Chapter 79

“How you feeling, buddy?” Vince asked, handing Nick a glass of water. They were back in Melbrook, lounging the common room with Alice, Mary, and Hershel. It had taken Nick twenty minutes before he could effectively coordinate his movements, and even then he’d needed help making it to the dorm.

“Glitchy,” Nick replied, sipping the water carefully. “That woman is a nutjob. Who just attacks a student on the first day?”

“Coach George attacked around eight, but they sort of volunteered for it,” Hershel commented. Roy had shifted back not long after being healed, happy to fade away after another trouncing. He wasn’t used to losing, especially not this often.

“Volunteered is the key word there. I just asked a simple question,” Nick said.

“You were being an asinine smartass, no surprise,” Alice corrected. “Just be glad I don’t have her power.”

“At this particular moment I’m more wishing no one had her power,” Nick replied. “Let’s just grab some dinner, rent some movies, and spend the rest of the night relaxing.”

“Actually, if you guys are interested, I was sort of planning to go out tonight,” Hershel said tentatively.

“Well, yeah, we assumed Roy would be on the prowl,” Vince said.

“No. I mean me. Hershel. I want to go to a club tonight.”

There was a soft creak of bones as everyone shifted their bodies to gaze at the chair where Hershel was lounging.

“But you don’t go out,” Vince ventured.

“I don’t, because Roy does and it keeps things much more amiable between us if I give him the weekends. Tonight, though, he isn’t feeling like his usual partying self due to Coach George’s smack down. So I thought it was a good opportunity to make use of a Friday while I have one,” Hershel explained. “Like I said at the party, I don’t want all of my college experiences to be secondhand.”

“I’m in,” Nick nearly shouted.

“You just had your nervous system rewired an hour ago,” Mary told him.

“And I’m feeling much better,” Nick said. “Hershel on the dance floor, though? No way in hell am I missing this.”

“Guess that means I’m in, too,” Vince said.

“You want to see Hershel bust a move too?” Alice asked.

“No, I just don’t trust Nick not to try and set him up in some sort of elaborate and embarrassing situation,” Vince said.

“Good call,” Nick agreed.

“I’ll be fine,” Hershel told him. “I would love it if you guys came, though. Alex is already in, and I figured we could invite everyone else as well.”

“I’m certainly not going to stay home by myself,” Alice said, a small chime of happiness echoing through her at being able to truthfully make such a statement.

“I’ll call Sasha and Will,” Vince volunteered.

“What about you, Mary?” Hershel tried to ask nonchalantly.

Mary waited a moment, savoring the uncertainty as only a girl being courted for the first time is able to do, then let out her answer in a small, reserved voice.

“I think that sounds like fun.”

“Awesome,” Hershel said, a wide grin breaking through his face’s futile restraint attempts.

*          *          *

“No. No. No. No. Dear lord in heaven, no. No. No. Maybe. No.” Alice paused to take a breath and move to another area of Mary’s closet. Mary had, much to her almost immediate regret, asked for Alice’s input on what to wear out to the club. What she had expected would be a two-minute process to confirm an outfit had turned into an endless critique of Mary’s entire wardrobe.

“I thought the yellow shirt looked nice,” Mary ventured.

“Nice is for church, class, and dinner with the family,” Alice told her. “Going out to the club is about grabbing attention and keeping it there.”

“That’s not really how I like to dress,” Mary told her, not quite able to stop herself from glancing down at her small frame.

Alice stared at her a minute, then realization of what Mary meant clicked into place.

“Oh no no no, I don’t mean slutty. That’s for costume parties and the like. I just mean attention-grabbing. The right combinations of colors and cuts to draw the eye, highlighting your own look just enough to make sure their gazes stay on you. In that case, less is more. Just trust me, Mary, when it comes to fashion I’ve been a Super for years.”

“You do always dress nicely,” Mary acquiesced.

“Thank you,” Alice said, turning her attention back to the closet. “Your clothes aren’t bad either. They’re just a little... eclectic.”

“When you’re in the woods, function tends to trump fashion relentlessly,” Mary said.

“I wouldn’t know. The closest we ever really came to roughing it in my family was staying at a hotel that had an indoor garden,” Alice said.

“You should go sometime. The air, the smells, the quiet: it’s a wholly unique experience,” Mary told Alice, her eyes drifting off as she remembered her peaceful trailer in the forest.

“I might just do that over the summer,” Alice said. “Now that I can, it’d be nice to try.”

“Now that you can?”

“Yeah. Now... post-procedure. I had to limit my time outdoors before,” Alice said.

“Oh, because of the floating,” Mary surmised.

“Bingo. When I was really happy, I floated. If there wasn’t a ceiling to stop me that meant a much longer fall to the ground. Being outside was basically taking my life in my hands,” Alice explained.

“That seems awful,” Mary said. “So every time you had a rush of joy it was soon followed by a plummet to the ground? How did you deal with that?”

“Mostly I stopped doing things that made me too happy,” Alice replied. “It wasn’t hard in my house. The goal was just to maintain a constant neutral, never have any strong emotions burst through.”

“You weren’t very good at it,” Mary said.

Alice jerked her head up sharply and met Mary’s eyes. Mary shook her head. “I wasn’t listening. I’ve just gotten to know you. You took to Lander so easily, accepted this new way of life with almost no problem besides hesitance and fear. Despite how hard you worked to be guarded throughout your life, you even made friends with a telepath. There’s no way a girl like that was good at locking down her feelings all the time.”

Alice said nothing at first, then placed a shirt on the bed.

“Let’s try the purple top with the jeans I picked out earlier,” Alice said.

“Sounds good,” Mary agreed.

“If the look works then we can finally get to the real fun.”

“Real fun?” Mary asked.

“Oh yeah,” Alice confirmed with a gleeful glint in her eye. “Shoes.”