I sat there, confused, as a man passed outside the open door, carrying flowers and a big bouquet of balloons. I watched them bob past, bright and shiny, wondering what I was supposed to apologize to Peyton for. It was not until the next day that I realized maybe she hadn’t been talking about him at all.
Now, in the truck, my phone buzzed in my pocket. I pulled it out, glancing at the screen.
At studio with Eric. He is literally strutting, showing me around. Oh my god.
I smiled. You love it.
I swear I do not.
Another beep. My mom, this time.
Bring a pizza home for dinner? And your father is requesting garlic knots.
Done, I replied. There by six.
“Everything good?” Mac asked.
“Yeah,” I told him. “Everything’s fine.”
I was getting more nervous, though, the closer we got. While these were streets I knew well, having driven them myself more than once, it had been a while since I’d seen this turn, that intersection. By the time he pulled up in front of a small brick ranch with black trim, I could feel my heart beating in my chest.
Mac cut the engine, then turned to look at me. Wary as always, waiting for my okay. I reached for the door handle, opened it, and slid out. As I walked around to the curb, he reached behind him for the warmer. When I got to his window, he had it waiting.
“I can go with you,” he said. “If it would make it easier.”
“It would,” I told him. “But I think I need it to be difficult.”
Instead of replying, he reached out, cupping my face in his hands, and kissed me. Like always, I wanted it to last forever. I knew we had plenty of time now, though, so I made myself pull away.
And then, somehow, I was going up the walk. The closer I got to the door, the tighter my focus became. It was like I could see and feel everything, crystal clear and right up close. A yellow tabby, licking a paw by the steps. The slight incline of the ramp as I climbed it. Sound of a TV or music from inside. Someone laughing. As I got to the door, I glanced back at Mac. Being with him hadn’t fixed everything in my life; no one person could do that. But it was okay. Anyway, it was unrealistic to expect to be constantly in the happiest place. In real life, you’re lucky just to be always somewhere nearby.
I shifted the warmer, then reached up and knocked. There’s always that lag between when you announce yourself and a door opens, while you wait to see what’s on the other side. Working with Mac like this, I’d caught brief glimpses of so many lives, tiny bits of a million stories. This one, though, was mine.
“Coming,” a voice called out, and then I heard a whirring sound, growing louder as it approached. I reached up, cupping my hand over the pendant Mac had given me, the way I now found myself doing often. My Saint Anything. I liked the thought of someone looking out for me, whoever it might be. We all need protecting, even if we don’t always know what from.
A lock clicked, and I watched the knob twist and the door open. And then David Ibarra was looking up at me, his face surprised. “Did we order a pizza?”
“Not exactly,” I replied.
I had no idea what would happen from here, if there were even words to say everything I was feeling. He might slam the door in my face. Ask what good I thought I’d do, coming here. I had imagined all these scenarios, and every possible variation thereof. Only now, though, showing myself, would I find out what was meant to be.
Start with “I’m sorry,” Mrs. Chatham had told me. Standing there facing him, all I could think of was another beginning, in that courtroom so many months ago. The judge had asked something—Would the defendant please rise—and what followed was for me, Peyton, my parents, Mac, Layla, all of us, one long, still ongoing answer. It seemed only right that now, here, I’d pose a question of my own.
“I’m Sydney Stanford,” I said. “Can I come in?”