"Or not," I said.
She glanced over at me, and I wondered if she was going to snap at me or make a typically sarcastic remark. "We'll see," she said, then dropped her hands and started toward the kitchen.
As she turned on the faucet and began washing her hands, I walked over to the window to look at the flowerpots. The dirt in them was black and fragrant, spotted with fertilizer, and I could see beads of water here and there, glinting in the sunlight. Maybe it was a stupid exercise, and you couldn't grow things in winter. But there was something I liked about the idea of those seeds, buried so deep, having at least a chance to emerge. Even if you couldn't see it beneath the surface, molecules were bonding, energy pushing up slowly, as something worked so hard, all alone, to grow.
By that afternoon, my mother had already left two messages: one letting us know they'd arrived at their hotel, and the other reminding me where she'd left the pizza money, a subtle hint to make sure that we (i.e., Whitney) ate dinner. Message received, I thought as I walked down to the kitchen. The money was on the counter with a list of several places that delivered. My mother was nothing if not prepared.
"Whitney?" I called up the stairs. No answer. Which didn't mean she wasn't there, just that she probably didn't feel like responding. "I'm ordering the pizza. Is cheese okay?"
Another silence. Fine, I thought. Cheese it is. I picked a number at random and dialed.
After ordering, I headed up to my room and settled in to listen to the discs Owen had made me, beginning with one entitled protest songs (acoustic and world) . I made it through three tracks about unions before nodding off, only to wake up with a start when I heard the doorbell ring.
I sat up just as Whitney passed my room and padded down the stairs to answer it. After brushing my teeth, I followed her.
When I got to the foyer, she was standing at the door, which was open, blocking my view of both her and whoever was on the other side. Still, I could hear their voices.
"… not so much their newer stuff, but the earlier albums," she was saying. "I have a couple of imports I got from a friend that are awesome."
"Really," another, deeper voice—a guy—replied. "UK imports, or somewhere else?"
"UK, I think. I'd have to check."
Maybe it was because I'd just woken up, but there was something familiar about some part of this scene, although I couldn't put my finger on exactly what it was.
"What do I owe you again?" Whitney asked.
"Eleven eighty-seven," the guy replied.
"Here's a twenty. Just give me five back."
"Thanks." I took another step. Now, I was sure I knew that voice. "The thing about Ebb Tide," it continued, "is that they're really an acquired taste."
"Totally," Whitney said.
"I mean, most people don't even…"
I stepped around the door, and sure enough, it was Owen. Standing there on the mat in front of my door, earphones dangling around his neck, counting out dollar bills into my sister's hand She was nodding as he spoke and looking at him with a much warmer expression than she'd given me in, oh, a year. When he saw me, he smiled.
"See," he said to Whitney, "case in point. Annabel is not an Ebb Tide fan. She hates techno, in fact."
Whitney looked at me, then back at Owen again, clearly confused. "She does?"
"Yup. Despite my best efforts to convince her otherwise," he said. "She's very stubborn, once she's made up her mind. Totally honest, totally opinionated. But I guess you already know that."
Whitney just looked at me as he said this, and I knew what she was thinking: that this was not me at all, not by a long shot. It didn't sound exactly right to me either, but for some reason, her incredulousness bothered me.
"Anyway," he said now, bending down to the plastic carrier at his feet and unzipping it to pull out a pizza box. "Here you go. Enjoy it."
Whitney nodded, still looking at me, and took it from him. "Thanks," she said. "Have a good night."
"You, too," Owen replied as Whitney turned, walking into the dining room toward the kitchen.
I stepped into the center of the open doorway, watching Owen as he shoved the wad of money in his hand into his pocket, then picked up the carrier. He had on jeans and a red T-shirt that said slice o'cheese! Of all the numbers for pizza places my mom left me, I'd called this one. Who knew? But I had to admit, I was happy to see him.
"Your sister," he said to me now, "is an Ebb Tide fan. She has imports."
"And that's good?"
"Very good," he replied. "It's almost enlightened. Imports take effort."
"Do you talk about music with every single person you meet?"
"No," he said. I just looked at him. Behind me, I heard Whitney cut on the TV.
"Well, not always. In this case, I had on my earphones, and she asked me what I was listening to."
"And it just so happened to be a band she knows and loves."
"That's the universality of music," he said cheerfully, switching the carrier to his other arm. "It's a bonding thing. It brings people together. Friend and foe. Old and young. Me and your sister. And—"
"Me and your sister," I finished for him. "And your mom."
"My mom?" he asked.
"I met her today, at the mall. At the Jenny Reef thing."
His face fell. "You went to see Jenny Reef?"
"I love Jenny Reef," I said, and he winced. "She's much better than Ebb Tide."
"That," he said, his voice serious, "is not even funny."
"What's wrong with Jenny Reef?" I said.
"Everything is wrong with Jenny Reef!" he shot back. Here we go, I thought. "Did you even see the poster she signed for Mallory? With the product plug in her autograph? I mean, it's so abhorrent rhat anyone could consider themselves an artist and then sell out so completely to the corporate machine, in the name of—"
"Okay, okay, calm down," I said, figuring I should fess up before he popped a vein. "I didn't go to see Jenny Reef. I had a meeting for the Models at Kopf's."
He sighed, shaking his head. "Thank God. You had me worried there for a second."
"What happened to there being no right and wrong in music?" I asked him. "Or does that not apply to teenage pop stars?"
"It applies," he said flatly. "You're entitled to an opinion about Jenny Reef. It would just dismay me if you were really a fan."