“No shit.” He grinned at me, then her. “My day just got better.”
And yours got worse, I wrote on a piece of paper, sliding it over to Jenn under the counter. She raised her eyebrows. Layla’s boyfriend, I added. By this point I’d told her enough of the long story to make it unnecessary to provide more details.
“O-kay,” she said, getting to her feet. To Spence she said, “Did you bring your study materials?”
“The list you were e-mailed? With what you’d need for each session?”
Spence looked at me. “My mom set this up. No hablo any list. Sorry.”
Jenn sighed, coming out from behind the counter. “Follow me.”
He did, and thus ensued the first of several, in Jenn’s words, “excruciatingly painful” tutoring sessions.
“It’s not just that he thinks he’s so charming,” she said to me later, as we were packing up. “Although that’s a lot of it. He’s also just really, really stupid. It’s not a flattering combination. I’m surprised Layla can stand him.”
“She’d be the first to tell you she does not have the best taste in guys,” I replied. “And I don’t even know if they’re still together, anyway.”
“For her sake, I hope not.” She zipped up her bag. “I don’t even know that girl and I’m sure she can do better.”
Apparently, Layla had, in fact, not yet realized this. The next Saturday, I looked out to see Rosie pulling up in front of Kiger’s front window, Mrs. Chatham riding shotgun. As she turned toward the backseat, I saw Layla there, gathering her purse into her lap. Her hair was falling across her face, so she didn’t spot me as she replied, then got out of the car. It was only when they drove off and she peered in the window that our eyes met.
I never forget a face, she’d said all those weeks ago, but I wondered what she thought now, seeing mine. She had on a black sweater, jeans, and motorcycle boots, her bag slung over one shoulder, and like every other time I’d caught a glimpse of her since that night, I realized how much I missed her. On the counter in front of me, my phone lit up as a text came in, Mac’s icon popping up on the screen. For once, though, I didn’t grab it. Then, like a reward, she was coming in.
The tone sounded over the door—beep!—but neither of us said hello. She didn’t approach the counter, either, stopping instead by one of our uncomfortable foyer chairs. Still, this was progress, so I did my part and spoke first.
“Hey. You here to meet Spence?”
She looked at me. “Yeah. He said you were working here.”
So she had known and came here anyway. Another good sign. “Just for a couple of weeks now.”
“You like it?”
“No,” I said. For this, I got a mild smile, encouragement enough to add, “My mom signed me up to be here every day. I might as well get paid for it.”
Layla sat down on the chair arm, pulling her bag into her lap. “Mac said she’s keeping you on a pretty tight leash.”
“More like a choke collar.” Saying this, I realized I’d been holding my breath. She’d mentioned Mac, though—that had to be good, right? God, I hoped so. “How have you been?”
She shrugged, playing with a bit of fringe on her purse. “All right. Busy. My mom’s been sick some. I guess you knew that, though.”
Up until this point, the whole conversation had felt like a house of cards, liable to collapse at any moment. But this was Layla. I’d always spoken straight with her. It felt wrong to do otherwise, even if it was safer. “Look,” I said, “I should have told you about Mac, how I felt. I’m sorry.”
She bit her lip, still fiddling with her purse. Then she looked at me. “I just couldn’t believe you kept it a secret. I thought we told each other everything.”
“We did,” I replied. She raised an eyebrow. “Okay, okay. But you’d been so clear that you did not want any of your friends ever liking him. And I did. I . . . I do. I didn’t want to have to choose between you. But then everything happened, and now you hate me anyway.”
“Sydney.” She cocked her head to the side. “I don’t hate you.”
“You’re not happy.”
“Because you guys snuck around behind my back!”
“How was I supposed to tell you? You said you never wanted to have a friend date him again.”
“No, what I said,” she told me, “was that I’d never again be responsible for bringing someone into Mac’s life who would hurt him. Are you planning to do that?”
I shook my head. “No.”
“Good. Then there’s no problem here, other than you guys made me feel stupid. And I hate feeling stupid. You know that.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, meaning it.
“Okay.” She took a deep breath, then let it out. “But if you do hurt him, I don’t care if you are my best friend, I’ll kick your ass. Are we clear?”
“Crystal,” I replied.
Now I got a real smile, and then she was coming over to the counter across from me. “So tell me about this tutor of Spence’s. He claims she’s got the hots for him. True or not?”
For the next ten minutes, until Jenn and Spence emerged from their study room, we talked nonstop. About Mrs. Chatham’s visits to the ER and yet another new medication she was on. How Rosie’s return to training was going, and her hopes of returning to the Mariposa tour. The latest on Eric’s submitting the demo to the showcase—no word yet, but he was wholly confident, as always—and the ongoing band name debate. Then, finally, how Spence’s grounding after getting busted for breaking into his stepdad’s liquor cabinet had made their meetings practically impossible.