Lennon marched down the main paved road, her feet carrying her quickly to nowhere. It was Saturday, the day after an exhausting afternoon in Sedalia, and she’d intended to spend the afternoon annoying her sister over the phone.
But fate had intervened, in the form of a bellowing Nick followed by a high-pitched, screaming Stacey, who sounded unhinged. After a tense, silent drive back to Landslide, those two had gone off somewhere to talk, while Lennon had opened a Word document on her laptop and wrote out what happened. She hadn’t kept a diary since she was fifteen, but she felt the need to purge herself and the best way to do that was to type without censoring herself.
The drive had been uneventful. No state troopers showed themselves. Despite her trembling hands and constantly darting eyes, Lennon made herself swallow her anxiety. Stacey looked forlorn and Nick’s vein hadn’t retracted into place. Even though there were highways involved in the trip back, she was the only other alternative.
Lennon picked up her purse, iPod and cell phone and left the house. She’d called Hikari. Then she called Madeline, had a text message conversation with Alexandra, and talked to Etta.
“You can’t walk anywhere out there!” Etta said, in the middle of her litany about why she could never live anywhere but in New York.
“Well, that’s not true because I’m out here and I’m walking,” Len replied.
True, it was a fairly long walk, about three miles to the town limits, where Wal-Mart was located. Its size and the huge asphalt parking lot were about as out of place as a skyscraper would have been in Landslide.
She wormed her way to the book section immediately. The selection was a bit limited for her taste, but they were books nonetheless, immaculate new ones with that new smell. Len found a section of the more girly books—chick lit, for whatever reason, she was in the mood for it today—and began reading back cover summaries. A professor had told her that eventually, being a writer, she’d start reading things in a different way. She’d start reading books in a cruelly critical way, as a piece to study and either emulate or bash. “The one thing about writing is that eventually, the more you study it, the more you read. And the more you read, the more you start analyzing and editing and revising it in your head. And then, you lose the ability to read books normally.”
Lennon flipped open a book and read the first page. She was able to switch the critical writer and reviser on and off. She remained an avid reader, able to lose herself in the experience a book offered with the characters, the plot, the words and her overactive imagination.
This beginning wasn’t half bad. She turned to page two.
There was a light tap on her shoulder and Len glanced over her shoulder, then turned fully, coming face to chest with a silver pirate skull in the middle of a black T-shirt. Then she looked up and smiled, closing the book on her finger to keep her place.
“Fancy seeing you,” Gabriel said. “Gerry usually hangs out here.”
“Oh, does he like chick lit, too?” She joked.
“He’s always been a weepy kid,” Gabriel replied. “I think he may be a closet romance novel reader, but don’t quote me on that.”
“I’m sure his girlfriend appreciates it.”
Gabriel grinned down at her. He was about a foot taller than her and his broad shoulders and muscular arms should have made her feel smaller, as other people often did by the difference in size and sheer force of personality.
Lennon had perfected the ability to blend into the background at home, merely one of many, nothing special to distinguish her.
But with Gabriel’s blue eyes trained on her, there was nowhere to hide. Lennon crossed her arms across her chest, shoving the book under one elbow.
Yet, she wasn’t precisely uncomfortable. Maybe it was because he was a bartender and she’d seen him make conversation with everyone who wandered into the Kettle, but Gabriel drew people in. She wondered if it was a talent garnered by growing up in a place like Landslide, where you knew everyone and were perfectly aware of your spot in the pecking order.
“I needed an escape. Plus, I’m running out of new reading material,” she said, after realizing that they’d been staring at each other for at least minute without saying a word.
“That’s tragic,” he said. “Have you read this?” He held up a paperback. He was holding a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.
“So it goes,” Lennon quoted. “Read it when I was in college.”
“Me, too,” he answered. “It’s been a while. I’m surprised they had it,” he added with a sniff. “It’ll give me something to read when the bar’s not busy,” he said, glancing down at the cover. “I needed new reading material, too. Well, newish.”
“Ah. Not a reader of chick lit, then?”
Gabriel let out a laugh, his very blue eyes and face lighting up at the sound, as if he was truly joyful for those few seconds. His lips turned up into a smirk. “Hmm. If I read chick lit, would it help me understand women?”
“It may,” Len replied with a smile. “There’s no real way to decipher us as a group, though. Sorry.”
“I figured. My last girlfriend decided that I was boring and a jerk and then topped it off with ‘You don’t understand me!’” He finished off in a screechy falsetto.
“That sounds like Stace and Nick. They’re having a ‘discussion.’” She brought her hands up to do air quotes, even though her left hand was weaved into the book. “They’ve had the same one for the last twenty…” Glancing at her watch, Len finished, “Twenty-five hours, so I figured I’d leave and walk and I ended up here.”
“You walked?” Gabriel repeated, resting a hand on a high shelf beside her, which drew attention to his triceps. Her eyes felt glued to his arm.
“I can’t drive this far yet,” Len laughed, fibbing slightly. She didn’t feel ready to drive this far, completely on her own. Yesterday had been an anomaly. “I like walking. My friends and I would walk twenty, thirty blocks in the city to get somewhere or vent or find a Starbucks or a bench.” She thought about the busyness of New York, the crowds of people she found so aggravating yet fascinating; all different kinds of people, threading together and apart to make up New York City. There may have been a part of her that even missed the place.
“I did that in Chicago. Good place for that kind of thing.”
“You lived in Chicago?”
“Went to college there,” Gabriel said. “I was in a band. We had gigs playing clubs. We recorded an EP, were on the way to recording an album, but…life happened, I guess. Then there was girl drama.” He made a face. “She was an actress.”
“Ooh,” Lennon winced. “So when did you come back?”
“About four, five months ago, but it’s Landslide. I don’t know what I expected when I came back. It’s exactly the way I left it.” Then he stepped away from the shelf and pulled away from personal talk. “Are you going to walk back? I can take you. If you think they’re done with the arguing.”
“I wouldn’t bet on it. I think I’m safer here.”