"Wow," I said. "That's quite a description."
"The description means nothing. It's the music that counts," he said. "And the music, you will like. Trust me."
"We'll see," I said, and he smiled. "So when is this loose-rock-original-songs-somewhat-jokey-but-solidly-alternative band playing?"
"Saturday night," he replied. "It's an all-ages show, at Bendo. There's an opener, so they'll go on around nine."
"Okay, as in you'll go?"
I smiled as, behind him in my house, I saw Whitney appear at the top of the stairs. She had on her pajamas and was yawning, one hand to her mouth, as she started down to the foyer, her shadow stretching across the wall beside her. Once at the bottom of the stairs, she crossed into the dining room, then bent down over her flowerpots in the front window. After a moment, she reached out, pressing down the soil in one of them, then turned another so the opposite side faced the light. Then she sat back on her heels, her hands in her lap, and studied them.
I glanced at Owen, who was watching her as well, and wondered what this looked like to him. From the outside, it had to seem so different from what it really was. Move on to the next house and you'd see something else, another glimpse, another story. This one wasn't even mine to tell, but for whatever reason, I found myself wanting to do it anyway.
"They're herbs," I said to Owen. "She just planted them yesterday. They're, um, part of her therapy."
He nodded. "You said she was sick. What's wrong? If you don't mind my asking."
"She has an eating disorder," I told him.
"She's a lot better than she was," I added. And this was true. In fact, I'd watched her eat two pieces of pizza the night before. Much later than I ate, and only after blotting off any semblance of grease, and then cutting them into many small pieces. But she did eat them, so that had to count for something. "I mean, when we first found out, it was really bad. She was in the hospital for a while last year."
We both watched as Whitney stood up, brushing a piece of hair out of her face. I wondered if she suddenly looked different to Owen, as if knowing this information had changed her to him. I studied his expression, but there was no way to tell.
"That must have been hard," he said, as she turned, starting around the dining-room table. "Watching her go through that."
As Whitney stepped through the archway to the kitchen, she disappeared. A second later, I spotted her again, crossing in front of the island. That was the thing I always forgot about being outside our house, how it seemed like you could see everything, but certain things were blocked out, hidden. "Yeah," I said. "It was. It was awful. It really scared me."
This time, I didn't think about the fact that I was telling the truth. I didn't have that moment when I felt myself take the leap, daring to be honest. Instead, it just happened. Owen turned and looked at me, and I swallowed, hard. Then, as I so often found myself doing when I had his attention, I continued.
"The thing about Whitney," I said, "is that she was always really private. So you never knew if anything was wrong with her. My sister Kirsten, she's the total opposite, the kind of person who always volunteers too much information. So, like, when Kirsten was unhappy, you knew it even if you didn't want to. Whereas with Whitney, you had to draw it out of her. Or figure it out some other way."
Owen looked back at the house, but Whitney had disappeared again. "What about you?" he said.
"What about me?"
"How can they tell when something's wrong with you?"
They can't, I thought, but I didn't say this. Couldn't say this. "I don't know," I said. "I guess you'd have to ask them."
A big SUV blew past us then, kicking up a bunch of leaves that had been raked to the curb. As they fluttered across the windshield, I glanced back over at my house to see Whitney climbing the stairs again, a bottled water in her hand. This time, she glanced outside. When she saw us, she slowed her steps, briefly, before continuing on to the landing.
"I should go in," I said, reaching down to undo my seat belt. "Thanks again for breakfast."
"No problem," Owen said. "Don't forget about the pilgrimage, okay? Saturday. Nine o'clock."
"Got it." I opened my door, sliding out, then shut it behind me. As I walked around the front bumper, he cranked the engine, then waved at me. It wasn't until I got halfway down the driveway that I realized I was still wearing his jacket. I whirled around, only to see him taking the corner, a blue blur, disappearing. Too late.
I unlocked the front door, stepping inside, then slid the jacket off, folding it over my arm. There was something clunky in the outside pocket, and I reached in, my fingers groping until they brushed a solid object. Even before I pulled it out, I knew what it was: Owen's iPod. It was nicked and scratched beyond all belief, a faint crack across the screen, his earphones wrapped around it. And despite the cold of the World of Waffles, it was warm in my hand.
I jumped, then looked up; Whitney was at the top of the stairs, staring down at me. "Hi," I said.
"You're up early."
"Yeah," I said. "I, um, went out for breakfast."
She narrowed her eyes at me. "When did you leave?"
"A while back," I said, starting up the stairs. As I got to the landing, she stepped aside, just barely, so I had to squeeze past her. I heard her sniff once. Then twice. Bacon, I thought.
"I better go start on my homework," I said, heading toward my room.
"Okay," she said slowly. But she stayed where she was, still watching, as I shut my door behind me.
Because I had never once seen Owen without his iPod, I assumed he would notice its absence pretty quickly. So when the phone rang later that afternoon, I picked it up expecting to hear him already in deep music withdrawal. But it wasn't Owen; it was my mother.
When my mother was nervous, her cheerfulness quotient skyrocketed. The line was almost crackling from her forced perkiness. "Hi," I said. "How's your trip going?"
"Just fine," she said. "Right now your father's playing golf, and I just got my nails done. We've been so busy, but I figured I should check in. How are things going?"
This was actually her third call in thirty-six hours. But I played along anyway.
"Good," I said. "Not much is happening."