We sit hunched between air conditioning vents in the backseat, pillows propped under our arms, our thighs red from the sun at the park where we stopped for lunch in Iowa. Her bright red hair is pulled back in a ponytail and my stringy blondish-brownish hair hangs on either side of my face. We are each buried in a book, and there is another sitting between us. In the front, Mom, Dad and the boys are talking, or listening to the twentieth round of the Arthur CD, and watching the landscape rush by us. It's land like we've never seen before: hills and prairie grass and North Dakota.
But Abby and I don't see North Dakota. We miss South Dakota too, and probably some of Montana - that big sky country that whips the breath out of you when you see how vast the blue really is. We only catch glimpses when we're forced from the car for a picture, a lesson, a historical marker, a brother's need for a Coke and a snack and to stretch his legs.
We are in Santorini, Greece, and Bethesda, Maryland, in South Carolina and in Baja, California. We are wrapped in the lives of Bridget, Lena, Tibby and Carmen, the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, the girls who traveled far and wide and who had adventures of love and laughter and growing up.
We eat and sleep these books, waiting impatiently for the other person to finish so we can swap. We buy the third book, "Girls in Pants" as soon as it comes out that summer in a bookstore somewhere along the bright red line of our family roadtrip map. We read other things, talk to each other, listen to Sheryl Crow and eat Subway sandwiches outside in 101º in Nebraska on our way home. The summer is full of our family, full of our own sisterhood. The summer is me and Abby, in our teens, dreaming about who we'll become and what all of this living is all about, laughing and braiding hair and sleeping in the two person tent and eating macaroni & cheese & peas in the car with all the doors open because it is too hot to have a campfire and besides, none of us really like s'mores.
The miracle of being sisters with someone is that you read more than books together: you read each other, you read your hearts. You learn by doing, when to send a note or call again, when to let space between grow to make room for who each of you are, and who you're hoping to be. You learn through all of the late nights talking between the beds, and the nail polish spills on your carpet, and the disastrous haircuts you give your Barbie dolls (and each other), and up through conversations about falling in love and how to be a college students and what you're going to do after graduation. You learn that sisterhood is about more than those four girls sharing a pair of jeans. Being sisters is holding another person's heart in your heart for the whole of your life.
It's been seven years or so (maybe more) since we scrunched into the back seat of our van and read about how Lena fell in love with Kostos, how Bridget discovered her grandmother, how Carmen (who we'd never liked as much) learned to be an actress, how Tibby (who we'd also never liked as much, but who grew on us) reluctantly befriended Bailey and how Tibby became a filmmaker. And in those seven years my sister and I have been growing just like I imagined the characters would: into jobs, into college, into plans for the future and imagining getting married and having kids, into wanting to travel and explore the world.
Today I wanted to remember how rare and special it is to have a sister. And remember how those hot July days before the beginning of growing up have faded seamlessly into hot July days now, where the growing up is right in front of us, and all the love of all the 21 years of being sisters is there too.
Ann Brashares, the author who first wrote Bridget, Lena, Tibby and Carmen into existence, published a new book about them. They are all older in the book - nearing 30 - and it follows the lives we all were left imagining at the end of the series. I bought the book because it seemed written to remind me of that summer of reading with Abby in the backseat. It seemed written to remind me that being a sister, and having one, is among the most treasured gifts.