"A faucet dripping," I said. He nodded. "That's music?"
"Obviously not to everyone," he replied, shooting me a look. I smiled. "But that was kind of the point. It was, like, this whole uncharted territory. I started writing down the stuff he was playing, and looking for it at record stores and online. It gave me something to focus on other than all the stuff going down at home. Plus, it came in handy when I needed to drown out the screaming downstairs."
He shrugged. "It wasn't that bad. But there were definitely some freak-outs on both sides. Though, to be honest, the silence was worse."
"Worse than screaming?" I said.
"Much," he said, nodding. "I mean, at least with an argument, you know what's happening. Or have some idea. Silence is… it could be anything. It's just—"
"So freaking loud," I finished for him.
He pointed at me. "Exactly."
So Owen hated silence. Also on his list of dislikes: peanut butter (too dry), liars (self-explanatory), and people who didn't tip (delivering pizza didn't pay that well, apparently). And those were only the ones I knew about so far. Maybe it was because of his stint in Anger Management, but Owen was very open about the things that pissed him off.
"Aren't you?" he asked one day, when I pointed this out to him.
"No," I said. "I mean, I guess I am about some things."
"What makes you mad?"
Instinctively, I looked over at Sophie, who was on her bench, talking on her cell phone. Out loud I said, "Techno music."
"Ha-ha," he said. "Seriously."
"I don't know." I picked the crust of my sandwich. "My sisters, I guess. Sometimes."
"I can't think of anything," I said.
"Please! You're seriously saying the only thing that bugs you is siblings and a genre of music? Come on. Are you not human?"
"Maybe," I said, "I'm just not as angry as you are."
"Nobody's as angry as I am," he replied, hardly bothered. "That's a fact. But even you have to have something that really pisses you off."
"I probably do. I just… can't think of one right this second." He rolled his eyes. "And besides, what do you mean no one's as angry as you are? What about Anger Management?"
"What about it?"
"Well," I said, "wasn't the point that you not be angry anymore?"
"The purpose of Anger Management isn't to make you not angry."
He shook his head. "No. Anger is inevitable. Anger Management is just what it sounds like: It's supposed to help you deal with it. Express it in a more productive way than, say, hitting people in parking lots."
If at first I'd doubted it, I didn't now: Owen was always this honest. Ask a question, you got an answer. For a while, though, I'd tested him, soliciting his opinion on various things, like my clothes ("Not your best shade," he told me about a new peach-colored shirt), his initial impression of me ("Too perfect and completely unapproachable"), and the state of his love life ("Nonexistent, currently").
"Is there anything you won't tell someone?" I finally asked him one day, just after he'd told me that, while my new haircut looked fine, he preferred it longer. "Like, at all?"
"You just asked me what I thought," he pointed out, helping himself to a pretzel from the bag between us. "Why ask me, if you don't want me to be honest?"
"I'm not talking about my hair. I'm talking in general." He gave me a doubtful look, popping the pretzel into his mouth. "Seriously. Do you ever think to yourself, maybe I shouldn't say this? Maybe it's not the right thing to do?"
He considered this for a second. "No," he said finally. "I told you. I don't like liars."
"It's not lying, though. It's just not telling."
"You're saying there's a difference?"
"There is," I said. "One is actively deceiving. The other is just not saying something out loud."
"Yes, but," he replied, pulling out another pretzel, "you're still participating in a deception. Except it's just to yourself. Right?"
I just looked at him, turning this thought over in my mind. "I don't know," I said slowly.
"In fact," he continued, "that's worse than lying, when you really think about it. I mean, at the very least you should tell yourself the truth. If you can't trust yourself, who can you trust? You know?"
I would never have been able to tell him so, but Owen inspired me. The little white lies I told on a daily basis, the things I kept in, each time I was not totally honest—I was aware of every one now. I was also cognizant of how good it felt to actually be able to say what I thought to someone. Even if it was just about music. Or not.
One day at lunch, Owen put his backpack on the wall between us, unzipped it, and pulled out a stack of CDs. "Here," he said, pushing them toward me. "For you."
"Me?" I said. "What is this?"
"An overview," he explained. "I planned to do more, but my burner was acting up. So I could only do a few."
To Owen, "a few" CDs meant ten, by my count. Looking at the top few, I saw that each had a title— true hip hop, chants and shanties (various), tolerable jazz, actual singers actually singing —with the tracks listed beneath in a neat block print. It occurred to me that they were probably the result of a pointed discussion about stoner rock we'd had the day before, when Owen decided that maybe my knowledge of music was so "stunted and wanting" (his words) due to a lack of exposure. So here was his remedy, a personal primer, divided into chapters.
"If you really like any of these," he continued, "then I can give you more. When, you know, you're ready to go in depth." I picked up the stack, flipping through the rest of the titles. There was one for country music, the British Invasion, folk songs. When I reached the one at the very bottom, though, I saw that the cover was blank, except for two words: just listen .
Instantly, I was suspicious. "Is this techno?" I asked him.
"I can't believe you'd just assume that," he said, offended. "God."
"Owen," I said.
"It's not techno."
I just looked at him.
"The point is," he said as I shook my head, "that all the others are set lists, set concepts. An education, if you will. You should listen to them first. And then, when you've done that, and you think you're ready, really ready, put that one on. It's a bit more… out there."