Driving to Georgia on his own in August, after three seemingly interminable months of working construction in his hometown, was surreal. Casey had never traveled that far on his own before, though he’d taken road trips with friends, and he hadn’t been to the South at all. It made him feel like a real adult in a way that even graduating from college hadn’t. He slept in cheap hotels and listened to music and thought about all the things he was going to do in his new life. He ordered whiskey at bars and had long conversations with strange characters, which he wrote down in his notebook before going to sleep. He came in on 316 late at night, with Atlas Sound on the car stereo and the windows open to let in the light, rainy breeze and the scent of the pines. The deserted downtown streets shimmered before his tired eyes, and he was filled with a wild happiness.
But three weeks into the adventure, things weren’t looking as bright as they had in his summer dreams, even though the city was as cool as everyone had said it would be. Despite having worked almost continuously since he was 14, he couldn’t find a job, even a crappy one, for anything. Genevieve was in New York City most of that time visiting friends, and his new roommate, the older brother of a college friend, seemed completely shady.
Photo Credit: Kelly Hart
As he stumbled through the thick August air down the hill to the 909 Broad apartments that Friday after another afternoon in the coffee shop spent filling out degrading personality tests on the websites of retail chains, he wondered if he should have just gone to University of Colorado for grad school after all.
The things I do for love… he thought and smirked a little. He was determined to play things cool with Genevieve after all the false starts they’d had in college, but there had been some good signs, and he wasn’t sorry he’d come. If nothing else, life was exciting.
What are you up to after work? he texted her.
Seconds later, crossing the entrance to his building’s garage, he was nearly mown down by a Lexus SUV filled with beautiful blond girls whipping out onto Broad Street.
As he approached the apartment, his heart still pounding, he heard voices. Loud, braying voices with thick Southern accents, punctuated with a lot of dudes and sicks. Alex Hibbert’s high cackling laugh floated above them in intervals, replacing Casey’s romantic fantasies with dread and loathing. The only thing worse than his roommate was his roommate’s friends.
He opened the unlocked door and found Alex and five other guys with matching side-parted haircuts and loafers and tucked-in pastel polo shirts lounging on the leather sofas in the trashed living room in front of Alex’s huge flat-screen TV, which was playing some moronic MTV teen reality show. One of the things Casey initially found most puzzling about this group was their propensity to dress like middle-aged dads, even though none of them were over 25. Beer cans and Chick-Fil-A wrappers covered the coffee table. Great smears of mud and spilled drinks streaked the white carpet like a Jackson Pollock painting.
“What’s up, hipster?” Alex greeted Casey between puffs on a giant cigar. He was five-foot-four, rail-thin and asthmatic, with severe allergies and a goofy, ferrety-looking face, and had finished his first year of law school near the bottom of his class, yet he was one of the most arrogant people Casey had ever met. It hadn’t taken him long to figure it out—Alex was rich. Interestingly, Casey had not guessed that about his friend, Alex’s brother. “Get a job yet?”
“No,” Casey said with a scowl. Alex’s friends gaped at him.
“I don’t know why anyone would move to a shitty place like Athens if they didn’t have to,” Alex mused as Casey headed down the hall to his room. “He came here from Chicago!” he said incredulously.
In Casey’s bedroom, a tall guy with huge calves wearing a lavender button-down and a UGA visor was browsing through the bookcase Casey had recently bought off Craigslist, reading the back of White Noise and scratching his nose. Casey had never seen him before in his life, though he seemed completely at home among Casey’s things.
“This any good?” the guy asked in a friendly tone.
“Yeah. It’s one of my favorite books,” Casey said, thrown off guard. He was sure he’d closed his door when he went out that morning.
“Cool records. You get the player online, or what?”
Through the fourth-story window, Casey saw girls splashing in the pool as the sun set and the lights of downtown began to glow above the trees. Want to do a line of coke before we leave? he heard Alex say from the other room. His spirits suddenly felt very low.
“You coming out with us tonight?” Casey’s unwanted guest asked cheerfully as he replaced the book on the shelf and picked up The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.
“I don’t know. I might have plans. Where are you going?”
“Same as usual. Probably Magnolia’s or Allgood.”
On one hand, Casey wasn’t sure if he wanted to go anywhere with these guys, or if he should really go out at all, given that he hadn’t found a job yet and was paying $650 a month in rent. On the other hand, he didn’t want to spend a Friday night alone in his room feeling depressed if Genevieve was busy or didn’t text him back.
Casey’s phone vibrated then, and his heart jumped. It was a message from Genevieve.
I get off at 10 probably going out with some friends if you want to meet up, it said.
“Okay, I guess I will,” Casey said, feeling revived.
“Sweet,” his new friend said absently. “Hey, is this Led Zeppelin?”