Chapter 38

Two crisp knocks signaled Alice's arrival at Mary's door. Mary got up from her bed slowly and walked over to answer it. Of course, she could have just waited outside in the girls’ lobby, or been waiting by the door when Alice knocked, but that would have made her foreknowledge of the arrival just a bit too apparent. While Alice was by no means simple enough to think Mary didn't have some inclination she was coming, she didn't want to talk about or acknowledge it. Mary was respecting those wishes; after all, Alice was here to offer something of an olive branch, so it was the least Mary could do.

"Yes?" Mary said as she pulled open her door.

"I'm heading into town today for some light shopping and lunch. Would you like to come along?" Alice asked, not without some stiffness in her voice.

"I'd love to," Mary replied with a warm grin. She stepped out and closed the door firmly behind her. "When do we leave?"

"Immediately," Alice said, glossing over the fact that Mary had physically responded to the answer before even asking the question. It was to be expected with a telepath. She'd known this when she decided to invite Mary along. It was part of the package, part of spending a day with a girl who could read her thoughts. Mary had been right about Alice avoiding her and about her having trouble connecting with people at college, but Mary had taken it too far when she said that Alice would be unable to make friends with a mind reader. The fact that Mary had been basing her deduction on Alice's actions or that it was a completely logical conclusion became utterly irrelevant in the face of one all-consuming truth that had burned its way through Alice's wounded pride and hidden shame.

That truth was simply this: No one told Alice Adair what she was or wasn't able to do.

"Let's hurry," Alice said. "The restaurant I'd like to visit fills up very early for lunch, so it's best if we're there as soon as possible."

"Of course," Mary nodded in agreement.

*          *          *

"So what's on the docket?" Vince asked as he stepped into the boys’ lounge, fresh bowl of popcorn in one hand and a pair of sodas in the other.

"Zombie Prince 4, War Zombies 2, Hellsong: The Rise of the Zombie King, and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days," Nick said from his perch in a recliner, remote in hand and eyes fixed on the slowly loading screen.

"Should I even ask about the last one?"

"Hey man, that's a good film, and it provides excellent insight into the female perception of romance," Nick defended.

Vince sat down in a recliner next to Nick and put the popcorn on a table between the two, sliding over one soda as well. "I'm not buying it."

"Okay, fine; the girl at the video store was hot, and I didn't want her to think my cinematic taste was one-dimensional," Nick sighed.

"Despite the fact that it clearly is," Vince pointed out.

"Hey man, you don't know me entirely. Maybe I like romantic comedies. I could be very multi-layered," Nick said.

Vince crunched a kernel of popcorn and kicked his seat into the reclined position. "I'll believe it when I see it. So where's Hershel, anyway?"

Nick shrugged. "I think he and his project partner were grabbing lunch after doing some work this morning; they said they might stop in."

"Those guys are really determined to do well on that assignment, aren't they?" Vince asked.

"That or they have nothing better to do," Nick said. "Though I don't see the rush; we've still got weeks left. We should be spending more time thinking about what Halloween costumes we should be saving for or working on."

Vince snorted. "We're in college; you really think anyone actually cares about Halloween, let alone puts in effort on a costume?"

*          *          *

"I'm leaning toward Cleopatra," Alice said as she sipped her espresso delicately. "Of course, there are a few famous Victorian characters I would enjoy portraying as well, but the drawing point is also the problem. Those gowns are so complex and elegant, and while they would be fun to wear, it would hardly be in the spirit of the holiday at our age."

"How so?" Mary asked politely. It had been a bit of a straining day for her so far. The lunch had been delicious and Alice was enjoyable enough company, but Mary wasn't used to asking clarifying questions or pretending she didn't already know the answers to things she might idly wonder. This habit of feigning ignorance was helping Alice feel more at ease with their time together, but it was at the cost of Mary's nerves.

"For girls our age attending a university, the accepted societal convention is that our costumes should be somewhat more... sensual than they were in our younger years," Alice replied.

"So we're supposed to dress slutty?"

"I prefer to think of it as we can get away with doing so judgment free," Alice said, a blatant smirk creeping across the side of her mouth.

"That is a good point," Mary agreed. "Although I don't know if it would fit my style. I was thinking I'd just be a mummy or something."

Alice looked at the girl sitting across the table from her, slowly working her way through a piece of cheesecake, and realized something that had never entered her mind before. Mary was insecure about the way she looked. She'd always been so cheerily bizarre, so oddly confident, and seemed to be three steps ahead of everyone else that it had never occurred to Alice that a girl like Mary might suffer from something as mundane as a poor body image. It wasn't that she was unattractive, either: her amber eyes were striking, and her wild hair actually seemed to compliment her face. She was petite, too. It was easy to forget with the powerful energy Mary seemed to exude, but she was only about five foot two, with a lithe body that matched. In that moment, discovering her terrifying, invincible telepathic neighbor had a weakness, Alice felt something she had never genuinely expected. She felt a spark of a connection to Mary.

"A mummy might be fun," Alice said kindly. "I bet we can find something that flatters you more than that, though."

Mary raised an eyebrow. "You want to go costume shopping?"

"Why not? I said we would go shopping anyway, and besides, it’s early October so the stores should be open. We'll have fun." Alice gave Mary a sincere smile, and with a crash Mary realized she had just maneuvered herself into spending a Saturday being dressed up like Alice's personal doll.

Mary was a firm believer that necessity and duty should trump one's own desires. That said, she still found herself thankful that Alice didn't have telepathy as well, otherwise all the cursing going on in Mary's head might have been a tad difficult to explain.