Saint Anything Page 63

I knew I should say no: this sort of thing never ended well. But it was Layla asking, and she’d done so much for me. So I agreed.

The first time, everything went according to plan. We went to my house after school, where my mom immediately fell back into her snack-and-school-day-summary mode. When she went to the War Room to do some stuff for the Lincoln graduation, we took a walk, ostensibly to the convenience store just outside the neighborhood for Slurpees. Two blocks from my house, Spence was waiting.

“We meet in one hour,” I told her as she climbed happily into the passenger seat of his huge Chevy Suburban. “Right here. Yes?”

“Yes!” she said. He already had his hand on her knee. “Thank you!”

And they had showed up right on time, parting with a kiss so long, I had to distract myself by studying the topiary in a nearby yard. As we walked the two blocks back, she was happier than I’d ever seen her. That was enough to make me feel like whatever this was we were doing couldn’t be all bad.

We tried again the following week, with these same steps. This time, though, two things happened: Layla was late, and Mac showed up unexpectedly.

I was sitting on the curb when I saw him coming. At first, I felt the same burst of nervousness and happiness that I always did in his presence. The latter waned, then disappeared altogether, when I realized not only that his sister was nowhere in sight or nearby, but that I didn’t even know where she was.

It was too late to try to dodge him. So I just sat there as he pulled up beside me. He had on a blue long-sleeve T-shirt, and as he leaned out the window, looking at me, his Saint Bathilde pendant slid down the chain into view. Every time I saw it, I tried to imagine his neck so thick it was tight there. I still hadn’t been able to.

“Hey,” he said. “What are you doing?”

This was a fair question. Unfortunately, I did not have an answer. “Um, just sitting,” I said. “Waiting.”

“For?”

He didn’t say this in an accusing way. His voice was not pointed nor his tone suspicious. But I caved, immediately and totally, anyway. “Layla.”

Somehow, he did not look surprised to hear this. He cut the engine, then sat back. “She’s with that guy, huh? The three-pizza eater.”

Now I was taken aback. “You know about him?”

He just looked at me. “Sydney, please. You guys are not that stealth.”

“Hey!” I protested.

“What, you want to be a good liar?”

He had a point. “She does seem to really like him.”

“She must, if she’s leaving you sitting here alone.” I looked down at my hands, not sure what to say to this. “I’ve got to run a delivery. Want to come?”

“Really?” I asked.

In response, he cranked the engine, then reached over, clearing a spot on the seat next to him. I walked around, pulling open the door, and got in.

Mac showed up, I texted Layla as he turned around and we headed out of the neighborhood.

A moment later, she responded. Shit.

We’re doing a delivery, I typed. Same spot in 20?

OK. Then, just as I was about to put my phone away, one more message. Sorry.

I wasn’t. In fact, as Mac and I pulled out of the Arbors, I was happier than I’d been in a while. And, weirdly enough, not nervous. As if where I was—riding beside him in the dusty truck, the radio on low—was not a new place, but one altogether familiar that I’d returned to after a long absence.

It was a testament to how being with Mac pretty much made me oblivious to everything else that I didn’t notice the situation with the ignition at first. As we turned onto a side road, though, something hit my leg. When I looked down, I was surprised to see a pair of pliers dangling from some coiled wires, just hanging there.

“Um,” I said, in a voice I hoped didn’t sound as panicked as I was starting to feel, “I think your truck is falling apart?”

Mac looked at me, then the pliers. “Nope,” he replied. “That’s the starter.”

Granted, I was no expert on cars. But I felt relatively confident as I said, “I thought that was in the ignition?”

“In a perfect world, yes,” he said, putting on his turn signal and slowing down. “But this is an old truck. Sometimes it has to be modified to, you know, actually run.”

I had a flash of all those clock radios on his desk, the protruding springs. “Layla said you liked to tinker with stuff.”

“I don’t tinker,” he replied, sounding offended. “Tinkering is for grandfathers in shop aprons.”

Whoops. “Sorry,” I said.

He looked at me again. “It’s okay. Tender spot.”

I smiled. “Everyone has one.”

“So I hear.” He sat back. “Layla has a tendency to make everything I do sound kind of twee. My ‘woods wandering.’ My ‘tinkering.’ It’s like I’m her own personal gnome or something.”

This was so far from how I saw him, I almost laughed out loud. Thank God I managed to resist, saying instead, “For what it’s worth, I was impressed by your alarm clock. And if my starter were busted, I’d be walking. End of story.”

“Well, thanks.” He slowed for another turn. “There’s no shame in trying to make stuff work, is how I see it. It’s better than just accepting the broken.”

I wanted to say he was lucky he even had a choice. That for most of us, once something was busted, it was game over. I would have loved to know how it felt, just once, to have something fall apart and see options instead of endings.

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