He was sitting at the microphone, a stack of CDs spread out in front of him. Judging by the look on his face, he was not happy to see me. It was worse than the day in the parking lot. Which made it that much more important that I push the door open and go inside. So I did.
"Hi," I said.
He just looked at me for a second. "Hey," he said finally, his voice flat.
There was a buzz, and then Rolly's voice came from over my head. "Annabel!" he said, his sunny tone a distinct contrast to Owen's barely tolerant one. "Hey! What's going on?"
I looked over him, lifting a hand to wave. He waved back, as did Clarke. He was leaning in to say something else to me when he glanced at Owen—who was glaring at him—and slowly drew back, deciding against it. There was a click, and the microphone went off again.
"What are you doing here?" Owen asked me.
Of course he would come right out with it. "I need to talk to you," I said.
Out of the corner of my eye, I was aware of some sudden movement in the other room. I looked over to see Clarke hurriedly stuffing her newspaper into a bag, while Rolly took off his headphones, standing up. Who's conflict-adverse now, I thought as they exited the room at a breakneck pace, Rolly slapping the light off as he went.
"We're, um, going to go ahead to the bacon," he said to Owen as they passed behind me. "See you there?"
Owen nodded, and Rolly smiled at me again before turning away. Clarke lingered for a moment, her hand on the open door. "You okay?" she asked.
"Yeah," I said. "I'm fine."
She pulled her bag over her shoulder, giving Owen a look I couldn't make out. Then she was running to catch up with Rolly, linking her hand with his, and they disappeared around the corner into the lobby.
When I looked back at Owen, he was packing up as well, coiling the cord around his headphones. "I don't have much time," he said, not looking at me. "So if you've got something to say, go ahead and say it."
"Okay," I said. "It's—" My heart was beating fast, and I felt sick. Normally this was where I stopped, chickened out, and turned back. "It's about this," I said, holding up the CD in my hand. My voice sounded shaky, so I cleared my throat. "It was supposed to blow my mind? Remember?"
He glanced at it again, his expression wary. "Vaguely," he said.
"I listened to it last night," I said. "But I wanted to be, um, sure that I got it. Your intention, I mean."
"My intention," he repeated.
"Well, you know," I said, "there's a lot left up to interpretation." My voice sounded more solid now, finally. The power of music, indeed. "So I just wanted to make sure I really, you know, got it."
We just stared at each other, and it was all I could do not to look away. But I managed. And then, after a moment, he stuck out his hand for the CD.
He looked at the case, then turned it over. "There's no track listing on here," he said.
"Don't you remember what you put on it?"
"It was a long time ago." He shot me a look. "And I made you a lot of CDs."
"Ten," I told him. "I listened to them all."
I nodded. "Yeah. You told me you wanted me to before I put that one on."
"Ah," he said. "So now you care about what I want."
Outside, I could see Rolly and Clarke in his car, backing out of their parking space. He was saying something, and she was laughing, shaking her head.
"I always cared about that," I said to Owen.
"Really? It's been kind of hard to tell, by the way you've been avoiding me for the last two months." He reached out to the console in front of him, hitting a button. The drawer slid open, and he put the disc in.
"I figured that was what you wanted," I said.
"Why?" he said. He reached down, nudging up a knob beneath the player.
I swallowed, hard. "You were the one who got out of the car in the parking lot that day and walked away," I told him. "You'd had it with me."
"You ditched me at a club and wouldn't even tell me why," he shot back, his voice rising. He turned the knob a bit more. "I was pissed, Annabel."
"Exactly," I said, and now I could hear static over our heads. "You were pissed. I'd let you down. I was not what you wanted me to be—"
"—and so you just bolted," he finished, hitting the knob again. The static grew louder. "Disappeared. One argument, and you're out of there."
"What did you want me to do?" I said.
"Tell me what was going on, for one," he said. "God, tell me something. It's like I said, I could have handled it."
"Like you were handling my not saying anything? You were furious with me."
"So what? I was entitled," he said. He glanced at the console again. "People get mad, Annabel. It's not the end of the world."
"So I was supposed to just explain myself, and let you be mad at me, and then maybe you might have gotten over it—"
"I would have gotten over it."
"—or not," I said, glaring at him. "Maybe it would have changed everything."
"That happened anyway!" he said. "I mean, look at us now. At least if you'd told me what was going on, we could have dealt with it. As it was, you just left everything hanging, no resolution, nothing. Is that what you wanted? That I be gone for good, rather than just mad for a little while?"
I just stood there as he said this, the words sinking in. "I didn't," I said. "I didn't realize that was an option."
"Of course it was," he said, looking up at the speaker overhead; the static was even louder now. "Whatever it was, it couldn't have been that bad. All you had to do was be honest. Tell me what really happened."
"It's not that easy."
"Is this? Ignoring and avoiding each other, acting like we were never friends? Maybe for you. It's sucked for me. I don't like playing games."
As he said this, I felt something in my stomach. It wasn't the clenching sickness I was used to, though. More of a slow simmer. "I don't like that, either," I said. "But—"
"If it's so big that it's worth all this," he said, waving his hand to include the studio, the static, and us in the midst of it all, "all this crap and weirdness that's happened since then, it's too big to keep inside. You know that."
"No," I said, "you know that, Owen. Because you don't have problems with anger—yours or anyone else's. You just use all your little phrases, and everything you've learned, and you're always honest and you never regret a thing you say or how you act—"