Saint Anything Page 27

She stopped talking suddenly, staring over my shoulder. Instantly, her expression went from open and friendly to guarded. Before I even glanced behind me, I knew Ames had appeared.

“This is the friend?” he said when I did look his way.

“Layla,” I told him. To her, I added, “Come on in.”

She didn’t move. Instead, she turned her head toward Mac. I couldn’t make out her expression, but a second later, he was getting out of the truck. When he joined her on the steps, she finally stepped inside.

“Ames Bentley,” Ames said to them, extending a hand. “Close friend of the family.”

“This is Mac,” I said. They shook. I took the pizza from Layla. “Come on in the kitchen.”

We went, with me leading, Ames right behind, and the Chathams bringing up the rear. Right away, I saw Layla surveying the scene in the dining room. When she saw the candles, she looked right at me.

“Pretty fancy,” she said. “What’s going on?”

“Just showing off my cooking skills for Sydney,” Ames said. “Thought I’d wow her with my sauce, but she went and ordered a pizza. She’s a heartbreaker, this one.”

“Where’s your mom, again?” Layla asked me, ignoring this.

“She and my dad are at a conference.”

“All weekend?”

“Now, don’t get any ideas about parties,” Ames said, holding up his hands. “That’s what I’m here to prevent.”

“I wasn’t going to have a party,” I said quietly.

“Sure.” He grinned, then looked at Mac. “You guys want some dinner? Or a drink? Nonalcoholic only. House rules.”

“No, thanks,” Mac said, just as his phone beeped. He pulled it out, glancing at the screen, then said to Layla, “Another order. I should get going.”

“Lucky me,” Ames said. “Spending the evening with two lovely ladies.”

In response, Mac just looked at him, his expression flat and unsmiling. After a beat, he said to Layla, “You left your stuff in the truck.”

“Oh,” she said. “Right. I’ll come out with you.”

He turned to walk to the door. As she fell in behind him, she looked at me, clearly wanting me to follow. Before I could, I felt Ames put his hand on my shoulder. “Little help cleaning up, Sydney?”

I followed him back into the dining room, where he gathered up his plate. Lowering his voice, he said, “When your mom calls, you know I have to tell her about this.”

“I’m not doing anything wrong,” I said.

“She didn’t expect you to have company, though.” I looked at him, his head bent as he picked up his napkin, and felt a surge of anger bolt through me. Like my mom was anticipating what he’d intended for that evening. Turning toward the kitchen, he added, “Don’t worry, I’ll spin it the best I can. You just owe me.”

To this, I said nothing, instead just standing there as, slowly, Mac’s truck began backing down my driveway. When he reached the road, his headlights swept across the window, catching me in their sudden glow. He sat there for a beat. Another. Then, slowly, he drove away.

* * *

“Okay,” Layla said, sitting down opposite me. “What the hell is the deal with that guy?”

I looked down at my hands. After an awkward conversation in the kitchen, with Ames hanging on our every word, she’d asked to see my room, giving us an excuse to go upstairs. I shut the door behind us; she went to lock it, only to find there was no way to do so. When Peyton first got into trouble, my mom had removed the locks from all the bedroom doors, implementing the policy of Knocks Not Locks. It was, apparently, about respect and trust. Or so she said.

“He’s my brother’s best friend,” I told her now. “And he creeps me out.”

“Of course he does.” She said this flatly: a fact. “He’s creepy. He was with you that day, right? In the courthouse.”

That explained the expression when she first saw him. Never forget a face. “Yeah. He, um, tends to stick pretty close.”

She shuddered visibly. “What does your mom say?”

“She loves him. It’s like he’s filled the hole my brother left, or at least made it less empty.”

“What about your dad?”

“He doesn’t notice much of anything when it comes to me.”

I’d never thought this before, actually, but as soon as I said it, I realized it was true. My mom’s distraction was new, a result of cause and effect. My dad’s had always been there. Before Peyton, it was work. Before work, who knew.

“Well, that sucks,” she said. She looked around my room. “So he’s here with you both nights?”

“I was supposed to go to a friend’s. She got sick, so my dad asked him and his girlfriend to fill in last-minute.”

“Girlfriend?”

“Stomach bug,” I explained. “Apparently.”

“I’m sure he wasn’t exactly disappointed,” she replied. “If he even invited her in the first place.”

“You think?” I asked. She just looked at me. “The candles and dinner were a bit unexpected.”

“Ugh.” She shuddered. “I’m glad you called me.”

“I’m glad you came.”

She smiled. “We’ll deal with tomorrow night later. For now, though, I need to get a peek inside your closet. It looks massive. It’s a walk-in, right?”

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