Saint Anything Page 45

“That was different,” she replied, pouring herself more coffee. “You were here, and Ames was with you.”

Which was so much safer, I thought. But of course she thought it was. I wondered if he actually looked different to her physically, his very features starkly different, since we saw him in such opposite ways. “I stayed home last night, like you asked me to. You said today was mine to do what I chose.”

“I meant something like going to the movies, or out to lunch. Not disappearing for a full night to a strange place.”

“Mom. It’s across town, not Neverland.”

She made a face at me, then looked at my dad, who was bent over his customary huge plate of bacon and eggs, reading the sports page. “Peyton? Could you weigh in here?”

“Sure.” He sat back, wiping his hands on a napkin. “On what?”

“Sydney wants to spend the night at her friend Layla’s house tonight.”

My dad looked at me, then back at her, clearly trying to guess what the issue was. I marveled, as always, at his ability to be literally inside a conversation and yet miss it altogether. Slowly, he said, “And the problem is . . .”

“That we don’t know her? Or her family?”

“Can we meet them?” he asked.

My mom looked at me, as if this prospect would dampen my drive to do this. “Sure,” I said. “Her parents own a pizza place over by my school. I’m sure they’re open for lunch. Her dad’s usually there.”

It was a tribute to how desperate I was that I was willing to bring my mom to Seaside. But this was not just me getting what I wanted. What I’d overheard her say to Ames the night before was still on my mind. There was nothing she could really do when it came to knowing more about Peyton’s world. But maybe I could give her a wider glimpse into mine.

Three hours later, I was in the passenger seat of her hybrid SUV, directing her into a parking space. My dad had a racquetball game, so it was just us, and I was strangely nervous, as if this was some sort of test I needed to pass. She cut the engine, then flipped down her visor, checking her lipstick. “Hungry?” she asked me.

“Totally,” I replied. “The pizza is great here.”

Inside, I saw Mac first, in a SEASIDE T-shirt and jeans, behind the counter spreading sauce onto an uncooked pie. For the first time, the thin silver chain he wore was fully visible, and I saw that it had a charm on it, something circular that looked like a coin, although it was hard to tell from a distance. “Hey,” he said. “Layla said you might be in.”

“Is she around?”

“On her way. Five minutes or so.”

I looked at my mom, who was silently taking in the dark décor, plastic tables, and black-and-white pictures lining the walls. “Mom, this is Mac,” I told her. “Layla’s brother.”

“Nice to meet you,” he said, wiping a hand on a nearby towel and extending it. My mom reached over the counter, and they shook. “Can I get you guys something?”

My mom squinted at the menu. “How are the salads?”

“Not as good as the pizza,” he replied.

At this, she smiled. “They never are, are they?”

“Nope.”

I shot him a grateful look, wondering how much Layla had told him. Is your dad at Seaside? I’d texted her earlier. Mom wants a face to the overnight.

Noon, she’d replied. Don’t worry. We clean up well.

Texting was always weird when it came to tone, and seeing this, I wondered if I’d offended her. When she walked through the back door ten minutes later, though, I knew right off I shouldn’t have worried.

“Hey,” she said. She was in a wingy, patterned skirt and a white T-shirt, her hair pulled back in a ponytail, flip-flops on her feet. In her hand, glistening, was a cotton candy YumYum. Her dad was behind her, carrying a couple of shopping bags. She walked up to my mom and stuck out her hand. “Finally, we meet. I’m Layla.”

“Well, hello,” my mom said, shaking her hand. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“Hopefully all good.” Layla looked at me. “Although I bet it was mostly food-related.”

“Layla loves French fries,” I explained to my mom. “And lollipops.”

“All the components of a healthy diet,” Layla said cheerfully. As she turned, looking at her dad, I could see my mom sizing her up, and wondered how she saw her. No fancy labels on her clothes, a worn purse not from this season or probably even the last. That lollipop. “Hey, Dad. Come here a second.”

Mr. Chatham emerged from behind the counter, tying an apron around his waist. “You must be Sydney’s mother,” he said to my mom. “Mac Chatham.”

“Julie Stanford. You and your son have the same name?” my mom said, shaking his hand.

“Family tradition,” he explained. “My dad was Macaulay as well.”

“It’s the same with my husband, his father, and Sydney’s brother. Three Peytons. When they’re all in the same room, confusion reigns.”

“I can usually tell which one my wife is yelling at by her tone,” he told her. “I get a bit more leeway, due to the marriage factor. But not much.”

“You have other children?”

“One. Rosie. She’s two years older than this one,” he said, cocking his thumb at Mac.

“She does competitive ice skating,” I added. “She toured with the Mariposa show.”

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