel, hopping for a few feet, then easing back down, spinning the handlebars. Then they were pedaling backward, zigzagging, before suddenly speeding forward, banking off a nearby bench, then down again. The movements were fluid, almost hypnotic: I thought of Heidi in the rocking chair, and Thisbe asleep in the stroller, the subtle, calming power of motion. I was so distracted, watching the person on the bike, that it wasn’t until I got right up to him that I recognized the blue hoodie, that dark hair pulled back at the neck. It was the same guy I’d bumped into on the path hours earlier.

This time, though, I was taking him by surprise, which was made obvious by the way he jerked, skidding to a clumsy stop when he suddenly spotted us standing not ten feet from him. Just by his glance, I knew he recognized me, too, although he wasn’t exactly friendly – no hello. But then, I hadn’t said anything either. In fact, we both just stood there, looking at each other. It probably would have been incredibly awkward, if Thisbe hadn’t started crying again.

‘Oh,’ I said, quickly pushing the stroller forward, then back again. She quieted immediately but kept her eyes open, looking at the sky overhead. The guy was watching her, and for some reason, I felt compelled to add, ‘She’s… it’s been a long night.’

He looked at me again, and his face was so serious. Almost haunted, although why that word came to mind, I had no idea. He turned his gaze back to Thisbe, then said, ‘Aren’t they all.’

I opened my mouth to say something – to agree, at least – but he didn’t give me the chance, was already pedaling backward. No good-bye, no nothing, just a spin of the handlebars, and then he was rising up on the pedals and riding away from us. Instead of a straight line, he moved down the boardwalk from side to side, zigzagging slowly, all the way to the end.

Chapter FOUR

‘For you.’

I looked down: sitting in front of me on a little yellow plate was a plump, perfect blueberry muffin. A pat of butter sat next to it, like an accessory.

‘Your dad said they were your favorite,’ Heidi said. ‘I got the berries this morning, from the farmers’ market, and made them fresh.’

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