Chapter 112

Friday afternoon, as she trudged home from class, Alice had to admit she’d had better birthdays. She’d had worse ones, too, but those had been the ones spent at home. Since her father was usually off doing his own thing, Alice would take her birthday as an opportunity to go on a trip, seeing Tuscany or Paris or Venice, sometimes all of them in the span of a few days. She had to take precautions, of course - a Powered girl can’t very well travel without some assistance in case of floating - but on the whole she’d still enjoyed herself immensely.

This one had been bleh so far. She’d been in a bit of a funk all week, ever since date night last Friday. The ranged training on Monday hadn’t made things any better, reminding her once again of how useless she was compared to her peers. She would have hung out with Mary to make herself feel better, but the small girl had been occupied with something all week long. Vince and Hershel had become swept up in papers for different classes, and in a fit of desperation Alice had even tried to waste time with Nick. Sadly, even he was busy with other things, leaving Alice to her own devices.

When she’d come down from floating last Friday, Alice had convinced herself that she was overreacting to her friends going out on dates. It didn’t mean they were going to abandon her or neglect their friendship. It just meant they had something new and awesome in their lives. Making her way slowly back to Melbrook, she was wondering if she had been right the first time. They weren’t even walking with her today: they’d been off like shots as soon as gym had ended. She wasn’t sure how they’d gotten out of there so quickly; Alice was almost certain she’d been in the first group up a lift.

She let out a breath, hoping to see it hang in the air. That time of year was done, though; the days were warmer with each sunrise. Too bad: Alice sort of liked the cold.

Perhaps she was taking this all too personally. It was college, people were bound to be busy from time to time. Besides, she hadn’t even told anyone it was her birthday today. She could hardly blame everyone for not making a fuss when she’d never clued them in to why they should. They probably would have, too. Alice understood that, rationally. Somewhere in the back her head was a small voice that repeated the same question whenever she tried to cheer herself, though.

“What if they didn’t?”

That’s why Alice hadn’t told anyone it was her birthday. Because right now there was an excuse for no one caring. If she’d said something and they still hadn’t... well, then she might have had to face an unfortunate truth or two.

It was better this way, she assured herself as she neared Melbrook. Better to play it safe and maintain a medium level of happiness. Contentment had worked for her all her life, it would certainly suffice for today.

Alice opened the Melbrook front door and walked down the hallway. It seemed too silent for after class on a Friday. They should be on the other side of the door, watching television and making a ruckus. Hershel savoring the last few hours before he handed off the weekend to Roy, Vince and Nick debating how to spend the evening before eventually settling on something ridiculous, Mary sitting quietly and laughing at them all. Alice had gotten used to it. She supposed they were busy; even on a Friday they all had their own things to do. Alice wondered if it was too late to book dinner and a massage in town. That would certainly be a combination to lift her spirits. She reached the end of the hallway and pressed her thumb against the pad. It beeped and Alice stepped into the common room.

“Surprise!” The lights flashed on, though why they had been off was anyone’s guess since the room didn’t have any windows to the outside, and the Melbrook students leapt out from behind various pieces of furniture. Once again one could speculate on why they’d been hiding in the first place; however, one might conjecture that a surprise party has some conventions so inherent to it that they are obeyed even when non-applicable.

“Hubuwahnow?” Alice sputtered, trying to regain her composure.

“It’s a surprise party,” Mary said, stepping forward. “Hence us yelling surprise. You know, for your birthday.”

“I... um... wait, how did you know it was my birthday?”

“Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport told us,” Mary replied. “They actually helped us organize the whole thing.”

“That’s suspiciously nice of them,” Alice remarked.

“Nah, they’re actually pretty good guys,” Vince chimed in. “Otherwise we wouldn’t have known about your special day, since someone didn’t bother to tell us.”

“Oh, well, um, birthdays aren’t such a big deal in my family. I guess it slipped my mind,” Alice said lamely.

“Happens to the best of us,” Nick said. “Luckily for you, it certainly didn’t slip ours. Now, I hope you’re prepared for a night of collegiate celebration.”

Alice let out a smile she wouldn’t have believed possible earlier in the week.

“I think that might be okay."

“Your words say okay, but your height says awesome,” Nick said.

“My what?”

Mary tugged on her sleeve and pointed down. Alice glanced at the floor and realized she was nearly a foot above it. With as much grace as she could manage, Alice lowered herself back to a gravitationally compliant position.

“Old habits,” she said by way of explanation.

“At least we can always tell when you’re happy,” Hershel pointed out.

“She’s like a buoyancy mood ring,” Nick agreed.

For her own part, Alice just kept on grinning like an idiot. As for that questioning voice in the back of her head, it wasn’t entirely gone, of course; such things just don’t happen overnight.

It did shut the hell up for the evening, though. There was a certain amount of triumph in that fact alone.