“I did.” He sighed. “But this friend of mine here . . . he’s totally into them. He’s a doctor, a shrink. He claims for him it’s about the personality disorders, all that narcissism. But I think he just likes the drama.”
“He’s your doctor?”
Another laugh. “No. He’s an inmate, an addict. Got busted for selling prescriptions. We call him MD. He’s a nice guy. Even if he has bad taste in TV shows.”
“Hey, now,” I said. “Remember who you’re talking to.”
“Like I could forget,” he said. And then the recorded voice came on, warning us time was about up. For the first time, I wished it weren’t.
I didn’t mention any of this to my mom, even when I told her he’d called. After all the pushing for us to talk, now that we were, I wanted to keep it to myself. Peyton didn’t tell her, either. Another secret, all our own.
The truth was, Mom was so immersed in her plans, she wasn’t noticing much of anything. The upside was she hadn’t said more about Ames staying with me. It was foolish, I knew, to think I’d dodged this particular bullet because it hadn’t been fired just yet. But everything else had been going so well. I should have known better.
“So,” she’d said that morning when I came down for breakfast. “Tomorrow, your father and I are leaving at around three. Ames will be here by ten at the latest. It’s not ideal, but with Marla out of the picture and his valet job, it’s the best we can do.”
She had her back to me as she spoke, busy checking things off another list. Piled on the counter were all the baked goods she’d gotten at Big Club, the bulk store, for the ceremony: danishes, cookies, cupcakes. The whole room smelled like sugar.
“I really think I can stay alone,” I said. “By the time he gets here, I’ll almost be in bed anyway.”
She picked up a box of mini cupcakes, moving it to the top of another stack. “It’s all set. Now get your cereal together, you’re going to be late.”
End of conversation. Once again, I was an item on a list, crossed off and archived. When I left twenty minutes later, I couldn’t help it: I slammed the door behind me.
Now, in the truck, Mac’s phone buzzed. He shifted behind me, pulling it from his pocket. “Delivery up. Back to work.”
I glanced at my watch. It was five fifteen, and I’d told my mom I’d be home before six, but all I wanted to do was stay in this safe, easy place, with Mac’s arms around me. But he was already starting to sit up as I said, “Five more minutes?”
“Two.” He kissed the top of my head, easing back. A moment passed, and then he said, “You know, we don’t have to record at your place if it’s a problem. Eric will find another way. He always does.”
“It’s not a problem,” I told him. “It’s going to be perfect.”
This was not a word I used much, if ever. But sometimes, lately, I’d allowed myself to think that things actually could work out. After all, I was here now, with him, and who would have ever expected that?
He drove me back to Seaside, pulling up to my car before heading in to grab the delivery. We said our good-byes, the careful way we always did, and I got out, shutting the door behind me. But as I started to walk away, I looked up at that setting sun, the sky blue, dappled with pink. Perfect, I risked thinking again, if only for a moment. I turned around and went up to Mac’s open window.
“Forget something?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I told him. “This.”
I stood on my tiptoes, leaned in, and gave him a kiss. I could feel his surprise, then hesitation, before he eased into it. It was a risk, being public like this, but I was already tired of hiding. Anyway, Layla, my only true concern, was with Spence; it didn’t occur to me to think of anyone else. At least, not then.
* * *
“Wow,” Eric said when I opened the door. “Nice digs.”
“Did you just say ‘digs’?” Irv asked from behind him, where he was filling the rest of the door frame. “Really?”
“What? It’s actually a quite common term.”
“And these are actually quite heavy. So would you enter the digs, please?”
Eric rolled his eyes, and I stepped aside to let him in. He was carrying his guitar, his backpack over one shoulder. Following behind and carrying all the rest of the equipment were Irv, Ford, and finally Mac.
The fact that I’d noticed this inequity must have been obvious, as Mac explained, “Eric’s got a bad back.”
“Eric,” Irv added, huffing slightly as he lifted a black case about half my size over the threshold, “claims he has a bad back. I’ve never seen evidence of it, except when we have something heavy to move.”
“It’s my L3 and L4 disc,” Eric replied in a tired voice. “It’s agitated.”
“I’m agitated. This shit is heavy.” Irv put down the case with a thunk, rattling the glass table beneath my brother’s portrait. “Where are we taking it?”
“Downstairs,” I told him. “Follow me.”
I led them through the door past the kitchen, down the winding stairs (more huffing, more comments about Eric’s disc), and finally, into the workout room and then the studio. As I flipped on the light, Eric stood back, taking an appreciative look around while the others carried in the stuff. “Wow. This was all for your brother?”
“Was supposed to be,” I said. “He kind of got, um, preoccupied before he could use it much.”