Three days later, when Lennon was working, Gabriel strode into the theatre’s office. She glanced up from her desk, where she was on the phone, at the sound of his footsteps. Covering the phone’s mouthpiece with a hand, she said, “Hi. What’s up?”
“I finished reading your story,” he said, taking a seat. “You look busy.”
“I’m on hold,” she replied. “Nice elevator music playing. It’d be better if it was the Beatles or the Ramones or you or something.”
“So you finished it? Questions, comments, complaints?”
Gabriel bit his lip. “Is Mark really the guy she should be with?”
“He came out of the blue,” Len answered. “I thought it might be a good harkening back to Amanda’s struggling performer days. Did it feel too…rebound to you?”
“A little. But it’s not really about the relationship. I liked Jake, though. Felt sorry for him.”
“So did my best friend,” Len remarked.
Gabriel smiled, briefly. “The thing is…I sort of feel like Amanda wanted stability. And Jake’s steady. But Mark? Eh.” He stopped. “I like Amanda, too. She’s got issues, but she progresses.” He reached into his backpack and pulled out her manuscript. “I scrawled on it a little bit.”
“You did?” She exclaimed. “Seriously?”
He drew his eyebrows together. “It’s not a critique or anything. Just a few questions and comments, I guess.”
“Thank you,” she said, mustering up every ounce of sincerity she had, which seemed to grow the longer she stayed in Landslide. “Just a little bit of reaction goes a long way and I’ve exhausted most of my reviewers.”
“Who are they?” He asked, standing before her.
“My friends. A lot of them had to read half-formed ideas and crappy execution along the way. I was never that girl who liked to show off her writing—”
Gabriel fixed her with a look. “Lennon.”
“Yes, I know, my appalling lack of self-esteem. I’m working on it. I gave this to you, didn’t I?”
He leaned down, caressed her forehead with his lips. He returned to the chair, dragging it a little closer to her desk. “So what would your friends do?”
“Well, the generic ‘it’s good.’ A lot of them stayed at that level. I used to tell them, ‘If I’m going to be a serious writer, then I need a little more than that. You guys read. Give me suggestions.’”
“I guess music’s a little easier. You play it. They either sing along and clap or they sit there with no expression on their faces.”
“When have you ever played for an expressionless audience, Rock Star?”
The corner of his lips quirked up in amusement. “Oh, I could tell you nightmare audience stories, but I’ll save them.”
“You know how when you read, you imagine the characters, the setting. You analyze the situation, what the message is, the way the words resonate. The emotional impact of the sum of the parts.” She shrugged up her free shoulder. “It’s personal. It’s between you and the book. I can’t have that kind of reading experience with my own stuff, so maybe I want to know what my selective readers got out of the story? It’s not really possible.”
“It might be,” he said quickly.
“They all know I write. It’s all I can do, really. So, sometimes, when they don’t say anything about it or they tell me they read it and I know they didn’t, it kind of hurts a little. You know?”
“Once again, the immediacy of music,” Gabriel replied. “How did this story come about?”
“Well, I had to read The Outsiders in middle school and…Oh! Hello? Hi, may I speak to James Green, please? This is Lennon McKinney from the Tallis Regional Theatre. Sure, I’ll hold.” With an elaborate roll of the eyes, which made Gabriel chuckle, Lennon listened as classical strains pumped through the receiver again. “Anyway. Yeah. So I read that and that’s where the idea of a town run by gangs came from. And maybe too much Godfather. My brother’s obsessed by that movie.”
“Are you going to revise it again?”
“I don’t know,” she replied. “It’s not my ideal piece of writing. It’s not what I aspire to be as a writer, but it’s a start. Least I finished something. It’ll make it easier next time around.”
“That, Lucy, sounds remarkably like realistic confidence.” He smiled at her, face beaming. “Hey, Len, what are you doing this weekend?”
“I’ll probably still be on hold.”
“Well, if you ever get off hold, I have a gig in Columbia on Saturday, opening up for a buddy. And Gerry and Mary and Jimmy—have you met him? He’s the new drama teacher at the high school.” She shook her head. “Well, yeah, him and I used to play basketball together. Except he whooped my ass.”
Lennon laughed. Gabriel narrowed his eyes in a mock-glare before bursting into full-bellied laughter.
“Anyway,” he continued. “We’re going to head down there Saturday morning. Why don’t you and Stacey come along?”
The Tallis usually held separate staff meetings for casts and staffers, but that day, Bob had scheduled everyone to meet in the auditorium. Lennon slid into a seat beside Stacey and held a legal pad in her lap. Stacey kept glancing around, saying under her breath how much she didn’t want to run into Nick.
“Feel like going to CoMo this weekend?” Len asked to distract her.
“What’s in CoMo? And since when do you call it ‘CoMo’?”
“Gabriel has a show and a group of people are going. Would you like to come?”
“Maybe. Len, who’s that guy over there?”
“Who?” Len glanced to her left. She recognized everyone on that side.
“Up front. The tall guy.” Stacey discreetly pointed a finger to a very tall man standing, talking to Bob in front of the stage, which was bare and only had a ring of fold-up chairs on it.
The guy struck Lennon mostly because of his height, well over six feet tall. Basketball player size, in her estimation. He had a mop of curly brown hair on his head and a day’s worth of beard on his jaw and cheeks.
Lennon felt amused as she observed Stacey’s glances toward the guy. Nick was sitting on the other side of the auditorium, glowering into space. Nick was relatively slimly built, in a slightly effeminate way that leant itself well to acting. He could be anybody that way. He was certainly no basketball star.
Bob clapped his hands together and projected his voice, saying, “All right, y’all.” The room quieted down, slowly but surely. “I called this meeting to go over the schedule for later this month and the fall season. We’re having a lot of people leaving us at the end of the month, actors, crew and staff. You’ve been phenomenal! And I’d like to introduce you guys to a man who will soon become a familiar face around here. This is Jimmy Larkin; he used to act here every year in high school and now he’s a drama teacher at that school…”
“Oh, that’s Gabriel’s friend,” Len whispered to Stacey.
“Really?” Stacey said back. “Gabriel has handsome friends.”
“What’s with Stacey?” Gabriel whispered into Lennon’s ear, inadvertently blowing hot air into the whorls. Len leaned away from him, ostensibly to get a better view of Stacey leaning forward to talk to Jimmy Larkin, who was driving Gabriel’s mother’s minivan to Columbia. There were six people in the van, two guitars and one amplifier.
Lennon relaxed back into the seat and whispered back, “She’s just being friendly.”
“Did Nick leave yet?”
“No, not yet. Don’t bring him up if you want to survive today. Just because she’s being nice to Jim doesn’t mean she’s let all men off the hook yet.”
“I think I finally let all women off the hook.”
“Good for you,” Len chuckled. She said, slightly confused, “I didn’t know you had a grudge against women.”
He shrugged. “Only a small one and only against one particular woman.” His head leaned in the direction of her ear again and he murmured, “I’m over it. It’s time to move on.”
“At least you know that it’s time,” Len replied.
They made eye contact. Two weeks; that was all she had left in Landslide and she felt that time keenly now. His eyes were relentless. She held his gaze, studied the curve of his eyebrows, his thick eyelashes, but especially the warmth behind the coolness of his irises. Len heard a quick snap and broke away from Gabriel’s amazingly blue eyes to see Stacey holding up her phone, smiling.
“That,” she said, “is a priceless picture.”