The summer Andy disappeared started out the same way summers had since I was ten—with a Sunday afternoon airplane ride to visit Gran Ryan. The flight was smooth and fast, the same as usual. The only difference from the past five trips was that Andy was with me.
He wasn’t too much trouble, even for a nine year old genius. He was just my klutzy little brother. I didn’t mind watching out for him. Not too much. Anyway, who else was there? Mom and Brent-The-Blond were living the golden life in California and Dad worked all the time at the accounting firm. I was all Andy had.
He tugged his seatbelt and bounced on the bench seat as I guided Gran’s ancient red pickup away from the airport. Gran sat on the other side of him, calm as always.
I clenched both hands around the steering wheel and concentrated on not getting lost in the airport’s circular maze. I’d gotten my learner’s permit last month, the day after I turned fifteen. This was the first time I’d driven with anyone except Dad or my teacher. I wished I could drive the way Gran did, with one elbow resting on the edge of the doorframe, casual and confident.
Maybe in fifty years.
The breeze, hot and sandy as Florida’s beaches, gushed through the open windows. Gran’s curly white hair flared away from her face. The hairstyle was new. She looked different. Then the scent of her lilac perfume floated across the pickup cab. I breathed it in. After the upheaval of the past year, the familiar fragrance was a balm.
Gran pointed to the next exit. “Turn right there.”
I eased the truck onto the eight-lane highway. I tensed again, my muscles stiffening into hard knots. “Maybe you should be driving, Gran.”
“You’re doing fine. Did I tell you I’m glad you’re here? Both of you.”
“You’re lucky we are.” I flinched when a heavy truck swooshed past in the left lane. “I could’ve spent the summer in Paris.”
“Yeah. I won the trip in an essay contest.”
Andy stilled. He always got quiet when I lied. The dumber the lie, the quieter he got.
“Your dad didn’t mention that,” Gran said.
“He wouldn’t. Andy couldn’t go to Paris with me and Dad wanted to get rid of both of us for the summer.”
Behind us, a jet screamed into the air. I ducked. I was afraid to take my hand off the steering wheel to crank up the window.
“I wouldn’t put it that way,” Gran said.
“I would.” My voice was flat, hard. Angry. And sad too, which was confusing.
When Dad said he wanted me to take Andy to Gran’s for the annual summer vacation, I’d jumped at the chance to get away. Why had I thought leaving home would mean leaving the sadness behind?
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