“Is she around?”
“On her way. Five minutes or so.”
I looked at my mom, who was silently taking in the dark décor, plastic tables, and black-and-white pictures lining the walls. “Mom, this is Mac,” I told her. “Layla’s brother.”
“Nice to meet you,” he said, wiping a hand on a nearby towel and extending it. My mom reached over the counter, and they shook. “Can I get you guys something?”
My mom squinted at the menu. “How are the salads?”
“Not as good as the pizza,” he replied.
At this, she smiled. “They never are, are they?”
I shot him a grateful look, wondering how much Layla had told him. Is your dad at Seaside? I’d texted her earlier. Mom wants a face to the overnight.
Noon, she’d replied. Don’t worry. We clean up well.
Texting was always weird when it came to tone, and seeing this, I wondered if I’d offended her. When she walked through the back door ten minutes later, though, I knew right off I shouldn’t have worried.
“Hey,” she said. She was in a wingy, patterned skirt and a white T-shirt, her hair pulled back in a ponytail, flip-flops on her feet. In her hand, glistening, was a cotton candy YumYum. Her dad was behind her, carrying a couple of shopping bags. She walked up to my mom and stuck out her hand. “Finally, we meet. I’m Layla.”
“Well, hello,” my mom said, shaking her hand. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“Hopefully all good.” Layla looked at me. “Although I bet it was mostly food-related.”
“Layla loves French fries,” I explained to my mom. “And lollipops.”
“All the components of a healthy diet,” Layla said cheerfully. As she turned, looking at her dad, I could see my mom sizing her up, and wondered how she saw her. No fancy labels on her clothes, a worn purse not from this season or probably even the last. That lollipop. “Hey, Dad. Come here a second.”
Mr. Chatham emerged from behind the counter, tying an apron around his waist. “You must be Sydney’s mother,” he said to my mom. “Mac Chatham.”
“Julie Stanford. You and your son have the same name?” my mom said, shaking his hand.
“Family tradition,” he explained. “My dad was Macaulay as well.”
“It’s the same with my husband, his father, and Sydney’s brother. Three Peytons. When they’re all in the same room, confusion reigns.”
“I can usually tell which one my wife is yelling at by her tone,” he told her. “I get a bit more leeway, due to the marriage factor. But not much.”
“You have other children?”
“One. Rosie. She’s two years older than this one,” he said, cocking his thumb at Mac.
“She does competitive ice skating,” I added. “She toured with the Mariposa show.”
“Really?” my mother said. “How impressive. You must be so proud.”
“Until the drug bust,” Layla said. “Since then, not so much.”
Mr. Chatham just looked at her, while my mom, clearly surprised, struggled to get her expression back under control. I closed my eyes.
“Anyway,” Layla continued, “did you guys get everything you need? Drinks? Garlic knots?”
“We’re fine,” I told her. “I can’t wait for Mom to try your pizza.”
“I’ll make sure you get an extra big piece,” Mr. Chatham said, turning back to the counter. “Nice to meet you, Julie.”
“And you as well!” she replied. She sat back down as Layla followed him back behind the counter, turning to look at me. When they were out of earshot, she said in a low voice, “Drugs?”
“Rosie had an injury that led to some legal issues with prescriptions,” I explained, watching her face carefully. Before Peyton’s troubles, the judgment would have been automatic, almost a reflex. Now, however, she didn’t have that option unless she wanted to risk looking like a hypocrite. It was clever of Layla, I realized, to expose our common denominator right off the bat, letting her know that for all the differences, we did share something. “She’s getting back into skating now. I watched her practice the other day.”
“You did?” she said.
I nodded. “She was pretty amazing.”
Mac appeared beside us, carrying two plates of pizza. “One pepperoni, one roma,” he said, putting them down. “Anything else?”
“Not right now, I don’t think,” I told him. “Thanks.”
He nodded, then returned to the register, where Layla was now leaning against the counter, YumYum in her mouth, watching us. Her dad said something and she nodded, then replied, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear.
“Wow,” my mom said, dabbing at her mouth with a napkin. “That is good.”
“Told you,” I said.
She glanced up at the picture beside us, which was of a boardwalk lined with games of chance, the sea visible in the distance. “I’m curious about the name. Not much coast around here.”
“I think it came from up north, from another place her granddad owned,” I said.
She nodded, then stopped chewing, cocking her head to one side. “Is that a banjo I hear?”
“Bluegrass,” I said. “It’s all that’s on the jukebox.”
For a moment, we ate in silence. The phone rang behind the counter. Mac took an order. Mr. Chatham disappeared into the office. Meanwhile, the sun slanted in the front window, making little bits of dust on the table beside us dance.