August hit Missouri hotly. It was around that time that Stacey and Nick broke up.
The break up was as sudden as the stifling heat wave that swept over the middle of Missouri. Lennon had finally fallen asleep one night at around three in the morning, after a full four hours of non-stop typing. Not only had her passion for writing re-emerged, but Lennon considered Gabriel’s pointed observations to be a challenge. He’d performed a few more times at the Black Kettle and had a few gigs in the past few weeks in Sedalia and Warrensburg. If he could do his thing, then she could certainly do hers.
Around four-thirty, Lennon woke up. At first, unable to identify the noises she heard, Len lay in bed in a somnambulant state. Then the door to Stacey’s room slammed against the wall. Len jumped, fingers curling into her sheets like claws. Then she heard vicious whispering—the kind that signaled something wrong. It was almost like stage whispering, sharp and barely suppressed.
She heard their voices as they were raised a little more. “…Why would you even yell at me like that? I love you and you say you love me, but you sure don’t act like it…” “Well, what the hell do you want me to do, Stacey?” “It’s not about what I want you to do!”
When Lennon emerged out of her bedroom several hours later, she found Stacey sitting on the couch, staring blankly into space. Lennon enveloped her friend in a hug from behind.
“He stormed out.” Her voice was flat and hoarse.
“You’ve fought before.”
“I think this might be it. I can’t do this anymore.” Stacey leaned her head back against Len. Her eyes were puffy and red. “He’s so…frustrating.”
“Oh, honey. Do you want me to put on angry girl music?”
“Yes,” Stacey said with a tremulous half-smile. “The best angry girl you have on your iPod.”
Walking into the Black Kettle, Lennon shoved her heavy messenger bag through the door, wondering if her shoulder would survive from carrying the weight. It was afternoon. Only two tables were filled with customers.
Gabriel had his head down at the bar, undoubtedly reading. Lennon marched up to him, pulled out a heavy stack of papers from her bag and slammed them onto the wood. They made a satisfying thump. He glanced up at her, then at the papers.
“Um…?” He said. “Lucy, what’s that?”
“A hundred pages of story. With an ending.” She climbed up onto a barstool, leaning her elbows on the bar. Her face had a satisfied smirk across it.
“No fucking way,” he said, closing the book he’d been reading. “A hundred pages?” She nodded. He smiled at her, blue eyes sparkling. “And it’s finished?”
“It’s a revision and extension. I wrote this story when I was about fifteen and never figured out how to finish it.”
“Can I read it?”
She gestured to the pile of papers. “Be my guest.”
He took the manuscript off the bar and sauntered away, zipping it into his backpack before returning. They did their habitual silent staring for a few seconds. If it had been anyone else, she would’ve balked. But with Gabriel, she didn’t. He was easy on the eyes and he only ever looked at her with curiosity mixed with amusement.
She looked back, just as directly and with ease. In New York, eye contact could be considered aggressive. Lennon laughed inwardly at the thought.
“What’s so funny?” He asked.
“This staring thing we seem to have developed.” Was he seriously blushing? Lennon thought that was completely adorable. His eyes drifted away from hers.
“I like looking at you,” he said simply. “And since you finished your story, I’m giving you a drink. On the house.”
Lennon grinned. “You know what they say. Writers love alcohol.”
He laughed. “The true alcoholics don’t start slurring when they’ve only had two drinks, Len.” He pulled out a shot glass and then turned to consider the wall of alcohol behind him. His hand reached for whiskey and he poured it midway into the glass, placing it down in front of her.
“Black Bush,” he said, indicating the whiskey’s brand.
“Made by God,” Lennon replied, quoting her father and grandfather.
Gabriel cracked up. “Jesus. You are Irish. Drink up, McKinney.”
“Is there a reason you’re plying me with straight alcohol?” She asked.
“I have no ulterior motives. Drink up. I dare you.”
Lennon wondered why he was able to give her a swift kick in the ass after only knowing her for two months or so; why did his pronouncements and dares make her take action?
She quit thinking and took the glass in hand, keeping her wrist stiff. She opened her mouth and swallowed the whiskey in one smooth gulp. It burned her throat; her gag reflex worked for a moment before relaxing as the whiskey passed. Lennon placed the shot glass back on the bar with a smug expression on her face, she was sure.
“Nice,” Gabriel complimented her. “I lied. I did have an ulterior motive.”
Gabriel shrugged one shoulder. Lennon felt the ache in hers when he did that. He turned away, fingers tapping on the closed front cover of his book.
“You can shoot whiskey,” he finally said.
“You’re full of surprises, you know that?”