At first, this fact just did not compute. It was like I’d dreamed or conjured him, except for the throwing-up part. Gingerly, he stepped aside as Jenn puked again, then looked at me, raising his eyebrows.
“Hi,” I managed to say over Jenn’s retching. “What’s up?”
He gave me a flat look. “You ordered pizza?”
“I didn’t,” I said. Now he looked confused. “I mean, they did. Or this girl here did. I didn’t realize . . .”
“Sydney,” Jenn moaned, then slid down into a heap on the steps by his feet. “Help.”
“Excuse me,” I said to Mac, shooting him an apologetic look as I shut the door behind me, then came out and crouched down next to Jenn. I ran a hand over her matted hair, then explained, “It’s her birthday.”
“Oh.” He cleared his throat. “Um, happy birthday.”
At this, she slumped into me. Before I knew what was happening, her head was in my lap, legs curled up against the railing. I just sat there, not sure what to do. A moment later, she was snoring.
I looked up at Mac. “I’ll . . . I’ve got money in my pocket. What do I owe you for the pizza?”
I figured he’d be more than relieved to tell me, get paid, and be on his way, as I could not imagine a more unpleasant scenario to stumble into. Instead, setting what I did not yet realize would be a precedent, Mac surprised me.
“Let’s get her inside first,” he said. “The last thing you want is neighbors seeing this.”
He had a point. The houses on Jenn’s street were close together, and all the ones across the way still had lights on. “You don’t have to help me,” I told him. “Really.”
To this he said nothing, instead just holding out the pizza warmer to me. I took it, not sure what was happening until he bent down, scooping Jenn up in his arms. Her head flopped against his shoulder, and she stirred slightly, but then she was out again. “Lead the way,” he said.
I did. Through the front door, where I put down the warmer on a side table, and then up the stairs and down the hall to Jenn’s dark room. As I flicked on the light, stepping inside, it occurred to me that of all the ways I’d thought this night might end, me in a bedroom with Mac Chatham was the very last one of them.
He, however, seemed pretty much at ease, as if he dumped unconscious strange girls into their beds on a regular basis. Which I could only hope he did not. Once Jenn hit the mattress, she groaned and curled into a ball, pressing her face into her pillow. I went over and took off her shoes.
“You’ll probably want to get her a glass of water,” he told me. “And a trash can, if there is one around.”
There was, and I got it, along with the water and a damp towel, which I put on her forehead. When all this was done, I stepped back beside Mac, who was just inside the doorway. “She never drinks,” I told him. “I don’t know what she was thinking.”
“She probably wasn’t,” he replied. “It happens. Especially on birthdays.”
“She’ll be okay, right?”
“Just needs to sleep it off.” I bit my lip, still worried. “Sydney. She’s fine.”
There was something in the way he said this, my name so familiar, the sentiment so confident and reassuring, that was more touching, actually, than anything else he’d done so far.
“Thank you,” I said to him. “Seriously. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t shown up.”
“All pizza guys have this kind of training. It’s required.”
I felt myself smile, right at him, before realizing this was the first time I’d talked to him alone since the day we’d first met. And I was talking to him, not blushing or stammering, at least so far. Who knew a night could end so far from where it started, even when you stayed in?
“I should let you go,” I said. “I’m sure they need you back for more deliveries, right?”
“This is the last one of the night, actually.” He reached up, scratching his temple. “But I do need to get home. I’m supposed to bring burgers and fries from Webster’s to Layla and my mom, and they’re serious when it comes to their food.”
“So I’m learning,” I said.
We stepped out into the hallway and I turned off Jenn’s light, easing the door shut behind us. Halfway down the stairs, we bumped into Margaret and Chris.
“Sydney?” she said, her eyes widening as she glimpsed Mac behind me. “What are you doing?”
Considering she was alone with the guy Jenn had clearly stated she was crushing on, in Jenn’s house, on her way to where there were only bedrooms, I wanted to ask her the same thing. Instead I said, “This is Mac. He’s a friend of mine from school.”
“A friend,” she repeated, drawing the word out. She looked at Chris. “And what were you two doing upstairs?”
“Checking on Jenn,” I told her, narrowing my eyes at her. “Just like you are. Right?”
“Right,” she said, not missing a beat. “Of course.”
I stepped around her, brushing past as I went down the stairs with Mac behind me. As he passed her, she noticed his T-shirt.
“Wait,” she said, turning around to look down at us. “Is this . . . Are you the pizza guy?”
She said this with a half laugh, her voice rising at the end. I’d already decided I disliked her, but it was only then that I felt a full-on bolt of rage. I was about to tell her where she could stick her pizza, in detail, but then Mac spoke first.