Casey had thought he might see Genevieve that night, but he hadn’t expected to spend the whole evening dancing with her at the 40 Watt, separated from the friends they’d each come with to the Wild Rumpus parade and after-party. She was really drunk. So was he. The room was too packed for him to even see where Jackson and Kelli and the rest of them were.
Moving to Athens had been a terrible idea, the first thing he’d done in his life that seemed like a true misstep. And he never would have done it if she hadn’t suggested it to him. He’d gotten hired at Starbucks in the nick of time before his money completely ran out, but most of his paycheck was going toward his rent. Making pumpkin spice lattes was not what he had envisioned doing after graduation. He’d imagined something at least marginally more glamorous. The isolation had also been hard, and even though he now at least knew Jackson and a few other people from work, there were still too many solitary hours to fill. He’d taken long walks through historic neighborhoods and seen the matinee of nearly every movie that played at Ciné and swam laps daily in his building’s pool until it finally got too cold, trying to at least get some value for his money.
He couldn’t believe how quickly he’d squandered his savings. Each rent check he wrote made him think of the hundreds of hours he’d wasted framing houses in the hot sun back home in Nebraska all summer. To avoid spending more money, he’d taken to haunting the main library on campus, reading books about the Russian Revolution and wishing he actually were a student, since he was so frequently mistaken for one. At night, he drank Jim Beam and worked on his novel. Every page seemed to be wrenched out of him, and while in the heat of creativity he was sure of himself, the next day he’d wake up full of doubt. It had been an unhappy time. And Genevieve and her romantic amnesia were at least partially to blame.
But recently, a very compelling idea had been nagging at him, though he refused to acknowledge it as anything other than idle fancy. If he could get an interview with Caspian Quinn… His clips from college were decent, but they were from small-time venues, mostly the student paper. A profile of Quinn would wedge open a lot of doors, especially on the eve of Waning Gibbous’s album release. Caspian Quinn had been friendly to him the one night they met; if Casey and Genevieve patched up their friendship, he’d likely see more of Caspian, who was basically her live-in boyfriend, even though no one was calling him that. There was really no need to hold a grudge against her—they were all adults. Would it really be so conniving to start talking to her again? She’d texted him several times in the past two months, after all. If he got to know Caspian a little, asking him for an interview might just happen organically. If he could get a few more good pages out of his novel and a story on Caspian Quinn, a half-year in Athens wouldn’t be such a waste. All this ran through his head when he saw her again that night.
Photo Credit: Kelly Hart
In the low lighting of the 40 Watt under the string lights and spooky streamers, his Machiavellian impulses were confused, however. He’d had enough beer to shed his Midwestern inhibitions about dancing, and for the first time in months he was really having fun. It was a relief to be on good terms with Genevieve again after months of awkwardness and bad feelings, and she seemed to feel the same, based on her huge smile. She kept tapping him on the chest while they danced and shouting in his ear the funny things that had happened to her and the gossip about friends from college that she’d wanted to tell him. “Dude, you’re an awesome dancer!” she told him. “I’ve never seen you dance. I like it.” She looked so sexy in her trashy little Halloween outfit. He wished he’d worn a costume himself. It took all his effort not to stare at her grotesquely.
“I’m going to get another beer,” she said. “Do you want one?”
“Sure.” He turned his attention back to the band that was playing. “Thanks, babe,” he said ironically when she returned, and she laughed. Just then, Casey felt a tap on the shoulder.
“We’re thinking of heading to Georgia Theatre,” Jackson said, reappearing with Kelli and Hailey and Amanda. “Do you guys want to come?”
Genevieve weighed her mostly-full beer. She looked nonplussed at their return. “I don’t know,” she said, looking at Casey. “Do you want to go?”
“We just got drinks,” he told them. “Go ahead—we’ll just meet you there when we finish these.”
“We could wait for you,” Jackson said. Next to him, Kelli was pointedly avoiding looking at Casey and Genevieve, and for a moment Casey felt sorry. He remembered now that he’d said he’d meet up with her that night.
“No, you guys go,” Genevieve said. “We’ll catch up with you.”
A few more drinks later, an hour or so had passed and they still hadn’t made it out of the 40 Watt, despite multiple texts from their friends. At first they’d replied that they were on their way, but then they just ignored them. Genevieve’s wig was askew and Casey’s hair was plastered to his head with sweat.
“We should just go hang out at Caspian’s house,” she said. “He doesn’t care if I have friends over. I need to check on the cats. We could get some food delivered.”
Casey had a T-shirt on under his flannel, so he gave her the outer shirt to wear in the cold night when they got outside. “Are you sure you’re okay? We could get a cab.”
“No, I want to walk.”
His head felt like it was stuffed with cotton as they headed up Pulaski. He was going to be so hungover the next day. They turned on Prince and passed Go Bar and the Grit. The sounds of Halloween revelry echoed through the autumn night, which smelled oddly like burnt trash and Bazooka Joe bubblegum. “You’re shivering,” he said, and put his arm around her.
“This was, like, the best Halloween ever,” she said. She sounded very far away, though she was talking loudly. He realized then that his ears were ringing. “I’m so glad you came out. It’s been so boring hanging out just with high school people. I miss everyone from Chicago.”
“Me too. I might go back there for a while after Christmas when my sublet is up here.”
“Really? Don’t. Stay here.”
He rubbed her shoulder. “Okay.”
Caspian lived in an old white house on Boulevard with a tin roof and a rambling porch, set far back from the street and shaded by giant trees. While Genevieve fumbled with the key, Casey looked out at the leaf-strewn grass and the empty street. After finally succeeding in unlocking the front door, Genevieve kicked it open and they fell into the front hall. The house was musty-smelling and cold. A row of large boots and shoes stood in a line on a woven rug against the wall. Moonlight slanted in through two high windows.
“Hey,” she said softly, stumbling against him and putting her flannel-encased arms around his neck.
“Hey,” he said.
END PART ONE
[Editor’s Note: This installment ends the Flagpole serialization of the novel-in-progress, The Athens of Georgia, by local writer C.J. Bartunek. Flagpole appreciates C.J.’s sharing the beginning of her novel with our readers, and we look forward some day not too far off to walking into a bookshop and buying a copy of the completed book. Thanks, C.J. (The entire Part One is available here.)]