"So why now?" I said. "Why talk to me now?"
She sighed. "Well," she said slowly, "I have to be honest. Rolly's a big part of it."
Rolly, I thought. Then I remembered that night, him clutching those waters. Tell Owen he was right about everything, he'd said, so excited. "You and Rolly?" I said.
She bit her lip again, and I could have sworn she blushed, but only for a second. "We're talking," she said, reaching down to tug at the hem of her truth squad T-shirt, which, now that I noticed, looked awfully worn for someone who had only just seen the band for the first time a month and half earlier. "Anyway, that night at the club, when he got you to introduce him to me, you said that I hated you. It got me thinking about everything that had happened with us all those years ago. And with Owen talking about you… you've been on my mind. So when I saw you today, and you were—"
"Wait," I said. "Owen talks about me?"
"He hasn't said all that much," she told me. "Just that you guys were friends, and then something happened, and now you're not. Forgive me for saying so, but it sounded, I don't know, a little bit familiar to me. If you know what I mean."
I felt myself flush, imagining Clarke and Owen discussing me and my avoidant behavior. How embarrassing.
"It's not like we discuss you," she added, as if I'd said this aloud. Which was another thing that I now remembered about Clarke: She could always kind of read my mind.
Clarke was worried about me. Emily was apologizing to me. This was a weird day.
"So are you?" Clarke asked now, as a group of girls came in, cigarettes already out, their faces falling when they saw us there. They grumbled, huddled, then walked back out, presumably to wait until we'd left. "Okay, I mean?"
I just stood there, wondering how to answer this. I realized that for the last few weeks I hadn't been missing just Owen, but also that part of me that had been able to be so honest with him. Maybe I couldn't do that here. But I didn't have to lie, either. So I went for the place I was working toward always: the middle.
"I don't know," I said.
Clarke looked at me for a moment. "Well," she said, "do you want to talk about it?"
I'd had so many chances. Her, Owen, Emily. For so long, I'd thought all I needed was someone to listen, but that wasn't really true at all. It was me that was the problem. I did this. And now, I did it again. "No," I said. "But thanks anyway."
She nodded, then pushed off the sink, and I followed her out of the bathroom. In the hallway, as we prepared to go our separate ways, she reached down to her bag, pulling out a pen and scrap of paper. "Here," she said as she scribbled on it, then handed it to me. "My cell number. Just in case you change your mind."
Her name was written beneath it, in the hand I still recognized—clean, block-print, the same little swoop on the final E. "Thanks," I said.
"No problem. Merry Christmas, Annabel."
As we walked away from each other, I knew I probably wouldn't call her. Still, I unzipped my bag, stuffing the paper in with the card Emily had given me. Even if I never used either, for whatever reason, it was nice to know they were there.
Another holiday, another trip to the airport. Just like I had about a year earlier, I sat in the backseat, behind my parents, as we headed down the highway, a plane rising from one corner of the windshield to the other as we took the exit. Whitney had stayed home, ostensibly to get dinner ready. So it was just the three of us waiting behind the barricade for Kirsten to emerge from the gate.
"There she is!" my mother said, waving as my sister appeared wearing a bright red coat, her hair pulled back in a ponytail. Kirsten smiled, waving back as she walked toward us, the wheels of her suitcase whizzing across the floor.
"Hello!" she said, immediately reaching up to hug my dad, then moving on to my mom, who was already teary-eyed, the way she always was at arrivals and departures. When it was my turn she hugged me tight, and I closed my eyes, breathing in her scent: soap, cold air, and the peppermint of her shampoo, all so familiar. "I am so happy to see you guys!"
"How was the trip?" my mom asked as my dad took the handle of her suitcase and we started across the terminal. "Any trouble?"
"None," Kirsten said, linking her arm in my mine. "It was all good."
I waited for her to continue, but she didn't. Instead, she just smiled at me, then slid her hand down around mine, squeezing it as we stepped out into the cold.
On the ride home, my parents peppered Kirsten with questions about school, which she answered, and Brian, which she evaded cheerfully, blushing occasionally. The new Kirsten I'd noticed on the phone was clearly in evidence. Her responses, while not curt, were much briefer than any of us were used to, so much so that weird silences kept falling after she spoke, while the rest of us waited for her to start up again. But she didn't, just sighing instead, or looking out the window, or squeezing my hand, which she was still holding, which she held all the way home.
"I have to say," my mother said as my dad turned into our neighborhood, "there's something different about you, honey."
"Really?" Kirsten asked.
"I can't put my finger on exactly what it is…" my mother said, looking pensive. "But I think…"
"She's letting the world get a word in edgewise?" my dad finished for her, glancing at Kirsten in the rearview. He was smiling. And right.
"Oh, Daddy," Kirsten said. "I didn't used to talk that much, did I?"
"Of course not!" my mother told her. "We always loved to hear what you had to say."
Kirsten sighed. "I've just learned a lot about being more concise. As well as making an effort to hear what's being said to me. I mean, do you realize how few people actually listen these days?"
I did. In fact, I'd spent the time between school and leaving for the airport finishing up the last tracks of Owen's OLD SCHOOL PUNK/SKA CD, the final labeled one in the stack he'd given to me. After this, I only had just listen left to go, which made me sad. I'd gotten used to spending some time each day or night hearing a few tracks here or there. The act was like ritual, a weird kind of steady comfort, even when the music wasn't.
While I listened, I usually just lay on my bed with eyes closed, trying to lose myself in what I was hearing. Today, though, as the CD began with the pumping beats of a reggae-style song, I'd pulled my backpack onto my bed, taken out the card Emily had given me and Clarke's number, then laid them in front of me on the bedspread. As the music played, I studied each one, as if it was important to commit them to memory: the slightly raised type of the D.A. assistant's name, andrea thomlinson, the lines across the middle sections of the two sevens in Clarke's number. I told myself I didn't have to do anything with either of them. They were just options. Like Owen's two rings, two messages. And it was always good to know your options.