Bunker Breakout

          It was finally summer. No more work, no more school, just two full months of sunshine. Or so I thought. When I arrived back home, the weather forecast listed two full weeks of rain and thunderstorms.

           My new bikini stayed in the closet, and I put my sunglasses away.

          I hadn't seen Fran in months. Since I’d moved away to France, we’d only face-timed a couple of times and mostly communicated through memes, so I was dying to see her again and let loose this summer.

          On Saturday morning, I drank my usual black coffee and prepared for a workout. I set up my YouTube workout playlist and grabbed my mat. I felt good starting the day this way, knowing that Fran and I were going out later that evening.

          Just as I started my workout, first round in, I looked around the room and felt drawn to open my now-ex-boyfriend’s desk drawer during my rest period. I was staying at our place, our old apartment. The one he kept while I worked abroad for a year or two, and where I still had most of my clothes and books stored. When I opened the drawer, I saw a little blue notebook, and deep down, I knew I should just put it down. However, I opened it, flicked through the pages, and started reading one. My heart leaped, I felt a surge of heat go through my body, my vision went blurry, and my whole body began to shake. Anxiety set in; I had just read the worse thing a boy had ever written about me. On that page in his notebook, seven months earlier, he had written that he did not love me. He noted that when we slept together, he thought of other girls. He wrote that he wasn't inspired by me; he felt no desire for me and wanted someone new; I was stifling him. And his new year resolution was to dump me.

          I read it over and over. I couldn’t believe it, how was I living this? I stood up, shaking, crying, not knowing what to do, except grab my phone next to the laptop showing the stupid workout video. I called Fran. In a burst of tears, grimacing face, snot, drooling, I told her what I had just read. I had a panic attack and tried to calm down. She told me, “Come over.”

          I thank the universe for Fran; she's my ride or die and is always there when I don't know how to handle my emotions. Or when I'm crying. Which happens a lot.

          We talked it out, and she made me lunch. The sun was finally out that afternoon, and we went swimming in the lake. She tried to keep my mind busy because I could not stop revisiting that little blue notebook. He made his stupid new year resolution seven months ago; he was thinking of other girls while making love to me? What girls? Wasn’t I inspiring? Did I stifle him?

          After sadness came anger.

         How dare he write that about me, seven months ago. Were the following months a lie? I felt uninspired by him. He was stifling me. His critical attitude towards everyone. His negative talk about everything. He just sat at his computer, working, and whined all day. And he was a lousy kisser.

          But I cared about him, and I know that deep down, he cared about me too; or so I wanted to believe.

          Fran rushed us out of the lake, as we had to get ready for the concert. At last, we were going to see live music and be surrounded by people. After the months of lockdown, things finally looked more festive now that everyone was getting a Covid vaccine.

         We picked our most Gen-Z outfits. I had on wide-legged jeans, black sneakers, a white crop top, and yellow-tinted sunglasses. Fran wore corduroy pants, red suede platform heeled boots, and a blue denim halter neck top. We were ready.

          We got on our bicycles and chased the sunset to the venue. Our night was almost over as soon as we arrived when Fran’s keys fell through a hole in the roadside gutter as she was locking her bicycle. How were we going to retrieve her keys? We weren’t strong enough to lift the cage up. Our luck turned when Fran noticed two men in bright orange uniforms walking nearby and said, “Maybe they can help?” I ran over to them and explained what happened, and after a few jokes, they agreed to help us. We got the keys back, and after more joking, we thanked them and turned towards the concert venue behind us.

          Being at the concert felt so good. The sun was setting, people were outside drinking, smoking, talking, and inside, a new indie group played. Looking around, I realized that I definitely have a “type,” and my type was everywhere at this event. Longish brown hair, surfer/grunge look, “I don't try too hard, but I'm a sensitive guy ‘cause I'm shy.”

          Fran and I looked at each other. I said, “These people are so cool.” “Yeah,” she said, “but so are we.”

          “Sure, but not as cool as them,” I said. Fran raised her shoulders and said, “Tonight, we make new friends, ok?” I gave her a not-so-hopeful smile.

          The concert only lasted till 10 pm. We lingered around the venue with some friends we’d met up with, chatting, drinking, and smoking too many cigarettes. Fran came back from the bathroom with a photo on her phone regarding a secret after- party taking place in a bunker twenty minutes away.

          I immediately said, “No.”
        “But it's a secret rave; we have to go,” said Fran, “Don't you want to be cool?”

         “Yeah, but we're not that cool,” I responded.

        “This is our chance to meet and talk to cool people, and you said you're looking for some fun, so let's find you someone like ‘White Shirt’ over there.” I had been eyeing White Shirt the entire evening. We definitely wanted to speak to each other, but the sun hadn't set yet, and I didn’t have enough beer flowing through my veins.

         “But isn't that address in the smart part of town? I don't want posh friends; it's going to be lame.”

         “But it's a secret party,” Fran insisted.

         “It's going to be some rich kid's house.”

        “But it's a secret party, and some of these guys will be there. Come on, we've been in lockdown. Let's just go and see.”

        “Ok, ok, ok, but first food,” I finally accepted. I didn't want to think about Mark, or be alone, or cry. Instead, I imagined the prospect of meeting a handsome shaggy-haired guy to change my thinking.

          We said goodbye to the four people we knew and decided to join our friend Alex in his friend's bar to eat “the best sandwiches.” When we got to Alex's friend's bar, The White Mount, the kitchen was closed, so we couldn't order anything to eat. Alex found a table with some of his friends and ditched us. Fran and I waited for a bit but then said, “Fuck it,” and decided to go to the corner store and get veggie samosas. The corner store didn't have any

veggie samosas, just our luck. I don't eat meat, so Fran ordered a chicken samosa, and I got a mozzarella and tomato panini; I'm vegan and was full of shame. We sat by the skate park, eating, no, devouring our dinner, and started to plan our next move.

         “Screw Alex,” I said, “He totally ditched us, he was going to show us his wine shop later, but he just went and sat at that big table with all his friends.”

          “Yeah, screw Alex; this is old, let me have a piece of yours.” She took a bite out of my panini as I bitterly swallowed the mozzarella. “That's good,” Fran said.

          “Ok, so we have to pass by The White Mount again to get our bikes. We'll just say bye to Alex and go straight to the rave.”

          “Yeah, let's not even linger; let's just go.” So we walked to the White Mount. Alex saw us and stood up. He walked towards us, and we stopped. He had some bullshit excuse about how he tried to call us and thought we’d left. We hugged, said bye, and picked up our bikes. I rode behind Fran, who followed the GPS from her phone.

        We rode on the sidewalks, not waiting for green lights, and then Fran said, “Alright, there’s a big hill coming up.” I looked up and saw it like a three-meter wave about to crash on us.

         “We need to go there?”

          “Yep,” said Fran.

          I started pedaling harder and faster, trying not to think about the hill. I bypassed Fran and wanted to encourage her, but she got off her bicycle and started walking. I kept on

pedaling, sweat building, breathing heavily; I just wanted to get to the top. Finally, I made it, dismounted, and waited for Fran.

         We continued cycling until we reached a very quiet residential area. As we locked our bicycles together, we saw some people getting out of an Uber and looking around a bit quizzically for where this secret party was at. We felt the same, so I gave Fran a look. I turned to the people, who were looking at their phones, and said, “Hey, are you guys here for the after-party?” They were, so we went around the block looking for building number together. We missed it the first time, so we had to go around a second time. When we eventually found the building, we entered the door code, and we were in. The group of people we had just met, stayed behind saying they were still waiting for someone. Fran and I said, “See you inside,” and headed for the elevator. We had to go two levels underground. I couldn’t believe it, and I could not have imagined what we were about to get ourselves into.

           Getting out of the elevator, we were in a narrow, low-ceilinged corridor with big chunky doors. One was slightly open, so we pushed it and saw three girls sitting around a table in a dark, red-lit room. They asked us if we had any money to contribute. I had some cash, so I gave them a small bill; Fran thought I should give them less. She started talking with one of the girls seated on a chair. The girl looked calm and spoke slowly. Fran asked, “Do you think we can smoke inside?”

        “I don’t see that you would not be able to smoke inside,” the girl responded. It was cryptic, and I wanted to see more of this place.

           I pulled Fran away, who said quickly, “Thanks,” and “bye.” We went through a second door, and she said, “That girl was cute, no?”

          “Sure,” I said. There was a round fountain in the middle of this room, and two girls were drinking from it. I decided to fill my water bottle. We heard music coming from beyond this dimly lit bunker.

           We walked through another door. There were red and green lights around a D.J. set, and some people were around it, but the room was still empty. I saw a guy sitting at the back of the room by himself. Everything smelled of weed when we walked through the last door. There were areas with cushions to sit on, people were sitting on a bed. There were a few chairs, and some people were sitting on the floor. There was also a makeshift bar with someone behind it. Fran and I agreed to go there first and get a drink. They were selling beer, of course, and wine, and also gin and tonic. I went for the beer, as I thought that was safest. Fran got a gin and tonic. We laughed for a bit at the idea of gin and tonic being served at a place like that.

           Looking around, we saw a group of girls sitting together on wooden crates. We sipped our drinks and grimaced at each other. My beer was warm, and Fran said her gin-to was gross. The people sitting on the bed stood up and left, so we quickly made our way there. We sat down and took in our surroundings.

           A guy and his dog decided to squeeze onto the bed as well. The guy was very skinny and smiled too much. His too-young-to-be girlfriend sat next to him. I just felt bad for the dog more than anything. The poor animal just curled into a ball and closed his eyes. How could he be comfortable with all these people, all the noise, and all the smoke? People were smoking profusely in the bunker, and ventilation was non-existent.

           Two guys sitting on some mismatched chairs close to the bar stood up and sat next to Fran, who was nearer the space on the bed, while I sat at the other corner facing the wall. Fran leaned in towards me and said, “What if we take on different identities tonight?”

          “Sure,” I replied, “What will your name be? Oh, wait, I know, Océane, but where will you be from?”

           Fran laughed and said, “I can’t own that name seriously, plus you know my French isn’t that good. I’ll say I’m from New York.”

           “Have you ever been to New York?” I asked.

           “No, but who’s going to ask?”

           “Ok, I’ll think about my name, but I don’t think I can go through with lying about my identity,” I said.

          As I said those words, I grabbed my warm canned beer from the floor next to my foot and saw a guy had taken a seat on the empty chair in front of me. Fran had started a conversation with another guy nearer to her.

           I was ready to get flirty. I was still hurting from what I had read that morning but was up for a make-out session and maybe some groping. Unfortunately, the guy that started talking to me was not my type. He started with some small talk, and I knew I would be absolutely bored by this conversation. It was not going to be the hot and steamy make-out session I wanted to instigate. I turned to Fran to see how she was doing, and I heard a bit of the conversation she was having with a very arrogant, full-of-himself-looking guy.

          “I’m from New York,” she said.

           “Where exactly, because New York is a big place,” he said. My heart sunk for Fran, and I heard her reply, “Manhattan.” I wanted to get her out of there when I heard the guy say, “Yeah, well again, Manhattan is a big place.”

           Fran said, “The Bronx.” My body tensed, and I turned around so I could not see the train crash. The guy next to me took this opportunity to present himself. “Alvaro,” he said.

          “I’m Zoé. This went on for a bit and was quite dull, to be honest. Until Alvaro decided to show me his workout videos, and I lost it. I started tapping on Fran’s leg, my “get me out of here” sign. Alvaro went on and on, and I must have looked at three or four different videos of him doing pull-ups, indoors, outdoors; I was disgusted. Fran finally tapped my shoulder and said, “Hey, do you want to get another drink?”

          “Oh yeah, great idea.” The second we were about to get up, someone stormed into the room and said something but all we heard was a big “Shhh,” and, “Be quiet!” The noise level instantly went down, and the music stopped. The place got weird.

           Guy and his dog left. Alvaro and the other guy moved nearer to their friends. Two girls took the opportunity of some free space to sit on the bed. They looked friendly. Another group sat close to Fran. I realized they had been at the concert, and at that moment I saw a white shirt. White Shirt was here, and he was nearby. We made eye contact to acknowledge we remembered each other. Fran and I also made eye contact and got the giggles. The room was so quiet, and people were constantly telling everyone to “shhh.” There was, of course, a “class clown” who kept speaking loudly and saying things that I’m sure he thought were funny, but in reality, he was just being a drunken loudmouth. I was reassured as I first thought the hushes were aimed at Fran and me, who could not stop giggling at her failed New York

persona and my haunting topless workout videos. But I could see that everyone was telling that idiot to shut up.

          The moment of silence was starting to feel quite long. Fran and I still didn’t know why we were told to be quiet, so I turned to the two girls and asked. “Someone tried to leave through the fire exit and started the alarm, so now the building is being evacuated floor by floor. There’s a security guard checking every floor, so we have to be really quiet, so they can’t find us here.” It was hard, knowing that gatherings were still illegal. What repressive system were we living in? Fran turned to me and said, “Well, this is the perfect place and the perfect people to brew Covid.” I knew this thought could escalate and make us paranoid, so I diminished it by saying,

          “Nah, everyone’s vaccinated now, and no one who has Covid would be out tonight. Plus, we’re here for a good cause; Mark is a dick.”

          Finally, the noise level started to rise after the music was turned back on, and people began to move around and speak freely, heading back to the D.J. room. Fran asked if I wanted to go dancing, but I told her not yet. White Shirt was somewhere close by, and I had to find a way to speak to him. His back was turned to me as he chatted to his friends, so I couldn’t make eye contact. I asked Fran if she wanted to grab us one more drink. She stood up and headed to the makeshift bar at the end of the room. I couldn’t see her as the room was now packed. I grabbed a cigarette, started smoking, and looked around at the people. We were definitely cooler than these people, I thought.

          White Shirt changed positions and turned around. He saw me and said, “Hey.”

          “Hi, how are you?” I replied.
         “Good, so did you like the concert earlier?”
          I told him, “Yeah, I liked the first one, but the second group so-so.”

          “Oh? Well, you can tell them yourself, they are here tonight.” I didn’t know whether he was being ironic or not, so I laughed.

          “Well, sure, I’ll tell them,” I said, too confidently to be believable. White Shirt told me his name, but I couldn’t hear it, or I don’t remember. I found out he was born and bred locally, and I think he was surprised by my culturally diverse background, Mexican, Brazilian, and had lived in Berlin and Paris. He didn’t have outgrown hair; it was cut short and wasn’t brown. He was more of a blonde but was very cute. Fran came back with our drinks. White Shirt introduced himself to her, they talked for a bit, and then he stood up and went to another room. He waved at me, and I waved back.

          Fran and I kept talking and laughing. She had a huge crush on the girl from the first group we had seen performing earlier, and we had just noticed she was here. We were trying to figure out if the guy with her was her brother or her boyfriend, as they both had the exact same haircut. An overly short, blond, bowl-cut. I was starting to need the bathroom.

          White Shirt reappeared and squatted next to us. He said, “There’s another concert tomorrow and another after-party at an amazing location, an independent cinema. And Sunday, we wrap up the weekend with our final concert. It’ll be really cool; you guys should come.”

          “Sure,” I said.
          He stood up and said, “Alright, goodnight.”

           I asked him, “Are you leaving?”

          “Well, yeah, I’ve got to get some sleep. I work tomorrow and help set up everything for the concert; it’s quite late.”

          “Cool, night then,” I said.

          That was that. My cool, hot-girl, ho-out summer, post-covid. I looked at Fran and told her, “Damn, it’s almost 4 am. I really have to pee, and then maybe we should go too.”

          “Yeah,” she agreed. So we went to look for the bathroom. It was in the first room, the one with the fountain. There were a lot more people now. I had to pee in the next five minutes; my bladder was hurting so much. The room was so strange. There were rows of white doors. One was flung open, and from what I could see, there was nothing in there. The room was very dark. I noticed a piece of paper scotch-taped to one of the doors, and Fran said, “I think it says W.C. on that one; go in there.”

           I turned to her and said, “It’s so dark; how am I going to know what I’m doing.”, “You’ve been doing this from the moment you were born. Trust your instincts,” she replied. My courage restored, I walked straight to the sign, and as I was about to put my hand on the handle, I heard multiple voices say, “Hey.”

          “Hello.”

          “What do you think you’re doing?”

           I turned around and realized that people were waiting in line to use the toilet. I apologized and walked back to Fran, and we made a new plan.  “There are too many people here. I’m not even third or fourth in line; it’s like I’m twelfth. I can’t hold it. I need to pee,

like now. Let’s just go, get our bikes, and I’ll pee on the street by a bush. I’m sure it’ll be more hygienic and covid-friendly than this.” Fran agreed, and we turned around, going back into the bunker’s smallest room.

          I noticed two people in front of us, one of them was Alvaro, and they were staring at the door. I got closer, saw the door was closed and the handle was going up and down. I felt a tiny sense of panic as I stared (for what seemed too long) at that handle going up and down. I looked at Fran, “We’re locked in.” The tiny room was filling up with more people. White Shirt even appeared, so he hadn’t left yet. He said something to the person on the other side of the door, shimmied the handle, and disappeared again. Fran went ahead, tried to pull, push, and twist the handle, but nothing; we were defeated. The room was now crowded, and I noticed how low the ceilings were. The pain from my full bladder was growing.

           A short brown-haired guy walked in with a sense of urgency and authority, although he was younger than me. He tried the handle and said, “Everyone needs to stay calm.”

          “What a terrible way to start a speech,” I thought.

           “We’re going to get this door fixed, but for those that want to leave now, we might have a way to get you out through the escape hatch.” He walked off briskly, and I turned to Fran.

           “Better than nothing?”
          “Yeah,” she said.
          “Ok, let’s find him and ask where this escape hatch is at.”

           We walked back in, but he wasn’t in the room of stalls, so we walked into the dance room, and Fran said, “Oh, the music is getting good. We should dance.”

           “No, my bladder is going to explode. I’m going to explode.” I saw him by the D.J. set, and Fran went up to him, tapped his shoulder, and said, “Hey, we’re interested in leaving; where can we go?”

            He said, “Oh yeah, ok, come with me.” So we followed him back to the room we had spent most of the evening in. There was a large, thick blue square on the wall. He opened it like a window, but it was thick and seemed heavy, and it was about one and a half meters from the ground. He looked in and said, “Ok, I’m going to try first and make sure it’s safe.”

           “Ok,” we both replied. The guy disappeared into the square and climbed up the escape ladder. We waited, and I thought about how most people around us had no idea that the front door was locked. I was glad there wasn’t a sense of panic. But I really just had to pee. Eventually, the guy came back and told us, “Ok, it’s doable. Can I just ask you guys to be really quiet when you get outside, as we don’t want to attract any unwanted attention?”

           “No problem,” I said. I told Fran to go first; I would follow her. She stood in the black square, helped me in, then started to climb the first set of ladders. There were only two. I went behind her. Below us, we could hear others wanting to do the same, but a girl was saying, “I can’t do it, no, I can’t do it.” Fran and I laughed. We kept saying, “It’s ok, it’s not that bad.” I reached the second ladder and had to pull myself to the right and swing my feet from one side to the other; that was scary. I kept going up, reached the top, and we were in the parking lot. Fran and I were laughing so much, “I can’t believe we had to escape a bunker,” she said.

            “I can’t believe we almost got locked in a bunker,” I said. We found our bikes, then I saw some bushes and told Fran to wait. Oh, sweet release; I was squatting so low to the floor trying not to get piss on myself or my shoes, but at this point, I couldn’t see anything. I also couldn’t understand what Fran was saying, I just kept giggling and losing my balance.

          I zipped myself back up. We unlocked our bikes and went on our way. Fran asked me, “Do you want to sleep over?”

           “Oh yeah, that would be great. No, wait. I didn’t feed the cat. I have to go home and feed the cat.”

           “Zoé, I take back my invitation; you can’t come over anymore; you have to feed the cat.”

           “I know,” I said.

            I followed Fran down the empty streets. We were going downhill now, and the fresh breeze aired out our cigarette-smelling hair and clothes. We recounted events from the evening, laughing the entire time. I hadn’t laughed like this with a friend in such a long time. It was good to be home. As we parted ways, I looked back, trying to balance my drunk self on my bicycle, and screamed, “Thanks for today, Fran, you’re the coolest person I know.”