The trip had started out well enough. Samantha had fallen asleep almost as soon as the car was out of the driveway, and Michelle had seemed content playing with her new Wonder Woman doll. Unfortunately, fifteen minutes into the drive, an ill-advised attempt to get the doll to fly had sent Wonder Woman crashing to the floor, where she disappeared under the front seat, unleashing Michelle’s first flood of tears. Then heavy traffic along Interstate Highway 5 coupled with a delay at the San Ysidro border crossing at Tijuana had stretched the thirty-mile drive into a ninety-minute ordeal. Caroline wondered if she should have listened to Hunter when he’d suggested leaving the girls at home for the week. But that would have meant entrusting them to her mother, something Caroline would never do.
Her mother had made enough of a mess with her own children.
Caroline pictured her brother, Steve, two years her junior, a handsome man with sandy brown hair, a killer smile, and gold-flecked hazel eyes. His easy charm had made him their mother’s pride and joy. But what he had in charm, he lacked in ambition, and he’d spent most of his adult life shedding careers as regularly as a snake sheds its skin. A year ago he’d gone into real estate, and much to the surprise of everyone—except, of course, his mother, in whose eyes he could do no wrong—he seemed to be prospering. Maybe he’d finally found his niche.
“I’m thirrrrrsty,” Michelle wailed, the word threatening to stretch into eternity.
“Sweetheart, please. You’ll wake the baby.”
“She’s not a baby.”
“She’s asleep . . .”
“And I’m thirsty.”
“Okay, that’s enough,” Hunter snapped, spinning around in his seat and waving his index finger in the air. “Listen to your mother and stop this nonsense right now.”
Michelle’s response was immediate and complete hysteria. Her shrieks filled the car, bouncing off the tinted windows and pummeling Samantha awake. Now two children were screaming.
“Still think kids were a good idea?” Hunter asked with a smile. “Maybe your brother is right after all.”
Caroline said nothing. Hunter was well aware that her brother and his wife, Becky, had been trying unsuccessfully for years to have a family of their own. Their failure to do so was a constant source of tension between them, a situation Caroline’s mother took great pains to exploit, chiding Becky regularly for not providing her with more grandchildren and causing unnecessary friction between her daughter and her daughter-in-law.
Divide and conquer, Caroline thought. Words her mother lived by. What else was new?
“How much longer?” Caroline asked.
“We should be there soon. Hang in there.”
Caroline leaned her head against the side window and closed her eyes, her daughters’ cries piercing her ears like overlapping sirens. Not exactly an auspicious start to their vacation. Oh, well, she decided. It can only get better.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
You can buy She’s Not There from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.