The August show, being the largest production of the year, required the longest preparation time. The musical had been chosen nearly a year ago, the script, music and rights to perform it attained right after the theatre decided to go ahead with it. The sets had been drawn up nine months ago. Costumes had already been designed. They only waited for actors to fit into them.
Lennon was forced to spend the entire afternoon of July 1st photocopying the script for each actor, the director, the producers, and everyone of any significance on the crew. One of these copies would be Stacey’s.
She was exhausted. Lennon never wanted to see a copy machine ever again. Her back hurt from standing on the hard concrete floor. Of all the renovating that had taken place to turn a barn into a functioning regional theater, the inhospitable floors hadn’t been pulled up. Somewhere in the middle of her third complete script copy, the machine broke down. Lennon kicked it back to life. Her feet ached. She had a headache, right above her eyelids that pounded and wouldn’t go away.
After work, instead of heading home, she pulled off her sneakers and walked up the slight incline behind the theater’s parking lot. It had become her spot to unwind after work, to wait for Stacey or Nick or someone else to finish up for the day and drive her to the apartment or wait for Stacey to finish so she could make Lennon drive them home. Len felt her cell phone vibrate in her pocket and answered.
“Yeah, I just got off work.” Len sat down heavily on the ground and wiggled her bare, aching toes in the grass. “What’s up?”
“Nothing. Jack got a job!”
“Oh, he did?”
“He’s working in Daddy’s office, filing. It sounds boring.”
“It does.” From here, she could see the back of the Tallis Theatre, the few cars still in the parking lot and The Paved Road, which snaked back into town.
“What else is going on?” Len asked.
“Nothing. It’s boring here.”
The sky ahead was gray; very gray, she noticed, trying to remember if the weatherman had mentioned anything about rain today. A thunderstorm had struck them yesterday, turning dirt roads into impassable muck, but today was supposed to be bright and airy, if a bit hot. Thick, green treetops swayed. The tallest structure was the town water tower. Even sitting on a rather stumpy hill, Lennon could see for a few miles outward. In New York, this would’ve afforded her a view of maybe a few blocks. That depended on where in the city and how tall the buildings were.
“It’s only boring because you and your friends won’t get off your butts to do something,” Len replied. “You’re in New York. You have tons of things to explore right there.”
She turned to her left and started when she saw Gabriel Harris lying in the grass a few yards away, frowning as he paged through a marble notebook. She smiled to herself, even as Hikari whined about Mom and Dad not letting her go into the city on her own yet. Despite the heat, which was dying down now that it was evening, Gabriel was clad in black jeans and a gray T-shirt. With his fashion sense, he would’ve fit in perfectly in New York.
“So?” Len answered her sister, tugging down on her own black top. “Go to Forest Hills. Take a walk. Bug Jack to bring you to the city.”
“Hmm,” Hikari said, low in her throat. “I don’t know why you couldn’t ‘find yourself’ here, Lennon.”
“I’ll explain when you’re old like me, okay, Kari?” Lennon replied, not feeling irritated in the least. It amazed her, perhaps a minor miracle of this desolate town, that she was no longer perpetually irritated merely by life.
Later, after Hikari and Lennon hung up, Gabriel told Lennon that he recognized the tone of her voice as “the slightly patronizing but well-meaning tone of an older sibling,” which made her laugh and then scoot over to sit closer to him.
“Hikari misses me, but she loves sleeping in my bed,” Lennon told him. “And she and Jack fight a lot. She’s twelve. He’s nineteen. They’re at completely different stages of life.” The gray clouds turned dark and they seemed to be growing outward, breaking away and spreading.
She turned to see Gabriel’s steady gaze on her. “What does Jack look like?”
“Tall, pale, lighter hair, lighter eyes,” she said. Fixing his blue eyes and brown hair with a look, she said, “Jack looks more like you than he does like me.” She paused, fumbling with her cell phone until a picture came up. She handed it to him. Jack was in between his two sisters, both considerably shorter than he was. Lennon and Jack had high cheekbones and angular faces, while Hikari’s face was mostly cheeks.
“I see a resemblance,” Gabriel said, handing her phone back. “You and your brother have the same smile.”
“What are you doing up here?” She asked.
“Trying to finish a verse,” he mumbled, closing the notebook, resting it on his chest. “I have about four million of these notebooks, filled with lyrics.”
“I have old spiral notebooks filled with rants and unfinished stories,” she offered. “When did you start writing songs?”
“Thirteen. This girl I had a massive crush on broke my heart by telling me she was going to date Billy, who was, of course, already a freshmen in high school,” Gabriel chuckled. “Total cliché. It was a terrible song.”
“What happened to that girl?” Lennon mused aloud.
“They ended up married straight out of high school. I couldn’t do that.” He put his notebook aside. “They have two kids now.”
Lennon winced. “And you went to Chicago.”
“Mmmhm. Hey, what are you doing this Friday night?”
“Not a clue. Why?”
“I’m playing a set at the Kettle. 9 pm.”
“Ooh, that’s late ‘round these parts!” Lennon giggled. She remembered most places closing around ten or eleven in Boston. Here, things closed down by nine, except for the diner and the Black Kettle.
“I know, right?” Gabriel laughed along. “You should come.”
“I will. We seem to end up at the Kettle more than anywhere else. So you’re getting back into the music thing?”
He leaned back on his elbows. “It’s time. I’ve had my stretch away from it, but…sometimes, it’s a love/hate relationship. You know.”
“Yeah, I know,” Lennon sighed. “I wrote something the other night. I’m not sure what it’s for, but it felt so amazing to sit and write and not analyze it.” Gabriel tilted his head, mouth open to speak, and Len noticed how full his lips were, when he paused, brows drawing together. Len followed his eyes to the horizon. The dissipating gray clouds had become black in the distance.
“That does not look good,” he said, sitting up and reaching for his notebook. “Come with me, Lennon.” His tone remained friendly, but it was clearly a command, not a request.
“Why’s the sky turning green?” She asked, slipping her feet into her sneakers and following Gabriel, who held a hand behind him to help her navigate the way down quickly.
“That looks like a tornado,” he replied. “I’m surprised there haven’t been others. June and July are prime for that sort of thing. Here, get in.” He opened the passenger side door of his truck, put his hands around her waist and lifted her into the cab, shutting the door behind her.
Whew, he has big hands. A moment later, seated on the driver’s side, Gabriel turned the ignition and flipped the radio on. Len glanced out of the rear window, trying to see the green sky again, but couldn’t at this lower altitude. Her phone beeped.
From Stacey: Holy shit, the sky’s green! Where r u?
Lennon quickly typed back, “Gabriel’s truck, listening to the radio. U?” She pressed send just as they heard a high-pitched noise, which stayed at a consistent frequency. Lennon remembered that sound from years ago. Tornado warning.
“…A twister has been spotted in Pettis County, near the town lines of Hughesville and Landslide. The twister is likely heading southeast, but wind and severe weather is expected throughout mid-Missouri. It is an EF0, but can increase up to an EF2. Residents of Landslide, Houstonia and Hughesville are strongly urged to take shelter…”
“We better get in there,” Gabriel said, turning the engine off. “Is there an inner room, no windows?”