Still, I was aware of what was happening around me. I knew from the rumor mill that Will's trial was coming up, and there was still talk that some girls from Perkins Day would come forward with stories similar to Emily's. As for Emily herself, she seemed to be doing well. She certainly wasn't hiding out. In fact, I saw her everywhere—in the halls, the courtyard, hanging out in the parking lot—always with a bunch of girls around her. A week or so earlier, in the hallway between classes, I'd caught a glimpse of her standing by her locker, laughing at something. Her cheeks had been flushed, her hand covering her mouth. It was just one moment, one thing, but for some reason it stuck with me, all that day and into the next. I could not get it out of my mind.
Sophie was not faring so well. Usually when I saw her, she was alone, and she now left for lunch almost every day, a black car sliding to a stop to pick her up. It wasn't Will, and I wondered if they were still together. Because I hadn't heard otherwise, I assumed they were.
It seemed like a million years ago now that school had begun, and I'd been so scared of her. Now when I saw Sophie, I just felt tired and sad for both of us. Only when I saw Owen did I feel a twinge of something like loneliness. But even though we weren't talking, I was still listening, in my own way.
Not to the radio show, although I still found myself waking like clockwork at seven A.M. on Sundays, a bad habit that proved impossible, for whatever reason, to break. Even harder to shake was the music itself. Not just his music, either, but all music.
I wasn't sure when it had started, exactly, but suddenly I was very aware of silence. Everywhere I went, I needed some kind of noise. When I was in the car, I instantly turned on my stereo; in my room, I hit the light switch first, my CD player on button second. Even in class, or sitting at the table with my parents, I'd always have to have some song in my head, repeating itself again and again. I remembered Owen telling me how music had saved him in Phoenix, that it drowned everything out, and it was the same for me now. As long as I had something to listen to, I could blur the things I didn't want to think about, if not block them out completely.
It took a lot of music to do this, though, and after a few weeks, I'd burned through my entire collection multiple times. Which was why, on a recent Saturday night, I'd broken down and pulled out the stack Owen had burned me. Desperate times, I thought as I opened up the protest songs one again and stuck it in.
I still didn't love it. Some of the songs were strange, and others I didn't understand. But while I'd expected it to be weird to listen to Owen's music, I found a surprising comfort instead. There was something nice about picturing him picking the songs for me, organizing them so carefully, hoping I'd be enlightened. If nothing else, they proved we had been friends, once.
For the past few weeks I'd been working my way through the discs, song by song, listening to every single track until I knew them all by heart. Each time I finished with one, I felt sad, knowing there were only that many more left before this, too, was over. Because of this, I was planning to save the one that said /smc just listen. Like Owen had been to me once, it was a total mystery, and sometimes one I thought maybe was best unsolved. Still, I pulled it out every once in a while, just turning it in my hands before sliding it back to the bottom of the stack and leaving it there.
When my mom and I finally headed out into the Mayor's Market parking lot, I was surprised to see it was snowing. The flakes were the big, fat kind, too pretty to stick or last, but we both stopped still for a moment, looking up at them as they fell. By the time we got in the car and pulled out of the lot, they were already slowing, some catching the wind, blowing in circles. My mom turned on the wipers as we sat at a stoplight, watching the flakes hit the windshield.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" she said. "There's something about snow that just makes everything seem so fresh and new. Don't you think?"
I nodded. The light was a long one, and even though it was barely five p.m., it was already getting dark. My mom glanced over at me, smiling, then reached forward to the radio. As she twisted the volume, filling the car with classical music, I turned my head to the side. The window was cool against my cheek, those pretty flakes still falling, as I closed my eyes.
The library carrel where I was spending my lunches was deep in the far right corner, out of sight and away from most foot traffic. I wasn't used to having company. Which was why when Emily came looking for me thirty minutes into the last lunch before Christmas break, I saw her first.
Initially, she was just a flash of red in the corner of my eye, blurring past once, then twice. I glanced up from my English notes, which I had spread out in front of me, doing some last-minute cramming, then looked around me: nothing. Same quiet shelves, same rows of books. A moment later, though, I heard footsteps. When I turned around, she was standing at the end of the stack just behind me.
"Oh," she said. Her voice was quiet but audible. "There you are."
Like I'd been lost. Misplaced, only now turning up, like a sock you find long after you've assumed it was eaten by the dryer. I didn't say anything, too distracted by a rising panic. I'd picked my spot because it was secluded, faced the wall, and was tucked away from everything, the same reasons it was the last place you wanted to find yourself trapped.
Emily started toward me, and without even realizing it I leaned back, bumping the carrel behind me. She stopped, crossing her arms over her chest.
"Look," she said. "I know things have been weird between us this year. But I… I need to talk to you."
Somewhere nearby, I could hear voices, one male, one female, chatting as they moved through the stacks. Emily heard it, too, turning her head at the sound, until it faded. Then she grabbed a nearby chair, dragging it closer to me, and sat down. Her voice was barely a hush as she said, "I know you've heard what happened. What Will did to me."
She was so close I could smell her perfume, something fruity and floral.
"Afterwards," she continued, keeping her green eyes level on me, "I started thinking about you. And that night at the party, back when school ended last year."
I could hear myself breathing, which meant she probably could, too. Behind her, the trees beyond the window shifted, and a shaft of sunlight spilled across the shelves of books, dust dancing within it.
"You don't have to talk to me about it," she said. "I mean, I know you hate me and all."
I thought of Clarke, looking up at me from that chair at Bendo. Is that what you think? she'd replied, when I'd said this same thing to her.