“Why is it by my plate?”
“Because,” my dad said, serving himself a large helping, “I have a conference there next week, and I want you to come with me.”
Immediately, my mom’s face said NO. Or maybe NO! The little crease appeared between her eyes that Peyton had, in her earshot, once not-so-smartly referred to as Anger Canyon. “A trip? Now? Oh, I don’t think so.”
“Give me one reason why.”
She sighed, then sat down, pushing the folded paper aside to pick up her napkin. “Next weekend is visitation at Lincoln.”
“Julie, you go often enough to miss one day.”
“He counts on me to be there, Peyton.”
“We’ll make sure Ames visits, then.”
She shook her head. “And Sydney just started a new school. . . . It’s just not a good idea.”
My dad looked at me. His expression made it clear I should say I’m fine. So I did.
“Honey, you can’t just stay here by yourself,” she told me, sounding tired.
“I already talked to Jenn’s parents. They’d love to have her.”
I blinked, surprised. It was true I hadn’t talked to Jenn in a few days, but I was still surprised she hadn’t mentioned anything about this. She might not, I realized, even know. When my dad wanted something, he went for it.
“Julie,” he said now, “you need this. We need this. It’s two days on a beautiful beach, and everything’s taken care of. Just say yes.”
The NO was still on her face. Even so, she said, “I’ll think about it.”
My dad didn’t say anything, his expression measured, as he felt out how hard to push the issue. “Okay,” he said. “Do that.”
And with that, the subject was dropped. But clearly not forgotten, as I heard them talking about it twice more that evening: once as they watched the news while I very quietly loaded the dishwasher, and again from upstairs, as I was getting ready for bed. The next morning, as I passed the War Room, I saw she’d pulled her file labeled TRAVEL onto the desk, the one that contained packing lists, intricate clothes-folding diagrams, and all her guidebooks. If they went, it would be her first trip in over a year, and I wanted her to have that. Plus, a whole weekend with Jenn might help to bridge the distance that I’d recently felt creeping into our increasingly rare conversations, both on the phone and face-to-face. Maybe this would be good for all of us. But the morning they were supposed to leave, we got a phone call.
“Jenn’s sick,” my mom reported when I came downstairs for school. My dad was leaning against the fridge with his coffee. “Stomach bug. They all have it.”
“Ugh,” I said.
“Exactly. So you can’t stay there this weekend.” She looked at my dad. “What now?”
“She’s away at a meet,” I told them. “Left yesterday.”
My mom sighed. “Well, that’s that. Peyton, you go ahead, and I’ll stay here. It’s probably better this way, anyway.”
“No, no, hold on,” my dad said. “Let me think.”
“I’m seventeen,” I told them. “I can stay alone for a weekend.”
“That’s not happening,” my mom told me. “I think we all know well what a lack of supervision can lead to.”
Hearing this, I felt stung. I’d never done anything, not even skipped school. The last thing I deserved was to have the same old assumptions applied, but clearly, this wasn’t about me.
“Hold on,” my dad said, pulling out his phone and typing something as I got down a bowl and poured my cereal. I was just about to add milk when he said, “Done. It’s taken care of.”
I looked at him. Now I was an It. Nice. “How?”
He replied to my mom, not me. “Ames and Marla. They’ll be here at four, stay the whole weekend. He says it’s not a problem at all.”
“Oh, they don’t need to do that,” I said quickly. “I’m fine. I mean, I’ll be fine.”
“Ames and Marla?” My mom wrinkled her brow. “Oh, I hate to impose on them that way. He’s already going to Lincoln tomorrow.”
“He’s happy to do it, he says. And Marla’s got the whole weekend off.”
Oh, great. I’d heard Marla say a total of about ten words in the months I’d known her. Having her here would be no different, really, than Ames and I alone. I said, “Um, I actually have this new friend, Layla. I’m sure I could stay with her.”
They both looked at me. “A new friend? You haven’t mentioned that.”
“Well, I just met her. But—”
“I’m not sending you to stay with a family I don’t know at all, Sydney,” my mom said, shaking her head. “That could even be worse than staying by yourself.”
“Then I’ll just do that.”
“Ames and Marla are coming,” my dad said. His tone made it clear this negotiation was over. “Now, Sydney, eat your breakfast. You’re going to be late.”
Helpless, I sat down at the table as my dad walked over and kissed my mom on the forehead, then said something quietly to her that I couldn’t hear. She smiled, reluctantly, and I realized how long it had been since I’d seen her anything but barely coping or outright sad. And what would I tell her, anyway? That this person whom you count on and totally adore gives me the creeps—for no reason I could specifically say—and his girlfriend wouldn’t help matters? I’d sound crazy. Maybe I was.