Irv snapped his fingers, pointing at her. “I like the way you think.”
Mac, over at the sink, sighed. I watched him open a smaller cabinet, up high. Taped inside was a handwritten sign: MAC’S FOOD. DO NOT EAT!
“As if anyone would want to,” Layla, now eating strawberry frosting from a container with a spoon, said as she came over to stand beside me. Irv was at the toaster oven, laying out rows of Pop-Tarts on the rack inside. “We have mice, and they don’t even touch what’s up there.”
Mac, ignoring this, pulled out a box of crackers, then walked to the fridge, where he dug around for a minute before producing some kind of spread. He got a knife and took a seat at the kitchen table just as the music began again. When Layla went over to consult with Irv about toaster settings, I slid into a seat opposite him. He angled the now-open box in my direction.
“You don’t want that,” Layla called out. “Trust me. Hold out for the tarts with frosting.”
It seemed rude, however, to say no, so I reached in, pulling a cracker out. It was octagonal-shaped and dotted with seeds and grains. Mac watched me as I took a bite. It was so thick, my teeth barely cut through it. And dry. Very, very dry.
“Thanks,” I said, managing to get half the word out before being overcome by a coughing fit. In response, Layla plunked a glass of water by my elbow. The girl thought of everything.
“They’re better with hummus,” Mac told me as I tried to catch my breath. It was like that one piece of cracker was clinging to my esophagus with a death grip. He pushed the spread toward me, the knife balanced on top. “Here.”
I smiled, sucking down a sip of the water. Across the room, the toaster pinged. “Saved!” Irv said, opening the door. He reached in, immediately burning his fingers. “Shit, that’s hot.”
“You never learn, do you?” Layla grabbed a wooden spoon, then used it to pull the tarts out, piling them on a plate. “Grab the frosting. It’s go time.”
They settled at the table on either side of me. Layla tore off two paper towels, giving one to Irv, and then distributed a Pop-Tart to each of them, along with a healthy dollop of frosting. They each dipped, then toasted each other. I looked down at the remains of my cracker. Then, purely out of loyalty, I plunged it into the hummus.
It was better. Not good, mind you. But better. I only coughed a little. “What are these, again?” I asked Mac.
“Kwackers,” he told me, turning the box so I could read the label. “They’re sugar-free, low-carb, and fortified by additional Kwist Seeds, which are like soy, but healthier.”
“Yum.” Layla fixed me a paper towel plate and a tart, then pushed it toward me. “Don’t be a martyr, Sydney. Even for Mac.”
“Are those my Pop-Tarts?”
I looked up to see Rosie squeezing her way into the kitchen, two girls of her same build and size—one dark-haired, one white-blonde—following. The brunette had on leggings and a Mariposa sweatshirt, featuring the trademark pink butterfly character I remembered from the Saturday morning cartoons of my childhood. The blonde was in shorts and a crop top, displaying one of the most perfect sets of abs I’d ever seen.
“They didn’t have your name on them,” Layla replied. “But help yourself.”
Rosie walked over and took one, holding it out to her friends. When both of them shook their heads, she tore off a piece and dunked it in Mac’s hummus, then took a bite.
“Ugh,” Irv said.
“It’s actually not so bad,” Layla told him.
“You’ve tried that?”
“Desperate times, desperate measures.”
The brunette stepped out from behind Rosie, sticking her hand out to Mac. “I’m Lucy. And you are?”
“My brother,” Rosie said flatly as they shook. “He’s seventeen.”
“I love seventeen,” Lucy said, smiling.
“I’m Layla,” Layla said, offering her own hand. “I’m sixteen.”
Lucy shook, with visibly less enthusiasm. “Hi.”
The girl with the abs, for whatever reason, was not introduced, nor were the rest of us. I reached over to the box of Kwackers Mac was holding to take another one, and he moved it closer to me. This time, I was well aware that Layla, and everyone else, was watching.
“So we’re in your room tonight, just so you know,” Rosie told Layla, dipping the other half of her Pop-Tart in the frosting.
“What?” Layla asked.
“Mom said it was okay,” Rosie told her as the song wound down in the other room. There was a burst of laughter, some scattered applause.
“It’s not her room. And I have Sydney here.”
“You know I basically sleep in a closet. There’s not enough space for all three of us.”
“Where are we supposed to sleep?”
“The couch? I don’t know.”
“They’ll be out here all night, though.”
“Rosie!” Mr. Chatham called out from the living room. “Come back in here, gal, and sing us another one. For your dear old dad.”
Mac sighed. Irv said, “How many beers has he had?”
“Not as many as he will.” He got up, then held the box out to me one last time. I shook my head as Rosie turned, leaving the room with the blonde following. Lucy, however, lingered in the doorway, watching Mac as he reached up to put the Kwackers back in his cabinet. It was a stretch, and his shirt inched up, exposing his belt and a strip of his stomach. “You guys can take my room. I’ll sleep on the couch.”