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    He reached for the volume knob, turning it up...econd later...hooshing sound filled my ears, followed by what sounded lik...iolin, but at rapid speed, and electrified. The result wa...oise that would have been unsettling a...ormal volume. Cranked as it was, though...elt the hairs on my neck stand on end.

    "Great, right?" Owen said, grinning widely. He was bobbing his head as the chords bounced over us. In my mind...ictured one of those cardiac monitor machines, each sound causing my own heart to spike, the needle jumping off the screen.

    I could feel myself wincing even a...aid-or yelled- "What is this?"

    "They're called Melisma," he yelled back as there wa...oom of bass, loud enough to shake my seat. Over at the next car...oman loading her squirming toddler seat glanced over at us. "It'...usic project. These awesome string players, synthesized and blended with various world beats, influenced by-"

    Then he said something else, which was drowned out b...udden burst of rapid drumbeats...atched his lips move until it subsided, picking back up as he said, "-reall...ollaborative thing, this whole new music initiative. Incredible, right?"

    Befor...ould answer, there wa...ang of cymbals, followed b...izzing noise. Call it reflex, or self-preservation, or just common sense, bu...ust couldn't help myself...ressed my palms over my ears.

    Owen's eyes widened, an...ealized what I'd done. A...ropped my hands, though, the song suddenly ended, so the sound of them hitting the seat on either side of me was incredibly loud. Especially compared to the awkward silence that followed.

    "You did not," Owen said finally, his voice low, "just cover your ears. Did you?"

    "It was an accident,"...aid. "I just-"

    "That's serious." He reached forward, shaking his head, and turned down the CD. "I mean, it's one thing to listen and respectfully disagree. But to shut it out entirely, and not even give i...hance-"

    "I gave i...hance!"...aid.

    "You call tha...hance?" he asked. "That was five seconds."

    "It was long enough to form an opinion,"...aid.

    "Which was?"

    "I covered my ears,"...old him. "What do you think?"

    He started to say something, then stopped, shaking his head. Beside us, the woman in the minivan was now backing out...atched her slide past his window. "Melisma," Owen said afte...oment, "is innovative and textured."

    "If by textured you mean unlistenable,"...aid quietly, "the...gree."

    "I-Lang!" he said, pointing at me...hrugged. "I can't believe you're saying that! This is the perfect marriage of instrument and technology! It's unlike anything anyone's ever done before! It sounds incredible!"

    "Maybe in the car wash,"...uttered.


    He'd drawn in another breath, to continue this rant, but now he let it out, one big whoosh, then turned his head to look at me. "What did you just say?"

    Like covering my ears, this had happened without my really realizing it. There had bee...ime painfully aware of everythin...aid or did around Owen. The fact that this was no longer the case was either good or very bad. Judging by the look on his face-a mix of horrified and offended-I ha...eeling it was probably the latter. At least right at this moment.

    "I said..."...leared my throat. "I said, maybe it sounds incredible in the car wash."

    I could feel him staring at me, s...usied myself picking at the edge of my seat. Then he said, "Which means what?"

    "You know what it means,"...aid.

    "I truly do not. Enlighten me."

    Of course he'd make me explain it. "Well,"...aid slowly, "you know, everything sounds better when you're driving through the car wash. It's just, like...act. Right?"

    He didn't say anything, just stared at me.

    "My point is,"...aid, clarifying, "it's not my thing. I'm sorry...houldn't have covered my ears; that was rude. Bu...ust-"

    "Which car wash?"


    "Which is this magical listening station, whereupon all musical worth is decided?"

    I just looked at him. "Owen."

    "Seriously...ant to know."

    "It's not any one car wash,"...aid. "It's the car-wash phenomenon. You really don't know about it?"

    "I don't," he repeated. Then he reached down, shifting into reverse. "Bu...ill. Starting now."

    Five minutes later, we were pulling up to 123SUDS, the automated drive-through car wash that had been down the street from my neighborhood for as long a...ould remember. I'd grown up going there fairly often, mostly because my mom loved it. My dad would always tell her that the only way to truly clean was to do it by hand-as he often did, on warm sunny days, in the driveway-and that 123SUDS wa...aste of time and money. But, my mom didn't care. "It's not about the wash, anyway," she'd tell him. "It's the experience."

    Going there was never really planned. Instead, we'd just be passing by and she'd suddenly turn in, sending my sisters and me scrambling to collect change from the floorboards and center console to feed into the machine. We always chose the basic wash, skipping the hot wax, sometimes adding on the optional Armor All on the tires. Then we'd roll up all the windows, sit back in our seats, and go in.

    There was just something about it. Driving into that dark bay, the water suddenly whooshing down like the biggest and most sudden thunderstorm ever. It would beat across the hood and trunk, pouring down the other side of your window, washing all the pollen and dust away, and if you closed your eyes you could almost imagine you were floating along with it. It was eerie and incredible, and when you spoke you always whispered, even if you didn't know why. More than anything, though...emembered the music.

    My mother loved classical stuff-it was all she played in her car, which drove my sisters and me nuts. We'd beg for regular radio, anything from this century, but she was stubborn. "When you drive, you can listen to whatever you like," she'd say, then crank up Brahms or Beethoven to drown out our irritated sighs.

    But in the car wash, my mother's music sounded different. Beautiful. It was only then tha...ould close my eyes and enjoy it, understanding what it was that she heard eveiy time.

    Whe...inally got my own license...ould play whateve...anted, which was great. But still, the first tim...ent through 123SUDS alone...lipped around my radio dial to find something classical, for old times' sake. Just rolling in, though, the station faded and my tuner jumped to the next one, which was playin...oud, twangy country song, also not somethin...ould have chosen on my own. But it was strange. Sitting there, the brushes moving overhead, water spilling down my window, even the song that was playing-something about driving an old Ford unde...ull moon-sounded perfect. As if it didn't matter what was on, but instead how listening, there in the dark.

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