"Yes, I do."
"—and I'm not like that," I finished. "I'm just not."
"Then what are you like, Annabel?" he shot back. "A liar, like you told me that first day? Come on. That was the biggest lie of all."
I just looked at him. My hands were shaking.
"If you were a liar, you would have just lied to me," he said, glancing at the monitor again as the static grew louder. "You would have just acted like everything was fine. But you didn't."
"No," I said, shaking my head.
"And don't tell me this is easy for me, because it's not. These last couple of months have sucked, not knowing what's going on with you. What is it, Annabel? What's so bad you can't even tell me?"
I could feel my heart beating, my blood pulsing. Owen turned back to the console, raising the volume of the CD even higher, and as the sound filled my ears it hit me, all at once, what this feeling was. I was angry.
Really angry. At him, for attacking me. At myself, for waiting until now to fight back. At every other chance I hadn't taken. All these months, I'd been having this same reaction, but I'd blamed it on nerves, or fear. It wasn't.
"You don't understand," I said to him now.
"Then tell me, and maybe I will," he shot back, pushing the empty chair in front of him toward me. "And what," he said, his voice loud, "is going on with this CD? Where's the music? Why can't we hear anything?"
"What?" I said.
He pushed a few buttons, swearing under his breath. "There's nothing on this," he said. "It's blank."
"Isn't that the point?"
"What?" he said. "What point?"
Oh my God, I thought. I reached forward for the chair he'd pushed toward me, then eased myself down into it. Here I'd thought this gesture was so deep, so profound, and it was just… a mistake. A malfunction. I was wrong, all wrong.
It was all so loud, suddenly. His voice, my heart, the static, filling the room. I closed my eyes, willing myself back to the night before, when I'd been able to hear the things I'd kept silent for so long.
Shhh, Annabel, I heard a voice say, but it sounded different this time. Familiar. It's just me.
Owen began to turn down the volume, and the static above us receded bit by bit. There comes a time in every life when the world gets quiet and the only thing left is your own heart. So you'd better learn to know the sound of it. Otherwise you'll never understand what it's saying.
"Annabel?" Owen said. His voice was lower now. Closer. He sounded worried. "What is it?"
He had already given me so much, but now I leaned toward him, asking him for one last thing. Something I knew he did better than anyone. "Don't think or judge," I said. "Just listen."
"Annabel? We're just about to start the movie…" My mother's voice was soft; she thought I'd been sleeping. "You about ready?"
"Almost," I said.
"Okay," she said. "We'll be downstairs."
The day before, I hadn't just told Owen about what happened to me at the party. I told him everything. The stuff with Sophie at school, Whitney's recovery, Kirsten's movie. Agreeing to do another commercial, talking with my dad about history, and listening to his blank CD the night before. He just sat there, listening to every single word. And when I was finally done, he said the two words that usually don't mean anything, but this time, said it all.
"I'm sorry, Annabel," he told me. "I'm so sorry that happened to you."
Maybe this was what I'd wanted, all along. Not an apology—and certainly not one from Owen—but an acknowledgment. What mattered most, though, was that I'd gotten through it, finally—beginning, middle, and end. Which did not, of course, mean it was over.
"So what are you going to do?" he asked me later, when we were standing by the Land Cruiser, having had to leave the booth to make room for the next show, which was hosted by two cheery local realtors. "Are you going to call that woman? About the trial?"
"I don't know," I said.
I knew that in any other circumstance he'd be telling me exactly how he felt about this, but this time he held back. For about a minute.
"The thing is," he said, "there aren't a whole lot of opportunities in life to really make a difference. This is one of them."
"Easy for you to say," I said. "You always do the right thing."
"No, I don't," he replied, shaking his head. "I just do the best I can—"
"—under the circumstances, I know," I finished for him. "But I'm scared. I don't know if I can do it."
"Of course you can," he said.
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because you just did," he said. "Coming here, and telling me that? That's huge. Most people couldn't do it. But you did."
"I had to," I said. "I wanted to explain."
"And you can do it again," he replied. "Just call that woman and tell her what you told me."
I reached up, running a hand through my hair. "There's more to it than that," I said. "What if she wants me to come testify or something? I'd have to tell my parents, my mom… I don't know if she can take it."
"You don't even know her," I said.
"I don't have to," he replied. "Look, this is important. You know that. So do what you have to do, and then go from there. Your mom just might surprise you."
I felt a lump rise in my throat. I wanted to believe this was true, and maybe it was.
Owen dropped his bag to the ground, then crouched down beside it, rummaging around. I had a flash of him that day behind the school, doing this same thing, and how I'd had no idea in the world what he would come up with, what on earth Owen Armstrong had to offer me. After a moment, he pulled out a picture.
"Here," he said, handing it to me. "For inspiration."
It was the one he'd taken of me the night of Mallory's photo shoot. I was standing in the powder-room doorway, no makeup, my face relaxed, the yellow glow of the light behind me. See, he'd said then, that's what you look like, and as I stared down at it, it seemed like proof, finally, that I was not the girl from Mallory's wall or the Kopf's commercial or even the party that night in May. That something in me had changed that fall, because of Owen, even if I only now could really see it.
"Mallory told me to give it to you," he said. "But…"
"But?" I said.