“But you’re here,” I pointed out.
“Only after much strategizing, and just for an hour,” she said. “He told his mom he was taking an extra session, so he’s not expected back until five. But he got his car taken away, and I never have any of ours, so we’re at Rosie’s mercy.”
“Or Mac’s,” I said.
She shook her head. “He was never a fan of Spence’s. But after what happened that night at your house, and to you? He’s not doing anything to help him out. Even if it means helping me, too.”
Hearing this, I felt touched and guilty all at once. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay. I understand.” She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. “But like you were saying, when you really care about someone, you can’t just stop. Even if you have a good reason. You know?”
I nodded, and then Jenn was coming down the hallway, a tired expression on her face. Behind her I could hear Spence saying, “Lighten up! I didn’t mean it as an insult. I was just saying if you smiled more, you’d be a pretty girl.”
“Just stop talking,” Jenn told him. “Please.”
“Prettier! I meant prettier!” he added, just as he rounded the corner. “Oh! Hey! Baby! You’re here.”
Layla just looked at him, a flat expression on her face. I said, “Um, Jenn, this is Layla. Layla, this is my friend Jenn, from Perkins Day.”
Jenn, ever friendly, stuck out her hand. “Nice to meet you finally. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“Same here,” Layla replied. They shook. “So. Is he a genius yet?”
“Not quite,” Jenn told her, sitting down behind the counter. “But we have made some progress on vocabulary.”
“Abscond,” Spence said to Layla, sliding an arm around her waist. “That means run away with. You impressed?”
“No,” she said, pulling back.
“What if I buy some fries?” he asked.
“It’s a start.” She sighed, pulling her bag over her shoulder, then said to me, “See you Monday?”
I nodded. “See you then.”
Jenn and I watched them leave, the door buzzing as they did so. They started across the lot to CrashBurger, whose fries I knew Layla rated a seven on her ten-point scale. Good news for Spence. He needed all the help he could get.
At five o’clock, Jenn and I shut down the computers, locked up, and said good-bye. I was standing by my car, digging for my keys, when I heard a horn beep. I turned and there was Rosie, pulling into a spot nearby. When I waved, Mrs. Chatham gestured for me to come over.
“Hi,” I said as she rolled down the window, smiling at me.
“Hi yourself!” she replied as Rosie put the car in park. “What are you doing here?”
“I work at the tutoring center,” I told her.
“Mom, I’m running in the drugstore. You need anything?” Rosie asked.
“Nope. I’ll just stay here and catch up with Sydney.” Rosie climbed out of the car, shutting the door with a bang behind her. “So. How are things at home?”
I wasn’t sure how much she’d been told. My guess, however, was enough so it would make sense as I said, “Complicated.”
“Ah,” she said, nodding. “How’s your brother?”
“He’s . . .” I trailed off, for once not sure what word to use to describe Peyton. “We were actually talking a little bit. About my mom, and kind of about what happened, as well as some other stuff. Not much, but a little.”
“That’s good to hear.” She smiled at me. “Slow progress is still progress.”
“I’m realizing . . .” I began, then stopped, taking a breath. “Maybe I didn’t know exactly how he was feeling. I assumed a lot. I feel kind of bad about it.”
“You shouldn’t,” she said. “Relationships evolve, just like people do. Just because you know someone doesn’t mean you know everything about them. Even your brother.”
“It’s just weird. Like, I got used to talking with him, but he’s not speaking to my mom and not calling.” I looked down at my keys. “He got upset with her about being so involved in his life, even in prison. So now I’m her main project.”
“I did hear,” she said, “that you’ve been otherwise occupied.”
I glanced over at CrashBurger: there was no sign of Layla. According to the sign outside the bank, it was now 5:04. My mom was waiting. But I didn’t want to leave, not yet. “The thing is, I can admit I did something I shouldn’t have. Broke her trust. But it was the only time I ever did, the only time I’ve done anything wrong. By the way she’s punished me, you’d think I was the one who almost killed someone.”
A car drove by, the music loud and all bass, in that way that makes your teeth hurt. Mrs. Chatham waited until they passed us, then said, “She’s scared, Sydney. She doesn’t want to lose you, too.”
“It’s not fair, though. I’m paying for what Peyton did. Again. I’m sick of it.”
She gave me a sympathetic look. “Remember how you told me how often you think about that boy? The one your brother hurt?”
“David Ibarra,” I said.
She nodded. “If you feel that way, that strongly, that guilty, can you even imagine how it is for her? You were just a bystander. But your brother, that’s her child. Her responsibility. Whatever he does is part of her. Always.”
I thought of Rosie. With her bust, she’d only really hurt herself. Or so I’d thought.