Photo Credit: Kelly Hart
Broad Street was packed with cars when Casey and his unlikely new friends passed the Farmer’s Exchange lofts and the lights of downtown stretched before them. Everything felt so exotic to him; even the air was different in Georgia. The awareness that Athens was Genevieve’s hometown gave the entire place an enchanted feel; every new street he’d walked onto in the weeks since he’d arrived made him feel like he knew her a little better. And as much as he mistrusted his roommate and his frat-tastic cohort, it was nice to be part of a group again, even if he was the only one who hadn’t pre-partied. Their random whoops and hollers were sort of endearing; in Evanston, he didn’t remember anyone ever bursting into cheers at the prospect of going to a bar or party.
The lights were low in Magnolia’s, and the room was crowded with knots of preppy-looking guys and girls shouting to each other over the music. Casey felt out-of-place in his plain T-shirt and Converse sneakers and ratty khaki shorts, which he’d worn despite Alex’s frequent assertions that wearing shorts out looked “retarded.” Alex already looked overheated in his jeans and dark shirt, despite the frozen breeze of the air conditioning. His eyes glittered in his flushed face and he was sloshing his gin and tonic on the floor as he and his friends scouted the room.
“Buy me a drink?” a pretty girl with long straight hair and a short purple dress asked Casey as she sidled up to him, smiling coyly. Somehow, Athens seemed to have a higher-than-average percentage of astonishingly beautiful girls, he’d noticed.
“Sorry,” he said, uncomfortable. Even if he hadn’t been waiting to hear from Genevieve, he wasn’t going to spend his dwindling pocket money on someone who was probably going to disappear the second she’d finished her Long Island iced tea.
“You’re fine,” she said in an excessively polite Southern drawl as she flounced away and the guys around him gawked and punched each other. What’s the matter with you? they wanted to know; Casey just shrugged. To console himself, he thought for the millionth time about the night he’d spent with Genevieve during graduation weekend. They hadn’t slept together, but they’d come close, and all summer he’d thought about what it would be like when they finally met again. As he drank his beer he clutched his phone in his pocket, waiting for her to call.
Genevieve never went anywhere alone, and when she walked through the door of Magnolia’s, she was surrounded by her entourage, which tonight consisted—dismayingly—of five or six guys and not even one other girl. She looked amazing in her cropped T-shirt and high-waisted Levi’s cut-offs and black eyeliner. One of the guys said something and she threw her head back and laughed. The others all stared at her in admiration. Even Alex and his friends checked her out as she headed toward them.
“Casey!” she said, her words blurred a little by alcohol. “It’s so great to see you again.” She smelled like beer and suntan lotion as she hugged him. “These are my friends—” she said, but he didn’t catch anyone’s name as she introduced them, since she was holding onto his hand. “We just came from Walker’s.”
“Do you want another drink?” one of the guys asked her. He was older than the rest of them, six-foot-five and gaunt, with a slightly hooked nose and stringy chin-length blond hair, and he was wearing a loose flowered shirt and shorts and ankle boots. Somehow he looked familiar to Casey.
She nodded. “I’ll go with you,” she said and dropped Casey’s hand to follow him. She put her hands on his waist and he turned back and laughed. Two more of the guys headed for the bar after them. Casey’s heart sank, although he at least had the consolation that there was no way Genevieve would actually be interested in someone so old. The flowered-shirt guy had to be at least 30.
“That’s Caspian Quinn,” said the remaining friend in a low voice. He looked closer to Casey’s age, and his broad, cheerful face made him immediately likable. He wore clunky, black-framed glasses, and his smile revealed a missing canine tooth.
“Who is?” asked Casey.
“Him,” the guy said, nodding toward the tall, skinny one. “From Waning Gibbous.”
“No kidding?” Casey asked, impressed and disturbed at once. He was surprised he hadn’t recognized him. “God, their last album blew my mind. I was supposed to see them in Chicago this spring, but the show got canceled.”
The Joy of Sects had felt like the only thing that got Casey through the cold and gloomy winter, when he’d been waking up with panic attacks about the yawning gap that loomed beyond graduation. The sample review of it he’d sent to Pitchfork was what convinced the editor to ask him for more work, even though they’d already covered it. The fact that Waning Gibbous was based out of Athens had in fact been a significant selling point of the town.
“Yeah, it was sweet. I’m Jackson,” he said, putting out his hand.
"Nice to meet you.”
“If you wanted to get something from the bar, I could grab a table for everyone.”
“Nah, I don’t drink.”
Across the room, Casey saw his roommate talking to the same girl who’d asked him to buy her a drink earlier. Alex was probably going on already about the “lifestyle” that becoming a lawyer was going to afford him. He didn’t even pretend to be interested in the law; he was the first young person Casey had met who was so openly cynical about his chosen career path.
At the bar, Genevieve was deep in conversation with Caspian Quinn, who, prior to that night, had been one of Casey’s top favorite singer-songwriters.
“Do you guys hang out with him a lot?” Casey asked Jackson.
“Genevieve does, I guess. I just met him tonight. He’s actually, like, a super nice guy.”
Caspian Quinn. Jesus.