I pulled it out, glancing at the caller ID. It was my mother, and I debated for a second whether I should pick up. I mean, it was weird enough to be sitting there with Owen without getting my mom involved. Then again, it wasn't like I had that much to lose at this point, considering he'd already seen me vomit—twice, actually—and freak out in front of half the student body. We were kind of past formalities. So I answered.
"Hi, honey!" Her voice was loud, so much so that I wondered if Owen could hear it. I pressed the phone closer to my ear. "How was your day?"
By now, I'd detected the nervous shrillness that crept into her cadence when she was worried but pretending not to be. "It was fine," I said. "I'm fine. What's up?"
"Well," she said, "Whitney's still at the mall. She found some great sales, but then she missed the early movie. And she really wanted to see it, so she called to say she was staying later."
I switched the phone to my other ear as there was a burst of voices around the side of the building. Owen glanced over at them, but a second later they moved on. "So she's not coming to pick me up?"
"Well, no, as it turns out," she replied. Of course Whitney would push the limits the very first day she got her freedom. And of course my mother would say oh, yes, stay later, that's fine, but then completely freak out. "But I can come get you," she said now, "or maybe you could get a ride with one of your friends?"
One of my friends. Yeah, right. I shook my head, then ran a hand through my hair. "Mom," I said, trying to keep my voice even, "it's just that it's kind of late, and—"
"Oh, it's fine! I'll come get you right now!" she said. "I'll be there in fifteen minutes."
She didn't want to come, and we both knew it. Whitney might call, or show up. Or, even worse, not show up. Not for the first time, I wished both of us could just say what we meant. But that, like so much else, was impossible.
"It's fine," I told her. "I'll get a ride."
"Are you sure?" she asked, but already, I could hear her relaxing, thinking that this problem, at least, was resolved.
"Yes. I'll call if I can't."
"Do that," she said. And then, just as I might have been getting angry, "Thank you, Annabel."
When I hung up, I just sat there, holding my phone in my hand. Once again, everything was revolving around Whitney. It might have been just a day to her, but this one had really sucked for me. And now, I was walking home.
I glanced back up at Owen. In the time I'd been contemplating this newest problem, he'd pulled out his iPod and was messing with it. "So you need a ride," he said, not looking at me.
"Oh, no," I said quickly, shaking my head. "It's just my sister… she's being a pain."
"Story of my life," he said. He hit one last button, then slid it back in his pocket and stood up, brushing off his jeans. Then he reached down, grabbing his bag, and hoisted it over his shoulder. "Come on."
I'd endured a lot of scrutiny since the beginning of the school year. It was nothing, however, compared to the looks Owen and I got as we walked up to the parking lot. Every person we passed stared, most of them openly, with a few bursting into whispers—"Oh my God, did you see that?"—before we were even out of earshot. Owen, however, didn't seem to notice as he led me to an old-style blue Land Cruiser with about twenty CDs in the passenger seat. He got behind the wheel, then cleared them out and reached across to open the door for me.
I got in, then reached down for the seat belt. I was just about to pull it across me when he said, "Hold on. That's sort of busted," and gestured for me to hand it to him. When I did, he pulled it over me—his hand at what struck me as a very formal and polite distance from my stomach—then yanked up the buckle from the seat, holding it at an angle and sliding the belt in. Then, from the pocket on his own door, he pulled out a small hammer.
I must have looked alarmed— girl 17, found dead in school parking lot—because he glanced at me and said, "It's the only way it works." He tapped the buckle with the hammer three times in the center, before pulling at the belt to make sure it was locked in. When it was, he stuck the hammer back in the pocket and cranked the engine.
"Wow," I said, reaching down and giving it a little tug. It didn't budge. "How do you get it off?"
"Just push the button," he said. "That part's easy."
As we started through the parking lot, Owen rolled down his window, resting his arm there, and I took a look around the interior of the car. The dashboard was battered, the leather of the seats cracked in places. Plus, it smelled like smoke, faintly, although I could see the ashtray, which was partly open, was clean and filled with coins, not butts. There were some headphones on the backseat, along with a pair of Doc Martens oxblood boots and several magazines.
Most of all, though, I saw CDs. Tons of CDs. Not just the ones he'd cleared out for me and dumped on the backseat floor, but stacks and stacks of others, some store-bought, many more clearly home-burned, piled haphazardly on the seats and the floor. I glanced back at the dashboard in front of me. While the car was dated, the stereo looked practically new, not to mention advanced, rows of lights blinking.
Just as I thought this, we reached the stop sign at the top of the parking lot and Owen put on his blinker, looking both ways. Then he reached out for the stereo, nudging up the volume button with the side of his thumb before taking a right.
Even with all the lunches during which I'd studied him, and all the details I'd thereby managed to ascertain, there was still one unknown, and this was it: Owen's music. I had my hunches, though, so I braced myself for punk rock, thrash metal, something fast and loud.
Instead, after a bit of staticky silence, I heard… chirping. Lots of chirping, like a chorus of crickets. This was followed, a moment later, by a voice chanting in a language I didn't understand. The chirping grew louder, then louder, and the voice did as well, so it was like they were calling to each other, back and forth. Beside me, Owen was just driving, nodding his head slightly.
After about a minute and a half, my curiosity got the better of me. "So," I said, "what is this?"
He glanced over at me. "Mayan spiritual chants," he said.
"What?" I said, speaking loudly to be heard over the chirping, which was really going now.
"Mayan spiritual chants," he repeated. "They're passed down, like oral traditions."