“Oh, don’t listen to him, he used to eat his weight in these things. And he was barbaric about it. Just dumped them out, covered them in ketchup, and dove in.” She shuddered. “Ugh.”
I glanced over at Mac, who was eating an apple. He saw me and rolled his eyes, and I quickly looked away. In the next beat, like always, I regretted this, but there was something about him that made me so nervous. From someone that good-looking, even the smallest bit of attention was like the brightest of lights focused on me.
I knew this reaction well, because I’d seen it from the other side in girls when they were around my brother. He and Mac had the same dark, intense looks, that identical way of drawing attention just by existing. But while Peyton had long been aware of it, I had the feeling Mac wasn’t. He didn’t carry himself like he knew he was attractive. And sometimes, when he did catch me watching him, he seemed surprised.
But I shouldn’t have even been thinking like this, and not just because Mac would never be interested in me in the first place. I’d only been hanging out with Layla for a week or so, but certain rules, spoken and unsaid, were already clear. You weren’t barbaric with fries. You didn’t take the bubble gum or cotton candy YumYums. And you never even thought about dating her brother. Just ask Kimmie Crandall.
I’d first heard this name during a typical fast-paced lunch conversation. It began with a discussion about milk and how people either really liked it or really didn’t: there was no in between. Then it shifted to other things that people hated, which segued into a speed round during which Layla, Eric, and Irv tried to come up with the most awful combination ever.
“Someone you truly dislike eating with their mouth open,” Eric offered. “And something gross. Like egg salad.”
“What’s wrong with egg salad?” Irv asked.
“Just play the game,” Layla told him.
Irv thought for a second. “Someone you truly dislike eating egg salad with their mouth open while wearing a sweater that smells like wet dog.”
My turn. “Um,” I said. “Someone you truly dislike eating egg salad openmouthed in a wet-dog sweater while telling a boring story with no point.”
“Nice,” Layla said appreciatively. “I hate that. You’re up, Mac.”
Mac, who was continuing his run of various fruits at lunch with a handful of blackberries, said, “Everything you guys said plus golf.”
Layla sighed. “You’re supposed to repeat the whole sentence. God, you never play right.”
“Then exclude me. I’ll be fine, I promise,” he said, turning another page in his chem textbook.
“Party pooper,” Irv said. Mac threw a blackberry at him, this time connecting. “Watch it, fatty.”
“Nice mouth,” Mac replied, but he hardly seemed bothered. Not to mention fat. There was a lot I wasn’t privy to yet, clearly.
Layla sat up straight, holding up her hands. “Okay. This: Kimmie Crandall, eating egg salad with her mouth full, wearing a sweater that smells like wet dog, while telling a boring story with no point about golf.”
“Sold!” Eric said. “You win!”
“Hands down,” Irv agreed. “Still the champion.”
Mac turned to look across the courtyard, adding nothing to this. I said, “Who’s Kimmie Crandall?”
Silence. Then Layla said, “Mac’s ex-girlfriend. And my former best friend.”
“Oh.” That explained the quiet. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be. We’re both much better off without her.”
Mac got up then, balling his lunch stuff up and starting over to the trash cans. As he walked away, Irv said, “Still too soon?”
“It’s been three months.” Layla sat back. “There has to be a statute of limitations on pretending someone doesn’t exist.”
“Maybe it’s different when that person was your girlfriend,” Eric said.
“She broke the friendship code. That means I can make fun of her whenever I want.” Turning to me, she said, “She totally started hanging out with me just to get to Mac. I was friendless and desperate and couldn’t see. Then she hooked him in, stomped on his heart, and proceeded to talk smack about us to anyone who would listen.”
“That’s awful,” I said, looking at Mac. He was walking back toward us now, running a hand through his hair. “Does she go here?”
She shook her head. “The Fountain School. She was a mean hippie. Who even knew such a thing existed? Bitch.”
This was the harshest thing I’d ever heard her say, and it stunned me into silence for a second. Obviously, for all the nagging and fruit throwing, there was a loyalty there that ran deep. Once I was aware of it, I saw proof of it again and again. I couldn’t really relate, as by the time Peyton got into dating, he was already slipping away from us. I could, however, take note. So I did.
* * *
Two nights later, it was my mom who had something waiting by her plate. Instead of a flyer, it was a brochure. All I could see from my seat was a picture of a beach.
“What’s this?” she said as she came in carrying a platter of roasted chicken. She set it down, but did not pick up the paper. Like it was so not for her, she shouldn’t even touch it.
“Hotel St. Clair,” my father told her, reaching for the chicken. My dad was always hungry. He was a constant nibbler, known for standing in front of the fridge for long periods, grazing, and always jumped on food as soon as it arrived. “In the St. Ivy Islands.”