It wasn't his fancy suit I noticed first. Or his new haircut, short and schoolboyish, which was probably intended to make him look young and innocent. The look on his face—narrowed eyes, pursed lips—didn't really register, either. The only thing I could see, actually, was the black circle around his left eye, the redness of the cheek beneath. Someone had tried to cover it up with makeup, but it was still there. Clear as day.
"State your name for the record," the prosecutor asked me.
"Annabel Greene," I said. My voice was shaking.
"Are you acquainted with William Cash, Annabel?"
"Could you point him out to me, please?"
After being silent for so long, I felt like I had talked so much in the last twenty-four hours. But with any luck, this would be the last time for a while. Which was maybe why it wasn't so hard to quiet myself, to take in that first breath, to begin.
"There," I said, raising my finger and pointing at him. "He's right there."
* * *
When it was finally over, we walked through the dark of the courthouse lobby into a noontime sun so bright it took my eyes a moment to adjust. When they did, Owen was the first thing I saw.
He was sitting on the edge of the fountain, wearing jeans and a white T-shirt, a blue jacket over it, his earphones hanging around his neck. It was lunchtime, and the square was packed with people crossing back and forth: businessmen with briefcases, students from the university, a bunch of preschoolers walking in a line, all holding hands. When Owen saw me, he stood up.
"I think," my mother was saying, running a hand down my arm, "that we should all go get something to eat. What do you think, Annabel? Are you hungry?"
I looked at Owen, who was watching me, his hands now in his pockets. "Yeah," I told her. "Just give me one second."
As I started down the steps, I could hear my father asking where I was going, and my mother responding she had no idea. I was sure they were all watching me, but I didn't look back as I crossed the square, walking up to Owen, who had the strangest look on his face, one I'd never seen before. He was shifting in place, clearly uncomfortable.
"Hey," he said quickly, as soon as I was in earshot.
He took in a breath, about to speak, then stopped, running a hand over his face. "Look," he said. "I know you're pissed off at me."
The weird thing was that I wasn't. While initially, I'd been surprised, then worried when he hadn't shown up, the entire experience had been so overwhelming—although cathartic— that I'd kind of forgotten about it once I got up on the stand. I opened my mouth to tell him this, but he was already talking again.
"The basic fact is that I should have been here. I have no excuse. There is no excuse." He looked down at the ground, scuffing his foot across the pavement. "I mean, there is a reason. But it's not an excuse."
"Owen," I said. "It's—"
"Something happened." He sighed, shaking his head. His face was flushed, and he was still fidgeting. "Something stupid. I made a mistake, and—"
Then, and only then, did I put it altogether. His absence. This shuffling embarrassment. And Will Cash's black eye. Oh my God, I thought.
"Owen," I said, my voice low. "No way."
"It was an error in judgment," he said quickly. "And something I regret."
"Something," I repeated.
A businessman talking loudly on a cell phone passed us, talking about mergers. "Placeholder," I told him.
He winced. "I thought you might say that."
"Come on," I said. "You knew I would say that."
"Fine, fine." He pulled a hand through his hair. "I was having an in-depth discussion with my mother. One that I could not easily extract myself from."
"A discussion," I repeated. "About what?"
Again, he flinched. This was killing him. And yet I could not help myself. After being on the other side of the truth for so long, I realized I kind of liked asking the questions.
"Well," he said, then coughed. "Basically, I'm supposed to be under punishment right now. For the foreseeable future, in fact. So I had to negotiate a furlough. It took longer than I expected."
"You're grounded," I said, clarifying.
He winced, then shook his head, looking over at the fountain. Who knew the truth could be so hard for Owen Armstrong, the most honest boy in the world. But if I asked, he would tell. That I knew for sure.
"Owen," I said as he squirmed, noticeably, his shoulder wriggling, "what did you do?"
He just looked at me for a minute. Then he sighed. "I punched Will Cash in the face."
"What were you thinking?"
"Well, clearly I wasn't." He flushed a deeper red. "I didn't intend to do it."
"You punched him by accident."
"No." He shot me a look. "Okay, you really want to know?"
"Am I not asking?"
"Look," Owen said, "the truth is, after you left yesterday, I was really pissed off. I mean, I'm human, right?"
"You are," I agreed.
"I really only wanted to get a good look at him. That was all. And I knew he sometimes plays with that shitty Perkins
Day band that was in a showcase last night at Bendo, so I figured he might be there. And he was. Which, really, when you think about it, is despicable. What kind of a person goes to a club—to see a shitty band, no less—the night before he's due in court? It's—"
"Owen," I said.
"I'm serious! Do you know how much they suck? Seriously, even for a cover band they're pathetic. I mean, if you're going to just come out and admit you can't write your own songs, at least be able to play other people's well…"
I just looked at him.
"Right," he said. He ran a hand through his hair again. "So anyway, he was there, I got a look at him, end of story."
"Clearly," I said sternly, "that is not the end of the story."
Owen continued, reluctantly. "I watched their set. Which, as I said, sucked. I went out for some air, and he was outside smoking a cigarette. And he starts talking to me. Like we know each other. Like he's not the freaking scum of the earth, a total fucking asshole."
"Owen," I said softly.
"I could feel myself getting more and more pissed off." He winced. "I knew I should breathe, and walk away, and everything else, but I didn't. And then, when he finished his cigarette, he clapped me on the shoulder and turned to go back inside. And I just—"