Just Listen

Author: P Hana

Page 66

   

The last month and a half had been a total blur. The only thing I was fully aware of was how completely things were back to how they had been when the school year began. It was like the time I'd spent with Owen hadn't happened at all. Yet again, I was alone at school, modeling even though I didn't want to, and somehow completely unable to do anything about either.

The Sunday after that night at Bendo, I woke up right at seven, just in time for Owen's show. It was only once I opened my eyes that I remembered this morning was different and turned away from the clock, trying to will myself back to sleep. But I could feel some part of myself stubbornly waking up, bit by bit, and then everything was flooding back.

He had to be furious with me. After all, I'd just bolted, no explanation, nothing. The worst part was I knew it was wrong, even as it was happening, and yet I still couldn't stop myself. The only way to fix it would be to explain openly and honestly why I'd left, and I just could not do that. Even for him.

As it turned out, though, whether we discussed that night or not wasn't entirely up to me. The next day, our first day back at school, Owen made the decision for us.

I was in my car, having just parked, when he suddenly appeared at my driver's-side window. He announced himself by knocking: three hard raps, boom boom, boom. I jumped, then turned. Once he saw he had my attention, he dropped his hand and started around my front bumper to the passenger door. As he opened it I sucked in a breath, the way they say you should do if your car is ever immersed in water, one last gasp to hold you over. And then he was in.

"What happened to you?"

As I'd expected, there was no hello. No stony silence for me to fill. Just the one thing that had been on his mind for, oh, thirty-six hours or so. Even worse, he was looking at me so intently—angrily—that I couldn't keep my eyes on him for more than a moment. His mouth was a thin line, his face flushed, his unsettled presence filling the small space around us.

"I'm sorry," I said, and as the words came out I heard my voice break. "I just…"

This is the problem with dealing with someone who is actually a good listener. They don't jump in on your sentences, saving you from actually finishing them. Or talk over you, allowing what you do manage to get out to be lost or altered in transit. Instead, they wait. So you have to keep going.

"I don't know what to say," I finally managed. "I just… don't."

He was quiet for what felt like a long time. This is excruciating, I thought. Then he said, "If you didn't want to be there on Saturday, you could have just told me."

I bit my lip, looking down at my hands as a couple of guys passed by my window, yelling something about football practice. "I wanted to be there," I said.

"Then what happened?" he said. "Why did you just bolt? I didn't know what was going on. I waited for you."

There was something in these last few words that made my heart just break. I waited for you. Of course he had. And of course he would tell me this, because unlike me, Owen didn't keep secrets. With him, what you saw was really what you got.

"I'm sorry," I said again, but even to me it sounded so lame and weak, meaningless. "I just… There was a lot going on."

"Like what?"

I shook my head. This was what I could not do, get into this place where I was backed up to a wall, no choice but to tell the truth. "It's just a lot of stuff," I said.

"Stuff," he repeated, and I thought in my head, Placeholder. But he didn't say this out loud.

Instead he exhaled, turning his head toward the window. Only then did I allow myself to really look at him, taking in all the familiar things: the strong line of his jaw; the rings on his fingers; his earphones, looped loosely around his neck. Distantly, through one of them, I could hear music, and I wondered out of habit what he was listening to.

"I just don't get it," he said. "I mean, there has to be a reason, and you just don't want to give it. And that's just…" He stopped, shaking his head. "It's not like you."

For a moment, everything was very quiet. No one was passing, no cars driving up the row behind us. So silent as I said, "It is, though."

Owen looked at me, shifting his bag to the other leg. "What?"

"It is like me," I said. My voice was low, even to my ears. "This is just like me."

"Annabel." He still sounded annoyed, like this could never be true. So wrong. "Come on."

I looked down at my hands again. "I wanted to be different," I said to him. "But this is how I really am."

I'd tried to tell him that first day. I'd said I didn't always tell the truth, that I didn't handle conflict well, that anger scared me, that I was used to people just disappearing when they were mad. Our mistake was that we'd both thought I was capable of changing. That I had changed. In the end, though, that was the biggest lie of all.

The first bell sounded then, long and loud. Owen shifted in his seat, then put his hand on the door handle.

"Whatever it is," he said, "you could have told me. You know that, right?"

I knew as Owen sat there, one hand on the door, he was waiting for me to be the bold girl he'd wanted to believe I was, to just tell him. He waited longer than I thought he would have before pushing the door open and getting out.

And then he was gone. Walking across the parking lot, his bag over one shoulder, already lifting his earphones to his ears. Almost a year ago I'd watched him this same way, just after he punched Ronnie Waterman out. Then, I'd been awed, and slightly scared, and I felt the same way now as I realized what my silence and fear had cost me, yet again.

I waited until second bell, when the courtyard was nearly empty, before I finally got out of my car and headed to class. I didn't want to see Owen; I didn't want to see anyone. All morning, I walked through the halls in a fog, deliberately blocking out the voices around me. At lunch, I went to the library and sat in a carrel by the American History section, books spread out in front of me, not reading one word.

As the period was winding down, I packed up my stuff and went to the bathroom. It was empty except for two girls I didn't know, standing by the sinks, who started talking as I went into a stall.

"All I'm saying," one said as a faucet was turned on and water began to splash, "is that I don't think she's lying."

"Oh, come on." The other girl's voice was high, and more nasal. "He could date any girl he wanted. It's not like he's desperate. So why would he do something like that?"

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