“I think right now she just wants to keep me away from Mac and Layla. Everything else is secondary, as much as she’s trying to pretend otherwise.”
Down the hall, there was a burst of giggling. “I hear you!” Jenn called out, and quickly, it got quiet again. She sighed, shaking her head, then said, “I know about Layla. Who’s Mac?”
“Her brother,” I replied. “The pizza guy, from your party? Do you even remember?”
“I’ve tried to block out what little does remain.” She cleared her throat. “What’s her problem with him?”
I looked down at my hands, trying to think of a way to explain whatever it was that was going on between me and Mac. I was still grappling when I heard her laugh. With old friends, sometimes it’s what you don’t say that speaks volumes.
“Sydney,” she said, reaching out and slapping my leg. “Oh, my God. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You’re blushing!” She hooted. “No wonder you haven’t wanted to hang out lately.”
I looked at her. “I’m sorry I’ve been kind of a lousy friend. I got . . . kind of caught up, I guess.”
She didn’t say anything for a minute, acknowledging this truth and the apology for it. Then she smiled. “It’s okay. But seriously, back up and tell me everything. Also, I want to see a picture. Do you have one?”
I did. Several, in fact: some from that night at the merry-go-round, a few I’d snapped from the passenger seat as we drove around together. But only one of both of us, taken in the cab of the truck at Commons Park. I’d held my phone out at arm’s length as I leaned back into him, and he’d rested his chin on the top of my head. You could see the leaves falling out the window behind us. Click.
“Wow,” she said when I’d scrolled past this one. “I must have been really drunk. Because him I would remember.”
I smiled, looking down at it as well. “He’s a really nice guy. And all of this just really happened, like, recently. Now with this, and Layla finding out . . .”
“Finding out?” she repeated. “What, it was a secret?”
“Sort of. Yes.” I shut off my phone. “The last friend of hers who dated him left him kind of wrecked.”
“You wouldn’t do that, though,” she said with such surety, it was like she was reciting a theorem or historical fact. “She knows that, right?”
“I hope so,” I said. “Right now she’s not exactly talking to me.”
Jenn sat back, crossing her legs. “Wow. I don’t talk to you for a week or two and everything in your life changes. All that’s different with me is my ringtone.”
“Stop it,” I said, smiling.
“It’s true!” She looked out the front window at the traffic passing by. “Maybe I should transfer to Jackson.”
“Please do. You can go to Kiger study hall with me.”
She snorted, then looked at her watch. “I better get back to my morons.”
“Jenn,” I said, surprised.
“Oh, please. It’s no secret, trust me. Most of them are taking this class for the third time.” She leaned over, giving me a quick hug. “I hate how you ended up here, but I’m happy to see you. Is that bad?”
I shook my head. “No. Just don’t get sick of me. I’ll be here a lot, if my mom has her way.”
“Not gonna happen.” She got to her feet. “See you tomorrow?”
And with that, she headed down the hall, ducking into a door off to the left. I sat there until the clock over the front desk hit five o’clock exactly, then went out to my car. I was just getting in when my phone beeped. It was my mom.
I actually glanced around, thinking she might be watching me from somewhere nearby. I would not have put it past her.
Right now, I replied.
A pause while I cranked my engine and backed out of the space. Over at the Kiger Center, some of Jenn’s morons—students—were filing out, chattering with one another.
See you in five, my mom responded. For some, this was a figure of speech, casual. But I knew she was watching her own clock. I drove home as slowly as I could, like doing so might change what was waiting there for me. As I pulled into the driveway, I could see the afternoons following this one laid out in front of me one after another, neat little squares filling the calendar. It made me want to speed away as fast as I could and not look back. But I was a good kid, despite what my parents thought. I went inside.
2 XTRA lg veggie, 2 xtra lg roma. Greek salad. Onion rings. Go.
I picked up my phone from beside my calculus book, smiling.
Girls, I wrote back. Unhealthy vegetarians. The one with the salad also got the onion rings.
I hit SEND, then waited. It was a Thursday night, and I’d been on my new schedule for almost two weeks. It felt like longer—like years, to be honest—even though I’d figured out how to see Mac for a few minutes before school, after, and sometimes en route to study group at lunch. At night, in my room doing even more homework, I kept my phone close at hand so we could be in constant touch. It wasn’t the same as riding along with him, but I’d take it.
A few days into all this, when we met at my locker before the early bell, Mac told me to close my eyes and hold out my hand. When I did, he dropped something into it.
“Okay. You can look now.”
I opened my eyes to see a silver chain, like his but thinner, longer, with a saint pendant on it. It wasn’t the same as his, though; the image was a man’s profile, his eyes turned upward.