Lennon heard Hikari above the din of the airport before she spotted her younger sister, who was jumping up and down behind taller people, trying to get her big sister’s attention.
“Hikari-chan!” Lennon called, picking her sister up for a brief moment before putting the preteen down. She was too heavy to lift and her legs dragged and bumped into Lennon’s own.
Jack stood behind Hikari. Under the glare of airport lighting, Jack shone pale, freckles standing out on his face.
“You did not get taller,” Len said to him rudely, looking at him up and down. He seemed taller than what she remembered. His hair even looked more orange-tinged than what she remembered.
“Maybe you shrunk,” he replied, equally rude. “Now Hikari has to get out of your room.”
“Welcome home!” Their parents said, engulfing their eldest in strong hugs.
When the family arrived home, Lennon stood at the doorway to her room and stared into it. Her posters were still on the wall. The picture frames were each in their places. Her books were shelved the way she’d left him, except perhaps a little neater. The mini Louisville Slugger her cousin had brought her after a pilgrimage to Kentucky was in its place of honor on the shelf closest to the door. Her CDs were piled haphazardly, covered by a film of thick dust. That blasted alarm clock was sitting on the dresser, but it was at least an hour ahead. No, wait, she was an hour behind.
Several of Hikari’s favorite DVDs littered the carpet. The girl’s pajamas were strewn on the bed.
“Oh, sorry,” Hikari said, rushing into the room like a twister, grabbing for her pajamas. “You can have your room back. Sorry. I know it’s annoying when I move in.”
“You know, actually, I don’t really care,” Len said honestly. “Why do you like it in here so much better?”
Hikari shrugged. “I don’t know. I just like it better.” She sighed. “Did you find yourself, Lennon?”
Len bit her lip. “I think I did. I found out a lot of things.”
“I don’t know what you’re so stinking cheerful about,” Lennon’s friend Nadine grumbled a week later, as the two girls sat down to lunch in the city. “Summer’s over. Now it’s pointless to try to tan on Rockaway Beach.”
“You’re talking to the wrong person,” Len replied, holding out a pale, but freckled arm. The waiter came by and asked them if they wanted a refill on their sodas. “Yeah, I’ll have another, thanks,” Len replied with a smile. “Maybe I shouldn’t fill up too much on pop…”
“’Pop?’” Nadine repeated, horrified.
Lennon laughed. “I knew that would get you going! Relax. I haven’t gone that Midwestern on you.”
Nadine narrowed her eyes in suspicion.
“Three more months and I’m done,” Lennon said. “I’ll have my certificate.”
“I repeat: why are you cheerful? You hate school.”
She shrugged. “Being productive. Getting things done. It feels good.”
Nadine rolled her eyes.
The next day, Lennon needed to take the subway in to the city to meet with Alexandra. It was an easy subway ride to the Times Square area. Lennon had been riding the subway since she was in junior high school and it had grown to be a normal experience to be in a beat-up, speeding train underground.
Stepping on a Manhattan-bound E train, Lennon found a seat immediately. The doors slid shut and the train lurched into life. She didn’t have to make any transfers on this trip and her stop, 42nd Street, was a fairly large one. It took about forty-five minutes to get to her destination and by that time, Lennon was dying to see something besides dark, gloomy train tunnels and stations and platforms that had seen better days.
The subway ten years ago had made her feel like an adult. Ten months ago, she’d hardly thought of the subway at all; it was how she traveled, imperfectly, from place to place. Ten days ago, she’d driven a car in a small town called Landslide perfectly.
As she waited for Alexandra outside of a movie theater, Lennon peered into her wallet. Her learner’s permit, which would expire in the spring, was in its place behind clear plastic in the center flap of her wallet. She didn’t even look like that girl anymore. In her photo, Lennon still had baby fat in her cheeks and a pouty little frown.
“You really want to do this?” Madeline asked her three days later, as the two sat in Madeline’s car, which was parked along a service lane on Queens Boulevard.
Lennon nodded emphatically. “I’m actually a pretty good driver.”
Mady grinned. “That’s good to hear! Can you handle this?” She pointed out of her window to the mess on the main portion of the road. Queens Boulevard was a highway disguised as a street. In Lennon’s lifetime, it had come to be known as the Boulevard of Death because so many people had been killed trying to cross it.
She swallowed thickly. Here, in Forest Hills, Queens Boulevard was something like twelve to sixteen lanes wide, with traffic coming from every which way.
“Not right now,” Lennon said quickly.
“But you drove on highways in Missouri?”
“Empty, boring highways with nothing on them,” Len said, picking at her nails. “I miss it. This place is a little too busy for me.”
Mady pulled the gear into drive. Then she asked, sounding genuinely curious, “Did you feel like you belonged there, Len?”
“Yes and no,” Len said. “Theater people will adopt anyone. But Landslide is a tiny, tiny town. It’s a farming community. I couldn’t do that forever.” She shrugged off the seriousness of their conversation and said, “I’m a New Yorker. Queens has ruined me for a lot of other places.”
Mady snickered. “You know, I love Queens. But I don’t believe in choosing a place to be forever. It’s too restricting.” Glancing up into her rearview mirror, Mady turned the wheel slightly and began turning out of the spot. “You miss him, don’t you?”
“Yeah…God, Mady, I’m an idiot. I turned him away.”
“Did you have at least a good reason for it?” Mady asked. Her chin rose high to see the end of her car hood.
“I think so.” She had reasons, sure, but they were vague threads. Lennon wasn’t sure if she could voice them aloud.
“Then that’s all that matters.”
School began and she fell into the routine of commuting, studying, and trying to figure out what to do when it was all over.
Lennon had received good grades throughout her education. She liked learning, but the structure of school irritated her, with the stupid rules and deadlines and annoying quizzes and exams. She kept her head down and studied, however, knowing that there was an end in sight soon.
The emails began after Labor Day. Gabe wrote to tell her he was back in Chicago and that he was rooming with his old drummer, who’d agreed to come back into the fold to hammer out new material.
She wrote back, venting her frustrations on how slow the subway seemed to her now and how she’d scheduled a road test, with her brave brother sitting in the backseat as a passenger while Mady and Nadine alternated as the supervisory licensed drivers she needed.
A week later, he sent her a link to a revamped MySpace music page, the band’s, along with his solo one. Lennon spread the links around her small circle of friends. She sent him a CD she’d been listening to a lot a few days later.
In mid-October, Lennon received a CD in the mail with a short letter wrapped around them: “Lucy—Good luck with midterms! Kick ass on press releases—may need one someday. Thought you might want a listen; they’re tentatively going on the album and they’re not posted on MySpace yet. ‘Talk’ to you later. G.”
So she listened to the fifteen tracks contained on the CD over and over again. Some of the songs were harder-edged, loud rock songs and Gabriel wailed out notes that made Lennon smile widely every time she heard them. There were gentler songs, which sometimes brought tears to her eyes and sometimes made her reflective. All fifteen of them made her constant subway commutes easier to bear. Hearing Gabriel’s voice in her ear calmed her.
She forced her friends to listen to his stuff. Hikari heard it often because it was all Lennon listened to for about two weeks. The sisters went around singing his songs. Gabriel’s music traveled up Lennon’s Top 25 Most Played Songs list on Lennon’s iTunes swiftly.
In between everything, Lennon sat up way too late some nights and wrote volumes. She emailed Gabriel a finished piece that she submitted to a web contest for short stories at the end of November. He was the first person she called when she found out she won.
“That is fucking amazing, Lucy!” He said. “Really! I’m so proud.”
“Well, you know, listen to enough of your stuff and it gets a girl writing. I got fifty dollars as a prize,” Lennon told him.
“That’s great,” Gabriel said. “Since you said I inspired this, feel like splitting the money?”
“Hell, no, boy!” They laughed together. “How’s the album?”
“Making progress. I have to get to the day job in a little bit.”
“What’s the current day job?”
“Waiting tables. Studio time’s crazy expensive,” he said. “Even all the tips from the Kettle that I saved haven’t quite covered all of my bills. Rent, food, phone, car, water, heat, electricity, beer…”
“Porn,” Lennon added.
“None of your business,” Gabriel teased.
“Oh, please, you’re a twenty-four-year-old man,” Lennon replied. “I have a nineteen-year-old brother. I know how you think.”
“Oh, do you?” He said, making his voice low and breathy.
He let out a booming laugh. “I miss you. So does Little Gabe.”
“Oh, lord,” she replied with a laugh. “I’m sorry about that, by the way. I’m sorry it was so…awkward.”
“Don’t apologize. I’m the one attached to Little Gabe.”
“And here’s an awkward transition: so, my friend Alex was listening to ‘Shy Girl’ the other day…”
“Your friends must be so tired of listening to my annoying voice,” he said.
“They probably are, but they wouldn’t dare say it to my face. Except Nadine, but she’s honest like that and at least she’s up front about it.”
“Mmm. ‘Shy Girl’?”
“Alex has a theory that that song is about me,” Lennon said.
“It is. I wrote it after you left.”
“Yeah. Hence the lyric about having you in my lap and now I’m the one blushing.”
“I don’t blush,” she protested.
“You did around me, babe.”