“Poor guy,” I said. “He’s like a kid who just dropped his ice-cream cone.”
“He’ll survive,” he replied. “And maybe it will inspire him to get a job, too. Then we’d have money for a demo.”
“They’re really that expensive?”
He shifted his bag up his shoulder. “The demo itself isn’t. Studio time is where it gets pricey.”
All through the ecology lecture that followed, and the calc test after that, I forgot about this entire exchange. In my final period, my English teacher, Ms. Feldman, was saying something about metaphors when a thought occurred to me. Some way that I might actually be able to help them for once. That afternoon, when I got to Seaside after the final bell, I was the one with a plan.
“Hold on,” Mac said. “You have a recording studio in your house?”
“A partial one,” I told him. “My parents were building it for my brother.”
“Oh, my God, that’s right,” Layla said, turning away from the front window, where she was in her customary spot, waiting for Spence to pull up. “And I’ve been there! How did I forget that?”
“Well,” I told her, “it was kind of a weird night.”
She thought for a second. Then: “Oh, right. Yeah. I blocked it out, for sure.”
Mac looked at me. “What, it’s haunted or something?”
“Not exactly,” she said. “That guy was there, her brother’s friend. Remember?”
“Oh.” He looked at me. “Right. The creeper.”
I hadn’t thought it was possible to like him more. I was wrong. I said, “I’m sure it would be okay. It’s not like anyone ever uses it.”
“We’d still need someone to engineer the demo, though,” Mac said.
“Isn’t that what Eric spent the whole summer doing last year, at that camp?” Layla said. “He certainly came back seeming like he could do it.”
“We’re talking about Eric here. He acts like he can do everything.”
“Just text him and ask.”
Mac pulled out his phone, then looked at me. “You sure this is okay? Because if I mention it to him, he’ll be like a dog with a bone. He will not let go of things, even when he should.”
Just then, a big black SUV pulled up at the curb. “Spence is here!” Layla called out to us and her dad, who was in the kitchen. “I’m going!”
“Back by five thirty,” said Mr. Chatham.
“Six at the latest!” she replied, then darted out before he could object. Mac watched her climb into the passenger seat, an expression of suspicion on his face. According to Layla, he was like this with all her boyfriends, way too overprotective and biased from first glance. I could see that. But she had been pushing limits a bit since Spence was around more after school: showing up late, then a bit later. Being evasive, even to me, about where they’d gone or what they’d done. If I was noticing it, I knew Mac had, too.
“I’ll ask my parents, but I’m sure it will be fine,” I said to him as they pulled away. “And I want to help you guys out.”
“You don’t have to,” he told me.
“I know.” I nodded at his phone. “Just text him. Give the dog a bone.”
Of course, Eric maintained he could handle everything if he had a studio and suggested we try for the next day or, barring that, the coming weekend. All that was left was getting official permission. And how hard could that be?
I walked into the kitchen two hours later. Usually, by six, my mom had her customary one glass of wine poured, dinner well under way, and her typical questions about my day ready. Today, she was nowhere in sight. I put down my bag, then headed upstairs to the War Room. The door was half shut, and I could hear her talking.
“I just feel like something else is going on,” she was saying. “He’s been so easily upset the last few times we’ve talked, and he doesn’t want to discuss anything. And then there’s the graduation . . .”
She fell silent as whoever was on the other end of the line spoke. Downstairs, my dad was coming in the front door.
“I did read that the three-month mark can be a transitional one. Something about the newness wearing off with so much sentence left to do.” Another pause. “Well, that does make sense. Peyton was never good at discussing his feelings. I blame that, in fact, for a lot of his troubles. If he’d only been able to be honest about the pain he was in . . .”
“Julie?” My dad’s voice came up the stairs. “Are you up there?”
I walked over to the landing. “She’s on the phone.”
“Oh.” He looked back at the kitchen, clearly wondering about dinner, too. “Okay.”
“Goodness, is that the time?” my mom said as she came out of the room. Spotting me, she gave a tired smile. “I don’t know where the afternoon went. I guess we’d better try to pull together something to eat, huh?”
I nodded, then followed her down to the kitchen, where my dad was uncapping a beer. “Long day?” he asked her.
“Epic,” she replied, walking to the fridge and opening it. “Now, let’s see. I was going to make a pork shoulder before I got distracted. I think I have some chicken in here . . .”
“Or we could do delivery,” my dad, who never met a takeout box he didn’t like, suggested.
“We could,” she agreed. She shut the door, then looked at me. “What about pizza? The place Sydney took me was delicious. They deliver, yes?”