Chapter 53

"I'm glad you talked us into coming out," Hershel told Alex as they entered the living room of a two-story house. The couches were wrapped in plastic and it seemed someone had laid a blue tarp down on top of most of the carpet. The house was full, though not bursting like the other clubs and parties they had been to. It was loud enough to see that people were having fun, though it hadn't crossed the line into utter pandemonium yet.

"I think we all needed it after that bummer of a presentation on Tuesday," Alex said. "I mean, I agree with what Dean Blaine was trying to do, but he should have known most people weren't ever going to be sympathetic toward some Powered."

"You are," Vince pointed out.

Alex shrugged. "Nearly everyone thinks I'm crazy or delusional. It's hard for me to get up on my high horse about how I'm so much better than someone else. Besides, that's not the Jedi way."

"The Jedi had better get out of my way," Nick said, shouldering into the room. He and Alice were the last of the group, Mary having opted to stay in and the rest of their friends studying for finals already. In truth, Nick was tempted to use the same excuse; however, after letting himself go and tearing into Dean Blaine, he felt like he needed to recenter his character. Sadly, a social environment full of Supers was the best place for that.

"Welcome, Fish," said a tall blonde girl holding a red plastic cup. She and Alice had a slight similarity, in the way that a dog and wolf can look the same if one isn't paying attention. She wasn't imposing, per se, but the way she walked, smiled, and ever tossed her hair left no doubt in anyone's mind that this woman was a warrior. "I'm glad you guys made it out. My name is Angela and this is my house."

"Thank you for inviting us," Vince said politely.

"No worries, it’s a tradition to invite those of you who last this long to join us. It's our way of saying good job on getting this far, and that we're welcoming you into the Super community at Lander," Angela replied.

"So this party is all Supers?" Alex asked.

"You got it," Angela confirmed. "Feel free to let down your hair and be yourself. Tonight your secret identity is safe with us."

"We really appreciate it," Alice said, using all of her willpower not to curtsy. She had begun rapidly realizing that the stiff formality she had learned at Daddy's functions were not suited to the college environment. Plus, she was wearing slacks, so she would have looked ridiculous.

"Like I said, no big deal," Angela assured. "Besides, you had the balls to come. That means you belong here. You'd be amazed how many people who are here to learn about fighting life and death battles are too squeamish to come out to a party with older students."

"That and it is the beginning of finals time," Hershel pointed out.

"Which is why this also shows us who the irresponsible crowd is," Angela said with a wink. "Anyway, the keg is the garage and we have some liquor on the counter. Help yourself to whatever you want; buying for the freshmen is also part of the tradition."

"Um, we're under age," Vince said.

"As am I, as are most of us here, in fact. I recommend you enjoy it while you can, though. Apparently once you hit junior year there isn't any time for a beer or a party," Angela said. "Your call, though: drink or don't, but mingle and have some fun either way." With that, Angela sauntered back off into the shapeless blob of people.

"Sasha's going to be pissed she missed a chance to be irresponsible," Vince commented once she was gone.

"So's Roy," Hershel added.

"Think he'll want to come out?" Alex asked.

"Absolutely. Now ask me if I care," Hershel said with a sideways grin. "Come on, guys, let's mingle."

A bit surprised at being led by the most socially awkward of the group, everyone followed Hershel as he led them into the kitchen where most people were gathered. Given that the kitchen was where the liquor was kept, as well as the cups, not to mention that it was only a door away from the keg in the garage, it was the logical gathering place for the attendees. What seemed illogical, though, was the ease with which Hershel was navigating them through it. He was greeting people, shaking hands, getting names, and moving onward. It was oddly mind-blowing, though it shouldn't have been. After all, Hershel was a role-player, and with Roy's memories this was a role he knew by heart. If the others were surprised by his rapport with the older students, they were flabbergasted when Hershel finally reached the cups and plucked a few from the top.

"What does everybody want?" Hershel asked, turning his attention to the liquor selection.

"Are you serious?" Vince asked in a nearly strangled voice. "You know we can't drink."

"No, I know that we legally shouldn't drink. I also know that since I didn't drive here, I feel like seeing what it's like firsthand for once, and it seems like these first two years are going to be the only chance we'll get. More importantly, I don't want to go through college with my alter ego as the only one doing stupid crap and trying new things," Hershel said, not without conviction. He didn't feel quite as certain as he sounded, but he was determined to make some memories of his own. His talk with Alex had made him realize how easily he defaulted to letting Roy be the one to go party or chase the girl. This was his life too, damn it.

"Spoken like a man after my own heart," Nick said, stepping to Hershel's side. "Let me try... the gin."

"And?" Hershel asked.

"Um... ice?"

"You want straight gin for your first taste of alcohol," Hershel said incredulously.

"I thought that's how you were supposed to take it," Nick lied.

"Never mind, I'll make you something myself. Roy's tried tons of drinks," Hershel said, waving off Nick. "Anyone else?"

Alice cautiously raised her hand and Alex joined more enthusiastically.

"Guess that makes me the designated driver," Vince grumbled.

"Aw, cheer up, Silver," Nick consoled him. "At least you can see things better than us from up on your moral high ground."

"I'm not on the high ground. I get why you guys want to try it. That's just not my thing," Vince defended.

"Well, bottoms up to Vince for being our reliable driver then," Nick said, accepting a drink from Hershel and toasting with it. He took a sip and was pleasantly surprised. Nick had been drinking since childhood and actually did prefer straight gin, but for a mixed drink Hershel's concoction was pretty good. The smiles and smacks of the rest of the group confirmed his opinion.

"That's tasty, Hershel," Alice complimented. "All I've had is wine with dinner once or twice, and this is way better."

"I do what I can," Hershel modestly.

"What are you drinking?" Alex asked, noting Hershel's liquid was a different color.

"Screwdriver," Hershel replied. "Your drinks have whiskey in them, and I don't drink whiskey."

"Much as I love your same old faces, let’s get out of this corner and go get our mingle on," Nick said, gesturing grandly. He began wading back into the crowd, the others following with far less grandeur. Not without any, mind you; just with less.