Saint Anything Page 46

“Really?” my mother said. “How impressive. You must be so proud.”

“Until the drug bust,” Layla said. “Since then, not so much.”

Mr. Chatham just looked at her, while my mom, clearly surprised, struggled to get her expression back under control. I closed my eyes.

“Anyway,” Layla continued, “did you guys get everything you need? Drinks? Garlic knots?”

“We’re fine,” I told her. “I can’t wait for Mom to try your pizza.”

“I’ll make sure you get an extra big piece,” Mr. Chatham said, turning back to the counter. “Nice to meet you, Julie.”

“And you as well!” she replied. She sat back down as Layla followed him back behind the counter, turning to look at me. When they were out of earshot, she said in a low voice, “Drugs?”

“Rosie had an injury that led to some legal issues with prescriptions,” I explained, watching her face carefully. Before Peyton’s troubles, the judgment would have been automatic, almost a reflex. Now, however, she didn’t have that option unless she wanted to risk looking like a hypocrite. It was clever of Layla, I realized, to expose our common denominator right off the bat, letting her know that for all the differences, we did share something. “She’s getting back into skating now. I watched her practice the other day.”

“You did?” she said.

I nodded. “She was pretty amazing.”

Mac appeared beside us, carrying two plates of pizza. “One pepperoni, one roma,” he said, putting them down. “Anything else?”

“Not right now, I don’t think,” I told him. “Thanks.”

He nodded, then returned to the register, where Layla was now leaning against the counter, YumYum in her mouth, watching us. Her dad said something and she nodded, then replied, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear.

“Wow,” my mom said, dabbing at her mouth with a napkin. “That is good.”

“Told you,” I said.

She glanced up at the picture beside us, which was of a boardwalk lined with games of chance, the sea visible in the distance. “I’m curious about the name. Not much coast around here.”

“I think it came from up north, from another place her granddad owned,” I said.

She nodded, then stopped chewing, cocking her head to one side. “Is that a banjo I hear?”

“Bluegrass,” I said. “It’s all that’s on the jukebox.”

For a moment, we ate in silence. The phone rang behind the counter. Mac took an order. Mr. Chatham disappeared into the office. Meanwhile, the sun slanted in the front window, making little bits of dust on the table beside us dance.

“How did you meet Layla, again?” my mom finally asked me.

I swallowed the bite in my mouth. “Here. I came in for a slice after school. And we just started talking.”

She looked back at Mac, who was pulling a pie out of the oven. “You said her mother was ill.”

“She has MS. I think they trade off taking care of her.”

“How awful.” She wiped her mouth. “And where do they live?”

“About two blocks from here.”

I could sense I was close to getting what I wanted, which was also near enough to worry about it slipping away. So I kept quiet and waited for her to speak again. Instead, the next sound that came was her phone.

She pulled it out of her bag. Upon seeing the screen, her eyes widened, and she quickly scrambled to hit the TALK button. “Hello?”

Distantly, I could hear the sound of an automated voice.

“Yes.” Her voice was clear and loud enough that Layla and Mac both looked over at us. “I’ll accept the charges.”

It was Peyton. I could tell by her face, the way her eyes filled with tears when, after a beat, he began to speak. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but I didn’t have to. I’d always had a sense when it came to my brother. And anyway, his voice had more presence than most people did face-to-face.

“Oh, honey,” she said, putting her other hand to her face. “Hello. Hello! How are you? I’ve been so worried!”

As he replied, she got to her feet and headed for the door, the phone clamped to her ear. Once outside, she began pacing on the sidewalk, her face all attention, listening hard.

“Looks like an important call.”

I glanced up to see Layla standing beside me. “My brother,” I said. “It’s the first time he’s had phone access in a while.”

She was still watching my mom, moving back and forth in front of the window. “She sure looks happy.”

“Yeah. She does.”

Neither of us spoke for a second. Then, wordlessly, she put a root beer YumYum beside my plate. Compensation? A gesture of sympathy? It could have been both these things, or neither of them. It really didn’t matter. I was grateful for it.

* * *

When I got to Layla’s later that afternoon, I was surprised to see several cars parked in the driveway and along the curb. Clearly, I was not the only one who had been invited over.

No matter, though. I was just glad to be there, even if it did take my brother to make it happen. After hanging up with him, my mom was so over the moon, I probably could have gotten anything I asked for. This, though, was all I wanted.

I parked behind a minivan that I recognized as belonging to Ford, the bass player in Eric and Mac’s band, the name of which was still in flux. Before Hey Dude, they’d been known as Hog Dog Water, both names Eric felt did not “do their art justice.” This had been the subject of another extended discussion at lunch on Friday, during which Layla said he should pick a name and stick with it, for recognition if nothing else. He, however, maintained that a band’s identity was not something to be decided lightly: whatever they became next was important. Unlike, say, Hot Dog Water.

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