*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.”
“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.
“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…”
“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?”
“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.”