Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Chapter 10

"You just don’t want to leave, do you?” Gabriel said with a grin, glancing down into Lennon’s very dark eyes, dark brown infused with a thin ring of black on the outer rim. They were incongruous with her pale, pale skin.

“Nah. I’m a bookworm,” she replied, gesturing to herself. “The truth is, I don’t have a ton of patience for people who insist on fighting and being overdramatic.” She frowned, marring her smooth forehead. “Actually, I don’t have patience at all.”

“You’ve been patient with Gerry,” he pointed out. “Believe me, he’ll try anyone’s patience. He’s my brother and I love him but when you get him talking…and that takes some effort…he’s pretty opinionated.”

“Aren’t they all?” She said darkly. “When did he start writing?”

“He’s been writing as long as I’ve been singing. So, a while.”

She nodded slowly. Her eyes bore into his, direct, gleaming. There was something innocent yet knowing in her eyes. Particularly something knowing about him, although she didn’t really know him and he didn’t really know her beyond her drink of choice, her age, home state, and the smattering of words he’d heard about her from Gerry.

Gabriel took an imperceptible step back, eyes downcast. He’d revealed more than enough, too much of himself, to this young woman, a perfect stranger. She was a perceptive stranger at that. He flicked his eyes back to hers. She missed nothing. She’d noticed him shifting away.

“Are you sure you’ll be safer here?” He asked again.

“I think so,” she said, turning the novel in her hand. Her finger was still caught in between the pages.

“All right. Well, see you around, then,” he said with a nod.

Gabriel knew the cashier who checked him out. He’d gone to high school with her, but he couldn’t place quite her. Her nametag read Amy. His high school had been small, a mere three hundred students total. His graduating class had been around fifty kids.

“Thank you,” he said politely, taking his change and bag. Fifty kids. You’d think he’d remember her. Everywhere he turned, Gabriel was confronted with people he’d grown up with, the people he’d turned his back on and left behind when he’d gone to college and only returned a few times a year.

Landslide was never really home to him. Yet, where else could he refer to as home? His mother’s family had deep roots in Landslide, in a line that traced back so far that everyone had lost track of exactly when and how his family had settled in rural Missouri. It was irrelevant now. Here they were; here he’d come back.

Gabriel unlocked the door to his SUV, jumped in, and shut the door behind him. He threw his shopping bag to the passenger’s seat and turned the ignition. The car was too quiet, even as the engine roared to life. Absently, he flicked on the radio and caught the tail end of the Beatles singing the chorus of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”

If only he could write melodies and lyrics as strong as those guys, he’d be set for life. But he’d never been one for pointless comparisons, so Gabriel quickly dismissed the thought, shifted the truck into drive and added his voice to the chorus as he drove out of the parking lot.

The shopping bag lurched forward as he made a turn and he reached out an arm to stop it from tumbling to the floor. A girl named Lennon. Why Lennon and not Lucy or Eleanor or any of the other girls’ names used in Beatles songs?

He kept driving, through town, made another turn that took him down a dark, winding gravel road. The sunlight emerged again, further down, where the trees had been cleared out a little more. From there, he could see the six acres of former farmland that his family lived on. Grandpa had left the land to Gabriel’s mother, his only child, who’d dragged her husband and three children from Columbia, Missouri, to this place when Gabriel, the eldest, had been thirteen.

Gabriel braked the car, slowing down on the dusty driveway before stopping altogether. It was one thing to visit over summers and have space to run around and act like lunatics. Living here was a different story.

The farmhouse was squat, two stories tall with an attic and an ancient cellar that had been finished and connected to the rest of the house. Dad had painted and sided it gray about ten years ago. The front porch was enclosed, scattered with potted plants. They were the only plants Gabriel’s mother, the farmer’s daughter, could grow without hopelessly ruining them.

He got out of the car, bag in hand, and shut the door. The porch steps sunk under his feet. He and Dad would have to reinforce those things soon.

“Gabe?” Mom called.

“Yeah?” He called back as he stepped across the threshold. “Hi Mom.”

“Where did you disappear off to?” She asked, glancing up from the dining room table, laid out with bills. One of her eyebrows was raised in a motherly, expectant sort of way, as if waiting to hear what kind of trouble he’d gotten into this time, but her eyes sparkled. Gabriel inherited his blue eyes from his mom.

“Wal-Mart,” he answered, pulling out a chair and plopping down. The dining room had barely changed from the days when his grandparents lived here. The table was newer and shinier, but floral wallpaper covered the walls and a family portrait from the 1970s hung in the place of honor across from the entryway. Gabriel quirked his lips to the side in amusement, eyes shooting toward the picture. The Farrah Fawcett look did not suit his mother’s light brown hair.

Gabriel put the shopping bag down on the floor and asked, “Are any of those mine?” He tried to see if his name was on any of them.

“Gabe, it’s really not a problem. You’re my son, I’ll cover your…”

“Mom, please,” he said. “I’m not working all the time down at the Kettle for kicks. I can cover the car and my one measly credit card.” Gabe bit his lip. He didn’t quite have enough to cover all of his expenses.

“And your phone?” Mom asked. “Let me at least pay for that. I thought the Kettle money was to pay for recording.”

Gabe shook his head. His mom never forgot anything. “That’s if and when I have anything to record.”

“I’m not buying that, Gabriel Robert,” she replied, writing in her checkbook. He leaned back in his chair with an inaudible sigh.

You know, maybe I should ask Principal Halter if he knows of any openings in any of the schools,” Gabe finally said.

“If you think that that’s what you want to do,” Mom replied, not looking up at him. “You’re miserable.”

“I’m not miserable,” he sighed, answering as if he’d been asked this question a few too many times.

“Gabriel, this town is too small for you.”

“Mom, with all due respect, this town is too small for everyone in it.”

His mother cracked up. “Why do you think I left?” She shut her checkbook decisively and looked at him. “You were the one who begged us to give you a year or two after college to get yourself and your music together. I’m not saying this just because I’m your mother, but you have talent. And I hate to see you sit here dejected because Seb and—”

Gabriel put his hand up. “Can we not talk about that, please?”


Upstairs, Gabriel passed Gerry’s room on the way to his own and found his brother sitting up at his computer, fingers flying on the keys. The blank page on the screen was quickly filling up with black type.

“Hey, man,” Gabe said, sticking his head in. Gerry’s room was small. The bed, the desk and the dresser practically touched each other, leaving a maze of patches to get around the furniture. Or, in Gerry’s case, a pile of clothes, books, CDs and carelessly tossed away textbooks. Not that Gabe was any neater or anything.

“What are you doing?” He asked.

“Trying something out,” Gerry replied, voice absent. “Lenny McKinney told me about how she’d gotten her characters to feel real to her. I want to see if this works.”

Gabe smiled to himself. His brother was absolutely obsessed. “Good luck.”

His room was in the corner of the house, away from the other bedrooms. It allowed him to make as much noise as he wanted to, within reason, with his instruments.

Gabe sighed as he collapsed down on his bed. He’d bought new guitar strings today. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d played, which was very unusual for him, but he’d need new strings and new picks.

His favorite guitar, a six-string acoustic, was leaning against the opposite wall. He wondered if it was crazy to think that it was staring at him, taunting him. He’d started almost every song he wrote on that guitar and although there were holes along the sound hole, the tone remained strong and clear.

Gabriel lay in bed, humming the first song that popped into place. “Lucy in the Sky” was pouring out of his mouth. Before he could even wonder how he knew all the lyrics, the guitar was cradled in his arms and he was tuning—holy shit, this was out of tune—and picking out chords.

Singing under his breath, he crooned, “Picture yourself on a boat on a…”

Gabriel worked six days a week. He filled his days at the bar. Eventually, he got up off the bed and got ready to work another shift. Saturdays were busy and he almost always came away with tons of tips.

The theatre crowd came in early in the night. From what he could hear, from what a few of them told him as they ordered their drinks, the cast list for the big August show had gone up that afternoon at the Tallis.

“I can’t believe she got it,” one of the actresses—he didn’t know her name and filed her away in his head as curly-haired and nasal—“I mean, really!”

“She’s got a beautiful voice,” another girl volunteered.

“She barely sings. I’ve never heard her,” Curly Hair replied.

They eventually fluttered away to a table. Gabriel glanced up at his next customer and saw Lennon’s profile, eyes following the talking girls. She turned to him, a trace of a smirk on her face.

“Hey, you,” she said to him.

“Hey,” he answered. “The list went up?”

“Oh, did it ever,” Lennon replied with a little chuckle. “The Tallis is buzzing. Stacey got the lead!” Her face lit up with a huge smile. She had dimples, one on each side of her mouth, and her teeth were perfectly straight.

“Is that who they were talking about?” He asked.

Lennon nodded with a giggle. “Yup. They can’t fucking believe it! It’s awesome!”

“Is Stacey here?” Gabriel asked.

“She will be. She’s at the theatre. I left her talking to the director. And placating her boyfriend."

“’Kay. You want anything, little lady?” He watched her climb onto a stool. It was a bit of a production.

Once settled, Lennon said, “May I have a Bacardi and coke, please?”

“Yup,” he replied, stepping back to grab the bottle and a glass. “I won’t make you show ID.”

“I’m wearing fucking eyeliner today. So humor me and pretend that I look twenty-three tonight, please?”

Gabriel swept a glance over her. The bar was dark and Lennon’s lashes were black anyway, shadowy fringes lining her dark eyes. But, yeah, there was something different about her bottom lashes.

“What’s the occasion?” He asked, sliding her rum and coke over. She handed him a tip. “Thanks.” He shoved the cash into his pocket.

“Uh, I went into work this afternoon and decided that eyeliner was in order,” She made a face. “Didn’t sleep very well last night and I have a lovely set of blue half-moons under my eyes to prove it.”

“You look fine,” he shrugged. “How are Stacey and Nick?”

She rolled her eyes elaborately. He wondered if Lennon had always been a tad dramatic or if she was becoming more so.

“Lenny!” Gabriel glanced behind Len and saw a beaming Stacey bounding toward her. Stacey engulfed the smaller woman from behind; it almost looked like Stacey was balancing on her toes in excitement.

Lennon swallowed the mouthful of drink she had in her mouth and bounced on the stool. They chattered away about something; he wasn’t paying attention.

Gabriel averted his eyes. Lennon’s chest bounced with her, of course, but seemed to move separately, coming to rest a fraction of a millisecond after the rest of her. With a small smile in the direction of the two friends, Gabriel moved down the bar, taking orders.

When he got home late that night, Gabriel dug under his bed. He came across old Playboys and Maxims that he’d stashed there as a teenager, but more importantly, he came across an unused marble notebook.

It was two a.m. He leaned back in bed, rested the notebook on his boxer-covered lap, and bit the tip of a pen in thought.
Under the lamplight, Gabriel filled pages with phrases and words, partial verses and chords, even doodles, anything in order to get something going.

One of the sentences he scrawled read, “Might as well give it one last shot.”

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Chapter 9

Lennon marched down the main paved road, her feet carrying her quickly to nowhere. It was Saturday, the day after an exhausting afternoon in Sedalia, and she’d intended to spend the afternoon annoying her sister over the phone.

But fate had intervened, in the form of a bellowing Nick followed by a high-pitched, screaming Stacey, who sounded unhinged. After a tense, silent drive back to Landslide, those two had gone off somewhere to talk, while Lennon had opened a Word document on her laptop and wrote out what happened. She hadn’t kept a diary since she was fifteen, but she felt the need to purge herself and the best way to do that was to type without censoring herself.

The drive had been uneventful. No state troopers showed themselves. Despite her trembling hands and constantly darting eyes, Lennon made herself swallow her anxiety. Stacey looked forlorn and Nick’s vein hadn’t retracted into place. Even though there were highways involved in the trip back, she was the only other alternative.

Lennon picked up her purse, iPod and cell phone and left the house. She’d called Hikari. Then she called Madeline, had a text message conversation with Alexandra, and talked to Etta.

“You can’t walk anywhere out there!” Etta said, in the middle of her litany about why she could never live anywhere but in New York.

“Well, that’s not true because I’m out here and I’m walking,” Len replied.

True, it was a fairly long walk, about three miles to the town limits, where Wal-Mart was located. Its size and the huge asphalt parking lot were about as out of place as a skyscraper would have been in Landslide.

She wormed her way to the book section immediately. The selection was a bit limited for her taste, but they were books nonetheless, immaculate new ones with that new smell. Len found a section of the more girly books—chick lit, for whatever reason, she was in the mood for it today—and began reading back cover summaries. A professor had told her that eventually, being a writer, she’d start reading things in a different way. She’d start reading books in a cruelly critical way, as a piece to study and either emulate or bash. “The one thing about writing is that eventually, the more you study it, the more you read. And the more you read, the more you start analyzing and editing and revising it in your head. And then, you lose the ability to read books normally.”

Lennon flipped open a book and read the first page. She was able to switch the critical writer and reviser on and off. She remained an avid reader, able to lose herself in the experience a book offered with the characters, the plot, the words and her overactive imagination.

This beginning wasn’t half bad. She turned to page two.

There was a light tap on her shoulder and Len glanced over her shoulder, then turned fully, coming face to chest with a silver pirate skull in the middle of a black T-shirt. Then she looked up and smiled, closing the book on her finger to keep her place.

“Fancy seeing you,” Gabriel said. “Gerry usually hangs out here.”

“Oh, does he like chick lit, too?” She joked.

“He’s always been a weepy kid,” Gabriel replied. “I think he may be a closet romance novel reader, but don’t quote me on that.”

“I’m sure his girlfriend appreciates it.”

Gabriel grinned down at her. He was about a foot taller than her and his broad shoulders and muscular arms should have made her feel smaller, as other people often did by the difference in size and sheer force of personality.

Lennon had perfected the ability to blend into the background at home, merely one of many, nothing special to distinguish her.
But with Gabriel’s blue eyes trained on her, there was nowhere to hide. Lennon crossed her arms across her chest, shoving the book under one elbow.

Yet, she wasn’t precisely uncomfortable. Maybe it was because he was a bartender and she’d seen him make conversation with everyone who wandered into the Kettle, but Gabriel drew people in. She wondered if it was a talent garnered by growing up in a place like Landslide, where you knew everyone and were perfectly aware of your spot in the pecking order.

“I needed an escape. Plus, I’m running out of new reading material,” she said, after realizing that they’d been staring at each other for at least minute without saying a word.

“That’s tragic,” he said. “Have you read this?” He held up a paperback. He was holding a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.

“So it goes,” Lennon quoted. “Read it when I was in college.”

“Me, too,” he answered. “It’s been a while. I’m surprised they had it,” he added with a sniff. “It’ll give me something to read when the bar’s not busy,” he said, glancing down at the cover. “I needed new reading material, too. Well, newish.”

“Ah. Not a reader of chick lit, then?”

Gabriel let out a laugh, his very blue eyes and face lighting up at the sound, as if he was truly joyful for those few seconds. His lips turned up into a smirk. “Hmm. If I read chick lit, would it help me understand women?”

“It may,” Len replied with a smile. “There’s no real way to decipher us as a group, though. Sorry.”

“I figured. My last girlfriend decided that I was boring and a jerk and then topped it off with ‘You don’t understand me!’” He finished off in a screechy falsetto.

“That sounds like Stace and Nick. They’re having a ‘discussion.’” She brought her hands up to do air quotes, even though her left hand was weaved into the book. “They’ve had the same one for the last twenty…” Glancing at her watch, Len finished, “Twenty-five hours, so I figured I’d leave and walk and I ended up here.”

“You walked?” Gabriel repeated, resting a hand on a high shelf beside her, which drew attention to his triceps. Her eyes felt glued to his arm.

“I can’t drive this far yet,” Len laughed, fibbing slightly. She didn’t feel ready to drive this far, completely on her own. Yesterday had been an anomaly. “I like walking. My friends and I would walk twenty, thirty blocks in the city to get somewhere or vent or find a Starbucks or a bench.” She thought about the busyness of New York, the crowds of people she found so aggravating yet fascinating; all different kinds of people, threading together and apart to make up New York City. There may have been a part of her that even missed the place.

“I did that in Chicago. Good place for that kind of thing.”

“You lived in Chicago?”

“Went to college there,” Gabriel said. “I was in a band. We had gigs playing clubs. We recorded an EP, were on the way to recording an album, but...life happened, I guess. Then there was girl drama.” He made a face. “She was an actress.”

“Ooh,” Lennon winced. “So when did you come back?”

“About four, five months ago, but it’s Landslide. I don’t know what I expected when I came back. It’s exactly the way I left it.” Then he stepped away from the shelf and pulled away from personal talk. “Are you going to walk back? I can take you. If you think they’re done with the arguing.”

“I wouldn’t bet on it. I think I’m safer here.”

Monday, February 23, 2009

Chapter 8

*As far as the climax of the story goes...well, this is certainly a contender for that title. It's a Stacey chapter.*

The lead roles were up for grabs for the August show, the biggest show that the Tallis put up annually because so many of the actors left with the arrival of the fall.

Len spent the morning of the auditions signing people in by the rehearsal room. Stacey worked a shift at Esme’s in the morning, went home, showered, and curled her hair carefully, reciting the sides into the mirror. She’d warmed up her vocals in the shower and after donning her outfit, rushed to the theatre. Her audition was at three in the afternoon.

“How’s it going so far?” Stacey asked, bending over the table where Len sat. Stacey quickly signed her name on the list.

“Twelve in for your part,” Lennon reported, pushing her glasses up her nose with her middle finger. “Everyone’s got the sides down. It’s the singing that’ll determine who gets what.”

Stacey nodded, a serious expression coming over her face. She’d figured as much. The book for this particular musical wasn’t brilliant. It didn’t take a genius to make the part believable. But it would take a hell of a singer to pull off the vocals.
“Wish me luck.”

Len smiled at her roommate. “Break a leg.”

Stacey stepped away and sat in one of the waiting seats that lined the hallway outside the big room. Stacey was used to auditions the way Lennon was used to writing workshops. All of the times in college when Stacey didn’t get the part, when she was relegated to the chorus, became fresh again. She’d gotten leads here, but getting the lead for the biggest show of the year would still be a coup.

“Stace,” Len said, her head tilting quickly to the door, which was now open.

Taking a deep breath, Stacey stood up in one fluid motion and walked to the door.

The day after the auditions, Stacey, Lennon and Nick drove into Sedalia. Lennon buried herself in a corner at the local Borders, declaring that she was starved for new reading material, while Stacey and Nick had a coffee date in the in-store café.

“Are you expecting something?” Stacey asked, watching Nick across the small table as he pulled out his cell phone for the fifth time in ten minutes.

“I thought it might be about the list,” Nick said, eyes on his cell. “Nope. Not up yet.”

“Lenny can call in and ask one of the girls, if it gets posted before we get back,” Stacey said.

“Uh huh,” Nick replied. He pressed a button on the phone. Stacey could hear the keys beeping. Except for one guy sitting a few tables away, engrossed in a thick book, there was no one in the café.

“I don’t think you have anything to worry about,” Nick said suddenly. “It’s a musical. That’s your thing.”

“That doesn’t mean that I’ll get the part.”

“Musicals aren’t really my thing, but I think I might’ve done well enough.”

“Well, you’ve been cast in mostly lead roles since we’ve been here,” Stacey said. “So there’s no reason to think you wouldn’t be this time, right?” She sipped her macchiato.

“That smacks of bitterness, don’t you think?” He asked, not looking up from the phone in his hand, held up and blocking his nose.

Placing her cup down on the table, Stacey scrunched her eyebrows together in confusion. “I didn’t mean it that way. You do get a lot of leads. I haven’t had as many as you.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll get this one.”

“Don’t say it if you don’t mean it.” She snapped back, his tone niggling her. “Can you stop looking at your phone?”

“I’m just checking my email.”

“You always check your email. You can’t have mail all the time,” Stacey said. “Nick, please? I’m trying to spend time with you.”

Nick placed his phone down on the tabletop. His bright green eyes dulled a little in color and his thick eyebrows, which gave his face a romantic, intense look, drew into an ominous line across the top of his face.

“You’re the musical theatre actress. I’m sure you’ll do fine,” Nick reiterated. “I can sing, but it’s not really my forte.”

“You don’t have to nail every aspect of performing,” Stacey said. “You’re a brilliant actor.”

“I’m not sure about that…” He muttered. “Hey, you know how I asked you if you thought training actually helped you?”

“Yeah,” she answered. Of course she remembered. It had been one of the first in a long series of conversations they’d had when they first began dating. Stacey remembered long, dark winter nights huddled under blankets. If they were together under those blankets, arms or legs intertwined, their voices intimate, then secrets would be exchanged. If they were apart, each holding a phone up to their ear, then other topics would pass between them. They’d talked about her college training during one of those long phone conversations, the kind that made her thankful that minutes were free at night.

“What about my training?” Stacey asked.

“Well, how much did training help you with auditioning?” Nick asked.

“I auditioned at least four times a semester for something,” Stacey said. “Films, musicals, plays, dance shows. I auditioned constantly. I didn’t get most of what I tried out for.”

“I wonder if training might beat some of the natural…I don’t know, I want to say confidence…out of you. When you try out for something.”

Stacey shrugged. It made sense on one level, she supposed, but Stacey had always been a prepared actress. She’d always known her lines, her marks, her choreography, and she rehearsed relentlessly. Some actors worked better when they winged it. She did not.

Wouldn’t have learned that if not for school.

“It depends on the person,” she said, which she felt was true.

“I don’t need training,” Nick muttered to himself almost, his voice was so low.

“That depends on the person, too,” Stacey replied.


She was stalking away, leaving him behind her, with his strange behavior and his flirting with the waitress at the restaurant they’d stopped in and his checking email on his phone and his total assurance that somehow, he’d get the lead, but his fake humility that he probably wouldn’t get the part. Probably wouldn’t? It would serve him right, it wasn’t his kind of role, but he’d get it anyway because Nick had become the leading man at the Tallis while she, who’d worked and worked and trained until her ass came off, had only just gotten her first bonafide lead…

Stacey could hear Nick behind her, shouting for her to stop, but she didn’t. In fact, she walked that much faster. Nick couldn’t keep up with her anyway. Funny how Lennon can keep up with me, and her legs are three-quarters the size of mine and Nick, who is taller than her, can’t. Bastard.

She didn’t want to be near him. She needed to cool off.

“Jesus Christ! Stacey!” He called. “Stop! Hey, stop running away from your problems.”

Oh, no he didn’t… Stacey pivoted on her heel and turned, furious, to face her boyfriend, whose eyebrows no longer looked romantic, but forbidding. She saw Lennon jogging in her sandals behind both of them, but her friend’s eyes were focused somewhere beyond them.

“I’m not ‘running away from my problems,’ I’m running away from you before I say something I’ll regret,” she said.

“Can’t take confrontation?” Nick pitched back.

“I don’t even know what we’re fighting about!” Stacey exclaimed, digging her hands into her hair. “Ugh!”

“You don’t have to be so fucking insecure all the time!” Nick called out.

“Says the guy who disingenuously claims that he won’t get the part!”

“Oh, don’t be such an actress, Stacey!”

Throwing her arms up in the air, Stacey turned around again. Even looking at his movie-star worthy looks was making her blood pressure rise. Summoning over twenty years of ballet, Stacey spun on her heel and ran to the corner of the block.

Her foot was on the asphalt when she felt a sharp yank on her right arm.

“What the hell are you doing?” It was Lennon’s voice and she sounded like a cross between sharp and concerned.

Stacey looked up and blinked. She was on the curb again and there was traffic coming toward her from three separate directions.

“Did I just—?” Stacey stared, open-mouthed, between the cars that were headed directly where she’d hopped out onto the street and Nick, who was seething, and Lennon, who had her hands on her hips. She’d almost flung herself into oncoming traffic—because of him?

“Look, Edward, Bella,” Lennon began sarcastically. “Give me the keys. I’m driving us back.”

“But Lennon, you don’t actually know how to—” Nick started. He didn’t complete that sentence, however, because Len turned her head to face him. Stacey could only imagine the expression was on Len’s face. She wondered if it was her fierce, eyebrows drawn together, angry furrows along the sides of her mouth kind of look. Or maybe it was her lethally calm expression; in those instances, it was all in her eyes and it was best to stay far away. The quiet ones were always supposed to be the ones who blew up, right?

“She’s hysterical and in shock and you’re about to blow a gasket, based on that vein that’s popping out of your forehead right now. So between the three of us, I think I have the least chance of getting us into an accident,” Len said. Then she joked, “Believe it or not.” She also added, “I’d like to live to see twenty-four.”

Turning to Stacey, she said, “Honey, hand me the keys. You sit in the front seat. Nick, you sit in the back. Let’s go.” Stacey fished the keys out of her bag, which had landed behind her on the sidewalk and handed them over.

Chapter 7, Part Deux

Gerry’s play was put up and performed for two days during the third week of June, and then it was time to strike the last play’s set on the main stage to make way for another one. Stacey and Lennon woke up and dragged themselves to the theatre at nine in the morning on Lennon’s fourth Saturday. Dressed in their sloppiest clothes, hair clipped up, the girls joined the rest of the cast and crew and sorted out what was to be kept in the theatre’s shop, which costumes could be reused, and then they summoned their coffee-fueled energy to physically crash down the simple backdrop.

Lennon stepped away from the set and then ran into it, trying to bash a hole through. Stacey laughed, karate kicking into it. Nick stood back and watched.

“Oh, I’m hungry,” Lennon said later, rubbing her belly.

“Me, too,” Stacey replied, turning away from Nick, whom she was parting with for the rest of the day. “I want a burger.”

“Sounds good.”

“Black Kettle?”

“Sure.”

“You’re going to get us there,” Stacey said, leading the way to her car.

“What?” Len asked, stopping stock still in the middle of the parking lot.

Stacey fished out her car keys and dangled them.

“No, Stacey,” Lennon began. “Are you insane?”

“It’s a quarter mile down one road. You’ll be fine,” Stacey said, opening the passenger side door for herself. “Get in.”

Lennon adjusted the seat before sitting down, making sure that her feet touched the pedals. She closed the car door, wiping her hands on her jeans. Stacey handed her the keys.

“Do you have a death wish?” Lennon asked her friend.

Stacey was tugging the seat belt around her, tightening it. “You’ll be fine. Let’s go.” Her hands shaking, Lennon started the ignition, letting the car warm up for a few minutes as she adjusted the mirrors. Biting her lip with nerves, Len moved the gear into drive slowly.

“Foot on the gas,” Stacey said. “We go out there.” She pointed. “Bear right.” Len tipped the steering wheel to the right, gripped it tightly with both hands, and then slowly put her left foot onto the accelerator. The car moved smoothly, but slowly.

“Good,” Stacey said with a smile. “You’re doing good. Can you go a little faster?”

“Wow, you do have a death wish,” Len remarked, but she pressed down a little more on the pedal, steadily and slowly. She wiped her left hand on her jeans. They were at the exit of the parking lot. She braked. “Turn right, right?”

“Right.”

Len flipped the signal on, even though there were no cars following her, and tipped the wheel to the right. Slowly, her foot came off the brake, onto the accelerator. The vehicle turned, unbearably slow, but Lennon was satisfied that she wouldn’t kill anything.

When they arrived at the Black Kettle, they found it completely empty. Lennon slumped forward against the bar, drained, feeling as if she was going to heave. Stacey thumped her on the back.

“You’re a pretty good driver,” she said. “A few more weeks of practice and you’ll be ready to drive in the city.”

“I can’t believe you just made me do that,” Len said. “Are you suicidal?”

“You need the practice,” Stacey said pragmatically. “And you need to practice where you won’t get hit.” She glanced up. Len peered through the curtain of her hair and then shot up, standing up straight. Gabriel, a towel draped over his shoulder, had appeared.

“Hey, what can I get you?” he asked. “You all right, Lennon?”

“Uh,” Lennon started, slightly surprised at Gabriel knowing her name. “Depends on how you define ‘all right.’”

“Lennon drove a car for the first time in…” Stacey stopped. “How long, Len?”

“Three years,” Len answered.

“Shit! I didn’t know it was that long!” Stacey exclaimed. She shook her head. “Can I have a coke? And a cheeseburger?”

“Sure,” Gabriel said. He peered down at Lennon. “It might be too early for alcohol. You look like you could use some, though.” He grinned.

“I’ll have a Sprite,” Len said. “And a chicken club.”

“Coming right up,” he answered. He went to hand the order in.

Stacey went to the restroom, saying something about needing to tidy her hair. That left Lennon alone, contemplating her hands, which were still shaking. But even she had to admit that she should master driving. Adults drove. It just had to be done. Lennon had always been good at doing whatever needed to be done, unless she was dead afraid of it—which, she admitted, happened quite often. She needed a hefty kick in the ass to get her past that. Her subconscious had told her so on many occasions. She was the most confident person when asleep, in her dreams. Her subconscious wanted to know why she wasn’t like that in real life.

Stacey, more than anyone, would know that about her.

“Practice makes perfect, you know.” Lennon glanced up to find Gabriel sliding a soda toward her. He leaned his elbows on the bar, chin resting on his hands.

“I suppose,” Len answered. “She’s right. I need to learn how to drive and I can’t possibly hit anything here.”

“Nope. You really have to try in order to do that. Although…” He bit a corner of his lip, thinking. “I came home after my freshmen year in college and a bunch of my friends and I piled into a car and hit a deer. But we were being stupid. There may have been some Jack Daniel’s involved…”

“’May have been?’ Yeah, sure,” she remarked.

“Oh, we have a skeptic,” Gabriel said, a crooked smirk emerging. “How do you know each other?” He gestured toward the bathrooms.

“Stacey and I were college roommates.”

“Nice,” he said, looking down. “Yeah, my roommate and I stayed pretty close. Until a little while ago.”

“What happened?”

“Long story short, we lost touch,” he shrugged. “It happens. Hey, um, I know my brother’s kind of…overzealous when it comes to his writing. I know you’ve been talking to him about it, so thanks for being patient with him. There aren’t a lot of people like him around here.”

“It’s not a problem,” Len answered. “He seems very serious about it. I think he’s brave for handing it in.”

“They like original material. He’s been writing forever.” They heard a door shut and then footsteps coming across the room. Stacey slid onto a barstool. Her hair was neat. It looked brushed and was pulled into a tight ponytail. Lennon saw Stacey stick her cell phone back into her purse and place the bag on the bar.

Gabriel edged away, grabbing a glass and shooting Coke into it, before placing the soda in front of Stacey.

“Thank you,” Stacey said. “Sorry. Nicky called.”

Chapter 7, Part One

*I just finished the book. For reals. EEEE!!!! Anyway...massively long chapter. Will be posted in parts, as usual.*

“These,” Lennon spoke around a mouthful of food, “are the best damn pancakes I have ever had.” She chewed, swallowed and then stabbed the next syrup-covered portion of pancake on her plate.

Stacey stood beside the table and poured more coffee into Lennon’s cup.

“I don’t think I’ve seen you eat that much, little girl, since those couple of times when brunch was good in college,” Stacey commented. It was Tuesday morning and they were alone in Esme’s Diner except for the short-order cook in the back, who was probably taking a smoke break. With a shrug, Stacey slid into the red vinyl seat across from Lennon.

“As a rule, I don’t eat very much,” Lennon replied. “I don’t gain weight easily and I don’t lose any weight that I’ve gained, so…”

“Oh, whatever. You’re a hundred pounds, max. Some would say you could use a little more weight.”

“Most people have not seen me dance around the apartment in my underwear to bad ‘80s music. You know, when I jiggle.” Len wobbled her hands in front of her black T-shirt to demonstrate her point.

“Appreciate the jiggle. I don’t,” Stacey said, pointing to the rise of her breasts under her red shirt. “Which is weird ‘cause we’re the same bra size.”

“Sorry.”

“No, it’s not your fault. Dance did it to me.”

“Mine bounce constantly. Even pinned in bras, they bounce,” Len shrugged a shoulder. Under her breath, she sang, “I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly…”

Stacey giggled. “Well, I feel privileged to be blessed with the view of your ass in Hello Kitty panties.”

Lennon snorted out a laugh, a hand shooting up in front of her nose to prevent any coffee from spurting out of her nostrils. She felt burning in the upper tracts of her nose and gasped, waiting for the feeling to subside.

“All right,” Stacey finally said. “Back to work.” She sighed, scrunched up her forehead and said, “I can’t do this anymore.” Then she flashed a look at Lennon. “Was that the right line?”

Lennon nodded, tipping the script over the edge of the table so that Stacey couldn’t peek at the lines she didn’t have memorized yet.

“Ok. I can’t do this anymore. It’s not right and you need to leave.”

“Wait, what? Why? What is going on, Jen?” Lennon read from the page.

“Have you ever…?” Stacey paused. “No, wait, shit! That’s the wrong line, isn’t it?”

“You were close. It’s ‘Has it ever…?’”

“Has it ever occurred to you that maybe we’re not exactly the best couple in the world?”

“’I don’t really see what the problem is,’” Len read. “‘In fact, I think you’re overanalyzing the situation. Know why? Yeah, ok, so technically, you’re with him and all, but…’ Long ass pause. ‘Are you going to decide?’”

Resting the fork on the edge of her plate, Lennon dramatically brought her right hand up and folded her fingers together in a tulip-shaped gesture, drawing it past her face as if bringing the curtain down.

“End scene,” she said overdramatically.

“Good lord,” Stacey answered. “When did I turn you into a quieter, saner theater kid?”

Lennon snorted. “Quieter, yes. Saner…debatable.”

They heard a car door shut outside. Stacey stood up and looked out at the wide front windows. She grabbed the coffee pot and made her way back to the counter.

Lennon grabbed a book out of her purse and turned to the dog-eared page midway through. She’d read this book a countless number of times. It was a paperback and the cover wouldn’t close all the way anymore and had white wrinkles against the black cover. But it was a beloved book, one of those novels that grew in dimension every time she read it. The details and precise wording had never failed to spark ideas and crucial what ifs? in her mind. It was one of the few books she’d foisted on her friends. Some of them had read it; most of them had not. Some hadn’t read it but told her they did.

The door opened and footsteps sauntered across the linoleum. Len heard Stacey chirp out, “Hi. What can I get you?”

“One really large cup of coffee. To go, please.”

Len’s eye darted to the counter over the top of her book and saw a plaid-shirted, boot-cut jean-clad guy standing there. There was something familiar about him, about the way he stood and commanded his space. The guy glanced over his shoulder as Stacey bustled around with the coffee pot. Len got a clear view of his face. It was Gabriel, Gerry Harris’ brother, and today he was clean-shaven. I wonder how old he is.

“Hi,” he said to her.

“Hi. How are you?”

“Fine,” he replied. Seeing the binder on the table, Gabriel turned to Stacey and asked, “How’s the script going?”

Stacey made a face. “Milk? Cream? Half and half?”

“Half and half, thanks.”

Stacey poured the half and half in, picked up a stirrer and a top for the Styrofoam cup, and brought them next to the register. “I’m supposed to be off-book on the script and I’m not, really.”

“That’s not true. You have two scenes out of seven done,” Lennon said, her book resting face down on her finger.

“Gerry’s nervous about it,” Gabriel said, pulling out his wallet from his back pocket. “Yesterday, he said, ‘I shouldn’t’ve let Bob talk me into giving this over.’”

“Aw, poor Gerry,” Stacey answered, taking the cash and ringing the coffee up. “It’ll good for him, though. Don’t you think?”

“Yeah. It’s about as real world as a playwright can get, I guess,” Gabriel said, taking his change and sticking it in a pocket. “I’ll see you around.”

“Yup,” Stacey nodded. “Lennon, turn to scene five.”

Wetting the tips of two fingers with her tongue, Len flipped the pages in the binder to scene five. Gabriel was almost at the door, reaching for the knob in fact, when he said with a crooked half-smile, “See ya, Lennon.”

“See ya,” she replied. He was out of the door. Len cleared her throat. Her voice had gone up at least two octaves. She hated it when her vocal chords decided that her voice, which was one of the few parts of her that corresponded to her age, would go squeaky and high. Why, why, why?

Later that night, back at the apartment, Stacey sat on an orange beanbag chair with the script on her lap while Len sat on the couch, legs stretched straight across, with her laptop perched on her thighs.

“Oh, Jesus!” Len exclaimed.

“What?”

“Messages posted on my profile. ‘Miss you.’ ‘Come home soon.’ ‘Bored yet?’” Lennon clicked away from that browser window into another one. “They notice that I’m gone, huh? One week.”

“They care about you, Len. Of course they miss you.”

“I’m not entirely convinced,” Len said. “I wonder now—one doesn’t hate your natural environment out of nowhere.”

“No, one doesn’t, Lit Class,” Stacey said. “Go on.”

“I mean, I know it’s mostly me—and all that clutter and noise and disorganization didn’t help,” Lennon said, biting her lip as she stared sightlessly at her dimming computer screen. “But then there are the people you surround yourself with, that family of friends deal. And I wonder if…”

“If?”

“How much do your friends contribute to your state of mind?” Len tilted her head. She saw Stacey bite on the top of her pen, her hazel eyes directed at the couch.

“If they’re negative and toxic, then they pollute you. Erode you,” Stacey spoke. “I figured that out after Voldemort and I broke up.”

“Before we started calling him Voldemort, he had a real name,” Lennon thought aloud.

“Which we’re never speaking again,” Stacey argued back. Lennon nodded, lips shut. “Voldemort” was the nickname they had between them for Stacey’s last actor boyfriend, the college one. At first, they called him that because Stacey couldn’t say his name without an uncharacteristically contemptuous bite in her voice. The name had stuck.

Lennon knew that she could never comprehend how much pain Voldemort had caused Stacey. It almost seemed like a game sometimes, to her, how many men Stacey interacted with, how many of them she ended up dating and breaking up with. It must’ve been an alternate reality because that had certainly never been Lennon’s experience with the opposite sex.

“There are people who will drain you,” Stacey said. “Fuck you over. Or maybe not that extreme, but you get the idea. And if they do, then they’re not the best of the friends for you.”

Lennon let out a breath. “So I wonder which of those components was the champion of…I don’t know, not depression, but…my funk.” Looking over the top of her computer, to an unimpeded view of Stacey, Len said, “I have this feeling that I shouldn’t go back quite yet.”

Stacey snapped her head up. “Another week isn’t enough to work through whatever you need to, Len. Stay. We’ll find you a job. Bob needs someone to run the office,” Stacey said, referring to Bob, the theatre’s manager.

“It’ll only be for two months…” Len said. “I don’t want to impose on you or anything.”

“Lennon, I can’t live with anyone else,” Stacey replied. “Stay!”

During her second week, the first week of June, Lennon went into the Tallis with Stacey and followed her into the back office.
Bob managed the theatre meticulously. He oversaw the maintenance of the building and the grounds and answered to the Powers That Be. He helped plan which shows went up when, auditioned prospective actors, communicated with the town, and ran the staff: the office, the box office, and the crews.

Bob was an energetic man with a rotund body. Lennon watched the way he spoke with his hands. The hands expressed everything.

“You have office experience,” he said, glancing over Lennon’s resume. “Good. It’s only running the place clerically. Making sure the schedule’s correct. Making copies of whatever script. Keeping track of what the props people are buying or making. It’s not very exciting, but if you want it, I’d be happy to have you do the job until you leave—it’ll give me time to look for someone more permanent.”

“I’ll take it,” Len said with a smile.

“Great!” Bob said, setting her resume down.

That was how Lennon ended up working at the Tallis Theatre.

“Knock, knock,” a male voice called into the Tallis’ office four days later, as Lennon was frowning over the final proofread for an upcoming program.

She glanced up to see Gerry peeking in and beckoned him in. Lennon had learned that he was seventeen years old, while Gabriel was a year older than she was. Gerry’s shoulders bowed forward slightly, accustomed to leaning forward to write.

“What can I do for you?” she asked, dangling her red pen loosely in her right hand.

“Can you tell me how to make my characters seem more real?” He asked, folding himself down into a chair. He sighed. “What are you doing?” Gerry glanced around the small, air-conditioned office. Four desks, a few files cabinets and chairs jammed the medium-size room. Besides Len, there were two part time workers and Bob in and out of the office. Her desk, however, was closest to the one of the windows and natural light filtered in as she read.

“Editing a program,” she replied, capping her pen and laying it upon the desk. “We’ve got great actors here…but some of them can’t spell.”

Gerry laughed. “Or use Spellcheck?”

“No, because Spellcheck might interfere with their individuality and artistic integrity,” Lennon deadpanned back. “Tough rehearsal today?”

“Kind of. I know it’s only a workshop performance, but Bob is going on and on about character development and how realistic the characters have to be. I’m not sure I get it all.”

“It’s something you’ve got to think on,” Len told him, brushing her fingers against her nose in habit. It was a gesture she used to stop her glasses from slipping down, but she had her contact lenses in today. “I got into my groove with characters when I realized that they drive the stories, not me. Some people might say it’s nuts, but really, when the plot doesn’t work, it’s because the characters aren’t happy with it.”

Gerry leaned back in his chair, a thoughtful expression crossing his face.

“You really think of your characters as, like, people, don’t you?”

“Well, that’s the intention of writing ‘em, isn’t it?” She shot back.

“When did you start writing?”

“I was…oh, about six, I guess. I used to write little one-paragraph things in first grade and figured I wasn’t so bad at it. I was one of those kids who was ok in school, not very athletic, not the social butterfly. I don’t know that I had anything to hone until I knew how much I loved to read.” She smiled. “I used to write an entire side of looseleaf and it felt like writing War and Peace. But that was a long time ago.” She waved a hand in the air, as if swatting a fly. As if it didn’t matter.

“Stacey told me you were going to be the novelist. She wants a book out of you soon.”

Lennon rolled her eyes. “That girl…you know, I’ve already resigned myself to not being published in the immediate future. I can’t end my stories. Publishers generally frown on upon that. And I don’t know if you can really call yourself a writer until you have something to show for it. How long have you been writing, Gerry?”

“Since I was about ten or eleven,” he answered. “My brother…Gabriel’s a musician. He’s crazy good. And our sister, Sam, she’s really academically driven. I tried to be like Gabe and sing. I can even play a decent riff or two on the guitar, but…”

“It’s not really you, huh?”

“Exactly.”

“So how did you fall into giving your babies up for the workshop?”

“Wanted to see if it was any good,” Gerry shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Hey, it’s a valiant effort,” Len said. “Very few people have seen anything I’ve written. I can count ‘em on one hand.”

“I’d like to read some of your stuff,” Gerry said.

“When I have something, I’ll let you know.”

Friday, February 20, 2009

Chapter 6...Gabriel Enters the Picture!

The Tallis Theatre used to be a barn. It sat on a heap of land, half of which was now an asphalt parking lot. The theatre retained the general appearance of a barn, although it was painted brown and not red.

Stacey led Lennon through wide, heavy wooden front doors into the lobby, which was narrow and carpeted in red with framed photos of past performers and past shows. The front box office was tight and small. In a past life, it had been a stable stall.

The thick doors to the house were propped open with chairs and Stacey sailed through them. The theatre—any performance space—was home to her.

“This is the place,” Stacey said, voice carrying through the space. Lennon glanced up at the exposed wooden rafters and saw lighting, sound equipment and rigs before her eyes wandered down to the stage, which took up the entire far side of the descending auditorium. It looked like the stage was nearly five feet off the ground.

Lennon placed a hand on the back of a lacquered wooden chair. The house smelled clean. She caught a hint of lemon pledge and fresh air wafting in from the open front doors.

“This looks so much bigger from the inside,” Len said.

Stacey pointed up to the cables. Lennon caught up with her. “That used to be the hayloft.” Stacey opened a door beside the stage, which opened into a narrow, cold passage that opened into a large space with mirrors up against the walls. “They used to keep the tack here for the horses.”

“And now it’s makeup,” Len laughed.

“Yeah. That hall on the other side leads to the dressing rooms.” Stacey kept them walking down the hallway they were in. “Offices here. Conference room.” She gestured to a large room on the other side. A small tag on the outer wall was labeled Rehearsal Hall/ Cabaret. Len peeked in.

“That’s huge! That’s bigger than the small theater we had at school.”

“Used to be the diary,” Stacey commented. “At least the insulated parts. Over here is the passage to the shop—sets, scenery, the whole deal. Used to be the silo.”

“Oh, yeah, silos.”

Stacey laughed at her. “Sure. Growing up in Queens, did you ever encounter a silo? What do you know about them?”

Len shrugged. “I read a lot of books?” She said, her voice rising at the end the way Hikari’s voice often did. She added in her best Hikari glance: wide-eyed, cute, small and innocent.

“Oh, kid. I’m so glad you’re here,” Stacey laughed.
---------------
Stacey’s new guy didn’t have a speaking role in this latest production, apparently, and he let it be known about four seconds after he and Lennon met. Nick mentioned that his role was a pothead who flunked out of class. Lennon and Stacey agreed that that was plausible.

“I’m trying to get the physicality of it,” Nick said in his broad Long Island accent as they walked out of the theater, trailed by the playwright, who reminded Lennon of her brother. His name was Gerry, short for Gerard, and like Jack, Gerry was weedy, skinny through the legs and thickening through the torso, but broad and bony around the shoulders.

“I’m not sure how much to slump back and last night, I was working in the mirror, trying to get the glazed look down,” Nick said to Stacey. He was a handsome guy, Lennon conceded, with black hair and blazing bluish-green eyes, accentuated by a charming smile. But his thick accent made her wince. Of course. I travel two thousand miles and I hear Syosset. Man, these Missourians must think we’re completely butchering American English.

“You have it. It’s there,” Stacey told him. “In Tuesday’s rehearsal, I thought you had the character embodied perfectly.”

Lennon raised an eyebrow as they stopped beside Stacey’s car. From her understanding and perusing of the script, Nick sat in three scenes, didn’t have any lines, and largely stared at the audience blankly and did nothing else. What exactly was there to embody? Can’t he just sit there?

“Anyway. Len,” Stacey said. “Let’s grab some dinner. I have to work a shift at Esme’s tonight. Bar food okay?”

Lennon shrugged. “Pub grub is fine.”

“We’ll go to the Black Kettle then. Nick, Gerry, do you want to come?”

“I think my brother’s working tonight,” Gerry said with a very teenage shrug, eyes peering through his floppy brown bangs. “Stacey says you’re a writer.”

“Sort of,” Lennon answered. “I was a creative writing major.”

“That’s bull,” Stacey sang, unlocking the driver’s side door. “You are a writer. You’re just not published yet.”
Oh, yes, something else she hadn’t done yet.
“That’s because I’m afflicted with the inability to finish anything,” Len said, opening a backseat door and sliding in.

“Oh, I know what that’s like,” Gerry said, sitting in the back beside her. “It never seems good enough, does it?”

Len smiled over at him, feeling big sisterly. “No. It never does. You just get sick of looking at it and fiddling with it eventually, I think.” She stuck her tongue out and said, “I have a huge paper trail of things I’ve written, but very little of it is complete.”
And it struck her how sad that sounded. Lennon had been writing since she was a child, about six years old, and other than a few short stories and half-realized novellas, she had very little else to show for all that time. She jokingly referred to all of those pieces as her “juvenilia.”

If only something inspiring or intriguing would fall into my lap, then maybe I’ll finally finish something, have something to show for all of this time and effort, instead of leaving it as this futile thing.

The Black Kettle was the bar Lennon and Stacey had driven by the day before, one of the first buildings a visitor saw upon entering Landslide. Indoors, the place had a bar on one wall and small tables and booths placed throughout. There were wood-paneled walls on the far end, where there was a small platform with chairs piled on top, and the rest of the walls were painted red. As her eyes adjusted to the rather dimly-lit room, she saw that the Black Kettle had TVs evenly distributed throughout, mounted on walls, which drew Lennon’s eyes to the baseball game being broadcast. Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium, second inning, and the Yankees were already losing.

Gerry pumped his fist upon seeing the score. Lennon grumbled as the four made their way to the bar to order their drinks. Nick, who apparently didn’t drink, declared himself the designated driver. He turned around when Len muttered, eyes on the score.

“You’re a Yankee fan?” He asked, surprise in his voice.

“Yup,” she answered. “You?”

“Yup,” Nick replied. He shot up a few points in her estimation. “You’re from Queens, right?”

“Uh-huh,” she replied.

“Not a Mets fan?”

“Nope.” She didn’t feel like getting into a discussion about why she wasn’t a Mets fan, despite growing up fifteen minutes away from their stadium. And it was probably impolite to describe her disdain for Mets fans, at least in public, so Lennon kept her answers short.

Nick shook his head. “We’re not doing so well. I’m not sure what the standings are…”

“We’re five back of Boston,” Lennon said.

Nick grimaced.

“Lenny, what do you want?” Stacey called. Lennon glanced over to see Stacey talking to the bartender. “Malibu and cola?”

“Yeah, I’ll have a rum and coke,” Len said to the bartender, a guy not much older than they were, with light brown hair that seemed to stick up in every direction.

“I’ll have a beer,” Gerry called out. The bartender shot him a look that Len recognized: the “yeah, right” look of an older sibling. Glancing between them, Len saw a resemblance, sort of. Both had wide-set eyes but Gerry’s were bigger and brown while Gabriel’s looked blue. They had the same straight patrician nose, not too pointy or too flat. Gerry’s hair looked a touch darker and it was longer, but still stuck up in the back.

The one behind the bar was clearly the elder. He had a five o’clock shadow while Gerry had fuzz; he carried more weight through the shoulders, arms and chest than Gerry, too, and stood up straighter. But he wouldn’t be considered heavy by any means, but well-built.

“Try again, Gerry.”

“Fine. Root beer,” Gerry said. “Thought I’d give it a shot, Gabriel.”

Gabriel smiled, shaking his head and turned to Lennon. “Can I see some ID?”

Len rolled her eyes as she reached into her purse, fingers colliding with her wallet, and then pulled out her learner’s permit, which she slid across the bar. He picked it up, studied it for a few seconds, and handed it back.

“You probably get that a lot, huh?” He said, reaching for a glass.

She pointed to Stacey. “Not going to card her, huh?”

His eyes moved back to Lennon’s face with a steady blue-eyed gaze, evidently amused, then said to Stacey, “In the interests of fairness, since I didn’t check…”

Stacey dug out her ID. He gave it a cursory glance.

“New York and New Hampshire. You guys with the theatre?”

“We are,” Stacey said, pointing to Nick, who was tapping his fingers on the bar. “She’s visiting me.”

“You can kind of tell when people aren’t from around here,” Gabriel explained. Len thought she saw his eyes linger on her for a second before he moved around, mixing drinks. Gabriel handed his brother his root beer. Oh, of course. I don’t look like anyone from around here because I’m not white, therefore…

Len glanced over her shoulder at the few patrons scattered at tables around the large room. Each and every one of them was Caucasian. And not only Caucasian, but blonde and blue-eyed; there was one brunette in the whole lot of them. Is the entire town white? Surely the theatre attracts some people of color. You can’t exactly have Nick play freakin’ Othello. It doesn’t really work, does it? Then again, he’s from Long Island and he’s Italian and Jewish. Maybe they consider him ‘ethnic’ out here.

“Same where I’m from,” Stacey said. “My town’s a little over a thousand people. It’s obvious when someone’s not from there. You know everybody.” Lennon had snidely nicknamed Stacey’s town Mayberry on her one visit there.

“Exactly,” Gabriel replied, but he didn’t seem particularly thrilled by the concept. Len imagined that knowing everybody meant that they all knew you—and all of your business.

He handed the girls their drinks with a smile, telling them he’d keep the tab open. As Lennon followed Stacey to a table, her eyes looked up to the TV, trying to discern the score. The Royals scored a run at the same moment, making the score irretrievable for the Yankees. Len winced, then cursed under her breath. Stacey didn’t comment; she was used to Lennon swinging from articulate, literate speech to the foulest, most truck driver-like language imaginable within the course of one sentence.

“Was that you?” Nick asked her as they sat, Len across from him and Stacey beside him. Gerry settled in at the head of the table, where he could see the game.

“Uh, yeah,” Len replied, biting her lip. She’d never learned how to control her cursing. She often forgot that other people were more easily offended by language than she was.

“Len curses like a trucker,” Stacey said with a smile. “We were walking down Boylston Street once, me, her and my little sister. I think it was a Saturday night, so the sidewalk was filled. Our dorm was on the same block with, like, four bars and a club around the corner.”

Stacey continued on. “So we’re making our way back to the dorm and the three of us come face to face with this homeless guy in the crowd. He’s pretty drunk. My sister and I were edging away from him.” Stacey leaned away from Nick to demonstrate. “He’s saying creepy stuff about ‘pretty college girls’ and he was practically foaming at the mouth, but Len? Lenny stood there and very sweetly said, ‘Fuck off’ and then held onto my belt loop so she wouldn’t get lost in the crowd.”

Nick laughed. “That’s amazing. Don’t mess with Lenny, huh?”

“Nope. She’s a city girl. She’ll curse you out in six languages.” Stacey sent a beaming smile in Len’s direction.

Lennon drank, wondering if there would ever be a way to truly distance herself from New York. Once upon a time, she would’ve been proud of an antic like that.

Chapter 5

Stacey’s apartment was on the first floor, in the corner of her building and faced both the incomplete courtyard and the road. Under any other circumstances, Stacey would not have been able to rent an apartment of any livable size on her own, but living costs were unusually cheap in Landslide and the theatre subsidized housing costs for its actors.

That was how Stacey ended up with a small two-bedroom apartment. Her former roommate had finished her run at the Tallis Regional Theatre in April, so Stacey found herself with an extra bedroom for the next few months.

The living area connected directly to the floor-mat-sized dining room and the tiny kitchen, which was little more than a counter, cabinets and a refrigerator on one wall. A narrow hall, with a linen closet, led to the bathroom and a small bedroom on the other side, facing the courtyard. Stacey’s bedroom was at the very back of the apartment, and from her window, the road and the driveway were visible.

What little furniture Stacey had in the apartment had come with the place. In her dreams, Stacey saw herself living in an apartment decorated mostly in glass or black and white furniture, with unusual spots of color here and there. This wasn’t her ideal place to live—far from it—but it was fine for now. It was enough to have her own place.

Lennon unpacked her things and after waking up from a short nap, Stacey roped her into helping her make dinner.

“Take this soup and just dump it into the bowl and then mix milk in with it, ok?” Stacey handed a Campbell’s soup can to Lennon, who upended the can of solid soup into a green mixing bowl, then poured in milk, churning the ingredients together with a spoon. “Just you wait, Len, I’ll have you cooking in no time.”

Len smiled to herself, bringing her bowl over to Stacey, who was cooking chicken in a pan. “I can cook, sort of. I just don’t do it that often. And Hikari eats everything, so she doesn’t care if it comes out badly. Time for the veggies?”

“Yeah. There are bunch of them in the fridge. Just chop up whatever you want to use,” Stacey told her. “This is a new level of living together. We didn’t cook in college.”

“Unless you count Easy Mac as food,” Len replied, rubbing an eye behind her glasses.

“I still don’t know how you lived off of that.”

“I never understood your Fluff obsession,” Len answered, taking out carrots and bell peppers from the fridge and frozen peas and corn from the freezer.

“I haven’t had Fluff since college. God, listen to me. ‘Since college.’ Like a year ago, basically.” Stacey shook her head. Last week had marked a year since their graduation. “I don’t think I can eat it anymore,” Stacey said, taking the pan off the stove and dropping the cut, cooked chunks of chicken into a casserole dish. She thought of the marshmallow concoction with longing anyhow.

“So this is the script,” Stacey said later, after dinner, while the girls sat across from each other at the dining room table. She pushed a thick black binder toward Lennon with her manicured fingertips.

Len opened the binder and flipped through it randomly. Stacey watched the script move upside down and saw her loopy scrawls in the margins of the pages.

“Why are these shaded in?” Len asked, pointing to a page where Stacey had highlighted her character’s line in green.

“I did that for all my lines,” Stacey explained. “It’s one of those actory things. It’s to remind me what emotions to convey in those scenes.”

Len’s eyebrows raised a fraction of an inch. “Uh huh.”

“I don’t do it all the time because in a lot of things—especially plays—the colors would be all over each other. It’s one of those things I learned in college. Green is excited or jealous. Red is angry. Blue is horny.”

“That’s her entire spectrum of emotion?” Len said with a snicker.

“Yes!” Stacey saw the page Lennon had stopped on and told her, “Read that scene. Read that dialogue.”

Stacey saw Lennon put on her critical reader gaze. Stacey recognized that look from the way the bottom of Len’s left eye squinted upward as she read, flipping a page to finish the scene. “Ok. But…what purpose does that serve? Does it connect to anything else in the play?”

Len glanced up and biting her lip, slowly continued, “It’s kind of wordy for the sake of being wordy, almost. It’s fine on the page, I guess, but it doesn’t seem like it would read aloud well.”

“It’s awkward to read it aloud. It’s not very sophisticated, but he’s young,” Stacey sighed. “It’s only a workshop performance. And a lead.”

“Who wrote this?” Len flipped back to the cover page.

“Gerry Harris. He’s seventeen, sort of the local phenom. But…he’s in high school.”

“I can tell,” Lennon said with a chuckle. “Unless you went to the most dysfunctional, frat boy-laden college ever, you wouldn’t write this beyond that stage of life, would you?” She cut the script open. “He has potential. Give him a few years. I’ll give him points for submitting his work to a public forum.”

“It’s not easy to do that, is it?” Stacey asked. Her friend shook her head slowly with a rueful smile on her face.

“No, it’s not.” Lennon shook her head. “So, this scene: drunken casual sex resulting in a tattoo?”

Stacey groaned and laid her head down on her folded arms. They’d discussed that scene to death two days before. “You don’t even see the symbolic tattoo, first of all, because it’s in a questionable place and I’m not getting paid enough to take off my clothes.”

She heard Lennon laugh. “Well, it ain’t Equus.”

“Nope. You know what I remember about college? Studio class. Shin splints. Gay boys…”

“Gay boys,” Lennon repeated emphatically.

“Shows. Being on crew.” She paused, for comedic effect. “And gay boys.”

Lennon let out a giggle, which prompted Stacey to giggle until they were both laughing into the wooden table. Lennon gained control of herself, an intermittent laugh escaping her mouth every few seconds.

It was Stacey who caused them both to plunge back into uncontrollable laughter again.

The next morning, when Stacey woke up and made her way to the bathroom, she blindly reached for her toothbrush. As she stood with her back to the mirror, the toothpaste spreading over her teeth and gums, Stacey saw the chore list.

The imposed chore list.

Her old roommate had written it out and put it up, on the back of the bathroom door of all places. The paper was divided in two, with a list of chores that needed to be done with days when they’d each perform these tasks.

Stacey was all for equality when rooming with others and as an actress, she was very good at keeping to schedules, but there was something so oppressive about chore lists. She and Lennon had never kept a chore list through four years of college. Did the trashcans need to be emptied? Whoever noticed took the trash out. Was the bathroom looking dirty? Whichever one of them had time and cleaning supplies at hand took care of it. Did they run out of milk? They took turns buying it.

Stacey had never figured out whether she and Lennon were unusually easy-going when it came to living with others or whether it was meant to be and she wasn’t sure if it really mattered either way. Stacey had lived with three people who could be considered roommates since graduation and they’d all done that clearly defined line of chores and responsibilities for each person. Which was fine and expected, but she and Len had organically come together as roommates. It seemed so much like a business transaction when chore lists became involved.

Other than the room assignments that were given out before their freshmen year began, the girls hadn’t been forced together. Stacey wanted to do her best to convince Lennon to stay longer than two weeks. She was absolutely convinced that Len needed this sojourn to herself, in the same way that Stacey had wanted to jump into a job in a state she’d never been to before. They were only young once; this was their time to explore.

Stacey spit out the toothpaste and turned on the faucet, rinsing out her mouth and washing her face. When she was finished, she reached up, grabbed the chore list and tugged. The paper gave a satisfying rip as she tore it down.

Her cell phone had a text message when she returned to her room. Flipping the phone open with a finger, Stacey saw that it was from Nick, her current paramour. They were three months strong. In some part of her mind, Stacey could very well see herself with Nick for the rest of time. If she was being honest, they made the cutest couple of the latest crop of actors at the theatre. He was the handsome male lead, meant for dashing romantic roles and dark, tortured characters. She was the blonde ingénue with the soprano voice. It was fucking perfect.

And, thankfully, Nick was a talented actor. It was easier to date someone who was good at what he did. She couldn’t imagine dating a bad actor.

Do I get to meet her? I’m nervous, his message said.

Stacey rolled her eyes. Sure, she’d mentioned that Lennon was one of her closest friends, which meant in an unspoken way that Len held approval over Nick.

There’s nothing to be nervous about. Len’s a good judge of character, she texted back.

Chapter 4

*Before I post the actual chapter, I want to let you know that these chapters will be posted fast and furious now because, except for the very last chapter of the entire thing, it's finished! Also, this chapter introduces Stacey and Missouri to y'all.*

The flight from New York to Kansas City wasn’t very long. It was a little over an hour in the air all told, with no delays and no major moments of turbulence. She took a cab to the Amtrak station, where she would board a train due east, leaving her in a town called Sedalia. Stacey would pick her up there.

Lennon found a seat in the train, put her duffel bag on the seat beside her and stared out of the window, eager bespectacled eyes taking in all she saw. In the Northeast, she would’ve seen small towns pass with patches of the track gliding alongside Long Island Sound and through big cities like Boston and New York. Len dredged up half-remembered hamlets in Connecticut along the coast, the entire town consisting of a few blocks of badly maintained brick and wooden buildings and a dock and ferry. Not for the first time, she wondered how rural Landslide would be.

The train made few stops along the way. Open train stations with peaked roofs, identified by the town name swinging on a sign followed ramshackle farm buildings standing solitary in fields. There were empty, asphalt highways, leading away as far as the eye could see. She wondered where those roads lead.

The train whizzed by ancient, sunken-in graveyards, their headstones fallen over with age. Lennon had a theory that railroad tracks always passed by graveyards; it had been that way on the route from Boston to New York.

Her stop came, leaving her on a modern platform with a glimpse of a parking lot and a brick building. Turning left to right, Lennon found that she could see a water tower in the distance. Buildings lined the few streets she could see from her vantage point, neat and orderly, planned on a perfect grid. But the streets seemed deserted.

Well, this was certainly different.

“Len!” Stacey stood to her right waving both arms in the air like a cheerleader. Her sunglasses were perched precariously on her head. She was standing beside an old green Volvo, the only car in the station parking lot. Her crisp white shirt and little Daisy Duke denim shorts showed off a substantial amount of her milky-white skin and her extremely long, balletic legs.

The girls hugged tightly, hopping up and down in their excitement at being reunited. Stacey and Lennon usually went no more than four months without seeing each other and they kept in touch by email, phone calls and texts. This particular gap had been the longest they’d been separated since their college graduation. But the changes were minimal; they were at an age where appearances didn’t change drastically.

They were lucky enough to have an easy friendship. Like a book, it picked up where the story had been left off. Stacey was still tall and willowy, her blonde hair neatly pinned at the nape of her neck while Lennon remained short and pale, her dark hair askew and her eyes marking her to some as “exotic,” as if she were a delicacy like escargots.

Stacey held an arm out, presenting the Midwest to Len.

“Welcome to Missouri,” she said.

“Thanks,” Len said with a tremulous smile. “How much longer are you out here?” Len asked as they sat in the car, shutting the doors. Stacey started the ignition and gave a cursory glance behind her, backing out.

“A few more months, tops. Through the summer, for sure, and I can stay the rest of the year, if I want to,” Stacey shrugged. “I get paid well enough and my hours at the diner are wicked flexible.”

“Is that the current day job?” Len asked.

“Yeah. I waitress and work the counter at Esme’s Diner, so I just might stay through the end of the year and then look at my options.”

“Do you like it out here?”

“Yeah,” Stacey said, dragging the word out, sliding her sunglasses down to cover her eyes. “It’s not home. It took me a while to get used to how different it is from New England, but also, how it’s kind of similar. A small town is a small town.”

Stacey drove them through Sedalia, while Lennon stared out of the car window. Everything was in its place here; houses there, stores here, office buildings in the distance. But the buildings were squat and didn’t rise to the sky. In fact, Lennon could actually see how blue the sky was. There was nothing to hinder her from seeing it.

“I heard a tornado siren the other day and completely freaked out,” Stacey broke the silence.

Lennon laughed. “I remember when Jack and I were staying with our relatives near Chicago. One time, we were at this strip mall with our cousins and the sky turned gray all of a sudden.”

“That’s exactly what happened!”

“Then the siren started going off. Jack thought it was an air raid siren and screamed his head off. I was terrified. He was excited. My uncle was driving and the radio said that the storm was a few miles behind us. I don’t think there actually was a twister or at least it didn’t come down on anything, but Jack kept turning around and blocking the rearview mirror to see if there were fighter jets in the air.”

Stacey laughed. “Oh, your brother.”

“Utterly clueless, as usual,” Len replied. She settled back into the seat, feeling lighter than she had in months. This visit would be fun. She felt certain about that.

Stacey drove down an empty street with one hand, while she opened a creased paper, a map and directions from Mapquest with the other. She handed both to Lennon.

“You’re my navigator.”

“Of course I am,” Lennon said with a smile. “I’m the one who’s not directionally challenged.” Stacey’s eyes flitted toward her for a second, in a mock glare. Len could see them move behind the tinted lenses.

“I may be directionally challenged, but at least I can drive…oh, there you go, on ramp!” Stacey steered toward the sign and drove onto the interstate. “Anyway. Yeah. Tornadoes.”

“Every place has their crap, I guess. Tornadoes. Drought. Nor’easters.”

“Mom said the Northeast got buried this winter.”

“The entire subway system shut down in the city,” Len said. Stacey groaned. “It was a mess. In fact, calling it a mess is an understatement. It was fucking awful. I was stuck in a subway car between Lexington and Roosevelt Island for about forty minutes.”

“Holy shit!” Then Stacey smiled. “All the more reason for you to drive.” Len rolled her eyes. “Len, come on, if you’re going to be here for more than two weeks…it’s a necessity. You have your permit, right?”

“From another state. Is that valid?”

Stacey shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t think they’ll care. They can drive at fifteen here. Landslide is full of wide roads with nothing on them. No parked cars. No cabbies. No swarms of pedestrians and tourists…”

“Heaven,” Len sighed, leaning her head back against the seat. It was exactly as she’d expected, really: deep in the country; absolutely nothing around it for miles. The idea of that kind of isolation used to frighten her. Now it seemed appealing. “So what does Landslide have?”

“The theater,” Stacey began. “A few bars. The Black Kettle is the only one that really serves food. Esme’s Diner…but it’s close enough to count as Houstonia, I think. A Wal-Mart.”

“A Wal-Mart?” Len deadpanned.

“You haven’t lived until you’ve been in a Wal-Mart,” Stacey teased. “You can go back to New York and tell your friends, ‘I’ve been to Wal-Mart. Now I’m an American.’ Though I think we both know that Target rocks harder.”

Lennon let out a gut-blasting laugh.

It wasn’t until Stacey had gotten off the interstate onto a major thoroughfare, due northwest, that she brought up her latest boyfriend. Lennon smirked in response. Stacey always had a boyfriend. During junior year in college, after a vicious break-up, Stacey had estimated that she hadn’t been single since she was about fourteen and swore up and down not to be involved in another relationship anytime soon. She’d found another boyfriend within four months.

Somehow, Stacey managed to combine a talent for drawing men to her with her an innocence that earned their respect; the majority of her ex-boyfriends remained close friends. Lennon didn’t understand how Stacey managed to pull in guys at all, period. She marveled at how Stacey kept all of her romantic dreams alive after being through the drama of so many rocky relationships. Lennon hadn’t even been in anything resembling a romantic relationship and considered herself more cynical than any girl her age had a right to be.

That didn’t mean she wasn’t curious about her friend’s romantic escapades. She was more curious for not having been in a relationship, trying to glean anything about how that whole realm of life worked.

“So, the new guy?” Lennon asked.

“You don’t seem very surprised,” Stacey remarked.

“Am I supposed to be? Stace, you break up with one of ‘em and there’s another one in the picture, straight from the wings.”

Stacey chuckled under her breath and muttered, “It’s not quite like that. But anyway, he’s an actor with the troupe.”

“Wait a sec. I distinctly recall you saying ‘I will never date another actor because they’re wicked pretentious and act like babies.’” Len paused. “We have to get off this road in 2.5 miles. Gosh, do I have to learn how to think in miles?”

Stacey laughed. “How do you judge distance?”

“In blocks.”

“Hmm. Anyway, about the actor thing, a lot of them are babies. It comes with the territory. Nick’s been acting since he was twelve, but he didn’t train. He’s not as pretentious. He’s an amazing actor. He really throws himself into a role.”

“How long have you been together?”

“We made it official the end of February,” Stacey replied. She changed lanes, then glided into the next lane and drove down an off-ramp. Lennon noticed that Stacey signaled every time she made a move. “I really want you to meet him. He’s been good to me.”

“Well, good,” Len said, glancing out at the unchanging landscape. Trees and grass, indeed. “Where’s he from?”

“Syosset, New York.”

“Syosset?” Len pulled a face, with a sharp left downward turn of her lip. “Yikes.”

“What’s wrong with Syosset?”

“Nothing, I suppose,” Len said, sounding as if she meant the complete opposite. “Other than it being on Long Island. Does he have the accent?”

“Kind of,” Stacey replied. “You’re the New Yorker, so you tell me.” The car rounded a curve. The road was becoming narrower. “We’re almost there. Look.”

Lennon saw a green highway sign, simply lettered, that said Landslide town limits. The road curved to the right and around the bend, another sign, a bigger one, read Landslide, population 900. Len involuntarily winced. Her high school had had more people than this town.

“If you go down that road two miles, you’ll hit a park, a lake, and Esme’s Diner,” Stacey said, glancing to a road on Len’s side. “Couple of houses on there, too. If you go the other way on that road, to my left, you’ll get to the high school.”

“This is the main drag,” Stacey continued. “We’re approaching town.”

“Town” consisted of a few built-up blocks along a paved road. Set well away from the street on one side was a motel, post office, and a grocery store. Each had a parking lot. The other side of the road had an Episcopal church with a sunken-in churchyard that spread around the weathered structure in a semi-circle, like an opened paper fan.

Then there were tall trees; Len noticed a thin ribbon of a dirt road leading away from the main drag. Another block of buildings followed. A bar with a parking lot stood on Stacey’s left, across the street from a cleared field of grass. Len wondered if it was a park or a common or farmland. The field was large, fringed on the sides with dark, tall trees. She could see a blue, bulbous tower in the distance, sticking up from beyond the trees. If she squinted, she could make out that the word Landslide was painted on the side of the water tower—the tallest point for miles around.

The car turned off the main drag a few miles later, the steering wheel sliding through Stacey’s hands. “I’ll show you the theatre later,” she said. They were on a dirt road that snaked around in curves. A few houses, with enough space between them to contain at least four full-block apartment buildings, dotted the road. Another right led them onto a securely paved road, smaller and narrower.

Two identical buildings sat on the road, which ended just beyond the buildings in a dead end. Stacey pulled into a driveway and shifted the car into park.

Lennon saw that the buildings went further back than she could see from the street. Each building surrounded a yard of sorts—more like a courtyard—on three sides. Both buildings had a large glass front door and were about three stories tall, sided in a tan color that gleamed so new that Len wasn’t entirely sure if the paint had dried on them yet.

“It looks so suburban,” Len remarked, clipping the seatbelt and letting it slide back behind her.

“They were built last year. This was farmland. The family sold it to these developers, I hear. The farm got foreclosed on,” Stacey explained, taking the keys out of the ignition. “They don’t fit this place at all. P.S, I cleaned the apartment, however, it’s still kind of a mess.”

Len waved it away. She had vivid memories of stumbling around their dorm room, her tiny feet becoming tangled up in flowing yellow shirts, a purple leotard and balled-up white tank tops carpeting Stacey’s side of the room.

Those memories made her laugh.

ttp://maps.google.com/maps?client=safari&rls=en-us&q=Sedalia,+Missouri&oe=UTF-8&um=1&ie=UTF-8&split=0&gl=us&ei=XGWeSf3JMd-BtwfTwMGODQ&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&resnum=1&ct=image

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Chapter 3

Lennon took her first ballsy step in what she would forever consider a start to a new life and a new dimension of her.

She quit her job with two weeks’ notice. The two weeks’ notice in itself was Lennon’s accrued vacation time.

The night before Lennon had to clench down everything in order to remain civil with Etta, Stacey had sent Lennon an email filled with details about her theater troupe and their main stage theater in Landslide, Missouri. Lennon had been unable to stop laughing maniacally at her computer screen, from the relief pouring through her body at finally quitting her awful job. But mostly, she was laughing at the name of the town.

“The town’s called Landslide?” Lennon asked Stacey incredulously.

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Stacey sighed. “For the record, there hasn’t been a landslide here ever. It’s basically pretty flat. But we’re sort of in between Columbia and KC.”

“Okay.” Len sighed. “Missouri, Stace?”

“Don’t say it like that. I was offered a job in Montana, too, you know, where it’s cold. I know you’re from New York, you have to maintain a snobby attitude toward the rest of the country, but it’s not so bad here. It’s only about a hundred miles to KC, so you can get your city fix.” Stacey paused. “Oh, wait. Did you get your license yet?”

“Uh, no.” Lennon fully intended to be a thirty-five-year-old New Yorker without a driver’s license. She’d tried to drive. Really, she had, but it was hard to distinguish driving from vehicular assault in Queens. Driving was one of those things she hadn’t quite done yet.

“Well, there you go! Something for us to do when you’re out here. You couldn’t possibly hit anything. It’s like my town in New Hampshire…”

“Trees?”

“Mostly, yeah. Grass. The occasional wildlife.”

“Wildlife?” Lennon asked anxiously.

“Nothing that can bodily consume you, I swear. It’ll be cool. We’ll hang out for two weeks and you can get a breather or you can stay longer and find a job. Get out of New York for awhile…”

“Discover America,” Len laughed. “Last time I was in the Midwest, I was fifteen and Jack and I were sent to visit some family…”

“I don’t think the heartland has changed very much,” Stacey remarked. “It doesn’t have that frenetic pace to it. People in Landslide have lived here for generations. It’s rural. I think the closest Landslide has seen to an influx is a trickle from KC now and then.”

“And you theater people.”

“They love us here. They find us so entertaining.”

“Do you burst into song on the street?”

“We do.”

Lennon laughed. “Well, that’s why. They think you’re fucking nuts.”
-------------------------------------------
Mom and Dad seemed to accept Lennon flying out to the Midwest, in all apparent spontaneity, which surprised her. Mom was puzzled by it, but Dad actually seemed pleased by it. The McKinneys accepted that their eldest daughter was wired differently from their younger children. Jack had been an exceptionally hyper child who grew into an athletic, if absent-minded teenager. Hikari mirrored him by being high-spirited and in constant motion. Lennon had been a loud baby who turned into an eerily calm but tightly wound adult.

But while her family accepted her upcoming two week vacation, her friends were taken aback of her sudden idea. Lennon kept the possibility of staying longer to herself.

“You’re going on vacation to Missouri?” Madeline asked when Lennon told her. “Well, all righty then.”

“It’s not exactly Cancun, but that’s not the purpose of this vacation.”

“Oh, I know,” Madeline responded. “I want you to be happy, Len. That’s all. And if Missouri makes you happy, then you should go.”

When Lennon reached Alexandra, Alex merely said, “I’m glad you’ll get to see Stacey. Gosh, I wish I could take a break. I’m not sure about this whole office work thing.”

“It’s surprisingly draining.”

“Oh, my God, yeah! And I’m a temp and I don’t know what I’m doing half the time. Ah!” Alex paused. “Anyway, have fun out there. I’ll see you when you get back.”

“Please come back in one piece,” Nadine begged. “Have a good vacation.” After a few beats of silence, she added, “Missouri?”

The morning of Lennon’s flight, she heard her door creak open, then soft footsteps descend toward her bed. The sheets rustled and she felt the mattress dip slightly under Hikari’s added weight. Lennon rolled onto her side and faced her sister. Hikari stared back at her with limpid brown eyes and stretched an arm out to encircle her around the waist.

“You’re going to sleep here while I’m gone, aren’t you?” Len asked.

“Yeah.”

“You know, it’s a sin to covet thy older sister’s bed.”

Hikari rolled her eyes.

“All right,” Len replied, cuddling her little sister. “You be a good girl while I’m not here, okay? Don’t give Jack a hard time, ne?”

“Only if he doesn’t give me a hard time.”

Lennon pursed her lips, stifling a laugh.

“Why are you leaving?” Hikari asked.

“I, um,” Len bit her lip. How to explain to a twelve-year-old? “You know, sometimes, it’s good to get out of your world and jump into someone else’s. Walk in someone else’s shoes for a bit. It gives you perspective.” Hikari’s eyelids drooped. Len used a phrase that used to drive her crazy when she was twelve: “You’ll understand when you’re older.”

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Chapter 2, Part Dos

“Maybe you’re being too existential about this,” Etta said, wringing her hands over the table in a way that made Lennon’s skin crawl. “You belong here, Len, with us.”

Us?” Len repeated, raising an eyebrow. “Who is this ‘us’?” She reached into her purse for her wallet, as the two sat, plates pushed toward a meeting in the middle. They’d requested the check a few moments ago. Lennon felt her heart beat audibly and in her mind, the urge to bolt out of Etta’s presence made itself loud and clear. Lennon repressed it. She had amazing self-control that way. If only adults could storm out of situations they didn’t like without seeming impolite…

“Me…” Etta said. “The gang, of course, silly.”

"Mmm.”

“I mean, really. You’re not thinking of moving to Europe the way you wanted to in high school, are you? Because you haven’t done that, after all.”

“Thanks for reminding me of the things I haven’t done yet,” Lennon said shortly. Oh, thank goodness, the check. Lennon grabbed for it, reading off the total amount, adding in the tip.

“Honestly, Lennon. What would make you happy?” Etta asked. She paused for a moment and chirped out, “You should get a boyfriend.”

“Thanks for the suggestion,” Len answered in a lethally calm tone. It would’ve signaled that Lennon’s little seen, but often profoundly felt temper was rising. Mady and Stacey would’ve recognized it, not because Len had ever directed it at them, but because they’d seen it directed toward other people. Real fucking original there, Ett.

“Is there anything I can do?” Etta continued.

“It’s thirty-four dollars.”

“With tip?”

“Yeah,” Len replied, checking the numbers on her cell phone. She took out the corresponding currency and left it on the top of the check. “I might go visit Stace for a little bit.”

“Oh, in Boston?”

“No. In Missouri.”

“Missouri?” Etta blinked, a blank expression crossing her face. Her outstretched hand, ham fisted around a wad of money, stilled. Len stifled a laugh. New Yorkers were really very predictable. There was a famous New Yorker map of Manhattan from Ninth Avenue on through to the other side of the world. Only New York had buildings and landmarks; every other place was two-dimensional. Some New Yorkers took pride in that New York-centric view of life, never wanting to leave, never understanding why anyone would ever want to leave.

It really was a self-centered kind of place.

“Yup,” Lennon replied. “You know, St. Louis. Kansas City. Jesse James.”

“What’s she doing there?” Etta asked baldly.

“Working for that Equity card,” Len replied, pushing back her chair. “I have to go.”

Monday, February 16, 2009

Chapter 2, Part One

*This one's 10 pages on Word, so it's being split into a few parts*

Len hustled out of the building at her lunch break, down to the corner to buy a burrito and a soda. Her office was a few blocks south of Bryant Park and she sat on the open grass there, with what seemed like thousands of other people, all dressed in office attire.

There were too many goddamn people in this city. There was no breathing room. Other people’s talking interrupted her thoughts. And despite the number of people, here she was, alone in the crowd once again.

Len pulled out her phone and scrolled through her contacts list. Alexandra was temping until she found a more permanent job and temping kept her working hours unpredictable. Len and Etta had drifted apart, Etta a ghostly presence at birthday parties, glassy-eyed and so squirmy that one time, Lennon had reached out, held her shoulders and forced her to stay still for just a second.

Madeline, her best friend, would either be working or sleeping, since she was chipping away on her Ph.D and was worked to the bone. Nadine unhappily held a job down the block from Bryant Park and they met for lunch at least once a week, but not today.

Stacey. Stacey Meissner, Lennon’s college roommate, was an actress in regional theater in… where the hell was it, one of those states in the middle of the country, some state in fly-over land…Missouri, that’s right! She’d gone there right after the New Year. Len bit into her food and puffed her nostrils out, the way she did when she was less than impressed.

Hey, how’s Missouri? She texted Stacey then laid the phone down, grabbing onto the burrito with two hands. Fuck, she was hungry and the heat of the sun felt incredible on her sore muscles, even if her skin would burn into a crisp because of it. Her phone trembled repeatedly on the grass. Len snatched it up.

“Hello?”

“Lenny! It’s been forever!” Stacey said.

Len laughed. “Forever. Two weeks. Same thing.”

“Well, it feels like forever. We’re running this play through now and oh, my God, it’s torture. It goes up next month! I need to get you out here to polish this script,” Stacey said.

Lennon laughed. “What’s it about?”

“It’s a play about college-age people, which is why I got cast and I’m glad to not be working crew on this one, but honestly. We certainly didn’t have this kind of college experience.”

Lennon furrowed her brow, chewing her food. “You mean, like, rampant drunkenness and frats and sororities?”

“Every stereotype you can think of. Yeah. And the character I’m playing is the typical—you’d say archetypal ‘cause you’re a smarty pants—blonde, ditzy girl.” Lennon could see Stacey’s hazel eyes rolling. Stacey was the archetypal all-American girl, tall and thin with long legs and honey-gold hair. It didn’t particularly surprise Len that she’d been cast as that type.

“Is the storyline halfway decent?” Len asked.

“Kind of. There’s not much depth to it. It’s a workshop performance,” Stacey said. “Aren’t you at work?”

“Lunch hour,” Len answered laconically. “It’s so freaking nice out today. The sun is up. The sky is blue. Guess I’m just in a bad mood.”

“Why are you in a bad mood? You don’t have class now, right?”

“No. I’m taking the summer off. I finish in December.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know…I just…” It felt trivial to mention being unsteady on the subway this morning, since it certainly wasn’t the first time Lennon had lost her grip while the train ran at full speed. It wouldn’t be the last, either. “I don’t feel right.”

“Maybe you’re bored,” Stacey said. “You do get bored easily, Len.”

“I know.”

“Shake it up, then. Go see your friends and go on one of your adventures.”

“Oh, yes,” Len said sarcastically, thinking of the friends entered into her cellular phone. “The ones I never see, you mean? We’re all really busy. It’s almost like we’ve completely disconnected from each other.”

“Are you seeing anyone?”

“Am I ever?” Len answered, roughly chewing off a bite of her burrito.

“New York has eight million people. That’s approximately four million guys, Lennon.”

“And they’re married, homeless, self-absorbed, gay, too rich to care, evil, unemployed, priests, or they’re just not interested,” Lennon listed. “More importantly, I’m not interested in them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy walking on the sidewalk and thought, ‘I’d like to get to know him a little better.’”

Stacey laughed. “Yes, you have. I went to college with you, remember? You did your fair sharing of ogling on the Common.”

“Ogling is ogling. Actual interest in a guy, a real guy who is present in my life who I can see myself being with, has never happened,” Lennon replied. “I never thought I’d say this, but why did I come back here? I should’ve stayed in Boston, Red Sox fans or not.”

“New York’s not for everyone,” Stacey, who hailed from New Hampshire, said. “Here’s my perspective. It’s noisy and exciting. You have amazing museums and theater. It’s the center of the universe for a theater actor, but…it’s scary there. Kind of.” She paused.

“It’s big. It’s dirty. It’s claustrophobic,” Lennon listed. “I feel so constricted and I’m in fucking New York. This isn’t supposed to happen.”

“Maybe you don’t necessarily belong there. Not right now.”

“How can you not belong in the place you’re from?” Lennon asked.

“I don’t feel like I belong in Hampshire anymore. It’s familiar. I’ll always love it there. Maybe I’ll move back someday, but for now? It’s not the place for me. I don’t think I’d be happy there.”

“Yeah…” Lennon sighed. “Shit! I have to go back to work!”

The subway ride home was almost as bad as the subway ride coming into the city. Lennon shut her eyes tightly and fervently wished with all her might that she were somewhere else, in another life. Being another person wouldn’t be so terrible right now. At least, inhabiting a successful, happy, personable person had to be better than this.

Her eyelids felt heavy, tired and her eyes felt strained from staring at a computer screen the whole day in that almost too well lit office. Her temples ached and she knew that a migraine would be coming on soon. Her eyelids drooped shut and all she felt was the swaying and rollicking train and her head tightening.

There were no great tragedies in her life, no played out dramas and no forbidden romances. Lennon was alternately thankful for that and struck by the ordinariness of her life. Her imagination had always gotten the better of her and with little to feed itself on in real life it naturally turned to other roads. When she was younger, Lennon hadn’t known that the negative, pulsing adolescent feelings she felt weren’t really…real. She felt them, for sure, strongly sometimes, but they weren’t as be-all and end-all as she’d thought at the time.

This—whatever this was—was completely different from those times.

I don’t belong here. Len opened her eyes as the train pulled into a stop and counted the remaining stops absently. Five stops and then home. She watched people getting on and off, milling around the platform and weaving through the crowd to get to the other side, to the local train that made all stops. Len never took the local train. Having it stop every other minute drove her crazy.

Her chest clenched and she turned her head away.

I have to get out of here.

When Lennon unlocked the front door to her house, she heard the TV blaring. Len identified the noise as the Disney Channel. She walked into the living room, dropping her bag and her blazer on the loveseat and found little Hikari clutching the remote to her chest, eyebrows drawn together in annoyance at Jack. Jack was the tallest of the three McKinney siblings, towering over Lennon’s five-foot tall frame by two heads. He glared down at his little sister, pale, skinny arms crossed on his increasingly thickening chest. It boggled Lennon’s mind that Jack was nineteen and technically an adult. She still thought of him as her loving but slightly idiotic kid brother, the one who used to spend hours on his Playstation making avatars out of the family on some wrestling video game.

Jack was Irish-pale, like Lennon, but he’d also inherited lighter eyes, somewhere in the realm of hazel rather than dark brown, and his hair had turned out to be chestnut brown.

“What is it with you two?” Lennon asked, sitting down, relieved to be pulling off her heels. She sighed as she wiggled her toes.

“I want to watch ESPN. She won’t give me the remote.”

“I want to watch Hannah Montana!” Hikari exclaimed.

“It repeats, Hikari. You can watch it later.” Jack held out his hand.

“No! I want to watch it now!”

Lennon groaned. “Cut it out! You,” she pointed to her brother. “Don’t you feel slightly ridiculous arguing with your twelve-year-old sister over the remote? You have a TV in your pigsty, if you can find it.”

“Doesn’t have cable,” Jack said. “Come on, Kari. I’ll DVR it for you.” He wiggled his fingers in a show of impatient patience.

“Why can’t you DVR your show and let me watch mine?”

“Hikari, don’t whine,” Len scolded. She rubbed the back of her neck, which was clenched. “Where’s Mom?”

“She went shopping,” Jack replied. “There are too many women in this house.” He plopped down on the far end of the couch. “How was work?”

“Awful, as usual,” Len deadpanned, a confused expression crossing her face as she watched Miley Cyrus don a blonde wig on the television.

“Mom gave me the ‘get a job’ speech again.”

“Maybe she’s right,” Lennon said.

“But you hate your job,” Jack pointed out. “You’re miserable all the time.”

“Gee, thanks, Jack.” Len pointed to the TV, confused. “What the hell? Did something funny just happen?” She watched Hikari laugh uproariously from where she sat on the floor, about four inches in front of the television. Len winced, two fingertips massaging her temple.

“Only if you’re twelve,” Jack said. He moved and dragged Hikari back from the screen. “That’s how Lennon ended up with glasses, Kari.”

That night, Lennon felt a desperation building up inside of her. It caused her to raise her head and turn her pillow, squashing it one moment before plumping it up the next. Her legs kicked at and then burrowed under her sheets.

She felt the same question rolling in her mind. Where do I belong? If not here, then where?
-----------------------------------------
Lennon spent three consecutive nights with her restless uncertainty, causing her to wake in the darkest portions of the night and not be able to return to sleep. Her eyes were dull, marred by blue half-circles underneath. While she was tired and sedentary by day, she was constantly moving when she should’ve been sleeping.

On the fourth night, Lennon surrendered to her sleeplessness and lay back against her pillows. Her heavy eyelids, desperate for sleep, remained open, staring up at the white ceiling as the streetlights danced across it. Tree limbs outside swung back and forth, creating eerie patterns on ceilings and walls. When Hikari was younger, she was convinced that the trees outside her window were ghosts or something even more sinister, such as burglars and murderers. When Hikari was scared and their parents turned her away, back into her own room, she’d climb into bed with her older sister.

Lennon hadn’t liked sleeping on her own, with tree branches that could suddenly resemble knives or clubs or bony, long-fingered hands, when she was little either. So she let Hikari cuddle up beside her during those times, two sisters with the same level of imagination.

To my detriment, Len thought.

She rolled over, at least seeking a comfortable physical position. There was no point in reading herself to sleep, since reading usually kept her awake later if she became caught up in the story. Listening to music might do the trick, but she felt too lazy to find her iPod. Lennon closed her dry, desperate eyes.

There was one beacon of light that emerged that night and it appeared in her mind. Lennon wasn’t truly, deeply asleep, for she heard noises: the house settling down, distant sounds of traffic and sirens, a neighbor’s dog barking. But she’d succumbed to sleep enough to let her mind wander freely, completely devoid of any conscious control.

In the morning, she’d remember that it was quite a vivid dream or fantasy, whatever it was. As stiff and unrested as she felt, her mind felt languid. There’d been an unfamiliar bedroom, smaller than hers now, but the bed had been bigger and covered in bright red sheets. The room had white walls.

There was a man. He’d been faceless, with no distinguishing characteristics except brownish hair that felt soft to her fingers. He had a soothing voice and strong shoulders and arms that engulfed her and kept her safe.

Lennon rubbed her legs together, feeling expanses of what she knew to be soft, pale skin. She smirked to herself. Dream Guy had been talented, to say the least, and her heart was still beating a fraction more quickly than normal for resting position.
Beneath her thin tank top, Lennon stroked the soft, rounded pudge of her belly. On occasion, Mom poked her in the tummy and teased her, or at least her version of teasing, telling Len to exercise more. She’d been doing that since Len had been in her late teens and fat had finally settled around her belly and hips, giving her a more adult appearance. Len learned to ignore the comments, but that didn’t mean she didn’t hear them.

Her breasts jutted out of the top. They weren’t particularly large, but neither were they completely flat and she carried them high on her chest, perky and dense. For a woman her age, she had remarkably few hang-ups about her body, except for its general size. Someone—had it been in college?—had once asked, “If you could have anything done to your body, what would it be?”

“Another three inches,” had been her reply. “Up here,” she’d added, pointing upwards from the top of her head.

Dream Lennon was taller than real Lennon. Dream Lennon strutted naked in front of the faceless guy with no qualms. Dream Lennon had been fearless and exhilarated in their dream activities. She took charge. She’d been on top, to the burn of the admiring gaze of the faceless man.

Real Lennon buried her face in her pillow and wished for the dream to return.
------------------------------
Whenever Lennon had a dream that bothered her in the slightest, her best friend Madeline was the one she turned to for help interpreting it. In their adolescence, the interpretations had been conjecture. But with Mady well on her way to earning a high degree in psychiatry and having actually taken a course called Dream Interpretation in college, Lennon trusted her to help unravel what her mind was telling her. Mady would explain what various symbols, colors and events might mean. Lennon put the narrative together with her help, extracting the meaning.

“It’s not about men,” Madeline said, voice coming over the tinny cell phone. “He’s faceless, you said, so he could be anybody. It’s not about sex either.” Lennon groaned. “Even though he’s faceless, Dream Lennon is obviously comfortable and confident around Faceless Man.”

“I’d say so,” Len said.

“Lennon, you know what I’m going to say,” Madeline said. “You had dreams like this in college. You know what it is.”

“I know,” Len said softly. “I was hoping for something…different this time.”

“The subconscious will show you things you’re worrying about or need to work on,” Mady replied.

“Well, tell my subconscious that it’s duly noted, ok?” Len replied tartly.