Chapter 128

“So day one was, as you’ve described it here, a ‘hookup bonanza’, correct?”

“Yes, sir,” Angela replied.

“I can certainly see how that would happen,” Dean Blaine said. He turned the page in the packet of documents he was holding. “Now, the forest fire on the second day, that one will require a bit more explanation.”

Ben squirmed around in his chair. The dean’s office was plush and comfortable, but having to answer for the actions of a class of drunken Supers was worse than sitting on pins made of lava.

“It’s really quite simple, sir. You see, some of the students decided to make a campfire at the end of the day. Unfortunately, we were still collecting the tubes and we had the matches, so one of the students chose to do the job himself.”

Dean Blaine cocked an eyebrow. “Would that have been Mr. Reynolds?”

“No, sir, he actually helped us quell it before it got out of hand. The one who started the fire was Allen Wells,” Ben said.

“Ah yes, the young man who can throw explosive balls of energy.”

“Yeah, the idiot figured it would be combustive enough to ignite the nearby wood,” Angela scoffed. “And he was right.”

“Indeed he was. The park service is none too happy with me about the damage left behind,” Dean Blaine said.

“In our defense, we did manage to get it contained very quickly,” Ben pointed out.

“You did, I’ll give you that,” Dean Blaine said. “Though you were somewhat slower in response to the glacier that now occupies a chunk of the river.”

Ben swallowed hard. This was not the way he wanted to spend the first afternoon back from vacation.

*          *          *

Nick sat on the couch, watching television and applying lotion to the side of his nose. He’d miscalculated the necessary SPF to defend him all weekend and was now paying the price. The boy knew a lot about sunshine and desert heat, but less about the sunscreen-washing-off properties of a river. Alice walked over from the girls’ side, clad in tank top, flip flops, and shorts.

“Sun got you, too?” Nick asked perfunctorily

“Like I owed him money,” Alice said. She sat down next to him and pulled out her own bottle of lotion, one that was both more expensive and more effective. “Where is everyone? We’ve had all morning to rest up, I figured they’d have swung back to life by now.”

“They have,” Nick said. “Vince left with Sasha a few hours ago. Mary came in a little after lunch, so she and Hershel took off to catch up and be all couple-like.”

“Well, they are sort of a couple,” Alice noted.

“Thus the word choice.”

“Ah,” Alice said. “Not to be forward, would you mind getting the backs of my shoulders?”

Nick hesitated for a moment, then said, “Okay.” Alice realigned her couch position so her back was facing Nick, then handed him her lotion. She slid the straps of her tank top down to the sides of her arms and pulled her long blonde hair around front, revealing the bare upper half of her back.

“So, when are you going to see Bubbles next?” Alice asked as Nick’s hands worked the soothing cream into her skin.

“Probably in a couple of days,” Nick said blandly. “I’ve got stuff to do and what not.”

“We didn’t have any homework over the break. What kind of stuff do you have?”

“You know, just stuff,” Nick reiterated lamely. He was having trouble conjuring up his usual silver tongue, mostly because he was focusing on keeping his physical tells under control. Ever since that kiss in the woods he’d lost his ability to deny that he was physically attracted to Alice. He’d coped with this new development by keeping his distance, but now he was kneading her flesh with his hands and things were getting more difficult. If Nicholas Campbell had any weakness, it was women.

“Just stuff, okay,” Alice said, letting it go. “You know, Nick, about the first night of the river trip, there was something I wanted to say.”

A lesser man would have let his hand stiffen in fearful anticipation of what was coming next. Nick may not have been a better man; however, he was a better liar. His fingers never paused and his voice betrayed nothing.

“And what’s that?”

“Just that I wanted to say thanks for coming after me. I don’t remember if I ever expressed gratitude; I was pretty drunk, after all. So I just wanted to make sure I thanked you,” Alice said.

Nick relaxed a bit internally and got back to the task at hand. So she didn’t remember things too clearly. That would make proceeding from here much easier.

Had Nick been sitting a few inches to the left he would have been able to see Alice’s face in a mirror that hung on the wall. And had he been gifted with that vantage point, he surely would have noticed the wry, cunning smile on her face.

*          *          *

Jill was sitting in the central area of their dorm room, reading a magazine. She flipped casually to the next page, ears working hard to ignore the sounds seeping through the walls around her. She zeroed in her attention on an article about toning one’s thighs. For a second she thought she had obtained a Zen level of focus, because the sounds ceased. This theory was disproven moments later when Sasha emerged from her and Julia’s room clad in a pink robe.

“Hey,” Sasha said, making a beeline for the fridge.

“Hey,” Jill said back, turning to another page.

Sasha reached in the fridge and grabbed two bottles of water, then stood at the door for a moment staring into its depths. She reached back in and grabbed four more, juggling the six vessels as she made her way back into her room and firmly shut the door.

Jill sighed. She would get maybe ten or fifteen minutes before the noise would start again. Maybe she would go to the library and read for a while. Or just go for a walk around campus. Or go see what Will was up to.

Jill was still contemplating her options when the ruckus began once more. She needed to have a talk with Sasha about turning on the radio or something during boyfriend time. Really, though, Jill realized she needed to start freaking meeting men. This was just getting insufferable.

*          *          *

“So all things totaled, you had approximately five thousand dollars’ worth of damage caused by the students under your watch, destroyed a small patch of a national forest, and caused ecological damages to no less than nine different species’ habitats,” Dean Blaine surmised.

“Yes, sir,” Ben said weakly.

“Looks like it,” Angela agreed.

“Well then, good job, you two,” Dean Blaine said, setting down the packet of papers.

“Beg your pardon?” Ben asked.

“That’s one of the least destructive river trips in the last decade. You did your jobs very well. You have my thanks and the thanks of your school.”

“Sweet,” Angela said, hopping up. “So, we done here?”

“Yes, Ms. DeSoto, you are free to go,” Dean Blaine replied.

“Cool; come on, Ben, let’s go grab a late lunch,” she said, tugging on her fellow chaperone’s arm.

“Okay, I guess,” Ben said unsurely, getting out of the chair and allowing himself to be pulled from the room.

Once the door was shut, Dean Blaine turned his attention back to the paperwork required for the cleanup. Even with such minimal damage there were still a lot of forms to file and sign. He briefly wondered how many documents had to be filled out by the dean after his class went on the river trip.

He couldn’t be certain without the hard numbers, but he suspected it was enough that he would quit by way of setting the building on fire should such a pile ever be presented to him.