Chapter 48

“Because there are certain things about my life you just don’t need to know,” said the exasperated voice from the other end of the cell phone.

“But Daddy, don’t you think the fact that you were part of a really famous team of Heroes might have been something your daughter would have wanted to know about?” Alice shot back. After weeks of trying she had finally managed to track down her father and get him on the phone, though the results weren’t panning out exactly as lucratively as she’d expected.

“Given what we were famous for, no; I felt it was something better left in the past,” Charles told her. “And given that many of the records about the incident were sealed and we agreed to keep it confidential, that only added to my motivation. Now, I’m in the middle of a very important meeting here, so was there anything else you needed?”

“No, Daddy. That was it,” Alice said stiffly.

“Good then. Study hard, finals are right around the corner.”

“I will, Daddy.”

“Of course. I love you, Alice, I’ll call you soon,” Charles said.

“Love you, too,” Alice all but mumbled. There was the click of disconnection and Alice was just sitting in her room holding a cell phone. She wasn’t sure why she felt any surprise: it had always been like this. He was a kind father, and he was good to her when he was around, but he always so sectioned off, so sealed away. Alice often wondered what it was like to have warmth in a person’s life. Not just tolerance or caring, but genuine joy at someone’s company. She wasn’t sure, but she suspected she was getting closer to it here than she ever had at home, and as bad her phone call had been, that thought cheered her slightly. Well, that and the fact that she was still riding high on getting the best grade in the class so far for their presentations. Nick had seemed oddly unexcited by it, but it felt good knowing she had set the bar for the others to follow. There were still more presentations Thursday, but she was confident that they would not be easily dethroned.

A soft knock rapped at the door.

“Come in, Mary,” Alice called. The boys couldn’t get into the girls’ lounge area unless they were let in, so the only person who could be knocking on her door was her fellow Melbrook female.

The door was pushed open and Mary entered. “Hey, the guys are going to the dining hall in, like, ten minutes. I thought I’d see if you wanted to come,” Mary offered.

Alice did her best to keep a sneer of disgust from rippling across her face. Her little understanding of dormitory food held it in the esteem of old vomit and fresh excrement. Still, it was nearing the end of the first semester, and she’d still yet to set foot in one of these establishments. Not to mention it was where the rest of her... maybe not yet friends, but associates, gathered to dine, so if she was serious about trying to get closer to people, this was one of her best opportunities.

“I think I would like that very much,” Alice lied.

Mary chuckled. “You know, it really isn’t that bad.”

“We shall see,” Alice said skeptically, rising from her bed and sliding on her shoes.

In truth, the food wasn’t that bad. And what was lacking in culinary refinement was made up for with the experience of sitting around with people Alice was growing ever more comfortable with, complaining and laughing about their classes and day-to-day lives. It would have been an overall positive experience except for the fact that a girl who has been raised with dieticians and organic diets most of her life has a very poor tolerance for things deep fried in grease.

Alice would never admit it, but as she spent the next few hours unwillingly regurgitating her last meal (along with a few others), she still felt like it had been an overall good idea to eat with the others. She also made a mental note that from here on out she would be bringing her own damn food.

*          *          *

“Thanks you for that wonderful presentation on Lord Pholos, Mr. Riley and Ms. Dixon,” Dean Blaine said as the two students bowed to polite applause from the class. Eventually they collected their materials and went to their seats, so Dean Blaine retook his customary spot at the front of the classroom.

“That concludes our presentations, and I do hope you all got a lot out of doing them,” Dean Blaine said, addressing the class.

“Actually, yeah,” Stella interrupted in her usual style. “It put things in a new perspective to actually see some of the hard calls our guy had to make in his career. Even though they worked out, they might not have. That’s some crazy kind of pressure.”

“Precisely what I wanted you to realize,” Dean Blaine said with a smile. “We have a tremendous program here for getting your bodies in the condition necessary to be Heroes. The harder part, in my opinion, is training your minds to understand what a Hero is and what they should strive for. It’s a lot of responsibility, and the stress from it has broken more than one Super with awe-inspiring abilities.

“Now, we’ve put a lot of time into this project, but after today we’ll be easing up on the throttle a bit,” Dean Blaine continued. “We’ll still be having our discussions, of course, but I understand you all have finals in your other classes to prepare for. Since this course runs for two semesters, what you just did counts as the mid-term for the class, but you can think of it as the final for this semester.”

There wasn’t quite cheering from the class, but there was a noticeable elevation of everyone’s mood. Finding out they could cross a class off of their finals list early was welcome to news to any student. Ever.

“I’ll still expect you to all show up and participate, of course,” Dean Blaine clarified. “I just want you to know there won’t be any other projects this semester. There is one particularly important class you’ll need to attend, though. I’ve lined up a guest speaker for next Tuesday’s class, and I expect full attendance. That means mental and physical. This will be an important step in developing a Hero’s mindset, so I want you to come sharp and ready to listen.”

“Who’s the speaker?” Stella asked.

“If I were going to tell you, don’t you think I would have mentioned it in that extensive preamble?” Dean Blaine retorted.

“Point,” Stella said, leaning back in her chair.

“The speaker is a surprise, but I hope you will take my word that their words will be worth hearing. Grade-shatteringly worth hearing, in fact,” Dean Blaine said, adding no inflection to his voice. The meaning came through loud and clear though. Miss this class, and find a new reason to be at Lander.