“They can’t keep a guitar player.” She nodded in his direction. “Too much ego in the room.”
“Someone has to be the leader!” Eric said.
Layla smiled again. “Anyway. They’re playing Friday night, at Bendo? That club on Overland? It’s all ages. Free pizza if you get there early. You should come.”
I was shocked at this invitation. We’d met only once; she owed me nothing. And yet I knew, immediately, that I would go.
“Sure,” I said. “That sounds great.”
“Perfect.” She got to her feet, tucking her hair behind her ears. “Oh, and one more thing. If you want company at lunch, we sit over there.”
She pointed to the right of the main building, where there was a circle of benches around a spindly tree. On one of them, I saw the guy from the pizza place—her brother, I now understood—peeling an orange, a textbook open beside him.
“Oh,” I said. “Okay.”
“No pressure,” she added quickly. “Just, you know, if you want.”
I nodded, and then she was walking away, sliding her hands in her pockets. As I watched her go, Eric cleared his throat.
“Our band is not that bad,” he told me. “She just has high standards.”
I didn’t know what to say to this, so probably it was good that the bell rang then. He put away his guitar, I packed up my stuff, and then we nodded at each other before heading in our separate directions. All afternoon, though, during two lectures and a lab, I kept thinking about what he’d said. High standards, but she’d invited me anyway. Maybe she’d regret it. But I really hoped not.
* * *
“I don’t know.” Jenn wrinkled her nose, the way she always did when she was suspicious. “Isn’t that a nightclub?”
“It’s a music venue,” I said. “And this is an all-ages show.”
She picked up her pencil, twirling it between her thumb and index finger. “I thought we were going to Mer’s meet on Friday.”
“That’s at four. This is three hours later.”
She wasn’t going to go. I’d known it the minute I brought it up. We were not clubgoers, never had been. But our “we” had already changed. My part of it, anyway.
I looked across Frazier Bakery, where we always went after school when we weren’t in the mood for Antonella’s. A sandwich, salad, and pastry place, it was that weird mix of chain restaurant and forced homeyness: needlepoint samplers, perfectly worn leather chairs by a fake fireplace, your food served on wax paper patterned with red and white checks, silverware tied with a bow. That day, I’d been talked into a specialized coffee drink by the very cute guy working the counter—DAVE! his name tag read—something he swore would change my life. Apparently, this meant I’d be way hyped up and keep having to pee. Not exactly what I’d expected.
“Just meet me there for an hour,” I said, taking another sip anyway. “If you hate it, you can leave.”
“Why is this so important?” she asked me, putting her pencil back down. “You’ve never been into clubbing before.”
“It’s not clubbing. It’s a band, playing a show.”
She adjusted her glasses, then looked down at the textbook in front of her. “It’s just not my thing, Sydney. Sorry.”
I knew Jenn well. Once she made up her mind, she didn’t waver. “Okay. That’s fine.”
She smiled at me, and then we both went back to work. The adult contemporary music overhead, Jenn’s blueberry scone and my piece of carrot cake, our booth by the window: it was all as familiar as my own face. But I found I couldn’t concentrate on my calculus, as much as I tried. I just sat there and listened to her pencil scrape the page until it was time to go.
So I was alone when I walked into Bendo the following evening and got my hand stamped by a bulky guy with a neck tattoo. I’d had a meeting for my English group project at lunch, so I was going in with only my casual invitation and a fair amount of trepidation. Not to mention a lie.
“You’re going out?” my mother asked me when I came downstairs after dinner, having changed my outfit twice before going back to my first choice. She looked at her watch. “I didn’t realize you had plans.”
“Just meeting Jenn and Meredith at Frazier for dessert,” I said. “I’ll be back by ten.”
She looked at my dad, who was sitting next to her on the couch, as if he might object to this. When he didn’t, instead keeping his eyes on the twenty-four-hour local news channel and a report about school redistricting, she said, “Maybe make it nine thirty.”
I felt a flicker of irritation. Unlike Peyton, I’d never done a thing to warrant suspicion. Even though I was, at that moment, lying, I still resented it. “Seriously? Mom, I’m a junior.”
Now they both looked at me. My mom raised her eyebrows at my dad, who said, “Do I need to remind you that we make the rules?”
“Come on,” I said. “I’ve had a ten o’clock curfew since I got my license.”
“Your mother wants you home earlier,” he replied, turning back to the TV. “Do it tonight, and then we’ll talk.”
Now my flicker was a full flame. I looked at my mom. “Really?”
She didn’t say anything, just went back to the magazine in her lap. I stood there a minute, then another. Then I turned on my heel and left. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been angry with my mom. All I’d felt lately was pity and sadness, along with an overwhelming need to protect her. This feeling was new, and it made me uneasy. Like more was changing than I was ready for.