Chapter 124

Wednesday morning, Mary found a note inside her gym locker, resting delicately on top of her uniform. It politely informed her to get dressed and report to Dean Blaine’s office rather than the gym. She mentally flipped through recent events to see if anyone had committed any transgression a captain might be held accountable for. Nothing really stuck out to her, and she usually kept close tabs on Nick’s thoughts in case he was planning something she wanted advanced warning about. Unfortunately, he was good at controlling the direction of his mind’s wandering when around her, so it was possible she’d missed something. She arrived at the dean’s office to find the door open and two men waiting inside.

One was the dean, seated behind his expansive desk, and the other was Chad, looking as uncertain about his presence here as she felt. She wondered if it had something to do with last week’s match, though she couldn’t imagine why. Everyone had recovered and moved on. Sasha still seemed to stay as far away from their team as possible during gym, but that hardly seemed like anything the dean would involve himself with.

“Good morning, Mary,” Dean Blaine greeted her. “Please shut the door behind you and take a seat.”

“Yes, sir.” She closed it gently then settled into one of the open chairs set before the dean’s desk.

“I’m sure you’re both wondering why I’ve called you here, and I see no reason to keep you in suspense. As you both are probably aware, in your class you represent the strongest combatants of each sex. This is no small feat, especially given the impressive talents of those you are in competition with,” Dean Blaine said. Mary had a sneaking suspicion he’d given this speech before. There was something polished about it, like he’d had time to overthink the delivery.

“With such high office comes a great deal of respect,” Dean Blaine continued. “However, it also comes with certain responsibilities and obligations. As others were tasked to shepherd you, you will be watching over the next generation.”

“Excuse me, but I’m not sure what you’re talking about,” Mary admitted.

“Isn’t it obvious? I would have thought you two noticed the posters outside the gym by now.”

“Posters? The only posters I’ve seen are for the river trip,” Chad said.

“Precisely,” Dean Blaine affirmed.

“I’m confused,” Mary said.

“Ah yes, I forgot you didn’t attend last year’s outing. The river trip is largely funded by the school; however, we do not send teachers as supervision. We instead send our top sophomore students from each sex to handle any issues that might arise.”

Mary raised a very suspicious eyebrow. “What kind of issues?”

“Last year there were some fights, one person got lost, and Allen set the forest on fire,” Chad supplied in what he thought was a helpful manner.

“That doesn’t really sound like my cup of tea,” Mary said.

“I, too, would like to decline the honor,” Chad seconded. “I only went last year as part of a bargain with Angela DeSoto.”

“I can certainly understand the sentiment,” Dean Blaine said graciously. “Unfortunately, this isn’t something you’re allowed to decline. It is an assignment just like any other you receive in the HCP.”

“That doesn’t seem fair,” Mary shot back. “Why do we have to spend our time off doing work when everyone else gets to go have fun?”

“For one thing, HCP is not bound by traditional school schedules. For another, most of our chaperones will tell you that even with the weight of their responsibility, they still had fun. As to fairness, it is actually very fair. Someone had to do it for your class, and two of the current freshmen will be doing it next year. And more than any other reason, because this provides a training opportunity unlike any other you’re likely to receive.”

“Training?” Chad perked up visibly at this word.

“Indeed. You’re both captains of your teams, and presuming you become full-fledged Heroes, you’ll likely continue to find yourselves in such a capacity. You both are powerful, resourceful, and trustworthy. People turn to you; that’s why you were chosen for those leadership roles. Not all teams in your life will be made up of friends, however. The Hero world is chaotic. Sometimes you’ll have to work with people you don’t know, or even ones you dislike.”

“How does that factor into us watching Supers get drunk on a river?” Mary asked.

Dean Blaine gave her a smile that said she’d stepped exactly where he wanted her to. “My dear girl, if you can corral drunk Supers in their late teens then there is no combination of people on this planet you won’t be able to coordinate. It teaches patience, flexibility, and working outside your comfort zones.”

Both students stayed quiet for a moment and digested his words. It was Mary who eventually reached a conclusion and spoke. “I suppose you do make a compelling case.”

“While it is not optional, I do want you both to get something out of it.”

“Right. When you put it that way, I guess my answer is yes,” Mary said. She’d played enough chess with Mr. Numbers to know when she was beaten.

“If it is official training I will gladly participate,” Chad added.

“Glad you’re both on board. You can go ahead and walk over to gym now. I’ll get you the details of what’s expected and where to be once the date is a bit closer,” Dean Blaine said. He gestured for them to stand and Mary complied. Chad, however, stayed where he was.

“I actually have another matter I’d like to discuss with the dean in private,” Chad said as both people stared at him curiously.

“Very well,” Dean Blaine accepted.

Mary took the cue and departed. Part of her wanted to linger around the area, but she knew it wouldn’t have done any good. She couldn’t read the mind of either man in the room, and she had a sneaking suspicion that Dean Blaine’s office was completely soundproof when the door was shut.

Back in the office, Dean Blaine looked at Chad curiously. “What else did you want to talk about?”

“Actually it’s still about the river trip,” Chad explained. “It really is mandatory, right? That’s not just something you said to get her to go along with it?”

“It really is mandatory. You aren’t the first reluctant chaperones we’ve had. Actually, it is more the rule than the exception since we tend to pick responsible students for the role. Ms. DeSoto was easily the most enthusiastic person to get the job I’ve ever had,” Dean Blaine clarified.

“All right then. If it’s an official HCP activity then an HCP official can explain to my mother why I won’t be coming home as expected over spring break,” Chad replied. “I took enough guilt for it last year.”

Dean Blaine’s face grew a few shades paler. “Miriam is expecting you? I assumed you would be staying here to train.”

“Nope. I told her I’d be home the whole week. I hope you’ve got a good way to make it up to her.”

“I suppose I’ll have to think of one,” Dean Blaine replied. Miriam was not a woman he enjoyed being on the bad side of, especially when it came to her son. He’d miscalculated on this one, and if he didn’t come up with something pretty damn good, he’d be regretting it.

“Good luck with that,” Chad said with a wicked smile. It was a dash of humor at Dean Blaine’s expense that would have been commonplace in anyone his age, yet it left Dean Blaine with a smile of his own once the young man was gone from the office. Before coming to Lander, Chad wouldn’t have even summoned up that small spark of laughter. Either the HCP or the people in it were having a positive effect on him, and that made even Miriam’s substantial wrath worth bearing.

Dean Blaine’s eyes darted to the phone then looked away. It might be worth bearing, but that was no reason to face it without some sort of a game plan.