BY EVREN ERHAN
Copyright is held by the author.
PAUL BEGAN to regret coming to this party. He had been on his phone almost the entire night, barely talking to anyone. The only reason he came was because his friend needed a designated driver. Paul asked why he didn’t ask for an Uber, but his friend didn’t want to pay 30 dollars to get across town.
Paul finally got off of his phone after the internet began to slow and new content wouldn’t load on Instagram, Reddit, or even that old museum of Facebook. He walked around and tried to find any conversations to join. There were a lot of people, but not enough that it forced Paul to push through people just to go somewhere.
More time passed, and people started to notice that he was just walking around aimlessly, and Paul began to feel uncomfortable again, so he found the bathroom and stayed in there for about 10 minutes before a knock came on the door. “Almost done,” he said. There was no response, and Paul reluctantly got up, flushed the toilet, and washed his hands before opening the door.
He found a young woman around the same age as him standing against the wall across from the bathroom. Paul froze for a moment as he debated if that was who he thought it was. The woman looked up and had the same expression of uncertainty on her face. Building up the courage to finally say something to someone today, Paul spoke. “Caroline?” he asked.
“Paul?” She responded in a transatlantic accent.
The two were at a loss for words before Caroline apologized and shimmed her way into the bathroom. Paul waited until she got out and asked what she was doing in Ann Arbor. “I could ask you the same thing,” she responded.
“I go to college here. Are you on vacation or something?”
“A friend lives here,” she said. “I’m visiting her since it’s fall break.”
“How long is your fall break?” Paul asked. “Isn’t that supposed to be like two days?”
“Well, my school seems to value breaks more than the average university.”
There was silence after that as the two didn’t know how to continue. “We should probably get away from the bathroom,” Paul responded with a pitiful laugh. Caroline agreed, and the two walked back toward the party, all the while, Paul tried to think of something to say. The only thing he could think of was to ask how she was holding up.
“You know, not too bad,” she responded. “I’m just kind of living my life, you know. It was a struggle at first to find friends. I was alone for the first couple of months, but then I joined a couple of clubs and met some nice people. You?”
Paul hesitated. “You know, hanging in there. Just focusing on school.” Paul didn’t have any good friends. The only one he knew decently was the one who he was designated driver for tonight, but even then, they didn’t regularly hang out. “This is the first party I’ve been to in a while. I’ve just been busy.”
“Really?” Caroline curiously asked. Paul’s heart sank when he saw Caroline’s reaction to his comment about not going to parties. “Well, if you ever come to the U.K., you should join me, and we can go to a party together. There are some that happen regularly that would make you think the Super Bowl was happening.”
“Yeah, not like this or any of the ones in Grand Haven, and that’s assuming the ones in Grand Haven would be considered parties.”
Caroline nodded. “Yeah, everyone used to just walk down to the pier and turn around. It was like the only thing we did. Still fun though. You should have come more to them.”
“Maybe, but I just got sick of them.”
There was another brief moment of silence, and thoughts of how he was doing circled Paul’s mind. Was he interesting enough? Was he blowing his chance? It’s not every day that your former-ish crush comes back halfway around the world, and you stumble into each other and the party.
“You want a drink?” Caroline asked.
I’m the designated driver for a friend,” Paul responded. “But I can get you one.”
“How lovely,” Caroline sarcastically said back.
The two walked over into the kitchen and Paul opened the fridge before tossing a beer to Caroline. They started to make their way outside of the kitchen when they noticed something happening outside in the backyard. They gave each other a look of acknowledgment before walking out to see what it was.
It turned out that it was the friend that Paul was designated driver for, getting demolished in beer pong. After that, the friend grew violent and charged the other person who was beating him in the game. The two hit the ground, and they suddenly got into a wrestling match.
Everyone watched as drunk college students cheered them on. That was until Paul’s friend clocked the other guy in the jaw. Other people got involved, and Paul saw a girl call the cops while hiding in the corner so no one would see her. Paul tapped Caroline on the shoulder and nodded in the girl’s direction. “We should probably get out of here. This party’s over.”
“Hmm,” Caroline responded. “Yeah, let’s go. I got a brunch tomorrow that I don’t want to show up tired too, so see ya,” she said as she pulled keys out of her pocket and made her way back to the house. Paul followed behind contemplating if he should make a move. This opportunity wouldn’t ever come again, and besides, it would be a lot more awkward if he tried to intrude on her tomorrow while she was busy with who knows what.
The two reached the front yard, and before Caroline got too far, Paul called out to her. “Hey, I don’t have to be the designated driver for anyone tomorrow, so you want to do something else instead?”
Caroline stopped and turned back toward Paul. “Like what? It’s midnight.”
“I don’t know,” Paul responded nervously. “It’s just I don’t see you for years, and you show up at a house party, and I only get like five minutes to talk to you? Doesn’t seem right.”
Caroline sighed. “Well, if you want to go somewhere now, name it.”
Paul paused and looked around like that was somehow going to help him come up with an idea. “I don’t know,” he said before saying the first thing that came to his mind. “An arcade?”
Caroline gave out a small laugh before softly nodding. “Fine,” she responded. “I’ll follow you.”
Paul instantly felt regret as he made drove aimlessly while trying to find an arcade that was still open. After swiping through ten options, he found one on Google Maps and drove about twenty across the city to get to it. Paul worried that Caroline thought she was about to get abducted, because who invites someone to go somewhere at midnight, drives twenty minutes, and then everything goes well? The chances were low, or so he thought.
They arrived at the arcade, and awkwardly walked in and bought some tokens. After doing some quick math, Paul figured that the coins would only last them around thirty minutes, and tried to savor what he could from the experiences. Caroline kept trying her hand at the claw machine. “You know those things are rigged, right?” Paul asked,
Yeah, but I want something out of this,” she responded, angrily failing her next attempt. After about three more tries, she said, “fuck it,” and moved on to a multitude of arcade fighting games. It turned out that Caroline was a lot more competitive than Paul remembered, which was nice since he was competitive, and after about six rounds won three games each, though Caroline cheated in the second game as she pushed Paul to the side with her hip to throw him off.
Slowly, Paul let his worries about messing up his chance to savor what was left of his chance, and enjoyed the rest of the night. Though he had a little crush on Caroline before she left, there was no way that Paul would end up dating her. She lived in the UK, and Paul didn’t fancy his chances of maintaining a relationship like that. Besides, he was never in any sort of relationship before so a long-distance one would be out of the question.
They finished their tokens, and after yawing about three times in a row, Caroline called it a night, and they stood by each other’s car. “When are you flying back?” Paul asked.
“Three days from now,” she responded. “It sucks. I forgot how much you were. You wouldn’t want to visit me in England by any chance?” Paul’s eyes widened and tripped on his words. “Nah, I’m just fucking with you,” she continued. “Though, DM me. I don’t see myself lasting in the UK. I might find a job here when I graduate, and it would be nice to have some connection. Hey, maybe you can write me a bullshit recommendation letter.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Paul said, trying not to sound resigned.
Caroline opened the car door, and Paul considered telling her that he had a small crush on her back in the day. It was an urge to get it out of his chest, to clear his mind, and get rid of the thought that came and went for the last couple of years, but he didn’t. It would be mean to imply that he only wanted to hang out with her to get a chance to date her, and not because she was a joy to be around. So, he watched as she drove off back to her hotel.
Paul slowly went back to his car, put on some sad music, and drove back home. It wasn’t what he wanted, but it was probably for the best. Fantasies never end up going how they are supposed to.
Paul woke up the next morning and went through his morning routine. He didn’t have anything planned for the day, except to go to the gym. When he got there, it wasn’t very busy, with the only significant noise coming from the TVs that played re-runs of last week’s football games, or mediocre crime dramas. He only gave them a momentarily glance in between sets as he used the motivation for what could have been last night to fuel his lifts.
They mostly blended into the background most of the time, but this time, he noticed that one of the channels was showing the same game from yesterday, and that’s when Paul’s phone rang. It was his friend. Paul accepted the call as his friend would probably want him to pick him up from jail after spending the night, but the friend asked something else. “Hey, you mind being my designated driver for a party I’m going to? I don’t want to pay for an Uber.”
Paul nodded and said yes before turning off the phone. He sat there in silence coming to the only conclusion he could and leaving for the locker room. There was no one there, and Paul spent the next couple of minutes throwing his gym bag back and forth in the locker room, but eventually, he collapsed into a seat and wept. He never even had a chance.
Paul went to the party and walked around the house until 1 am. There was no fight, no arcade run, and no Caroline. Life would remain as it was.
Evren Erhan is an author who has always had a passion for storytelling for
as long as he’s had consciousness. Though growing up he never particularly
liked reading or writing, Evren grew to love them as he reached his
mid-teens. Even though he occasionally writes realistic fiction, he can
mostly be found pouring his love into fantasy worlds and building stories
never-imagined in the real world. When Evren isn’t writing, he can be found
watching way too many movies, playing video games, and creating new stories
in his head.