Casey wasn’t being a chump for thinking things might finally work out with Genevieve, though there were plenty of other guys who liked her, too. They’d been good friends since freshman orientation, when she’d complimented his Neutral Milk Hotel T-shirt. But she’d still been together then with her high school boyfriend, a ridiculously good-looking guy who went to the University of Tennessee and wrote her long love letters every night and drove to Chicago every long weekend he could find and texted her naked pictures of himself during her classes. She hadn’t even wanted to go to Northwestern, but her parents, who were both University of Georgia professors, insisted she go to the best school she could get into, even though what she really wanted to do was stay in Athens and keep playing with her band.
So in college she went to the classes she thought she could learn something from and went to the others just enough to pass, and spent the rest of her time going to shows and practicing her drums, and Casey went to as many of those events with her as he could without feeling like a dopey guy trailing after someone else’s girlfriend, though he couldn’t deny that if she were ever single he’d ask her out in an instant. She was unlike anyone he’d ever known. And she was the first person he met who seemed to see him as he saw himself; back in his tiny hometown of Valentine, Nebraska, no one had cared what he had to say or really seemed to notice he was around. There were a couple of fellow misfits he considered friends, but none of them liked the things he did, and their conversations were never of much substance. They were just nice guys. Genevieve, on the other hand, had laughed at his jokes and asked him questions about his drawings and stories, and they skateboarded together through the empty campus at night before the ice came. They talked about things like death and sex and the war in Afghanistan, and they added to each other’s equally large music collections. She’d invited him to parties, and soon, for the first time in his life, he actually had plenty of real friends—he was even somewhat popular, to the extent that the term has any meaning in college. And it had all started with Genevieve. If he’d let himself, he would have been in love with her, he knew.
Unfortunately, when she and Zachary broke up sophomore year, it was during the six months that Casey was dating Katherine Zimmerman, whom he also really liked. Genevieve called Casey a lot during that time and flirted with him more than she ever had, but he didn’t want to hurt Katherine’s feelings and wasn’t certain when it came down to it that Genevieve wouldn’t just flake out on him. By the time he’d resolved to end things, Genevieve was going out with a 25-year-old DJ who lived in the city, and she’d disappeared from the house parties in Evanston that Casey and his friends went to.
Casey and Katherine went out for another year until things fizzled out. Genevieve and the DJ guy were together until New Year’s Eve of her senior year, when she walked in on him in the bathroom of a club with another girl.
Photo Credit: C.J. Bartunek
But then, on a windy night in April, she and Casey saw each other again at a party. It was like no time had passed, though he was acutely conscious that they weren’t gawky teenagers anymore, and that he should have broken up with Katherine the second Genevieve was free. She was wearing a green dress and a leather biker jacket; her hair was short and her face was thinner. She’d always been cute, but now she was beautiful. “Hey,” he said, his voice cracking embarrassingly. “Genevieve.”
Time seemed to freeze in the packed, grungy kitchen as they gazed at each other across the keg. She smiled at him, and they ended up spending the rest of the night on the beat-up couch on the balcony sharing a bottle of wine and talking about all the late-night revelations about life they’d had during their senior year, about how they couldn’t believe how old they were or that college was almost over, about the books and songs that had changed them. Soon, they were kissing, and it was one of the rare instances in Casey’s life so far when something he’d wanted so badly for so long was as great as he’d imagined it would be.
“I’ve always had a huge crush on you,” she told him that night, snuggling into his arms. “I’m so glad this finally happened.”
All the next week, she was busy every time he called or texted her. When he passed her outside of the coffee shop on Wednesday, she looked confused and flustered, and she blushed, which he’d never seen her do. But by the night she came to return his book, which she’d borrowed for a class two years previously and he’d assumed she’d forgotten about, she seemed to have recovered her composure, and when she suggested he check out Georgia he took it to heart. For the next several days before their parents came to town, they spent as much time together as they could, helping each other pack and performing various end-of-college rituals with friends headed to New York and Los Angeles and the Peace Corps. “We’ll stay in touch in Facebook,” they all told each other. “I’m sure we’ll be back in the same city again at some point.”
Everyone he asked who knew anything about Athens told him he’d like it, and during that Saturday’s round of the house-party circuit, he learned that another friend’s brother went to the UGA law school and had a room to sublet near downtown. By the weekend of graduation, after reading online and looking at photos and listening over and over to Reckoning (and thinking of Genevieve, who’d burned it for him three years before), he was convinced—Athens it was.
He probably would have seriously considered Siberia if she’d suggested it.