Chapter 98

“Thank you again for taking the time out of your lives to come and visit us here at Lander University,” Dean Blaine said, circling the group back to the lifts where they had entered an hour and a half ago. “This concludes our tour of the facility, and I hope you all now have a greater understanding and appreciation for the education being taught to your children.”

The tour had gone off pretty well; they almost always did. The gyms were closed, no classes were held, and every non-freshmen student had their ability to use the lifts disconnected for two hours when the parents were wandering around. It was always officially billed as “technical difficulties”. The older students, however, had long ago reached the obvious conclusion: nobody wanted a problem to occur when outsiders were around.

This crop had been well-behaved, and Dean Blaine was letting out mental sighs of relief that he would soon be passing the buck to George and Persephone.

“Now, we’ve reserved a dining hall just for you folks today where you can eat with Coach George and Coach Persephone,” Dean Blaine explained. “You can talk with them about your children or just relax and meet the other parents. The whole area will be secure, so there’s no need to worry about spilling the beans on any student’s secret identity, though I would remind you that outside of there and here, utilizing the utmost discretion is advised.”

The parents nodded appreciatively and began filing toward the elevators. As they moved past, Dean Blaine made an effort to see which group of adults was with which student. A dean should be able to recognize his charges’ families, after all.

It was clear not all of the students had come, though more had turned out than usual. Dean Blaine noticed Shane DeSoto walking to lifts with his older sister and their parents, as well as an older gentleman. There was something slightly familiar about the older man, but Dean Blaine couldn’t place it before he was out of sight. It seemed Roy Daniels was here with his mother, a dowdy woman with a persistent smile. Looking at her, it was hard to believe she’d raised a child as rambunctious as Roy, though it explained quite a bit about Hershel. Sasha Foster had both parents with her: a middle-aged couple that had been particularly wide-eyed during the tour.

“Blaine,” said a soft, familiar voice next to him, stealing him from his thoughts.

“Miriam,” Dean Blaine said warmly. “I was hoping you’d stop to chat before you left.” He clasped the woman’s hand briefly and squeezed, only for a moment.

Miriam was middle-aged and holding up well under her years. She had shoulder-length blonde hair and tan skin from a life spent living near the ocean.

“Of course,” she said, returning the smile Dean Blaine hadn’t realized he was giving. “I know we can talk to the coaches, but I wanted to speak with you directly and see how things were going.”

Dean Blaine glanced at the platforms carrying parents and students back to the surface. It was slowly thinning the crowd. There were clearly several trips left, though.

“I’d love to, Miriam. This is probably not the best place, though. Would you like to join me at my office?”

“That would be fine. Thank you, Blaine.”

“Will he be all right?” Dean Blaine asked.

“Certainly. I’ll let him know I’d be meeting him a bit later for lunch,” Miriam assured the dean.

“Excellent, well then, let us away,” Dean Blaine told her.

The trip was short. Dean Blaine’s office was relatively close to the lifts, just in case he needed to get out in a hurry. That feature seemed to smack more of the “abandon ship” mentality than Blaine preferred, but he hadn’t been around when they designed the place and it would be an enormous hassle to fix now.

They entered the office door and Dean Blaine poured them both a drink. He already knew how Miriam took her scotch, so he didn’t bother asking. Many things about people might change as the years wear on; however, that feature seemed to remain constant.

“Thank you,” Miriam said, accepting the glass. She glanced inside. “Halfway full with three cubes. Impressive.”

“The important things tend to stick in my head,” Dean Blaine said as he settled into his high-backed leather chair. “So, tell me how you’ve been.”

“As good as can be expected,” she said. “I went back to school and got my nursing degree a few years back. Now that I’m alone in the house I’m thinking about downgrading to a condo. I haven’t told my son yet. I’m not sure how he’d take his childhood home being swept out from under him.”

Dean Blaine smirked. “You managed to steer us on topic remarkably quickly. Okay, let’s talk about your son.” He reached into his desk drawer and rummaged around briefly. Within a few minutes he extracted a manila envelope. Dean Blaine set it on the table and skimmed the contents. He already knew most of them off the top of head.

“Chad Taylor,” Dean Blaine said, reading off the front page. “Currently ranked top of his class in combat. Tested exceptionally well during the first semester finals. Expected to easily stay at the top of the class when the next trials are held at year’s end. As for above ground, he’s pulling straight A’s. All in all, he’s a model student.”

“I knew all of that, Blaine,” Miriam said. “I was more talking about how he’s adjusting to being here. You know, seeing his father’s alma mater, walking the same halls, taking the same classes. I wasn’t sure how he’d acclimate.”

“I think he’s doing fine,” Dean Blaine assured her.

“Define ‘doing fine’ for me, please. Does he have any friends?”

“Certainly; he spends most of his time with Shane DeSoto and Michael Clark,” Dean Blaine said.

“I see. And what are the ranks of these boys?” Miriam asked.

“Um... well, two and three, respectively.”

“So he has training partners,” Miriam assessed with a sigh. “I suppose asking about a girlfriend is out of the question, then.”

“To my knowledge he hasn’t become intimate with any of the female students yet,” Dean Blaine admitted.

“How about male? I’ll take what I can get here.”

“Miriam...”

“Oh, I know, I know,” she said. “It’s just frustrating. He’s such a good boy, yet all he does is think about training and getting stronger and being like his dad. You know he didn’t apply to any other schools? Only Lander.”

“We do have a very prestigious reputation.”

“Come on, Blaine, Lander is great but the other four schools give out Hero Certifications just as valid as yours. Everyone hedges their bets.”

“Perhaps Chad simply knew he would be able to take his pick,” Dean Blaine suggested.

Miriam shook her head. “No, it was because he wanted to go to the same place. If you’d turned him down he would have just kept applying, year after year until you let him in. He is stubborn as a drunken mule.”

“I suppose that makes his path toward emulating his father at least a little bit shorter then,” Dean Blaine said.

Miriam let out a short, barking laugh. “You may have a point at that.” She set her glass down and glanced at her watch. “I really should be getting to that lunch now.”

“Of course. I’ve got some things to do as well,” Dean Blaine said, shuffling papers that were previously arranged quite correctly.

“I appreciate you humoring me checking up on him,” Miriam Taylor said, rising from her seat. “I just worry. You know how it is.”

“Indeed I do,” Dean Blaine agreed.

“I hope to see you again before I leave. If not, at least you’ll be coming around for Easter.”

“About that,” Dean Blaine said haltingly. “Now that I’m an authority figure over your son, I’m not sure if that’s such a good idea.”

“Nonsense,” Miriam said. “You got off the winter holidays with that excuse and I’ve been kicking myself for letting you ever since. You’ll come to Easter at our house in a few months and you’ll bring your famous chocolate pies. Not one argument about it.”

Dean Blaine contemplated protesting, then thought better of it. “You win as usual, Miriam. Have fun at lunch.”

Miriam wrinkled her nose. “Blaine, have you forgotten I went to Lander too? I know what to expect from the food.”