As soon as he saw me crossing the living room, he muted the TV. "Hey there," he said. "Can't sleep?"
I shook my head. On the screen, I could see the grainy black-and-white images of an old news report, two men shaking hands over a table. Behind them, a crowd was clapping.
"Well," he said, "you are just in time to help me decide. It's either this fascinating show on the beginning of World War One, or something on A&E about the Dust Bowl. What do you think?"
I looked at the TV, which he'd flipped to the other channel. It showed a bleak landscape, a car moving slowly across it. "I don't know," I said. "They sound equally compelling."
"Hey," he said. "Don't knock history. This stuff is important."
I smiled, moving to the couch and sitting down. "I know," I said. "It's just hard to get excited about it. I mean, for me."
"How can you not get excited about this?" he asked. "It's real. This isn't some silly story somebody made up. These are things that actually happened."
"A long time ago," I added.
"Exactly!" he said, nodding. "That's my point. That's why we can't forget it. No matter how much time has passed, these things still affect us and the world we live in. If you don't pay attention to the past, you'll never understand the future. It's all linked together. You see what I'm saying?"
At first, I didn't. But then, I looked back at the screen, those images moving across it, and realized he was right. The past did affect the present and the future, in the ways you could see and a million ones you couldn't. Time wasn't a thing you could divide easily; there was no defined middle or beginning or end. I could pretend to leave the past behind, but it would not leave me.
Sitting there, I could suddenly feel myself getting more anxious, even as I tried to focus on the images on the screen. My mind was racing, too fast to even think, and after a few minutes I went back to bed.
This is crazy, I thought as I found myself again staring at the ceiling, my sisters quiet in their rooms on either side. I closed my eyes, the events of the last few days blurring across my vision in bits and pieces. My heart was pounding. Something was happening I didn't, or couldn't, understand. I sat up, kicking off the covers; I needed something to calm me down, or just even take away these thoughts, if only for a little while. Reaching over to my bedside drawer, I grabbed my headphones and plugged them into my CD player, then went to my desk. In the bottom drawer, after digging through all the CDs Owen had made me, I finally found it: the yellow disc that said's,c just listen.
You might totally hate it, Owen had told me. Or not. It might be just what you need. That's the beauty of it. You know?
When I hit the play button, all I could hear was static, and I settled in, closing my eyes, and waited for the first song to begin. It didn't. Not in the next few minutes, not ever. Then I realized: the CD was blank.
Maybe it was supposed to be a joke. Or something profound. But as I lay there, it only seemed like silence filling my ears. And the thing was, it was so freaking loud.
It was the weirdest thing, so different from music. The sound was nothing, empty, but at the same time, it pushed everything else out, quieting me enough that I began to be able to make out something distant, hard to hear. But it was there, albeit softly, coming to me from some dark place I'd never seen but still knew well.
Shhh, Annabel. It's just me.
But these words were only the middle of the story. There was a beginning here, too. And I knew suddenly that if I stayed where I was, in all that quiet, and didn't run from it, I would hear it. I'd have to go back, all the way to that night at the party when I'd first heard Emily call out Sophie's name, but that was okay. It was the only way, finally, to get to the end.
All I'd ever wanted was to forget. But even when I thought I had, pieces had kept emerging, like bits of wood floating up to the surface that only hint at the shipwreck below. A pink shirt, a rhyme with my name, the feeling of hands on my neck. Because that is what happens when you try to run from the past. It doesn't just catch up: it overtakes, blotting out the future, the landscape, the very sky, until there is no path left except that which leads through it, the only one that can ever get you home.
I understood now. This voice, the one that had been trying to get my attention all this time, calling out to me, begging me to hear it—it wasn't Will's. It was mine.
"This is WRUS, your community radio station. It's seven fifty-eight, and this is Anger Management. Here's one final song."
There was a twang, followed by a burst of feedback. Something experimental, different, and not altogether listen-able. Just another Sunday on Owen's show.
It was not, however, just another Sunday for me. Somewhere between sliding on my headphones the night before and now, something had changed. After lying there for a long time, letting myself retrace the steps of that night at the party, I'd drifted off into that silence, the voice inside my head finally talked out. When I'd woken up at seven, my headphones were still on, and I could hear my heart in my ears. I sat up, sliding them off, and the quiet around me did not, for once, seem empty and vast. Instead, for the first time in a while, it felt like it already was full.
When I'd first turned on the radio, the show had just started with a blast of old-school metal, someone wailing over some heavy-duty guitars. After following up with what sounded like a Russian pop song, Owen finally came on.
"That was Leningrad," he said, "and this is Anger
Management. I'm Owen. It's seven oh-six, thanks for hanging out with us. Got a request? A suggestion? Issues? Call us at 555-WRUS. Here's Dominic Waverly."
The song that followed was a techno one, beginning with several bouncy beats, seemingly out of sync, which eventually blended together. All those other Sundays I'd listened so intently, wanting to like or at least understand what I was hearing. When I hadn't, I'd never hesitated to tell Owen. If only I'd been able to just tell him everything else, as well. But you can't always get the perfect moment. Sometimes, you just have to do the best you can, under the circumstances.
Which was why I was now in my car, pulling out of my neighborhood, heading toward WRUS. It was 8:02 when I turned into the lot. The Herbal Prescription, the syndicated show that followed his, was just starting. I parked between Owen's and Rolly's cars, then reached over to the passenger seat for the CD there and went inside.
The station was quiet, a voice murmuring about ginkgo biloba as I made my way across the lobby. To my right, at the end of a hallway, I could see the booth, enclosed in glass. As I approached, the first thing I saw was Rolly at the controls in the little room adjacent to it; he had on a bright green T-shirt and a baseball hat turned backwards, his headphones over it. Clarke was beside him, drinking from a to-go coffee cup, the Sunday paper crossword puzzle in front of her. They were talking, and neither of them noticed my arrival. When I turned to the main booth, though, Owen was looking right at me.