"Is it?" I said. "I've never really noticed, and I'm five-eight."
"Is that tall?"
"I used to think so," I said, glancing at him.
"Well, I'm six-four," he replied, trying to push his seat, which was already back as far as it would go, even farther away from the dashboard. Then he moved his arm, trying to balance it on the window, but it was too big, so he changed position, crossing it over his chest, before finally letting it drop to hang beside him. "So I guess it's all relative."
"You okay?" I asked.
"Fine," he said, altogether unbothered, as if this sort of thing happened all the time. "Thanks for the ride, by the way."
"No problem," I said. "Just tell me where you're going."
"Home." He moved his arm again, still trying to fit into the seat. "Just keep straight. You don't have to turn for a while."
We rode without talking for a few minutes. I knew this was the time to say what was on my mind, to explain myself. I took in a breath, bracing myself.
"How do you stand it?" he said.
I blinked. "I'm sorry?"
"I mean," he said, "it's just so silent. Empty."
"This," he said, gesturing around the car. "Driving in silence. With no music."
"Well," I said slowly, "to be honest, I didn't realize we were, actually."
He sat back, his head bumping the headrest. "See for me, it's immediate. Silence is so freaking loud."
This seemed either deep or deeply oxymoronic. I wasn't sure which. "Well," I said, "my CDs are in the console in the center if you—"
But he was already pulling it open and taking out a stack of CDs. As he began to work his way through them, I glanced over, suddenly nervous.
"Those aren't really my favorites," I said. "They're just the ones I have in here right now."
"Huh," he said, not looking up. I turned back to the road, hearing the cases clacking as he flipped through them. "Drake Peyton, Drake Peyton… so you're into that frat-boy hippie rock stuff?"
"I guess," I said. This was bad, I thought. "I saw him live summer before last."
"Huh," he said again. "More Drake Peyton… and Alamance. That's alt-country, right?"
"Interesting," he said. "Because I wouldn't have pegged you for… Tiny? This is his most current album, right?"
"I got it over the summer," I said, slowing for a red light.
"Then it is." He shook his head. "You know, I have to admit, I'm surprised. I never would have pegged you for a Tiny fan. Or any rap, for that matter."
He shrugged. "I don't know. Bad assumption, I guess. Who made you this one?"
I glanced at the disc he was holding, immediately recognizing the slanting print. "My sister Kirsten."
"She's into classic rock," he said.
"Since high school," I said. "She had a Jimmy Page poster on her wall for years."
"Ah." He scanned the track list. "She has good taste, though. I mean, there's Led Zeppelin here, but at least it's not 'Stairway to Heaven.' In fact," he said, sounding impressed, "'Thank You' is my favorite Led Zeppelin song."
"Really. It's got that kind of cheesy, power-ballad feel. Kind of ironic, yet truthful. Can I put it on?"
"Sure," I said. "Thanks for asking."
"You gotta ask," he said, reaching forward and sliding the CD into my stereo. "Only a real asshole takes liberties with someone else's car stereo. That's serious."
The player clicked a couple of times, and then I heard music, faintly. Owen reached forward for the volume button, then glanced at me. When I nodded, he turned it up. Hearing the opening chords, I had a pang of missing Kirsten, who, during her rebellion-filled senior year, had developed a passion for seventies-era guitar rock, which, at its height, had her listening to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon on repeat for what seemed like weeks at a time.
Thinking this, I looked back over at Owen, who was drumming his fingers on his knee. Kirsten, of course, would never hesitate to say what was on her mind. So with her song playing in my ears, I decided to follow suit. Or try to. "So about today," I said. He looked over at me. "I'm sorry about what happened."
I fixed my eyes on the road ahead, feeling my face flush. "When we were doing the role-playing, and I freaked out and walked away."
I was expecting an "It's okay" or maybe a "Don't worry about it." Instead, he said, "That was freaking out?"
"Well," I said. "I guess. Yeah."
"Huh," he said. "Okay."
"I didn't mean to get so upset," I explained. "Like I said, I just don't do confrontations very well. Which I guess was obvious. So… I'm sorry."
"It's all right." He tried to sit back again, his elbow knocking the door. "In fact…"
I waited for him to finish this thought. When he didn't, I said, "What?"
"It's just, to me, that wasn't really freaking out," he said.
He shook his head. "To me, freaking out is raising your voice. Screaming. Veins bulging. Hitting people in parking lots. That kind of thing."
"I don't do that," I said.
"I'm not saying you should." He reached up, running a hand through his hair; as he did so, the ring on his middle finger caught the light, glinting for a second. "It's just a semantic issue, I guess. Take this next right."
I did, turning onto a tree-lined street. All the houses were big, with wide front porches. We passed a group of kids in a cul-de-sac playing roller hockey, then some moms on a corner, grouped around a pack of strollers.
"This is it, up here," he told me. "The gray one."
I slowed down, then pulled over to the curb. The house was beautiful, with a wide front porch with a swing, and bright pink flowers in pots lining the steps. A yellow cat was lying on the front walk, stretched out in the sunshine. "Wow," I said. "Great house."
"Well, it's not glass," he said. "But it's okay."
We sat there for a second, our situation now reversed from last time, me waiting for him to go inside. "You know," I said finally, "I just wanted to say you were right about what you said earlier. It is kind of hard to hold a lot in. But for me… it's sometimes even harder to let it out."