21: A Prosperous Year

Submitted into Contest #164 in response to: Write a story about coming of age in a big city.... view prompt


American Coming of Age Fiction

The club is dark, there’s neon lights flashing, burning my eyes out. I laugh, a rattling sound in my chest. There’s a rancid smell - alcohol - and I breathe it in. 


The music blares overhead. Susie gestures to me, pointing to the dance floor and I see the way her black dress outlines her curvy figure but I shake my head. 


I make my way to the bar, holding out my false ID card even though I already showed it to the bouncer outside. He barely even glanced at it before letting me in. I guess there really isn’t much of a difference between 20 and 21. 


The bartender fills me a glass of something. I drain it in one large gulp. The alcohol burns in my throat but it’s welcome. My legs are shaking suddenly and I have to take a seat to catch my breath. I push the glass forward. The bartender fills it with barely a glance at me. 

I suppose most people assume you can take care of yourself once you’re of age. 


Someone takes a seat beside me. She’s tall and beautiful and her eyes are a deep blue. She looks much too good to be in a ratty place like this. I can’t help but stare and she gets up to find another seat once she catches my gaze. That’s fine I guess. 

The thing is, I’m not really doing anything illegal. I should be 21 today. I just had to be one minute late. It’s hardly my fault. And everyone has to drink when they turn 21. That’ll be my defense when I die of a dead liver in my 40s. 


I can’t breathe. I shake my head and my fingers are trembling now as well. Wonderful. Digging through my pocket, I place a few notes on the counter and get up. I have to get out of here. 

My friends don’t notice me leaving. Susie is dancing with some stranger and it’s not like we’re dating, we’ve just kissed a few times. It still stings though, especially when I see her laughing face and bright eyes. Do I make her smile that way? Charles is probably making out in a bathroom stall, it seems like that’s all he does now, all that he can do. I’m not sure what Franco is doing but he probably found someone who had weed and threatened to knock off their teeth if they didn’t give it to him. For someone so pretty, Franco is the most terrifying of all of us. 

Is this what we’ve come to now? Sluts and alcoholics and drug addicts hanging out in clubs? Whatever happened to our bright future, our dream? We wanted to change the world. 


The streets are bright and filled with life. Even though it’s close to midnight, there’s still plenty of people milling about, most of them half drunk. Some homeless man is still playing a tune with his guitar that’s missing a string. His fingers are turning blue in the chilly air. I think of my father who I haven’t seen since mum’s funeral and my heart clenches. I drop a ten dollar bill into his ratty cap. 

His smile is missing a front tooth and shouldn’t be that big. 

My breath comes out in small puffs ahead of me. As I walk, I desert the streets that are filled with the partying people. It’s quieter here and the air is cold. I stuff my hands into my jeans’ pockets. 

When was the last time I went to school? A week ago? A month ago? What happened to the child who yearned to get into Caltech and was so filled with joy when he got in? 

I’m wasting my future. I shudder and press a hand to my chest. Those drinks were a mistake. My breaths are coming in faster now and I need to distract myself. I look up at the gleaming skyscrapers and wonder what it’d be like to work here. 

Beautiful probably. I could be happy. I could be successful. 

To do that, I’d first need to put in effort. I think of the piles of homework in my dorm and the number of untracked absences and shudder. I can’t..how am I supposed to make this work?


A man hauling a yawning kid shoves him past me as quickly as possible. I can’t even bring myself to be offended. 

Do I look like a mess right now? I know my clothes are good, the shirt might not be Gucci but it’s not H&M. These jeans are my favourite, black and ripped but now they just feel too tight. 

There’re bags under my eyes though and I’m sure my skin is too pale. I haven’t gone outside in the daytime for a while, too busy being hungover and half dead. My skin feels sticky as if I didn’t shower just this afternoon in an effort to feel more like a human being. 


I think I understand now. I never really liked my degree. I just liked the idea of it. I didn’t realise what it truly meant. I wanted freedom, I wanted to be up and about in the city. I love being able to say that my school is Caltech, really I do but I hate having to study and to do assignments. I hate having to show up to college at 8 in the morning. 

I guess Dad was right. I was never going to survive in a big city. The partying, the drinking, the clubbing...it was all too much of a temptation. LA is too close to Pasadena.


I miss him. Dad I mean. I miss him so much. If there’s anywhere I could be right now, I would like to be with him, sharing my first drink with him, having him laugh at my disgusted expression. 

We could have gone to that Italian steakhouse Mum liked so much. 


What’s even the point of a big city? Here, I’m nobody, I’m miniscule. I'm not important. If I disappear, I can guarantee that nobody will think of me. Susie would be upset for half a second, Charles would be too busy with his newest plaything and Franco wouldn’t be in the right state of mind to care. 

They might have cared once. We used to actually be close even though we were studying so much we barely saw each other. The nights of ice cream and bright laughter are stronger than the never ending sequence of drinks and drugs. 


In my old town, everyone knows each other. Everyone is close to each other. The florist always waved to me when I cycled past her. The baker always threw in an extra muffin for Mum. The postman offered to tutor me so I could enter Caltech. 

We were tight knit, one entity. 


I glance at my watch, just in time to see it move. My lips twist into something bitter and harsh. I almost want to laugh. 

Happy birthday to me. What a prosperous year 21 is. 

September 21, 2022 13:00

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Ikpa Chibuzor
07:08 Sep 26, 2022

I love the way he was able to reflect on his present and future. Nice!


Lydia Lim
09:43 Sep 27, 2022

Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it


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