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.”
“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?”
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.”
“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.”