Now, though, she glanced over at me, her eyes widening slightly before she nudged Emily with her elbow. Then they were both staring at me, and I felt my face flush as I looked down at my backpack at my feet.
Owen, for his part, did not notice this as he put his player down, running a hand through his hair. "So you didn't like any of the techno?" he asked. "Like, not even one aspect?"
I shook my head. "No," I said. "Sorry."
"Don't be sorry, it's your opinion. There's no right and wrong in music, you know? Just everything in between."
Just then, the bell rang, surprising me. I was so used to lunch being interminable, but this one had flown by. I reached down, balling up what was left of my sandwich as Owen hopped off the wall, slipping his player in his pocket and grabbing his earphones.
"Well," I said, "I guess I'll see you around."
"Yeah." He started to put on his earphones as I grabbed my bag, sliding off the wall. "See you later."
As he walked away, I took another look at the bench. Sure enough, Sophie and Emily were still staring. I watched as Sophie said something, and Emily smiled, shaking her head. I could only imagine what they would say about us, what stories they would come up with. None of them could be weirder than the truth: that Owen Armstrong and I just might be friends.
Thinking this, I glanced over, finding him in the crowd. He'd put on his earphones and was headed up to the arts build-ing, his bag over his shoulder. They'd been watching him, too, but he hadn't even noticed. If he did, I was pretty sure he wouldn't care anyway. And for that, more than the honesty, the directness, and everything else, I envied him most of all.
I didn't get the Mooshka job. This was neither upsetting nor surprising, at least to me, although my mother did seem disappointed. Personally, I was just relieved the whole thing was over, and ready to move on. But the next day, as I took out my lunch, a note fell out with it.
I just wanted to tell you that I'm so proud of you for all you've accomplished, and not to be discouraged about the Mooshka campaign. It was very competitive, Lindy said, and they did think highly of you. She and I have arranged to talk today about some other things she's lining up, which sound very exciting. I'll fill you in tonight. Have a great day.
I jumped, startled, then glanced up to see Owen was standing in front of me. "What?"
"You looked stressed," he said, nodding at the note in my hand. "Something wrong?"
"No," I said, folding the note and putting it down beside me. "Everything's fine."
He walked over to the wall, sitting down not right next to me, as he had the day before, but not as far away as he once had, either. I watched him as he slid his iPod out of his pocket, then leaned his palms back on the grass beside us, surveying the courtyard.
I was aware, during all of this, that with my last response, I hadn't exactly been honest with him. Of course, he never would have known this. Or cared, probably. Still, for some reason, I felt the need to Rephrase and Redirect. As it were.
"It's just this thing with my mom," I said.
He turned his head, and I wondered if maybe he thought I was crazy, or had no idea what I was talking about. "Thing," he repeated. "Just so you know; that's a serious placeholder."
Of course it is, I thought. Still, I clarified. "It has to do with my modeling."
"Modeling?" He looked confused. "Oh, right. Like Mallory was talking about. You were in a commercial or something?"
"I've been doing it since I was a kid. Both my sisters did it, too. But lately, I've been wanting to quit."
And there it was. The one thing I'd only said in my head, now finally out there, and to Owen Armstrong, of all people. This was so big a step for me that I probably could have stopped right there. But for whatever reason, I continued.
"And anyway," I said, "it's complicated, because my mom's really into it, and if I quit, then she'll be upset."
"But you don't want to do it anymore," he said. "Right?"
"So you should tell her that."
"You say that like it's easy," I said.
There was a burst of laughter from the doors to our left as a group of freshmen came out, talking too loudly. Owen looked over at them, then back at me. "Why not?" he asked.
"Because I don't do confrontations."
He glanced over at Sophie, who was sitting on her bench with Emily, then slowly slid his eyes back to me.
"Well," I added, "I don't do confrontations well."
"What happened between you two, anyway?"
"Me and Sophie?" I asked, although I knew what he meant. He nodded. "It was just… we had a falling-out over the summer."
He didn't say anything; I knew he was waiting for more details. "She thinks I slept with her boyfriend," I added.
Of course he would ask, point-blank. But still, I felt my face flush. "No," I said. "I didn't."
"Maybe you should tell her that," he said.
"It's not that simple."
"Huh," he said. "Call me crazy, but I'm sensing a theme here."
I looked down at my hands, thinking again that I had to be awfully simple for him to deduce so much about me in less than a week. "So if you were me," I said, "you would—"
"—just be honest," he finished. "On both counts."
"You say that like it's easy, too," I told him.
"It's not. But you can do it. It just takes practice."
"In Anger Management," he said, "we had to do all this role-playing stuff. You know, to get used to handling things in a less volatile way."
"You role-played," I said, trying to picture this.
"I had to. It was court-ordered." He sighed. "But I have to say, it was kind of helpful. You know, so that when and if something similar did happen, you had some kind of road map for dealing with it."
"Oh," I said. "Well, I guess that makes sense."
"All right, then." He slid a little closer to me. "So say I'm your mom."
"What?" I said.
"I'm your mom," he repeated. "Now tell me you want to quit modeling."
I could feel myself blushing. "I can't do that," I said.
"Why not?" he asked. "Is it so hard to believe? You think I'm not a good role-player?"