"No problem," he said.
I heard a car coming up behind us, and a second later, Whitney was pulling into the driveway. It wasn't until she parked and got out that she looked up and saw me and Owen. I lifted my hand, waving at her, but she ignored me.
I knew already what would happen when I went inside. Whitney would be stomping around, ignoring my mother's cheerful, leading questions. Eventually she'd get fed up and go upstairs, slamming her door, and then my mom would be upset, but pretend not to be. Even so, I'd worry over her until my dad got home, at which time we'd all sit down for dinner and pretend everything was fine.
Thinking this, I looked back at Owen. "So when is it?" I asked. "Your radio show."
"Sundays," he replied. "At seven."
"I'll listen," I told him.
"In the morning," he added.
"Seven in the morning?" I asked. "Really?"
"Yeah," he replied, picking at the steering wheel. "It's not the ideal time slot, but you take what you can get. Insomniacs are listening, at least."
"Enlightened insomniacs," I said.
He looked at me for a second, as if I'd somehow surprised him, saying this. "Yeah," he said, and smiled. "Exactly."
Imagine that, I thought. Owen Armstrong smiling. In a bizarre day, this was the most surprising thing yet. "Well," I said, "I guess I should go."
"Okay. I'll see you around."
I nodded, then reached down, undoing the seat belt. Sure enough, one click and I was free. Harder to get in than out, like so little else.
As I shut the door behind me, Owen put the car into gear, beeping the horn once as he drove off. Sure enough, as I turned to look up at my house, Whitney was climbing the stairs, taking the steps two at a time. My mother was still at the kitchen island, staring out the back window.
I don't lie, Owen had said, with the same flat certainty someone else might tell you they didn't eat meat or know how to drive. I wasn't sure I could even fathom it, but I still envied Owen his easy bluntness, the ability to open himself out into the world instead of folding deeper within. Especially now, as I headed inside, where my mother was waiting for me.
"Okay, girls, quiet down. Attention here, please! We're getting ready to start, so listen for your name…"
I'd been doing Lakeview Models since I was fifteen. Every summer, tryouts were held to pick sixteen girls for mall promotions like posing with cub scouts at a Pinewood Derby event or handing out balloons at the Harvest Festival Petting Zoo. The models also appeared in print ads, did fashion shows, and were part of the annual Lakeview Mall calendar, which was distributed along with the new phone book every year. That was what we were shooting today. We were supposed to have been done the day before, but the photographer was slow, so we'd all been called back now, on a Sunday afternoon, to finish.
I yawned, then sat back against the potted plant behind me, taking a look around the room. The newer girls were all together in a corner, talking too loudly, while a couple of people I knew from previous years were gossiping about some party. The only two seniors sat apart from everyone else, one with her head back, eyes closed, the other flipping through an SAT
prep book. Finally, across the room from me, also sitting alone, was Emily Shuster.
I'd met Emily at the last calendar shoot. She was a year younger than me and had just moved to town. She didn't know anyone, and while everyone was waiting around, she'd come and sat down next to me. We started talking, and just like that, we were friends.
Emily was, in a word, sweet. She had short red hair and a heart-shaped face, and when I'd invited her out with me and Sophie that night after the shoot, she'd been thrilled. When I pulled up to her house, she was already outside waiting, her cheeks pink from the cool air, as if she'd been there awhile.
Sophie was less enthusiastic. Plainly put, she had issues when it came to other girls, especially pretty ones, even though she herself was gorgeous. Whenever I had Lakeview Model stuff, or landed a big job, she always got a little moody. There was stuff about her that bothered me, too. Like how she sometimes snapped at me and acted like I was stupid, and often wasn't nice to other people unless she had a reason to be—and sometimes, not even then. The truth was, my friendship with Sophie was complicated, and at times I wondered why she was my best friend, when more often than not I was either tiptoeing around her or having to ignore one barbed comment or another. But then I'd remember how much things had changed for me since we'd started hanging out—from that night with Chris Pennington on, so much had happened that I never would have experienced otherwise. And really, when you came down to it, I didn't have anyone else. Sophie made sure of that, too.
The night I met Emily, we were going to a party at the A-
Frame, a house just outside of town that was rented by a few guys who'd gone to Perkins Day, the local private school, a couple of years earlier. They had a band called Day After, and after graduation they'd stuck around, playing club dates and trying to get a record deal. In the meantime, they had parties almost every weekend that attracted a mix of high-school students and various locals.
From the moment the three of us walked into the party that night, I could feel people looking at Emily. She was a beautiful girl, but being with us—especially Sophie, who was well known not only at our school but at Perkins Day, as well— made her suddenly that much more noteworthy. We weren't even halfway to the keg when Greg Nichols, an obnoxious junior, made a beeline for us.
"Hey, guys," he said, "what's up?"
"Go away, Greg," Sophie told him over her shoulder. "We're not interested."
"Speak for yourself," he said, completely undeterred. "Who's your friend?"
Sophie sighed, shaking her head.
I said, "Um, this is Emily."
"Hi," Emily said, flushing.
"Hel-lo," Greg replied. "Let me get you a beer."
"Okay," she said. As he walked off, glancing back at her, she turned to me, her eyes wide. "Oh my God," she said. "He's really cute!"
"No," Sophie told her. "He's not. And he's only talking to you because he's already hit on everyone else here."
Emily's face fell. "Oh," she said.
"Sophie," I said. "Honestly."
"What?" she said as she picked some lint off her sweater, scanning the crowd. "It's true."
It probably was. But that didn't mean she had to say it. This was typical Sophie, though. She believed everyone had a place, and it was her job to make sure you knew yours. She'd done it with Clarke. She did it with me. And now, it was Emily's turn. But while I'd just stood by all those years earlier, this time I felt I had to do something, if only because I was the reason Emily was even there in the first place. "Come on," I said to her. "Let's go get a beer. Sophie, you want one?"