"So why'd you ask?"
I felt my face get hot. Ask a bold question, you'd better be prepared to answer one. "I don't know," I said. "Do you believe everything you hear?"
"No," he said. Then he looked at me for a moment, before turning back to the road. "I don't."
Right, I thought. Okay. So I wasn't the only one who had heard some rumors. It was only fair, though. Here I'd had all these assumptions about Owen based on what had been said about him, but it hadn't occurred to me that there were stories about me out there as well. Or at least one.
We drove on in silence through two more stop signs. Then, finally, I took a breath and said, "It's not true, if that's what you were wondering."
He was downshifting, the engine grinding as we slowed to take a corner. "What isn't?" he said.
"What you heard about me."
"I haven't heard anything about you."
"Yeah, right," I said.
"I haven't," Owen said. "I'd tell you if I had."
"Yeah," he said. I must have looked doubtful at this, because he added, "I don't lie."
"You don't lie," I repeated.
"That's what I said."
Sure you don't, I thought. "Well," I said. "That's a good policy. If you can stick to it."
"I don't have a choice," he replied. "Holding stuff in doesn't really work for me. Learned that the hard way."
I had a flash of Ronnie Waterman going down in the parking lot, his head bouncing off the gravel. "So you're always honest," I said.
"No," I told him. This came so easily, so quickly, it should have surprised me. But for some reason, it didn't. "I'm not."
"Well," he said as we approached another stop sign, "that's good to know, I guess."
"I'm not saying I'm a liar," I told him. He raised his eyebrows. "That's not how I meant it, anyway."
"How'd you mean it, then?"
I was digging myself a hole here, and I knew it. But still, I tried to explain myself. "It's just… I don't always say what I feel."
"Because the truth sometimes hurts," I said.
"Yeah," he said. "So do lies, though."
"I don't…" I said, then trailed off, not sure exactly how to put this. "I just don't like to hurt people. Or upset them. So sometimes, you know, I won't say exactly what I think, to spare them that." The ironic thing was that saying this out loud was actually the most honest I'd been in ages. If not ever.
"But that's still a lie," he said. "Even if you mean well."
"You know," I replied, "I find it really hard to believe you're always honest."
"Believe it. It's true."
I turned to face him. "So if I were to ask you if I looked fat in this outfit," I said, "and you thought I did, you'd say so."
"Yes," he said.
"You would not."
"I would. I might not say it that way, exactly, but if I thought you didn't look good—"
"No way," I said flatly.
"—and you'd asked," he continued, "I'd tell you. I wouldn't just offer it up, though. I'm not a hateful person. But if you asked for my opinion, I'd give it."
I shook my head, still not believing him.
"Look," he said, "like I said, for me, not saying how I feel when I feel it is a bad move. So I don't do it. Look at it this way: I might be saying you're fat, but at least I'm not punching you in the face."
"Are those are the only options?" I asked.
"Not always," he replied. "Just sometimes. And it's good to know your options, right?"
I could feel myself about to smile, which was just so strange that I turned my head as we came up to another stop sign. There was a car parked on the street ahead, halfway down, facing us. A second later, I realized it was mine.
"Still straight?" Owen asked.
"Um, no," I told him, leaning closer to the glass. Sure enough, it was Whitney behind the wheel. She had a hand to her face, her fingers spread to cover her eyes.
"Then… what? Right? Left?" Owen asked. He dropped his hand from the wheel. "What's wrong?"
I looked at Whitney again, wondering what she was doing so close to home, parked. "That's my sister," I said, nodding at the car.
Owen leaned forward, looking at her. "Is… is she okay?"
"No," I said. Maybe not lying was contagious; this reply came out automatically, before I could pick other words to explain. "She's not."
"Oh," he said. He was quiet for a second. "Well, do you want to—"
I shook my head. "No," I told him. "Take a right."
He did, and I slid down slightly in my seat. As we passed Whitney, it was clear she was crying, her thin shoulders shaking, her hand still pressed to her face. I felt something catch in my own throat and then we were moving on, leaving her behind.
I could feel Owen watching me as we reached the next stop sign. "She's sick," I said. "She has been for a while now."
"I'm sorry," he said.
This was what you were supposed to say. What anyone would say. The weird thing was, after everything he'd just told me, I knew Owen meant it. Honest, indeed.
"Which is yours?" he asked me now, as we turned onto my street.
"The glass one," I told him.
"The glass—" he began, but then stopped, as it came into view. "Oh. Right."
It was the time of day when the sun hit the glass just so, the golf course reflected almost perfectly in the second story. Downstairs, I could see my mother standing at the kitchen counter. She'd started walking to the door when we pulled up, then stopped when she realized it was just me and not Whitney. I thought about my sister, sitting two streets over, and my mom, worrying here at home, and felt that familiar pull in my stomach, a mix of sadness and obligation.
"Man," Owen said, looking up at it. "That's really something."
"People in glass houses," I said. I looked back in at my mother, who was still at the counter, watching us. I wondered if she was curious about Owen or too distracted to even notice I was in a car she didn't recognize, much less with a boy. Maybe she thought it was Peter Matchinsky, that nice senior from my gym class.
"Well," I said, reaching down for my bag. "Thanks for the ride. For everything."