It was nine fifteen now. I really had to go. I unlocked my car, the lights flashing, then stepped forward to open my door. “Thanks for the invite,” I said to Layla. “It was really fun.”
“Good,” she said. “And Mom’s right. You should come out to the house sometime. I’ll teach you about your car. Even if you don’t want to learn.”
I smiled. “Sounds good.”
“See you at school, Sydney.”
She waggled her fingers at me, then took a few quick steps to fall in beside Mac, who was already heading toward the club. The lot was much fuller than when I’d gotten there, with more cars still arriving. For some people, the night hadn’t even really started yet. Hard to believe, when it had already been my most eventful in, well, ages. I watched the Chathams walk across the lot, keeping my eyes on them until they folded into the crowd by the doors. Then I raced home, praying for green lights, pulling into the garage at 9:35. I went inside with my apologies ready, only to find the downstairs empty. My mom was already in bed, my dad shut away in his office on a call. I’d done the right thing. I always did. It just would have been nice if someone had noticed.
THE FLYER was sitting on the table when I came down for breakfast Monday morning. I saw it as soon as I walked in the kitchen, but it wasn’t until I got up close that I could read what it said.
FAMILY DAY: SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 20TH,
1–5PM. INFO EXT. 2002 OR [email protected].
“What’s this?” I said to my mom, who was at the stove, pushing some bacon around in a pan.
She glanced over her shoulder. “It’s coming up at Lincoln in a few weeks.”
“But Peyton doesn’t want me there,” I said. “Right?”
“It’s not that he doesn’t want you. It’s just . . .” She trailed off, sighing. “I’m hoping this opportunity might change his mind.”
When my brother was first sent to prison, he had to submit forms for each person he wanted to visit him. My mom and dad were no-brainers, of course, as was Ames, and my mom assumed I’d be as well. But despite the fact that minors and children were allowed—even encouraged, as Lincoln believed connection with family was very important for inmates—Peyton said no, he didn’t want me to see him there. And I was so, so glad.
My mother, however, was convinced he’d feel differently eventually. She wanted me to be part of this, just as she wanted me to talk to Peyton when he called collect and write him letters, both things that I resisted. I knew this made me a terrible sister. But I hadn’t known what to say to my brother when he was sitting across this very same breakfast table, much less locked away in a prison in another state. It came naturally to both my mom and Ames to still be fully on Team Peyton, despite what he’d done to David Ibarra, not to mention our family. It wasn’t that easy for me.
I’d spoken to him only twice since he’d been sent away, both times when I was the only one home to answer the phone. Letting it ring until it went to voice mail was not an option. It was not easy for Peyton to get access to a phone. If he did, we were to accept the call and stay on as long as he was allowed to talk. Period.
I’d learned this the hard way one afternoon when my mom was at the grocery store. I answered, said yes to the call, then waited through a series of clicks and beeps. Finally, my brother spoke.
It was the first time I’d heard his voice in over a month. He sounded far away, like he was standing back from the receiver. Also, there was a steady buzz on the line, which made it hard to make him out. “Hey,” I said. “Mom’s not here.”
I regretted this the minute I said it. In my defense, though, she was the one he usually spoke with. If my dad answered, the conversations were always shorter and more about legal issues than anything else.
“Oh.” There was a pause. Then, “How are you?”
“I’m okay. You?”
I winced. You don’t ask someone in prison how they’re doing. Just assume the answer is “not so good.” But Peyton replied anyway.
“I’m all right. It’s boring here more than anything else.”
I knew he was just making conversation. But all I could think of was David Ibarra in his wheelchair. That had to be boring, too.
“You should write me a letter,” he said then. “Fill me in on what’s going on with you.”
This conversation was hard enough. Now he wanted me to put words on a page? My mom had said that mail could be a huge element in a prisoner’s mental health, which was why she’d recruited many in our family and several close friends to send letters and postcards. She’d even provided stamps and addressed envelopes, a stack of which sat untouched on the desk in my room. Every time I even thought about pulling out a piece of paper to try, all I could imagine was filling that empty white space with all the words I could never, ever say. Silence was safer.
I’d ended the call soon after, telling him I’d let my mom know he’d phoned. When she walked in ten minutes later and I passed along the message, she went ballistic.
“You didn’t wait until he was told to hang up?” she demanded, dropping one of her cloth shopping bags with a clunk on the island. “You just hung up on him?”
“No,” I said. “I said good-bye. We both did.”
“But he could have talked longer? No one was stopping him?”
I suddenly felt like I might start crying. “I’m . . . I’m sorry.”