He knew he was already in trouble, but figured by waking up in his own bed he could maybe do some damage control. After all, his house was only two blocks away. It was about two a.m. when he climbed onto his bike and started the short trip through the dark streets. He was almost there when he saw the headlights.
“It was crazy,” he remembers. “Like, there were no cars, nowhere. And then all of a sudden one was right in front of me. And they weren’t stopping.”
He has no recollection of the accident itself, something his mother considers a blessing. His first memory is coming to on the curb and realizing his legs were twisted up behind him. Then, the pain.
I could hear his footsteps: my dad was coming back. Quickly, I shut the paper, pushing it away from me just before he rounded the corner into sight.
“How’s breakfast?” he asked.
I picked up my fork, forcing down a bite of eggs. “Good. Thanks. Where’s Mom?”
“She’s not feeling well,” he said, refilling his mug from the coffeemaker. “Went back to bed.”
My mom got up even earlier than my dad; she always brought the paper in and read it front to back. I could just see her, her own coffee at her elbow like always, turning the page to see that headline and picture. All over town, people were doing the same thing.
On my way to school, I was suddenly keenly aware of all the newspapers I saw in driveways and for sale by convenience stores and gas stations. Walking into school, I felt like everyone was staring at me, even though I had no idea if anyone at Jackson knew Peyton was my brother. During homeroom, while everyone chattered and laughed around me, ignoring the morning announcements, I pulled up the article on my phone.
TWO LIVES CONVERGE, the header for the next section read.
As far as anyone knew, Peyton Stanford was getting his life together. After a string of arrests for breaking and entering and drug possession, among other things, he’d completed a stay in rehab and had been sober for over a year. But on that February night, after an evening spent drinking and getting high, he climbed behind the wheel of his BMW sports car. Like David Ibarra, he was heading home.
The bell rang, loud as always, and I closed my eyes, suddenly feeling sick. All around me, people were gathering up their stuff and pushing toward the door, but I just sat there, the words blurring before me. It wasn’t until my teacher, Mrs. Sacher, said my name that I realized I was the only one left in the room.
“Sydney?” I looked up at her. She taught English and was young and nice, with a kind face and a tendency to belly laugh. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” I said, putting my phone in my backpack. “Sorry.”
For the rest of the morning, whenever I had a chance, I made myself read more of the article. During the few free minutes between the end of History and the bell. At my locker, when I had a short way to go from English to Calculus. By the time I got to lunch, I had only one paragraph to go.
There are times David is angry about what happened to him. When he can’t help but think how things could have been different. If he’d just stayed at his cousin’s house. If he’d left ten minutes earlier. It’s hard not to follow this line of thinking, and all the dark places it can lead him. But right now, he’s not doing that. Today is a good day.
“Here you go,” the guy behind the counter at the Great Grillers food truck said. I looked up to see him holding the bag with the sandwich I’d ordered. “Need anything else?”
I shook my head, suddenly sure that if I spoke, I might burst into tears. So instead I just took some deep breaths and walked over to where Layla and everyone else was sitting. The topic of conversation was band names, one that came up regularly during these discussions. Hey Dude’s new concept, Eric maintained, warranted a new moniker. But, of course, it had to be perfect.
“What about the Logan Oxford Experience?” Irv asked. “Like Hendrix, but not.”
Eric just looked at him. “That is so far away from what I’m talking about, I can’t even justify it with a response.”
Irv shrugged, hardly bothered. Layla said, “It should have something to do with boy bands, though. But with a twist.”
“No, no.” Eric sighed, as if our collective ignorance literally pained him. “What I need is a name that works with the wider concept, not a gimmick. Able to really explain the meaning, the irony, because people are clearly not getting it. I can’t have people thinking we’re just a retro cover band.”
“Then maybe you shouldn’t be playing covers of old songs,” Layla pointed out.
“It’s not about covers,” he told her. “It’s about the universal experience of mass consumption of music. How a song can remind you of something specific in your own life, like it belongs to you. But how personal can it really be if a million other people feel the same way about it? It’s like a fake meaning, on top of a manufactured meaning, divided by a true meaning.”
Silence. Then Irv said, “Dude. Did you take your Ritalin today?”
Over on his own bench, where he was cramming for a math test, Mac snorted and opened a stick of string cheese. Since the night he’d shown up at Jenn’s a week earlier, I’d had trouble forgetting that moment we’d stood with both our hands on that five-dollar bill. It, however, was a memory I liked to relive. Unlike the one currently in my head, which was canceling out more than my appetite.
“You okay?” Layla asked me. She nodded at my lunch, still in the bag. “You’re not eating.”
“Not hungry,” I told her.