"Is she there now?"
"I don't know," I said. I sat up, then got off the bed, walking to my door and opening it. "I can check—"
"Did she go out?" she asked.
"I'm not sure," I said. God, I thought. "Hold on." I stepped out into the hallway, then put the phone to my chest, listening for a second. I didn't hear the TV, or any noise from downstairs, so instead I walked a few paces to Whitney's door, which was closed, but not entirely. I knocked, lightly.
When I pushed it open, she was sitting on her bed, cross-legged, writing in a notebook in her lap. "Mom's on the phone," I said.
She sighed, then reached out her hand, palm up, and I stepped over, giving her the receiver. "Hello?… Hi… Yes, I'm here… I'm fine… Everything's fine. You don't have to keep calling, you know."
Then my mother said something, and Whitney sat back against her headboard. As she listened, offering up a series of mmm-mhms and uh-huhs, I glanced out her window. Even though our rooms were adjacent, her view of the golf course, where a man in checked pants was now taking a practice swing, looked totally different to me, like it might have been another place altogether.
"Yeah, okay," she was saying now, reaching up to smooth a hand over her hair. Looking at her, I thought again how beautiful she was—even in jeans and a T-shirt, no makeup, she was breathtaking. So much so that it was hard to believe she could ever have looked at herself and seen anything else. "I'll tell her… Okay… Bye."
She dropped the phone from her ear, hitting the off button. "Mom says she'll see you tomorrow," she said. "They'll be back by dinnertime."
"Oh," I said as handed the receiver back to me. "Right."
"And we can either eat spaghetti for dinner tonight or go out." She sat back, pulling her legs up to her chest, then looked at me. "What do you want to do?"
I hesitated, wondering if this was a trick question. "I don't care," I said. "Spaghetti is fine."
"All right. I'll fix it in a little while."
"Okay. I can help, if you want."
"Whatever," she said. "We'll figure it out later." She leaned forward, picking up a pen from beside her foot and uncapping it. I could see now that the top page of the notebook in her lap was filled with her print, and I wondered what she was writing. After a moment, she looked up at me. "What?"
"Nothing," I said, realizing I was still standing there, staring at her. "I'll, um, see you in a bit."
I went back to my room and sat down on my bed, picking up Owen's iPod. It seemed strange, and maybe kind of wrong, to have it here in my room, not to mention in my hands. Still, I found myself unwrapping the earphones, then hitting the power button. After a second, the screen blinked to life. When the menu appeared, I clicked on songs.
There were 9,987 to choose from. Good God, I thought, as I scrolled down through the list for a minute, titles blurring past. I remembered what he'd said about drowning things out. It was what he'd done during the divorce, but also every day, I realized, when he walked around with his earphones on. Ten thousand songs could fill a lot of silence.
I clicked back to the menu, then scrolled to playlists . Another long list popped up: a.m. show 8/12, a.m. show 8/19, chants (imported) . And then: Annabel.
I lifted my finger off the button. It was probably just one of the CDs he'd made for me, I thought. But still, I found myself hesitating, the same way I had earlier in the truck. Wanting to know, but not. This time, though, I broke.
When I clicked on the button, the screen changed, pulling up a list of songs. The first one was "Jennifer" by a band called Lipo. Which sounded slightly familiar. As was "Descartes Dream," by Misanthrope, the second song, which I went ahead and clicked on. It only took a moment to recognize it as one of the songs from the first show of Owen's I'd listened to. Not liked, but listened to. And discussed with him afterwards.
They were all there. Every song we'd ever talked or argued about, listed in careful order. The Mayan chants, from the first day he'd given me the ride. "Thank You," by Led Zeppelin, from when I'd picked him up. Entirely too much techno, every thrash metal song. Even Jenny Reef. As I listened to a bit of each, I thought of all the times I'd seen Owen with his earphones on and wondered what he was listening to, much less thinking about. Who would have ever guessed that it might have been me?
I glanced over at the clock—it was 4:55. Owen had to be missing this by now. No big deal. I'd just drive over to his house and drop it off. Easy.
Halfway down the stairs, though, I heard a crash, followed by a muttered "shit." When I poked my head into the kitchen, Whitney was shoving a saucepan back into the cupboard.
"Everything okay?" I asked.
"Fine." She stood up, brushing her hair out of her face. On the island in front of her, there was a jar of pasta sauce, a box of spaghetti, a cutting board with a red pepper and a cucumber on it, and a bag of lettuce. "Are you going out or something?"
"Urn," I said. "I was… just for a little while. Unless you want me to—"
"No, I'm fine." She picked up a box of spaghetti, her eyes narrowing as she read the back of it.
"Oh. Okay," I said. "Well, I'll be back by—"
"It's just…" She put the box down. "I'm not sure which pot I'm supposed to use for pasta."
I put Owen's coat down on the table, then crossed the room to the cabinet next to the stove. "This one," I told her, pulling out the large stock pan and the strainer pot that fit inside of it. "It's easier to drain that way."
"Oh," she said. "Right. Sure."
I carried it to the sink, filling it up with water, and put it on the stove. I could feel her watching me as I turned on the burner. "It'll take a while," I told her. "If you cover it, it cuts down the time some."
She nodded. "Okay."
I walked back over to the chair where I'd left Owen's coat, then stood there, watching, as she took a smaller pot out of the cabinet and put it on the stove. Then she picked up the pasta sauce, popping off the top and dumping it in. All of this she did very slowly and deliberately, as if she were splitting atoms. Which wasn't really all that surprising, as Whitney hardly ever cooked for herself. My mother monitored all her meals, fixed her snacks and sandwiches, even the cereal she ate for breakfast. I realized that if this was weird for me to watch, it had to be really strange for her to do. Especially alone.