“Yep.” She sat back, turning up her face to the sun. “After her knee injury, she got a bit too fond of the Vicodin they gave her. Tried to pass off some fake prescriptions. Totally moronic. Got arrested, like, instantly.”
“Did she go to jail?”
Layla shook her head. “Rehab. Then they put an anklet on her. She just got it off a couple of weeks ago.”
“Yeah. You think she’s grumpy now, imagine her stuck in the house for six months.” She sighed. “It’s her own stupid fault, though. So infuriating. She had everything going for her and just blew it.”
“That’s like my brother.” It was new to be talking to someone I didn’t know well about this, but easier than I would have thought. “He had so many chances. But he kept getting into trouble anyway. And then the accident . . .”
I trailed off, not sure how much further I wanted to go into this. Layla didn’t say anything. In the silence, I realized I did want to keep talking. Really badly, actually.
“He’d been sober for over a year. Doing really well. And then one night, for no reason that we can figure out, he got drunk and behind the wheel. Hit a kid riding his bike. The kid is in a wheelchair now. Forever.”
Layla winced. “Wow. That’s awful.”
It was. It was really, really awful. And not just for Peyton, my mom and dad, or even me.
“His name is David Ibarra.” I looked down at my hands. “I think about him all the time.”
“Of course you do.” She said this simply, flatly. “Anyone would.”
“It’s like you with the faces. I can’t stop.” I took in a breath. “And my mom, it’s like she can’t see what Peyton did for what it is. She just worries about him and how he’s doing, and my dad doesn’t talk about anything, and now she wants me to visit him. And I don’t want to. At all. We got in a fight about it this morning.”
Saying this, I realized one reason I’d never spoken to Jenn or Meredith this way. Layla might have known my face, but she was still a blank slate when it came to Peyton, not already in possession of some bias or feeling toward him. Unlike everyone else in my world.
“If you don’t want to go, you shouldn’t,” she said. “Just tell your mom you’re not in that place yet.”
“I don’t know if I ever will be. I mean, I’ve always loved my brother,” I said. “But I really hate him right now.”
Across the courtyard, someone laughed. Two girls in field hockey uniforms passed by, one on the phone, the other opening a piece of gum. Happy, normal lives going on in happy, normal ways, in a world that was anything but. Once you realized this, experienced something that made it crystal clear, you couldn’t forget it. Like a face. Or a name. However you first learn that truth, once it’s with you, it never really goes away.
FOR THE first couple of days after I told Layla about Peyton, I kept waiting to regret it. It was strange, telling the story from the beginning instead of catching someone up on only the latest awful chapter. Like finally I was in a place quiet and safe enough to hear it, too. Just the facts, laid out like cards on a table. This happened, then this, then this. The end.
Even so, I’d thought it would change everything. This wasn’t unrealistic. Peyton’s crimes and convictions had skewed the view people had of my entire family. People in the neighborhood either stared or made a point of not looking at us; conversations at the pool or by the community bulletin board stopped when we came into earshot. It was like stepping into a fun house hall of mirrors, only to find you had to stay there. I was the sister of the neighborhood delinquent, drug addict, and now drunk driver. It didn’t matter that I’d done none of these things. With shame, like horseshoes, proximity counts.
But not, apparently, with Layla. Instead of keeping me at arm’s length, she looped me more tightly into her world, which I soon learned was jam-packed as it was. If I was the invisible girl, Layla was the shining star around which her family and friends revolved. We didn’t form a friendship as much as I got sucked into her orbit. And once there, I understood why everyone else was.
“Everyone, this is Sydney,” she’d announced the day after our talk, when I finally gathered up the courage to accept her invitation to join her and her friends at lunch. “She transferred from Perkins Day, drives a sweet car, and likes root beer YumYums.”
I blinked, startled at being summarized in this fashion. But it was better than any of the other labels I could think of, so I took a seat on one of three benches I now knew they staked out each day. Mac was on another, eating from a plastic ziplock bag full of grapes, while Eric, wearing a fedora, strummed his guitar, facing the courtyard.
“We’ve already met, remember?” Mac said.
“She’s met you guys,” she responded. “But not Irv.”
“Who’s Irv?” I asked.
Just then, a shadow came over me. Not a metaphorical or symbolic one, but a real, actual shadow, as in something large had blocked out the sun. I went from squinting to sitting in shade in a matter of seconds. I looked behind me, expecting to see—what? A sudden skyscraper? A wall? Instead, it was the human equivalent: the biggest, broadest, thickest black guy I had ever seen. He was wearing dress pants, a shirt and tie with a Jackson High football jersey over it, and sunglasses. As I stared at him, he held out a huge hand.
“Irving Fearrington,” he said. “Pleasure to meet you.”