Chapter 94

“A pleasure,” Mr. Adair said, his eyebrows lifting. “Forgive my surprise, my daughter never mentioned that she had a suitor.”

“Yes, we only recently decided to make things official, so there hasn’t been much time to tell anyone,” Nick said. “It took me quite a bit of work to show your daughter I was worth having.”

“Good to hear. A man who won’t put in the work is a man who won’t stick around when things get hard,” Mr. Adair said.

“I couldn’t agree more, sir.”

It was at this point that Alice’s brain finally snapped back from the certainty that she was having a truly awful nightmare and sprang into action. After it entertained a few violent, murderous scenarios for how to deal with Nick, it decided to focus on more plausible solution instead.

“Honey,” Alice said in a voice dripping with sweetness. “Can I speak with you for a minute?”

“Only if your father and his guest will excuse us,” Nick said deferentially.

“By all means,” Mr. Adair said.

“Um, sure,” Beth chimed in.

“So kind of you both,” Nick said. He took Alice’s arm in his and walked away from the car. When they were about forty feet away Alice turned to him with a huge smile on her face. From a distance it was good camouflage, but if you were too close the murder in her eyes gave away its falsehood.

“Any last words to your testicles before I separate them from your body?”

“Only together for a few minutes and already you know I love the kinky stuff,” Nick replied.

“Nick, what the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

“Helping, believe it or not. You looked so helpless dealing with that bitch that I decided to jump in and help.”

“I wasn’t helpless.”

“Fine, miserable then.”

That one Alice had a harder time disputing, so instead she went after Nick’s methods.

“So how exactly does you being my boyfriend help?”

“I can be charming when I want to be. Besides, I thought it might just be nice to have a friend along. I mean, you’ve been looking forward to your dad coming since you found out. From the size of the car and the way that girl is dressed, I’m guessing it isn’t the family affair you were expecting. I just figured if I were in your shoes I’d rather have a friend than face such a disappointment alone,” Nick explained.

“That’s... surprisingly sweet-intentioned,” Alice said. “You’re not secretly the shape-shifting kid, are you?”

“Would the shape-shifting kid know you used to have a very well-justified fear of heights?” Nick asked.

“Touché,” Alice said. “I still don’t know how comfortable I am with you pretending to be my boyfriend, though.”

“Look, I’ve already made the play and you went with it. So now we’re either together, or you get to explain how your friend took pity on you and pretended to be your beau to your father and that oh-so-lovely young woman.”

“Damn it. You’ve got a point.”

“Hence why I made it. Anyway, you got anything else? We need to wrap this up and walk back before it seems like we’re up to something,” Nick pointed out.

“There is one little flaw in your plan. We’re going to a business dinner, and you weren’t invited. I appreciate the sentiment, but you won’t be able to tag along once Beth’s dad gets here.”

Nick threw back his head and let out a genuine laugh. “That’s nothing to worry about.”

“Why not?”

“Trust me, I’ll be there at your father’s insistence. Just wait and see.”

“Okay, wow me, jerk,” Alice said with a more sincere smile. “Oh, and one more thing. I like the way you look without your sunglasses.”

“Don’t get used to it,” Nick replied. “But thanks.”

*          *          *

“Where is everyone?” Mr. Transport asked as he stepped into the living room and once again found Vince sitting by himself.

“Out with parents, or parental figures,” Vince said, mindlessly surfing through channels on the television.

“Ah. I surmise Nick received a surprise visitor?”

“Yeah, a tutor that he’s apparently pretty close to,” Vince replied. “He was really happy to see him, so they went to spend some time together.”

“You didn’t tag along?” Mr. Transport asked.

“Nah. It’s family, and I got the feeling Nick didn’t get to see him much. I wouldn’t have felt right intruding.”

“Very respectable. What will you do instead?”

“Nothing too exciting. I think I’ll go grab dinner at the cafeteria and catch up on some homework,” Vince said, standing from the couch and turning off the television.

“I see,” Mr. Transport said. Those were productive, responsible activities. They were an excellent way to deal with loneliness or boredom. He should retreat now and leave Vince to his plans. He shouldn’t get too involved, after all.

“Vince, your comment about eating off campus got me thinking about how long it’s been since I dined out myself. I’ve got a craving for a delicious sandwich shop I know. Would you care to join me?” Mr. Transport asked.

Vince looked wary. “That’s okay, Mr. Transport. Campus food is fine.”

Of course the boy wouldn’t want to accept pity. Mr. Transport tried to adjust his thinking; what would Mr. Numbers do in this situation? He wasn’t entirely sure what the answer was, but the thought did lead him down the thought path to an excellent solution.

“I understand,” Mr. Transport said. “It’s just that Mr. Numbers is at a meeting and I do hate eating in restaurants alone. I always feel somehow out of sorts, as if I don’t belong as a solo diner. Silly I know, yet the sentiment remains.”

“No, I get that,” Vince said. “I guess I can come along. Eating alone does kind of suck.”

“Much appreciated,” Mr. Transport said. “I’m ready whenever you are.”

“I’ve already got my shoes on, so I guess I’m ready to-” Vince said, then noticed he was standing in the sunshine, white sand beneath his feet and a crystal blue ocean before him.