“It didn’t mean anything,” Avey slurs at you. You can hear his voice crackle and dissolve in the airwaves. It’s four in the morning. You knocked your alarm clock off the bedside table before you found your cell, and now you’re holding a hand over your eyes because even the faint, shy hint of light coming through the blinds is too much. Your heart’s still pounding: it could have been a paramedic, your mom in Rochester, the police. Avey lying by the side of the road. Technically, you still don’t know. He could be calling you from a puddle of blood in a ditch off the freeway, or from a Denny’s bathroom. That thought makes your head throb. “It’s not a thing,” he insists. “Brett took pictures. He’s a fuck.” You have no idea what he’s talking about.
“Avey,” you say. You remind him what time it is. “Are you okay?”
“I’m different,” he tells you. “It’s different.” There’s a loud beep as he hits the wrong button on the keypad. “This fucking phone,” he mutters. Then there’s another beep, and then silence. He’s hung up.
It takes you a while to fall asleep.
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You keep getting strange messages on your cell phone, mostly in the middle of the night. They’re there waiting for you in the morning, little flickers from the world after dark. From far away. Pictures of half-eaten diner burgers and funny license plates and weird fuzzy photos of bar signs, neon lights running red and orange all over in a mess of color, like lines of dye floating on water. They are mostly from Avey’s phone, but Avey’s phone is so terrible, so cracked and dirty from being dragged around in his pocket all the time, that sometimes he uses Brett’s or Sam’s. Apparently Steven told Avey he would kill him if he stole his fancy touchscreen phone one more time, so there are never any messages from Steven.
The band has a Facebook page and you feel like you check it thirteen times a day. You are acting like a total freak. But you can’t help yourself; they keep putting up new pictures of them standing outside of clubs, smoking and laughing, Avey’s hands blurring in the air while he talks. Pictures of them put up by strangers, standing at the foot of the stage, dark and out of focus, colored strangely by cheap club lights.
Avey calls you from Pittsburgh.
“You will never believe what I’m eating,” he says. He doesn’t even give you time to guess. “I’m at that place where they put the fries on top of the sandwiches. The one from the travel channel.” He makes a smacking sound into the phone. “Holy fuck, this is good.”
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Avey is going on tour.
“That’s great,” you say. You are lying on your back on your bed, staring up at the plaster of your ceiling. It’s stubbled and yellowing. Jaundiced. You wonder if the upstairs neighbor is doing something to his floor that makes your ceiling so sick and tired of living. “How long?” Two weeks or so. “That’s like halfway between a tour and a vacation.” Avey doesn’t really take vacations. When he feels like it, he works at a guitar store that his friend owns, and he bartends, and he plays in the band. Him taking a vacation from all that is like getting pie for dessert when dinner was cake.
“We’re playing the Khyber on the fourteenth,” he says. “Before we leave.”
“Do you want me to come?” You feel, rather than hear, his snicker. Your cheeks flush and you put an arm over your face, even though he can’t see you. What an asshole. “Fuck you, do you want me to be there or not?”
“Yeah,” he says. You wonder if he means it. You know Brett but you’ve known Brett since freshman year, on and off. You haven’t met Steven and Sam. You’ve never hung out with all of Avey’s band, all at once, and you don’t know what he’s told them. You don’t know who you are to them, Brett and Avey’s friend, or Avey’s- something. You have no idea if they all know that Avey likes guys, fucks guys, is fucking you whenever you get the chance. Everyone still talks about Avey’s ex-girlfriends around you, and there are more than you can remember. The last time you saw Brett he was still trying to convince Avey to get a phone number from Kate’s old roommate, the one who used to have a crush on him.
“She’s totally hot now,” Brett kept telling Avey, while you sat on the other side of the table and stared evenly down into your drink. “Kate says she still brings you up like all the time.”
“I’m a memorable guy,” Avey said, looking at you. “I do all kinds of interesting shit.”
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His back is to you as you come into the room. He doesn’t turn around, just flings a handful of coiled cable over his shoulder. It lands on your feet. He’s digging in a box of headphones. “Asshole,” he says, to the air. “You let your cat chew on these. They’re expensive to replace. Fuck you and a half.”
You clear your throat.
He turns around and he’s surprised, mouth paused in a perfect o, cheeks and chin and nose smooth like a plaster saint. His hair is up in a ponytail but it’s growing weedy and wild against the elastic. Dark, fine hairs spring up around the tense line of his scalp. He has marble eyes. They roll up and down, across you, seeing you for the first time. “Sorry,” he says, “I thought you were Brett.” He waits for you to answer. You toe the cables on top of your shoe.
“I don’t have a cat,” you say. He looks at you strangely and later he bums a smoke off you, the last in the pack. You tell him you’re going to quit. You might. You sit on Brett’s back porch and he introduces himself properly, he’s Avey, he’s the singer for Brett’s band, except Brett skips practice all the goddam time and should really think about whether he wants to be a fucking star or a fucking administrative assistant. That’s what Avey says. He salts and peppers with curses and gestures with both hands, cigarette making firefly signs in the air around his wrists. You don’t try to keep up. Your voice is lower than his, softer, until he finishes his beer and leans closer to you on the steps. Suddenly it’s softer than you can bear.
“You have pretty hands,” he tells you. He takes the bottle away from you and fans your fingers out against his. They match up, mostly. His nails are bitten off and his wrist is bony like a root. Inside, somebody’s playing shitty sad songs on the guitar, badly, and Kate is yelling at them to give it up. God, yes, please. You hope that nobody comes out on the porch to look for you two. “Pretty, like a girl’s,” says Avey. He leans in. You like that about him already. You kiss him for the first time, drunk and tired and feeling the cold cement through the ass of your jeans. It’s three in the morning and the birds are wondering aloud about dawn.
Avey asks when he can see you again.
“Soon,” you say.
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