“What I’m saying is that she can’t take back what he did, or even begin to fix it,” she continued. “But she can try to make sure, with you, that it never happens again on her watch. It’s all about regret and how you deal with it. That’s something you two have in common. Maybe you should talk to her about it.”
“She doesn’t discuss David Ibarra, ever,” I told her. “As far as she’s concerned, it’s all about Peyton.”
“Just because a person isn’t talking about something doesn’t mean it’s not on their mind. Often, in fact, it’s why they won’t speak of it.”
I was quiet a moment, thinking about how Peyton had surprised me. Then I said, “Because it makes it real.”
A breeze blew up behind me, kicking some leaves into the air. I wished, in that moment, that I was at Commons Park with Mac, not thinking about any of this. It was easier to just be mad at my mom; sympathy and empathy are complicated things. But nothing had been simple, not for a long time. I looked at the clock. 5:10.
“I should go,” I said as Rosie came out of the pharmacy, a bag in her hand. Still no sign of Layla. “She freaks out if I’m unaccounted for.”
Mrs. Chatham nodded, then slid a hand out the window toward me, palm up, fingers spread. I gave her my own hand, and she squeezed it tight. “Just think about what I said, yes? About talking to her.”
“I will,” I replied. “And thanks.”
She winked at me, then released my hand, just as Rosie got in, climbing back behind the wheel. Once in my car, I looked over at them, sitting there together. They were talking, Rosie drinking a soda while her mom ate from a bag of potato chips. I watched her pop one in her mouth, then offer the bag over. Rosie took one, then handed her the soda to take a sip. All wordless, so natural, a sync long established. It was such a little thing, hardly important, but it stayed with me all the way home.
* * *
“Well, that’s just ridiculous. I’ve never even heard of such a thing.” I’d come home with Mrs. Chatham still on my mind. When I pulled up to the house and saw Ames’s Lexus in the driveway, however, any possibility of bridging the topic of David Ibarra with my mom was shot. Inside, I found him at the kitchen table, while she stood at the stove, stirring a risotto.
“I’ve only been late one month before this,” Ames was saying. “One! I think they just wanted me out so they could jack up the rent for some other sucker.”
“You need to look at your lease,” my mom told him, glancing at me as I put my backpack on the counter. “See if they’re actually allowed to do this. I could call Sawyer, if you like.”
“No, I don’t want you to go to any trouble,” Ames replied. Then he looked at me. “Sydney! I was wondering when you’d show up.”
“Work ran late?” my mom asked. Of course she’d noticed.
“Just a little,” I said. “Can I help with anything?”
“You could set the table. Put a place for Ames; he’s staying.”
“Oh, Julie,” he said, as if he didn’t know being over at this hour meant an automatic invitation, “you don’t have to take pity on me. I’m a big boy.”
“You’re practically homeless,” she replied. “The least I can do is feed you.”
I walked over to the silverware drawer behind the kitchen table, making a concentrated point not to look at Ames. “My crooked landlord kicked me out today,” he explained anyway. “Add that to being laid off last week and I’m batting a thousand.”
“Ridiculous,” my mom said again. “When it rains, it pours.”
“I’m in a monsoon, then,” Ames replied. He was still talking directly to me. “But I’ve got a couple of leads on jobs, and some friends with open couches. I’ll be okay.”
My dad was pulling into the driveway, the garage door opening. “You don’t have to resort to that when we have a free bedroom just sitting there,” my mom said. “You’ll stay with us until you find a new place.”
I froze, my fist full of forks.
“Julie, no,” Ames told her, a fake firmness in his voice. “I can’t impose on you like that.”
“You’re not imposing,” she replied. “After all you’ve done for Peyton, and us, it’s the very least we can do.”
Somehow, I managed to set the table, then sit through dinner. Ames was there in my brother’s traditional seat, to my dad’s left and across from me, and now he’d be moving into his room, as well. He continued to pretend to resist, while my mom assured him it was just until he was “back on his feet.” After we ate, I took as long as I could to load the dishwasher and clean up before I went upstairs to do homework. Even so, I had a front-row seat as Ames unloaded his stuff—such a coincidence, he happened to have it all in the car—load by load into the room next to mine. Each time he passed, he glanced in at me. Finally, I shut the door.
I’d never seen Eric run before, but in the seconds preceding this announcement, he’d covered the school parking lot in the blink of an eye. Now, panting, he stood before us, eyes wide.
“In . . .” Mac repeated, prompting him.
“The showcase! We made it!” He bent over, hands on his knees, then sucked in a breath and straightened up. “I just got the text.”
“Seriously?” Layla said.