Chapter 39

"Well, gory as that was, I think this is where I bail out for the day," Vince said, rising from his chair and stretching deeply while the ending credits for the previous movie rolled across the screen.

"Ah, come on, we've still got like two more!" Nick protested.

"Yeah," Hershel agreed. Hershel and Alex had joined up with them halfway through the first movie, finding the siren song of slacking while watching slasher cinema too alluring to resist in favor of homework.

"And I'm certain they'll be wonderful movies," Vince placated. "I've got to get heading over to Sasha's, though, remember? We're celebrating her rise in rank."

"So bring her back," Nick countered. "What better way to celebrate life than to observe those are lacking in it?"

"You want me to congratulate the girl I'm dating on a serious accomplishment by making her watch bad zombie movies?"

"Vince," Nick began in an offputtingly serious tone, "a woman who won't celebrate with zombie movies isn't a woman you want to keep around. Trust me, that's gospel truth right there."

"Amen," Alex chimed in.

Vince stared into the sleek lenses of his friend's glasses for a moment, then shook his head and barked out a laugh. "Okay, okay. You guys win; I'll bring it up to her as an option. But if she says no then consider me gone for the night."

"That seems fair," Hershel said.

"Yeah, yeah, fair schmare," Nick said with a wave as he dragged himself out of his own chair. "We may as well get some dinner ourselves while Vince is applying the zombie barometer to his relationship."

"Zombie barometer? Really?" Vince asked as the other two stood from their reclined positions to join them.

Nick simply gave a small nod and replied with two words. "Gospel. Truth."

The four hungry young Supers headed out of the boys’ lounge and made a path for the entrance hall, nearly plowing right into Mary and Alice as the two girls entered the common room.

"Oh good," Alice said briskly. "I'm glad you're all here. I have something we need to talk about. Just let me go put away our packages." With that, Alice scooped up Mary's bags along with her own and moved with surprising swiftness into the girls’ lounge.

"Actually, we were sort of heading out," Vince began calling after her.

"You're staying," said Mary with a thou-shalt-not-question-me-for-I've-been-stuck-trying-on-clothes-all-day-and-I-am-desperate-to-share-the-pain tone. Okay, Vince may not have picked up on all of the subtlety contained in her words, but the gist of it came through.

"I guess we have a few minutes to spare," Vince acquiesced. Hershel and Nick might have had fleeting thoughts of protesting on their own, but one look from Mary's weary yet scorching eyes told them quite clearly that they'd be better off minding their own business.

"Um, well, I guess I’ll go head over to the dining hall and grab us a table," Alex offered.

"I'm sure you're welcome to stay," Nick assured him. "I'm equally sure that being able to leave is the privilege in this case, though, so do what you want."

"Yeah, I'll just meet up with you guys after," Alex said, taking in a long stare at Mary's haggard stance and making a (wise) snap decision. "Give me a call."

"Will do," Hershel assured him, although he wondered how much longer he would be able to stay out. Weekends were historically Roy's turf, but he hadn't been lobbying for them nearly as hard since his bout with Chad. In fact, Roy hadn't been doing much of anything besides working on the training Mary had given him. It was beginning to concern Hershel a bit, but for the moment he was grateful to have been handed the chance for a sense of normalcy, regardless of how fleeting it might turn out to be.

Alice emerged a few moments after Alex departed, taking a position at the front of the room and gesturing for the others to sit down around her. She made no comment on Alex leaving, taking it on faith that they had ushered him out the door in a properly diplomatic fashion. Interestingly enough, it never occurred to her that their method had been forewarning him so he could escape to freedom.

"Now then, I want to talk to you all about Halloween," Alice began once everyone had awkwardly settled in. "Mary and I were looking at some costume options today, and it occurred to me that there aren't many celebration options for people in our position."

"Wait, the two of you went shopping? When did I miss that turn in the road?" Nick interrupted.

"Annnnnyway," Alice continued. "My point is that we aren't old enough to drink at the bars, and it's not like the school has many fun activities. I thought we should talk about some possible options."

"Um, well, I hate to say it, but I think my plans for Halloween are already set," Hershel said. "Roy has been looking forward to that for months, and it's really always been his favorite holiday."

"That seems like something of an odd choice," Vince commented.

"He gets to walk around in a costume lacking a shirt and hit on women dressed in far more appealing clothing than they would normally wear, all while hopping from bar to bar finding an endless supply of co-eds," Hershel explained.

"That does make a lot more sense," Nick agreed.

"Yeah," Vince said, distracted. The mention of Roy in a bar had reminded him of something he'd been curious about the night they had gone to Whiskey Shallows. "Hey Hershel, how come Roy can drink out in public like that? He's the same age as you, so shouldn't that be illegal?"

"Oh, Roy has a fake ID. Given how mature he looks, no one ever really questions it when he goes out," Hershel explained.

"Ahem," Alice said, clearing her throat purposefully. "If we're quite done discussing yet another way that Roy is violating rules, perhaps we can move back to my original point and discuss what we might want to do for Halloween?"

"I've got a better question," Nick said. "Why are you assuming we'll all want to do something together? I mean, we've all done our own thing for the past few weeks and that's been working out pretty well. How about we all just do whatever we want for Halloween?"

There was a beat of silence as Alice used every drop of self-control she had to keep from blushing. She'd gotten so wrapped up in shopping with Mary today, Alice had managed to forget that the rest of her dorm mates were her cohabitants, not really her friends. With a swift and disproportionate sense of embarrassment, she imagined how silly she must seem, suddenly trying to rally everyone together out of the blue. Urgently she grasped for anything she could say to gracefully exit the conversation and retreat to her room where she could forget all about this little foray in social expansion.

"We've all been 'doing our own thing' because we were getting acclimated to campus and the program. That doesn't mean we shouldn't consider each other friends and ignore our sense of unity. We're the only people on this entire campus that know what kind of horror it is to have powers and not be able to control them. We all lived through that, we all dealt with that, and right now we're all doing our best to make sure no one else ever knows about that part of our past. If that doesn't make us at least connected enough to consult together on holiday plans, then I don't think we'll be bonded to anyone. Ever," Mary said sternly.

Nick stared across at her and Mary matched his gaze. Many people would have been subtly intimidated by not being able to see Nick's eyes, but for Mary it was no concern at all. She didn't need to look into his eyes to see into his head. And Nick knew it.

"Okay, okay," Nick said with a shrug. "It was just a question. So Alice, I assume you had some ideas for what we could do?"

"Oh, um, yes," Alice said, recovering quickly. Outwardly she went through the few options she’d compiled thus far, gauging everyone's reactions to the possible celebrations. Inwardly, though, she was dealing with the sense of shock and overwhelming gratitude she felt for Mary. In all of her life, Alice couldn't think of one time anyone else had stood up for her like that. It was a very novel, very nice sensation. And somewhere, in the deepest parts of her mind, the mask of friendship she had worn toward the tiny telepath became just a few degrees closer to reality.