Every time I looked at it, I was reminded how much I liked this new life, without a secret hanging over me. It was a fresh start, and now I didn't have to be the girl who had everything, or nothing, but another girl altogether. Maybe even the one who told.
"Two minutes until next break," Rolly said now, and I nod-ded, sliding my headphones back on. As he leaned back from the microphone, Clarke reached over, ruffling his hair. He smiled at her, making a face as she went back to the Sunday crossword, which she made a point of trying to complete every week during the hour the show was on. Clarke was competitive, even with herself. It was one of many things I'd forgotten about her, but was now remembering—like how she always sang along with the radio, refused to watch scary movies, and could make me giggle uncontrollably over the stupidest things—as we cautiously worked our way back into a friendship. It wasn't like it had been, but then neither of us would have wanted that anyway. As it was, we were just happy to be hanging out. Everything else, we took day by day.
This was how I was dealing with everyone and everything lately, taking the good when it came, and the bad the same way, knowing each would pass in its own time. My sisters were still speaking, as well as occasionally still arguing. Kirsten was in her second filmmaking class, working away on a piece about, strangely enough, modeling, which she promised would "rock our world" (whatever that meant). In January, Whitney had enrolled in classes at the local university, where, along with a few requirements, she was taking two writing classes, one on memoir, the other fiction. In the spring, with her doctor's blessing, she was moving into her own apartment, a place she'd made sure had enough light for some plants. In the meantime, her herbs were still in the windowsill, where I made a point to pass them whenever I could, reaching down to smooth their pungent leaves between my fingers, releasing their scent to linger to the open air behind me.
As for my mother, she had accepted all these changes with a few tears—of course—as well as a strength that continually surprised me. I'd told her, finally, that I was done with modeling, for good, and while it was hard for her to let go of that part of my life, and her own, she'd compensated by taking a part-time job with Lindy, who was still desperately in need of a receptionist. It was a good fit. Now she sent other girls out to calls and dealt with clients, keeping one foot in the world where she, out of all of us, always felt the most comfortable.
Still, I knew it would probably be hard for her when the new Kopfs commercial began running in a few weeks. From what I heard, they'd stuck to the same idea as the one I'd done, focusing on the Ideal Girl as she moved through spring sports and prom. It probably would have bothered me, for all the reasons the other one had, if not for the girl they'd picked to replace me: Emily. After all, if anyone could be a role model, it was her.
As far as Emily and I went, we weren't exactly friends. But we both knew what we'd been through would link us forever, whether we liked it or not. Whenever we passed each other in the hallway now, we made a point of saying hello, even if that was all we said. This was more than I could say for Sophie, who studiously ignored both of us. After Will's conviction and sentencing for second-degree rape—six years, although he'd probably be out earlier—she'd laid low for a while, clearly uncomfortable with being the subject of so much discussion. There were times when I saw her alone in the halls, or at lunch, and thought that ideally, I'd be able to go up to her, heal this rift, do for her what she'd never done for me.
Thinking this, I looked down at my thumb, slipping off the thick silver ring there to read these same words. It was too big for any of my fingers, and I'd had to wrap some tape on it so it would fit, but it was just fine for now while I was still figuring out what I wanted on the one Rolly had promised me. Until then, Owen had said I could hold on to his, if only to remind me that it's always good to know your options.
"Thirty seconds," Rolly said in my headphones.
I nodded, moving my chair closer to the microphone. As the seconds counted down, I looked out the window to my left and saw a blue Land Cruiser turning into the lot. Right on time.
"And…" Rolly said, "you're on."
"That was Jenny Reef, with 'Whatever,'" I began, "and this has been Story of My Life, here on WRUS. I'm Annabel. The Herbal Prescription is next. Thanks for listening. Here's one last song."
The opening notes of Led Zeppelin's "Thank You" came on, and I pushed back my chair. Then I closed my eyes to listen, as I did every time I heard this song, my own little ritual. Just as the chorus began, I heard the door open and, a moment later, felt a hand on my shoulder.
"Please tell me," Owen said, flopping down dramatically in the chair beside me, "that I did not just hear Jenny Reef on my show."
"It was a request," I said. "And besides, you said I could play what I wanted as long as we called the show something else."
"Within reason," he said. "I mean, you just have to keep in mind that my listeners are going to be confused. They're still tuning in, and they expect quality. If possible, enlightenment. Not commercial, mass-produced crap sung by a teenager completely controlled by corporate marketing."
"I mean, there's room for some irony, but it's a delicate balance. Too much either way and you lose all credibility. Which means that—"
"Are you even listening to what I'm playing now?" I asked.
He stopped in mid-rant, then looked up at the speaker overhead, listening for a second. "Oh," he said. "Well, this is what I mean. This is my—"
"Favorite Led Zeppelin song," I finished for him. "I know."
In the booth, Clarke rolled her eyes.
"Okay, fine," Owen said, moving his chair closer to mine. "So you played some Jenny Reef. I thought the rest of the show was pretty good. Although I'm not sure about the juxtaposition you did in the second pairing—"
"—following up that Alamance track with the Etta James. It was a bit much. And—"
I leaned closer to him, pressing my lips to his ear. "Shhh," I said.
He started to say something else—of course—but stopped as I slid my hand over to his, locking his fingers in mine. It wasn't over. Eventually, he'd make his point, or at least argue it into submission. But for now, the chords were building overhead, the chorus starting up again. So I moved closer to Owen, leaning my head on his shoulder to listen, as we settled into the sunlight coming through the window beside us. It was bright and warm, catching the ring on my thumb as Owen reached for it, spinning it slowly, slowly, as the song played on.