Author: Stephen Price

The stranger arrives at the community hall dance early, before the doors open. No one else is there. He stands outside and waits. Cars soon begin to pull into the parking lot. They are much wider and longer than the ones he is used to. He watches young men and women step out of the vehicles, some only teenagers, talking over each other exuberantly and laughing as they climb the stairs and enter the hall. They buy tickets and put out their hands to be stamped.
The 19-years old woman he has travelled to meet is dropped off by the man he recognizes as her father. She and her friend leap from the backseat of the sedan. They charge up the stairs, laughing and chatting, peering about at the others starting to stream in. He knows her name is Paula Francis. His heart lurches when he sees David Williams, also only 19 years old, approaching with a group of friends, loud and boisterous in the way young men are when they have had a few drinks. It is crucial that Williams does not meet Paula.
The stranger does not waste any time. He strides up the stairs, buys a ticket, gets his hand stamped and looks about for Paula. He finds her and introduces himself. He is tall and good looking. A few years older, he is able to easily charm her. They spend most of the evening together, dancing to the band and getting to know each other.
“Do you know what’s interesting about your name?” she asks him at one point, when they are getting some air to cool down from all the dancing.
“I always thought that if I had a son, I would name him Damian. After St. Damian.”
“He was known for his compassion.”
“That’s right,” she said. “Saints fascinate me.”
He is about to tell her that his mother also studied the saints, but before he can get a word out, she squeals, “I love this song.”
She grabs his hand and leads him back to the dance floor.
The stranger manages to keep her apart from David Williams, who he monitors closely and sees that he is enjoying himself with other young women on the opposite side of the hall. He is also good looking and charming.
As the evening winds down, the stranger asks Paula if he can walk her home.
“My father is picking me up,” she tells him. She agrees to give him her phone number.
When her father pulls up, he opens the back door and lets Paula and her friend slip in. He promises to call and closes the door when they are safe inside. He watches David Williams and his buddies running off, callow and drunk, in the opposite direction.
“Oh my God,” Paula’s friend whispers, wide-eyed. “You spent the whole night with that guy. He’s so cute.”
Paula giggles and looks back to wave at him as her father pulls away, but he is gone. Nowhere to be seen. It is as if he disappeared. Vanished. Like he was never there.
Later, she will be disappointed that the stranger does not call. She will not let it get her down. She is young and pretty and there are plenty of young men who want to dance with her.