Read Saint Anything Online

Authors: Sarah Dessen

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Family, #General, #Social Issues, #Friendship, #Love & Romance

Saint Anything (7 page)

BOOK: Saint Anything
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I just wonder


As I looked up, startled, I had this fleeting thought that I would see David Ibarra in front of me. But it was Layla. When she saw my face, her eyes widened.

“What’s wrong?”

I swallowed, hard. And then, somehow, I was talking. “My brother’s in prison for drunk driving. He left a kid paralyzed. And I hate him for it.”

As I spoke, I realized I’d held these words in for so long and so tightly that I
the space they left empty once released. It was vast enough that I could think of nothing to follow them.

Layla looked at me for a long moment. Then she sat down beside me and said, “So there’s this thing about me.”

I don’t know what reply I’d been expecting from her, but it wasn’t this. I said, “I’m sorry?”

“I never forget a face. Like, never. I wish I could sometimes.” She swallowed, then turned to look at me. “I saw you, in the courthouse. A few weeks back? You were coming out of the bathroom.”

Until that moment, I had totally forgotten everything about that day except Peyton being sentenced. But as she said this, the rest of the details came rushing back. Ames taking me to the bathroom and waiting outside. Washing my hands, dreading rejoining him. And a girl who met my eyes and didn’t look away.

“That was you?” She nodded. “I’d forgotten.”

“I know. Anyone else would have. But I recognized you the minute I saw you at Seaside.”

“You didn’t say anything.”

“Because it tends to creep people out.” She sighed. “I mean, for everyone else, you see a stranger and then forget them. Faces only stick for a reason. But with me, it’s like a photograph, filed away in my mind.”

“That’s nuts,” I said.

“I know. Mac always says I should join the circus, or run a scheme or something, so I’m at least putting my power to use.”

We were quiet another moment. Finally I said, “Why were you there?”

“At the courthouse?” I nodded. “I was with Rosie. She’s had to check in with the judge about her progress every couple of months since she got busted.”

I had a flash of the crack her sister had made about Logan Oxford and Layla’s equally snide reply. “Was it drugs?”

“Yep.” She sat back, turning up her face to the sun. “After her knee injury, she got a bit too fond of the Vicodin they gave her. Tried to pass off some fake prescriptions. Totally moronic. Got arrested, like, instantly.”

“Did she go to jail?”

Layla shook her head. “Rehab. Then they put an anklet on her. She just got it off a couple of weeks ago.”


“Yeah. You think she’s grumpy now, imagine her stuck in the house for six months.” She sighed. “It’s her own stupid fault, though.
infuriating. She had everything going for her and just blew it.”

“That’s like my brother.” It was new to be talking to someone I didn’t know well about this, but easier than I would have thought. “He had so many chances. But he kept getting into trouble anyway. And then the accident . . .”

I trailed off, not sure how much further I wanted to go into this. Layla didn’t say anything. In the silence, I realized I did want to keep talking. Really badly, actually.

“He’d been sober for over a year. Doing really well. And then one night, for no reason that we can figure out, he got drunk and behind the wheel. Hit a kid riding his bike. The kid is in a wheelchair now. Forever.”

Layla winced. “Wow. That’s awful.”

It was. It was really, really awful. And not just for Peyton, my mom and dad, or even me.

“His name is David Ibarra.” I looked down at my hands. “I think about him all the time.”

“Of course you do.” She said this simply, flatly. “Anyone would.”

“It’s like you with the faces. I can’t stop.” I took in a breath. “And my mom, it’s like she can’t see what Peyton did for what it is. She just worries about him and how he’s doing, and my dad doesn’t talk about anything, and now she wants me to visit him. And I don’t want to. At all. We got in a fight about it this morning.”

Saying this, I realized one reason I’d never spoken to Jenn or Meredith this way. Layla might have known my face, but she was still a blank slate when it came to Peyton, not already in possession of some bias or feeling toward him. Unlike everyone else in my world.

“If you don’t want to go, you shouldn’t,” she said. “Just tell your mom you’re not in that place yet.”

“I don’t know if I ever will be. I mean, I’ve always loved my brother,” I said. “But I really hate him right now.”

Across the courtyard, someone laughed. Two girls in field hockey uniforms passed by, one on the phone, the other opening a piece of gum. Happy, normal lives going on in happy, normal ways, in a world that was anything but. Once you realized this, experienced something that made it crystal clear, you couldn’t forget it. Like a face. Or a name. However you first learn that truth, once it’s with you, it never really goes away.


first couple of days after I told Layla about Peyton, I kept waiting to regret it. It was strange, telling the story from the beginning instead of catching someone up on only the latest awful chapter. Like finally I was in a place quiet and safe enough to hear it, too. Just the facts, laid out like cards on a table. This happened, then this, then this. The end.

Even so, I’d thought it would change everything. This wasn’t unrealistic. Peyton’s crimes and convictions had skewed the view people had of my entire family. People in the neighborhood either stared or made a point of not looking at us; conversations at the pool or by the community bulletin board stopped when we came into earshot. It was like stepping into a fun house hall of mirrors, only to find you had to stay there. I was the sister of the neighborhood delinquent, drug addict, and now drunk driver. It didn’t matter that I’d done none of these things. With shame, like horseshoes, proximity counts.

But not, apparently, with Layla. Instead of keeping me at arm’s length, she looped me more tightly into her world, which I soon learned was jam-packed as it was. If I was the invisible girl, Layla was the shining star around which her family and friends revolved. We didn’t form a friendship as much as I got sucked into her orbit. And once there, I understood why everyone else was.

“Everyone, this is Sydney,” she’d announced the day after our talk, when I finally gathered up the courage to accept her invitation to join her and her friends at lunch. “She transferred from Perkins Day, drives a sweet car, and likes root beer YumYums.”

I blinked, startled at being summarized in this fashion. But it was better than any of the other labels I could think of, so I took a seat on one of three benches I now knew they staked out each day. Mac was on another, eating from a plastic ziplock bag full of grapes, while Eric, wearing a fedora, strummed his guitar, facing the courtyard.

“We’ve already met, remember?” Mac said.

“She’s met you guys,” she responded. “But not Irv.”

“Who’s Irv?” I asked.

Just then, a shadow came over me. Not a metaphorical or symbolic one, but a real, actual shadow, as in something large had blocked out the sun. I went from squinting to sitting in shade in a matter of seconds. I looked behind me, expecting to see—what? A sudden skyscraper? A wall? Instead, it was the human equivalent: the biggest, broadest, thickest black guy I had ever seen. He was wearing dress pants, a shirt and tie with a Jackson High football jersey over it, and sunglasses. As I stared at him, he held out a huge hand.

“Irving Fearrington,” he said. “Pleasure to meet you.”

My hand looked like a toy wrapped in his. I had the fleeting thought that he could rip my entire arm out of my socket and eat it and I would not be surprised. Somehow, despite this, I managed to say, “Hi.”

“Whatcha got for lunch today, Irv?” Layla said as he lowered his huge girth onto the last open bench. “Anything good?”

“Dunno yet.” He unzipped his backpack—God, his wrists were thicker than my
—and pulled out a large insulated cooler. As he opened it, I saw it was packed with plastic bags, which he began unloading. One had what looked like chicken legs. Another, some kind of grain. On and on, they kept coming: edamame, a stack of hamburger patties, hard-boiled eggs. And finally, at the very end, there was a bag packed with cookies.

“Score!” Layla said, seeing this. Irv grinned, suddenly looking much less intimidating. Like he might pull
your arm, but not eat it. “Toss those over.”

“I don’t think so.” He wagged a huge finger at her. “You know the rules. Protein first.”

“Irving. For God’s sake. I already have one diet nag in my life.”

“I didn’t say a word,” Mac said, eating another grape.

“Protein,” Irv repeated, waving his hand at his substantial meal. “Your choice.”

“Fine. Give me a couple of eggs.”

He handed over the bag, and she opened it, taking out two, then passed it back. Irving held it to me. “Egg? Whites are the perfect protein.”

“Um, no, thanks,” I said, holding up the grilled cheese I’d gotten. “I’m good.”

“Lucky you,” Layla grumbled, peeling an egg. “If I showed up with one of those, these two would never let me hear the end of it.”

“But you
show up with that,” Mac said. “You’d just get fries and call it lunch. And fries aren’t a meal.”

“Fine, Grandma. Just shut up and eat your grapes, would you?”

In response, he threw one at her. It went wide, though, and hit me square in the face. As it bounced off, rolling into the grass, I saw his eyes widen, horrified.

, Macaulay Chatham,” his sister said. “Is that part of your game now? Throwing food at pretty girls to get their attention?”

I was pretty now? And then we were both blushing.

“I wasn’t aiming at her,” he said, clearly embarrassed. To me he said, “Sorry.”

“It’s fine,” I said.

“Although I
see that as the beginning to a great love story,” Layla said.

“Here we go,” Irv groaned, eating half a hamburger patty in one bite.

This Layla ignored, pulling a knee up to her chest. “Seriously. Can’t you just see it? ‘He threw a grape at me on a sunny day, and I just
it was love.’”

“That,” Mac said, spitting out a seed, “is the stupidest one yet.”

“Which is really saying something,” Irv added.

She made a face, wrinkling her nose, then said to me, “These boys have no sense of romance. I, on the other hand, am a connoisseur.”

“You call yourself a connoisseur of everything,” her brother pointed out.

“Not everything. Just candy, French fries, and love.” She smiled at me. “All the important stuff. Seriously, though, I know the start to a good love story when I hear it. I should. I’ve read hundreds of them.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Really?” On his bench, Mac sighed audibly.

“Oh, yeah. It’s, like, my thing.” She peeled the second egg. “Romance and instruction manuals.”

“But not romance instruction manuals,” Eric, who I hadn’t even thought was listening, added.

“Seriously, though,” Layla continued, “I
reading about how to do things. Even if it’s something that, like, I will never do in a million years, like weave a rug or grout a floor.”

“Wow,” I said.

“I know. I’m, like, a process addict or something.” She ate the egg, chewing thoughtfully, then swallowed and added, “Or, you know, a connoisseur.”

Truth: I was having trouble keeping up. Not just with this conversation, but the people actually having it. I’d spent so much time alone lately that I’d forgotten what it was like to be relaxed in another person’s company. I liked it.

After that first lunch, I began eating with them every day. Once the bell rang, I’d get something to eat from the food trucks, then cross the grass to either join whoever was already there or stake out the benches until they arrived. Foodwise, every day it was the same. Mac and Irving brought their lunches. Eric was partial to a fruit punch and buttery grilled cheese from the cafeteria. And Layla looked for fries.

She hadn’t been kidding about the connoisseur thing. This girl took her frites seriously. It wasn’t enough for them to be potatoes and fried, all that most people, myself included, really cared about. Oh, no. There were specifications. Required seasonings. Rules about everything from temperature and packaging to whether the ketchup was from a packet or a bottle. (This last one had subrules and addendums, as well.) Going to look for fries with Layla was like tagging along with my mom while she perused office supplies, requiring both patience and a substantial time commitment. By the time Layla got what she wanted, I was often finished with my entire lunch, if not already hungry again.

“What’s most important is the shape,” she explained to me the first time I joined her on this quest. “They should be long, not stubby. Decent width, but not thicker than a finger. Only the most basic seasoning, nothing crazy. And served hot.”

“But not too hot?” I asked as she leaned into the window of the DoubleBurger truck and sniffed.

“No such thing,” she replied. “Hot fries cool down. Cold fries never warm up. Let’s keep walking; I’m not liking the grease smell here today.”

The guy behind the counter just looked at her as she turned, continuing on. I gave him an apologetic shrug and followed. “What about fast food ones?” I asked. “They’re pretty much all the same, right?”

She stopped dead in her tracks. I almost crashed into her. “Sydney,” she said, turning to face me. “That is
not true
. The next time I do a Trifecta, you’re coming. I’ll show you how wrong you are.”

“A Trifecta?”

“That’s when I get fries from the Big Three,” she explained. She held up her fingers, counting off. “Littles, Bradbury Burger, and Pamlico Grill. None of them are perfect. But if you mix them together, it’s like the paradise of fries. It’s time-consuming, so I only do it on special occasions or when I’m super depressed.”

Hearing this, I had that feeling again, like the conversation was a pack of wild horses pounding out ahead of me, leaving nothing but dust behind. Trifecta? Depression? Grease smell? She was already talking again.

“These trucks aren’t the best for fries, because mobile fryers just taste different from ones in brick-and-mortar stores. But they do have some cool flavors you can’t get in the traditional places. There’s one place that I really like . . . Oh, they’re here today! Come on.”

In my pocket, I felt my phone buzz. I pulled it out and glanced at the screen.
, it said, with a picture of her from her last birthday party, a cheap plastic tiara on her head. I reached for the
button, feeling a pang of guilt. But not enough to not press it. I’d call her later.

Layla, meanwhile, had walked up to a truck I’d never tried before called Bim Bim Slim’s, which sold some kind of Asian-Creole fusion. The smells coming from it were like nothing I’d ever experienced before. She didn’t even glance at the menu.

“Regular bim fry,” she told the guy. “Actually, make it two orders. No sauce. Just extra ketchup packets.”

“You got it.”

Moments later, he handed over a white bag that smelled heavenly and was already sprouting grease stains. Layla smiled, satisfied. “Perfect. Come on.”

Back at the benches, she nudged Eric off his seat—“Move, I need to set up!”—then sat down, opening the bag and putting her face over the opening. As we all watched, she took a deep breath, eyes closed. Then silence.

“Are we waiting for something?” I whispered to Irv, who was gnawing on a turkey leg.

“The verdict,” he replied, voice equally low.

Finally, Layla opened her eyes. “Okay. These will do.”

What followed was an intricate multistep process that began with the flattening and placement of the bag to turn it into a proper eating surface and ended with three identically sized pools of ketchup, each on its own napkin. To one, she added pepper. The next, salt. And the third, some unidentified substance she pulled from her purse, housed in a test tube.

“I know just what you’re thinking,” Irv said to me. “This has all been a little intense, but now it’s getting weird. I felt the same way my first time.”

“That’s because it
weird to carry your own personalized spice blend around,” Mac said, his eyes still on his history textbook. He was always studying at lunch, I’d noticed, but still listening to everything as well.

Layla ignored them, picking up a fry and dipping an end in one of the ketchups. She took a bite, chewing thoughtfully, then repeated the process with the other two options. When the fry was gone, she wiped her fingers on a napkin, then looked at me.

“Okay. Try one.”

“Me?” I had assumed this was an individual sport.

She nodded, gesturing for me to come over. I did, taking a seat next to one of the ketchup stations, and she pushed the bag/plate toward me. “Take one from the middle. Those are the best. I always eat from the inside out.”

I did as I was told, selecting a thick-but-not-overly-so one. Then I realized that, although I’d been eating fries since before I could talk, this was the first time I’d not been sure how to do it. This was made more awkward by the fact I had an audience.

“One, two, three,” Layla said, pointing at each of the ketchups. “Triple dunk. Then eat half, flip it over, and repeat with other side. That way you avoid the double dip.”

“What’s in that last one?” I asked, still hesitant.

“My own creation. Don’t worry, it’s not spicy or gross. I promise.”

In every friendship, at some point comes a test. Never before in my experience, however, had it involved food.
First time for everything
, I thought, and followed directions.

I’m not sure what I’d been anticipating. A good fry? Some tangy sauce? It was not, however, the perfection that subsequently unfolded inside my mouth. Considering the intricacy of preparation, maybe this is what I should have been expecting. But the crispness of the outer shell, the mushy, hot softness of the potato within, suddenly tinged with the sweetness of the ketchup mix, was a total surprise. Wow.

BOOK: Saint Anything
13.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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