“Is that what we’re calling prison now?” Irv asked. “A preoccupation?”
Mac poked him, hard. “Hey. Watch it.”
“What?” Irv looked at him, then at me. “Oh. Sorry, Sydney. I’m just talking, being stupid.”
“It’s fine,” I said, and smiled at him.
Still, Mac came over as Ford and Eric began unpacking instruments. “Sorry about that. Irv’s kind of a straight shooter, especially about certain things.”
“He’s right,” I told him. “My brother is in prison. It’s kind of refreshing, actually, to be around someone who calls it that.”
I nodded, and then Ford was calling his name, asking him something. As he went over, then bent down to unpack a case, I watched the Saint Bathilde pendant around his neck slide into sight before he reached up, tucking it back under his collar. Yesterday, I’d held it in my own hand, between my fingers, twisting it in the dappled light at Commons Park. Just remembering made me flush.
“So, Sydney,” Eric said, jerking me abruptly away from this thought, “I hear we’re on a time constraint here. How long do we actually have?”
I looked at my watch. It was six thirty. “About three hours.”
“Not long to get down these songs.” He lifted his guitar and backpack onto the nearby couch—an action that apparently did not require his agitated disc—then rubbed his hands together. “When did you say Layla was coming?”
“Seven at the latest,” Mac told him.
“Okay. Then I’d better get acquainted with this equipment.” Eric walked over to the board of switches and buttons, taking a seat in the rolling chair there. “Man. This is nicer than the setup we had at VAMP.”
He sat back, twisting a knob. “Vintage Acoustic Musical Performance Camp. It’s where I spent last summer. Music and production classes during the day, serious jam sessions at night.”
“Wow. Sounds great.”
“Life-changing,” he corrected me. “I mean, it was for me, anyway. Spending eight weeks with people who actually care about the music the way I do? Like an oasis in the ongoing creative desert that is my life here.”
There was a rap on the glass separating us from the booth. When I looked up, Mac was standing there. “We can hear you, you know.”
Eric flipped his hand, hardly bothered. But I noticed he did unpress the only button whose function I knew—the intercom—before saying, “Look, don’t get me wrong. These guys like to play. But they’re not passionate. Once high school is over, they’ll tell stories about how they were once in a band. I want more than that. You know?”
I nodded as Irv helped Ford stack one amp onto another. Mac was back at his drum set, twisting clamps onto cymbals. I was watching his face, so focused, as Eric said, “So, um. There’s been something I’ve been wanting to ask you.”
“Yeah, you.” He smiled at me. “It’s not a secret I think you’re cool, Sydney. I want to take you out. What do you think?”
I honestly did not know what to say. This was such a direct question, there was really no way to circumvent or dodge it. Still, I was trying to think of a way to do just that when I heard the doorbell ring. Saved.
“Shoot,” I said, as if I weren’t insanely grateful for this interruption. “I’ll be right back, okay?”
Although I had the entire way across the workout room, up the stairs, and through the foyer to consider what to say when I returned, I made little progress. When I opened the door to find Layla supporting a red-faced, mud-streaked, damp Spence, though, all thoughts of Eric vanished.
“A little help?” she said, dragging him into the foyer. As they passed, I got a strong whiff of alcohol. And, strangely, fertilizer. “Do you have a towel or something?”
“Hey, Sydney,” Spence slurred at me cheerfully. “What’s up?”
“Stop moving, would you please?” Layla said to him. “Just stay there. And take off your shoes.”
With that, she disappeared into the powder room, leaving us alone. Weaving slightly, Spence kicked off his Nikes, first one, then the other, before reaching into his back pants pocket to pull out a slim glass bottle. He uncapped it, took a big swig, then held it out to me. “Vodka?”
“No, thanks,” I said. “Is it raining or something?”
He shook his head, taking another sip. “Sprinklers. Came on when I was crossing your neighbor’s backyard. Serious water pressure. Apparently. Sure you don’t want a drink?”
“She doesn’t,” Layla replied, emerging from the bathroom. She was holding one of our hand towels, which she held up to me, raising her eyebrows. I nodded, and she tossed it to him. “Dry off and put that away, would you? They’re not going to be happy I brought you in the first place.”
“Nonsense.” Spence slid the bottle back into his pocket, then stepped closer to her, sliding his arms around her waist. “I told you, baby. You won’t even know I’m here.”
While Layla clearly doubted this, she allowed herself to be pulled in for a kiss. To her surprise, not to mention mine, it quickly became openmouthed and full-on tongue. Luckily, just then, the phone rang.
I ducked into the kitchen, grabbing the handset. “Hello?”
“This is a collect call from an inmate at Lincoln Correctional Facility,” began the familiar robotic voice. “Do you accept—”