Minutes earlier, all I’d wanted was to bring Mac inside and introduce him. Now, though, seeing him standing there with the warmer in one hand and a paper bag in the other, I wished I could step out and leave with him.
“Hey,” he said. He held up the bag. “Hope you’re in the mood for garlic knots. My dad sent, like, an entire batch.”
Before I could answer, his eyes shifted, following something behind me. I turned just in time to see my mom taking the stairs two at a time.
“Great,” I said, stepping back. “Come on in.”
He did, following me into the kitchen, where my dad was just then hanging up the phone. His back was to me as he said, “Your mother is, um, upset. She—”
“Pizza’s here,” I said quickly.
My dad turned and saw us. “Oh. Right.”
“Dad, this is Mac,” I said. “He’s a friend of mine from school.”
“Nice to meet you,” Mac told him, putting down the warmer on the table and offering his hand.
“And you as well,” my dad said. They shook. “I hear this pizza’s pretty great.”
“It is,” I said. “You’re going to love it.”
Upstairs, a door shut. It wasn’t quite a slam, but we could hear it. “So,” my dad said, pulling out his wallet. “What do I owe you?”
“I put it on the card,” I told him. “The total was twenty-three forty-two.”
He took out a five and a couple of ones, handing them to Mac. “For you, then.”
“So my parents said it was okay,” I said, glancing at my dad, “for you guys to use the studio.”
“Really?” Mac said. “Wow. That’s awesome. Eric’s going to go bananas.”
“Eric’s the lead singer,” I explained to my dad. “Mac plays drums.”
“Great,” my dad replied, clearly distracted. “I’m, um, going to check on your mom. Set the table, okay? Nice to meet you, Mac.”
As he went upstairs, I walked over to the cabinet and took down some plates, even though I was pretty sure we wouldn’t be having a typical family sit-down. “My brother just called,” I said. “He’s mad about something. That’s why my mom’s upset.”
“Oh,” he said. “Sorry.”
“It’s not like it’s that big a deal. But we were having a good night, you know? For once.”
He said nothing to this as I put the plates on the counter. Upstairs, I heard another door shut.
“I asked them about the studio, and they were great about it, and you were coming over . . .” I swallowed, opening the napkin drawer. “I’m just so tired of this. Of him being everything.”
Mac just watched me as I moved to the silverware. As I counted out three forks, I felt like I was going to cry. And then, just like that, I was.
Not just tears pricking my eyes, or that slow throb in your throat that gives you enough warning to breathe and, maybe, get under control. Instead, instantly, I just found myself sobbing: chest heaving, nose running, making noises that sounded almost primal. I gripped the edge of the countertop, dropping my head, and tried to suck in some air and calm down. It was just occurring to me that I should be embarrassed when I felt Mac’s hands on my shoulders.
“Hey,” he said. His palms were warm. “It’s okay. It’s okay, Sydney.”
But it wasn’t. Nothing had been okay, not for a long time. And every moment that I thought I was getting close, like the one I’d had earlier, seemed to remind the universe that I didn’t deserve that, not yet.
What was due me, then? Only tiny seconds where things felt right, just fleeting enough to make me crave more? Was that it? I was beginning to think so, that I just couldn’t get what I wanted, that maybe I didn’t even have any idea what that was. But as Mac turned me to face him and I looked up into his eyes, I realized I was wrong. So I took a single step—one foot, then the other—and then his arms wrapped around me, pulling me in the rest of the way.
PEYTON DIDN’T want me at his graduation. Actually, he didn’t want any of us there. But my mom was only willing to compromise so much.
“It’s not that he doesn’t want to see you, or that he doesn’t miss you,” she’d explained the next morning. “He’d just prefer that you not interact with him in that setting yet. I thought that might have changed by now . . . but it hasn’t. It’s actually a very common sentiment among the incarcerated when it comes to family, children in particular.”
She was speaking slowly, carefully picking her words. What a difference twelve hours made. The last time I’d seen her, she’d been disappearing upstairs in tears; this morning, she was at the coffeepot calm, rested, and capable. She was also clearly concerned about how I’d take this news, somehow having forgotten that I’d never wanted to go in the first place.
“I understand,” I said. “It’s fine.”
She was still watching me as I took a bite of my breakfast. Suddenly, my welfare was very important, which would have been nice had I not known the real reason she was suddenly so invested. By focusing on Peyton’s not wanting me to go, she could skirt the wider truth of how he really felt about having her there. My mom had always been good at narrowing an issue.
“As I told you,” she continued, “Peyton’s time at Lincoln will be marked by a series of transitions. It’s very possible that his emotional need for us will at some point manifest itself in his feeling like he has to pull away. So the key is that we allow him to do what he thinks is necessary, while at the same time making clear that we are here and not going anywhere.”