My dad, who was getting a rare late start to the office, walked into the kitchen, adjusting his tie. He’d already eaten, but still stopped by the eggs on the stove, picking out a bite with his fingers.
“So you’re all still going?” I asked. “To the graduation?”
“Your father and I will go. We’ll ask Ames and Marla to stay here with you. That’s probably the best plan.”
“I don’t need anyone here with me, though,” I said quickly. “I mean, it’s only one night.”
“It’s already arranged,” she told me, glancing at my dad. “Right?”
“I mentioned it to him last night.” He wiped his hand on a dish towel. “Apparently things with Marla have . . . cooled. But he’s happy to do it.”
“Really?” My mom looked at him. “I had no idea! He hasn’t said a thing to me about their breaking up.”
Considering how much he and my mom talked, this was kind of surprising. But I had learned not to put much past Ames.
“He didn’t sound too upset about it,” my dad said now, eating another piece of egg. “Anyway, he’s got to work that night, but he’s going to try to get off early.”
“He shouldn’t do that,” I said, apparently too adamantly, as they both looked at me, surprised. “I’ll be fine.”
“Sydney, we’ve had this conversation before. I don’t want you here alone,” my mom said. “Ames stayed with you last time, and it worked out well, didn’t it?”
“I’ll stay at Layla’s,” I said, instead of answering her.
“On a school night? No.” She sat back. “Frankly, with all the time you’ve been over there and at their pizza place, I worry we’ve overimposed as it is.”
“Let me invite her here, then.” I thought for a second. “Actually, we could use the studio that evening. That way, you guys wouldn’t even be bothered with it.”
She blinked at me. “The studio? Peyton’s studio?”
“Yeah,” I said as she looked at my dad, who shrugged. “You said that Mac’s band could use it, to record.”
“Mac,” she repeated, like she was trying to jog a distant, faded memory. “I don’t—”
“Layla’s brother. My friend.” I turned to my dad. “You met him last night. I asked if his band could use the studio to record this demo, and you guys said yes.”
“Oh, Sydney, I don’t know,” my mom said. “Even if Peyton was okay with that—and really, we’d have to ask him—it couldn’t happen with us out of town.”
“But you said—”
“Then I spoke without thinking,” she told me, looking at my dad again. “Or we did. The bottom line is, until this graduation thing is over, I really can’t focus on anything else.”
“It’s not just anything,” I said. “It’s my thing. My friends.”
I could tell I’d surprised them. I’d always accepted being second in importance; it was my place in the pecking order. But when it came to this—to Mac—I was ready to fight. Like finally I felt I had a real reason. It would have been better if it had been for me, myself. But I’d still take it.
“You didn’t even know these people three months ago,” my mom said. “I find it hard to believe they’re suddenly more important than family.”
“We’re not talking about this anymore,” she said, rising from her seat and pushing her chair in. “We will go support your brother because he needs us, whether he’s choosing at this moment to admit it or not. After that, we can talk about everything else.”
She walked to the coffeemaker, her back to me as she refilled her mug. My dad watched her go, then gave me a sympathetic look. But once again, he didn’t do anything. Like this was her job, it was decided, and he couldn’t go over her head, as much as I wished he would.
Even though this was the way it always went, I felt a flush of anger rise in me, unexpected and unprecedented. Something had changed. Before, she’d grouped me within “anything else.” Now, “everything.” I’d always been the other, the one not Peyton; I’d come to accept it. But finally, I’d met people who saw me differently. Now that I’d been real and first to someone, I never wanted to be invisible again.
* * *
“So what I’m thinking,” Eric said, “is that we start strong with a Logan Oxford, end big with that ‘Six of One’ with my solo. We’ll put Layla doing vocals on another one in the middle to shake things up.”
“Yeah, but which one?” Mac asked, peeling another clementine. He had Irv’s phone disassembled in front of him, replacing the shattered screen, a result of its being sat on. Just looking at all the tiny screws made my head hurt. “It’s not like we have anything rehearsed with her.”
“It’s not complicated, it’s pop music,” Eric told him. “And she knows all these songs already. It’s just a matter of picking one with the perfect meaning.”
“You just said it’s simple, though,” said Irv, who was finishing off what was by my count his third chicken leg. “So how can it have meaning?”
“That’s where the irony comes in.” Eric sighed: yet again, none of us were keeping up. “I’m going to pick a song that is clearly from a guy’s point of view, then turn it on its head both with the original arrangement—I’m thinking acoustic, maybe—and having a girl singer.”