Ames looked at my mom. “Is it a problem, my being here?”
“We’ve talked about this,” my dad told him. “This stay was meant to be temporary, as well as dependent on you actively seeking alternative arrangements.”
“There’s nothing out there,” Ames told him, buttering his bread. He had a lot to learn. At the very least, he should stop eating. “The job market . . . it’s tough right now.”
My dad looked at my mom, who reached down to the empty chair beside her and pulled out a folder, putting it on the table. Uh-oh.
“I took the liberty of examining the classifieds today. I found six positions you’re qualified for. And too many roommate want ads to count.”
Ames was chewing, staring at her, as she slid the folder across to him. Finally, he swallowed. “If you guys want me out, I’m out,” he said.
Silence. This was his Hail Mary. “I think that’s best,” my mom told him. “Peyton?”
“I agree.” My dad picked up his napkin and wiped his mouth. “We appreciate all you’ve done for us. But this is better for everyone.”
I was in shock. Funny how the world works. You don’t get the something you really covet, but then the universe provides unexpected compensation. Here I thought you had to make a wish for it to come true.
Ames, true to form, was not going down easy. First, he tried to negotiate for another month. Then a week, followed by the rest of this one. As his offers got lower and lower, it became that much harder to watch, which was why my mom and I had gone into the kitchen. My dad, however, was in his element. He could go all night, and I had a feeling he might have to.
They were still there when I went up to my room at seven thirty. The showcase had started at seven, and Irv had promised me he’d message me on HiThere! when they went on at seven forty-five so I could watch on my phone. In the meantime, I was with them in spirit, via dueling text message exchanges with Mac and Layla.
Layla: Eric just informed me that my outfit isn’t meta enough. What the hell does that mean?
Not enough black? I wrote her back.
Mac: Our sound check sucked and everyone’s fighting about clothes. Kill me now.
You’ll be great, I replied to him.
There was a sound out in the hallway, past my half-open door. I paused, listening. A moment later, I heard my mom moving around the War Room and went back to my phone.
Lot of people here, Layla had written in the interim.
No. A pause. Then: Yes.
Another beep. Mac: Might have to smack Eric. For common good.
Try to resist, I wrote him back. Hear you have a big crowd.
Showcase does. Not us.
Typical, I thought. Back to Layla.
Not right w/out you. Wish you were here.
Beep. Mac. I flipped back to his screen. Rather be at Commons Park with you.
It was dizzying, carrying on both of these conversations at once. So I was grateful that I could give them each the same answer.
It was seven forty-five when Irv sent the HiThere! invite. I hit ACCEPT and then he appeared, his face taking up the entire screen. I could barely hear him, the noise of the crowd was so loud.
“They are taking the stage,” he reported, as a girl with platinum hair bumped him from behind.
“How was the first band?”
“Awful. Basically amplified screaming. We’re lucky there’s anyone still here.” He shifted, letting a guy in a leather jacket pass. “Everyone’s in place but Eric. He’s . . . Oh, here he comes. He’s making his entrance through the crowd.”
I lay back on my bed, smiling. “Of course he is.”
Some music was beginning, just a couple of chords, a bit of drumming. “Okay,” Irv yelled. “You ready?”
Outside my doorway, someone was passing by. But for once, I didn’t care. “Yes,” I said. “Show me.”
I turned my phone sideways just as the picture changed. Thanks to Irv’s perfect vantage point and massive reach, I could see the entire stage, as well as the first row of the crowd pressed up against it. There was Eric in his fedora, angling himself at the microphone. To his right was Ford, shuffling his big feet. And on the other side, Layla, in her cowboy boots and a red dress, hair pulled back loosely at her neck. Eric glanced at her, smiled, and began to play.
Nervous for them, I touched my Saint Anything pendant, then turned up my phone volume as loud as I could. As Eric launched into the lyrics of the Logan Oxford song I knew by heart, I reached to the picture, pinching it further open, closer in. A moment to focus, and I found what I wanted. He was bent over his drums, playing hard, his hair hanging in his face. Maybe I was the only one looking closely. I’d never know. But he wasn’t invisible, not to me. There you are, I thought. There you are.
* * *
It was after midnight, and all the bands had performed. Now it was just up to the judges and showcase sponsors to pick a winner. Meanwhile, we waited, everyone else at the club and me in my room. I was trying to study, but couldn’t focus, distracted by Mac and Layla’s collective nervousness (I had never texted this much in one short period, which was really saying something) as well as the noise I kept hearing from the room next door. Not just talk radio this time, but the sound of packing. Angry packing.
I hadn’t realized it was happening until after their set was over. They’d played well, with Layla’s song a highlight, and although the final chorus from the last number got a bit bungled, I was pretty sure nobody else noticed. Throughout, the music was loud, even through my phone speaker, as was the applause and cheering that followed it. Once Irv and I hung up, it was suddenly very quiet. That’s when I heard the first thump, followed shortly after by the knock of a drawer being slammed shut. By the time the closet door slammed, my parents were outside my door.