As far as her bespectacled eyes could see, there was mud: sticky, brown, mucky mud.
After swishing mouthwash around her gums and teeth, combing her hair, washing off the makeup she’d forgotten she had on last night and reapplying eyeliner and coverall, she’d gotten back into last night’s jeans and underwear, took a T-shirt that was definitely too small for Gabe and wore it, leaving her blouse open over it. After swiping on some of Gabe’s deodorant and tying her chaotic hair up tightly, Len joined Gabriel on the front porch.
“Can you get out of that?” She asked him, looking pointedly at his SUV, the wheels stuck.
“I can try,” Gabriel said. He glanced once at her feet. She wore boots, but they were not the mud-walking kind. “Come here.” With one swoop, he picked her up off the wood planks. One arm was under her knees, the other around her shoulders. He stepped off the porch steps, which squeaked under their weight.
Lennon heard Gabe’s boots slush in the mud, a squelching wet sound emanating with every step he took.
“Please don’t drop me,” she begged.
“I won’t,” he answered. “See? I’m walking carefully. Sloshing through mud with a hundred pounds of girlfriend in my arms.” Moving a foot forward, he wobbled as the ground swallowed his foot, sinking down. Lennon tightened an arm around his shoulder. She shut her eyes and waited to feel mud splatter her coat and hat less head.
Gabriel laughed. She could feel the laugh begin in his belly, even through both of their layers and heavy coats.
“You’re such an ass,” she said, smacking the back of his head gently and imperceptibly. “Boyfriend. Oh, my God. I have a boyfriend.” That was going to take a little getting used to. Even saying it aloud felt strange.
“Don’t sound so pleased about it,” Gabe replied, a teasing grin crossing his face. “It’s not that much different from what we’ve been like. Except we have a term for ourselves instead of, ‘Lucy, my friend…girl I like…muse…person…’ How did you explain me to your friends?”
“Gabriel…guy I hooked up with…turned him down and regretted it.”
He stopped slogging through. “You didn’t turn me down, not really. Don’t dwell. Believe me. It doesn’t do you any good.” He moved forward again. “No reason to, now. We’ve kissed, groped, rolled around in the grass, spent a night, spent way too much time on the phone, and in the future, I will attempt to take off your clothes when you’re not looking.”
“I like that you can pick me up,” she said softly.
“Yeah?” He leaned in and kissed the tip of her nose. “Here, sit on the hood for a sec.” The arm holding her knees dropped away, letting her feet perch on the front bumper. Lennon wiggled her butt up the hood a little bit. Gabriel regarded her for a few seconds. His eyes darkened.
“If Gerry’s window didn’t face the front…” She could read the thoughts crossing his mind on his face and voiced them. “And if it wasn’t January in Missouri…” She added.
“Hmm. You can read me like a book.”
“You’re not that hard to figure out, Gabriel.”
“Yeah? Neither are you, Len.” Leaning toward her lap, he joked, “How do you feel about frostbite?”
She had an idea. That was all it took for Lennon to try to find a pen in her crowded purse and finger through her pocket planner, looking for a blank page in the back.
Gabriel was driving them to Kansas City and they were currently on the rather bland Route 65. Afternoon traffic was “light.” Lennon saw maybe two other cars on the road. The January sun, unseasonably clear and strong, filtered in through the windows and warmed up the truck so that Len had slipped out of her heels and propped her feet up low on the dashboard. He glanced over at her as she filed between her wallet, cell phone, keys and a pack of gum in search of a pen.
He had a pen in his hand, pointing in her direction. She took it from him and flashed him a grateful look.
“Thank you, Gabe.”
He changed lanes on Route 65, headed toward I-70. He drove as if it were second nature, which it probably was considering that he’d been driving since he was fifteen. One big hand was curled around the wheel, while the other adjusted the heat. Len bent her head and wrote.
“It’s the song that was playing,” she finally spoke, still writing.
“Stacey loves them.”
“Are you going to be able to read that later?” Gabriel asked after several minutes of silence.
Lennon laughed, turning the page. Her script was cramped to fit the page and scribbling in a car on a highway wasn’t ideal. “I hope so. It might be good.”
“So where does your mother think you’ve been for the last two days?” Lennon asked Gabriel, whose head rested against her breasts. The two were entangled—Lennon wearing an oversized T-shirt, Gabriel in only his boxers—under two blankets on Lennon’s narrow bed in Stacey’s extra room. The tall lamp that came with the apartment illuminated the empty room softly. And empty it was. All the room contained was furniture and Lennon’s bag, which she’d hurriedly closed the moment Gabriel set foot into the room. There was no need for him to see the now-wrinkled panties she’d stuck in there in New York.
Gabriel laughed. She felt the warm air tickle through her shirt. “Oh, she knows where I’ve been. It’s Landslide. They all know.”
His eyes met hers. “Does that bother you?”
“No. I mean, we’re not doing what they probably assume we’re doing.” She bit her lip. “Not yet anyway.”
Gabriel laughed into her chest. “Patience, Lucy.”
“I don’t have any, Gabriel.”
“You keep saying that. You’re more patient than you think you are.”
“You haven’t seen me in my natural habitat.”
“Oh, yeah, the exotic Lennon. Native to Queens. You can pick her out by her round ass, her boobs and her dark hair. Deceptively small. Highly intelligent and highly deprecating. May incite terror in the male species.”
“You fucker!” She cracked up, tears leaking out of her eyes as she shook with laughter.
“Ooh, she cursed at me,” he remarked. Blue eyes glittering, he urged, “Say that again.”
“Fuck, yes,” he groaned. She felt him smirk into her shirt. “Little Gabe is satisfied with that response.”
“Little Lennon isn’t.”
“Baby, you can’t personify your genitals.” His hand moved to her right thigh. “Your boobs on the other hand…”