"But have you really given her a chance? Remember," I said, holding up my hand, "don't think or judge. Just listen."
He made a face at me. "I have listened to Jenny Reef. Not necessarily by choice, but I have. And my opinion is that she's a publicity whore who has allowed her music, if that's even what you want to call it, to be hijacked and compromised in the name of materialism and big business."
"Well," I said. "As long you don't feel too strongly about it."
Suddenly I heard a low buzz, and he reached around to his back pocket, pulling out a cell phone, glancing at the screen. "Pie up, gotta go," he said, stuffing the carrier under his arm. "You know, as much as you might want me to, I can't just stand here and argue with you about music all night."
"No?" I said.
"No." He stepped back from the door. "However, if you want to continue this discussion some other time, I'd be more than happy to do so."
"Sounds good." He started down the steps. "I'll see you then, okay?"
I nodded. "Bye, Owen."
"And don't forget the show tomorrow!" he called out over his shoulder as he headed for his truck. "We're doing all techno. A full hour of dripping faucets."
"Are you joking?"
"Maybe. You'll have to listen to find out, though."
I smiled, then stood there, watching him as he climbed inside the Land Cruiser. He turned the stereo on first, then put the car in gear. Of course.
When I got to the living room, Whitney was settled on the couch, drinking a bottled water. The pizza was on the counter. She didn't say anything, her eyes on the TV—which was showing something about a sitcom actress who'd had a cocaine problem—as I helped myself to a plate and a slice and sat down at the table in the kitchen.
"Are you…" I began, then stopped myself. "Aren't you hungry?"
She kept her eyes on the TV as she said, "I'll eat in a minute."
Fine, I thought. My mother wouldn't be happy, but then again she wasn't here. And I was starving. As I began to take a bite, though, Whitney muted the TV and said, "So how do you know that guy?"
"He goes to my school," I said, then swallowed. She was watching me, so I added, "We're friends."
"Friends," she repeated.
I thought of Mrs. Armstrong's surprised smile as she reacted to this same word, hours earlier. "Yeah," I said. "We sometimes hang out at lunch."
She nodded. "Is he friends with Sophie, too?"
"No," I said. I didn't know why, but instantly, my guard was up, and I wondered why she was asking this. Or, actually, why we were even talking at all, when she'd been the one who'd been so resistant to my attempts at conversation all day long. But then I remembered her face when Owen had described me as honest, how clear it was this surprised her, so I added, "I'm not really friends with Sophie these days."
Why do you care? I wanted to ask. Instead, I said, "We had a fight last spring. It got kind of ugly… We don't really talk."
"Oh," she said.
I looked back down at my plate, wondering why I had suddenly decided to share this with Whitney, of all people. It seemed like a mistake, and I sat there, waiting for her to say something snarky or mean, but she didn't. Instead, she just turned back to the TV, and a moment later, I heard the volume come on.
On the screen, the actress was now telling her story, dabbing her eyes with a Kleenex as she did so. I looked from her to Whitney, who was sitting in my father's chair. Who knew she was an Ebb Tide fan, that she had imports, that she was possibly, in Owen's view anyway, enlightened? On the other hand, though, it wasn't like she knew that much about me, either. Maybe we could have remedied this over a long weekend, but we weren't. Instead, we just sat there, together but really apart, watching a show about a stranger and all her secrets, while keeping our own to ourselves, as always.
The next morning, Owen kicked off his show with a techno song that went on, no joke, for a full eight and a half minutes. All of which I spent telling myself that I was fully entitled to go back to sleep, and yet somehow not able to do so.
"That was Prickle with 'Velveteen,'" he said, when it was finally over. "Off of their second disc, The Burning, which is probably one of the best techno records ever released. Hard to believe some people don't even like that kind of music, isn't it? You're listening to Anger Management. Got a request? Call us at 555-WRUS. Here's Snakeplant."
I rolled my eyes, but didn't roll over. Instead, I listened to the entire show, as was my habit now, while Owen played some rockabilly, some Gregorian chants, and a song in Spanish he described as "like Astrid Gilberto, and yet not." Whatever that meant. Finally, in the last few moments before eight o'clock, I heard the beginning of notes of a song that sounded familiar. Although why I wasn't sure until he came on again.
"This has been Anger Management, here on your community radio station, WRUS, 89.9. We'll wrap up today with a longdistance dedication to a regular listener, to whom we say: Look, don't be ashamed of the music you love. Even if, in our humble opinion, it's not really music at all. We know why you really went to the mall yesterday. See you next week!"
Only then did it hit me: It was the Jenny Reef song, the one they'd been playing nonstop at the mall the day before. As it began, I sat up, grabbing for my phone.
"WRUS, Community Radio."
"I did not go to the mall to see Jenny Reef," I said. "I told you that yesterday."
"Are you not enjoying the song?"
"Actually," I said, "I am. It's better than just about everything else you played."
"I'm not joking."
"I'm sure you aren't," he said. "Which, frankly, is just plain sad."
"Almost as sad as you playing Jenny Reef on your show. What is this, all the hits with none of the lip?"
"It was meant to be ironic!"
I smiled, reaching up to tuck a piece of hair behind my ear. "Just keep telling yourself that."
He sighed loudly, the noise filling the receiver. "Enough about Jenny Reef. Answer me this. How do you feel about bacon?"
"Bacon?" I repeated. "Which song was that?"
"It's not a song. It's a food. You know, bacon? Pork product? Sizzles in a frying pan?"
I actually pulled the phone away from my ear, looked at it, then put it back.