“Holy crap,” Alice said, her eyes taking in the full array of festivities. Mr. Transport had just dropped off the five Melbrook students in the central area underground, which wore a significantly different look than its usual cold stone veneer. Instead there were bright colors hanging from the ceiling in the form of streamers. Large pictures of famous Heroes had been hung along the walls, and several oversized signs directed the students to different locales within the area.
“A midway?” Nick said, skeptically reading one such sign aloud. “I thought they were kidding about the games.”
“Evidently not,” Hershel said. He was dressed more nicely than usual, a collar on his shirt and slacks rather than jeans. The lovely girl whose hand he was holding, Mary, obviously, was also adorned in a slightly fancier fashion. The two of them had decided to treat this evening like a date night since it was quite possibly the last one they would have before summer break. That was, of course, ignoring the possibility that one of them might not be invited back after the semester’s end.
“I don’t know about you guys, but I’m supposed to meet Sasha in the dancing area,” Vince said. He was also wearing a collared shirt, though his pants were still of the blue jean persuasion.
“Dancing, and I’m sure with a DJ no less,” Nick sighed. “So much for life after high school.”
“Actually, I think it’s kind of nice,” Mary said. “A lot of us didn’t get very normal high school experiences, being Supers in a school full of humans. This is a good fill in for some of the things we missed.”
“That’s one way to look at it,” Nick said. “You go find your girl, Vince. I’m off to check out the games.”
“Count me in with you,” Alice said. “I’d be more comfortable throwing ping pong balls at fish than huddling around a punch table.”
“What about you guys?” Vince turned to Hershel and Mary.
“I think we’ll take the punch table,” Hershel said, not quite controlling his idiotic grin. He couldn’t help himself; it was impossible not to be smile-happy when he had such a wonderful girl on his arm. Had Mary been listening to his thoughts, she would have blushed. Then again, had Mary been listening to many people’s thoughts, things certainly would have played out very differently that night.
“Okay then, we’ll catch up to you later,” Vince said. He gave Alice and Nick a perfunctory wave and headed off toward the gym where the dance area was set up. Hershel and Mary followed suit, though not before Mary shot a sly, knowing look at Alice.
* * *
The gym hardly seemed to be the same place as the temple of sweat and pain the students had toiled in throughout the year. Instead there was a series of refreshment tables, paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling, and an impressive sound system woofing from the walls. This controlled noise was directed from a small booth near the corner, currently manned by a junior in a grey uniform. The occasional authority figure, be it Dean Blaine, Coach George, or an adult none of the freshman recognized, dotted the landscape. They were experts at blending in, making their presence known only in the capacity that they existed, not in that they intended to interfere in the night’s revelry. It was, in truth, a little overly high school for the maturity level of the attendees, but it resounded with many just the same and the overall spirit could be described as boisterous.
One such cheerful soul was Vince as he scooped up Sasha into a spinning hug, the outer layer of her bright pink skirt (it matched the tips of her hair) was sent twirling about behind her. They kissed briefly and Vince set her back to the ground. The music was loud enough that talking was possible, if a bit uncomfortable. Fortunately, Vince and Sasha had little to say that required words. They looked into each other’s eyes as her feet made contact with the floor and she kissed him again. This one was less brief.
It didn’t take long before the rest of their friends had clustered around them. Will, Jill, Stella, Violet, and Thomas seemed to have all come as a singular unit. Alex surprised everyone, introducing them to his date for the evening: Selena. Her caramel skin looked all the deeper against the deep green of her dress and her long hair had been styled up expertly with just a few wisps left hanging down. Vince gave his friend a questioning look, which was met with a shrug and a smile as if to say, “Beats me how I pulled it off.” Vince laughed and squeezed the hand of his own date. The group stayed clustered for only a short while before giving in to the inevitable expression of high spirits and close friends.
They found their way to the dance floor and began to make utter fools of themselves. Limbs thrashed about, rhythm became a poor, downtrodden concept, and endorphins surged through their veins. In the shadows their supervisors smiled. Despite the harsh nature of the program, those selected to teach the HCP genuinely enjoyed the education process. One perk of that process was this time every year, when they got to see the young, happy sides of their charges, not the hardened warriors they were sculpting them into. It was both rewarding and heartbreaking, because each teacher knew that most would lose the ability to act so carefree. Probably by this time next year.
Another set of eyes watched the dancers, though these were not filled with such kind-hearted sentiments. No, these eyes were calculating and hard, but nearly brimming over with excitement. These eyes told the story of retribution long denied that was on the cusp of being unfurled. For the moment, all they did was watch. This moment had been so long in the making that there was no need to rush. It needed to be perfect, because the owner of those eyes had a feeling he would be savoring it for years to come.