“That was the last year she competed,” Layla said. She flipped to the next shot, which showed Mrs. Chatham, clearly in better health, posing with Layla, Rosie (who held a bouquet of roses), and a huge trophy. Off to the side was a heavyset guy in a shapeless sweatshirt and jeans, half cut off by the camera. At first I assumed he’d just stumbled into the picture accidentally. Then I realized.
“Is that . . .” I stopped, then picked up the phone, narrowing my eyes at it.
“Mac,” she finished for me. “Yeah. It is.”
I reached down, using my thumb and forefinger to enlarge that part of the photo until his face filled the screen. With a much heftier frame and a bad case of acne, he looked so different, I couldn’t quite believe it was the same person. But the eyes were identical, the hair with the lock tumbling over his forehead. “Wow. What did he—”
“Lost thirty pounds, for starters. And when he started eating better, his skin cleared up.” She picked up another fry. “Crazy, right? Sometimes I still see him in the hallway at home and wonder who he is.”
“I can’t believe he looked like that.”
“You would if you saw how he used to eat. The boy could consume. He was like Irv, but without the height, muscle, and football. And it was all junk.”
“I can’t even imagine that.” I was still staring at his face, wider, pockmarked. “What made him want to change?”
“Wouldn’t you?” she asked, nodding at the picture. She ate the fry. “Really, though, I think he finally just got sick of being the fat kid. It was what he’d been for as long as I can remember. Rosie was talented, I was cute. He was fat.”
This wasn’t news to me, how your entire life could come down to one word, and not of your choosing. I knew it better than anyone. Each time I was reminded, though, I wished that much harder it wasn’t the case. I said, “So how did he lose the weight?”
“He started by hiking in the woods. Then he moved up to jogging, and finally outright running. He’d get up before school and just disappear back there for hours. Still does, every single morning.”
“Just hearing him leave at five thirty a.m. makes me tired,” she said. “Plus he never eats, like, anything fun anymore. Just protein, veggies, and fruit. I wouldn’t last a day. Or even an hour.”
There was a shout from the ice, and we both looked back at Rosie, who had just landed a jump, apparently rather sloppily. Arthur shook his head, then barked something else, and she circled around, nodding, her hands on her hips.
“Ugh,” Layla said, wiping her fingers with a napkin. “I can’t take this, it’s too stressful. Before I know it I’ll be buying more of these awful fries just to cope.”
I smiled, then looked at my watch. It was five forty-five; I had to be home in fifteen minutes, which meant even if I left right that second I’d be pushing it. I was not looking forward to dinner and more discussion of Lincoln’s Family Day, however, so I stayed put long enough to see Rosie do a few spins, stumble once, and finally earn the slightest of approving smiles from Arthur, the sight of which caused Layla to audibly exhale.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” I told her, gathering up my stuff. “Sorry I can’t take you guys home.”
“It’s fine. Mac’s always somewhere nearby. And you’ve done more than enough.”
I smiled, then waved as I started down the steps to the exit. Before I pushed open the door to the lobby, I looked back just in time to catch Rosie doing her best jump yet, then sticking the landing and gliding on. It seemed like just the right note to depart upon, with everything perfect, at least for a second. I left before I could see anything else.
“YOU’RE HERE!” Jenn reached forward, grabbing my wrist and pulling me through the door with one big yank. “I am so, so happy to see you! It’s been ages!”
When she gave me a sloppy kiss on the cheek, though, I knew something was up. Jenn was a lot of things, but effusive wasn’t one of them.
“Hey,” I said as she began pulling me down the hallway. “What’s going on?”
“We are having so much fun,” she said. “Come on, you have to meet Margaret.”
Judging by the dragging, it was clear I didn’t have a choice in the matter, so I let her take me into the kitchen. There, I saw Meredith at the island, looking uneasy, while a dark-haired girl with her back to me dumped some ice in the blender.
“Sydney’s here!” Jenn, who also was not loud—ever—shouted. “And she needs a drink.”
“Of course she does,” Margaret said, turning around. She had long black hair tumbling over her shoulders, bright blue eyes, and a sprinkling of freckles. A pretty girl, with a kind of spark to her you saw right away. “And it’s a fresh batch, to boot. Let me get you a glass.”
It was when she moved aside, reaching up into a cabinet, that I saw the rum bottle. I looked back at Meredith, who had her own glass, which looked untouched. Two others on the island held only slushy dregs. “What are we drinking?”
“Piña coladas,” Jenn announced. “Margaret’s special recipe. And they are delicious.”
“The ice is key,” Margaret explained, pouring a glass, then topping off the two empty ones. “Most people don’t realize that.”
When she handed me my glass, I took it, but didn’t drink. “So your parents aren’t here?”
“No, they’re in the living room,” Jenn replied. I just looked at her. “I’m joking! Of course not. They’re out for the night. I told them we were going to Antonella’s for pizza and then watching movies.”