Noah, Amanda, and I were all in Karl’s car. We were driving away from the depressing neon smear of Bloomfield, and the BT. We were laughing hysterically at the events that had happened, as the Shadyside section of the city turned into Squirrel Hill. I had my window down. There was nothing to see except for blurs of streetlights and blackened storefronts. But the night air felt good. It felt heavy from the rains that had finally passed. I felt calm and more at ease than I had in a long time. Amanda and I were in the back. We were holding hands. Occasionally she rubbed my thigh.
“What in the hell were you doing on that stage?” Noah asked. He lit a row of smokes, and then handed one to each of us.
“I was just trying to spruce things up,” Karl answered. Then he laughed. “Everyone looked so sullen. I just thought I’d give them something to talk about.”
“I think you broke Gene’s microphone,” I said. “He looked pissed.”
“Oh yeah, he is pissed.” Karl reached on the floor. I could hear plastic and aluminum shaking. He produced two cans of Black Label beer. “Beer?”
Noah took one of the sweating cans and opened it. He turned back to face Amanda and I. “Beer, children?”
“No thanks,” Amanda said.
“Nah, I’m cool too,” I said.
“Yeah, so anyway,” Karl continued. “Gene’s mad and I’m sure I’ll hear about it for as long as I live.” Karl opened a beer with one hand, as he navigated with the other. He took a good long sip as we swerved up Shady Avenue. “I don’t think Killian was too pleased either.”
“What makes you say that?” Noah asked.
“The way him and his girlfriend just split after the show. I was watching their table. It was all I could focus on while those guys yelled around me.”
Noah laughed. “Yeah, well Killian is uptight. He was moaning to me about Clara tonight, like every single chance he could. He wants to break up with her again. He thinks he’s moving into the cottage in August.” But then Noah turned back to me and Amanda again. “Of course, we all know who has first dibs on that, right Alex?”
“Sure,” I said, not knowing what to say. This time Amanda looked at me and rolled her eyes.
“What’s with the eye roll?” Noah asked her. “You haven’t even been to my place yet.”
“Do I need to be on the short list to come inside?” she asked.
“No. But you need a better attitude.” Noah took a slug on his beer.
Then my phone rang. Calvin.
“God, will you just shut that fucking thing off already!” Amanda shouted. Her anger caught me off guard. “Is Calvin in love with you or something?”
“Actually, I thought it was you he was in love with,” Noah said.
“You’re a naughty girl.”
“Anyway, I shut my damned phone off, all right,” I said.
We took Shady Avenue recklessly. Noah clutched his door handle, as Karl flew past the gated, expensive homes that lined the serpentine of a road. He was reluctant to put his beer down but did so, after a near miss with an old oak. I sat white-faced, saying a silent prayer to myself. Amanda pierced my knee with her nails. I don’t think any of our parent’s would’ve approved. Then we made a right down Forbes Avenue, and took the business-laden stretch of land at a crawl. We drove by restaurants and coffee shops. People were all over the place because the rain had stopped. I slumped in my seat, hoping my parents weren’t out on the avenue having a late dinner or something.
“I should’ve drove us here,” Amanda whispered.
Soon we were across the street from Noah’s apartment complex. Karl opened another beer and drank it down. I could hear music and celebratory voices coming from the various cottages. There were people hanging around the outside in loose packs. Some of the music seemed recorded, mostly a jangling rock band, or whatever ancient or cerebral hip-hop act of the month had captured the attention of the hipsters. But some of it was live, raw, and unpracticed. It emanated from basements. The music oozed into the Squirrel Hill sky. How did anyone get to sleep around this place without a bottle of aspirin?
“What are we doing?” Amanda asked.
“We’re having a party,” Noah said.
“I have to go home.”
“Can’t stay just a little while?”
“No. Even if, I don’t think I would.”
“I understand. You don’t like me. Lots of people don’t at first.” Noah pointed at me. “Big Al here, he was almost afraid to speak every time Karl brought him over. Now look at him, all dark and sad-looking, and ready to room up with me.”
“I’m a shy person,” I said, bashfully.
“All the same,” Amanda said. “I do have to go home.” She looked at her watch. “Actually I should’ve been home a while ago.”
“Ah, the perils of youth,” Karl sang.
I looked at Amanda. “I’ll walk you back to my parent’s.” Then I looked at Karl and Noah. “Then I’ll come back here, all right?”
Noah laughed. “If you know the secret password.”
Karl got out of the car. He made way for Amanda and I to get out. The noise from the cottages was booming now. Novels were taking place in there. Poems were begging to be written. I really wished that Amanda could stay, and that she and I could go to Noah’s and have a good time. She’d see. She’d see beyond Noah’s gruff exterior that he was an awesome, thought-provoking guy. He was a fun-loving, brilliantly honest guy. She’d see that I wasn’t wasting my time with these people, and that art and substance could be happening in those cottages, despite the downfall of nights like the BT fiasco. I wanted to show Amanda some of my poems, too. I wanted her to see that I was more than just some dumb, teenage fool from Pittsburgh, hanging out with losers, and going to college just like everyone else. I wasn’t a hipster but I was hip. Sarah Browne couldn’t see it, but maybe Amanda could.
“Hello Kitty,” Noah said. He was looking at Amanda’s butt. On the back right pocket of Amanda’s pants was a Hello Kitty patch.
“What?” Amanda said, as if she didn’t know.
Noah pointed at her backside. “Hello Kitty.”
She turned. “You’re so crass.”
“Come on, let’s go,” I said.
Noah winked. “Catch you next time, kitty.”
I said goodbye to the guys. Amanda and I walked back to my house in silence. She seemed pissed. When we got to there it was dark. Of course it was dark. I invited Amanda in, even though she said it was past curfew. She said yes.
She stayed well into the deep of night. We tried going back to being friends, but soon we were rolling along the width of the weak futon kissing, half dressed, as our hands groped each other. It had been too long since I’d touched a girl like that. Basically Sarah and I had stopped fooling around a few months before we broke up. Our sex became boring. With Amanda, I almost couldn’t control myself. But then, on a dime, we would stop and say nothing. We’d just listen to whatever happened to be playing on my stereo, while we straightened ourselves out. It was hard being honest and loyal. It was hard to wait for something when you weren’t sure what it was you were waiting for. Then we’d begin again.
“Hang on,” I said. I looked at Amanda. Her lips were chapped and covered with a white film. She had a contented smile on her face, and a look that wasn't so innocent. She rested her hands behind her head and waited for what I had coming. “I have to talk to Calvin before we really get into this.”
“We’re not really into this?”
“You know what I mean.”
“I do. And I'm starting to hate Calvin.”
“That’s a joke, right?” I asked, getting off of the bed.
“Of course I don’t hate him. Maybe I’m just a little annoyed that Calvin’s playing such a factor in my love life. Honestly Alex, there have been moments tonight where he felt like an invisible third party.”
“It’s me. I’m the one who’s worried.” I walked over to the bedroom door. Amanda followed with her blue eyes.
“It is you. You and Calvin’s ten thousand phone calls.”
“It wasn’t that bad.”
“Yes it was. That was bad. And Noah what’s-his-name saying something was bad.”
“Don’t bring Noah into this.”
“Why not? The guy’s a jerk.” Amanda looked at me. She smiled. I didn’t like her smile at that moment. “But at least he’s a confident jerk. Noah wouldn’t care what Calvin thought.”
That stung. “Just let me talk to Calvin and smooth this all over, okay? I’m seeing the guys tomorrow night. Don’t be annoyed at Cal. If you want to be annoyed at anyone, be annoyed with me.”
“Oh, I am.” Amanda walked over to join me. She put her arms over my shoulders. “Personally, I don’t understand this code of ethics you’ve got going, but I’m a patient girl.”
“He’s my friend.”
“And you’re too cute to say no to.” She leaned in and kissed me deep. Our tongues intertwined and our teeth collided into one another. “Just give me a call when you boys have it all worked out.”
Then we went outside and I walked her over to her car. The sky was finally open completely. You could see a few stars and the blurry half-moon hanging in the sky. They were mingling with the pink hue of the downtown Pittsburgh lights. Amanda looked luminous and beautiful in it. I kissed her again. And then again. Then we groped and it became this silly ordeal right up against the side of her old, used cherry red Dodge Neon. We let go and laughed. I forgot what it was like to fall in love, or at least to be heavy in lust.
Amanda opened her door. “See Calvin and straighten this out. I’m done work at nine tomorrow night. Call me on my cell and let me know how it went. If I can, I’ll come and meet you.”
“Aren’t you nervous about working with Calvin after this?”
She shrugged. “That job sucks anyway.”
“Yeah. You know, you could get a job closer to campus this fall. And just think with me living at Noah’s, we could basically see each other whenever we want.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”
Amanda kissed me full on the lips. “Fine, let’s get ahead of ourselves.”
She got in her car and pulled away without waving. I waited until her taillights turned toward Murray Avenue and oblivion, before I began the long walk down Phillips toward Forbes and everything that was going on at Noah’s. I found myself feeling good, secure, and newly in love.
When I got to Noah’s, Gene Oldham was standing with Karl. He was holding a stack of records. He looked bewildered. When he saw me, he waved me over. “So what was your take on the performance tonight?”
“It was.... interesting.”
Then Gene looked angrily at Karl. “You know that microphone is broken.”
Karl giggled as if it were all a joke. “For the hundredth time, I’m totally sorry.”
“What was that anyway?”
Gene turned back to me. His Beatles via hipster look seemed freshened by the evening’s performance. “So Alex, where’s that cute blonde you were with?”
“She couldn’t be here.”
“Curfew,” Karl added. “Although it did take you a long time to get here.”
“Curfew can mean a lot of things,” I said.
“Our little boy is growing up,” Gene added.
Then Noah came over. “Did you tap the blonde bombshell?”
“Funny, we were just talking about that,” Karl said.
“Hello Kitty!” Noah slapped me on my belly. “You better watch out for her, though. Chick has got mean streak a mile long.”
“Amanda’s all right,” I said.
“I’ll bet your buddy Calvin won’t think that.”
Noah clasped my shoulder. “I didn’t mean to bring it up, but the truth is the truth. I don’t like the way this Amanda looks. She’s untrustworthy.”
“She said the same thing about you”
Noah smiled and laughed at that. “Maybe I’ve misjudged her then.”
“Maybe great minds thinks alike,” Gene said.
“I like the sound of that!”
“At any rate,” I broke in. “I’m fine. Amanda’s fine. And when I talk to Calvin this whole situation will be fine.”
“We’re sorry, Big Al,” Noah said. He put his arm around me and we started walking into the living room where the masses of hipsters had congregated. “We just dig you so much, man, we want to protect you.”
“Like a baby,” Karl said.
“Just like that,” Noah added.
Gene steered the group of us to his small kitchen. The refrigerator was stocked with imported bottles of beer. Noah grabbed a couple for he and I. Karl got harassed by almost everyone standing around in there. They all wanted to know what exactly he was trying to accomplish on the stage. What exactly had his motivation been? Karl toyed with them all. He wrapped each inquisitive set of partygoers up in whatever psychobabble came off the top of his head. What bores they all were to him. What a joke everything really was. Mostly I just stood there and thought about how good Amanda Evarts’ lips tasted. And then my stomach would sink when I thought about telling Calvin. Karl tried his best to cheer me up and introduce me to as many people as he could. He tried to work me into his conversations. But I had other ideas. I simply hung behind him, mysterious and silent. No one cared about me anyway.
Everyone at Noah’s wore their art on their sleeve. Musicians could talk of nothing but music. Painters could say nothing of the world, unless it involved paint. The few writers that were there talked about nothing but the latest literary darlings, agents and advances, even though none of them were writing a thing. It was decidedly older talk. I could only laugh. I was surrounded by a multitude of people who shared a common interest with me, and I was mute. I almost wished Amanda were there so we could laugh about it all. Or that Steve Scanlon would show up and call one of these hipsters a homo or something. But then I didn’t because a part of me wanted to connect with this new people, and really assimilate into their world. I wanted to be right about them. I wanted art and an old fashioned art scene, even if it meant putting up with a little bit of bullshit from the upper echelon. But I just couldn’t mix with anyone at Noah’s party that night. We had no groove.
So I got drunk. I wasn’t used to getting drunk. And when I did everyone at the party seemed to come alive. Their conversations became monuments. The guys and girls there became sculptures of intellect. All of their references made sense suddenly, even though I didn’t know what movie or band they were talking about. It was just beer, beer and conversation, think about Amanda, and get another beer.
I thought I was the belle of the ball. And at some point I fell asleep on an old recliner with frayed brown arms. Noah and his roommates had abandoned the thing in the dining room. And as my eyes began to drop, I saw Noah, his thin hands resting on the knees of a blonde that I mistook for Amanda Evarts. I went to rise but I was too gone. I fell back. Then the next thing I heard was a giggle. I opened my eyes to see Karl and Gene alone at the maroon colored dining table. They were sharing a bottle of whiskey.
“Are you all right there, Alex?” Gene asked.
“I can’t believe you assed-out.” Karl laughed. He slapped his knee wildly. “You went and passed out on all of the self-important artists.”
“I think I saw enough of them,” I said. My head was throbbing. I clutched it.
“I think our boy has a hangover,” Gene said.
“Better get a bucket and the aspirin,” Karl said.
“Where’s Noah?” I asked.
Karl and Gene looked at each other. Then they shrugged.
“Out?” Karl finally said.
“Who was that blonde he was talking to?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Some girl named Gennifer with a G.” Karl took a short drink of his whiskey. “They date off and on.”
“She looked like Amanda,” I said, slowly rising from my seat.
“Blonde girls all look the same.”
“I guess,” I answered. “But still.”
“Might I suggest giving the topic a rest? Really, Alex, there’s a world of women out there and they’re not all Amandas. Or Sarah Brownes for that matter.” Gene patted a seat next to him. “Now, pull up a chair and have a glass of Jameson. We’ll toast the end of high school or something.”
“You guys did that for me last month.”
I did as I was told. Then I stepped outside onto the front porch and lit a cigarette. The night air had turned damp again. The courtyard walkway was speckled with the droplets of new rain. What Gene had said was true. I was also sick of hearing myself bemoan the gains and losses of girls. It had had become a recent pastime, and I seemed reluctant to give it up no matter how at odds it would make my demeanor. Amanda Evarts. I laughed at myself just thinking about her. Then I thought of talking to Calvin and my stomach got tight. The world didn’t seem so funny. I looked at the rainy courtyard again. I couldn’t wait to move there.
Karl and Gene came out of the cottage with another small glass of Jameson. I was grateful for it. The three of us stood and talked in the summer air. Music still drifted out of some homes, but for the most part everything was quiet and dark. You could hear a streetlight buzz. Gene even found a subtle humor where the destroyed microphone was concerned. Karl seemed relieved at this. I was sure it was the whiskey talking, and that by the next morning Gene would be wailing to himself within the confines of his cottage bedroom. I wondered where Noah really was.
An hour later, Karl dropped me off on Phillips Avenue. My part of Squirrel Hill was desolate. No one was around playing music, or having mad conversations about art. There were just dark living rooms and dark bedrooms. There were just illuminated rooms with the silent, blue of an insomniac’s television. My head was beginning to hurt again, from the booze, so I carefully navigated my way inside. I crept up the stairs to my bedroom. I did my best not to wake anyone, but my mom stirred. My dad’s snores resonated throughout.
When I finally got into bed I couldn’t sleep. I kept running everything through in my mind. My hipster friends. The past and loving Sarah Browne. Amanda. I wondered what Calvin would have to say when I told him about her. Could this be a final break? Would he understand? Was I really ready to risk one of my old friendships over some girl I just met? What were these old friendships even worth? There were too many questions. Yet, as my eyes adjusted to the darkness of the room, I smiled. Amanda Evarts came to me again. My stomach jumped at the vision of her standing under the rainy floodlights of a city night. I felt for the first time in months that things were beginning instead of ending.