Chapter 91

“Pale pink, or off pink?” Alice asked, holding up yet another pair of nearly identical shoes.

“That depends. When you say your father is coming to town, is that slang for your daddy, or your handler as some girls call them?”

“You’re inferring these shoes will make me look like a hooker,” Alice replied.

“And they say the blonde ones are all looks,” Nick said with an unfazed grin. He wasn’t sure how Mary had talked her into it (for that matter, neither was Alice), but Alice had been convinced that Nick would be an acceptable shopping substitute. So instead of spending his evening relaxing and planning for the weekend, Nick was stuck on shopping duty. In truth, he’d been down this road many times with many girls, but he found that if they knew you didn’t mind then they felt encourage to bring you along more often. That much, at least, he wanted to avoid.

“I know they aren’t perfectly high class, but I thought with the dress I picked out it wouldn’t be pushing the envelope too much,” Alice said, defending her selection.

“You thought wrong. If we were going out to a bar or with our friends I would say no problem. If we’re talking people with actual fashion then I think we both know you’ve gone over the line of class,” Nick said.

Alice sighed. “Damn it, you’re right. I hate you for being right.”

“Long as we’re hating me for appropriate reasons, I think I can cope,” Nick said.

“You know this means I have to keep looking, though,” Alice warned him.

Nick spread out his hands. “I’ve got all night, Princess. Nobody for me to impress tomorrow, so the room can stay messy and the clothes piled up.” In truth, Nick was only as messy as he needed to be in his Melbrook room. He preferred a meticulously tidy living space; however, such things would draw too much attention in a college freshman, especially when he had roommates keen on stopping by.

“Oh yeah, you, Vince, and I were supposed to be the parentless Lonely Hearts Club this weekend,” Alice said. “Sorry I kind of bailed on that.”

“You had family come in. If that was a viable option for either of us we’d easily do the same,” Nick assured her. “We’ll just have to find a way to soldier on without you.”

“Uh huh. Don’t do anything too mean to Vince,” Alice cautioned him.

“Perish the thought. I was planning on driving him out to have a nice relaxing dinner off campus, away from the hustle and bustle of those with visiting parents,” Nick told her.

Alice raised an eyebrow.

“ a strip club,” Nick finished with a smirk.

“I’m pretty sure Sasha would punch you if she found out you tricked Vince into going to a strip club. Not like I punch, either.  She’d aim right for the dick.”

Nick winced visibly. “I hadn’t thought of that part. I don’t know why she’d react that way, though, it’s not like she has anything to worry about. I mean, have you ever known a guy less likely to cheat, on anyone or at anything, than Vince?”

“True, but feelings aren’t always so logical,” Alice said. “Sometimes people overreact when the person they care about is ogling tramps.”

“I prefer to think of them less as tramps and more as ambitious young ladies paying their way through nursing school,” Nick said.

“The nearest nursing school is fifty miles from here,” Alice pointed out.

“So they commute. All the more reason to work extra hard for the gas money.”

Alice briefly considered throwing a shoe at him. She stopped herself, though, realizing that wouldn’t send the right kind of message. She needed to be calm and rational in her approach to chastising Nick for this type of behavior.

So she threw all four shoes instead. It was immensely satisfying.

*          *          *

Mr. Transport stepped through the front door and into the small hallway of the Melbrook foyer. He usually teleported back to his and Mr. Numbers’ apartment; however, from time to time it made sense to do an in-person walk-through. It was a gentle reminder to the students that though they may not be visible, there were authority figures on hand at any given time. Given that it was Thursday night, which was practically a Friday for all college-based purposes, he expected to walk into the common room and find all the students hatching some sort of night-occupying scheme.

What greeted his eyes as he passed from the hallway was significantly less jubilant. Only Vince was here, reading some chemistry on the couch.

“Good evening, Vince,” Mr. Transport greeted.

“Hi, Mr. Transport,” Vince said, looking up with a smile. “How’s your night going?”

“Very well. And yours?”

“Not bad. Just a few problems left and I’m done for the night.”

“Commendable. Vince, I can’t help but wonder where the others are tonight. Some sort of mischief I should be concerned of?” Mr. Transport asked.

Vince laughed. “Nah, nothing that I know of, sir. Everyone is kind of gearing up for Parents’ Weekend. Hershel and Mary are both in their rooms cleaning, and Nick went with Alice to shop for some new outfit. Turns out her dad is coming in and they’re going somewhere nice.”

“That seems enjoyable,” Mr. Transport said, carefully gliding over anything that could be construed as a question as to why Vince’s activities weren’t in the same vein. Mr. Transport was already quite informed on that answer and tactful enough not to bring it up.

“I hope so,” Vince replied. “I don’t get the feeling Alice sees a whole lot of her dad. She’s trying to downplay it, but she seems excited.”

“I’m sure it will be fine,” Mr. Transport assured him. At the mention of Nick, Mr. Transport recalled that he didn’t possess any family likely to visit either. “I assume you and Nick will be up to some merrymaking of your own tomorrow night?”

“He mentioned something about dinner off campus, which seemed like a nice change-up,” Vince said. “Say what you want about Nick, he knows how to have fun.”

“That he does,” Mr. Transport said, feeling a bit relieved. He’d grown a bit fond of Vince and didn’t like the idea of the boy stuck alone, surrounded by people with loving families. “Well, I’ll leave you to your studies. Have a good night, Vince.”

“You, too, Mr. Transport. See you tomorrow when we go to class.”

Mr. Transport walked through the common room and into the kitchen. Once there he made the quick teleportation into the apartment tucked away behind the steel door by the stove.

“You’re late,” Mr. Numbers chastised him. “You know we have some reports to make tomorrow.”

“I stopped to talk with a student,” Mr. Transport said defensively.

“That’s less of an excuse than you might believe it to be and more of an explanation on how you wasted the time that made you late,” Mr. Numbers snapped. He was often on edge before reports were due which, given the possible circumstances of a bad one, was not an inexcusable crime.

“I’ll remind you of that next time Mary challenges you to a game of chess,” Mr. Transport said, joining him at the table where papers were already spread out.

“The chess is different,” Mr. Numbers replied. “That is education.”

“I’m sure,” Mr. Transport said. “Shall we debate this more or simply acknowledge that I’m here and it’s time to get to work?”

“Work,” Mr. Numbers said sharply.

“Then work it is,” Mr. Transport agreed, concealing something of a grin behind a fit of fake coughing.