Chapter 28

As the days turned into weeks, Vince noticed a funny thing. He was getting used to his new life at Lander. He was slowly growing accustomed to sleeping in the same bed under the same roof every night. He was growing tolerant of Nick’s flapping gums and Roy’s douchebag demeanor. His body was even beginning to get used to the five-times-a-week workouts from hell. It was strange, but each day that passed found him more comfortable with his life here. He was beginning to feel like he might finally have a shred of normalcy in life, with his powers under control and his wandering suspended. On the day he truly he became certain of this, he reached an important decision.

“Sasha, would you like to go out with me tonight?” Vince asked stiffly. It wasn’t that he wasn’t comfortable around his speedy friend, but the life he’d had before Lander had hardly equipped him with much experience in the realm of a social life. This deficiency was one of the reasons he was determined to stop dallying and make up for lost time.

“Sure,” Sasha replied offhandedly. The two were eating breakfast on this Friday morning as was their routine, so she sipped her orange juice before continuing. “I think Julia is going out tonight and the other two never stay in on a Friday, so we can hang out and watch a movie.”

“Yes... well, that does sound fun,” Vince fumbled. “But... you see, I meant would you join me tonight... in a romantic capacity. As in a date.”

“Yeah, I know,” Sasha said. “Took you long enough. Why do you think I invited you to come watch a movie in my empty dorm?”

“Oh,” Vince said. Then realization dawned. “Oooh. I was thinking something a bit more traditional for our first date.”

“You got a car?” Sasha interrupted.

“Um... no,” Vince admitted.

“Me neither, and while I can get anywhere in town in under ten seconds, it sort of takes the fun out if you can’t join me,” Sasha pointed out. “So our options are a romantic candlelit dinner in the dining hall or watching a movie.”

“How’s seven work for you?” Vince asked.

“Better make it seven thirty. We do still have to grab a shitty dinner here after all,” Sasha said.

“Point well made,” Vince agreed.

*          *          *

“I still can’t believe you finally grew a pair,” Nick commented as he reclined on the boys’ lounge couch and flipped through the television stations.

“I always had a pair,” Vince said defensively. “I was just getting settled in to my new surroundings. What do you think?”

“You look dumb,” Nick replied, barely glancing at Vince’s outfit.

“How is a button-down shirt and slacks considered dumb?” Vince asked.

“It’s not, if you’re going on a job interview. For going to a dorm to watch a movie, though... little dumb,” Nick replied.

“I think it looks nice,” Hershel chimed in softly.

Vince stood in the lounge area with his open door to his back. Nick and Hershel were sitting on the couch, killing time and offering him advice on what outfit to wear. In Vince’s room loomed an ever-rising stack of rejected combinations. In all the years Vince was a wanderer he had never needed to worry about fashion. After thirty minutes of trying on clothes, he was beginning to suspect that he should have relished that time a touch more than he had.

“No, Nick’s right,” Vince said. “This is too formal. I’ll try again.” Vince turned around and went back into his room, shutting the door while he changed.

“Nick,” Hershel said shyly. “Not that I don’t appreciate him wanting our input, but why isn’t he asking the girls what he should wear on a date? You know, since it’s a girl he’s trying to impress after all.”

“Because, my dear boy, he’s an idiot. Plus I may have convinced him I’m something of a fashion expert,” Nick said, not quite hiding the chuckle in his voice.

“That’s mean! You shouldn’t trick him like that; he seems to really be into this girl,” Hershel said.

Nick cocked an eyebrow and stared at Hershel. Of course, as far as Hershel could tell, Nick had simply put his eyebrow up and pointed his sunglasses right at him, but the general effect was still the same. Sort of. “I don’t remember saying I tricked him at any point in that statement.”

“So... wait... you really are a fashion expert?” Hershel asked, confused.

“I feel like my wardrobe answers that question all on its own,” Nick replied. At that moment Nick was wearing carpenter’s pants and a green tank top. Not knowing what to say, Hershel did the next best thing. He changed the subject.

“If you have time tonight, do me a favor,” Hershel said. “When you see Roy, please tell him he has to stop skipping gym. He’s missed three classes already in the past few weeks and we only get four per semester. I don’t want to get drummed out just because my alter ego is throwing a hissy fit.”

“He has seemed a bit more on edge,” Nick agreed. “I mean, even when he comes to class he always looks a bit pissed. That first week he was pretty cheerful when he was lapping us in typical asshole form. What happened?”

Hershel let out a sigh. “Coach George called him out on not trying and told him if he doesn’t work harder the other Supers will leave him behind.”

“And he felt the appropriate response was to change nothing except his consistent attendance?” Nick asked.

“He doesn’t like it when people imply there might be others stronger than he is, and he handles it like a child,” Hershel said. “I think he wants George to admit he was wrong and that Roy could skip the whole semester and still come out on top.”

“Could he?” Nick asked, a slight twinge of true curiosity creeping into his voice.

“Maybe,” Hershel said. “The only person who’s ever been able to beat him was our dad, so I know it can be done, but other than that no one has ever really gotten the better of him in a fight.”

“What about during the opening combat trials? I mean, if he came in fifth he must have lost to someone,” Nick pointed out.

“He lost to rank number four, Rich Weaver. Rich has the ability to trap your mind in a fantasy, leaving you utterly unable to move or even perceive what’s happening around you. He locked Roy down in the first five seconds, then just walked out of the room. Twenty minutes later they declared him the winner and he let Roy free,” Hershel explained.

Nick let out a whistle. “Hard to believe someone that powerful only made it to rank four.”

“Apparently he fought Chad after that,” Hershel noted.

“That does explain a bit of it,” Nick agreed. “I have got to find out what that guy’s ability is.” Nick’s speculations were interrupted by the sound of Vince’s door opening again.

“Okay, this had better be good because if I don’t leave soon I’m going to be late!” Vince declared as he stepped out of his room.

Nick looked him carefully up and down this time. Vince was wearing black jeans and a pair of flip flops, along with a blue collared shirt. The dark tones worked well with his hair, yet didn’t clash noticeably with the striking blue of his eyes. Vince had accidently assembled a truly well-planned outfit that highlighted the best parts of himself.

“Adequate,” Nick said simply.

“I’ll take it,” Vince said with a smile, shutting his room door and dashing out the exit.

“Ahh, young love,” Nick said to no one in particular.

“I should probably go change, too,” Hershel said, pulling himself up from the chair.

“Big plans tonight?” Nick asked.

“Not that I know of,” Hershel replied. “But I can feel Roy stirring around in my head and he’s pretty anxious to get going. I guess he’s got something planned.”

“Cool,” Nick said. “You two have fun.”

“Will do,” Hershel assured.

Roy did indeed have something big planned, and at that moment it was unfortunate that Hershel only had access to Roy’s thoughts from when he was out. Hershel couldn’t see any of the things going on in Roy’s consciousness when Roy was nothing more than a presence in the brain. If Hershel had been able to, though, he undoubtedly would have refused to change and thwarted Roy’s scheme before it even began.

That, however, was not the case.