That was just the issue. I knew not to expect everything; I never had. All I wanted was this thing. Even if it was a long shot, at least it gave me something to aim for during all those long afternoons at Kiger, or here in my room at night, staring at my unlocked door with only my Saint Anything for welcome company.
“Just think a good thought for me, okay?” I asked him. “And step away from the chips.”
He exhaled; I’d made him smile. “I’ll do my best.”
When we hung up, I looked at the calendar I kept on my desk. On it were my school and work obligations—my personal stuff I kept on my phone—and I scanned the various items: SAT practice test, college night, Kiger payday. Then I picked up a pen, moved to the date of the showcase, and drew a circle around it, then another. I didn’t write anything, as that did seem too confident. But just putting it in there made it seem possible, and anyway, I knew what it was.
MY DAD cleared his throat. Because I knew from experience this meant a subject change, announcement, or important remark was to follow, I gave him my full attention. So did my mom. Ames, however, kept eating.
“So. What’s the latest on the job front?”
My mother picked up her wineglass, taking a sip. From the way she was watching my father, it was clear this query was not spontaneous. A discussion had preceded it: there was a plan here.
Ames swallowed. “I’ve got a few leads. One of my friends at the Walker has a call in to that new Valley Inn about a front desk position. It’s really competitive, though, so I’m not sure of my chances.”
“I’m sure there are other opportunities besides hospitality,” my dad said. “I’ve seen a lot of Help Wanted signs lately.”
“Maybe,” Ames replied, picking up his water glass. “But I’d prefer to hold out for something in my field.”
My parents exchanged a look. Then my dad said, “A paycheck’s a paycheck, though.”
“True,” Ames agreed. “But I have a feeling this Valley Inn thing is going to happen.”
The silence that followed this was so awkward, I felt it in my stomach. Finally, something was shifting here. I just didn’t know what it was yet.
After dinner, I went up to my room and settled in at my desk, my phone nearby in case Mac had a few minutes between deliveries to talk. I was just starting my ecology homework when I heard someone come up the stairs. A beat, and then: rap, rap-rap.
I walked over, opening the door. “Yeah?”
“Question,” he said, stepping forward so I had no choice but to move out of the way and let him in. “Got a phone charger you can spare? I can’t find mine.”
Already, he was sitting on my bed, grabbing one of my magazines off the bedside table. I pulled open my desk drawer, retrieving my charger, then held it out to him. “Here.”
He flipped a page, then glanced up at me, but didn’t reach for it. “Oh. Great, thanks.”
I dropped it on the bed beside him, then went back to my desk. He didn’t budge, even as I returned to my homework. Every minute or so, I’d hear him turn a page.
My phone beeped, and I glanced at it. It was a text from Mac.
6 orders garlic knots. Nothing else. Ideas?
I smiled. Spaghetti dinner? Carb addicts meeting?
Will let you know.
“So,” Ames said. “What are you working on over there?”
I put my phone down. “Ecology.”
“Ugh.” He made a face. “Just the word sounds hard.”
To this, I said nothing, going back to my work and hoping he’d take the hint. No luck. I was wondering if I’d actually have to ask him to leave when my mom came down the hallway.
“Sydney, I forgot to mention that—” she was saying, but stopped suddenly when she spotted Ames on my bed. “Oh. I thought you were studying.”
“I am,” I said.
“I’m distracting her,” Ames said cheerfully, shutting the magazine.
As the crease between my mom’s eyes deepened, I knew I hadn’t been wrong earlier at dinner: whatever pull Ames had once had over her, it was waning, if not gone altogether. And he didn’t even know it. “Better let her get back to it,” she said, her voice clipped. “Okay?”
Now he looked up. “Oh. Sure.”
My mom stepped back from the door, clearing the way for him to leave. A beat passed, though, then another, before he took the hint and got to his feet. “Thanks for the charger,” he said to me, then squeezed my shoulder as he passed. “You’re the best.”
I said nothing, my eyes on my mom as she watched him take his time leaving the room. As he passed her, he said, “You want some coffee? I’m thinking about making a pot.”
“No, I’m fine,” she replied. “I have work to do.”
“Okay,” he said, turning toward Peyton’s room. “If you change your mind, just let me know.”
My mom watched him walk away. When she looked at me, I went back to my book, quickly.
“You want this open or closed?” she asked, nodding at the door.
We looked at each other for a long moment. She gets it, I thought. Not all of it, but some, finally. Finally.
“Closed,” I said. She nodded and shut the door.
* * *
The next afternoon, I was sitting behind the counter at Kiger listening to Jenn lecture her morons about quadratic equations when Mac’s truck pulled up right outside the door. I blinked, not quite believing my eyes. But when Layla climbed out and came in the door, I knew it was for real.