Chapter 106

“We’re here,” Hershel said, pulling Nick’s car to a stop.

Mary peered out the window; a small twinkle of lights set against rolling waves of darkness greeted her.

“The docks?”

“The docks,” Hershel confirmed. He opened the door and stepped out, the salted air washing over him. It was a familiar, comfortable feeling. He’d thought all week about what to do with Mary after dinner, and on Thursday he decided to engage in a favorite activity to clear his head. The thought right on the heels of that decision was why not kill two birds with one stone and bring Mary along? After all, it was a fun activity, outdoorsy, and something Hershel had a bit of talent in.

“I’d like to point out that you specifically requested I not read your mind, refused to tell me where we were going, and then drove me out to the docks at night,” Mary said as she left the car and joined him. “Just saying, this looks a lot like the start to one of those horror movies Nick loves.”

Hershel laughed. “Mary, you’re the strongest girl in our class. If Roy couldn’t beat you, what chance do I have of pulling off something underhanded?”

“A fair point. I would still like to know what we’re doing here, though,” Mary said.

Hershel held out his hand. “By all means.”

Mary slipped her smaller digits into Hershel’s and the two began walking toward the water.

*          *          *

“This place is so pretty; it reminds me a lot of the woods near where I grew up but I mean, obviously smaller, and not as woodsy, but I still like it,” Bubbles said. She and Nick had finished dinner and were walking through a local park. Unlike Hershel, Nick hadn’t put a tremendous amount of effort or thought into his post-dinner activity.

“I’m glad you enjoy it,” Nick said. “I come here when I’m feeling particularly far from home or thoughtful. The sounds of nature always makes me feel centered.” Nick deftly avoided tripping over a small bump in the worn dirt path. Between the unfamiliar terrain and those stupid sunglasses he was having a hell of a time not tumbling all over the place. In retrospect, he was glad he’d made a trip here the day before to ensure the park was well lit and fit within the desired aesthetic parameters. If it were any darker he’d have to shed his shades.

“Oh my gosh that is so deep. I wish I did stuff like that but when I get bored I just go out to the club with L-Ray or play racquetball or make pasta or watch TV or-”

“We all have our own ways of dealing with stress,” Nick assured her. He had already learned the same lesson many had before: when it came to Bubbles, one had to own the conversation or it turned into a monologue. “There’s not a better or worse. It’s like people, we’re all unique, but that doesn’t make anyone superior. Just different.”

“I can see that,” Bubbles agreed. “Talking about different, though, can I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“Not to pry, and if it’s something serious like a scar or something I am sooooo sorry, but I’m really curious and I want to know and not that they don’t look great on you cause they totally do, but why do you wear sunglasses all the time?”

Nick weighed his options. He had a few standard lies he used depending on the person asking. For Bubbles one of the less complex answers was likely the best route to take.

“My eyes have a photosensitivity condition,” Nick told her. “It’s not a big deal, but it means I get some pretty bad migraines if the light isn’t dimmed and filtered. My lenses stop that from happening.”

“That totally sucks, were you born with that or did something happen?”

“Born that way,” Nick explained. “Like I said, it isn’t really that big of a deal. I can take them off if the occasion demands, I just leave them on as a general rule for my own comfort. Besides, after all these years my glasses feel like a part of me.”

“I totally get that, I mean, I wore the same shoes for three years and they were just, like, a part of my life and when they finally fell apart I didn’t know what to do and I went barefoot for like a week before I could finally feel comfy in new ones. They look good on you, though.”

“Well then, it’s a win all around,” Nick replied. He hopped at the last second to dodge a dip beneath his foot. Maybe he should have picked a slightly easier-to-navigate terrain.

*          *          *

The sea sprayed upward, leaving a fine mist in the air that lingered on Hershel and Mary’s skin.

Mary let out a delighted squeal as the winter water touched her face. Her body was wrapped in a protective poncho that Hershel had stashed in Nick’s trunk, keeping her clothes safe from soaking. She’d left the hood down, though, preferring to feel the air run through her locks, absolutely wrecking the style Alice had worked so hard to craft.

Hershel adjusted their course slightly, moving toward a calmer patch of water.

“I still can’t believe I never knew you sailed,” Mary said, adjusting her grip on the bow of the small boat Hershel had procured.

“My mom taught us when we were younger. Lake Michigan was a nearby and we’d spend our summers out on the water,” Hershel explained. “It was always made me feel great, so the first week we were here I looked up a place I could get on the water if I needed to.”

“And this is the first time you’ve used it?”

“Second,” Hershel said. “I came out here around our third week in, when things were getting really stressful. After you put Roy in line, life got a lot more manageable, though, so I haven’t needed it.”

“I think I’d be out here quite a bit, need it or not,” Mary said, a wave knocking against the side and shifting her balance.

“Yeah, I thought the same. But things get busy, and time slips away from you,” Hershel sighed.

“I’m glad you took me out here tonight,” Mary said, looking over at him.

Hershel knew a goofy grin was splitting his face, and he sincerely did not care. He looked back into the amber eyes that he’d been unable to get out of his mind since his first day at Lander.

“I wanted it to be a special night,” he said.

“Mission accomplished,” Mary replied, an equally silly smile on her own face.