It took me a moment to catch up. In the lag, he was watching me, the slightest of smiles on his face. “Are you going to tell my mom about this?”
Instead of answering, he looked back into the studio, where Spence was now stretched out across the couch, eyes closed, the bottle on the floor beside him. Layla was nowhere in sight, which I assumed meant they had indeed moved on to her song.
“I don’t know,” Ames said finally. “We’ll talk about it later.”
I wanted to know now. Then I could accept my sentence and the reality of the repercussions. But I knew Ames. Now he finally had the upper hand, and he wasn’t going to relinquish it any earlier than necessary.
Glancing at the studio, I saw Irv filling the doorway, looking out at us. “Yeah?”
“We need you.”
I looked at Ames. “Go ahead,” he said. “I’m right behind you.”
I went back in to find Layla on the other side of the glass, headphones on, a microphone in front of her. Eric was at the board, getting things set up so that Irv could record again. Behind me, I could hear Spence snoring.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“We need backup vocals,” Eric told me, still futzing around with some dials. “No time to layer them in. So you’re up.”
“Me?” I said. “I don’t sing.”
“Everyone can sing.”
“Let me rephrase that,” I told him. “I don’t sing well.”
“It’s not opera,” he replied. “We just need to fill out the sound. You know the song, right? Paulie Prescott, ‘Four A.M.’?”
Of course I did. After I finished swooning over the safe boy-next-door Logan Oxford, Paulie Prescott was my first bad-boy crush, or as bad as you could be wearing eyeliner while performing concerts at malls. “Four A.M.” was his biggest hit, a half-rap, half-sung description of driving home after a night of partying and fighting and wanting to call a girl, but deciding she deserved better. It was just the kind of thing that, at thirteen, you wanted some lovesick rebel to sing about you. I’d had it on repeat for weeks.
“I think I remember it,” I said.
“Great.” Eric stood up, turning to face me. “Now, we’re doing it acoustic, very quiet, in contrast to the original production. Remember all those big guitars? It was all swagger, or fake swagger, actually. So for this, we’re turning it on its head, going light, ballad-esque, more of a love song than the original ego-driven recitation of various acts of valor that may or may not have actually happened.”
Beside me, Ames blinked. “Whoa.”
“Exactly,” Eric told him. “So we’ll just have you come in during the chorus, behind Layla, to convey the routine aspect of this, that it’s not just one girl who’s felt it, but many. But just for two lines: ‘You’re sleeping only a mile from here/But it feels so far away.’ The two following—”
“‘While I want to see you, touch you, feel you/In my dreams I’ll let you stay’?” So much for pretending I didn’t know it by heart.
“Right. For those, I want only Layla, for contrast. See, your lines are about the truth of this situation: the wanting. The other are the ideal, the way girls wish guys really felt. Okay?”
It was a testament to how familiar I’d become with Eric and his music discussions that none of this seemed over the top to me. Ames, however, exhaled as Eric went back into the recording room, then said, “Man. I’ve heard that song a million times. Never thought of it that way.”
“Nobody does,” Irv told him, adjusting something on the board.
I turned back to the glass, looking in at Layla, who was nodding as Eric talked to her, explaining all this again. Mac was back on the drums, saying something to Ford, when I felt Ames move closer, putting his hands on my shoulders. He gave a light squeeze, then left them there while saying, “So you’re singing? I can’t wait to see this. Nervous?”
“No,” I said, although I was. I shifted slightly, trying to get out from under him, but he was too close, and now squeezing again.
“You’ll be great. Just relax.”
I swallowed, doing the exact opposite and tensing up, hoping he’d take the hint and back off. But no. He was still right there, his fingers lightly on my shoulders, when Mac looked up and saw us.
Seeing his face, I had a flash of Layla’s, all those weeks ago at the courthouse. But while her expression, as a stranger, had been a question—You okay?—Mac’s was different. Like he knew I was not, and because of that, he wasn’t, either. He was just getting to his feet when Eric spoke.
“Okay, Sydney. You ready?”
I pulled away quickly, then walked into the recording room, where Eric was setting up a microphone. As he waved me behind it, Layla leaned into my ear.
“What’s he doing here?”
“He’s staying tonight. But he wasn’t supposed to come until ten.”
“Huh.” She adjusted her headphones. “What are the chances. Is he going to tell your mom?”
“He says we’ll talk about it.”
She made another pointed look as Ames gave us a thumbs-up. “I’d stay if I could, I swear. But I’ve got to get home to my mom.”
“It’s fine,” I said. Then I turned, glancing behind me at Mac, who, as I expected, was watching me. I only had a second to try to convey that he shouldn’t worry, I was all right. But just in case, I said it, too. “It’ll be okay.”