“I saw them,” Ames said to my mom. “I wasn’t going to tell you, figured Sydney would. But I guess now you know.”
“Now I know,” my mom repeated. To Mac, she said, “Is that your alcohol?”
“No,” he replied. “It’s not.”
She looked at me. “I want these people out of here, Sydney. Do you understand me?”
“Mrs. Stanford—” Mac said.
“Do not talk to me.” She kept her eyes level, dark and furious and solidly on mine. “Just get out of my house, and take your friends with you. Now.”
Mac kept my hand in his a moment longer. Then he unfolded his fingers and let me go.
As they’d come in and set up, there’d been constant conversation: directions of equipment placement, discussion of Eric’s agitated disc, all the back and forth of a group of people trying to get something done together. While they packed up, no one spoke. I knew, because I was listening as I stared into my mom’s eyes, still focused on mine. After so long in my own invisible place, I was squarely in her sights. Just not the way I’d wanted to be.
Distantly, I was aware of everything else that was happening: Layla brushing past me without a word, tugging a stumbling, sleepy Spence behind her. Eric’s and Ford’s quick, cautious looks. How surprisingly light Irv’s large hand felt as it touched my shoulder briefly. And, finally, Mac, the last one to leave us. Only then did my mom look away from me, her eyes following him, but I couldn’t bring myself to do the same. I was not punished yet, had no idea what would happen next. But already all that space left in my heart, open after being clenched tight for so long, was narrowing. When the door shut behind them, I felt it close.
WE WEREN’T in a courtroom, and nobody asked me to rise. But I still knew a sentencing when I saw it.
My mom, sitting across the table, cleared her throat, then looked at my dad. It was seven a.m. the next morning; a half hour earlier, he’d come into my room and told me to wake up, get showered, and come downstairs. The first part was easy, as I hadn’t slept all night. This, though, was going to be hard.
“Sydney,” he began as I crossed my legs tightly under the table, “I don’t think we have to tell you that we are very, very disappointed in you right now.”
I said nothing. I knew I wasn’t to speak yet.
“Your mother specifically told you that your friends could not use the studio,” he continued. “Still, you invited them to do so. You are underage and know the rules of this house. Yet there was alcohol here, and you were drinking.”
I couldn’t help it. “I only—”
He held up his hand, but it was my mom’s glare that stopped me midsentence.
“You know how concerned and worried we both are about your brother and his situation. It’s frankly unfathomable to us that you would choose to add to our burden, to this family’s burden, with this kind of behavior.”
“I wasn’t trying to burden anyone,” I said quietly, studying the tabletop. “I just wanted to help a friend.”
“This is Mac?” my mom said, enunciating his name like you might the word herpes or molestation. “Ames tells us he’s your boyfriend.”
I felt my face flush, angry now. “Ames doesn’t know anything about me.”
“Clearly. He came over expecting to watch a movie with you and found a party instead.”
“It wasn’t a party!”
“Sydney! There was a drunk boy here!”
“That’s Layla’s boyfriend, and I didn’t invite him. I hardly know him!”
“Well, that’s reassuring,” my mom said.
“That’s not . . .” I stopped, forcing myself to take a breath. “Mac and Layla are my friends. Mac’s band had a chance to enter a showcase and needed a demo. We have a studio.”
“A studio,” my mom added, “that we said they could not use.”
“But at first, you did!” I pointed out. “That night we ordered the pizza. You were open to it. And then Peyton called, and he got angry with you, and just like that, everything changed.”
“This is not about your brother,” my dad said to me.
“For once!” I said. They both looked surprised: my voice was higher, louder than I’d realized. “Everything is about Peyton, all the time. And that’s okay, I get it. But this was one thing, for me, that I wanted.”
“You wanted to have your friends over, drinking, unsupervised, in our home,” my mom said. “Well, that’s great. Just wonderful.”
“No,” I said, again loudly enough to get shot a look from my dad. I lowered my voice. “I wanted to do something to thank my friends for being so good to me. To repay a bit of the debt I owe them for taking me in. That’s all. That’s it.”
My mom sighed, taking a sip of her coffee as my father leaned forward. “You can understand, I’m sure,” he said, “that it’s surprising for us that you’re close enough with people we barely know to break our rules and trust this way.”
“I wanted you to know them,” I said. “I still do. I invited Mac in that night, when we first talked about the studio. You met him, Dad. I wasn’t keeping him a secret.”
“Oh, well, good,” my mom said. “Because I was beginning to think you lied about everything.”
“Why are you being like this?” I asked her. “I’m not a bad kid, and you know it. This was one night, one thing. One mistake. And I’m sorry. But you can’t—”