At that point, despite everything, I still believed this. This confidence stayed with me as we ran through a quick rehearsal, then started to record. I could almost forget about Ames on the other side of the glass and whatever might happen later; right then, there was only the music. Eric’s guitar, and Ford behind it. The haunting sweetness of Layla’s voice moving over the words I knew so well, and then my own, blending with it if only for a moment. Through it all, Mac was behind me, keeping the beat, holding it all together. Later, I’d look back at this as the last time things felt perfect, and be so grateful for it. Some people never get that at all.
* * *
“Do we have it?”
We all waited, silent, as Eric punched a few buttons, his brow furrowed. Then, finally: “Yep. We’ve got it.”
“Hallelujah,” Irv said, speaking for everyone. “Can we go eat now?”
“You’ve been eating the whole time,” Layla pointed out.
“I’ve been snacking,” he corrected her. “It’s mealtime.”
“Actually, it’s go time,” she said. “Rosie’s waiting for us. Let’s get packed up, okay?”
Mac nodded, then headed back into the recording room, where he, Irv, and Ford began dismantling the instruments and equipment. Upstairs, I could hear Ames moving around as Layla turned her attention to Spence, still crashed out on the couch. He hadn’t budged since falling asleep.
“Luckily, he sobers up fast,” she told me, walking over and shaking his shoulder. “Spence. Wake up. Time to go.”
“Just five more minutes,” he mumbled into the cushions.
Layla shook her head, then picked up the vodka bottle from the floor. She began to twist the top on, but then changed her mind, opening it and taking a swig. Then she handed it out to me.
I’d go over this moment again and again in the coming weeks. It was just such a stupid thing, a handful of seconds. And yet it was a pivotal point, the shift between before and after. I don’t know why I took the bottle, tipping it up to my mouth. Maybe it was the long night. Or what still might lie ahead, with Ames. Whatever the reason, I did it, taking one big gulp and closing my eyes, tight, as I swallowed. When I opened them, my mother was in the doorway.
Like Ames, she’d just appeared. As I looked at her face, everything crystallized: the smooth glass of the bottle in my hand; Spence’s foot, hanging off the couch; the guys moving in my peripheral vision, talking amongst themselves; Layla beside me, equally surprised. That bottle, again, in my hand.
“Sydney?” Like she wasn’t sure it was me, either. The crease between her brows was deeper than I’d ever seen it. “What is going on here?”
“Mom,” I said quickly, putting down the bottle. This seemed important, although I already knew it wasn’t going to make any difference. “It’s not . . . They were just using the studio.”
“You’re drinking.” A statement, although she sounded so incredulous, it might as well have been a question.
“I wasn’t, actually.” She shifted her gaze to the vodka, then to Spence, snoring softly on the couch. “I mean, I just took that sip. Just now.”
“You’re drinking,” she repeated. She looking into the recording room. “Who are these people in Peyton’s studio?”
“My brother’s band,” Layla said. My mom looked at her. “Mac. You met him at the pizza place? They needed to record a demo, and Sydney—”
“I told you, remember?” I cut in.
“And I said no.” Her voice was clipped, each syllable sharp. She looked at me. “You deliberately disobeyed me, Sydney. And you have alcohol here in our house, not to mention people I do not know.”
She raised a hand. Stop. “I don’t want to hear it. It’s been a long, bad night. Just get these people out of here. Now.”
Layla was instantly in motion, going over and giving Spence a hard enough shake to finally wake him up. “Wha—” he mumbled.
“Come on,” she told him. Then she walked over to the board, hitting the intercom. “Speed it up, fellas. Time to go.”
Eric, his back to us, sighed. “We’re moving as quickly as we can. This is delicate equipment.”
“Go faster,” she snapped, then dropped her hand. Hearing this, they all stopped what they were doing and looked at us, finally seeing my mom. Mac’s eyes went wide. It was strange to see him surprised. The next thing I knew, he was heading our way.
Oh, God, I thought, both grateful and terrified as he came through the door. Layla was busy with Spence, so it was just me there with my mom when he joined us. “Mrs. Stanford,” he said. “This isn’t . . . Sydney was just doing me a favor. I shouldn’t have put her in this position. It’s my fault, totally. I’m sorry.”
He said this so genuinely, so truthfully, that I felt something inside my heart shift. Each time I thought I’d felt all I could for him, there was more.
I slid my hand down his arm, wrapping my fingers around his. “You don’t have to say that,” I told him.
“I want to,” he replied.
“I’m sorry, but who are you?” my mom snapped.
“Mac,” I said. “Layla’s brother. My friend.”
“Boyfriend,” another voice said, from outside the door. Ames. “Either that or just a guy she makes out with in parking lots.”
I turned, slowly, to see Layla frozen behind me. She was looking at our still-joined hands the same way my mom had the bottle, as if she couldn’t quite believe her eyes.