Lennon didn’t expect Landslide to change at all when she drove into the town in the second week of the following January. Stacey’s last performance at the Tallis was coming up in a few days; after that, Stace was moving on to a job in New Jersey.
There was some snow on the ground. Stacey had said there’d been a storm last week and there was no such thing as snow removal in Pettis County. Len drove past the Black Kettle, with its lights on, cars parked out front. A string of Christmas lights—every third bulb seemed to be blown out—hung over the door and fringed the roof of the building.
Lennon turned off the Paved Road onto the narrower, dirt road that led to Stacey’s apartment. Thank goodness no one was behind her because Lennon slowed down to a walking speed. She’d gotten her driver’s license in November, but driving on still iced-over dirt roads in the middle of Missouri was not her forte.
Stacey’s apartment was littered with boxes, half packed in with her possessions. The bigger things—the television, a shelving unit, and a large rug—had been sent to New Hampshire. Other things had been brought back East over Thanksgiving.
“Good Lord, Stacey,” Len said, surveying the living room. “I know you generally pack last minute, but an entire apartment is different from half a dorm room.”
“I know that,” Stacey gave a long-suffering sigh. “Jimmy got me the boxes and took some off to Sedalia, to send them to my parents with UPS, but I can’t afford to ship everything…”
“How much of this do you want me to take back with me?” Len asked.
“Maybe just a bag. Packed really tightly.” Stacey drew back onto the couch with a sigh. “I want these performances to be good. They’re my last here.”
Lennon smiled at her friend. “How’s Jim?”
“He’s wonderful. We’re not dating though.”
“No. You know that single period I’ve been talking about forever? Getting a little me time without a guy around?” Stacey shrugged. “I decided to do that. We’re very good friends. Like you and Gabriel. How is he?”
“Haven’t talked to him in about a week. He said something about shows coming up. They’re selling the album at them, but I can’t remember if Gabriel told me where they’re playing.” Lennon furrowed her brow in thought.
“Maybe in Chicago?”
“Probably. I see that nothing’s changed in town.”
“Except for the Christmas lights. The Tallis roped up all the trees around the theater with white lights. Like the ones they used to put up on Comm. Ave.”
“I always loved those lights,” Lennon said. “It was the best thing about winter in Boston.”
“And the Frog Pond opening up for ice skating…and the three feet of Nor’easter on the ground.” The girls pulled faces at one another.
Lennon was allowed to see Stacey’s dress rehearsal, but not wanting to spoil the musical for herself—it was an original and Lennon only knew that it was a version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream—she wandered through the cavernous theater instead.
Some of the makeup girls were around, preparing for tomorrow’s opening night. Someone, somewhere, was probably curled into a chair or on the floor, learning his or her lines.
And she heard drums as she passed the rehearsal room.
Lennon peered in, wondering if her ears were tricking her. They weren’t. She saw a drum kit and a tattooed young guy with bleach-blond hair sticking up in fifty different directions sitting behind it. Two tall guys had their backs turned to the door, facing their drummer.
“I’m not sure that fill works,” one of them was saying with a sharp Chicago accent. “Don’t you think, Gabe?”
Gabriel, who was sitting, looked up. “He only has three measures. The fill doesn’t have to be so choreographed. Let him do his thing.”
So he was back. His hair was shorter, although his bangs had grown out a little. His face was turned away from the door, enough for Lennon to see his profile. She realized how the sight of him was utterly inadequate to talking to him over electronic means. Her chest actually fucking ached looking at him.
Lennon intended to go on her way then, to leave them to their rehearsal with the intention of sending a text to Gabe later, but the sound of a female voice inside the room stopped her.
“Aww, Gabey. And that’s why I think you’re the perfect leader for the group.”
Len stood for a moment, absorbing the cloying tone and the low purr of the woman’s voice. Then she strode away.
“She just belted the shit out of that song,” Gerry Harris said, still in amazement, after the opening night performance. “I didn’t even know Stacey could sing like that.”
“Oh, well, you probably knew she could,” Gerry added.
“Yup,” Len replied. “It’s a good extended note for her to go out on here.”
She was plunged into darkness. Two hands covered her eyes.
Gabriel. She knew that instantly.
“Gabriel.” He turned her around to face his button-down shirt. “Nice shirt.”
He laughed. “Thanks. How are you?” His arms were around her and she was aware of his hands resting on her lower back. “When did you get in?”
“Two days ago.” Len said. She craned her neck up to look at him. “What are you doing back here?”
“I came home for the holidays, then went back to Chicago. Played a show in KC. Played a show in Minneapolis. Played another show in KC. I’m back for a little while. We have a show in St. Louis in a week and we’re learning new songs.” He shrugged. “Not tending bar.”
“Always a good thing,” Len remarked. “Although you’re a kickass bartender.”
He hugged her. “Thanks, Lucy. Coming from a one, two drink drunk, it means a lot.” She snorted a laugh into his shirt and sniffed him. He smelled like soap and Tide.
She met the other four guys in his band that night, as they stood around the front lobby in a cluster. Seb, Gabriel’s college roommate, was slighter than what Lennon expected. His hair was jet-black, even darker than her hair, and it hung down floppily on the sides and the front. He had piercing light blue eyes and delicate features. His face was covered with a tentative goatee, which was little more than the fuzz that Gerry Harris sported on his cheeks.
It wasn’t long after that she saw the girl: not as tall as Stacey, but with fairly long legs. The girl wasn’t nearly as proportioned. She was taller than Lennon, but her long legs were much thinner and her knees were knobby. Her breasts stuck out like a shelf, out of nowhere, and she had no discernible waist or butt. She was blessed with thick, but heavily bleached curly blonde hair. And she stood much too close to Gabriel.
“The hill, for old times’ sake?” He said a few minutes later as they stepped out of the front doors. “You know Stacey’ll be the last to come out.”
“Are you nuts? It’s freezing out here,” Len shivered for emphasis. “And there’s still snow on the ground.”
“Just for a minute.” She acquiesced and they went up the hill behind the theatre slowly, Gabriel gripping her gloved hand in his. The sparkly, star-like lights wrapped around the trees lit their way.
He dropped to the ground at the crest, uncaring of the snow or the ice, and tugged her down as well. He settled her on his lap, enveloped within his arms and his coat.
Her eyes rolled up to the sky. The stars were always so clear here, the night even darker than in New York. She could gauge how much she’d grown by those stars. She didn’t belong in the constant bustle of New York City, but it was familiar. She didn’t belong here, in the cold, open expanses of central Missouri either. Madeline, in her infinite wisdom, was right. Picking a place to belong to forever, at the age of twenty-three, was too fatalistic.
She belonged to herself. The pieces fit now.
“I’m not with her,” he broke the silence.
“With who?” She asked, thoughts veering away from the stars and the sky and the remaining snow.
“The girl you were glaring at about five minutes ago,” he said. “That would be my ex, who’s now stalking the lead guitarist.”
“You dated that?” She blurted out. “No offense, hon, but I could spot the fake boobs a mile away.”
“Huh. Yeah. And they are. Fake, that is. They’ve officially broken it off.”
“So why’s she here?”
“Fuck knows,” Gabriel said. “She’s in the motel with Seb. The others are staying at my house, but I can’t deal with her.”
Clearing his throat, Gabriel said, “How long are you here for?”
Another beat of silence, followed by, “Will Stacey miss you if I kidnap you for the night?”
“We took her car, so I guess not. “ She threw him a look over her shoulder. “What does this kidnapping entail?”
“Just come home with me. We’ll hang out. Gerry can supervise.”
“Oh, great. Your not-quite-eighteen-year-old brother is going to be our monitor,” she teased. “I’ll come. But let me call Stacey real quick. I don’t want her to worry.”
“So your parents are in Columbia. Are they trying to convince Sam to come home?” Len asked Gabriel much later that night. She stood at a large window in the Harris’ kitchen, looking out into the dark night. They’d heard thunder roll overheard hours ago and now there was lashing rain outside.
Despite that, Seb and the girl—Lennon had been introduced to her by name, but she let it slip her mind—had left about an hour and a half ago for the short, but sure to be water-logged drive to the motel. Gerry and the other three guys were playing video games in the living room, yelling. Len had sat among them and demonstrated how terrible she was at video games before coming in here to seek Gabriel out.
“She came back for the holidays,” Gabriel said, stepping up beside her. “Sammy’s not a one-horse town girl. She’s more of a mid-size city girl.”
“We call those places suburbs where I’m from,” Lennon said with a laugh. “So how come it’s all good for Seb and Skank—” Gabriel laughed, face lighting up in delight and incredulousness. “Oh, what? She’s a skank and he’s a manwhore. And if my supposed best friend slept with you, she and I wouldn’t be on speaking terms. At all.”
“You don’t go by chicks before dicks?”
Lennon threw her head back and laughed. “That only applies in cases where…ok, for example, Stacey and Jim. I am Stacey’s friend. Should she spend all her time with him and forget about me? Or should she at least attempt to spend time with me because I’m her friend and when he’s gone, who’s she going to eat massive amounts of ice cream with?”
“That sounds like the general principles of friendship,” he said. “Are Jim and Stacey…?”
“Undefined,” Lennon replied. They went quiet, the word lingering in the air between them. The rain came down harder. At least the snow would melt; Lennon wondered if there would be flooding and whether the ground could handle the sudden rush.
“Seb and I only talk when necessary.”
“Well, you’re a much more forgiving person than I am,” Lennon replied. “As I was saying, why is it all good for them to go out into the rain and drive off, but I’m still here and it’s like two in the morning?”
“Usually, people who’ve been kidnapped don’t get to choose when to go home.”
“No, really?” Lennon asked, opening her mouth in fake astonishment. “You an experienced kidnapper?”
“Not in my mother’s house,” Gabe laughed. “I want to see the driver’s license. I want proof. You wouldn’t even freaking drive to Wal-Mart a few months ago.”
Rolling her eyes, Lennon reached into her purse, found her wallet and dug out her ID, handing him evidence of her growth. Look what I accomplished, she thought. It’s not much, maybe, but it’s something tangible.
Gabriel flipped the light on and looked at it.
“Whoa. The watermark’s trippy,” he said, holding the card away from the glare. “That’s a startlingly good picture. I look like crap in mine.”
“I’ve lost the big cheeks, compared to my old ID,” Lennon pointed out.
“Well, you’re a woman now,” Gabriel replied, giving the license back. With a tilt of his head, he asked, “Stay? Please?”
Lennon breathed out one word: “Ok.”