Chapter 84

“She’s surprised at the coincidence,” Mary said quickly. “That guy you were talking about is a friend of ours named Nick.”

“Oh holy crap, really? You know him? Be honest with me: does he already have a girlfriend or is he just playing the field?” Bubbles asked.

“Him? Really? Him?” Alice said.

“Yes, she’s talking about our friend,” Mary assured her. “Such coincidences do happen. And Bubbles, he is still single, to the very best of my knowledge.”

“That is so awesome! You have to introduce me, will you please introduce me? Every time I see him on campus I totally want to say something but I just think it’d seem so desperate. Pretty please introduce us.”

“Every time you see him?” Alice said once more, her mind still not congealing the facts being presented to her.

“I would love to introduce you,” Mary said. “Just come with me.”

“Cute? Him? Really?

*          *          *

“We don’t have to dance much if you don’t want to,” Alex told Camille once they had put a significant distance between themselves and Vince. “I just thought you might like an exit.”

“What are you talking-” Camille began to ask, then basic memory function kicked in. “Right. You’re the other telepath in the class.”

“I’m not a... look, that isn’t important,” Alex said patiently. “The point is, I had a sense of how uncomfortable you were feeling and I wanted to help.”

“Thank you,” Camille said sincerely.

“If you’re in the mood, though, I wouldn’t mind a little dancing,” Alex added.

“I think that would be okay,” Camille agreed, oddly more comfortable with this boy despite that fact that her mental privacy had been a bit violated.

“I should also mention that while I don’t know what makes you so uneasy around Vince, there’s no need to be. I can promise you he’s a really good guy.”

Camille wasn’t quite able to stop herself from glancing over her shoulder at Vince’s silhouette against the too-bright lights of the club.

“I know.”

*          *          *

“Hey, Nick, this is my friend, Bubbles,” Mary said, approaching him.

“Hey, Mary. Hi, Bubbles. Interesting name, story I should be aware of?”

“Hi, Nick. Nice to meet you. I really like your sunglasses. Why do wear them indoors, though? Is it a prescription thing? My mom does that when her contacts fall out or when she loses her normal pair or wants to look pretty because she thinks they make her look like Audrey Hepburn even though they don’t but no one tells her ‘cause we love her.”

“You know what, I think I can put the pieces together myself,” Nick said. He looked over this new girl. She was yappy, that was pretty much the definition of evident. She was chipper, though, and that was a plus. Happy people asked fewer questions and demanded less attention, or so he’d found. It didn’t hurt that she was cute, too. Tall, with chestnut brown hair and not easily ignorable curves to her body. Not to mention she was clearly at a ridiculous level of into him. This would work.

“Bubbles, I don’t mean to be forward, but would you like to dance?” Nick asked casually.

“Yes!” She grabbed his hand and began pulling him toward to the room where the music was blasting.

It wasn’t a perfect situation; Nick would freely admit that. She couldn’t talk over the music, though, and he had made the boast that he would next be on the floor with a beautiful woman. It could have been worse.

Meanwhile Mary, having been almost immediately abandoned, made her way back over to the others.

“That went fast,” Steve commented.

“What Nick lacks in game he makes up for in luck,” Mary said truthfully. Admittedly, the discrepancy was a much different ratio than those who couldn’t read his mind might guess, but the statement was still basically honest.

“She was into Nick,” Alice said, still somewhat coming to terms with the idea.

“It was bound to happen eventually,” Steve said. “Your friend is pretty good looking.”

“I... how am I missing this?” Alice asked uncertainly.

“Uh huh. While little miss not-big-on-facing-the-obvious wraps her head around some truth, you ladies want to keep an eye on them on the dance floor?” L-Ray asked. “At least you know we won’t try to cop a feel.”

“We?” Mary said. “I mean, I know you’re gay, but I didn’t know Steve was.”

“Gay as a Broadway musical ensemble,” Steve assured her. “We don’t all fit the stereotypes.”

Mary blushed. She was getting so used to her telepathy that she found herself making serious social blunders without it. “I’m sorry. That was insensitive and stupid of me.”

Steve patted her shoulder. “Nothing to worry about. It happens all the time. L-Ray is a little more flamboyant than I am, and that tends to draw the attention of most people’s gaydar.”

“I’m still sorry,” Mary repeated. “But I’d love to take you both up on your offer. Let’s go cut a rug.”

L-Ray laughed. “Oh, you are just precious.”

*          *          *

So it was that everyone except Vince, Will, and Jill found themselves on the dance floor. The sweaty, stuffed with people, assaulted by a symphony of screeching, dance floor. Still, it was contact with the opposite sex, albeit only a swiveling of hips and awkward placing of hands. It was a mash of friends, some old and some new, just trying to enjoy themselves in an environment designed for other things. It was even a little fun, too.

Pretty much everyone was terrible at the act of dancing, so no one knew how bad their particular partner was, Nick and Violet being the exceptions. They had natural rhythm and training, so they knew their particular partners sucked, but they pressed on anyway. There was no conversation to be had on the floor, only meaningful glances and more than one game of poorly-played charades. In a way this was a blessing, for if any word exchange had been possible things might have played out differently.

Hershel had been dancing with Stella for a few minutes when Nick and Bubbles wandered in. Hershel had to tip a mental hat to his friend; he’d come through on returning with a hottie in hand. Then he noticed the pair that had followed them in and begun dancing. By luck of the draw Mary had wound up dancing with Steve, whose broad shoulders and square jaw told the story of a powerful man. A man who was capable and strong, who could get things done. In other words, a man who had all the qualities Hershel only experienced vicariously through Roy.

Hershel’s heart sank. He should have asked her when he had the chance. Now this guy would dance with her all night. After all, who would be stupid enough to let Mary get away? Well, besides him. No, this guy would charm and woo her, then ask her out at the end of the night. They’d start a long lasting relationship, get married, and Hershel would never see that window of opportunity open again. It was over; he’d missed his shot.

Then something stirred within Hershel he hadn’t felt since he was stranded on the mountain. Sheer, stupid desperation. Roy hadn’t been there to help him. His only way out had been to press on no matter what. It was a situation where all he could do was try and move upward, because there was no other option. He didn’t know why, but somehow it was the same now. He had to try.

There was no other option.

Hershel made a polite series of hand gestures to Stella, then began shoving his way through the crowd. It was hard, vaguely disgusting work due to all the sweat. He parted the sea of bodies swimming in sound, step by difficult step. He reached Mary and Steve just as the song was changing. Briefly he contemplated abandoning this foolishness and running like hell. Instead he tapped Mary on the shoulder.

She turned around and looked up at him. Mary wasn’t even bothering to try and read minds with the noise smashing all around her, but when she looked up at Hershel, she didn’t need to. What he wanted couldn’t have been any clearer. She looked at Steve, mouthed the words “Thank you for the dance” and then stepped into the arms of her new partner. In the grand scheme of things it really wasn’t very much.

But it was progress.