It was after three by the time Casey returned to his building, but a pounding dubstep beat filled the hall when he reached the fifth floor; as he got closer, he realized it was coming from his unit. All the lights were blazing when he unlocked the door, and a horrible burning smell assaulted him.
Through the veil of smoke he saw that Alex was sitting in one of the leather recliners, typing furiously on his laptop while The Dark Knight Rises blasted from the huge TV behind him. His hair stuck straight up from his head and his face was flushed. His sweaty dress shirt was completely unbuttoned and his white face was contorted into a sour grimace.
“Hey!” Casey shouted over the music. Alex looked up after a second. A volley of stomps and shouts echoed from the apartment above, and Alex swore loudly at the ceiling.
“Those guys are such assholes,” he muttered.
The upstairs neighbors now seemed to be jumping as hard as they could in protest against the terrible music.
“What’s burning?” Casey yelled.
Alex swore again as he tossed his computer aside and scrambled to his feet. “I forgot my pizza.” The screen revealed the Facebook page of a skinny and very tan girl with a Darth Vader helmet of pale blond hair. She was standing on the deck of a sailboat in a bikini top and shorts, with her hands on her hips and a perky grin plastered across her face.
While Alex dealt with the charred remains of his midnight snack, Casey took the opportunity to turn the stereo way down and open the doors to the balcony. The jumping stopped, though the room was now filled with battle sounds from the movie, which Casey turned down too.
“Did you guys stay out late?” Casey asked when Alex returned.
“Till last call. It sucked.”
“Total sausage fest. Except for some ugly girls.”
“Who’s that?” Casey asked, flopping down on the couch and looking at Alex’s computer. “She’s cute.”
“Ugh, her? She’s a bitch. She’s my ex.” He glared at her photo.
As Casey watched Alex clicking through the girl’s profile, it dawned on him that Alex was in fact logged in as her. A good looking dark-haired guy in an Alabama sweatshirt appeared on the screen, and Alex clicked on a drop-down menu and chose “Unfriend,” then confirmed his choice. “Connor Tisdale” disappeared. Over the next few minutes, guys named Jimmy, Trevor and Scott suffered the same fate. Apparently satisfied, Alex clicked on another tab open to Gmail, signed out, and then signed back in with a different username.
“What are you doing?” Casey finally asked.
“Just cleaning house a little.” He cackled and cracked his knuckles. “She’s so dumb, she never changes her passwords.”
This admission gave Casey an uneasy feeling of obligation. On one hand, now that he knew, he felt responsible for alerting Kimberley Ann Wallis, a girl he didn’t know and probably would never meet, that she was being cyberstalked by his roommate. Yet he already knew that he probably wouldn’t. He’d contemplate it periodically and feel righteous, but when it came down to it he’d be too apathetic. A rich-looking, blandly pretty cheerleader-type girl like her just wasn’t someone he could muster too much indignation over.
“She’s going through this slutty phase since she moved to Atlanta,” Alex said. “It’s kind of pathetic. She’s obsessed with getting married.”
A strange look came over Alex’s face as he continued cataloguing his ex-girlfriend’s many faults, which also included being flat-chested and wearing Ugg boots with gym shorts, and he paused mid-sentence. Seconds later, a fat bubble of blood slowly descended from his left nostril, followed by a fast-flowing stream that dripped onto his keyboard. “Shit!” Alex cried, clamping his shirtsleeve over his face and running toward the bathroom. Blood sprinkled the white carpet in his wake.
Slightly stunned, Casey sat on the couch for a few more minutes. He stared at the movie but didn’t take it in. He hated superhero movies.
Photo Credit: Kelly Hart
Even though it was nearly 4 a.m. Casey wasn’t tired. In his room, he opened the window and put a Jesus and Mary Chain album on the record player. Even with all the lights off, his room was still bathed in the amber glow of the town. He pressed his face to the screen and looked out toward downtown.
He was hurt by Genevieve and embarrassed that he’d based a cross-country move on her, but mostly he was just indignant that she didn’t recognize the incipient greatness in him that he saw in himself, though he wouldn’t have been able to put this feeling into words and would have disavowed it if he had. He’d liked her very sincerely, maybe even loved her, but as he stood at the window he thought about how many bigger fish he had to fry; he was going to be a great writer and his life itself would be a work of art. Moving to Athens was just a starting point, but it hadn’t disappointed him. It was an interesting twist, which proved the mysteriousness of fate. The pulsating romance of the clubs and the blurry downtown lights and the distorted guitars that vibrated through his soul were enough in themselves, and in those moments he wanted nothing more than to live inside the music and be absorbed. It made him think of the Oversoul, which he’d taken notes on in college and then forgotten.
That a great love awaited him in the near future, he had no doubt. And if a great love were to be inspired in him, the girl who inspired it could not but be extraordinary. Somewhere out there in the wide world she was doing something. Maybe she was asleep and dreaming; maybe she was awake too and thinking about the shadowy ideal that would turn out to be him. Maybe she was in New York, in a cramped apartment over a deli or a gay bar, with peeling wallpaper and starving artist roommates on the other side of her thin bedroom wall. Maybe she was in San Francisco or Berkeley, bundled in a sweater and flannel pants against the cold fog. Maybe she was even in Athens, a cool Southern girl who loved rock and drove a pickup truck and read great novels. Maybe they’d even been at the same shows together, their hearts thrilling to the same chords.
Suddenly full of energy, he unpacked a box full of notebooks from the closet and began writing furiously. He sat on the floor at the foot of his bed, writing and looking out the window, getting up periodically to flip the record over again and again until morning light brightened the room and he’d covered almost 20 pages with everything that filled his mind. Happier than he’d been in weeks, he replaced the needle on the record player and sank into a dreamless sleep. In the morning when he woke up he began writing again.