“I heard she and her boyfriend just broke up?”
“Second one in three months.” She shook her head. “Boys this age, they can be brutal. But they’re not all bad. At least, that’s what I keep telling her.”
Just then, Mac appeared, carrying a fresh can of Pepsi. He was in jeans and a faded SEASIDE PIZZA T-shirt, and looked like he’d broken a sweat playing. Not that I was looking closely or anything.
“That’s my boy,” said his mom as he popped the tab and refilled her glass. “Thank you.”
“You need anything else?”
“Not a thing. Sit down.”
He did, right next to me, which was slightly unnerving. At the pizza place, there had been distance between us most of the time: the door, the counter, or him standing while I sat. Proximity let me notice things I had not before, like his long lashes and the slight freckling across his nose, as well as the thin silver chain I could just see peeking out from the neck of his T-shirt.
“Cheese puff?” Mrs. Chatham asked Mac, holding out the can.
“What? It’s calcium!”
Mac rolled his eyes, looking up at the stage. To me Mrs. Chatham said, “He’s so healthy these days. It’s no fun whatsoever.”
“Neither is early-onset diabetes,” he told her.
His mother sighed, then held the can out to me. When I hesitated, she said, “See what you’ve done? She can’t even bring herself to take one. You’ve given the girl a complex.”
Mac looked at me. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine.” I felt my face get hot. Which made sense, as he was better looking than Logan Oxford at his peak and Dave! at Frazier combined. “I’m not, um, much of a puff fan anyway.”
God, I was an idiot. I didn’t even know what I was saying. Thank God Layla picked that moment to return to the table.
“Eric’s looking for you,” she informed her brother. “He has, and I quote, ‘notes and feedback for you vis-à-vis your performance.’”
“Great,” Mac said flatly, getting to his feet. The silver chain disappeared again, out of sight. “Mom, you staying for the next set?”
“Oh, honey, I’m pretty tired,” Mrs. Chatham said. “And my show comes on at ten, so . . .”
“I told you,” said Rosie, who had rejoined us. “I set the DVR.”
Hearing this, I suddenly remembered that I was also supposed to be somewhere at a certain time. I looked at my watch: it was just after nine. “I should go, too, actually.”
“Let me guess,” Layla said. “You’re addicted to Status: Mystery, too, and do not trust entirely reliable technology to function properly in your absence.”
Rosie snorted. I said, “Um, not exactly. Usually I can stay out later, but there’s been some stuff going on. My mom kind of wants me to stick close. So I told her I’d be home early tonight.”
It wasn’t until I finished this monologue that I realized how long and unnecessary it was. I had no idea why I’d felt the need to explain myself quite so much to people I had only just met, and by the way they stood there looking at me when I concluded, they didn’t, either. Whoops.
“Well, you go, then,” said Mrs. Chatham finally, saving me. “But don’t be a stranger, okay? Come by the house anytime.”
I nodded, then got to my feet. “Thanks.”
“We’ll walk you out,” Layla said, nodding at Mac. “This parking lot can be a little sketchy. Back in a sec, Mom.”
Mrs. Chatham waved, and I followed Layla through the increased crowd toward the door, Mac behind me. Sandwiched between them, I could see people appraising us as we made our way outside, and I was sure I looked like the mismatched piece, the part that did not belong. But that was not a new feeling. And at least here, with them, it made sense.
“Where’d you park?” Layla asked once we were in the lot. I pointed. As we walked over, passing a few people grouped around their own vehicles, she said, “Wow. Nice ride. Is that a sport package?”
I looked at my car, which was a BMW that had been my mom’s before she decided she wanted a hybrid SUV. “Maybe,” I said, feeling wholly ignorant. “I’m not—”
“It’s an ’07,” Mac said, glancing inside. “Automatic. So I’m betting not.”
“Looks like it does have some upgrade, though. See the wheels?” Layla let out a low whistle. “Those are sweet.”
I must have looked as clueless as I felt, because a second later, Mac looked at me and said, “Oh. Sorry. Our dad’s just really into cars.”
“In our house, you get a mandatory education on the topic, like it or not,” Layla added. “And once you know all that stuff, you can’t not notice. Believe me. I’ve tried.”
“Hey, dude!” I heard someone yell. We all turned to see Eric at the club’s entrance, looking annoyed. “If you’re not too busy, I could use my drummer?”
“He’s not yours,” Layla hollered back. “A band is a collaboration, last I checked.”
“Whatever.” Eric threw up his hands, then turned to go inside. “We’re on in five. If he feels like joining us.”
Layla laughed, and Mac shot her a look. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. It’s just so easy to set him off. And you have to admit, he is pretty insufferable when he gets in his diva mode.”
“True,” Mac replied. “But you’re not exactly helping.”