Saint Anything Page 51

“Coin?” I nodded at it, and he looked down. “Oh. It’s actually a pendant of a saint. My mom gave them to all of us when we were kids.”

“A saint?”

“Yep.” He pulled it out, angling it to the moonlight. “Bathilde. Patron saint of children. I guess she figured we’d need all the help we could get.”

I moved closer, barely able to make out a figure and some tiny words on the pendant. “It’s nice.”

“Yeah. But it’s also a reminder.”

“Of what?”

“When I was at my heaviest, this thing choked me. I mean, seriously. It left welts. I didn’t want to take it off. I wouldn’t. I needed all the help I could get.”

“Protection,” I said.

“Something like that.” He let it drop. “Now I keep it on so I don’t forget what I lost.”

It was weird, hearing this. Like no longer having something could be a good thing, and the proof of it as well. I was used to the opposite, when absence equaled heartbreak. Suddenly, I had a million questions, and between the beer and the dark, I felt like I could ask them. But then Eric came around the corner, his guitar in hand.

“Sorry to interrupt,” he said. I heard a slur in his voice. “But you’re kind of being impolite all sequestered over here.”

“How many beers have you had?” Mac asked him as I slid off the carousel, taking my can with me.

“An infinitesimal amount,” Eric replied. But I noticed, as we fell in behind him, that his steps were anything but sure.

“Eric’s using his big words,” Mac reported to Layla and Irv, who were now sitting opposite each other in a chariot. She had plenty of room next to her; he barely fit, as if the metal might give way at any moment.

“Dead giveaway,” Layla said. “No more beer for you, Bates.”

“He gets super verbose when he’s buzzed,” Irv explained to me. “One of his many tells.”

“I am perfectly compos mentis,” Eric protested, sitting down a bit bumpily on the grass. He strummed his guitar. “I’ll prove it by entertaining you with a musical interlude. Sydney, come join me here on the terra firma and tell me what you want to hear.”

“Oh, for God’s sake.” Layla held up a hand. “Please stop before you embarrass yourself.”

“Too late,” Irv said.

Eric, undeterred, patted the grass beside him. “Come. Enjoy my aural stylings.”

I felt so bad for him that I actually went. As soon as I sat down, he leaned into me, strumming the guitar. “I once knew a girl, Sydney was her name . . . She was so pretty, she drove me insane . . .”

“Can I have another beer?” I asked. Irv snorted. Mac tossed me one.

“Met her at school, there on the wall,” he crooned. “Sat down beside her, gave it my all . . .”

“O-kay,” Layla said, getting up from the chariot. “I think it’s time we head back. Mom’s going to be wondering where we are.”

“I’m in the middle of an original composition,” Eric protested.

“You’ll thank me later,” she told him as Mac picked up the duffel bag, filling it with our empty cans. Irv stepped off the carousel, and it made a sound like a sigh of relief. Beside me, Eric had thankfully stopped singing, although he was still picking out a few sloppy chords. “Before we go, though, one ride?”

“One ride,” Eric mumbled. “On the inside. Be my bride and let it ride . . .”

Irv looked at Mac, who shrugged. “Okay,” he said. “Climb on.”

Layla clapped her hands, then got back on the carousel, hoisting herself up onto one of the horses. “Come on,” she said to me. “You have to try this.”

I was buzzed now, feeling the beer and a half as I walked over and joined her. My horse was a small one, and I felt unsteady as I got on, trying to remember the last time I’d ridden a merry-go-round.

“Ready?” Irv said.

“Ready,” Layla shouted, turning around to grin at me. I felt myself smile back, even though nothing had even happened yet.

Mac and Irv got on opposite sides of the carousel and began pushing. It turned slowly at first, with a fair amount of creaking, but within a minute or so we were moving at a good clip. As my horse rose, I could feel the wind in my hair; up ahead, Layla reared back, laughing. We moved quickly, then faster still, the night and woods big and wide all around us. It was one of those moments that, even while it was happening, I knew I would remember forever, even before the ring came into view and my grasp. I didn’t reach for it, though; I didn’t need to. I felt like I’d already won.

* * *

We could hear the music before the house even came into view. One moment, the only sound was our footsteps, crunching across the leaves. Then we heard instruments and a single, haunting voice.

Layla stopped just at the edge of the tree line, listening. “Rosie’s singing. Wow. Wonder how they swung that.”

Up ahead, the house was all lit up, and through the open back door I could see the living room was crowded with people. Meanwhile, the voice continued, high and sweet. I couldn’t make out the words, but it still gave me chills.

“Okay,” Mac said. “What’s the plan here?”

Layla looked at Irv, who was carrying a now-asleep Eric on his back. Halfway through our return journey, he’d started to really stumble, then announced he needed to rest before lying down on a bed of pine needles. Apparently, like the verbosity, this was not an unusual occurrence, so Irv scooped him onto his back without comment and we carried on. Now, his face against Irv’s sweatshirt, Eric looked almost sweet, like the miracle baby he’d once been.

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