Hershel and Mary were the first ones back. They still smelled of salt and were lost in a conversation that had been uninterrupted for the past hour when they stepped into the Melbrook common room.
“So, I guess this is good night,” Hershel said, realizing there wasn’t much of a dropping off at the door opportunity.
“Looks that way,” Mary agreed. “I had a really good time.”
“Me, too. Would you be interested in doing it again sometime?”
“I think you’ll find me receptive to the idea,” Mary said.
“How’s next weekend work for you?” Hershel asked.
“Not great,” Mary said.
“Oh. What’s wrong with it?”
“Just seems like an awfully long time to avoid you,” Mary pointed out.
Hershel chuckled. “Okay, okay, you got me. Guess we’ll be seeing each other tomorrow and Sunday. I’m not sure how to really proceed from here. I’m sort of new at this.”
“I wasn’t exactly prom queen myself,” Mary said. “I think we should try to do more nights like this, where it’s just us and we have the romance and all, and then the rest of our time together is just that. Time spent together.”
“Sounds good,” Hershel said. “I think this might be one of those things we’re supposed to figure out as we go along.”
“It’s to my understanding that that’s supposed to be part of the fun,” Mary said.
“Then I’ll look forward to it.”
“That makes two of us. Good night, Hershel.”
“Good night, Mary,” Hershel replied. He very much wanted to kiss her in that moment, standing there in their dorm common room, the memory of the ocean still fresh in their minds. Instead he pulled her in closer and squeezed her tightly into a hug. Roy would have gone for the kiss, of that Hershel had no doubt. But Hershel wasn’t Roy, and tonight, for the first time in a very long time, Hershel was happy about that fact.
They released each other and parted, going back to their respective sides of Melbrook and into their rooms. Mary was surprised not to find Alice waiting to hear all about the night out. Had she been less preoccupied through the week and kept better tabs on Nick, then Alice’s absence might have been anticipated. As it was, Mary went into her room and reluctantly headed for the shower. Much as she loved the smell of the night ocean on her, it was hardly hygienic to go to sleep with so much salt on the skin.
* * *
Nick and Bubbles arrived about an hour after Hershel and Mary.
“This place is really nice!” Bubbles remarked as they entered the common room. “And there’s only, like, five of you? That is so cool, how did you swing getting into a dorm like this?”
“Just good luck,” Nick told her. “As I’ve heard it was originally built for faculty; however, they weren’t so receptive to living on campus with students, and, well... waste not, want not.”
“Still, it’s super nice. I mean, I love living with L-Ray and all, but you guys actually have a kitchen. Plus it’s so secure and off on its own, it’s, like, a totally different world and ugh now I am so jealous,”
“This is just the central area. Maybe next time I’ll show you what the rooms look like,” Nick said.
“Assuming you want to see me again, yes.”
“Oh yeah, I totally want to see you again, what are you doing tomorrow?”
Nick laughed. “The rest of my weekend is sadly already spoken for by homework. I’ll call you later in the week and we can work out the best time for us to go out.”
“Sounds awesome!” Bubbles said. She then realized the level of her volume and the lateness of the hour and dialed it down a few degrees before she spoke again. “Tonight was really nice. Thank you for taking me out.”
“Thank you for being my company. And driving,” Nick added on.
“I guess I should be getting back then.”
“Indeed, but we’ll talk soon.” Nick assured her. They walked back out the front to the front door, which Nick graciously held open for Bubbles. Once they were in the brisk night air, she turned around to thank him one last time. Before she had the chance, Nick’s hand ran lightly up her cheek and behind her ear, drawing her face close to his. The kiss caught her by surprise for a moment, then she melted into it.
They broke apart eventually, Nick planting a final kiss on her cheek, as if he was signing his name.
“See you soon,” Nick said, pulling away.
“Mmmhmmm,” Bubbles replied, her tongue still adamant about staying in make-out mode and not surrendering itself back to the mundane task of talking. In this Nick had accomplished something a multitude of teachers, parents, and friends had failed to accomplish. He’d rendered Bubbles speechless.
Nick stepped back into Melbrook and shook himself a bit mentally. It’d been a while since he had physical contact with a beautiful woman, and the first time he’d ever done so in his current persona. He should have held back a bit more. This Nick shouldn’t be quite so adept a kisser. He made a mental note for next time. It would likely be all right. If his skill level decreased Bubbles would almost certainly just assume her memory of the first kiss was rosily remembered due to the hormone cocktail most people knew as romance.
He walked down the hall and stepped into the empty common room once more. All in all the night had gone well. The girl never stopped talking, but Nick had excellent selective attention so he’d manage to stave off annoyance most of the evening. She provided excellent visual stimulation as well, to which he was never averse. Most importantly, Alice was nowhere to be seen, meaning she had either gone to bed or was talking with Mary. Either way, she wasn’t concerned with Nick Campbell, which was precisely how he wanted it.
Nick opened the boys’ side door and stepped in, greeted by Hershel and Vince, who were already discussing Hershel’s date. The door swung shut behind him on the common room, now empty once more.
* * *
On this particular occasion (and countless other, less relevant, ones before it), Nicholas Campbell was wrong. Alice Adair was neither asleep, nor talking with Mary, nor even in Melbrook at all. She was currently floating high above the Lander campus, clad in an enormous jacket, ski pants, and face mask to protect against the cold and the wind.
She’d dipped down momentarily when he and Bubbles had come home, not enough to make out words to but enough to see the show. She’d also seen Mary and Hershel arrive earlier. She thought about how she should probably be down there, talking with Mary and making sure everything had gone okay. She would do all that, too. She would just do it tomorrow. For right now Alice was floating through the air, truly enjoying her power for the first time since she’d gained control of it.
In a way it was a surreal experience. When she was Powered, happiness had always been what sent Alice airborne. Tonight, though, she was melancholy. Everyone was hooking up and becoming romantically involved, yet she was lagging behind. There was a fear snaking through her heart, one that said at this pace she’d find herself alone once more. She tried to calm it away, but it was persistent. It reminded her that even Nick had met someone. If he could get a date then it was only a matter of time until everyone was caught up in their budding romances. So she’d decided to get out of the house. Normally this would involve a drive down the highway. Tonight, though...
Alice rotated slowly in the air, staring up at the nighttime sky. It was breathtaking, the vastness of space made all the more real by the empty air beneath her. It was both humbling and inspiring. Alice drank it in, letting the wonder suffuse her. She knew she had to go in eventually, and she would. She’d shower to warm herself up, sleep late in the morning, then take Mary out for a girls’ breakfast to hear all about the night. She’d face her slowly-growing fear of solitude by strengthening the bonds with those she found herself caring for. She would tackle everything facing her.
Just not this moment.