We jerked back from each other, just as she lowered her window. Immediately, I felt guilty, not knowing what she’d seen. But it was Layla who said, “Hey. I’m sorry.”
Spence smiled. “You must be Mac.”
Silence. Except for my heart, which was pounding in my chest and ears. But nobody else could hear that. I hoped.
“Isn’t his car awesome? It’s just like that one you’ve had your eye on,” Layla said to Mac, a bit too eagerly. When he didn’t reply, she sighed. “Look, it’s not his fault I didn’t tell you about him. I was just worried about how Daddy would react.”
“To keeping secrets and lying?” Mac asked. “I’m guessing not well.”
“Fine,” she said, throwing up her hands. “I’ll bring him to Seaside tomorrow, okay? Will that make you happy?”
“It’s not about me,” Mac said. Then, “We should go. Mom’s waiting.”
Layla looked back at Spence, then at us. “Let me just say good-bye, okay?”
Before he could respond, they’d pulled up and parked alongside the curb in front of us. As time passed, I could only imagine what was happening behind the tinted windows. Mac, looking equally uncomfortable, picked at a loose stitch on the steering wheel. Had I really just almost kissed him? It seemed unreal now, like something I’d dreamed. Or, if not, the best secret of all.
“Well,” I said finally, “I should get home, too, I guess.”
“You want a ride?”
“Nah. It’s only a block or so.” I opened the door. “Thanks for taking me along, seriously. It was fun.”
“Anytime,” he said. I smiled, then hopped out. As I shut the door and started to walk away, I heard him say, “Hey. Sydney.”
“You had on a shirt with mushrooms on it, and your hair was pulled back. Silver earrings. Pepperoni slice. No lollipop.”
I just looked at him, confused. Layla was walking toward us now.
“The first time you came into Seaside,” he said. “You weren’t invisible, not to me. Just so you know.”
I didn’t know what to say. I just stood there as Spence drove off, beeping the horn, and Layla climbed in where I’d been sitting. “Let’s go,” she told Mac, then looked at me. “See you tomorrow?”
Mac cranked the engine, and our eyes met again. Layla was digging in her bag, already distracted, so she didn’t notice that it was to him, and really only him, that I replied. “Yeah. See you then.”
I TRIED to stay away from Mac. I really did. But it was hard when Layla was always pushing us together.
“I just feel bad,” she said at Seaside one afternoon about a week after she’d brought Spence to meet her dad and, in doing so, made their relationship official. He wasn’t volunteering in the afternoons as much anymore—Layla claimed he’d overcommitted and decided to ease back, but I wondered if he’d just served out his hours—so I saw her only on days he had other obligations. “I never wanted to be the girl who dumps her best friend for her boyfriend.”
“You haven’t dumped me,” I said. “We’re here now, aren’t we?”
She nodded, then picked up a piece of her pizza crust, considering it for a moment before returning it to her plate. “But when I’m not, you can ride along with Mac. He said you liked doing that.”
“Layla.” I put down my pencil. “You don’t have to arrange babysitting for me. I’m fine.”
“I know, I know,” she said, putting her hands up. “I just—”
There was a beep as her phone lit up. She scanned the screen, smiling, then typed a response. Funny how just a couple of words from someone could make you so happy. But I got it, especially lately.
Since Mac had told me he remembered seeing me for the first time, something was different. Before, the thought that we might get together was a far-fetched fantasy, the most ludicrous of daydreams. But now, with Layla immersed in Spence, us hanging out more, and what had almost happened in the truck, there was a sense of inevitability about it. No longer if, just when.
* * *
“That’s twenty-six forty-two, charged to your card,” I said to the frazzled-looking woman in the doorway wearing sweatpants and a rumpled cardigan. Behind her, several children were jumping on the couch in front of a TV showing cartoons.
Wordlessly she reached out for the two pizzas I was holding. As I gave them to her and she tipped me, one of the kids tumbled off the couch, hitting the carpet with a thud. There was a pause. When the wailing began, she shut the door.
“Five bucks,” I said to Mac as I climbed into the truck. “And I was right: only cheese pizzas means kids, and lots of them. You missed one doing a face-plant into the carpet.”
“Bummer,” he replied. He shifted into reverse. As I went to slide the bill into the plastic cup that sat in the console, he said, “You keep that. You did the work.”
I just looked at him. “I walked to the door.”
“It counts,” he told me. I put it with the rest anyway.
After a few days of delivering together, we had worked out a system: Mac drove and kept up with the orders waiting at Seaside, and I did the legwork, running in to get the food and taking it to customers. He claimed this was efficient, that his time was better spent coordinating the next stop and our return trips to pick up more orders. But I was pretty sure he was just indulging my interest in seeing what was behind each door.