“And he’s a gentleman, too,” Lucy said.
“Down, girl,” Layla said. Lucy, either not hearing this or ignoring it, finally left. She was walking entirely too slowly, as far as I was concerned.
“Ugh,” Layla said as Rosie began singing again. “Those Mariposa girls are all so gross, I swear. If all those little girls who buy tickets only knew.”
“They’re not all bad,” Mac said, shutting the cabinet.
Layla rolled her eyes, but said nothing as Rosie’s voice, which had been quiet at first, began to soar, filling the living room and then our ears. This song had a quicker pace, more of something you’d dance to. Mrs. Chatham, in her chair, was flushed and smiling, tapping her foot, as the woman playing the violin closed her eyes, the bow slashing back and forth across the strings. It seemed amazing to me that one night could hold so much, from a merry-go-round to a Pop-Tart with frosting to the most beautiful singing I’d ever heard. I thought of my own house, across town. Perched on a hill, all lights off except those in use, with just my parents and myself bumping around its large space.
Rosie’s voice was rising now, the violin player going even faster. Someone was stamping his feet, and my own cheeks felt hot. It was amazing to feel so at home in a place I’d only just come to. The night was not even close to over yet. Still, I could think of nothing but how I so very much did not want it to end.
* * *
“Just so you know,” Layla said, stretching a sheet across the bed, “this was not what I had in mind when I invited you over.”
It was about two hours later, and we were in Mac’s room. After listening to the music for a while, we’d gone out to the garage, where Layla had roused Eric, then made him walk a few laps around the house to sober up before Irv drove him home.
“It’s been great,” I told her.
“I don’t know about that.” She slid the pillow into a fresh case, then plumped it. “It’s so typical that Rosie just takes over my room. She gets whatever she wants.”
“I really don’t mind sleeping on the couch,” I said.
“No way. You are a guest. Mac will be fine there.” She turned, picking up one of the two sleeping bags we’d brought in from the garage and shaking it out of its sack.
I sat down on the bed—Mac’s bed, I realized belatedly, which made it feel different suddenly. As she spread a blanket over the sleeping bag, I looked around the room. It was small, with a twin bed and bureau, both made of the same well-worn yellow wood. Two car posters—one Audi, one BMW—were up on the wall, along with a map of what looked like Lakeview, dotted with pencil marks. On a metal desk, dinged with dents, there sat a computer, speakers, and a row of books, mostly about running and exercise. At the far end, there were several clock radios, all in different stages of disrepair: some were missing knobs, another the glass screen, and one had several springs poking out of it, as if it had exploded.
“He’s kind of a mad scientist,” Layla said. I looked at her, and she nodded at the desk. “Or maybe not mad. Just curious. He likes to see how things work.”
“Where did he get all the radios?’
“Yard sales,” she replied, plumping her pillow. “Thrift stores. The same places my mom gets all the stuff she collects. Get dragged along enough and you’ll find something you’re into. It’s inevitable. With Mac, it’s Frankenstuff.”
“That’s my word for it,” she explained. “He calls it improving on design. Like you can take anything and make it work better. You just have to figure out what it needs and add it on. See that clock?”
I looked where she was pointing, on the bedside table by my elbow. There sat a clock radio that, at first glance, I’d assumed was totally normal. Now that I looked more closely, though, I saw it had been retrofitted with a large circular lens that pointed straight upward, as well as a small keypad attached to the back. “Yeah,” I said slowly.
“It was great, except it always reset itself, and he wanted to have it reflect the time on the ceiling. He had another one that did that, but never brightly enough to see. So he combined them, added a custom time-setting apparatus—”
“His words,” she explained. “Anyway, that’s the final result. Time always right and bright as hell overhead. I told you—he’s a freak.”
I looked back at the clock, taking in the careful, neat attachment of the keypad, how the projection lens looked like it belonged there. “He’s good at it, though.”
“I know. He should totally be an engineer or build airplanes or something,” she replied. “Too bad he has a pizza future instead.”
I blinked, surprised. “What do you mean?”
“Seaside.” She adjusted the blanket, pulling it a bit to the right. “As far as my dad’s concerned, Mac will take it over, just like Dad did from my grandpa. Don’t need college to toss dough.”
“So he won’t go?”
“Doubt it.” She looked over at the desk again, all those broken pieces. “It stinks, right? That’s why I’m always telling him I should take over the business. I’m the logical choice, you know? Rosie will hopefully have her skating thing, and I’ll be thrilled when school is over. But Mac’s different. He’s always been the smart one.”
I thought of Mac, always with a textbook beside him at lunch, or while he—yes—tossed dough at Seaside. It seemed crazy to me that someone curious and driven enough to vastly improve on basic alarm clock design wouldn’t have a chance to go to college and learn how to do it on a bigger, better scale. From the start, I’d known the Chathams were different from my family. But the proof just kept coming.