This story is by Armeen Noorshahi and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
As the earthy smoke wafted over him, Arthur wondered once again whether college had been the right choice for him. Not that he didn’t like his school – in fact he’d fallen in love with the campus itself, its ornate buildings and sprawling grassy fields. What really gave him pause was what was happening in the room next door; speakers playing trap at full volume, lines of coke being snorted in the open, and countless shots being taken with reckless abandon. Though he’d wanted to give the whole scene a chance he decided instantly it was not for him, and took shelter from the living room alongside some random acidhead who, surprisingly, felt the same way.
“If only they could see it,” said the acidhead. “When I sat down here and saw waves coming out of the wall, that’s when I realized…there’s so much out there, you know? It’s all connected, the universe’s vibrations, the heartbeat of planet Earth…shit, I finally get why life’s so beautiful, man.”
“You come here with anyone else?”
“I did, yeah,” said Arthur. “My friends, they’re, uh, partying out front.”
The boy began drifting off, to Arthur’s disappointment. As incomprehensible as these rants were, they were the only thing keeping him from going insane. “Walid?” said Arthur. “Walid, you still there?”
“You just dozed off,” said Arthur. “What were you thinking about?”
“The party…” said Walid, blinking rapidly. “How many people do you think are here right now?”
Arthur shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe sixty?”
“Four? But there’s two of us here right – ”
“No no…” Walid whispered, “not all of them are here right now. You’re not even here right now. People…they don’t see the real world when they get this drunk.”
Arthur scoffed. “I’m not drunk.”
“Yeah, but you’re a tightwad.”
Walid pinched the bridge of his nose, struggling to organize his rambling thoughts. “It’s like…like I’m here right now, but I’m also upstairs, you know, up there, on two different levels, and I’m trying to, uh, connect. But you….you don’t even try…like sure you’re at the house…but are you at the party?”
It had never crossed his mind that there could be a difference. Arthur spent much of the night leaning against the wall with his friends, laughing with them at the strange kids while everybody else took shots. He himself didn’t partake, and one by one his friends disappeared into the crowd without him. It was a horrible thought, but was doing the right thing really worth it while he was this bored? “No,” he said finally. “I suppose not.”
“Whoo!” Walid shouted suddenly, jumping up into the air. “That was dope! I gotta remember that – if I see you tomorrow, will you help me remember – ?”
“Walid, what do I do?” Arthur pleaded. “I’m tired of feeling bored in here, detached from everyone else. I mean, I feel like you get it. Why can’t I?”
“You can get it too,” said Walid, grinning, arm outstretched. Dangling between his fingers was a half-light joint, the last remnants of the strongest kush Arthur had ever seen. “The question is, do you really want to?”
Arthur bit his lip. “Yeah, but…”
“Then prove it,” Walid grinned. “After all, it’s just college, right?”
From behind the door, Arthur stepped out into a party that was much more welcoming than the one he left behind. With a smile he looked out into the crowd and found Emika dancing, lost in a growing mass of waving arms and gyrating hips. The music, once schlocky and abrasive, now seemed to call out to him: “Go ahead Arthur! Let loose!” For the first time in his life, he felt like he really could.
“Emika!” he called out. The once impenetrable crowd parted before him like the Red Sea and soon he found himself beside her, his arms and hips moving like they never had before. I’m really dancing! he thought to himself. Engulfed in the weed and the music, Arthur smiled, feeling relaxed for what felt like the first time in his whole life.
“Bitch did you not hear me? The cops are here – everybody, get the fuck out!”
“But I just got here!” Arthur exclaimed. “Emika! Where’d you go?”
He’d gotten so caught up in his dancing that all his friends had disappeared on him – again. Without his friends to ground him Arthur found himself adrift, surrounded on all sides by the narrowing crowd yet completely alone. Soon his friend Teddy appeared, stumbling deliriously out of the bathroom. “Wha-?”
“Ted, we have to go,” Arthur said as he approached him. “Where’s Ryan and Emika?”
“I don’t know,” Teddy slurred. “Where’r we going? Are we in trouble?”
“Trouble? No, of course not,” said Arthur. He held him by the shoulders. “Come on, let’s go for a walk.”
This was bad; apparently Teddy had found the jungle juice and drank himself into oblivion.. The two of them walked out through the front door, past the scantily-clad and disappointed partygoers to what should’ve been freedom. Another Saturday wasted, Arthur thought to himself.
Yet just as he felt safe, the monsters approached. Monsters, demons, police officers – in Arthur’s wasted eyes, it hardly made a difference. Never in his life had he seen them appear so vicious and militarized. They stormed towards the apartment in slow motion, circling around the partygoers like sharks closing in on their prey. “Uh…hey, wait a minute!” Arthur exclaimed.
“Why are we turning around?” said Teddy.
“I think I just saw Emika over there!” Arthur lied, pointing in the exact opposite direction of the police officers. Paranoia had set in deeply; on the bright side, it turned out his lie was completely true. Once they were a good distance from the apartment they could see Emika sitting on a bench with her arms spread out on both sides, listening bemusedly as some drunken stranger ranted to her about sin.
Oh great, thought Arthur.
“See, that’s how the Bible defines such ‘perverse’ activities,” the stranger explained, “But technically, if I didn’t know what was in the joint, and I thought it was a cigarette, then it’s okay that I’m high right now, right?”
“Well it’s just weed, right?” asked Emika.
“Weed, acid, PCP…” the guy shrugged. “With Walid’s stash, who knows?”
“Emika!” Teddy exclaimed. “My friend!”
“What the hell are you two doing?!” Emika snapped.
“We’ve got to get out of here,” said Arthur, panting. “Where’s your car?”
“Down that way. You’re driving us back already?”
Emika’s eyes went wide. “Because you promised you’d stay sober, remember?”
The memory slowly dawned on him; on their way to the party Ryan had been chugging gin out of a water bottle, trying to impress everyone with his tale of twenty shots while Teddy listened and sipped on his mix of Mountain Dew and Amsterdam Pineapple. “Listen Arthur,” said Emika, “you’re…alright, but I can’t deal with these kids sober. You feel me?”
“I guess so,” said Arthur.
“If I get drunk, will you DD for us? If not, I’ll be bored out of my mind.”
“Sure,” he’d said. “No drinking or smoking for me.”
It slowly dawned on him the magnitude of what he had done; the only thing worse than seeing Emika bored was seeing her after breaking a promise. It was not until he stood paralyzed by her glare, paranoid and high as hell, that he remembered such sage wisdom. “Arthur,” she seethed, “you have a lot of explaining to do.”
He didn’t bother giving that a chance. First thing he did after realizing he was in trouble was to get them on the move, to try to avoid the cops and the sheer cold. As long as they were distracted or in public, she wouldn’t dare yell at him. Eventually, they took shelter in an apartment laundromat with some other stragglers, while Arthur lamented his fate. “I can’t believe it,” he muttered. “My first time dancing in my life, and it only lasted two minutes.”
“Better than you in bed,” Emika muttered.
Teddy rolled over to him. “Don’t even worry about it bro, it’s college! There’ll be plenty more bitches to – ”
“Ted!” Emika snapped, “watch your language! We’re not the only ones here!”
A random pothead popped her head out from behind a dryer. “You’re good,” she called out.
“Thanks, Peyton,” said Arthur. “Still, what are we going to do? We’re too wasted to drive, the cops are everywhere, Ryan’s gone…” And Emika wants to kill me. “We’re screwed!”
“Just call in an Uber!” one of the other potheads called out.
“Wha-a-a-at? That’s genius!” Teddy grinned.
“And leave my car behind? Fuck that.”
“Emika, we can’t stay here when Teddy – ”
“ – is acting like this!”
“Fine,” said Emika. “You want to argue? Then let’s take this outside.”
Arthur gulped. After struggling to pull himself up, he gave Emika an unsteady hand and the two of them staggered out of the laundromat together, leaving Teddy behind. The potheads peered out from their corner to gawk at him on the floor.
“Sheesh,” said Peyton, “glad that’s not me.”
As they made their way to Emika’s car, Arthur’s beating heart threatened to break through his rib cage. He could see she was ready to turn around and pop off when he suddenly interrupted her. “Emika,” he said, “what do I have to do?”
She looked at him blankly. “I’m about to tell you, dumbass.”
“I mean how do I earn your forgiveness?” said Arthur. “Seriously, you know I didn’t come here to party. I came here because…I thought we could be friends again.”
“Wow, really? Um, that’s sweet of you…”
“…but Arthur, I’m drunk as fuck. I can’t answer you honestly right now.”
“Right…” said Arthur. His nerves were starting to calm down. “So what’ll you do now?”
“I’m going to sleep in my car, but you need to take him home,” said Emika. “Download Uber, and use my code. Emika-K-2-U-E.”
“Thanks for that, but why?”
“You’re broke, and you’re no good to me dead. Also, I need to give you this.”
She lowered her head and took off her cap, a pink snapback emblazoned with a blue text message bubble, I miss you, above the words Read: 3:00am. “It was my gift to you on our anniversary,” she explained. “You still suck, but you deserve it back.”
“Thanks, Emi,” he said. He caught the hint of a smile on her face, but it left as soon as it came. “See you around?”
She shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not.”
“Take as much water as you need,” said the Uber driver on the way back. “Ah, to be young again. Last college party I went to, I was…”
In the backseat, Arthur gripped the door handle tight, ready to pounce. Teddy had gone from cheerful to uncomfortably quiet the closer they got back to campus. As the car came to a stop, the driver turned around and said, “Hope y’all have – ”
Teddy immediately began coughing up vomit; Arthur instinctively grabbed the hat and brought it to his face, but it was too late. “Fuck!”
“Sorry, sir, thanks for the ride!” Arthur exclaimed, dragging the sick Teddy out of the car and to a nearby bench.
“Fuck,” Teddy moaned, “I ruined her hat.”
“Don’t worry about it, Teddy, you good?”
“Listen, lean over and drink some more water,” said Arthur, handing him the bottle. “I know the RA on duty tonight. We’ll fold up your hoodie, and I’ll sign you in when you’re done. No citation for us.”
“Thanks, bro, you’re a legend.”
“I suppose,” said Arthur. He looked up at the sky and thought, Maybe this night wasn’t a waste after all. “You feeling better yet?” he asked.
Teddy smiled, only to let out another burst of vomit onto the concrete.
“Well,” Arthur shrugged, “That’s college for you.”