“They’re very hungry,” she said, reaching for it.
He pulled it back, out of her reach. “We’re running a restaurant here, not a dating service.”
“It’s an order, and I’m a professional. It needs to be delivered!”
He just looked at her. “Then I’ll do it. You’re done for the day.”
“Mac,” she protested, but I could tell he wasn’t budging. “We’ll see what Dad says.”
With that, she went inside. Mac said, “At least tell me the guy is her age.”
“He is,” I told him. I glanced at my watch. “You know, I can deliver that on my way home. Save you a trip.”
“No,” he said.
“It’s my neighborhood,” I said. “And he’s already had two chances to kill us, if that’s what he really wanted.”
He raised his eyebrows. “That’s how you’re selling it? Really?”
“Just give me the pizza.”
After hesitating another moment, he pulled a pen from his back pocket, then scribbled something on the back of the ticket. “My number,” he said. “You text when you’re leaving. Got it?”
He handed me the warmer and watched as I put it on the floor in the backseat. Then I went in to say good-bye to Layla, who was pouting at a table, a strawberry YumYum in her mouth. She cheered up a bit when I handed over her half of the tips.
“We’ll really hit it hard next time,” I told her. “Big money.”
“Yeah, yeah,” she said, waving her lollipop at me. “Whatever.”
Back in the Arbors, I rang the bell, then waited for the door to open. When it did, it was the same guy, although he’d changed his shirt into a nicer button-down and put on shoes. When he saw me, he made no effort to hide his disappointment.
“Fifteen-oh-nine with tax,” I said, keeping my voice cheerful anyway. “Thanks for your business.”
He glanced at me, then pulled yet another twenty from his pocket. “Your friend,” he said. “What’s her name?”
I shook my head. “I can’t.”
He thought for a minute. “Okay. But if she wonders if I was asking about her”—he scribbled a number on the flap of the box, a name beneath it, then ripped it off—“give her this.”
I didn’t agree or say no outright. I just took it and went back to my car, where I texted Mac.
Leaving now, I told him. Alive and well.
I was pulling up to my own house when he replied. She wants to know if he asked for her number.
I thought for a second, trying to figure out where my loyalties lay in this situation. Then I typed No, which was not a lie. And waited. My phone beeped. This time, it was Layla.
Did he give you his for me?
I smiled. As tricky as I thought I was, she was again one step ahead. If I had to be behind, though, there was no one else I’d rather follow.
A beep. A row of smiley faces filled my screen, then another. But it was Mac’s text I was focused on as I cut my engine. ADD TO CONTACTS? my phone was asking, as it did whenever an unknown number came in. It felt like a leap of faith, or even an assumption. But as I typed in his name and hit SAVE, I looked back at those rows of faces and smiled, too.
HIS NAME was Mason Albert Spencer, but everyone called him Spence. He’d just moved to Lakeview and went to W. Hunt Academy, the military school just outside town. When he officially became Layla’s boyfriend, everything began to change.
Well, not everything. We still hung out at lunch every day, as well as at Seaside after school. Spence had a packed extracurricular schedule in the afternoon, so he could only see Layla on weekends, and even then he had a tight curfew. At first, I’d just assumed he was like so many other kids in the Arbors, where the number of activities you participated in reflected the money available to do them. And Spence’s stepfather, a plastic surgeon, could afford just about anything. Pretty soon, though, I began to recognize certain aspects of Spence that gave me pause. I didn’t want to say anything to Layla, though. She was just so happy.
“He’s just the sweetest,” she told me one day as we sat in our customary booth, only crusts left of our pizza slices between us. Her phone, which had always been close at hand, was now our permanent third. She checked it constantly, hopeful for even the smallest missive. “I mean, he’s, like, chivalrous. Who’s like that? And did I tell you the way he eats his French fries?”
She had: with mustard, using a knife and fork. Based on that alone, they were clearly meant for each other. Unfortunately, there were other facts, too.
Like that W. Hunt was his third school in three years. He’d ended up there only after leaving two separate boarding schools. He told Layla that things “just hadn’t worked out,” but it sounded a bit too much like Peyton’s history for my comfort. Plus, he volunteered several hours a week—at the senior center, an animal shelter, and a local after-school program—more than even Jenn, the most altruistic person I knew. Sure, maybe he had a big heart and wanted to give back. But I knew mandatory community service when I saw it.
And then there was his charm. I’d seen a glimpse of it that first day on his doorstep, but the second time we crossed paths, when he met us at Frazier Bakery one afternoon, it was in full force. Anyone else seeing him arrive wearing a big smile and carrying flowers would have probably been just as tickled as Layla was. But I knew what that mix of confidence and entitlement looked like.
“You,” she said as he slid in beside her, handing over the flowers with a flourish, “are crazy.”