“Yeah,” I said, surprised. “Sure.”
“Perfect. What do you think, Peyton? One large, half deluxe, half roma?”
“How about one large deluxe and one large roma,” my dad suggested. “I’ll take the leftovers for lunch tomorrow.”
This was hardly a surprise. My dad would eat pizza at any time of day or night, and had a seemingly endless appetite when it came to doing so. Leftover slices never lasted in our fridge, even if you set them aside especially, with your name on them. I knew this from experience.
“Fine,” my mom said. “Make the call.”
I did, and Mr. Chatham answered. “Sydney! Long time, no see. If you’re calling for Layla, she’s not here. Half hour late and counting. Again.”
Uh-oh, I thought. “I actually need to place an order.”
“Yeah?” He sounded pleased. “Great. What can I get you?”
I told him what we wanted. He took my mom’s card number, then said he’d throw in some garlic knots—even when I told him it wasn’t necessary—and that I’d see Mac in twenty minutes.
After we hung up, I went and brushed my hair, changed my shirt, and put on some lip gloss. When I came back downstairs, my dad looked at me. “What’s the occasion?”
“Nothing,” I said as my mom looked over as well. “I just felt gross from school.”
“Pretty fancy for pizza,” he observed, picking up the paper from that morning and flipping through it.
“I think she looks nice,” my mom said, and smiled at me.
I rolled my eyes. It was a small moment, but right then it felt so wonderfully normal that I wished I could tuck it away in my pocket. Me and my parents, pizza on a weeknight, just your typical family. At least for a few minutes.
Maybe it was because of this that I decided, right then, to bring up using the recording studio. “So, Mom. I have a favor to ask.”
“Okay,” she said. “What is it?”
“Well, Layla’s brother, Mac? You met him, at the pizza place.”
“Yes. I remember.”
“He’s in this band. And they need to record a demo tape for this showcase they’re hoping to get. I was wondering if they could maybe use the studio downstairs.”
She looked at my dad, who was now scanning the sports page. “I don’t see why not.”
“Really?” I said.
“For all we put into it, seems like someone should use it, don’t you think, Peyton?”
“Absolutely,” my dad replied, in such a way that I knew, right off, he hadn’t been listening.
“Oh, that’s great,” I said. “Thank you. Seriously.”
She looked at me, surprised, and smiled. “You’re welcome.”
Just then, the phone rang. Thinking it might be Seaside, calling back with a question about the order, I grabbed it right up. “Hello?”
“This is a collect call from an inmate at Lincoln Correctional Facility. Do you accept the charges?”
“Yes,” I said, then waited for the buzz and the click. “Peyton?”
At his name, my mom looked over, immediately alert, invested. “Hi,” my brother said. “What’s going on?”
“Not much,” I told him. “Dinner.”
“Is Mom around?”
“Yeah. Hold on.”
She was already beside me, her hand ready to take the phone. When I gave it to her, she ran a hand over my hair before putting it to her ear. “Hey there! How are you? Getting excited for graduation?”
As she walked across the room, my dad opened the fridge, scanning the contents, and took a sip of his beer. I glanced at my watch: it had been ten minutes. Soon, Mac would arrive and I could not only tell him about the studio but also introduce him to my dad. After so long feeling disjointed and out of step, things seemed to be falling into place. Once, I might have taken this for granted. But now, I knew to not only notice but savor it. Which was probably a mistake.
“Honestly, I just don’t know where this is coming from,” my mom said. It had only been a moment since I’d last heard her voice, but in that time it had gone from easygoing to tight, high. My dad, hearing it, too, looked at her. “I thought we already discussed this.”
A pause as Peyton spoke.
“Because it’s an accomplishment, and it should be recognized. And all the liaisons and literature say that—” She stopped short—now she was interrupted. “Well, I disagree. And I think the other families would, as well.”
“Julie,” my dad said. “What’s going on?”
She put up her hand, palm out. “I just don’t understand why you’re doing this to us. What? I disagree. I’m an involved parent, Peyton. And all I want—”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a blur outside. When I turned to the window, Mac was pulling into the driveway.
“Well, I can’t talk to you when you’re like this,” my mom said, shaking her head. “You won’t even let me—”
My dad walked over, putting out his hand. “Give me the phone.”
She shook her head. Outside, Mac was getting out of the truck.
“Julie.” My dad put a hand on her shoulder. Then, gently, he reached over, taking the receiver away from her. He put it to his ear, then said, “Peyton. It’s me. What’s this all about?”
My mom had tears in her eyes as she leaned against the counter, watching him as my brother responded. When the doorbell rang a moment later, I was pretty sure I was the only one who heard it.