Layla looked at me, motioning for me to come over, as if all of this was just the most natural thing ever. And maybe it was, because I went. When I got to the table, she said, “Hey, Mom. This is Sydney. Remember, I told you about her?”
Her mom looked up at me. She had a round, kind face and blonde hair that had clearly been styled for the occasion, and was wearing red lipstick. She stuck out her hand. “Tricia Chatham. So nice to meet you.”
“You too,” I said.
“You want some pizza?” Layla asked. “It’s still hot.”
“Oh, no, honey. I brought my own snacks. Rosie, can you get my bag?”
At this, the older girl reached behind the chair, unlooping one of those big, colorful, quilted purses from the handle. This one was pink with roses. She unzipped it, then put it on the table, and her mom reached in, rummaging around for a second before pulling out a can of cheese puffs. Without prompting, Layla’s brother took it, popping the top, then handed it back to her.
“That’s Mac,” Layla said, pointing at him. “And this is my sister, Rosie.”
I said hi, and Rosie nodded. I noticed that all three women had the same light hair and green eyes, but distributed differently: stretched wide on the mom, pinched tight on Rosie, and on Layla, just right. Mac had clearly gotten his dark hair and eyes from their dad.
“When’s the music starting?” their mom asked, taking out a handful of cheese puffs. “Some of us have TV to get back to.”
“Mom, we set the DVR,” Rosie said.
“So you say.” She ate a puff, then looked at me. “I don’t trust technology. Especially when it comes to my shows.”
“She really likes her TV,” Layla explained to me. Then she turned to Eric, raising her eyebrows.
“Right,” he said, nodding. “We’ll get ready.”
He and Mac walked off toward the stage. Meanwhile, Layla grabbed two more chairs, pulling them next to the table, then gestured for me to take one before sitting down herself.
“So, Sydney,” her mom said, taking out another handful of puffs. “What’s your story?”
“Mom,” Rosie said, rolling her eyes. She was sitting very straight, legs tightly crossed. “God.”
“What? Is that rude?”
“If you have to ask, the answer is probably yes,” Rosie replied.
Her mom waved this off, still looking at me. I said, “Um, I just transferred to Jackson. But I’ve lived in Lakeview since I was three.”
“She used to go to Perkins Day,” Layla added. Rosie and Mrs. Chatham exchanged a look. “She needed a change.”
“Don’t we all,” Rosie said in a low voice.
“Perkins Day is an excellent school,” Mrs. Chatham said. “Highest test grades in the county.”
“Mom used to work in school administration,” Layla explained to me. “She was an assistant principal.”
“Ten years,” Mrs. Chatham said. She offered me the can of puffs, which I declined, then held it out to Layla, who took one. “Still be there, if I hadn’t gotten sick. I loved it.”
“She has MS,” Layla said. “With other complications. It’s the worst.”
“Agreed.” Mrs. Chatham offered Rosie the can. She shook her head. “But you take what you get in this world. What else can you do?”
In reply, there was a burst of feedback from the stage, and we all winced. Rosie said, “Great. I already have a headache.”
“Now, now,” Mrs. Chatham said. “They’ve been working on some new stuff. It’s apparently very meta.”
I smiled at this, and she caught me and grinned back. I’d had a hunch before; now it was sealed. I was so, so glad I’d come.
Eric, now behind the microphone with his guitar, tapped it with a finger. “One, two, three,” he said, then played a few chords. Another guitar player, tall and skinny with an Adam’s apple you could see from a distance, climbed up on stage. “One, two.”
Layla rolled her eyes at me. “They already did sound check. I swear, he is such a diva.”
I looked back at Eric, who had turned to say something to Mac. “So you guys dated?”
“In my salad days, when I was green in judgment,” she replied. I looked at her. “That’s Shakespeare. Come on, Perkins Day, keep up!”
I felt myself blush. “Sorry.”
“I’m kidding.” She reached over, grabbed my arm, and shook it. “And yes. We dated. In my defense, I was a sophomore and stupid.”
Eric was back at the microphone, counting again. “He doesn’t seem that bad.”
“He’s not bad.” She reached up, pulling her hair back. “He’s just got a huge ego that, left unchecked, is a threat to society. So I try to do my part.”
“One, two,” Eric repeated, tapping the microphone. “One—”
“We hear you!” Layla yelled. “Just start.”
Mrs. Chatham hushed her, but it worked: after announcing themselves as “the new and improved renowned local band Hey Dude,” they began playing. I was no musical expert—and certainly did not have high standards—but I thought they sounded good. A bit loud, but we were sitting close. At first, I couldn’t make out what Eric was singing, although the melody was familiar. As soon as the chorus began, though, I realized I actually knew it by heart.
She’s a prom queen, with a gold crown, and I’m watching as she passes by . . .
I leaned over to Layla. “Is this—”