“That’s one word for it.” He put the clock back down, then got to his feet. “You have everything you need?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Thanks.”
He nodded, stepping carefully over Layla, who was now snoring slightly. As he put his hand on the knob, I heard myself say, “You can stay, if you want. Until she goes to bed. It is your room, after all. I’m fine on the floor.”
I realized, too late, how this might sound: now I was the girl making the strong move. When Mac turned, though, he looked relieved. “I’ll take the floor.”
As he grabbed a blanket from the closet and spread it out on the carpet, I got back into the bed, pulling up the covers. With Layla smack in the middle of the room, there was no real space other than parallel to where I was. Still, he left as big a gap as he could, even though it meant basically resting his head against the desk.
“You want this pillow?” I asked him as he shifted, trying to get some headroom.
“No, you keep it.”
“I don’t need it. And you are on the floor.”
“I’m fine.” He shifted again, and I heard a clunk. “Ouch.”
I snorted, and then laughed outright.
“Oh, that’s nice,” he said. “Mock my pain.”
“I’m trying to give you your pillow.”
“I don’t need it.” Another clunk. “Crap.”
I sat up, grabbing his pillow and launching it at him. It hit him right in the face. Whoops. “Sorry,” I said. “I—”
Before I could finish, it was coming right at me, at twice the speed I’d thrown it. I ducked, and it bounced off the wall, hitting the clock, which immediately projected the time back on the ceiling, bright as day.
“See what you did?” he said.
“It’s two fifteen a.m.,” I replied, launching it back at his head. “Time to take your pillow.”
Suddenly, there was a soft knock on the door, and we both went silent. A moment later, it opened, a slant of light spilling in. “Mac?” a voice said. Lucy. “Hello?”
I closed my eyes. For a moment, all I could hear was Layla breathing. Then the door shut with a click.
Still, we were silent for a full two minutes, according to the clock. I was beginning to think that maybe he was asleep, somehow, when the pillow hit me square in the face.
“I’m not throwing it back,” I whispered. “You’ve officially forfeited it now.”
“I never wanted it in the first place.”
“Just go to sleep before she comes back,” I told him.
“You’re the one talking.”
I felt myself smile widely in the dark. It was 2:22 a.m. “Good night, Mac.”
“Good night, Sydney. Sleep well.”
This, however, seemed impossible at that moment, with him only an arm’s length or so away. So I was surprised when I jerked awake at 4:32 from a deep, thick dream, the details of which disappeared the moment I opened my eyes. I blinked, then rolled over, taking in Layla, still curled up, and then Mac, who’d shifted away from the desk and now lay on his side, one hand stretched in my direction. He was sound asleep, I knew, and not at all aware of this. What you do in your dreams is never your choice. But it made me happy anyway.
I THOUGHT I’d dodged the bullet of Family Day at Lincoln. A couple of weeks later, however, another issue arose. Just my luck.
“I have great news,” my mother announced at dinner one evening. Suddenly, it all made sense: the way she’d been humming to herself while she set the table, the extra cheerful manner in which she questioned me about my day at school. “We’re going to get to see Peyton. All of us, together.”
“Really?” my dad said.
She nodded. Clearly, she wanted to draw this out: it was that good. “I got a call today. He’s finished his first course, and there’s going to be a graduation ceremony, with all family invited.”
From the way she said it, so proud, you would have thought he was getting an Ivy League diploma, not a certificate from a prison program that was, in fact, mandatory. But that was my mom. When it came to Peyton, all she needed was a glimmer of good to extrapolate to outstanding.
“This is the civics course?” my dad asked, helping himself to more bread.
“Civics and Law.” She took a sip of her wine. “It’s such a great thing. He’s really learned a lot, and now that he’s done, he can pick other classes. There’s quite a variety, actually. Michelle says Lincoln is good that way. The warden really believes in the importance of on-site learning.”
“When is this happening?” my dad asked.
“The end of November,” she replied. “I’m thinking we’ll drive up the night before and stay at that hotel that’s right nearby. That way we won’t have to leave at the crack of dawn.”
“But I have school,” I said automatically.
For the first time all day, my mother’s cheeriness waned. “You can miss one day. This is important, Sydney.”
End of discussion. My father glanced at me, as if maybe he might speak up, but then returned to eating. And so the countdown began.
Plans were made, two hotel rooms booked. One for me and my mom, and one for my dad and Ames, who was of course coming along. My mother, in her networking mode, reached out to some other Lincoln families with “graduates” (as she insisted on calling them) to coordinate a potluck of desserts and coffee for after the ceremony. Just like that, she was back in her comfort zone. She was so busy, in fact, that she hardly noticed that I was spending just about every afternoon at Seaside. Which was fine with me.