Chapter 104

“How do I look?” Hershel asked.

Nick made a twirling motion with his hand, which Hershel obliged by slowly spinning around in place. He was wearing a hunter green button-down shirt, khaki pants and loafers. It wasn’t the most fashionable outfit possible, but for a guy who wore shirt with dice on them, it was one hell of a step up.

“You look great,” Vince assured him.

“Almost perfect,” Nick agreed. He stepped forward and slightly adjusted the angle at which Hershel’s shirt was tucked in. Neither Hershel nor Vince could see any difference when Nick stepped back; however, he seemed quite pleased with himself. “And there we go. You’re ready for a night on the town, you lady killer.”

“Heaven deliver us from such nicknames,” Vince said. “Let’s go over the list again. You have your wallet? Your cell phone? Nick’s keys?”

“Check, check, and check,” Hershel confirmed. “And thanks again for the loan.”

Nick shrugged. “I can’t let you take out a girl like Mary on Roy’s motorcycle. She deserves more class than that.”

“Agreed,” Hershel said.

“Just be safe with my car. I don’t fancy going back to walking my happy ass everywhere.”

“Will do.”

“So, did you ever think of a good place to take Mary after dinner?” Vince asked.

“Sort of,” Hershel said. “I have no idea if she’ll like it. It’s all I could think of, though, so I guess it has to work.”

“Any hints on what the brave act of desperation is?” Nick asked.

Hershel shook his head. “Nothing personal, but I want it to be a surprise. Mary doesn’t read my thoughts, but she hasn’t made any such claim about you guys.”

“A fair point,” Vince said. “And I think that’s everything. Are you ready to pick up your date?”

“Dear god no,” Hershel said, clasping his hands to keep them from trembling. “But let’s go ahead anyway.”

“Atta boy,” Nick said, throwing his arm around Hershel’s shoulders as they left the boys’ lounge and entered the common room. “By the way,” he whispered, “I left a box of condoms in the glove box. Just tossing it out there if you need to know.”

“What happened to treating a classy lady right?” Hershel whispered back.

“Hey, I’m not making judgments or assumptions. I’m merely of the mind that it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

“Thanks, Nick. I think.”

With that they were in the common room, walking in on the sight of Alice standing in a very guard-like way by the girls’ side. She examined Hershel critically, her expert eyes assessing his ensemble and demeanor. Whatever test was being performed in that blonde head evidently culminated in Hershel passing, because she knocked twice on the steel door next to her and said, “He’s here.”

A moment later the door swung open and revealed a girl none of the boys could have immediately placed if not for process of basic deduction. Gone was the wild-haired girl who often wore outfits consisting of capris and combat boots. In her place was a petite young lady wearing a peach dress with her hair styled carefully. Her face was lightly dusted with makeup, gently accentuating the features her tussled locks often hid. She was a little bit taller, thanks in no small part to wearing heels for once, and the smile on her face was absolutely entrancing.

“Hi,” she said, fidgeting slightly as she stepped into the room.

“Hi,” Hershel echoed, his tone saturated in the same sense of sheer wonder that the rest of him was feeling. “You look really nice.” The boy had a talent at understatements.

“You, too,” Mary said. They continued looking at each awkwardly for a few moments more, though it in no way compared to the awkwardness the other three felt at standing around observing this haphazard attempt at romance. Eventually something in Hershel’s head snapped into place, and he extended his arm.

“Shall we head out?”

“Sounds great,” Mary said taking his arm. The other two boys would have had to stoop slightly to link arms with Mary, but for once Hershel’s vertical disparity was working in his favor. The well-dressed couple walked out the door, thought it was a slightly more complicated task than normal since they were now linked together.

“That was just plain adorable,” Alice said once they’d left the room.

“I feel like I just watched a pair of kittens wrestling playfully,” Nick said. “I’m not sure I like this warm feeling creeping up inside.”

Alice swatted his arm half-heartedly. “You know you’re just as happy as we are that they’re finally going out.”

“He talks a tough game, but he ran Hershel through the ringer getting his outfit right,” Vince said.

Had Mary been there she would have slammed Vince into the ceiling and proceeded to detail all the different fashion combinations Alice had forced upon her during the last five days, showing no mercy until he had a whole new appreciation for what “going through the ringer” was really like. Since she was otherwise happily occupied, the comment went unpunished.

“You got me, I’m a big ole softy,” Nick said.

“I don’t know about that; however, I’ll give you points for loaning your car to Hershel,” Alice admitted.

“Why not? He’s a careful guy, and it’s not like I’ll be using it tonight anyway. My date is driving. Oh, that reminds me, I need to go change before she gets here,” Nick said, glancing at his watch and dashing off into the boys’ lounge once more.

“Ugh, that is so like him,” Alice said. “He does one nice thing, but he put off getting himself ready and now some girl will have to wait- HIS WHAT?”

“His date,” Vince replied helpfully. “Didn’t he tell you? I guess Hershel’s bold move finally put the right spring in his step.”

“Right. Just so we’re clear here, this is Nick we’re talking about, right? Nick has a date?”

“He sure does,” Vince said.

Alice’s next words were careful, measured, and calm. That should have tipped off Vince that this news was not being nearly as cheerfully received as he might have imagined. Vince being... well, Vince, the verbal cue went unnoticed.

Alice let out a deep breath. “With who?”