Just Listen

Author: P Hana

Page 50

   

When I pulled into my driveway later that night, all the lights in the house were off except in Whitney's room. I could see her in the chair by her window, sitting with her feet tucked up under her. She had that same notebook open in her lap and was writing, her hand moving slowly across the page. For a moment I just sat there, watching her, the one thing I could make out in the dark.

I'd left Owen's just in time. Elinor, Angela, and the twins had tired of both the photo shoot and Mallory's bossiness and were on the verge of some sort of fashion mutiny, the house was a wreck, and Owen's mom—apparently a bit of a neat freak—was due home at any moment. I'd offered to stay and help clean up, or play peacemaker, but he declined.

"I can handle it," he said, as we stood on the front steps. "If I were you, I'd get out while I could. It's only going to go downhill from here."

"So optimistic," I said.

"No," he replied as, inside, I heard an indignant shriek, followed by a door slamming. He turned his head, glancing toward the door, then back at me. "Just realistic."

I smiled, then moved down one step, pulling my keys out of my pocket. "So I'll see you at school, I guess."

"Yup," he said. "See you then."

Neither of us moved and I wondered if he would kiss me again. "Okay," I said, feeling my stomach flip-flop. "I'm, um, going."

"Right." He stepped a little closer to the edge of the step where he was standing, and I moved forward on mine, meeting him halfway. As he leaned down to me and I closed my eyes, I could hear something, a thunk-thunk-thunk noise, growing both louder and closer. The doorknob rattled, and we both jumped back as Mallory, wearing thick wedge heels, a black catsuit, and the green boa, burst out onto the porch.

"Wait!" she said, clomping across to me, her hand outstretched. "Here. These are for you."

She handed me a stack of pictures, so fresh from the printer I could smell ink. The one on the top was of her in her gold bathing-suit top, the shot taken close with the feathers from the boa framing her face, drifting upwards toward the edges. I flipped through the next few, which featured a couple of group poses, Elinor writhing on the floor and, finally, Angela in the outfit I'd picked out for her. "Wow," I said. "These are great."

"They're for your wall," she said. "So you can look at me sometimes."

"Thank you," I told her.

"You're welcome." She turned to Owen. "Mom just called from the car. She'll be home in ten minutes."

"Right." Owen sighed. To me he said, "I'll see you later."

I nodded, and then they were walking inside, where I could hear the other girls arguing, Mallory waving at me one last time before shutting the door. A moment later, he said something, and the girls quieted down, quick. By the time I started down the steps, I couldn't hear a thing.

Now, I got out of my car and started up the walk, Mallory's pictures in my hand. The entire ride home all I'd been able to think about was Owen's face, coming closer to mine, how it felt when he'd kissed me, barely long enough to count and yet still unforgettable. I felt my face flush as I pushed open the door, then started up the stairs.

"Annabel?" Whitney called out when I got to the top. "Is that you?"

"Yeah," I said. "I'm back."

As I reached for my door, hers opened and she stepped out into view. "Mom called again," she said. "I told her you'd gone to a friend's house. She asked who, but I said I didn't know."

For a moment we just looked at each other, and I wondered if I was supposed to explain myself further. "Thanks," I said finally as I pushed my door open and turned on the light. I put the pictures on the bureau, then shrugged off my coat, tossing it over my desk chair. When I turned back around, she was standing in my doorway.

"I told her maybe you'd call her when you got in," she said. "But you probably don't have to."

"Okay," I said.

She shifted slightly, leaning against the doorjamb. As she did so, she saw the pictures. "What are these?" she asked.

"Oh, nothing," I said. "They're just… they're silly."

She picked them up, cradling them in her open hand as she worked through them, her expression moving from impassive to curious to, at one shot of Elinor sprawled on the floor, somewhat horrified.

"My friend's little sister was having a modeling slumber party," I said, walking over to stand beside her as she kept moving through the stack. There were the redheads, side by side, doing a mirror-image pose, and Angela in her black dress, the dreaded Workplace Classy. There were a few more of Mallory as well, doing a full range of looks: pensive, dreamy, and, perhaps due to something Owen had just said, annoyed. "They get all dressed up and take shots of themselves."

Whitney paused to study a shot of Elinor in her white dress, looking pensive. "Wow," she said. "That's quite a look."

"It's called Fantasy Engagement."

"Huh," she said, flipping to the next picture, which was Elinor again, this time sprawled on the floor, mouth half open. "What's that called?"

"I don't think that has a name," I said.

She withheld further comment, flipping to the next shot, which was of Mallory in a red top, facing the camera. Her lips were pursed, her eyelashes enormous. "She's kind of cute," she said, tilting the picture slightly. "Good eyes."

"Oh, God," I said, shaking my head. "She'd die if she heard you say that."

"Really."

I nodded. "She's model-obsessed. You should see her room. It's all pictures from magazines, everywhere you look."

"She must have been thrilled you were there, then," she said. "A real-live model."

"I guess," I said, watching as she kept flipping, past a series of group shots: all the girls' faces pressed together, then each of them looking a different direction, as if waiting for five separate buses. "It was kind of weird for me, actually."

Whitney was quiet for a second. Then she said, "Yeah. I know what you mean."

Like so much else that had happened that weekend, I found myself in this unexpected moment with my sister almost holding my breath. Finally I said, "I mean, we never did that, you know? When we were kids."

"We didn't have to," she said as Angela's picture came up, her dark eyes so serious, skin pale in the camera's flash. "We had the real thing."

"Yeah," I said. "But this might have been more fun. Less pressure, anyway."

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