Saint Anything Page 48

She got up, and I followed her across the muddy backyard to the house, where a mossy line of paving stones led up to the back door. It creaked when she pulled it open, a sound that appeared to summon the dogs, which swarmed our ankles, barking wildly, as we went inside.

“Sydney’s here,” she called out as the door swung shut behind us. It took a second to adjust from the brightness outside. But then, yet again, it was all in place: the couch, the huge TV, the two cluttered tables flanking the recliner, in which Mrs. Chatham was seated, wearing a sweatshirt that said MIAMI and scrub pants. As I watched, the dogs, having lost interest in us, jumped up and burrowed under the blanket spread across her lap.

“Welcome,” she said to me. “I hear you’re spending the night.”

“Yeah,” I replied. “Thanks for having me.”

“Don’t thank us yet,” Layla said. “You may change your mind once the music starts.”

“The music?” I repeated. I looked out the window. “They’re already playing, though.”

“Not that music. My dad’s. As it turns out, he also invited a bunch of people over tonight. Not that anyone told me.”

“I bet Sydney will love it,” her mother said.

“It’s bluegrass,” Layla told me. “Nothing but bluegrass. All night long. If you don’t like mandolin, you’re in trouble.”

“You have a door on your room; feel free to use it,” Mrs. Chatham said, in a tone that, while cheerful, made it clear it was the end of the discussion. “Now, go make some popcorn, would you, honey? I want to talk to Sydney a second.”

Layla glanced at me, then turned, walking into the kitchen. For a minute, I felt like I might be in trouble, although I couldn’t imagine what for. When I looked at Mrs. Chatham, though, she was smiling at me. I sat down in a nearby chair just as Layla turned on the microwave.

“So,” she said as one of the dogs shifted position on her lap. “I saw the article in the paper.”

Over the last few months, I’d realized that there was really no ideal way for anyone to talk to me about Peyton. If they avoided the subject, but it was clearly on their minds, things felt awkward. Addressing it head-on, however, was often worse, like a train coming toward me I was helpless to stop. Really, nothing felt right, yet this gentle inquiry was the closest I’d gotten. An acknowledgment and sympathy, while still respecting the facts. It took me by such surprise, I couldn’t speak at first. So I was glad when she continued.

“That must have been so hard for you, and your family,” she said. “I can’t even imagine.”

“It is,” I finally managed. “Hard, I mean. Mostly for my mom. I hate what it’s done to her.”

“She’s suffering.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Yeah.” I looked down at my hands. “But . . . so is that boy. David Ibarra. I mean, he really is.”

“Of course.” Again, no judgment, just a prod to keep going. So I did.

“I think . . .” I began, but then suddenly it was too big to say or even exist outside of my own head. It was one thing to let these thoughts haunt the dark spaces of my mind, but another entirely to put them into the light, making them real. She was looking at me so intently, though, and this place was so new, with no semblance of the world before except for the fact that I was in it. “I think my parents see Peyton as the victim, in some ways. And I hate that. It makes me sick. It’s just so . . . It’s wrong.”

“You feel guilty.”

“Yes,” I said, the vehemence of this one word surprising me. Like simply concurring made my soul rush out, gone. “I do. So much. Every single day.”

“Oh, honey.” She reached out, putting her hand over mine. In the next room, the popcorn was popping, producing the buttery smell I associated with movies and after school, all those lonely afternoons. “Why do you feel like you have to shoulder your brother’s responsibility?”

“Because someone has to,” I said. I looked into her eyes, green flecked with brown, just like Layla’s. “That’s why.”

Instead of replying, she squeezed my hand. I knew I could pull away and it would still be all right. But when Layla came in a few minutes later with the popcorn, that was how she found us. I’d let so much go, finally. It made sense, I suppose, that right then I would maybe just want to hold on.

Chapter 12

“HOW MUCH farther?”

“You always ask that.”

“And I always mean it.” A pause. Then, “Seriously, how much?”

Up ahead, Mac turned around, shining the flashlight back at Layla. “If you’re angling for a ride, you should just ask.”

She smiled. “I wouldn’t want to impose . . .”

In response, Irv, who was walking alongside Mac, dropped back so we could catch up with him. “Hop on,” he said, crouching down, and Layla climbed onto his immense shoulders, piggyback-style. Then we continued on into the darkness.

I’d felt so shaken after my talk with Mrs. Chatham that I was grateful, actually, for the chaos that followed. After we had polished off the popcorn and watched one episode of Big Los Angeles (one catfight, two breakdowns, too many gorgeous outfits to count), Mac, Eric, and Ford had come inside to raid the fridge. Then Rosie showed up with a couple of her Mariposa friends, who were in town doing a week of performances at the Lakeview Center. The house already felt packed, even before Mr. Chatham came home and his friends arrived, instruments in hand. After the constant quiet of my own house since Peyton had been gone, I expected the contrast to be overwhelming. Instead, I found that I liked the constant hum and noise, the fullness of many people and much energy in a small space. I could hang back and just watch, yet still feel involved. It was nice.

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