Mallory dropped her hand. "Owen!" she said. "R and R."
Owen gave her a look in the rearview. Then he sighed, loudly. "What I meant to say, Mallory," he said, sounding pained, "is that your focus on labels and material goods troubles me."
"Thank you," she replied. "And I understand and appreciate your concern. But, as you know, fashion is my life."
I looked at Owen. "R and R?"
"Rephrase and Redirect," Mallory told me. "It's part of his Anger Management. If he says something inflammatory, you can tell him it hurts your feelings, and he has to say it another way."
Owen was looking at her through the rearview, a flat expression on his face. "Thank you, Mallory," he said.
"You're welcome," she replied. Then she smiled at me, big, and bounced in the seat again.
For a second, we drove in silence, which gave me a moment to catch up, or try to, with all this newfound knowledge about Owen Armstrong's personal life. So far, only the fact that he'd been in Anger Management wasn't a surprise. Mallory, the music, and, of course, the fact that I was privy to either of these things were shockers in the biggest sense of the word. On the other hand, I wasn't sure what I'd been expecting. I mean, he had to have a family and a life. I'd just never really taken the time to picture it. It was like when you're a little kid and you run into your teacher or librarian at the grocery store or Wal-Mart and it's just so startling, because it never occurred to you they existed outside of school.
"So I really appreciate the ride," I said to Owen. "I don't know how I would have gotten home otherwise."
"It's no problem," he said. "I just have to make a couple of—"
This thought was interrupted, however, by the sound of Mallory sucking in a breath. "Oh my God," she said. "I'm going to get to see your house?'
"No," Owen said curtly.
"But we're taking her home! I'm here!"
"We're dropping you off first," he told her.
"Why?" she said.
"Because," Owen told her as we moved through an intersection, turning off the main road, "I have to go by the station, so Mom said to bring you by the store."
Mallory sighed, sounding pained. "But Owen—"
"No buts," he said. "It's already decided."
Another thump as Mallory slumped, dramatically and dejectedly, against the seat behind her. "It's so not fair," she said a second later.
"Life isn't fair," Owen told her. "Get used to it."
"R and R!" she said.
"No," Owen said. Then he reached forward, nudging up the volume on the radio, and the chirping started up again.
We drove along with just the Mayan chants for a few minutes, long enough for me to actually start to get used to them. Then, suddenly, I felt breath in my ear. "When you did that commercial," Mallory asked, "did you get to keep the clothes from that?"
"Mallory!" Owen said.
"Can you just relax and listen to the music?"
"This isn't music! This is crickets and screaming." To me she said, "Owen is a total music Nazi. He won't let anyone listen to anything other than the weird stuff he plays on his radio show."
"You have a radio show?" I asked Owen.
"It's just a local thing," he told me.
"It's his life," Mallory said dramatically. "He spends all week getting ready for it, worrying about it, even though it's on when normal people aren't even up yet."
"I'm not playing music for normal people," Owen said. "I'm playing music for people who are—"
"Enlightened, we know," Mallory said, rolling her eyes. "Me personally? I listen to 104Z. They play all the top-forty stuff, lots of good songs you can dance to. I like Bitsy Bonds. She's my favorite singer. I went to her concert last summer, with all my friends? It was so fun. Do you know her song 'Pyramid'?"
"Um," I said. "I don't know."
Mallory sat up straighter, tossing back her hair. "'Stack it up, higher and higher, the sun's above, it's full of fire, kiss me here so I'll know you did, baby I'm falling, pyramid!'"
Owen winced. "Bitsy Bonds isn't a singer, Mallory. She's a product. She's fake. She has no soul; she doesn't stand for anything."
"So," he said, "she's more famous for her belly button than her music."
"Well," Mallory said, "she does have a great belly button."
Owen just shook his head, clearly bothered, as he turned off the main road into a small parking lot. There was a row of stores to the left, and he turned into a space in front of one that had a mannequin in the front window wearing a poncho and some flowing earth-toned pants. The sign on the door said Dreamweavers. "Okay," he said. "We're here."
Mallory made a face. "Great," she said sarcastically. "Another afternoon at the store."
"Your parents own this place?" I asked.
"Yes," Mallory grumbled as Owen picked up her phone from the center console, giving it back to her. "It's so unfair. Here I am, obsessed with clothes, and my mom has a clothing store. But it's all stuff I wouldn't ever wear in a million years. Not even if I was dead."
"If you were dead," Owen told her, "you'd have bigger problems than what you were wearing."
Mallory looked at me then, her expression grave. "Annabel, seriously. It's all, you know, natural fabrics and fibers, Tibetan batiks, vegan shoes."
"Vegan shoes?" I said.
"They're awful," she whispered. "Awful. They're not even pointy."
"Mallory," Owen said. "Please get out of the car."
"I'm going, I'm going." Still, she took her time gathering up her bag, undoing her seat belt, and unlocking the door. "It was really nice to meet you," she said to me.
"You, too," I said.
She slid out, shutting the door behind her, and started into the store. As she pushed the door open, she looked back, then waved at me excitedly, her hand blurring. I waved back, and then Owen was pulling away, back to the main road. Without Mallory, the car seemed smaller, not to mention quieter.
"Again," he said, as we slowed for a red light, "I'm sorry."
"Don't be," I told him. "She's cute."
"You don't live with her. Or have to listen to her music."
"104Z," I said. "All the hits, with less of the lip."