*This one’s 10 pages on Word, so it’s being split into a few parts*
Len hustled out of the building at her lunch break, down to the corner to buy a burrito and a soda. Her office was a few blocks south of Bryant Park and she sat on the open grass there, with what seemed like thousands of other people, all dressed in office attire.
There were too many goddamn people in this city. There was no breathing room. Other people’s talking interrupted her thoughts. And despite the number of people, here she was, alone in the crowd once again.
Len pulled out her phone and scrolled through her contacts list. Alexandra was temping until she found a more permanent job and temping kept her working hours unpredictable. Len and Etta had drifted apart, Etta a ghostly presence at birthday parties, glassy-eyed and so squirmy that one time, Lennon had reached out, held her shoulders and forced her to stay still for just a second.
Madeline, her best friend, would either be working or sleeping, since she was chipping away on her Ph.D and was worked to the bone. Nadine unhappily held a job down the block from Bryant Park and they met for lunch at least once a week, but not today.
Stacey. Stacey Meissner, Lennon’s college roommate, was an actress in regional theater in… where the hell was it, one of those states in the middle of the country, some state in fly-over land…Missouri, that’s right! She’d gone there right after the New Year. Len bit into her food and puffed her nostrils out, the way she did when she was less than impressed.
Hey, how’s Missouri? She texted Stacey then laid the phone down, grabbing onto the burrito with two hands. Fuck, she was hungry and the heat of the sun felt incredible on her sore muscles, even if her skin would burn into a crisp because of it. Her phone trembled repeatedly on the grass. Len snatched it up.
“Lenny! It’s been forever!” Stacey said.
Len laughed. “Forever. Two weeks. Same thing.”
“Well, it feels like forever. We’re running this play through now and oh, my God, it’s torture. It goes up next month! I need to get you out here to polish this script,” Stacey said.
Lennon laughed. “What’s it about?”
“It’s a play about college-age people, which is why I got cast and I’m glad to not be working crew on this one, but honestly. We certainly didn’t have this kind of college experience.”
Lennon furrowed her brow, chewing her food. “You mean, like, rampant drunkenness and frats and sororities?”
“Every stereotype you can think of. Yeah. And the character I’m playing is the typical—you’d say archetypal ‘cause you’re a smarty pants—blonde, ditzy girl.” Lennon could see Stacey’s hazel eyes rolling. Stacey was the archetypal all-American girl, tall and thin with long legs and honey-gold hair. It didn’t particularly surprise Len that she’d been cast as that type.
“Is the storyline halfway decent?” Len asked.
“Kind of. There’s not much depth to it. It’s a workshop performance,” Stacey said. “Aren’t you at work?”
“Lunch hour,” Len answered laconically. “It’s so freaking nice out today. The sun is up. The sky is blue. Guess I’m just in a bad mood.”
“Why are you in a bad mood? You don’t have class now, right?”
“No. I’m taking the summer off. I finish in December.”
“I don’t know…I just…” It felt trivial to mention being unsteady on the subway this morning, since it certainly wasn’t the first time Lennon had lost her grip while the train ran at full speed. It wouldn’t be the last, either. “I don’t feel right.”
“Maybe you’re bored,” Stacey said. “You do get bored easily, Len.”
“Shake it up, then. Go see your friends and go on one of your adventures.”
“Oh, yes,” Len said sarcastically, thinking of the friends entered into her cellular phone. “The ones I never see, you mean? We’re all really busy. It’s almost like we’ve completely disconnected from each other.”
“Are you seeing anyone?”
“Am I ever?” Len answered, roughly chewing off a bite of her burrito.
“New York has eight million people. That’s approximately four million guys, Lennon.”
“And they’re married, homeless, self-absorbed, gay, too rich to care, evil, unemployed, priests, or they’re just not interested,” Lennon listed. “More importantly, I’m not interested in them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy walking on the sidewalk and thought, ‘I’d like to get to know him a little better.’”
Stacey laughed. “Yes, you have. I went to college with you, remember? You did your fair sharing of ogling on the Common.”
“Ogling is ogling. Actual interest in a guy, a real guy who is present in my life who I can see myself being with, has never happened,” Lennon replied. “I never thought I’d say this, but why did I come back here? I should’ve stayed in Boston, Red Sox fans or not.”
“New York’s not for everyone,” Stacey, who hailed from New Hampshire, said. “Here’s my perspective. It’s noisy and exciting. You have amazing museums and theater. It’s the center of the universe for a theater actor, but…it’s scary there. Kind of.” She paused.
“It’s big. It’s dirty. It’s claustrophobic,” Lennon listed. “I feel so constricted and I’m in fucking New York. This isn’t supposed to happen.”
“Maybe you don’t necessarily belong there. Not right now.”
“How can you not belong in the place you’re from?” Lennon asked.
“I don’t feel like I belong in Hampshire anymore. It’s familiar. I’ll always love it there. Maybe I’ll move back someday, but for now? It’s not the place for me. I don’t think I’d be happy there.”
“Yeah…” Lennon sighed. “Shit! I have to go back to work!”
The subway ride home was almost as bad as the subway ride coming into the city. Lennon shut her eyes tightly and fervently wished with all her might that she were somewhere else, in another life. Being another person wouldn’t be so terrible right now. At least, inhabiting a successful, happy, personable person had to be better than this.
Her eyelids felt heavy, tired and her eyes felt strained from staring at a computer screen the whole day in that almost too well lit office. Her temples ached and she knew that a migraine would be coming on soon. Her eyelids drooped shut and all she felt was the swaying and rollicking train and her head tightening.
There were no great tragedies in her life, no played out dramas and no forbidden romances. Lennon was alternately thankful for that and struck by the ordinariness of her life. Her imagination had always gotten the better of her and with little to feed itself on in real life it naturally turned to other roads. When she was younger, Lennon hadn’t known that the negative, pulsing adolescent feelings she felt weren’t really…real. She felt them, for sure, strongly sometimes, but they weren’t as be-all and end-all as she’d thought at the time.
This—whatever this was—was completely different from those times.
I don’t belong here. Len opened her eyes as the train pulled into a stop and counted the remaining stops absently. Five stops and then home. She watched people getting on and off, milling around the platform and weaving through the crowd to get to the other side, to the local train that made all stops. Len never took the local train. Having it stop every other minute drove her crazy.
Her chest clenched and she turned her head away.
I have to get out of here.
When Lennon unlocked the front door to her house, she heard the TV blaring. Len identified the noise as the Disney Channel. She walked into the living room, dropping her bag and her blazer on the loveseat and found little Hikari clutching the remote to her chest, eyebrows drawn together in annoyance at Jack. Jack was the tallest of the three McKinney siblings, towering over Lennon’s five-foot tall frame by two heads. He glared down at his little sister, pale, skinny arms crossed on his increasingly thickening chest. It boggled Lennon’s mind that Jack was nineteen and technically an adult. She still thought of him as her loving but slightly idiotic kid brother, the one who used to spend hours on his Playstation making avatars out of the family on some wrestling video game.
Jack was Irish-pale, like Lennon, but he’d also inherited lighter eyes, somewhere in the realm of hazel rather than dark brown, and his hair had turned out to be chestnut brown.
“What is it with you two?” Lennon asked, sitting down, relieved to be pulling off her heels. She sighed as she wiggled her toes.
“I want to watch ESPN. She won’t give me the remote.”
“I want to watch Hannah Montana!” Hikari exclaimed.
“It repeats, Hikari. You can watch it later.” Jack held out his hand.
“No! I want to watch it now!”
Lennon groaned. “Cut it out! You,” she pointed to her brother. “Don’t you feel slightly ridiculous arguing with your twelve-year-old sister over the remote? You have a TV in your pigsty, if you can find it.”
“Doesn’t have cable,” Jack said. “Come on, Kari. I’ll DVR it for you.” He wiggled his fingers in a show of impatient patience.
“Why can’t you DVR your show and let me watch mine?”
“Hikari, don’t whine,” Len scolded. She rubbed the back of her neck, which was clenched. “Where’s Mom?”
“She went shopping,” Jack replied. “There are too many women in this house.” He plopped down on the far end of the couch. “How was work?”
“Awful, as usual,” Len deadpanned, a confused expression crossing her face as she watched Miley Cyrus don a blonde wig on the television.
“Mom gave me the ‘get a job’ speech again.”
“Maybe she’s right,” Lennon said.
“But you hate your job,” Jack pointed out. “You’re miserable all the time.”
“Gee, thanks, Jack.” Len pointed to the TV, confused. “What the hell? Did something funny just happen?” She watched Hikari laugh uproariously from where she sat on the floor, about four inches in front of the television. Len winced, two fingertips massaging her temple.
“Only if you’re twelve,” Jack said. He moved and dragged Hikari back from the screen. “That’s how Lennon ended up with glasses, Kari.”
That night, Lennon felt a desperation building up inside of her. It caused her to raise her head and turn her pillow, squashing it one moment before plumping it up the next. Her legs kicked at and then burrowed under her sheets.
She felt the same question rolling in her mind. Where do I belong? If not here, then where?
Lennon spent three consecutive nights with her restless uncertainty, causing her to wake in the darkest portions of the night and not be able to return to sleep. Her eyes were dull, marred by blue half-circles underneath. While she was tired and sedentary by day, she was constantly moving when she should’ve been sleeping.
On the fourth night, Lennon surrendered to her sleeplessness and lay back against her pillows. Her heavy eyelids, desperate for sleep, remained open, staring up at the white ceiling as the streetlights danced across it. Tree limbs outside swung back and forth, creating eerie patterns on ceilings and walls. When Hikari was younger, she was convinced that the trees outside her window were ghosts or something even more sinister, such as burglars and murderers. When Hikari was scared and their parents turned her away, back into her own room, she’d climb into bed with her older sister.
Lennon hadn’t liked sleeping on her own, with tree branches that could suddenly resemble knives or clubs or bony, long-fingered hands, when she was little either. So she let Hikari cuddle up beside her during those times, two sisters with the same level of imagination.
To my detriment, Len thought.
She rolled over, at least seeking a comfortable physical position. There was no point in reading herself to sleep, since reading usually kept her awake later if she became caught up in the story. Listening to music might do the trick, but she felt too lazy to find her iPod. Lennon closed her dry, desperate eyes.
There was one beacon of light that emerged that night and it appeared in her mind. Lennon wasn’t truly, deeply asleep, for she heard noises: the house settling down, distant sounds of traffic and sirens, a neighbor’s dog barking. But she’d succumbed to sleep enough to let her mind wander freely, completely devoid of any conscious control.
In the morning, she’d remember that it was quite a vivid dream or fantasy, whatever it was. As stiff and unrested as she felt, her mind felt languid. There’d been an unfamiliar bedroom, smaller than hers now, but the bed had been bigger and covered in bright red sheets. The room had white walls.
There was a man. He’d been faceless, with no distinguishing characteristics except brownish hair that felt soft to her fingers. He had a soothing voice and strong shoulders and arms that engulfed her and kept her safe.
Lennon rubbed her legs together, feeling expanses of what she knew to be soft, pale skin. She smirked to herself. Dream Guy had been talented, to say the least, and her heart was still beating a fraction more quickly than normal for resting position.
Beneath her thin tank top, Lennon stroked the soft, rounded pudge of her belly. On occasion, Mom poked her in the tummy and teased her, or at least her version of teasing, telling Len to exercise more. She’d been doing that since Len had been in her late teens and fat had finally settled around her belly and hips, giving her a more adult appearance. Len learned to ignore the comments, but that didn’t mean she didn’t hear them.
Her breasts jutted out of the top. They weren’t particularly large, but neither were they completely flat and she carried them high on her chest, perky and dense. For a woman her age, she had remarkably few hang-ups about her body, except for its general size. Someone—had it been in college?—had once asked, “If you could have anything done to your body, what would it be?”
“Another three inches,” had been her reply. “Up here,” she’d added, pointing upwards from the top of her head.
Dream Lennon was taller than real Lennon. Dream Lennon strutted naked in front of the faceless guy with no qualms. Dream Lennon had been fearless and exhilarated in their dream activities. She took charge. She’d been on top, to the burn of the admiring gaze of the faceless man.
Real Lennon buried her face in her pillow and wished for the dream to return.
Whenever Lennon had a dream that bothered her in the slightest, her best friend Madeline was the one she turned to for help interpreting it. In their adolescence, the interpretations had been conjecture. But with Mady well on her way to earning a high degree in psychiatry and having actually taken a course called Dream Interpretation in college, Lennon trusted her to help unravel what her mind was telling her. Mady would explain what various symbols, colors and events might mean. Lennon put the narrative together with her help, extracting the meaning.
“It’s not about men,” Madeline said, voice coming over the tinny cell phone. “He’s faceless, you said, so he could be anybody. It’s not about sex either.” Lennon groaned. “Even though he’s faceless, Dream Lennon is obviously comfortable and confident around Faceless Man.”
“I’d say so,” Len said.
“Lennon, you know what I’m going to say,” Madeline said. “You had dreams like this in college. You know what it is.”
“I know,” Len said softly. “I was hoping for something…different this time.”
“The subconscious will show you things you’re worrying about or need to work on,” Mady replied.
“Well, tell my subconscious that it’s duly noted, ok?” Len replied tartly.