“Why did you walk away from him?”
Lennon glanced across the small table to see the aghast expression on Mady’s face—eyes bulging out, mouth formed into a perfect ‘o’ of shock. Alexandra, who was sitting on Lennon’s right, raised her eyebrows, but didn’t look shocked. Nadine was stirring her drink. Etta’s attention was wavering, although she was the one who’d asked the question in the first place.
Lennon grabbed for her cranberry and vodka. Apparently, she was going to need it.
“Do you want another one, Lennon?” Mady asked.
“Yeah. In a sec,” Len replied, downing the one she had in her hand.
The five of them were sitting around a table at the latest chic eatery in Forest Hills, a rare gathering. The dinner was a manifold occasion. It was December, which meant Etta’s birthday was coming around. Christmas was next week and this counted as a holiday gathering. Lennon had completed her certificate program after a hellish finals week. And instead of having to buy each other gifts, a few of them had decided to pool money for a meal a little above their normal range of food.
Which was how they’d ended up sitting around a black varnished rectangular table near the wall, with black benches on one side. The place was trying to be undeniably trendy with moody lighting and well-dressed servers and an assortment of alcoholic beverages. Lennon had ordered a cranberry and vodka because the pink color seemed to the suit the atmosphere.
Etta came back to the conversation she’d begun by asking, “Why did you walk away from him?”
Mady asked the approaching waiter for another drink for Len.
“Because I was leaving in two weeks,” Lennon said, giving the surface answer, hoping that would be the end.
“Oh, yeah. But you liked him, right?”
“Yeah,” Len glanced to the left, hoping that a waiter, who was sure to have a halo surrounding his or her head, would appear with her next drink. All she saw was the couple at the neighboring table.
“And he liked you. So why…”
“So,” Nadine chimed in. “How do you think the Superbowl’s going to stack up, huh?”
Len shot a grateful look across the table to Nadine.
“Oh, my God, I wanted to kick her ass like nobody’s business!” Nadine fumed a half hour later, as she was touching up her face in the restaurant’s restroom mirror. Recognizing the signs of Lennon’s imminent loss of equanimity, Nadine had asked Lennon to accompany her to the restroom. Lennon dried her hands on a paper towel.
“She’s amazingly restrained. Aren’t you, Len?” Mady called from a stall.
“I suppose,” Lennon answered, searching her purse for lip balm. “She was curious.”
“She was prying,” Nadine replied. “Whatever happened with you and Guitar Hero is between you and Guitar Hero. If you want to talk about it, then we’re here, but it’s your life and your business.”
“Huh. So y’all aren’t curious at all?”
“Well, of course we are,” Mady said over the toilet flushing. Lennon heard the stall unlock and the click-click of Mady’s heels on the tiles as she joined them at the sinks.
“But it’s your business,” Nadine reiterated.
Lennon sighed. “You know what, I’ve never had to do this before…”
“Beat up Etta?” Nadine mumbled.
Lennon ignored her. “This whole…potential boyfriend thing. Here’s the deal. I’m an insecure mess and he shouldn’t date that.”
“Yeah, but he’s like two thousand miles away. He won’t know when you’re being an insecure mess,” Nadine reasoned.
“You’re hilarious,” Lennon replied, heavy on the sarcasm. “I don’t want to be the clingy girlfriend, but God, do I want that man so much.”
“Then flash him over the webcam,” Nadine said.
“I’ve got some things of my own to work on.”
“We all do. I’m sure he does, too,” Mady put in.
“Yeah, he does but…you know how some girls become so entangled with their boyfriends that they completely lose their sense of self? Beings that I had to go to Missouri to figure out my sense of self, I’d rather not lose it again.”
“You know,” Nadine remarked, putting her compact back in her purse. “Lennon, you think too much. I think we need to get you drunk.”
Which was exactly what her friends proceeded to do.
Lennon waited on the subway platform, tapping her foot to a non-existent beat. It was late at night and the subway always took a little bit longer to get from place to place after midnight. She forced herself to find that laid-back Midwestern patience she’d acquired over the summer. It wasn’t hard to find. She’d had a few drinks and felt relaxed and happy. All was right with her world at that moment.
With nothing else to do, her eyes roved down to the tracks. She estimated that they were about four or five feet below the platform, but her sense of measurements were shaky when she was sober. There was trash on the tracks: balled-up, wet newsprint, a pink plastic bag, and dirty water. A rat scurried from one side of the track to the other. She followed the rat’s meandering progress as it wove under and over the steel structures down there. She stepped closer to the edge to watch.
The rat gave a broken Corona bottle a wide berth. Gabriel drank Coronas. Lennon knew what would happen if she were to go over the edge of the platform onto the track. She wasn’t tall enough to reach up and pull herself up on her own. She’d need help.
She used to think about what would happen if she stood on her tiptoes on the edge, right where the thick yellow lines warned passengers about being too close. Sometimes those strange thoughts would permeate her dreams and Lennon’s knees would buckle with anxiety in sleep, as if she were really on the edge of a cement subway platform, as if the dirty, messy, dangerous tracks were rising up to meet her as she fell.
On her tiptoes on the edge of the platform, she could both back away and save herself or she could give in to the inevitable loss of balance and fall, gracefully. She’d pick her way into one of the indents on the other side of the tracks and be grateful that there was something there to save her from being plowed over.
She was right on the edge of the precipice when it came to Gabriel. Lennon came to her conclusions as she stood there.
She felt better than she did a few months ago.
She felt more capable, more stable, more independent and optimistic.
She wanted Gabriel. And the latter scared the living crap out of her. But how could she stand not to be with him?
Where had she heard that doing things that scared the crap out of you were good for you? A little trepidation went along with the things one wanted most in life. Or something like that. She was probably remembering it wrong.
Fuckin’ hell. It’s Gabriel. You know Gabriel. You lo—No!
Having that “talk” with Gabriel backstage in Columbia had made her nervous—terribly, terribly so. A case of “be careful what you wish for.” Because it was one thing to wish for something, to wait for it happen, to wait and wait, to resign yourself to the possibility that it would never happen, but then when circumstances granted you that one wish, what happened then? It either didn’t resemble anything it was supposed to be or reality didn’t add up to fantasy.
And Lennon’s fantasies always trumped reality. Or at least she thought so. Many of them made up her mental list of things she hadn’t done yet, a list that had grown much shorter in the last few months. But the list still existed.
And yet, when she woke to find her cheek practically resting on the tent in his pants, she hadn’t been nervous. She’d had a few drinks. She was fascinated, really. Her inhibitions had been swept away in tequila.
And when she finally, finally thought herself to sleep that night in bed, Dream Lennon returned. Dream Lennon jumped off a subway platform to the track with a blissful grin on her face. The scene changed from the dank subway station to behind the Tallis Theatre. And she was no longer jumping to certain death with a train bearing down on her small body, but she was leaping down the hill’s slope.
Gabriel stood at the bottom.