Just Listen

Author: P Hana

Page 30

   

In the last few months, though, I'd stopped watching with him. I wasn't sure why, but each time he asked, I suddenly felt tired, too tired to keep up with world events, even if they had already happened. There was something so heavy about the burden of history, of the past. I wasn't sure I had it in me to keep looking back.

"No thanks," I said now. "It's been a long day. I'm pretty tired."

"All right," he said, sitting back and picking up the remote. "Next time."

"Yeah. Definitely."

I picked up my water and walked over to his chair, and he leaned sideways, offering his cheek for me to kiss good night. After I did, he smiled, then hit the volume button, the sound of the narrator rising as I walked out of the room.

"In the fifteenth century, explorers yearned for…" Halfway to the stairs I stopped, taking a sip of my water, then turned back and looked at him. The remote was now on his stomach, the light of the TV flickering across his face. I tried to picture myself retracing my steps, moving back to take my place on the couch, but I just couldn't. So I left him there alone to watch history repeat, the same events retold again and again, on his own.

Chapter Seven

The entire weekend, I'd wondered what to expect when I next saw Owen at school. If anything would be different after what had happened on Friday, or we'd go back to our shared silence and distance, as if nothing had happened. A few minutes after he sat down, he made the choice for us.

"So. Did you listen?"

I put my sandwich down, turning to face him. He was in his normal spot, wearing jeans and a black crewneck. His iPod was out as well, earphones hanging around his neck.

"To your show?" I said.

"Yeah."

I nodded. "I did, actually."

"And?"

Despite the fact that I'd spent most of the weekend realizing how often I fibbed or outright lied to keep the peace, my first instinct at this moment was to do just that. Honesty in principle was one thing. In someone's face, another.

"Well," I began. "It was… interesting."

"Interesting," he repeated.

"Yeah," I said. "I'd, um, never heard those songs before."

He just looked at me, studying my face for what felt like a very long time. Then he startled me by standing up and taking three strides, quickly closing the distance between us before sitting down beside me. "Okay," he said. "Did you really listen?"

"Yeah," I said, trying not to stammer. "I did."

"I don't know if you remember," he said, "but you did tell me that you lie."

"I didn't say that." He raised an eyebrow. "I said I often hold back the truth. I'm not doing that this time, though. I listened to the whole show."

He still didn't believe me, it was obvious. And not exactly surprising.

I took a breath. "'Jennifer' by Lipo. 'Descartes Dream' by Misanthrope. Some song with a lot of beeping—"

"You did listen." He sat back, nodding his head. "Okay, then. Now tell me what you really thought."

"I told you. It was interesting."

"Interesting," he said, "is not a word."

"Since when?"

"It's a placeholder. Something you use when you don't want to say something else." He leaned a little closer to me. "Look, if you're worried about my feelings, don't be. You can say whatever you want. I won't be offended."

"I did. I liked it."

"Tell the truth. Say something. Anything. Just spit it out."

"I—" I began, then stopped myself. Maybe it was the fact that he was so clearly on to me. Or my sudden awareness of how rarely I was honest. Either way, I broke. "I… I didn't like it," I said.

He slapped his leg. "I knew it! You know, for someone who lies a lot, you're not very good at it."

This was a good thing. Or not? I wasn't sure. "I'm not a liar," I said.

"Right. You're nice," he said.

"What's wrong with nice?"

"Nothing. Except it usually involves not telling the truth," he replied. "Now. Tell me what you really thought."

What I really thought was that I felt very unsettled, as if somehow, Owen Armstrong had figured me out, and I hadn't even realized it. "I liked the show format," I said, "but the songs were kind of…"

"Kind of what?" He waggled his fingers at me. "Give me some adjectives. Other than interesting."

"Noisy," I said. "Bizarre."

"Okay." He nodded. "What else?"

I looked at his face carefully, gauging it for signs that he was offended, or bothered. There were none, so I continued. "Well, the first song was… painful to listen to. And the second, the Misanthrope one…"

"'Descartes Dream.'"

"It put me to sleep. Literally."

"That happens," he said. "Go on."

He said this so easily, like he wasn't bothered in the least. So I did. "The harp music sounded like something you'd hear at a funeral."

"Ah," he said. "Okay. Good."

"And I hated the techno."

"All of it?"

"Yes."

He nodded. "Well. Okay, then. That's good feedback. Thank you."

And that was that. He pulled out his iPod and started pushing buttons. No tantrums, no hurt feelings, no offense. "So… you're okay with that?" I asked.

"That you didn't like the show?" he replied, not looking up.

"Yeah."

He shrugged. "Sure. I mean, it would have been cool if you had. But most people don't, so it's not exactly surprising."

"And that doesn't bother you," I said.

"Not really. I mean, at first, it was kind of disappointing. But people recover from disappointment. Otherwise we'd all be hanging from nooses. Right?"

"What?"

"Hey, what about the sea shanty?" he asked. I just looked at him. "The men chanting about sailing the open sea. What was your take on that one?"

"Weird," I said. "Very weird."

"Weird," he repeated slowly. "Huh. Okay."

Just then I heard voices, and footsteps, and turned my head just in time to see Sophie crossing the courtyard with Emily. I'd been so distracted by what had happened with Owen on Friday that initially, I'd forgotten about the confrontation that preceded it. That morning, though, on the way to school, the dread set in as I began wondering what would happen. But so far, I'd only crossed paths with Sophie once, at which point she'd glared at me, mumbling a "slut" as she went by. Same old, same old.

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