If Mark didn’t study tonight, he would fail the Abnormal Psychology test tomorrow. And he couldn’t afford to fail that test. He was already on academic probation. If he started failing tests right out of the gate this year, the Academic Standards Committee would be all over him. He knew they were watching him closely. The chair of the committee had told him as much in an email on the first day of school. Professor Kline, his academic advisor, had shaken her finger at him last Friday and told him he better get his act together by the end of the first semester, or he would be out. His parents had nagged him mercilessly about applying himself. They weren’t paying thirty-six thousand dollars a year for him to go to concerts downtown and play his guitar in his dorm room.
Mark knew the smart thing to do would be to go to the library right now, crack open his textbook, and start memorizing the symptoms of schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder. But that wasn’t going to happen. He had to go to The Revolving Door tonight. He had to see Travis Leary. He had never wanted to see any other musician quite so badly. He had never revered any other musician quite so much. He had collected all of Leary’s music—every album, compilation, bootleg, and demo. He had taught himself to play every single Leary song on guitar. He had adopted Leary’s style of dress—snap front Western style shirts, flared jeans, and cowboy boots. He had even grown his hair to resemble Leary’s—a thick messy thatch that covered his ears and spilled into his eyes. Sometimes when he walked the streets of Georgetown and glimpsed himself in the window of a shop or a parked car, he thought he saw Leary looking back at him.
The resemblance wasn’t a figment of his imagination. Occasionally kids stopped him on campus to tell him how much he looked like Leary. In May, a girl in the student center had actually mistaken him for Leary. The encounter had been the highlight of Mark’s year. He wanted to be Leary. He wanted Leary’s success. He wanted Leary’s fame. He wanted Leary’s platinum records, his Rolling Stone covers, and his gigs at Carnegie Hall. He wanted to be a twenty-six-year-old rock god with the world by the ass, not a nineteen-year-old nobody failing out of college.
He knew he had the ability to do what Leary did. He could play guitar better than anybody else he’d ever met. He could sing as well as anybody on the radio. He could write catchy melodies and memorable lyrics. He had all the talent he needed to make it in music. He just needed to be discovered. He needed somebody in the industry to take notice, somebody whose opinion mattered, somebody who had influence.
Leary, he thought, could be that somebody. Leary could get him the attention he needed. Leary could get him in front of record company executives. Leary could get him signed. Leary could be his proponent, his patron. Mark just had to meet the guy. If Mark could just meet Leary, he knew they would hit it off. How could they not? How could Leary not like somebody so much like himself? Surely if they met they would become friends. Surely they would bond over their mutual love of music, their shared passion for songwriting. Naturally, talking about music would lead to playing music, and as soon as Leary heard Mark, he would recognize Mark’s talent. He would insist that Mark go on tour with him. He would bring Mark to his own record company and demand that Mark be added to the roster. He would oversee the recording of Mark’s first album and help Mark promote it. The whole story was mapped out in Mark’s head—the perfect rock and roll fairytale: veteran star discovers young prodigy and nurtures his budding career.
Mark’s plan for meeting Leary was simple. He would go to the concert tonight posing as a reporter for the school newspaper. He would ask for an interview. He would get Leary’s attention by standing right next to the stage and holding up a pad of paper that said “Can I interview you after the show?” He would flash his message at Leary until Leary took notice. The worst that could happen would be that Leary would ignore him or tell him no. But Mark didn’t think that was going to happen. Leary wouldn’t refuse an adoring fan an interview. He wouldn’t deny a kid who so clearly worshipped him.
Mark got to The Revolving Door a full hour before the concert was set to begin. The ballroom was empty and the house lights were on. He had never seen the room in the light before. He had never noticed the portraits of dead rock stars painted on the walls. He had never noticed the large disco ball hanging from the ceiling. He had never seen the little American flags hanging from the balcony overhead. Of course, the flags might have been new—a show of solidarity in the wake of the recent attacks. Mark had seen a lot of American flags over the past two weeks. They were all over campus—in the student center, in the library, in the dining hall. They were all over the neighborhood that surrounded campus, too, flapping from the antennas of cars, dangling from the windows of townhouses. Mark’s roommate, Matt, had bought a flag at a drug store and tacked it to the outside of their dorm room door. Mark had watched him put it up. “Osama Bin Laden better say his prayers,” Matt had growled as he pushed the thumbtacks in. “We’re going to eviscerate that son of a bitch.”
Mark wondered what Matt was doing right now. He was probably admiring himself in the bathroom mirror, applying another dollop of grooming cream to his perfectly frosted tips. He was going to a party tonight at one of the terrace apartments on the south side of campus. Some girl he liked was going to be there, and he was going to do everything he possibly could to seduce her. He had told Mark all about it that afternoon. The girl was older—a junior—and out of his league, but he had had a nice chat with her on Wednesday, and he thought he had a chance. He didn’t bother to invite Mark to come along with him, and it was just as well. Mark had no interest. Nursing a drink in the corner of some shabby apartment while a mob of sweaty undergrads seethed around a keg and screamed at each other over loud rap was hardly his idea of a good time. He would much rather be at The Revolving Door. He didn’t mind that he was alone. In fact, he preferred it that way. He didn’t have to worry about entertaining anybody else. He could enjoy the show fully without any distraction.
Up on the four and a half foot high stage, a single roadie stood holding a Les Paul. He was a short, heavyset guy with a ponytail and a neatly trimmed gray beard. He was looking down at the floor, plucking the strings of the guitar one at a time, pausing for a few seconds between each pluck. The guitar was hooked into something on the floor. Mark couldn’t see what it was from where he stood, but he guessed it was a tuner. Behind the roadie, a lavish Pearl drum kit gleamed. To the right of the drum kit was a Marshall stack—two large speaker cabinets, one on top of the other, crowned by a rectangular head with a bronze-colored control panel.
Mark patted the small notebook in his jean jacket pocket and strode across the ballroom. The wooden floor creaked and popped under his step. He reached the stage and rested his elbows on its edge. The roadie took no notice of him. Mark brushed his long brown hair out of his eyes and cleared his throat. “That’s a beautiful guitar,” he said to the roadie. “1957 Les Paul Goldtop.”
The roadie looked up from the electronic tuner on the floor. He studied Mark for a moment before speaking. “That’s right,” he said. “You know your stuff.”
“I play a little myself,” said Mark. He drummed his fingers on the stage. “Is that Travis’ guitar?”
“It is,” said the roadie.
“I thought he played a Telecaster.”
“He did up until about six months ago,” said the roadie. “Too many Springsteen comparisons.”
“I can think of worse people to be compared to,” said Mark.
“Travis wants to be his own man,” said the roadie, smiling. He went back to tuning the guitar.
“Do you know him well?” asked Mark.
“Well enough,” said the roadie.
“What’s he like?” asked Mark.
The roadie shrugged. “Depends on the day, depends on what’s going on at the moment,” he said. “It can be hard to predict what kind of mood he’ll be in at any given time.”
“Do you think he’d let me interview him after the show?” asked Mark.
The roadie looked up again. “Do you work for some kind of newspaper?” he asked doubtfully.
“The Georgetown Hoya,” said Mark.
“Georgetown, eh?” said the roadie. He looked back down at the tuner. “He might let you,” he said. “Do you have a press pass?”
“No,” said Mark.
“How do you expect to get backstage then?” asked the roadie.
Mark pulled out his notepad and held it up. “I’m going to wave this at him,” he said.
The roadie squinted down at the notepad. He chuckled and shook his head. “Good luck with that,” he said.
Mark lowered the notepad. “You don’t think it’ll work?” he asked.
The roadie unhooked the guitar from the tuner and lifted it over his shoulder. “No,” he said. “I don’t think it’ll work.” He carried the instrument over to the right side of the stage and set it in its stand in front of the Marshall. He turned back to Mark and grinned. “But it’s worth a shot.”
The club filled quickly. By nine, there were at least three hundred people milling around in the ballroom. By show time—nine thirty—there were nearly a thousand. Mark was touching shoulders with the girls to his left and right. He could feel the breath of the man behind him on the back of his neck. All around him he heard the apprehensive chirping of human voices. All around him he felt the thick, soupy, stifling warmth of human bodies. If the crowd suddenly surged forward, he feared, he would be crushed against the stage, flattened like a slab of tenderized meat. If there were a sudden fire, he knew, he was a goner. The people closest to the door might make it out, but he certainly wouldn’t. He just prayed the smoke knocked him out before the flames got to him.
At a quarter to ten, Travis appeared. He ran out onto the stage waving his arms, smiling giddily at the enthusiastic applause that greeted him. He high-fived a few people in the front, dashed over to his guitar, and slung the instrument over his shoulder. He leapt back to the front of the stage and grabbed the microphone. “How the hell are you, Washington D.C.?” he called out. The crowd yelped and hollered, whistled and whooped. Mark just watched silently, captivated by Leary’s quick, light movement, his bursting-at-the-seams ebullience—his air of utter, unassailable confidence. For years he had studied pictures of Leary in album booklets and magazines, but it was immediately apparent to him that those quiet, still, carefully staged images had missed the essence of the man. In person, Leary was crackling with life. He was fiery, explosive, sparkling. This was a guy who instantly owned any room he entered. This was a guy who commanded respect, demanded attention, inspired devotion.
The bass player, rhythm guitarist, and drummer, all dressed like Leary in plaid cowboy shirts and threadbare jeans, walked out onto stage and took their respective positions. Leary counted off, and the band thundered into the first number, a gritty blues rock song from the new album called “Don’t Mind Dying Young.” The sound they produced was unbelievably loud. It pressed on Mark like a physical force. It pounded him. It rattled his internal organs like marbles in a box. This wasn’t entertainment. This was an assault. Leary roared into the mic:
I done a lot of laughing and done a lot crying.
I done a lot of loving and done a lot of lying.
Lord knows I’ve had my fun.
I’ve lived enough life for two men,
and I don’t mind dying young.
From the first verse on, Leary’s energy did not flag. He pranced and twirled and bounded across the stage. He howled and crooned and wailed. He spun his strumming arm in a windmill arc like Pete Townsend and played a guitar solo behind his head like Jimi Hendrix. After the third song, a svelte young woman in black leather pants, a halter top, and preposterously high heels walked out on stage with a tray of shots. Each member of the band took a shot off the tray, quickly downed it, and tossed the glass into the audience. After the sixth song, the girl reappeared with another tray of shots, and the band reloaded.
Mark was so taken with Leary’s performance that he totally forgot about the interview until just after the ninth song when it occurred to him that the show might be coming to an end. Hastily, he took out his notepad and held it up for Leary to see. Leary didn’t notice the pad, but his bass player did. He read the message slowly and glanced up at Mark. “You want to interview me?” he yelled over the crowd.
“Leary,” shouted Mark. “I want to interview Leary. Can you get his attention?”
The bass player shrugged and walked over to Leary. He tapped Leary on the shoulder and whispered into his ear. Leary looked over in Mark’s direction. His eyes found the notepad and then they found Mark. Mark’s breath stopped. His throat closed up. His belly squirmed. His flesh prickled and itched. The only time he’d ever experienced all of these sensations at the same time before was when he locked eyes with Caroline—the dazzling, drunken, gorgeous wreck he was in love with back at school. He was in love with Leary, too, but not in the same way. His love for Leary wasn’t sexual or romantic. But it was love. The kind of love one feels for a person one recognizes as a better, stronger, amplified version of oneself. The kind of love one feels for a person who embodies everything that one cherishes and wishes one could be.
Leary beamed at Mark and stepped up to the microphone. “You want to interview me after the show, chief?” he said. Mark nodded absently—stunned, bewildered. He couldn’t believe his idol was actually addressing him. He’d planned on this happening, of course, but now that it actually was, it felt unreal. He dug his fingernails into his palms to make sure he was truly awake. Leary rubbed the sweat out of his eyes and wiped his hands on the back of his jeans. “I’ll see you backstage, then,” he said. He pointed Mark out to a roadie standing at the far side of the stage. It was the guy Mark had talked to before the show. “Make sure that kid over there with the notepad gets backstage after the show,” he said. The roadie gave Leary the thumbs up and winked at Mark. Leary turned his attention back to the band, counted off, and dive-bombed into the next song.
Nine songs and two more rounds of shots later the show came to an end. Leary set his guitar back in its stand, gave a salute, and wobbled off stage. His band wobbled off after him. At length, people began to file out of the ballroom. Mark remained where he was, waiting for the roadie to come out and lead him backstage. He waited about five minutes before he grew impatient. He walked over to the side of the stage where an imposing bouncer with dreadlocks stood by an open door, his rippling arms folded across his broad chest.
“Excuse me,” said Mark timidly.
The bouncer’s eyes moved down to him. “What’s up, buddy?” he said, his voice as deep as one would expect the voice of a man his size to be.
“I’m the guy Leary said could interview him after the show,” said Mark. “The guy he pointed to and said to let backstage.”
“Do you have a pass?” asked the bouncer.
“No,” said Mark. “But Leary said I could interview him.”
“You can’t go backstage without a pass,” said the bouncer. “House rules.”
“But Leary said I could interview him,” Mark repeated, a little panicked now. How could he get so close to his goal only to be thwarted at the last minute? If he didn’t get to talk to Leary, he didn’t know if he would ever recover from the disappointment. “Didn’t you hear him?”
“I didn’t hear anything,” said the bouncer. “Sorry kid.”
Mark felt the room start to spin. His insides clenched up. His eyes stung. He could tell tears were not far off.
“It’s okay,” a voice said from behind the bouncer. “Leary said it was okay.”
The bouncer turned. The roadie emerged from behind him and grabbed Mark by the bicep. He flashed a badge at the bouncer. “Leary said the kid could come backstage. It’s okay.”
“I’m not supposed to let anybody backstage without a pass,” said the bouncer.
“Do you want me to bring Leary out here?” said the roadie. “Because I will. He gave the kid express permission.”
“I don’t remember that,” said the bouncer darkly.
“Then you should pay closer attention,” said the roadie. He pulled Mark through the door.
“If Leary gets pissed about this,” the bouncer called after them, “it ain’t my fault.”
“I’ll take the blame,” said the roadie.
They turned down a white-walled corridor illuminated by flickering fluorescent tube lights. The roadie relaxed his grip on Mark’s arm. “That guy was an asshole,” said the roadie. “Sorry about that.”
“It’s okay,” said Mark. “He was just doing his job.”
“I guess,” said the roadie.
They came to a door at the end of the corridor on the left. The sign on the door read “Talent.” The roadie pushed the door open and motioned for Mark to enter. “Just take the stairs down to the bar,” he said. “You’ll find him in there somewhere. Good luck.”
Mark nodded and went through the door. He found himself on a dark, spiral staircase. A faint, golden light came from somewhere down below. He heard women’s laughter, clinking bottles, and singing. Cautiously, he made his way down the stairs. At the bottom he found a narrow door slightly ajar. Light and noise poured through the crack. He took a deep breath, pushed the door open, and stepped inside. The Bacchanalian spectacle that greeted him made every party he’d ever been to at Georgetown look like Bingo night at the old folk’s home. Young girls in their underwear danced on tables. Men slapped each other on the back and guzzled Jack Daniels straight from the bottle. Two shaggy-headed guys in sweat-stained t-shirts clung to each other as they belted out a slurred, off-key rendition of “We Are the Champions”—just the chorus, over and over again. On a long low couch to the right, Leary’s bass player sat with a girl in his lap and two girls on either side of him. A little further back, the frizzy-haired rhythm guitarist, shirtless now, made out with a voluptuous young woman in leopard print pants.
But where was Leary? Mark didn’t see him anywhere. Maybe he was at the back of the room, entangled with some groupie. Maybe he was passed out in the bathroom, wherever that was. Mark envisioned himself finding Leary in a bathroom stall, clinging to a toilet. How terrible would that be? He hoped he didn’t find him there.
Slowly Mark advanced into the room. He weaved around bodies, dodged flailing arms, and stepped over discarded bottles. He came to a pool table where a thin man in a leather jacket stood chalking his cue as his opponent, an equally thin woman in a black tank top, leaned over the table to line up her shot. The man looked at Mark questioningly. Apparently he could tell Mark wasn’t a member of the tribe. Mark felt the need to explain himself. “I’m looking for Leary,” he said. “He said I could interview him after the show.”
Recognition dawned on the man’s face. “Oh yeah,” he said. “The kid with the notepad. That was a ballsy move asking for an interview like that.”
“I didn’t know how else to get his attention,” said Mark.
“Well you got it,” said the man. “Kudos to you.” He pointed to the left with his pool cue. “He’s right over there. Go get him.”
Mark glanced over and spotted Leary immediately. He was sitting at a small bar in the corner with his back to the hubbub. He was by himself. Mark wondered how he’d missed him. He supposed he’d been looking in the wrong place. He’d been looking for Leary in the middle of the ruckus, not on its margins. It struck him as more than a little strange that Leary was not participating in the revelry. He was the one, after all, who made the revelry possible. If it weren’t for him, for his music, for his fans, for the money his concerts and albums were bringing in, none of these people would be here right now. Shouldn’t he be whooping it up with all of them right now, enjoying his success? Mark thought it stranger still that no one in the room seemed interested in pulling Leary into the celebration. He was quite clearly being left alone. Was there a reason for that? Did he want to be left alone? Should Mark leave him alone? Even if he should, he wasn’t going to. He’d made it this far. He wasn’t going to give up now, twenty feet away from the guy.
He took a deep breath, traversed the room, and hopped up on the bar stool to Leary’s left. Leary didn’t acknowledge him. He didn’t even turn his head. He just stared straight ahead at the mirror behind the bar, arms on the counter, beer bottle in hand. Mark sat there in awe. Here was the real guy, the living, breathing man he had adored and emulated for over three years. Mark was close enough to reach out and pat him on the back. He was close enough to see the blackheads on the ridge of his nose.
For about a minute, neither Mark nor Leary said a word. Then Mark, unable to take the silence any longer, piped up. “Hi, Travis,” he said. His voice sounded faint, small.
Leary kept his eyes on the mirror behind the bar. “You’re too close,” he said.
“Excuse me?” said Mark.
“I said you’re too close,” said Leary. “Back off a little. You don’t want to get too close to me right now.”
“Sorry,” said Mark. He moved one stool over.
“Can I help you?” said Leary.
“My name’s Mark. I’m the guy you said could interview you.”
Leary shook his head. “I don’t feel like doing an interview anymore,” he said.
Mark hadn’t expected to get shut him down so quickly. He tapped the bar with his index finger and tried to think of what to say next. He wasn’t ready to pack up and go home yet. He had to get a dialogue going somehow. Maybe he would try flattery. One thing he’d learned in his nineteen years of life was that there was no better way to get people to warm up to you than to compliment them. “That was an excellent show you played tonight,” he said. “Maybe the best show I’ve ever seen. I especially liked that first song. It was really raw and gritty. The opening riff reminded me a lot of that old Freddie King song, ‘Going Down.’ You definitely put your own twist on it, though.”
Leary turned his head and looked at Mark. His eyes were glassy and slightly bloodshot. His mouth was expressionless—a lipless, inscrutable line. “You listen to Freddie King?” he said. His breath was heavy with the sour reek of beer.
“I love Freddie King,” said Mark.
“What’s you’re favorite album?” asked Leary.
Mark knew he was being tested. “Getting Ready,” he said. “Isn’t that everybody’s favorite? That was the first one with Leon Russell.”
Leary stared at Mark for about ten seconds without saying anything and then nodded. Mark had passed the test. “Getting Ready is a great record,” he said. He swiped his damp hair off his forehead. “Go ahead and ask your questions.”
“Really?” said Mark. “We don’t have to do an interview if you’re not feeling up to it.”
“I’m feeling up to it now,” said Leary. “Go ahead and ask your questions before I change my mind.”
“Okay,” said Mark. Fumblingly, he took out his notepad and flipped it open to the second page where his interview questions were scrawled. He slid his pen out of the notebook’s spiral coil and uncapped it.
“Ready when you are,” said Leary. He took a swig of beer and set his bottle back on the counter.
Mark looked down at his notepad and read out the first question. “Your most recent album is a dramatic departure from the three that came before it. Almost all the songs are full band arrangements with electric guitars, drums, and anthemic choruses. Why the change? Why did you decide to abandon the singer-songwriter folk sound on this record?”
Leary let out a long exasperated sigh, as if he’d already been asked this question a thousand times and was sick of answering it. Perhaps he had been asked this question a thousand times. “I abandoned the singer-songwriter folk sound because I was bored with it. I hate all of my old songs. They’re depressing, self-indulgent, pretentious pieces of shit—all of them. If you like those old songs, you’re an idiot—a weak, navel-gazing sissy. Every time I hear my old songs, I want to punch myself in the throat. Write that down in your little notepad. Every time Leary hears his old songs, he wants to punch himself in the throat.”
Mark scribbled down the quote. “Does that mean your future albums will be more like this most recent one? More rock and roll?”
Leary pinched up his face like he’d just put something foul-tasting in his mouth. “Man, I have no idea what my future albums will be like. I might not live long enough to make any more albums. I’m just taking it a day at a time. I made this album the way I made it because it felt like the right thing to do at the time. I felt like playing rock and roll, so I did it. End of story. Next question.”
Mark went back to his notepad. “Who is your favorite songwriter? Who do you think has had the biggest influence on the way you write?”
“Lou Reed,” said Leary. “Next question.”
“Could you elaborate on that?” asked Mark.
“No,” said Leary. “Next question.”
Mark didn’t want to push his luck. Leary seemed to be getting testier by the second. This was not going as well as Mark had hoped. He went on to question four. “In the 80s we had hair metal. In the 90s we had grunge and the Seattle sound. Where do you think rock is headed now? What do you think the sound of the 2000s will be?”
“I don’t know, kid,” said Leary, obviously annoyed. “I don’t think about that kind of shit. I don’t care. I just do my thing. I make the kind of music I want to make. If people like it, that’s great. If they don’t, fuck ‘em. I need another beer.” He banged his empty bottle on the counter three times. “Ronnie,” he shouted at balding bartender who stood at the other end of the bar chatting up a tall blonde girl in a bright red miniskirt. “Get me another beer. You’re not getting paid to flirt. And get me an ice bucket, too. An empty one.”
“You got it, Travis,” said the bartender, snapping to.
“You want a beer?” Leary said to Mark.
“I don’t drink,” said Mark. “I’m not old enough.” He regretted saying it immediately. If Leary didn’t think he was a square already, he certainly did now.
Leary sneered. “Nobody cares how old you are here, kid,” he said. “If you want a beer, get a beer.”
“I’m good,” said Mark.
The bartender approached and placed an open beer bottle and an empty ice bucket on the counter in front of Leary. Leary picked up the bottle and peered at the label. “What the hell is this?” he yelled. “I told you I don’t drink this. What the hell’s the matter with you?” Leary flicked the bottle at the bartender. It hit him in the chest and smashed on the floor.
“Sorry, Travis,” sputtered the bartender. “I didn’t look. I just grabbed a bottle.”
“Well look next time, you jackass,” barked Travis. He paused and looked at Mark. His face went pale. His Adam’s apple slid up and down in his throat. “Oh shit,” he said. “Here it comes.” He grabbed the ice bucket, turned his head, and unleashed a thick jet of pea-green vomit. The vomit splashed out of the bucket and splattered onto the bar. Some of it got on Mark’s jeans. Mark stood up and moved back a step. “I told you not to get too close,” Leary cackled. Vomit dribbled down his chin.
“Maybe I should go,” said Mark.
“Why go now?” said Leary. “It’s just getting fun.”
Mark backed up another step. “Thanks for the interview,” he said.
“Anytime, partner,” said Leary. “Sorry about your jeans.” He handed the ice bucket back to the bartender. “Save that, Ronnie. It’ll be worth something someday.”
When Mark got outside, he found the roadie standing on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette. “Did you get your interview?” asked the roadie.
“I did,” said Mark.
“How was he?”
“Drunk,” said Mark. “Very drunk.”
“Yeah,” said the roadie. He sucked on the end of his cigarette and blew the smoke out through his nostrils. “He was already loaded when he went on this evening.”
“He’s a rock star,” said Mark. “Rock stars drink a lot.”
“Some of them do,” said the roadie. “Not all of them.” He tossed his cigarette on the sidewalk and crushed it out with the toe of his boot. “I hope you weren’t too disappointed.”
“I wasn’t,” Mark lied. What good was there in telling the guy how he really felt? What good was there in telling him that he wasn’t merely disappointed—he was crushed? He walked to the curb and waved at a taxi coming down the street. The taxi pulled up, and he opened the door. “I’ll see you,” he said to the roadie.
“See you later, buddy,” said the roadie.
Mark slid into the taxi and settled back in his seat. It didn’t occur to him until he was getting out of the taxi ten minutes later that he’d forgotten to thank the roadie for getting him backstage.
It was half past midnight by the time Mark got back to his room. The lights were off, and his roommate was snoring. Quietly, he took off his clothes and got into his pajamas. He grabbed his backpack from the foot of his bed, slung it over his shoulder, and tiptoed out of the room and down the hall to the dorm lounge. When he got there, he pulled a chair up to a table and sat down. Up above someone was listening to music. Mark could hear the bass and the drums through the floor—a faint, muffled pulse. It wasn’t loud enough to distract him. If it had been, he would have gotten up and gone somewhere else. He couldn’t be distracted right now. He had a big test at ten, and he had to get ready. He needed to focus. He unzipped his backpack, took out his Abnormal Psychology textbook, and opened to chapter one.
Jack Somers’s work has appeared in Midwestern Gothic, Litro, Prick of the Spindle, Flash Fiction Magazine, decomP magazinE, Maudlin House, The Atticus Review, Fewer Than 500, and Sick Lit Magazine and is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review, Firefly Magazine, Rum Punch, and Literary Orphans. You can find him on Twitter @jsomers530 or visit him at www.jacksomerswriter.com. He lives in Cleveland with his wife and their three children.