“Nobody asked you,” Layla told him.
“Doesn’t matter. It’s not safe,” he replied. “You’ll be walking up to people’s houses, strange apartments . . .”
“But Sydney and I will be together,” she told him. I blinked—I had not realized I was involved. “And we’ll leave you the runs to sketchy neighborhoods.”
“What if all the calls are from bad neighborhoods?”
“Then we probably need to rethink our marketing, wouldn’t you say?” She turned back to her dad. “You said yourself deliveries are up, especially on the weekends with game days. We can help. Keep it in the family. And I need to start getting more experience here at the shop if I’m going to do it full-time after I graduate.”
Hearing this, Mac looked up. “Nobody’s talking about that happening, as far as I know.”
“Which is exactly why we should be,” Layla replied without missing a beat. “It’s pretty sexist to just assume a girl can’t move into a leadership position, don’t you think?”
“Leadership?” Mr. Chatham said. “I thought we were talking about delivering pizzas.”
“We were talking about the business.” Layla sighed. “The bottom line is, you need more delivery help. I need hands-on experience. It’s a win-win.”
Mr. Chatham rubbed a hand over his face. He hadn’t said no yet, but he was clearly a ways from agreeing. “If I were to consider the delivery thing—”
“You shouldn’t,” Mac said.
“—there would have to be some rules, for sure.”
Layla, sensing victory anyway, shot me a grin. “Like I said, we’d always be together. And we’d both go up to the door, every time.”
Her dad mulled this over as Mac, shaking his head, spread some sauce on an empty crust. “I could see offices,” Mr. Chatham said finally. “And maybe some residential areas on weekends, during the daytime. But not evenings, and no apartment complexes.”
“Oh, Daddy, that’s great! Thank you!”
“But,” he said loudly, holding up a hand, “Mac trains you first, and we have a trial run on Saturday, during the game, with no promise of a commitment on my part. Understood?”
“Yes,” Layla told him solidly. Then she kicked me under the table so I’d say it, too.
And so it was decided. Our training happened two days later, on Thursday evening. I told my mom I was going over to Jenn’s, assuming she might not be thrilled to know I was taking on a job, much less this one. I’d really only agreed for Layla’s sake, so I was surprised to discover how much I enjoyed it.
I couldn’t say why, exactly. We were with Mac: there was nothing not to like about that, at least for me. Since the night I’d stayed over, we’d definitely been more friendly with each other, although I could sense he felt it important to keep our distance when we were around Layla. I had not forgotten the way she’d talked so angrily about Kimmie Crandall dating, then dumping him. I didn’t want to break any rules, although it was difficult when you weren’t certain what they were.
It wasn’t just Mac, though. As he went over the various rules and procedures in substantial detail, Layla—despite her leadership aspirations—got bored immediately. I, however, was intrigued by the whole idea of the delivery business. There was something about going up to strangers’ houses, getting a glimpse of another place and the lives within it, that appealed to me. Maybe it was because I felt that for so long, people had been outside my family, peering in. It was nice, for once, to be on the other end of things.
At our first stop, the guy answered the door in his bathrobe. It was dark in the living room behind him, the only light coming from two TVs set to the same channel and a row of laptops lined up on the coffee table. He squinted at us and the light like a mole, as if it hurt him, before paying and taking the pie wordlessly, then shutting the door in our faces.
At the next stop, we interrupted a teenage Bible study and were greeted at the door by a beaming girl with braces, who invited us in for a slice and some testimony. Even though we declined, she tipped generously. Jesus would have approved.
Then it was on to the Walker Hotel, where we sat out front with three large pies until the guest who’d made the order came down to retrieve them. (Mac explained that, because of its own room-service business, the Walker frowned on deliveries to the rooms themselves.) While we waited, he joked around with the red-shirted valets who were hanging around a key cabinet, shooting the breeze.
In just an hour, we’d seen all these little pieces of various lives, like a collage of Lakeview itself. Layla, still bored, spent most of the time on her phone, although she perked up at the hotel because the valets were cute. But when it was eight o’clock and she had to get back to help with Mrs. Chatham, I sort of wished I could stick around.
Mac must have put a good spin on this experience, because we were allowed to go ahead with our trial run that weekend. On Saturday, just after eleven thirty a.m., Layla and I stood in the parking lot, waiting for him to bring out a magnetic sign for my car from the office. Ten minutes later, he still had not emerged.
“I swear, it’s like he’ll do anything to keep me from cutting into his tip profits,” Layla complained, adjusting her outfit—SEASIDE T-shirt, jeans, black motorcycle boots—for the umpteenth time. Thanks to her small-business book, she’d emphasized the importance of our “brand look.” As I did not have any motorcycle boots, I was wearing a pair of Rosie’s, which were easily a size too small. My brand, apparently, involved limping. “I’m trying to help him out in the long run, too, as far as college goes. You’d think he’d be happy to share the wealth.”