I thought about it for a second. “Probably not, actually.”
He nodded, as if this was what he’d thought I would say.
“But I’m kind of used to being invisible,” I continued. “So any kind of attention makes me nervous.”
This was something I thought a lot but had never said aloud. It was the first time, but far from the last, that I understood being with Mac had this particular effect on me. Before I could regroup, he spoke.
“You? Invisible?” He glanced at me, then turned on his blinker. “Seriously?”
“What?” I asked.
“I just . . . I never would have thought of you that way, is all.”
As he said this, I caught a glimpse of myself in the side mirror and wondered how, exactly, I did appear to him. “Well,” I said, “you don’t know my brother.”
We were at a light now, slowing to a stop. “Big personality, huh?”
I looked out the window, this time making a point not to see my own face. “He just . . . When he’s around, he fills the view. You can’t look anywhere else. I feel that way about him, too.”
“Sometimes it’s preferable to not be seen, though,” he said. “Before I lost the weight, people either stared or made a concentrated effort not to look at me. I preferred the second option. Still do.”
I thought of all those girls at the gym window watching him. How strange it must be to go from looking one way to such a vastly different other. For the attention to change and still not feel better. Maybe the invisible place wasn’t all bad, all the time.
“I think,” I said, “that the best would be somewhere in between. You know, to be acknowledged without feeling targeted.”
“Yeah,” he said as the light changed. “I’d take that.”
A car pulled suddenly in front of us, and Mac hit the horn. The lady behind the wheel shot us the finger. Nice.
“I still can’t believe that was you in the pictures I saw,” I said. “Did you really just lose the weight with diet and exercise?”
“A strict diet,” he said. “You tried those Kwackers. They were my dessert. And lots of exercise.”
“Like wandering in the woods.”
He shot me a look, then smiled, stretching his fingers over the wheel. “It was a free workout and right outside the back door. No excuses. Whenever I had time, I just went into the woods. I brought my GPS and tracked the route, so I knew how far I’d gone.”
I thought of the map I’d seen on his bedroom wall, the pencil marks. Tracing his way, out and back. “And you found the carousel.”
“That was a good day. I just rounded a corner, and there it was. For a long time I didn’t tell anyone about it, not even Layla. But eventually, it was too good a secret to keep.”
Good secrets, I thought. What a novel idea. “I miss exploring the woods. My brother and I used to do it so much.”
“It’s not like it’s gone anywhere,” he pointed out.
“True.” I thought of Peyton, ahead of me, leaves crunching beneath our feet. “It just feels different now. Scarier.”
I nodded, then looked at his pendant. “Maybe I need a patron saint. Of wanderers. Or woods.”
“I’m sure they exist,” he told me. “They have them for everything. Boilermakers, accountants. Divorce. You name it.”
“You’re an expert, huh?”
“My mom is.” He sat back as we hit another light. “She always liked the idea of protection, but especially since she got sick. I’m not wholly convinced. But I figure it can’t hurt, you know?”
Sometimes, this was the best you could hope for. Not an advantage or a penalty, but the space between. “Yeah,” I said. “I do.”
Back at our meeting spot, Layla had still not shown up, so we parked by the curb to wait, Mac undoing the pliers to kill the engine.
“Thanks, by the way,” I said to him after a minute. “For bringing me along.”
“You like running deliveries?”
I turned to face him. “I do, actually.”
“Yeah.” I paused, looking down at my hands. “It’s something about seeing all these people in their separate places. Like little snapshots of the whole world as it’s happening, simultaneously. Is that weird, to think of it like that?”
Straight-faced, he said, “Yes. Very.”
“Nice,” I told him.
“I’m kidding, I’m kidding.” He reached over, touching my wrist, his fingers the slightest weight there. “I get what you’re saying.”
“But you think it’s crazy, drawing some deep symbolism from pizza delivery.”
“A little,” he admitted. I made a face. “But I kind of like it. Makes the job seem more noble, or important, or something.”
“I’m such a moron,” I said, yet again speaking aloud a thought I had so much, it had worn a groove in my brain.
“Nah,” he said, tightening his fingers on my wrist. “You’re not.”
For a moment, we just looked at each other. It was late afternoon in the fall, the sky the pretty pink you only see right before sunset, like the day is taking a bow. I was in a new place, with someone I didn’t know that well, and yet it felt like the most natural thing in the world, another groove already worn, to lean forward as he did until we were face to face, his fingers still gripping my arm. Then Spence and Layla pulled up beside us.