It was not his fault that David was a wimp. Not really. But considering the loser had spent the whole night just being completely annoying and running everyone’s fun, James had decided that it would soon be necessary to have words with him. After all, they were nearing the end of school and still far from what would be considered cool, by anyone’s estimation. Throwing awesome parties was a sure fire way to change that image.
There only seemed to be one person still in the living room, passed out under a blanket on the couch. James paused for a moment, looking at the sleeping form. Could it be Jenny? He toyed with the idea of waking them up to see, but decided against it. She had probably left. It could be anyone. So he headed for the spare bedroom, where he knew Alex was sleeping. She had kicked him out last night, but maybe a bit of rest had let her come to the realisation that James was in fact ludicrously attractive and she had to have him immediately.
That said, however, in the light of day and without the influence of a lot of booze, Alex didn’t look nearly as good to him. She was still asleep and he watched her for a moment, aware of how creepy he was being but knowing all the same that his silent assessment was more important. She had thick brown hair and a round face, and judging by the shape of her under the blankets, she wasn’t exactly skinny. That was a shame. Maybe she had nice eyes or something.
James had just turned to leave when he heard her move under the blankets, and then croak; ‘James?’ Internally kicking himself for not getting out sooner, he adopted a wide smile and faced her. She was sitting up, dressed in a t-shirt and, he could make out, underwear.
‘Hi,’ he said.
‘What time is it?’ she asked.
‘Almost twelve,’ he said.
‘Shit,’ she slumped back down. ‘I should get going.’
‘Yeah, it’s about that time.’ James nodded. ‘So, um, you have fun last night?’
‘I guess,’ she said, still not moving. ‘I don’t remember much. I never drink.’
‘You get used to it,’ James replied, trying to sound knowledgeable.
‘If this is what I have to get used to, then no thanks.’ She gave a weak smile.
James was saved the trouble of having to come up with a reply by a knock at the door. Excusing himself, and slightly relieved to be out of there, he walked back through the living room and opened the door.
A young man dressed in a grey courier’s uniform was standing there, holding a parcel. He had long, greasy black hair and looked like he hadn’t shaved in days. Between that and his own hung over, shirtless state, James wasn’t sure which one of them was seedier.
‘You David Tyler?’ the man said. His voice was gravelly.
‘Right. Is he around?’
‘He’s just gone down to the shops,’ James said. ‘He’ll be back in a sec. What do you want him for?’
‘This.’ He nodded to the parcel.
‘Well I can take it for you,’ James offered.
The man shook his head. ‘Sorry mate, but I’m under strict instructions. This goes to David Tyler and no-one else.’
‘Suit yourself,’ James said. ‘Do you want a drink or something while you wait?’
‘I’m fine,’ he said. ‘I’ll just kill the engine.’ He gestured back to a black panel van.
‘That car doesn’t look dodgy at all,’ James said.
The man didn’t laugh; just looked at him impassively. James did not know what to say. The sooner this guy left, the happier he’d be. He took a seat on the wooden chair next to the front door and watched the courier return to his car. It didn’t look like an official courier van. There were no logos or anything. Even his uniform seemed plain. Something about this didn’t sit right.
‘So who sent it?’ James asked, as the man returned, without the package.
‘I’m not at liberty to say.’
‘Right.’ James nodded. ‘Just for the record, that’s not remotely suspicious or weird sounding.’
The man opened his mouth to reply, just as the front door swung open and a tall, slim girl with long, wavy brown hair stepped out. She looked from James, who suddenly felt very self concious, to the other guy with a confused expression.
‘Who’s this?’ She pointed to the courier.
‘Some guy,’ James said. ‘He’s pretty weird.’
‘Standing right here,’ the man said.
‘Don’t care,’ James replied.
‘Were you here last night?’ the girl asked the courier.
‘No,’ he said, the first hint of an angry expression on his face. ‘I’m here to deliver a parcel to David Tyler, and that it.’
‘Fun,’ she said, then turned her attention to James. ‘It’s John, or something, right?’
‘James,’ he said. His voice suddenly seemed higher and softer than he was used to.
He, after all, did know this girl. It had taken him a day of mental preparation to muster the courage to ask her to this party. Jenny was gorgeous and James had always struggled to speak to her without forgetting the English language. He was still proud of the feat it had been to ask her here and yet, once the party happened, he’d hardly seen her, much less spoken to her. Now endless terrified thoughts were racing through his head; did I embarrass myself? Did she see me with Alex? Does she think I’m a loser?
‘That was good night,’ she said. ‘Where’s David? I need to thank him.’
‘I, um, sort of organised it,’ James managed. ‘Y’know, convinced David and stuff. He didn’t want to do it.’
‘So it’s you I’m thanking?’ she said.
‘Um, I guess. Yeah.’
‘Thank you then.’ She smiled and James felt like he could fly.
‘Do you have any idea how long David will be?’ the man interjected.
‘No,’ James said.
‘Where is he, anyway?’ Jenny asked.
‘Shops,’ James said. ‘With that Sydney girl.’
‘Oh yeah, she was there last night too,’ Jenny said. ‘It’s coming back to me.’
‘It’s a bit of a blur,’ James said.
‘Which says to me it was a good night,’ Jenny said, before turning back to the courier. ‘What’s your name, anyway?’
‘Rob,’ he said.
‘Well would you like a beer, Rob? Seeing as you’re gonna be waiting around.’
‘Fine,’ he said. ‘I won’t say no.’
‘Correct answer,’ she replied, stepping back inside. ‘Hey Alex.’
Alex had emerged just as Jenny went back in, bleary eyed and not looking any more dignified, despite the added presence of pants. She stopped short at the sight of Rob. ‘Who are you?’ she asked.
‘Rob,’ he said, looking uncomfortable.
James said nothing. How much did she remember? What if she said something in front of Jenny? She would never smile at him like that again. Between the weird courier, the girl he’d been all over last night, and the girl he’d wanted to be all over last night, James wasn’t sure if the situation could be much more awkward.
‘Rob. Right.’ Alex frowned. ‘Who’s Rob?’ She glanced at James, as if looking for an answer.
‘Is there something about this town where you all talk about people as if they’re not there?’ Rob asked, as Jenny emerged with two beers. She cracked one for herself and handed the other to Rob.
‘Sorry,’ Alex said. ‘My head hurts. I’m not thinking straight.’ She closed her eyes and rubbed her temple. ‘I’m never drinking again.’
‘I forgot to ask if either of you wanted a beer?’ Jenny glanced from James to Alex.
‘Yes,’ Alex said. James could only nod and, with a smile, Jenny vanished inside again.
‘So by the looks of it,’ Rob took a sip of his beer, ‘I’ve found you all in a state of recovery.’
‘I’m not really recovering,’ Alex said. ‘I feel like there’s a hammer repeatedly hitting the inside of my head.’
‘Beer will make it all better.’ Jenny had emerged again, passing drinks to James and Alex. For a moment, they all sipped in silence.
Alex glanced down at her watch. ‘I’d better think about heading off.’
‘Yeah, I’m on that boat,’ Jenny said. ‘But beer first.’
‘Beer should always come first,’ Rob said. He glanced down at his drink, and then frowned. ‘Hang on. How old are you guys?’
‘Not old enough,’ Jenny winked.
‘Oh well,’ Rob shrugged. ‘I got a drink out of it. I won’t-’
He never finished. At that moment, the ear splitting sound of a siren seemed to shake the very foundations of the house. James dropped his beer and clamped his hands down over his ears. Alex seemed almost buffeted by the sound, falling back into the doorframe as Rob and Jenny, neither of whom had dropped their drinks, stepped off the porch and down on to the driveway, both looking around as if searching for the source of the sound.
‘What the hell is that?’ James yelled.
‘Is that a fire alarm?’ Alex said.
‘It’s too loud,’ Jenny called. ‘This is-‘
‘Get inside,’ Rob spat. ‘Now.’ He threw his drink aside and bolted for the door. Jenny took a second longer but followed suit, just as David and Sydney, both looking out of breath, appeared in front of the house.
‘I have to get home,’ Sydney said, but David caught her by the arm.
‘It’s too late!’ he yelled. ‘We have to take cover!’
‘No!’ Sydney was struggling, but David managed to drag her on to the porch. Alex, Jenny and Rob had got inside, but James felt as though he was frozen to the spot, staring at David and Sydney as they fought.
‘Help me!’ David roared.
Heart about to tear out of his chest, despite him not even knowing why, James dived for Sydney’s other arm and together they pulled her through the front door into the house. David slammed it shut and leant against it, breathing heavily. Sydney elbowed James in the stomach, winding him, and tried to push past David but he roughly shoved her back.
‘Stop it,’ he managed, between gasps. ‘We can’t leave, okay?’
‘Why not?’ Sydney’s voice was cracking. ‘Why the hell not? I have to get back home, I have to-‘
‘We can’t,’ Rob said. ‘We have to stay, at least for now.’
‘Why?’ Alex’s voice was quiet.
Rob turned to her. James watched, waiting for an answer, wanting to know just what had happened.
‘It’s what they’ve been talking about for years,’ Rob said. ‘The nuclear bomb. It’s hit us.’