“You just don’t want to leave, do you?” Gabriel said with a grin, glancing down into Lennon’s very dark eyes, dark brown infused with a thin ring of black on the outer rim. They were incongruous with her pale, pale skin.
“Nah. I’m a bookworm,” she replied, gesturing to herself. “The truth is, I don’t have a ton of patience for people who insist on fighting and being overdramatic.” She frowned, marring her smooth forehead. “Actually, I don’t have patience at all.”
“You’ve been patient with Gerry,” he pointed out. “Believe me, he’ll try anyone’s patience. He’s my brother and I love him but when you get him talking…and that takes some effort…he’s pretty opinionated.”
“Aren’t they all?” She said darkly. “When did he start writing?”
“He’s been writing as long as I’ve been singing. So, a while.”
She nodded slowly. Her eyes bore into his, direct, gleaming. There was something innocent yet knowing in her eyes. Particularly something knowing about him, although she didn’t really know him and he didn’t really know her beyond her drink of choice, her age, home state, and the smattering of words he’d heard about her from Gerry.
Gabriel took an imperceptible step back, eyes downcast. He’d revealed more than enough, too much of himself, to this young woman, a perfect stranger. She was a perceptive stranger at that. He flicked his eyes back to hers. She missed nothing. She’d noticed him shifting away.
“Are you sure you’ll be safer here?” He asked again.
“I think so,” she said, turning the novel in her hand. Her finger was still caught in between the pages.
“All right. Well, see you around, then,” he said with a nod.
Gabriel knew the cashier who checked him out. He’d gone to high school with her, but he couldn’t place quite her. Her nametag read Amy. His high school had been small, a mere three hundred students total. His graduating class had been around fifty kids.
“Thank you,” he said politely, taking his change and bag. Fifty kids. You’d think he’d remember her. Everywhere he turned, Gabriel was confronted with people he’d grown up with, the people he’d turned his back on and left behind when he’d gone to college and only returned a few times a year.
Landslide was never really home to him. Yet, where else could he refer to as home? His mother’s family had deep roots in Landslide, in a line that traced back so far that everyone had lost track of exactly when and how his family had settled in rural Missouri. It was irrelevant now. Here they were; here he’d come back.
Gabriel unlocked the door to his SUV, jumped in, and shut the door behind him. He threw his shopping bag to the passenger’s seat and turned the ignition. The car was too quiet, even as the engine roared to life. Absently, he flicked on the radio and caught the tail end of the Beatles singing the chorus of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”
If only he could write melodies and lyrics as strong as those guys, he’d be set for life. But he’d never been one for pointless comparisons, so Gabriel quickly dismissed the thought, shifted the truck into drive and added his voice to the chorus as he drove out of the parking lot.
The shopping bag lurched forward as he made a turn and he reached out an arm to stop it from tumbling to the floor. A girl named Lennon. Why Lennon and not Lucy or Eleanor or any of the other girls’ names used in Beatles songs?
He kept driving, through town, made another turn that took him down a dark, winding gravel road. The sunlight emerged again, further down, where the trees had been cleared out a little more. From there, he could see the six acres of former farmland that his family lived on. Grandpa had left the land to Gabriel’s mother, his only child, who’d dragged her husband and three children from Columbia, Missouri, to this place when Gabriel, the eldest, had been thirteen.
Gabriel braked the car, slowing down on the dusty driveway before stopping altogether. It was one thing to visit over summers and have space to run around and act like lunatics. Living here was a different story.
The farmhouse was squat, two stories tall with an attic and an ancient cellar that had been finished and connected to the rest of the house. Dad had painted and sided it gray about ten years ago. The front porch was enclosed, scattered with potted plants. They were the only plants Gabriel’s mother, the farmer’s daughter, could grow without hopelessly ruining them.
He got out of the car, bag in hand, and shut the door. The porch steps sunk under his feet. He and Dad would have to reinforce those things soon.
“Gabe?” Mom called.
“Yeah?” He called back as he stepped across the threshold. “Hi Mom.”
“Where did you disappear off to?” She asked, glancing up from the dining room table, laid out with bills. One of her eyebrows was raised in a motherly, expectant sort of way, as if waiting to hear what kind of trouble he’d gotten into this time, but her eyes sparkled. Gabriel inherited his blue eyes from his mom.
“Wal-Mart,” he answered, pulling out a chair and plopping down. The dining room had barely changed from the days when his grandparents lived here. The table was newer and shinier, but floral wallpaper covered the walls and a family portrait from the 1970s hung in the place of honor across from the entryway. Gabriel quirked his lips to the side in amusement, eyes shooting toward the picture. The Farrah Fawcett look did not suit his mother’s light brown hair.
Gabriel put the shopping bag down on the floor and asked, “Are any of those mine?” He tried to see if his name was on any of them.
“Gabe, it’s really not a problem. You’re my son, I’ll cover your…”
“Mom, please,” he said. “I’m not working all the time down at the Kettle for kicks. I can cover the car and my one measly credit card.” Gabe bit his lip. He didn’t quite have enough to cover all of his expenses.
“And your phone?” Mom asked. “Let me at least pay for that. I thought the Kettle money was to pay for recording.”
Gabe shook his head. His mom never forgot anything. “That’s if and when I have anything to record.”
“I’m not buying that, Gabriel Robert,” she replied, writing in her checkbook. He leaned back in his chair with an inaudible sigh.
You know, maybe I should ask Principal Halter if he knows of any openings in any of the schools,” Gabe finally said.
“If you think that that’s what you want to do,” Mom replied, not looking up at him. “You’re miserable.”
“I’m not miserable,” he sighed, answering as if he’d been asked this question a few too many times.
“Gabriel, this town is too small for you.”
“Mom, with all due respect, this town is too small for everyone in it.”
His mother cracked up. “Why do you think I left?” She shut her checkbook decisively and looked at him. “You were the one who begged us to give you a year or two after college to get yourself and your music together. I’m not saying this just because I’m your mother, but you have talent. And I hate to see you sit here dejected because Seb and—”
Gabriel put his hand up. “Can we not talk about that, please?”
Upstairs, Gabriel passed Gerry’s room on the way to his own and found his brother sitting up at his computer, fingers flying on the keys. The blank page on the screen was quickly filling up with black type.
“Hey, man,” Gabe said, sticking his head in. Gerry’s room was small. The bed, the desk and the dresser practically touched each other, leaving a maze of patches to get around the furniture. Or, in Gerry’s case, a pile of clothes, books, CDs and carelessly tossed away textbooks. Not that Gabe was any neater or anything.
“What are you doing?” He asked.
“Trying something out,” Gerry replied, voice absent. “Lenny McKinney told me about how she’d gotten her characters to feel real to her. I want to see if this works.”
Gabe smiled to himself. His brother was absolutely obsessed. “Good luck.”
His room was in the corner of the house, away from the other bedrooms. It allowed him to make as much noise as he wanted to, within reason, with his instruments.
Gabe sighed as he collapsed down on his bed. He’d bought new guitar strings today. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d played, which was very unusual for him, but he’d need new strings and new picks.
His favorite guitar, a six-string acoustic, was leaning against the opposite wall. He wondered if it was crazy to think that it was staring at him, taunting him. He’d started almost every song he wrote on that guitar and although there were holes along the sound hole, the tone remained strong and clear.
Gabriel lay in bed, humming the first song that popped into place. “Lucy in the Sky” was pouring out of his mouth. Before he could even wonder how he knew all the lyrics, the guitar was cradled in his arms and he was tuning—holy shit, this was out of tune—and picking out chords.
Singing under his breath, he crooned, “Picture yourself on a boat on a…”
Gabriel worked six days a week. He filled his days at the bar. Eventually, he got up off the bed and got ready to work another shift. Saturdays were busy and he almost always came away with tons of tips.
The theatre crowd came in early in the night. From what he could hear, from what a few of them told him as they ordered their drinks, the cast list for the big August show had gone up that afternoon at the Tallis.
“I can’t believe she got it,” one of the actresses—he didn’t know her name and filed her away in his head as curly-haired and nasal—“I mean, really!”
“She’s got a beautiful voice,” another girl volunteered.
“She barely sings. I’ve never heard her,” Curly Hair replied.
They eventually fluttered away to a table. Gabriel glanced up at his next customer and saw Lennon’s profile, eyes following the talking girls. She turned to him, a trace of a smirk on her face.
“Hey, you,” she said to him.
“Hey,” he answered. “The list went up?”
“Oh, did it ever,” Lennon replied with a little chuckle. “The Tallis is buzzing. Stacey got the lead!” Her face lit up with a huge smile. She had dimples, one on each side of her mouth, and her teeth were perfectly straight.
“Is that who they were talking about?” He asked.
Lennon nodded with a giggle. “Yup. They can’t fucking believe it! It’s awesome!”
“Is Stacey here?” Gabriel asked.
“She will be. She’s at the theatre. I left her talking to the director. And placating her boyfriend.”
“’Kay. You want anything, little lady?” He watched her climb onto a stool. It was a bit of a production.
Once settled, Lennon said, “May I have a Bacardi and coke, please?”
“Yup,” he replied, stepping back to grab the bottle and a glass. “I won’t make you show ID.”
“I’m wearing fucking eyeliner today. So humor me and pretend that I look twenty-three tonight, please?”
Gabriel swept a glance over her. The bar was dark and Lennon’s lashes were black anyway, shadowy fringes lining her dark eyes. But, yeah, there was something different about her bottom lashes.
“What’s the occasion?” He asked, sliding her rum and coke over. She handed him a tip. “Thanks.” He shoved the cash into his pocket.
“Uh, I went into work this afternoon and decided that eyeliner was in order,” She made a face. “Didn’t sleep very well last night and I have a lovely set of blue half-moons under my eyes to prove it.”
“You look fine,” he shrugged. “How are Stacey and Nick?”
She rolled her eyes elaborately. He wondered if Lennon had always been a tad dramatic or if she was becoming more so.
“Lenny!” Gabriel glanced behind Len and saw a beaming Stacey bounding toward her. Stacey engulfed the smaller woman from behind; it almost looked like Stacey was balancing on her toes in excitement.
Lennon swallowed the mouthful of drink she had in her mouth and bounced on the stool. They chattered away about something; he wasn’t paying attention.
Gabriel averted his eyes. Lennon’s chest bounced with her, of course, but seemed to move separately, coming to rest a fraction of a millisecond after the rest of her. With a small smile in the direction of the two friends, Gabriel moved down the bar, taking orders.
When he got home late that night, Gabriel dug under his bed. He came across old Playboys and Maxims that he’d stashed there as a teenager, but more importantly, he came across an unused marble notebook.
It was two a.m. He leaned back in bed, rested the notebook on his boxer-covered lap, and bit the tip of a pen in thought.
Under the lamplight, Gabriel filled pages with phrases and words, partial verses and chords, even doodles, anything in order to get something going.
One of the sentences he scrawled read, “Might as well give it one last shot.”