“Sydney?” she asked me suddenly. I looked up. “Everything okay?”
I met her eyes, saying nothing but wishing she would. That somehow, in the midst of all her grief and distraction, she might be able to finally see me, if not hear the words I couldn’t speak aloud.
A beat passed, then another. She was starting to look worried, the canyon finding its way onto her face again. From the open doorway, my dad was watching me, too.
“Yeah,” I told them. “I’m fine.”
THIS TIME at Seaside, I was sure of it. The music playing was bluegrass.
“You want another slice?”
I shook my head. Layla slid out from the booth where we were sitting, taking her plate with her. As she ducked behind the counter, grabbing a second piece to heat up, I walked over to the jukebox. It was the vintage kind, with actual typed titles and a slot to put in coins. Each selection was a quarter. The song currently playing was called “Rope Swing.”
“We call that thing the Dinosaur,” Layla said from behind me. A moment later, she was leaning on the glass. “My dad bought it at a flea market when he took over this place from my grandfather.”
“So pizza runs in the family,” I said.
“Not exactly. My mom’s the Italian one. Daddy’s family is from the mountains,” she said. “But when he married in, it was understood he’d take over Seaside eventually. He wanted to make it more his own, though; hence the Dinosaur. That’s when the music rule started.”
“Nothing but bluegrass during business hours.” She shook her head. “We have tried everything to talk reason into him. I mean, this place is called Seaside Pizza. Bluegrass is mountain music. It’s totally incongruous.”
“It’s pretty, though,” I said as “Rope Swing” went into another chorus.
“Oh, it’s great. I mean, it’s the first thing I learned to play. It’s just not exactly what teenagers want to listen to after school. And since we’re always trying to get more business, it’s kind of ridiculous.”
“You play music?”
She nodded, still looking at the song choices. “It’s the only thing my dad’s into other than cars and work. He taught me the banjo when I was seven.”
“You play banjo?”
“You say it like I said I do brain surgery or castrate elephants,” she said, and laughed.
“It’s just pretty impressive.”
She shrugged. “I like singing better. But Rosie’s the one with the voice.”
With this, she turned on her heel, going back behind the counter. Mac was back there as well, working some dough in his hands with one of his textbooks open on the counter in front of him, while his dad chopped peppers, facing the window. It was only my third time or so after school at Seaside, but I’d already learned enough of the routine to feel comfortable there. Which was why I’d made a point of coming today. I planned to stay as long as I possibly could.
I’d gone to school at seven forty-five that morning. At lunch, I checked my voice mail to find a message my mom had left as she and my dad drove to the airport an hour or so earlier. She told me their flight was on time, that she’d have her phone with her all weekend, and I should call if I needed anything at all. But I didn’t know what I needed, only what I absolutely did not: to be stuck with Ames (and silent, shrinking Marla) for the entire weekend.
I’d had a pit in my stomach all day, trying to figure out how to be gone as long as possible. There was school, at least, and then I’d go meet Layla at Seaside, where she went every day after the final bell until deliveries starting coming in and Mac could drop her at home. I could stay until at least six or so, getting home with only a couple of hours left before I could reasonably go to bed. Saturday, I planned to slip out early and stay gone all day, using an excuse I hadn’t formulated yet. That was as far as I’d gotten.
I slid back into the booth opposite Layla, who was now digging into her second slice. Unlike fries, her pizza she consumed in a somewhat normal way, folding it in half like a taco and proceeding from tip to crust. For such a small, lithe person, she could eat a lot, I was noticing. In contrast, I’d never seen Mac sample a single thing at Seaside, which had to require a huge amount of self-control. The only reason I’d turned down a second slice was that dread was taking up much of my stomach.
As I thought this, my phone beeped. I pulled it out of my purse. The text was from Ames, whose number my mom had insisted I add to my contacts before leaving for school that morning.
Just got here. What’s your ETA? Cooking you dinner!
I looked up at Layla. She was dabbing her mouth with a napkin, half the slice already devoured. “Nothing. Just a text from . . . My parents are out of town.”
“So they’re checking in?”
She went back to eating, and I wondered why I didn’t tell her what was going on. Nothing had surprised her so far; this probably wouldn’t, either. But I liked Layla, and felt lucky that learning about Peyton hadn’t changed how she felt about me. Adding on another layer of weirdness, though, might do just that.
An hour or so, I wrote back. You don’t have to cook.
I hit SEND. In seconds, he’d replied.
I want to.
I stuffed my phone back in my bag, turning off the ringer. As I did, I felt a rush of new anger toward my brother. There had been so many ripple effects of his bad choices, but this one was mine alone to deal with. Thanks a lot.