It had all been James’ idea. A totally idiotic and typical one at that; hey Dave, your mum’s out, lets mess this place up! David had managed to argue and hold out for a while, but eventually the endless nagging had won him over. He had a free house for the weekend, so realistically it was his obligation to hold a wild party, or so James assured him anyway. Booze was bought, the place was cleaned up and invites were made. David never would have admitted it, but he even started to get a tiny bit excited.
Now, though, standing in his trashed living room and nursing the hangover from hell, the whole thing just seemed monumentally stupid again. He ran a hand through his thick brown hair and looked around the room. Various people were sprawled across the floor and couches, covered in whatever they had been able to use as a blanket. The mingled smell of vomit, beer and cigarettes was still thick in the air and now more than ever David was sure that the idea had been terrible. He had spent the night running around frantically trying to keep people from doing too much damage, before eventually giving up and getting drunk.
Not wanting to think about the daunting cleanup ahead of him, he ducked back into his room, grabbed his thankfully intact guitar, and headed for the front door. Fresh air and gentle music was exactly what he needed to ward off that uncomfortable feeling that he was about to be sick. He stepped out on to the porch and sat on the front step, looking out at the street in front of him. The houses in this part of town all looked pretty much the same; red brick, thatched ceilings, immaculate lawns. His own place was no exception. Comfortably boring.
David closed his eyes and started plucking the strings. The bright sun disagreed violently with his headache, but at least it was better than staying inside. It was too hard to resist the temptation to kick James’ sleeping form in there. That dickhead had a lot to answer for, above all the fact that David was sure he didn’t know any of the people currently passed out in his living room. Putting James in charge of invitations had been his second mistake. The first was agreeing to the party at all.
He had almost got the notes right. Starting from the start again, he sang softly. ‘Hey little girl is your daddy home…’ His favourite song from an album that had only come out a couple of weeks back, and he hadn’t stopped listening to it since. He was determined to learn every song off it, despite James’ reaction when he saw the cover. ‘Born in the USA? Yeah David, that’s you. All American hero, man.’ David had chosen to ignore him. It was usually the best response to anything James said.
He had screwed up the song again. Swearing under his breath, he went back to the start, as he did hearing footsteps behind him. He turned to see a girl only a little bit younger than him, dressed in jeans and an oversized t-shirt, her face almost entirely obscured by tangled blonde hair. He thought he might know her from school, but like all the other people inside, she could be anyone. I hope you die, James, I really do.
‘Hi,’ he said, turning back to his guitar.
She sat down next to him without saying a word, pushing her hair out of her face as she did. David glanced sideways at her; she was kind of pretty, if a little skinny. Her eyes were wide and bright green, and her mouth was set in a frown. He decided against trying to talk to her anymore and gave another attempt at the song.
‘Springsteen,’ she said.
He was surprised by that. ‘Yeah.’ He nodded. ‘You know him?’
The girl raised an eyebrow. ‘That Dancing in the Dark song hasn’t left the radio in months. Yeah, I know him.’
‘It’s an okay song,’ David said. ‘But it’s not Springsteen.’
‘Looks like him in the music video.’
‘Yeah, but it’s not him,’ he said, trying to sound frustrated but really glad that he had a chance to explain it. ‘Have you heard Born to Run?’
‘Album or song?’ she asked. ‘Actually, it doesn’t matter. I know them both.’
David looked at her for a moment, and then extended his hand. ‘I’m David,’ he said.
‘I know,’ she replied, looking amused. ‘We had this exact conversation last night.’
‘Oh.’ David frowned. ‘Right. I, um… don’t remember that. Like, at all.’
She grinned. ‘Figures. You weren’t exactly sober.’
‘I was,’ she said, looking out into the street. ‘Seems a bit pathetic in retrospect. I’m not really sure why I came.’
‘I still don’t know your name,’ he reminded her.
‘Sydney,’ she said. ‘You asked me that three times last night.’
‘Damn.’ He shook his head. ‘I’m gonna hesitate to ask what else I did last night.’
‘Nothing too controversial,’ she said. ‘You mainly just complained about James and tried to explain Springsteen to everyone. Then you attempted to put on the album but ended up playing ABBA instead, which didn’t end well. I think James slapped you.’
‘Of course he did,’ David rolled his eyes. ‘I swear, I’m gonna yell at him as soon as he wakes up. I don’t think I know anyone in there. I’m assuming you’re James’ friend?’
‘Friend is a very strong word,’ Sydney said. ‘He sits next to me in English and copies my answers. Anyway, he asked me along, and it struck me that I’m in year ten and have never been to a party before. So here I am.’
‘And how was it?’ David asked.
She laughed. ‘Awful. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more out of place. Like, anywhere.’
‘That makes two of us.’
‘Hey, at least you were drunk.’
‘You had the option,’ David pointed out.
Sydney wrinkled her nose. ‘Not really. I don’t think I’ll ever be a drinker.’
‘I used to say that,’ he replied. ‘But the more time you spend around James, the more necessary it becomes.’
‘The more necessary what becomes?’
David turned. James, messy hair sticking in all directions, was leaning shirtless against the doorframe, holding a beer and wearing oversized sunglasses.
‘You’re drinking again?’ Sydney asked. ‘Already?’
‘The key to not getting hangovers,’ he said, sitting beside her. ‘Stay drunk.’
‘Firstly, screw you,’ David said. ‘Secondly, you’re full of shit. Sydney, It might be a good time to point out that James has only been drunk a couple of times in his life, but likes to keep up this image of himself as a hard partying alcoholic. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure the main reason he organized last night is because nobody will invite him to any cool parties.’
‘Say what you like my dear,’ James said, ‘but last night took awesome to a whole new level. I totally got to second base with that Alex chick.’
‘A whole two bases further than you’ve ever got before,’ David said. ‘That’s cause for celebration.’
‘Hence the beer,’ he replied. ‘I mean, sure, at first I had to be all understanding about how her boyfriend had just dumped her, and she was really upset but trying not to call him, and blah, blah, blah, but after that it was smooth sailing.’
‘Yay for taking advantage of emotionally vulnerable girls,’ David said. ‘Sydney, I’m really sorry about him.’
‘David, unlike you, Sydney’s cool,’ James said. ‘She will furnish me with a high five.’ He raised his hand. Sydney looked at it for a moment, smirked, and turned back to David.
‘Apology accepted,’ she said. ‘Permission to ignore him?’
‘Granted,’ David replied. ‘Now I’m starting to realise that we have a hell of a clean-up ahead of us.’
‘What do you mean ‘we’?’ James raised an eyebrow.
‘You’re going to help me,’ David said. ‘Don’t even try to worm your way out of it.’
‘No trying necessary,’ James said. ‘I’m not helping.’
‘I’ll help,’ Sydney said.
‘You don’t have to.’ David got to his feet. ‘You didn’t cause any of this.’
‘Oh and I did?’ James said, looking annoyed.
David didn’t dignify that with an answer. ‘Thanks anyway Sydney.’
She shrugged. ‘I’ll stick around. I’ve got nothing better to do, and I doubt you’re gonna get much help from whoevers in there.’
‘Which reminds me,’ David said. ‘Who is in there?’
James gave a self-satisfied smirk. ‘Few cool people. Y’know. I do what I do.’
‘By a few cool people,’ Sydney said, ‘he means Jenny, the girl from drama and Alex, who is still devastated after her loser boyfriend broke up with her.’
‘The one you molested,’ David said.
‘Tried and found guilty.’ James winked.
Sydney rolled her eyes.
‘Well first and foremost I need food,’ David said. ‘I’m gonna head down the road. James, if those people aren’t gone by the time I get back, I’m holding you personally responsible.’
‘For what? Making your night awesome?’
‘Mind if I tag along?’ Sydney asked. ‘Like I said; I’m not exactly in excess of things to do today.’
‘Fine by me,’ David said. ‘Just as long as he doesn’t.’
‘Wouldn’t join you if you paid me,’ James said. ‘Now if it’s all the same to you guys, I’m gonna see if Alex is up for some morning fun.’ With that, he disappeared back inside.
‘God, I hope she has pepper spray,’ Sydney muttered.
David laughed and, leaving his guitar propped against the wall of the house, stepped off the porch. Sydney followed and together they walked down the road.
‘So, your first party,’ David said. ‘How was it?’
Sydney frowned. ‘I’m trying to think of a softer synonym for awful.’
‘Awful is about right,’ he said. ‘I have no idea how James convinced me. I’ve always hated parties. And if Mum comes back early, I’m screwed.’
‘Well, you know what the papers say,’ Sydney said. ‘We could all die tomorrow. Might as well have the experiences while we can.’
‘What, do you think they’re right?’ David looked at her.
‘Who knows?’ Sydney shook her head. ‘I know what they say, but it’s hard to believe anything will happen here. It’s not like we’ve done anything to piss off Russia.’
‘You should hear Mum,’ David said. ‘She’s obsessed. Convinced we’ll all be blown up any second.’
‘Well, it’s an inspiring outlook.’
‘You’re in year twelve?’ Sydney asked.
‘So a party was probably needed.’
‘Why’s that?’ David asked.
‘The mythical workload.’ Sydney grimaced. ‘I’m not looking forward to that.’
‘It’s fine, really,’ David said. ‘I mean, I don’t mind it. In case you hadn’t gathered, I’m not enormously social.’
‘Well, throwing possibly the world’s worst party implies that.’ She grinned. ‘Unless they’re all like that, in which case I’m becoming a hermit.’
‘Blame James,’ he said. ‘And I have no idea what parties are meant to be like. I haven’t been to too many.’
They had reached the main street of the town. Occasional cars were parked on either side of the road, but other than that it wasn’t too busy. It never was, really; David’s was a quiet town, which was how most of the inhabitants liked it. The most controversial thing that had happened in the last year was the discussion over whether or not a McDonalds would ruin the ‘small town charm’. David was unconvinced that this charm even existed, but someone somewhere begged to differ and it never happened. Granted, he couldn’t figure out why anybody would want to bring a McDonalds out here. The town was a minor blip between the city and the country, not far enough in any direction to be defined as either suburban or isolated. It was an in-between place of no real note, and David could not wait to get the hell out.
They had arrived at the small local supermarket. David stocked up on canned food (he wasn’t really sure how to make anything else) and soft drink, while Sydney watched with an amused smirk.
‘That’s healthy,’ she said.
‘I thought so,’ he replied, as he placed his meagre collection on the counter.
Lynne, the middle aged woman who owned the place, smiled at him as she bagged the groceries. ‘Making yourself a feast, Dave?’
‘Pretty much,’ he said. ‘Mum’s out of town, so I’m fending for myself.’
‘That’s a recipe for trouble,’ she said. ‘Well remember, our place is always there if you become desperate for some real food.’
‘Thanks Lynne,’ David said. ‘Say hi to Roger for me, yeah?’
‘I will.’ She nodded. ‘He’s doing much better. They say he’ll be out by next week.’
‘That’s great,’ he said. ‘It’s been long enough.’
‘I’ll say. Well, take care of yourself now Dave. Send my love to your Mum when you see her.’
They left the store and began making their way back up to David’s house, stopped only by the occasional passing family friend.
‘It’s impossible to walk down this street without engaging in conversation,’ Sydney said.
‘Small town charm.’ David snorted. ‘It’s just annoying.’
Chatting idly, they left the central part of the town and before long were back in the relative safety of the side streets. No longer accosted by various passers-by, David could feel himself relaxing. It was a nice day, and Sydney seemed entertaining enough.
‘Look, I do love them,’ she said. ‘But I’m sick of being stranded at home. I like getting out, y’know? My parents are just so damn insular. They don’t get that I want to make new friends and stuff. It’s such a struggle to be allowed to leave the house.’
‘They let you come to the party, though.’
‘Nope.’ She smiled. ‘They think I’m staying with a friend. They would have barricaded me inside if they thought I was going to a party.’
David had just opened his mouth to reply when a sound caught his attention. It seemed to be coming from the direction of the town. With a frown, he turned, scanning the empty street behind them. It was like a low rumbling, from far in the distance.
‘What’s that?’ Sydney asked.
‘I don’t know,’ David murmured. The sound had gotten louder and he swore he could feel very slight vibrations through his shoes. ‘That’s really weird.’
And then the air was torn apart by the high pitched and sudden wailing of a siren. David dropped his groceries and Sydney clapped her hands over her ears with a yell. It took a moment for David to register just what it was.
‘What the hell?’ Sydney yelled, over the screeching.
‘That’s…’ David felt his insides twist. No way. This has to be a mistake. It’ll stop in a second, it’s just a screw up. It has to be. The siren kept going. He could hear screams from inside the houses. Some people were stepping out on to their porches, covering their ears, to see what was going on. Every expression was of confusion.
Far past the town, David could make out a slight, orange glow, like sunset, creeping into the sky. It wasn’t midday yet.
‘Run,’ David said. ‘Run!’