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Chapter 6: Stranger in a Strange Land


Casey looked blackly into his drink to avoid turning his anger on Genevieve, who had quickly moved on to discussing the show she was playing at the Caledonia with Midnight Jesus the next weekend, a topic that seemed to be much more congenial to Caspian Quinn than his summer trip to New York with her, though the revelation hung in the air. As Genevieve spoke Caspian picked at a strip of leather that was peeling away from one of his boots, his hair obscuring his face as he nodded.

“They’re doing a lot of new songs,” she said. “Hopefully we won’t suck too bad. Those guys are so insane.”

She took a drag from one of the American Spirits she’d produced from a pack in her vintage leather purse and brushed her bangs out of her eyes. The smoke wafted across the table into Casey’s face and burned his eyes. He hadn’t even known she smoked. Great, he thought. She’d poisoned his night, and now she was poisoning his lungs. At one point, he probably would have thought it was sexy, but now it seemed like a lame affectation.

Back in May, before graduation, she’d acted like she was in love with Casey. He wouldn’t have even minded if what happened between them was just a hook up, if he’d known that that was all it was. He wondered for a moment if he was just colossally stupid, but then he remembered the way she’d stared into his eyes as they lay on his bed with the fading spring light slanting through the window after an entire night and day spent together and all the confessions she’d made about herself and her life—things she said she’d never told anyone before.

He’d spent the summer basking in the feeling of being in love for the first time and thinking about her during the long days of construction work and lonely nights of solitary bike riding and novel reading. The handful of sort-of friends he’d had in high school had been just as eager as he was to leave Valentine, so there weren’t many people left to talk to other than his parents and his younger sister, and he didn’t have much to say to them.

On breaks at work he’d mostly kept to himself. Getting Genevieve’s texts throughout the day made her feel not so far away, even though he was in Nebraska and she was in Georgia. Or, as it turned out, New York. But now that he’d moved across the country to be with her, she’d already moved on to someone else. And Casey had nothing to show for the journey but an expensive sublease with a roommate he disliked and a pile of torn-off wristbands from shows he’d gone to alone. Yet he couldn’t just turn around and leave; how humiliating would that be? Anyway, his lease wouldn’t be up until the end of December.

Her round pretty face betrayed no emotion, other than mild excitement about her show and enjoyment of being off work and out with friends on a Friday night. If Casey had ever meant anything more to her than the three other random guys their age sitting around the table, it wasn’t apparent.

“Midnight Jesus is pretty decent,” Caspian said. “They’ve gotten a lot better since the first time I saw them.”

“Hold on, you guys, Jake is texting me,” Genevieve said. “Do you want to go to their house? He says they’ve got plenty of booze.”

*

TheAthensOfGeorgia-Boulevard.jpg

Photo Credit: Kelly Hart

Two hours later, Casey found himself wandering around the Boulevard neighborhood with Genevieve’s friend Jackson, who was quickly coming to be his favorite person in Athens. Genevieve and Caspian had disappeared upstairs at the party and never returned, and the other guys they’d come with left without saying anything. The party was in honor of someone’s birthday, and it was by no means a large crowd, which made Casey feel even more awkward on top of his spiraling unhappiness. Jackson didn’t know anyone either and didn’t even drink, so after an hour they left. Since then, they’d just been roaming the neighborhood, having the kind of late-night talk about music and life that Casey had missed in the months since leaving college. While they walked, Jackson picked up trash from the sidewalk and gutter. When his hands got too full he walked down driveways to dump it in people’s bins.

“These houses are amazing,” Casey said, looking up through the canopy of leaves at a moldering wedding-cake of a Southern mansion. “I guess this is what they mean by Southern Gothic.” Getting away from the party and Genevieve had improved his spirits marginally, though his emotions were still churning.

Jackson grinned. “Pretty awesome, huh?” His thick glasses glinted in the moonlight.

“So, you’ve never drunk or tried pot or cigarettes and you’ve never had sex before?” Casey asked him, resuming what had become a surprisingly interesting conversation.

“Nope.”

“Is it like a religious thing?”

“Partly.”

“Huh.” Casey himself had been very sincerely religious as a teenager and hadn’t done any of those things either until he was 19. He had a certain ascetic streak that made him admire Jackson’s commitment, on an aesthetic level, at least. But he couldn’t relate to still being religious. “So, are you waiting until you get married?”

“Yep.” In his skinny jeans and American Apparel v-neck and black-framed glasses, Jackson looked like too much of a hipster to be a fundamentalist Christian.

“But what if it turns out you’re, you know, not compatible with someone? Like, what if you don’t like having sex with them?”

Jackson considered. “I think if you’re with the right person that wouldn’t be a problem.”

“But don’t you think you’d need to know about that before you know if they’re the right person?”

“I don’t know. I think people put too much focus on sex.”

It had been on Casey’s mind for too many hours for him to help blurting it out: “Do you think Genevieve and Caspian are sleeping together?” he asked.

“Probably,” Jackson said. He glanced carefully at Casey. “Did you have a thing with her?”

“Yeah. It was the whole reason I moved here. Though I would appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone that.”

“I kind of thought I was getting that vibe. She’s been one of my best friends since seventh grade, so maybe I shouldn’t say this, but she can be sort of weird with guys.”

“Right,” Casey said. He didn’t ask Jackson to elaborate.

“Do you think you’ll stay in Athens?” Jackson asked after a while. He spotted a Doritos bag and a smashed Mountain Dew bottle in the gutter and bent to pick them up.

“I will until at least December, but I really need to get a job soon.” He grimaced.

“Starbucks is hiring. Want me to put in a good word?”

Casey looked up at the cloudy night while he thought about it. “Sure, why not?” he said finally.

“Thanks, man.”

His lease aside, Casey had to stay in Athens at least long enough to satisfy his pride, so he might as well make the most of it, he figured. At least he’d probably see some good shows before he left and maybe get some writing done. Who knew? Maybe after Christmas he’d even go to New York City after all.

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