*Hey y'all. This is the last chapter (see? It's not the Ongoing Saga). I like this ending better than the short story version of this that I wrote...but I still feel like there's something missing from it. I'm not sure what. Anyway, enjoy.*
“Cell phone, keys, wallet, ID, cash,” Lennon recited aloud from her spot on the couch. “Cover-up. Chapstick. Lotion.”
“Got it, got it, got it, got it,” Stacey said from the other side of the main room of their new apartment, head buried in the large purse she carried everywhere.
“Metrocard?” Lennon asked.
“In my wallet,” Stacey sang out.
“Got it! All right, I think I’m good. See ya, kids!”
“’Bye,” Lennon and her sister Hikari, who was visiting their apartment for the weekend, called as Stacey ran out of the door. Lennon grabbed the remote and hit the play button.
She’d let Hikari choose the movie, so they were watching Enchanted, which seemed to be her sister’s movie of the moment. Len watched Hikari frown when the girl and the man disagreed and then smile gleefully when the girl bought a pretty dress.
The man and the woman danced, realizing that they loved each other. Hikari went goodly-eyed. Hikari had begun writing recently, shyly showing. Lennon a few short fairytale stories she’d written. Len had read them all wryly, but also quite happily. She loved having anything new to read and having the people around her write anything thrilled her beyond the beyond. For Lennon, who wrote more of her inner thoughts down than voiced them aloud, reading was a way to understand another person’s intimate thoughts and feelings—even in fiction or poetry or lyrics, even when the person swore it was apart from them, some of those beliefs and feelings niggled their way in. Because those stories had sprung out of her sister’s mind, Lennon felt like she was learning her little sister’s personality all over again. Hikari was in a transitional age from believing in princesses and happily ever after to seeing reality. She was thirteen.
Lennon prayed that Hikari would be able to face reality better than she had. And, Lennon admitted to herself, that she’d find her prince someday.
“Boys don’t really do that,” Hikari said with a sigh when the movie ended. “Sweep you away to other places and dance with you and jump on the Empire State Building…”
“Well, some guys will dance with you,” Lennon said. “But think about it: would you want to fall in love with a guy who jumps on the Empire State? Or randomly decides to kidnap you—” She paused. “Well, you know, without asking you.”
Hikari made a face. “No. Lenny, does Gabriel kiss you?”
Not for the last two months, he hasn’t. “Mmmhmm.”
“How do you get a boy to kiss you?”
“Um,” Lennon bit her lip. “Why? Is there a boy you like?” Hikari nodded. “You know, Kari, it just happens. If you like a boy and he likes you and you spend time together, it’ll happen. Don’t let it get you down if it doesn’t, ok?”
Len and Stacey lived in a small two-bedroom apartment on the third floor of a brick building in Hoboken, New Jersey. From the end of their block, Manhattan’s skyline was visible, the skyscrapers dominating the night with lights. Lennon loved looking at the view, the majesty of her city, the power and strength and hard-edged beauty of it. But she was glad she didn’t have to live there. New Yorkers chuckled cynically among themselves about people who weren’t cut out for the city. Lennon would never put herself in that category of people, for she knew how to navigate the place. But the river gave her a mental separation from the bustle. It let her hold onto the peace she’d come home with from Missouri.
Stacey had gotten a day job as a telemarketer, where, she said, she acted every minute of the day because she had to be chirpy and cheerful, professional, and not take hang-ups personally. She’d auditioned for shows and had gotten a small part in an off-off Broadway black box theater. Where, Stacey confided in Lennon, the harried stage manager was awfully handsome.
Len had raised a mental eyebrow, not bothering to remind Stacey about her “single time.” Stacey felt that going after her stage manager right now would be a little too “showmance” and nothing beyond flirting had happened yet. “Yet,” of course, being the operative word.
Lennon returned from dropping her sister back at her house—no, wait, her parents’ house—and dropped her keys on the table by the door. The apartment had a lived-in feel—a euphemism for “a little sloppy”—but it was cozy. They’d combined Stacey’s ideal modern style of black and white and sparseness with Lennon’s taste in color and comfort cheaply. Which wasn’t hard, because they couldn’t afford a ton of furniture or appliances, so the place looked minimalist anyway.
Stacey was rehearsing tonight. The large main room, which included a kitchen and a round table with four mismatched chairs that served as the dining table, was a modern, open space. There was a tiny foyer area around the door, where they’d stuck an upright, podium-like table. A molded archway separated the door from the rest of the main area. The kitchen had a tiled floor with tiles missing and cracking. The stove, sink and counter space took up one side of the main room. The fridge was further in and the dining table was arranged in the middle of an open portion of the room, at the back of the apartment, near the window.
They had a blue couch—her pick—and a bright, flowery rug covering the rough patches on a wood floor that had seen better days. The TV sat atop a stand that Lennon had taken from her parents’ basement.
There were three rooms sprouting off of the main one. The bathroom door was on the kitchen side of the apartment; a small, windowless room nestled behind the kitchen. Stacey’s door was on the same side, but her door opened off of the dining area
and had a window in front.
Lennon’s room was on the living room side, her door opening off of the other side of the dining table. Without turning the light on, Lennon located a stack of papers on her desk.
She’d found a job as an administrative assistant at a literary agency. Her job mostly consisted of answering phones, but Lennon covertly took notes on how to get an agent. The information would be useful one day.
Winning the short story contest online had spurred her to write more shorts. She had several more in various stages of writing, all of which were shown to a writing group she attended a few times a week. It was a virtual thing, every piece posted on a forum online, but it did the trick. The authors on the site were varied. Some of them had recently begun writing and found that they had a knack for it. Others were ready to submit completed works into the world, but wanted feedback and polishing before they did so. Others weren’t ready to submit, but like Lennon, had been writing for countless numbers of years and needed an outlet and people to read their stuff.
It was her job to read each piece, every last one of them as individual as their creators, and sit with them, posting her own comments on the forum. They got into involved discussions on there and she thoroughly enjoyed them. It wasn’t any different from what she’d done in college workshops. It wasn’t any different from what she’d do if she were an MFA in Creative Writing student. At least, this way, she was being paid back in kind. The group was generous with their comments and encouraging. Perhaps it was the veiled anonymity of being online that let Lennon be more comfortable and frank and her quirky, sometimes crude self come through on the forum. Whatever it was, she felt like herself online.
Lennon liked to print out what she could and read them on paper. She looked at a computer screen throughout the day at work and her eyes needed something softer to read off of. So she spread the papers out on the kitchen table, sat with a cup of tea and went through the ones she hadn’t read yet. There was never a danger of starving for new reading material. She was in the middle of writing a detailed comment on one chapter of someone’s book to post later when her phone buzzed beside her.
“Hi baby,” Gabriel’s voice filtered through the phone.
Len put her pen down. “Hi.” She checked the microwave oven for the time. “Did you just get off stage?”
“Yeah, yeah. It was a good set. Little crazy though.”
“Um. I kind of got a bra thrown at me.”
Lennon burst into cackles. “You what? That’s random.”
“I need to go wash my damn face. It hit me in the forehead and we looked at it after and…yeah, it’s not the newest of bras.”
Lennon continued laughing. “I’m glad this is amusing you.”
“I’m picturing this right now. You, up there all serious with your guitar. Probably with your mouth open, singing, and a bra plops you in the forehead.” She wiped tears from her eyes. “How was the set beyond that?”
“Pretty good. We tallied up. The album’s sold two thousand copies.”
“We have to get more shipped to sell. What are you up to?”
“What are you wearing? Flannel or Sgt. Pepper?”
Lennon glanced down at herself. “Both, actually. How do you do that?”
Gabriel chuckled. “You’re grading. Why dress up for it?”
“True. And it’s not grading, it’s ‘discussing.’”
Gabriel laughed. “To quote Lennon McKinney, ‘It feels like grading if it sucks’.” She heard voices in the background and heard a door shut. “So…”
“Another two weeks,” Gabriel mentioned.
Lennon smiled. “I can’t wait.”
She pulled her Missouri cap snug over her head so that he could spot her. Of the baseball caps Lennon saw at the Arrivals gate in this terminal of Newark-Liberty Airport, none of them had Missouri stitched into them, especially in gold.
Just as she’d planned, the hat helped him find her. They gazed at each other for a few moments before she jumped up and his hands automatically caught her around the waist and held her up. They kissed, but she kept an eye open, peering behind him to keep his guitar case in view. It was part of his reason for being here. He had writing sessions set up with distant contacts and friends alike for the next two and a half weeks; this project, he was determined, was going to be his own.
“Nice hat,” he remarked once they pulled away from each other for a moment. “God, it’s so good to see you.” He slid her down to the floor.
She took in the sight of him, slightly disheveled from the flight. He wore jeans and a black long-sleeved shirt. “You look…”
“Exactly like I did on the webcam two days ago,” Gabriel grinned. “’Cept with more stubble.” He picked up his guitar case in one hand, laced their fingers together with his other hand and walked toward baggage claim.
Gabriel almost asked her for the car keys. Lennon could see it in his eyes. He was used to driving, particularly with his girlfriends. As they trekked out into the parking lot and she unlocked the driver’s door, she almost considered letting him drive.
Then again, he didn’t know where he was going in New Jersey. She opened the trunk and he put his bags and his guitar in and shut it.
“Are you ready?” She asked, watching him sit down, close the passenger door and drag the seatbelt around him.
“Is this my first time driving with you?” He asked. “It is, isn’t it?”
“It is,” Lennon confirmed, sticking the keys in the ignition. “I have not picked up any Jersey driving habits, so don’t worry.”
“Yet. You’ve lived here for two months.”
“Hush,” she said sweetly, turning the keys and starting the engine. “Let’s remember that I did a majority of my driving in Missouri. And you all are very courteous drivers.”
Gabriel chuckled. “All right, I’m braced.” Her eyes bulged out at him, half jokingly. He reached over the console for her hand. “I’m kidding. I trust you. A lot. Let’s go.”
Since the trip back to Hoboken from the airport didn’t include the New Jersey Turnpike, Lennon didn’t get to show Gabriel the full extent of the worst driving in the country.
“Holy shit,” Gabriel muttered as the car in front of them spun wildly in order to make a U-turn on a local street in Hoboken. Lennon braked suddenly and honked the horn, once, to get her point across.
“Asshole,” she mumbled. When she was able to pass the other car, Lennon said, “Look up. You might be able to see the Hudson on this next street.”
Sure enough, up ahead, the murky waters of the Hudson River were visible. It was a clear April day and Manhattan’s buildings were gleaming in the sunlight. No clouds were visible to mar the view today. Under blue skies, the skyscrapers gleamed and the stone buildings, which usually looked so dreary to Lennon, seemed full of life. She felt that it was an auspicious day to introduce her city to her boyfriend.
“Wow,” he said. “Lennon’s natural habitat.”
Lennon opened the door to her small bedroom, leading Gabriel in to put his stuff down. She waved her arm around, indicating her bed, desk, dresser and a wire shelf. A flier that Gabe had scanned and emailed to her from one of his recent solo shows was taped to the wall near her bed. She had framed photos in one long six-foot high column along one wall. It gave the white-walled room some color. He’d seen the entire room already via the grainy images over a webcam, but the pictures were hard to make out.
“Is that Madeline?” Gabriel asked, pointing to the second photo from the top. “And that’s Nadine, right?”
“The webcam hijacker. Yeah.”
“Your sister is so cute,” he said. “Much, much cuter than Gerry or Sam. They’re annoying.”
“Said like a true older brother,” Lennon replied. “Did Gerry decide where he’s going for college, finally?”
“Your alma mater.”
“No!” Lennon gasped. “Really? Boston?”
“Boston. He decided against Mizzou.” Gabriel shrugged. “He’ll be fine. It’ll be good for him. I think.”
They spent the afternoon lazily. She identified all the people and events in her column of photos for him: two graduations, the time she and Jack had painted their cheeks with green shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day, Lennon’s First Communion, Stacey with caked-on stage makeup after a show in college. She teased him for thinking that the picture of her on top of the Empire State Building was actually flattering because in reality, it had been as windy as fuck up there and it was obvious in her blown around hair and the stunned expression on her face.
“Is it really uninteresting that I want to go up there?” Gabriel asked, lying on her bed. Lennon was curled onto her desk chair.
“No. We’ll go. What else do you want to do? Where are your writing sessions at?”
“East Village, Lower East Side, Astoria. I have a jumble of music and lyrics. We’ll see what these guys can throw at me.”
“You’ll surprise yourself for sure, songwriting with new people. People who aren’t named Seb.”
A corner of his mouth lifted in a half-smile. Len’s hostility toward Seb remained unwavering. He turned to the pictures again.
“Where did that one come from?” He asked, looking at the picture below the windblown look. “That is pixilated.”
“Stacey took it on her phone,” Lennon explained. “That’s actually us, if you can make it out.” He sat up and studied the picture for a few quiet minutes.
“Can I steal this for a song?” He asked. “I’ll bring it back, I swear.”
She nodded. He sprawled across the double bed on his belly and yawned, his head now placed near the foot of the bed, where she sat in her chair.
“Take a nap, sweetie,” Len said, reaching out and rubbing his head, stroking back his hair.
“It’s really because you want to nap,” Gabriel muttered, eyes fluttering closed. Len crawled to the empty space beside him. “I missed you.” He flipped onto his back and drew her around him like ivy over a wall.
“I missed you, too,” she whispered. “I never really gave the long distance relationship thing much thought before.” He let out a long, hearty sigh in agreement.
Closing her eyes, letting the light breeze wafting through her window cool her body down, Lennon listened to Gabriel’s breathing as it evened out. His heart beat against her hand. She let any tension she held out of her back and neck and all of the other places she clenched in her anxious feelings. They had today and tomorrow and the next two and a half weeks. Beyond that—well, who knew? She’d picked up and moved to the Midwest once already. There was nothing, really, to prevent her from doing that again at a later date, only this time to a city out there. If his writing sessions went well, he could come out here to meet with people more or to perform or record...
As she fell into a deeper sleep, Lennon heard in her mind, Hey, it’s not ideal, it is what it is—you have to make the best of it is all. See the best in it.
Yeah. You know that boy you’re snuggled into? You might feel alone—we’re all fucking alone—but he’s there with you, kid. How did you get him?
Oh, shut up. You know how I got him. It wasn’t exactly easy.
Well, no one would dare accuse you of being easy. Ain’t it worth it though?
A little struggle for self-assurance and patience and a really great guy to boot? I’d say so, yeah.