I wasn't sure why I felt compelled to bring this up again. Maybe to finally explain myself. To him, or to me.
"Yeah," he said. "But you gotta get stuff out. Otherwise it just festers, and eventually, you just blow."
"See, that's the part I can't deal with," I said. "I can't take it when people are angry."
"Anger's not bad," he said. "It's human. And anyway, just because someone's upset doesn't mean they'll stay that way."
I looked down at my steering wheel, picking at the edge. "I don't know," I said. "In my experience, when people I'm close with have gotten upset with me, that's it. It is forever. Everything changes."
Owen didn't say anything for a second. I could hear a dog barking from some house down the street. "Well," he said, "maybe you weren't as close with them as you thought."
"Meaning that if someone is really close with you, your getting upset or them getting upset is okay, and they don't change because of it. It's just part of the relationship. It happens. You deal with it."
"You deal with it," I said. "I wouldn't even know how to do that."
"Well, that makes sense," he said. "Considering you never let it happen in the first place."
The CD was still going, now playing a song by Rush as a minivan drove past us, kicking up some leaves. I had no idea how many minutes had passed while we'd been sitting there. It seemed like a long time.
"You sure have a lot of answers," I said.
"I don't," he replied, reaching down to twist one of his rings around his finger. "I'm just doing the best I can, under the circumstances."
"How's that going?" I asked.
He glanced up at me. "Well, you know," he said. "It's day to day."
I smiled. "I like your rings," I said, nodding at his hands. "Are they the exact same?"
"Sort of. And not really." He reached down, sliding the one off his left hand and handing it to me. "They're kind of a before-and-after thing. Rolly made them for me. His dad's a jeweler."
The ring was heavy in my palm, the silver thick. "He made this?"
"Not the ring," he said. "The engraving. On the inside."
"Oh." I tilted the ring slightly, peering along the interior curve. There, in all capital letters, in formal, very elegant type, it said go fuck yourself . "Nice," I said.
"Classy, huh?" he said. He made a face. "That was me pre-arrest. I was a little…"
"You could say. He made this one when I finished the Anger Management course." He slid the ring off his other middle finger, then held it up to my face. In the same type, same size, it said /smc or not.
I laughed. "Well," I said, handing it back to him. "It's always good to know your options."
"Exactly." Then he smiled at me, and I felt another flush come over my face, but not the embarrassed or anxious kind— a different sort entirely. One I never would have thought I'd feel around Owen Armstrong. Ever. The moment was broken, however, by a voice.
I looked to my right—it was Mallory. Sometime during this exchange, she'd appeared at Owen's window, where she was now smiling widely and waving. "Hi!"
"Hi," I said.
She gestured for Owen to put his window down, which he did, slowly, and clearly somewhat reluctantly. As soon as there was a space big enough, she stuck her head in. "Oh my God, I love your shirt! Is that from Tosca?"
I glanced down. "Maybe," I said. "My mom got it for me."
"You're so lucky! I love Tosca. It's, like, my favorite store in the whole world. Are you coming in?"
"Coming in?" I asked.
"To the house. Are you staving for dinner? Oh, you totally have to stay for dinner!"
"Mallory," Owen said, rubbing a hand over his face. "Please stop shrieking."
She ignored him, sticking her head in even farther. "You could see my room," she said, her eyes wide, excited. "And my closet, and I could show you—"
"Mallory," Owen said again. "Back away from the car."
"Do you like my outfit?" she asked me. She stepped back so I could see it: plain white tee, short jacket over it, rolled-up jeans, and shiny boots with thick soles. After doing a little spin, she stuck her head back in the window. "It's inspired by Nicholls Lake; she's my favorite singer right now? She's, like, punk."
Owen sat back, his head bonking against the headrest. "Nicholls Lake," he said in a low voice, "is not punk."
"Yes, she is," Mallory told him. "And see? Today, so am I!"
"Mallory, we've talked about this. Remember? Did we not discuss the true definition of punk?" Owen said. "Have you even listened to that Black Flag CD I gave you?"
"That was so loud," she said. "And plus you can't even sing along. Nicholls Lake is better."
Owen took in another shuddering breath. "Mallory," he said. "If you could just—"
Just then, a tall dark-haired woman—Owen's mom, I assumed—appeared in the doorway of the house, calling her. Mallory shot her an annoyed look. "I have to go in," she announced, then leaned in even farther, so her face was inches from Owen's. "But you'll come over another time, right?"
"Sure," I told her.
"Good-bye," I said.
She smiled, then stood up, and waved at me. I waved back, and Owen and I watched her climb the front stairs and head down the walk, turning to look back at us every few steps or so.
"Wow," I said. "So she's punk, huh?"
Owen didn't answer me. Instead, all I could hear was him inhaling, loudly, several times in a row.
"Is this you freaking out?" I asked.
He exhaled. "No. This is me annoyed. I don't know what it is about her. There's just something about sisters. They can make you freaking crazy."
"Story of my life," I said.
Another silence. In every one that fell, I told myself this time, he was going to get out and leave, and this would be over. And each time, I wanted it to happen even less.
He said, "You say that a lot, you know."
"'Story of my life.'"
"You said it first."
I nodded. "That day, behind the school."
"Oh." He was quiet for a moment. "You know, when you think about it, that's kind of a weird thing. I mean, it's meant to be sympathetic, right? But it's kind of not. Like you're telling the other person there's nothing unique about what they're saying."