A pause. More sizzling. Then, “I’m listening.”
Okay. I took in a breath. “So, I know I screwed up having my friends here that night. And Layla’s boyfriend drinking—”
“You were drinking, as I remember.”
One sip, I thought, then reminded myself to stay focused. “Right. What I did was wrong. But since then, I feel like I’ve done everything you and Dad have asked me to. The study group at lunch, Kiger anytime I’m not at school, then homework here afterward. I haven’t been anywhere else, nor have I asked to do so.”
She still had her back to me, so I couldn’t see how I was doing. I took it as promising, however, when she said, “I’m with you so far.”
Headlights were turning into our driveway, which meant either my dad or Ames would be walking in soon. One-on-one was better; I needed to keep going. “My friends’ band got a spot in a showcase. The winner gets a real demo from an actual label. The show’s early, at seven, next Friday. All ages. I really want to go.”
She lowered the heat on the burner and put the spoon down. Then she turned and looked at me. “These are the same friends who were here?”
I nodded. “Yes.”
“Oh, Sydney.” She sighed, running a hand through her hair. “I wish you would have asked about anything else.”
My heart sank. “But this is what I want.”
“To go to a club? With people that I know drink?”
“It was just Layla’s boyfriend. They’re not together anymore.”
“That’s not the point,” she replied. “What you’re asking is a big leap for your father and me. We’d prefer to return your privileges gradually, based on how things go.”
Which was just what Mac had said. “It’s just one night,” I said, not ready to cave yet. “Then we can go right back to how it is now.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing. You’ve been doing very well lately.” She turned back to the stove. “To be honest, I’m hesitant to change anything.”
“You just said you were in the mood for it, though.”
She laughed. “I was talking about dinner.”
The garage door was creaking open now. I had a minute, maybe two, before I was facing a united front. “Please just think about it. That’s all I’m asking. Not a no, not yet. Please?”
I’d laid out my case, presented points to her counterpoints. There was nothing else I could do but ask and hope that the luck Layla had talked about might find me.
“All right,” she said as the door from the garage opened. “I’ll think about it. Now will you please get me the curry powder and cumin from the cupboard? My sauce is thickening.”
I walked over, taking down the bottles she needed and bringing them to her. The contents of the large frying pan looked unlike anything she’d ever prepared before. I didn’t even know what tempeh was, but it didn’t seem very appetizing. I kept that thought to myself, however, as I handed her the spices. She squinted at the open cookbook, then twisted the top off the cumin.
“Here goes nothing,” she said, shaking some in. More steam rose up, followed by another blast as the curry powder hit. She poked at the vegetables with her spoon, folding them over once, then again. “What do you think?”
“It’s a change.”
“That it is.” She tossed in some more cumin, then leaned in close, taking a long sniff, then gestured for me to do the same. Hesitantly, I did. It didn’t smell bad or good. Just new. Different.
IT WAS Saturday morning, and I was just getting out of the shower. The first voice I heard when I opened the bathroom door was Ames’s.
“Julie? Got a minute?”
He stepped out into the hallway, his phone in his hand. Instinctively, I pulled my towel more tightly around me.
“Not really,” my mom called back from the War Room. “I’m kind of in the middle of something.”
“I have a feeling you’re not going to mind this particular interruption.” He smiled at me, broadly, as he walked to her open doorway. Then he held the phone out to her.
I had to give the guy credit. Presented with the possibility of being evicted from our house and daily life, he’d worked the only miracle he was capable of. I knew it the minute she said hello.
Peyton, he mouthed at me anyway, still smiling.
Suddenly, my mom was breathless, laughing, her words coming quickly and close together. Even from another room, I could feel her mood brighten, picture her face, flushed and happy. Just like that, everything changes.
But not completely. Despite the fact that they talked for a full half hour—my mom not budging once from the War Room, as if taking a single step might break this spell—Peyton wanted to take things slowly. When she asked if she could visit, he told her no, not yet; the phone was all he was ready for. Later, I wondered how Ames had talked him around, what he’d said to break this stalemate. If mothers could lift cars off their babies when necessary, it made sense that a person could go even further for their own self-preservation.
I’d gotten so used to Peyton’s not calling that I was actually surprised when the phone rang one afternoon a couple of days later. After the recorded voice finished, I took a breath.
“Hey,” I said. “Long time.”
There was a pause; I heard voices in the background. “Yeah. Things got kind of . . . tense. It had nothing to do with you.”
Now I was quiet for a moment. Then I said, “It’s been tense here, too. Mom busted me with my friends over, and I was drinking. She freaked and has had me on lockdown since.”