Author's Note: Due to some recent developments, namely the completion of this story and the sudden realization that it's still being read, I've decided to go back for some edits, some extensive, most minor, for grammar, continuity, and literary aesthetics. My deep apologies to anyone that might have read the first version of this, as well as my deepest gratitude.

Uploaded chapters one through seven; still haven't uploaded the last few chapters that make the end to this story; just want to make sure I've edited them satisfactorily. Also, chapter twenty has also been uploaded, for those that are keeping up with it. (This author's note is reposted in chapter twenty as well).

Nominated for Round 5, SKoW's Best Love Triangle: Brian, Nora, and Louisa. (Thank you)

January 4, 2008.

Introduction

It was a long drive from Montana to Northern California, but it was leisurely enough; Carmichael Scieszka had installed a new XM radio in old Anna, his faithful Celica. He loved listening to anything and everything, tapping on his steering wheel, or pacing outside of his car as he stretched his legs at gas stations or in the parking lots of secluded diners. Some hours, it didn't even matter where he was going; he liked the way the road stretched and wound, how it breathed at some times and sucked itself in until he found himself passing through darkness for stretches at a time, only to heave right back into a sunny blue sky and that same endless road. He loved golden fields even though he couldn't find any deep beauty in it; it wasn't like the awe-inspiring, old St. Mary Lake, a landscape his mother had painted in passive water colors every summer. Now he was alone, living with Mother Nature for himself.

He took his time; school wasn't starting until September and neither did his lease, though his landlady was nice enough to receive him early, since the old tenant had moved out. It seemed like a good idea to start early, so he could take his time, and it turned out to be an awesome idea. Carmichael stopped in Washington and slept in a motel with the window open, expecting that nice, characteristic oceanic breeze to hit him, but he could only smell that basement smell, or the smell of pink cleaning product all around him, the thick musk of the exhaust right outside his window. He got dinner in Seattle, the same kind of dinner he would probably get in Montana and would also probably get in California: steak and eggs with Tabasco sauce. He ate and tried to read a book, but never quite knew how to read into those sorts of things. Anna Karenina remained a mystery to him, and he enjoyed his confusion, smiling as his knee bounced up and down. It took him ten minutes a page, but he managed to read fifteen before he headed out and went back to his motel for sleep.

He eventually passed through Eureka, northernmost of California, and it was littered with trees. He saw blue jays for the first time in real life, and tried to take pictures of them on using a disposable camera he had purchased on a whim at a gas station; the pictures turned out to be black, blurry, or infantile, but he still wanted to keep them for himself anyway. When he arrived in San Francisco, he slept in a Motel 6, knowing he was only a few miles from his real destination. He slept easy and felt Love swell in his heart for the city already, even if he could hear a drunken couple screaming and fighting just right outside; he liked the crowded, hilly streets and cramped houses and bicyclists, the fog. He liked listening to Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" while driving over the Golden Gate Bridge. He even liked getting lost and not being able to discern the freeway interchanges from each other.

He also liked the place he had arbitrarily chosen for himself, pretty close to a historical hotel in Berkeley; a white and beautiful thing.

"Claremont," he breathed as he smiled up at the monument, and then he looked down at his Mapquest directions. "I'm here." He had parked about half a mile away from his residence, and walked with his only belongings: a duffel bag, a pair of shoes slung over his other shoulder, a tote bag full of books, and a boom box from the 90's. When he stepped inside, he took a whiff of air, stale and musky.

"Ah, dorms," he said to himself, closing the door behind him. Though he had gotten his key in the mail, he didn't think he would be using it. His drive through the residential area revealed people who left their garage doors and front doors wide open. He liked that sort of thing and even chuckled a little seeing all those Victorian houses whiz by with their openness.

The place was quiet and dark. Maybe the other guys hadn't arrived. The living room was full of blue furniture; there was a T.V., probably with the free cable discussed in the lease. Carmichael listened to music on his old CD player, singing in a low voice as he walked through the hall. Barbara had told him that his room was at the end of the hall, on the right. The very first room looked furnished, and the one across from it, bare. His own had a desk, a bed, a lamp, a drawer, and a bookshelf already there. He looked across the way and saw that the door was open a little. He turned back and unpacked his belongings, just some underwear and clothes, some books and a few he picked up in Seattle, CDs, not much else, except for the large, white blank sheet of paper that he unfolded and taped onto his wall like a makeshift poster.

He sniffed his duffel bag; it was fine. He found the washing machine, and shoved all his clothes in there, singing along:

"Your father cried on the telephone
And he drove his car to the Navy yard
Just to prove that he was sorry

In the morning through the window shade
When the light pressed up against your shoulder blade
I could see what you were reading
"

When he loaded everything and used someone else's detergent for his wash, he shut the washer door, and turned.

"Anybody here?" He looked about.

He walked through the house, suddenly aware of his heavy footsteps hitting wood.

"Nobody?" he tried again, raising his voice. "I used your detergent."

He stopped, stuffing his hands into his jacket pockets; his left hand switched the track. His jaw jutted out. He smothered his face and fingered his goatee.

He checked the first two rooms again. No one. He chewed thoughtfully on his spearmint gum.

He went into his room and took his boom box out of the tote bag, turning on the radio really loud, removing his ear phones and turning off his CD player. No Doubt was playing on the radio. It was probably a return to the good old 90's afternoon.

"You and me, we used to be together, everyday together, always," he sang along with Gwen Stefani in a sweet and careless falsetto, nudging the door across from his open with a foot, with the boom box tucked his under arm like a football.

A skinny white kid started, hopping out of his bed, his laptop held tightly in his two hands like a dirty secret. The girl sitting on his bed next to him upturned her eyes.

"Hey," Carmichael said with an energetic grin. "What up, roomie."

Roomie sighed. "… I thought you were Patrick."

Carmichael looked all over his room, as if he hadn't heard what he said. It was white and a dark hermit blue. There were already wires all over the place.

"Wow," he said.

Roomie stood there, looking uncomfortable as Carmichael smilingly surveyed the room.

"Nice joint you've got here," Carmichael said, yelling over Gwen Stefani.

"What?" Roomie squinted, adjusting his glasses.

"I said, nice joint you've got here," Carmichael said again.

Roomie sat back on his bed. "Yeah, thanks."

The girl sitting next to him pulled up her knees and remained quiet.

For a skinny white kid, his voice was pretty deep.

"Cool. Nice," Carmichael said. "I just wanted to see if anyone else was home—hey, is that your detergent in the laundry room?" He hiked a thumb in its general direction.

Roomie shook his head, a little agitated, and began typing again.

"Is it yours?" Carmichael looked at the girl.

She shook her head, too, like a coquettish little girl with a full volume hair bob and dark eyes.

"The name's Carmichael Scieszka," he smiled real big, and then started toying with his lip ring and chewing on his gum.

Roomie didn't look up from what he was doing.

"I'm Brian," he said. "Brian Peters."

"Alright, Brian-Brian Peters," Carmichael said with amusement, "I live right across from you. Don't be a stranger."

"What?"

Carmichael yelled over The Smashing Pumpkins: "Don't be a stranger!" He turned and walked off without asking the girl's name. He heard good old Brian say in a low voice: "He scared the hell out of me. I thought he was Patrick for a second."