Chapter 18

Vince had some trouble finding Hughes Hall the next morning. In his defense, Lander was a very large campus, and he had hardly had free time to explore it. He might have gotten up a bit earlier if he had been thinking ahead, but Casino Night had gone on a lot longer than he expected, and it turned out being frozen solid had left him drained by the day’s end. On the plus side, he had won enough chips to put his name in a few raffles. He had even managed to win a clock radio. It wasn’t quite as nice as the two hundred dollar gift card Nick had won, but it was something to be happy about.

If Vince had been a bit pettier, he might have accused Nick of rigging the raffle, but given the amount of chips his sunglasses-wearing friend had turned in, it didn’t really surprise anyone when Nick’s name was drawn. That boy was either cheating up a storm or really knew how to play blackjack. Since he was one of Vince’s few friends, Vince was opting to give him the benefit of the doubt. Had Vince been a bit more experienced in the ways of the world, it might have dawned on him that the two options were not mutually exclusive.

Vince was in a good mood, even as he scrambled to find Sasha’s dormitory. It was his second day attending Lander and the first day of real classes. He had basic math and literature classes in the morning, followed by gym and Ethics of Heroism in the afternoon. He still wasn’t sure why gym was ascribed a three-hour chunk of his time every day, but he assumed there would be a logical explanation when he got there. Besides, he and Sasha were getting breakfast before their morning classes together, which made him just a bit happier than he would admit to anyone who was asking. He did enjoy women with multi-colored hair.

Vince had been polite enough to invite his fellow dorm mates to come along. Nick had said no due to an early class, Mary had politely declined without explanation, and Alice had informed him that she would be avoiding the dorm food as much as was humanly possible. Vince had looked for Hershel as well, but to no avail. It seemed their friend hadn’t even come home last night. Vince was beginning to get worried, but he was trying to hope for the best. If he didn’t see his portly dorm mate soon, though, Vince was planning on finding Mr. Numbers or Mr. Transport.

Vince saw the bell tower and finally got a sense of where he was. With its lush foliage, sprawling campus, and large buildings, Lander was one of the largest and most scenic colleges in California. All of which sounded great on the brochure, but was somewhat less charming when trying to hustle between locations across campus. Vince was really hoping he didn’t have any classes that were too far apart when he finally saw a sign on a multistoried building that read “Hughes.”

He walked into the lobby quickly, checking the wall clock and realizing with a twinge that he was late. It wasn’t by much, but it was enough to irk him. He had been taught that punctuality was one of the most important virtues to have. He made his way through the white-tiled entryway and past the door leading into the dorm area itself. Some of the dorms were segregated into male and female, his own being one of them, but Hughes had alternating floors. The rooms were done in suites, with two rooms sharing a common living room area. It engendered a sense of community, or so Sasha had told him, since people could leave their living room doors open and still preserve a getaway in their bedroom. It occurred to Vince that whoever had built Melbrook for him and the others had clearly taken some cues from the Hughes dormitory set up.

In fact, Vince was right. Alice had toured the Lander campus (along with several others) before talking with the architects who would ultimately design Melbrook. She had found the Hughes design an excellent integration of privacy and community, though her original designs had her room set off in a separate area. Specifically, it was in an entirely separate building on the opposite campus and utterly unaffiliated with Melbrook in anyway. That attempt had failed, but she’d considered it something of a long shot anyway.

Vince bounded up the stairs to the second floor and began moving down the hallway. Since the rooms were arranged sequentially, it didn’t take him much time at all to find Sasha’s room: 216. He was about to knock when he heard shouting from the other side of the door. Vince couldn’t quite make out the words, but they definitely sounded angry. There were several voices, at least two female with one probably male. Vince was still standing there, debating on whether he should knock or wait a few moments for things to calm down, when he heard an object land heavily against the door. All thoughts of tact aside, Vince jerked the doorknob, which was fortunately unlocked, and burst into the room.

“Is everyone okay?” Vince yelled before he could take in the scene around him. As the sights the room held registered into his mind one by one, it became clear that things were undoubtedly not okay.

There were two girls and a boy here, all right. The most attention-grabbing one was the blonde that Sasha had pointed out as her roommate yesterday, Julia, who was a few steps outside of her bedroom and into the living room. She was rearing back a large black pump, clearing intending to send it flying. If Vince had bothered to look down he would have noticed its twin resting by his feet, the obvious culprit in the case of the mysterious thudding noise against the door. Julia was wearing a sizable plaid shirt, though with her arm reared back and pulling the fabric up, it was evident that the shirt wasn’t quite sizable enough.

Standing between Julia and the guy, looking haggard and unhappy but playing the referee, was Sasha, wearing a tight pink shirt and grey sleep shorts. Ordinarily Vince would have savored this image a bit more than he did. Unfortunately, his attention couldn’t help but be captured somewhat by the other male in the room. He was a heavy guy, wrapped poorly in a towel, and was hunched over in a submissive position. He was clearly trying to defend himself verbally, but from the look on Julia’s face, Vince had a feeling the boy hadn’t gotten that far.

Leaping into this chaotic scene, as all three pairs of eyes turned on him in surprise, Vince tried to look on the bright side. At least he had found Hershel.