“We,” Mac said quietly, picking up another screw. “We will pick a song.”
“Right, right,” Eric replied, flipping his hand. “Consensus rules. But let’s be honest: I’m the one who’s really driving the depth of our message.”
“‘Depth of your message’?” Irv repeated, then laughed out loud. “Man. You’re outdoing even yourself right now.”
Beside me, Mac laughed, too, and I forced a smile, trying to join in. I hadn’t yet figured out how, exactly, to break the news that my parents were not actually okay with the band using the studio. So I hadn’t, instead just sitting there getting more and more anxious as they made their plans to do just that.
I wasn’t the only one out of sorts. Even though she was partly the subject of this conversation, Layla wasn’t paying attention. Instead, she was focused on her phone. It was clear enough by her face she wasn’t happy, but the fact that her lunch was untouched just sealed it.
“You okay?” I asked her for the second time that day. I’d bumped into her in the hallway after homeroom, just in time to see her hanging up, looking irritated. We’d both been running late and headed in opposite directions, so when she said she was fine, I’d taken her at her word.
“Yeah,” she said, not looking at me. “Just . . . Spence stuff. It’s stupid.”
I hesitated, not sure how much to push this issue. Since she and Spence had been spending more and more time together, I’d only gotten bits and pieces from her about their relationship. I had noticed that the swooning, “He’s so great and sweet!” phase had waned. Apparently I hadn’t been wrong about her perfect boyfriend having his own complicated history. After some prodding, she’d admitted to me that not only was it mandatory community service he’d recently completed, he’d been expelled from three schools before landing at W. Hunt. At the time they’d met, he was keeping in line and on the upswing. With people like that, though, there was always a down waiting.
“So what I’m leaning toward,” Eric continued, “is going with a Paulie Prescott for Layla’s song.”
“Paulie Prescott? Was that the guy with the hair?” Irv asked.
“You’re going to have to be more specific,” Mac told him.
“The hair.” Irv reached up one hand, swooping it over his head. “Remember? Dude looked like he’d been in an air tunnel, all the time.”
“No, that was someone else,” Eric said. “The other guy, with the really high voice.”
“Abe Rabe,” Layla and I said at the same time. She didn’t even look up.
Mac raised his eyebrows, the new screen in his hand. “Wow. That wasn’t weird or anything.”
I smiled at him, thinking again of what had happened the night before. Despite my initial nervousness around him, when he pulled me close it felt familiar, like we’d done it a million times. No awkwardness, no adjustments needed. I’d just pressed myself against his chest, the pendant on his chain against my cheek, and breathed in his smell. I knew very little for certain, but I was sure that if my father had not come back down the stairs moments later, I would have kissed him. So sure that now, sitting close but not too close, him smiling at me, it felt like I had.
“Paulie Prescott was the fake gangster,” Eric said. “Rich kid from the suburbs who sang about his past being street. He had that whole bad-boy-trying-to-be-good thing going on. Girls ate it up.”
“Oh, right,” Irv said, wrinkling his nose. “I hated that guy.”
“Everyone did.” Eric had no problem speaking for the world. “But that’s why it’s intriguing to have Layla do one of his songs. Take away the production, the facade, and shift the braggadocio to a female point of view? That’s going to be deep. Epic.”
“Did you just use the word braggadocio?” Mac asked him. “Are you drunk?”
Layla suddenly got to her feet, grabbed her bag, and started walking quickly toward the main building. We all just watched her go in silence. Then Irv said, “God, what’d you do, Eric?”
Mac was watching me as I stood up. “You know what that was about?”
“No,” I said, picking up my backpack. “But I have a hunch.”
I checked the girls’ bathroom first, as it was my go-to place for taking refuge, but the only people there were a group of dance team members busy doing a makeup tutorial. Out in the hallway, I thought for a second, then headed to Layla’s locker, my next best bet. On the way there, I found her sitting on the stairs. When she saw me, she bit her lip.
“Okay,” I said, joining her. “What’s going on?”
She sighed, stretching her legs out in front of her. “Spence has just been . . . into some stuff lately. That he shouldn’t be doing, with his history. Basically.”
A slight nod. “Just pot. Some pills. They make him different. But when I nag him, he gets mad, then doesn’t answer my texts. Then I don’t know what he’s doing, which is worse.”
“You’re not going to be able to fix him,” I told her.
“I know, I know.” She pulled her knees to her chest. “It sucks, because if I say something, he disappears. If I don’t, I have to watch him sabotage himself. It’s like I can’t win.”
A couple of guys carrying instrument cases pushed past us on their way up the stairs. I said, “I hate that feeling.”