Fear The Dawn: Chapter 24

It was a really strange feeling to be back there after all this time. The campus was almost exactly the same as he remembered it, but it still felt very alien to him, much like the very first time he had set foot here. Aidan paused on the way to the campus bar to take a look at the main university building. This place been his whole life for four years, but that was a long time ago now, all that remained were a bunch of scattered memories and a slight twinge of nostalgia for simpler times. A few students walked past him, not paying him any heed, probably not even realizing he didn't belong there. It was 6:00pm, so there weren't as many students around as there would have been during the afternoon, and most of those who remained were heading to the bar or the dorms. Aidan resumed walking down the familiar trail that lead to the campus bar as he had many times before, feeling very out of place.

Nisha wasn't with him tonight, he had told her about it, but she said was going to visit her parents that night. He hadn't really expected she would be very interested, this was his world, not hers. Things had been a bit difficult between them lately, and he knew it was largely his own fault. Ever since he had failed to get that promotion he hadn't really felt up to much, and his malaise was spreading to her, too, she'd been very quiet lately. He hoped tonight would help him get over this and get back on track, but now he was starting to have second thoughts. Just what did he hope to accomplish here? There was no way he was going to start a new career in comedy, that was just a silly pipe dream, now more than ever. Perhaps he just wanted to relive the past for a little while, a time in his life where everything seemed full of promise.

The campus bar had actually changed quite a lot, though some of that was probably for the show. They'd moved the eating tables out of the main area and onto the patio outside to make room for chairs facing the stage, only a handful of two-seating tables remained inside. It was still about an hour before the show, but he needed to check in with the comedy team. He had spoken to them on the phone a few days ago, but he had no idea what they looked like, so he asked someone who was working at the bar.
There's one of them right now”, she said, pointing to someone who had just entered the bar. It turned out he was actually the leader of the troupe, and he greeted Aidan and explained a bit more about the show that they were going to do.
It's set up like a game”, he said, “there's a bunch of different topics and we give people points, but there really aren't any winners and losers, it's all just to keep the audience entertained. Oh, and it's all impromptu, so no one knows the topics beforehand except me.”
He was still setting up chairs, Aidan wondered just how many people they expected to show up. “Anyway”, he said, shaking Aidan's hand, “thanks for coming to join us and I hope you'll have fun”.

Aidan hadn't eaten yet, so he decided to order something at the bar. He didn't want anything that might risk bothering him during the show, so he chose the chicken fingers, just as he had dozens of times before. He sat down at one of the few remaining tables and a server brought his food out to him a few minutes later. As he sat next to the window eating his dinner, he couldn't help but be reminded of the last time he had eaten here, in the middle of his final set of exams in his last year.

God, that last question was a killer”, Tina said, shaking her head. “I didn't even finish my answer, I'm going to do so bad.”
He shrugged. “Lots of people were still writing at the end, you're not alone.”
I guess”, she said, not sounding all that relieved. “Have you given any thought to what you're going to do after graduation? Have you applied anywhere?”
I'll figure that out after finals are all over.”
I've finally decided that I'm going to go into writing. I've already got an interview with a business magazine two weeks from now. If everything goes well and my transcript holds up they might hire me even before graduation.”
That's great”, he said, idly munching away on his fries.
She looked out the window at the campus grounds. It was quiet, only the people who were writing exams were here now, and some were even already finished. “It's really all coming to an end. In a few weeks we'll be leaving this place for good, and then we'll have to go out and get jobs. This is our last crack at university life.”
I won't really miss it”, Aidan said, “this last term has been really boring, I can't wait to get out there and start doing real work.”
I guess so...” she said, trailing off. They ate in silence for a few minutes.
Aidan...” she blurted out, “please, tell me what I did wrong.”
What, on your exam?”, he asked, flustered.
No, that night we were together. Why didn't you go through with it? I really thought you liked me.”
He sighed. “I do like you, just not that way. When I thought about taking our relationship to that next level it just didn't feel right.”
Maybe you were just nervous”, she said, hopefully. “We could go back to my dorm room and try again. It is our last week together.”
I don't think that's a good idea. Besides, it's not like this is the last time we'll ever see each other, we'll still be around after graduation. We can still see each other if we make time for it.”
I guess you're right”, she said, looking down at her hands. “But still, I don't get it. We get along well, don't we? We have fun together, we have a lot to talk about, and I know you find me attractive. What more am I missing?”
He shook his head. “It's not you, Tina, it's me. I don't know, I guess I'm just looking for something special. I can't really put it into words.”
Well, I hope you find it”, she said, a tear rolling down her cheek. “...I gotta go.”

Aidan frowned. It wasn't exactly the kind of happy memory that put him in the mood to tell jokes. He finished up his food and went for a little walk outside to try to put it out of his mind. He tried to think about some of the jokes from the comic he did for the school paper, but he ended up thinking about Nisha instead. What was it about her that set her apart from Tina? Was it just that dream that he'd had? No, it couldn't be, there was just something special about her that he couldn't quite put his finger upon. He'd known that she was the one from the first time he'd talked to her, even before he'd had the dream again. He hadn't ever told her about his dream, it would just seem ridiculous, though she did come up with “Dream Girl”, so maybe she would understand. Still, there was no way he could ever tell her about it without proposing to her, so it would have to wait for now. He looked down at his watch again. It was nearly time for the show to start. He walked back to the bar, which was starting to fill up with people now, and met up with the rest of the troupe. “It's go time”, he thought to himself, suddenly feeling a bit nervous.

Good evening, and welcome to 'Impromptu? I hardly know you!'. I'm your host, Paul Mitchell. Let's meet tonight's contestants: He's got a degree in mathematics and laughematics, it's John! Her singing voice brings a tear to your eye, sometimes from laughter, it's Cindy! A longtime veteran of the show, (seriously, when are you going to graduate?), it's Dave! And tonight's special guest, a former writer for our campus paper and our first member to ever get a real job, it's Aidan!”
There was a round of applause from the crowd, which was a lot larger than he expected. There must have been sixty or seventy people out there now, it was almost like he was doing a real stand-up show. He took a deep breath to calm himself, and he spotted Dan and Nicole sitting in the second row. “Great”, he thought, “now if this goes badly I'll never be able to live it down.”

The host quickly introduced the rules of the game as the four of them took their seats towards the back of the little stage.
Our first game is called 'Long Story Short'”, he said, moving right along. “Everyone knows how much it sucks to be listening to someone tell a really long story, after a minute or two no matter how good the punchline is there's no way it's going to be worth it, right? Well, you're in luck, because in this game we've taken out all the boring middle stuff. Set-up, punchline, instant satisfaction. Tonight's topic is 'a funny thing happened to me on the way here', make us laugh and you get points. John, why don't you start things off?”
John got up from his chair and walked to the centre of the stage. “A funny thing happened to me on the way here”, he began, “I was driving in my car and I found out that my brake line had been cut. I slammed on the brakes really hard and, long story short, I learned that it's not against the law to run over a goose.”
The audience laughed and the host assigned him 200 points. Mercifully, Aidan got to go last, which gave him time to think about his answer. “The humour comes from surprise”, he thought, “I've got to make sure the punchline is something you wouldn't see coming.”
Finally it came to his turn. “A funny thing happened to me on the way here. I was taking the bus, and we got caught up in terrible traffic, and then the bus broke down, and I thought 'we're never going to make it here on time'. Long story short we DID make it here on time.”
There was a little laughter from the crowd but not as much as he had hoped. “I thought that was clever”, he thought, a bit frustrated. For his efforts he was assigned a paltry 50 points, but it didn't seem like they were being recorded anywhere.

The game was definitely pretty tough, even though he usually got to go last it was hard to come up with great jokes on the spot like that, the others obviously had a lot more practice than he did. He hadn't totally frozen up yet, at least, but he hadn't been getting a ton of laughs either.
Our next game is 'Crappy Superheroes'. The world is in danger! The forces of evil have stolen a nuclear missile and they're about to launch it from their secret compound! Unfortunately, all of the cool and awesome superheroes are busy, so we've only got these guys. Each of you is going to come up with your own crappy superhero and then we're going to try to save the world from evil.”
Oh no!” he continued, in a different voice, “evil forces have stolen a nuclear missile! Who will save us?!”
Don't worry, it is I, Lady Licorice!” Cindy said, jumping to the forefront. “Behold my amazing licorice-flavoured hair!”
Is that a superpower, or just a strange brand of shampoo? Still, it's good to have you here!”
Aha! It is I who will save the day, The Prankster!” He reached out to shake the host's hand, then made a buzzing sound and shook his arm vigorously. “Ha ha, got you!”
G-oood to have you he-eere”, the host continued. “Isn't there someone else?”
Yeah, yeah, I'm coming”, said Dave. “It's me, the Octogenarian. In my day, we didn't need superpowers, we solved all of our problems with a little old-fashioned elbow grease and ingenuity.”
That's great”, the host said, “we just need one more.”
Aidan had only a few seconds left to come up with a superhero. He was drawing a blank, so he just went with the first thing that came to mind.
And don't forget me, Dream Boy! I have the power to enter people's dreams as they sleep! ...Please tell me it's night time right now.”
It will be somewhere in the world”, the host said, eliciting a laugh from the crowd. “Now, go and stop the missile launch!”
They walked towards the left of the stage and entered again.

Look”, said Lady Licorice, “there's the entrance to their secret base, but there's a guard! We'll need to get the combination to the lock from him!” The host quickly sat down and became the guard.
Leave this to me”, said The Octogenarian, “I know how to talk to young people.”
He walked up to the host, “Now see here sonny, in my day, we didn't go about stealing missiles. If you wanted to get a missile, you went and got yerself a paper route, and if you worked real hard by the end of the week you'd have a shiny nickel! In those days, a nickel was enough to get ya a pack of gum, which we generally favoured since missiles hadn't been invented yet. My favourite flavour of gum was plain, since flavours hadn't been invented yet either...”
The host started snoring while The Octogenarian rambled on. “Now's your chance, Dream Boy”, she said, “you can go into his dream and get the combination!”
I'll try”, Aidan replied, and he walked over to the host and put his hands on the host's head.
Are you getting anything?”, the Prankster asked.
It's no good!”, he replied, “he's dreaming about being a race car driver!”
The audience laughed. “Check the number of the side of the car!”, Lady Licorice suggested.
I can't see it from here, we have to get him out of the car.”
Leave that to me”, said the Prankster. “With this glass of warm water he'll be desperate for a pit stop, if you know what I mean” He took the host's hand and acted as though he was dunking it into a glass of water.
Well, is that helping any?”
Nooo! Auugh! You idiot! They just go in the suit!! Oh, the humanity!”
The audience erupted with laughter, even the host had to stifle a laugh to stay in character. Afterwards, Lady Licorice tried to feed the sleeping guard her licorice hair, which made him throw up and crash, and in the end the missile was launched and the Octogenarian showed them his secret plan to save the day: “duck and cover”. Thankfully one of the good superheroes arrived and threw the missile into outer space, and Lady Licorice offered him some of her licorice hair as a reward. From that point on he really loosened up and the rest of the game was a lot of fun, with a ton of laughs being had by all. It barely seemed like it had been an hour when it was all over. The host declared that they'd had so much fun that everyone was a winner, and there was great applause from the audience. Aidan drank it all in, finally feeling at peace with himself.

Dan came up to congratulate him after he stepped down from the stage. “You were amazing up there”, he said, “I always knew you had it in you.”
I didn't”, Aidan replied. “I was terribly nervous at first. It was a lot of fun, though, I'm glad I came.”
I hope you'll come back again sometime”, Dave said, and the others agreed. “It was a great show.”
You should come have a drink with us”, the host offered. He didn't usually like to drink, but he was in such a good mood that he couldn't resist. Nicole had to go home to take care of David, and most of the rest of the crowd thinned out, but Dan stayed behind to have a drink as well, and they laughed and retold some of their favourite moments from the show, with the race car bit being a particular favourite.
He finally managed to drag Dan away from the bar and the two of them were about to head home when he saw something that stopped him dead in his tracks.
How could you?”, she demanded, obviously hurt.
Nisha?!” he exclaimed, completely shocked. “I thought you were going to see your parents!” She definitely hadn't been in the audience at the start of the show, she must have gotten there partway through. His stomach turned terribly queasy.
I did. I was worried because you'd been acting strangely ever since that day in the park. I spoke to my parents, and I realized you've just been going through a hard time lately, so I came here to support you. I got here just in time to hear you insult me in front of everyone. I get it, Aidan, my dream is stupid and people will just laugh at it. Thanks for saving me a lot of time.”
No, you've got it all wrong!”, he tried to explain, “there's some humour in everything, that's all!”
I was right in the first place”, she said, sadly. “You guys are all the same, you love attention and the physical side of the relationship but when things get serious you get cold feet. I thought you were different, Aidan. I thought you loved me.”
Don't be ridiculous, Nisha, of course I love you!”
If you paid any attention to me at all you'd know how much something like that would hurt me. But you've never really been listening. I don't know what it is exactly that you want, but if you loved me for who am I you'd know better”. She started to walk away into the night.
Nisha, wait!”, she turned around for a split second, and in that moment a million different possibilities flew through his head. Could he honestly tell her about the dream he'd had? Would she just think that was insane?
In the end, he opted for the simplest answer. “I'm sorry, please, just give me another chance.”
She shook her head. “Don't you think you've done enough already? Goodbye, Aidan”.
And with that she walked out of his life, forever.

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