Alice was exhausted, but filled with the soft glow of genuine delight. She was sprawled on the couch in the common room, the last (wo)man standing from the night’s festivities. And festive they had been.
It turned out the reason everyone was so busy this week was that they’d each been putting together things for her party. Vince had scoured cookbooks and local grocery stores in an effort to make a five-star dinner. He’d actually done pretty well too, starting with scallops, then rack of lamb, and finishing up with a tiramisu, all of which were Alice’s favorites. She wasn’t entirely sure how he’d worked that out, but then again she’d gone dining with Mary several times, so maybe the small girl just paid a lot of attention.
Mary had gone above and beyond, too. After dinner they’d gone to a section out in the forest that had been completely overhauled. There were stands, barriers, and even some small bunkers. Hershel had designed an entire paintball course and Mary had built it, all in the span of a week. Here they met up with Thomas, Will, Jill, Sasha, and Alex to participate in a paint-based battle that can only be described as truly epic. Turns out nine Supers in the woods make for quite a tournament. Alice still wasn’t certain who had won, since after a certain point it seemed to degenerate more into a brawl than any regulated system of scoring. She just knew it had been fun.
After a return to Melbrook everyone showered, then had a slice of fudge cake Vince had somehow cobbled together when no one was looking. Songs were sung, candles were blown out, and more processed sugar was ingested. Eventually the others grew tired and headed off to their respective dorms, then her own dorm mates had begun succumbing to the demands of biology and gone to bed.
Alice had been too wired, even now as she sat alone in the common room she felt jazzed up. She’d be sleeping late tomorrow, no doubt, but that’s what Saturdays were for. She readjusted her pose and a white envelope fell to the floor. Ah yes, she’d nearly forgotten. Hershel had given that to her before going to bed, emphasizing quite clearly that it was from Roy and Roy alone.
At the time she’d been hugging Mary goodnight, but now her curiosity was tickled. She slid a manicured nail beneath the envelope’s lip, breaking the seal. Inside was a slip of paper with only a few lines written on it.
“Redeemable for one night of sex. –Roy Daniels”
Alice couldn’t stop herself, she began laughing with her whole body. The best part was that she knew, in Roy’s mind, this was probably a very thoughtful gift. That notion redoubled her chuckles. Finally the fits subsided down to giggles as she wiped a few tears from her eyes and carefully placed Roy’s coupon back in the envelope.
“Still in the party spirit, I see.”
Alice whipped her head around. Nick was standing by the boys’ side door, holding a small book at his side and dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt.
“I didn’t hear you come in,” Alice said.
“That tends to happen when your eyes are shut and your ears are ringing with laughter. Plus, I’m actually twenty percent ninja, so there’s that too,” Nick said. He walked over and sat down on the couch with her.
“Twenty percent? How does that work?”
“Oh, a great grandparent who was a full ninja and then an uncle who was a fifth or something. I’ve never been great with fractions, so who can tell.”
“We all have our failings,” Alice replied. “So why are you still awake?”
“Aside from the cackling emanating from the common room? I wanted to give you your present,” Nick said.
“And here I assumed you being civil all night was my gift,” Alice said.
“Nope, just happenstance. It’s hard to be snarky when looking down the barrel of a gun stuffed with paint.”
“I can see your point,” Alice agreed.
“So, any guesses on what you’re getting?”
“I wouldn’t mind another night out with that guy I introduced to my dad. He was pretty enjoyable company,” Alice said.
“Sorry, he was sort of conjured on the spot. I don’t know if I could do that again even if I wanted to,” Nick lied.
“Ah well,” Alice said. “I suppose you’ll do for now.”
“So happy to hear it. Anyway, here,” Nick said, handing her the book. “Happy birthday.”
Alice opened the diminutive tome and saw a young blonde girl staring back at her. It took a few seconds before Alice realized why the girl seemed so familiar. She turned the page and found the same face staring up at her, a winning grin on its face and a trophy hoisted overhead. More pages, same girl, slowly growing into a more recognizable woman.
She didn’t speak, she literally couldn’t think of any words. Instead she simply looked up at Nick for explanation.
“You once told me you didn’t have many pictures of your mom. You’d be surprised how many times we all end in pictures on public record. Anyway, I know a guy who knows a guy who specializes in this sort of- Ooof!”
Nick’s sentence was cut off by Alice spearing him in the chest as she engulfed him in a hug. Her arms knit around him and squeezed, her head resting on his chest. She held him like that for some time before either spoke.
“My pleasure,” Nick said, quite honestly for once.
They stayed in place for a moment more before Nick disturbed the quiet peace.
“If you’re going to keep cuddling me like this then I demand either sex or dinner. I’ve got my principles as a man after all.”
Alice laughed and released her grip on him. “Sorry, I just got a little…”
“Don’t worry about it. I had a similar reaction when Ms. Pips gave me my book.”
“Well, yeah. How do you think I know a guy who specializes in this sort of thing? I wanted to see my parents, too,” Nick explained.
“Of course, I… Sometimes I forget there’s a real guy behind the smart assery and sunglasses,” Alice said.
“Oh, he’s real all right. Real freaking tired. I’m off to bed, and if you’re smart you’ll do the same,” Nick said, rising from the couch.
“I’ll go to bed soon,” Alice assured him.
“Sure, sure,” Nick said. He walked over to the boys’ side and opened the door. “It’s your night, stay up as late you want. I hope you had a good birthday, though.”
“I did,” Alice said. Nick nodded and stepped through the door, leaving Alice alone once again. She flipped through the book some more, savoring each new image in every detail, right down to the sound of the pages flipping.
“I really did.”