Chapter 125

“That totally sucks,” Alice said, not quite whining but not keeping too far from it either. “I was looking forward to actually hanging out with you over break.”

“Especially since you couldn’t be with us last year,” Vince added.

The Melbrook group was in the common area, clustered about in various reclining positions. Mary had waited until everyone was together to break the news of her hijacked spring break plans, unleashing a small current of surprise and disappointment through their thoughts. One mind exuded phrases of relief, and it was all Mary could to do to keep from looking shocked when she realized who it was.

“It seems unfair that they’d make you do that even though you didn’t go on the trip last year,” Hershel pointed out.

“I could have gone. Me not taking the opportunity doesn’t excuse me from the responsibility tied to getting it in the first place,” Mary replied.

“This is an unfortunate turn of events,” Nick said. “However, it shines a bright light on an issue none of us has previously addressed.” Every one stared at him blankly. Nick let out an exasperated sigh that was only half acting. “What are the rest of us going to do for spring break? We’ve got, like, a week and a few days before it starts and no one has put together any plans.”

“We could stay here and train,” Vince suggested immediately. He glanced at Hershel, expecting him to agree on behalf of Roy, but found the portly young man pointedly avoiding his gaze.

“Let’s just veto that crap off the bat,” Nick replied. “Spring break is a break, not a time for more training. We’ve gone over the resting a muscle analogy before, don’t make me repeat myself.”

“I guess you’re right,” Vince agreed reluctantly. “How about camping?”

“I suppose that’s one to consider,” Nick said. “My own proposal is that we all pitch in and go rent a beach house for the week. They jack the prices up, but we should be able to afford a crappy one.”

“I hate to point this out, but those are usually all booked before February,” Hershel said. “Roy used to hang out with some kids from a local college back home, and they had to book in November to get anything decent.”

“Huh, well, I guess camping is the frontrunner then,” Nick surmised. He was actually a little surprised that beach trips required so much preparation. All the culture of Vegas was built around the idea of last minute decisions and impromptu trips. Vacations were one of the few areas his extensive training hadn’t prepared him for.

“Not necessarily,” Alice interrupted. “Between the two I’d prefer sun and sand over bugs and dirt. So I vote for beach.”

“I wouldn’t mind the beach,” Vince said. “It just doesn’t seem likely we can get a house to rent.”

“Yeah. So let’s just stay at mine,” Alice offered.

“Waaaaait a minute. You have a beach house?” Nick asked.

“Not ‘a’ beach house, no. We’ve got, like, seven throughout the world. One is in California, only a few hours’ drive away. They mostly go unused; my dad likes to lend them to people he’s in business with to keep relations good.” She stopped talking as she became aware of the surprise and occasional confusion peppering the faces of her friends. “What? You all know I’m rich.”

“I guess we kind of forgot,” Vince admitted. “You don’t bring it up very often.”

Alice shrugged. “It doesn’t really matter that often. This time it did.”

“The girl isn’t wrong about that one,” Nick agreed. “I assume it’s big enough for all of us?”

“It’s got ten bedrooms and two kitchens. We’ll be fine. In fact, we should probably see if any our friends have plans yet. No offense, but with Mary gone, I wouldn’t mind the company of a few more females.”

“We can spread the word and get a headcount through the rest of the week. For now, at least we four have something of a plan,” Nick said.

“Three,” Hershel corrected.

“Pardon me?”

“Three of you. I’ve already got something planned for over break.”

Mary was gripped by the desire to peek inside her boyfriend’s mind and see what secret was motivating him to pass on such fun. Somehow she resisted. Before had been an accident: she’d merely opened herself to the room. This would be intentional prying, and going down that path was the fastest way toward an awkward breakup. At least now she knew why he’d been relieved. He wasn’t going to have to miss time with her since she’d be on the river trip anyway.

“Care to share, or is this some secret training thing?” Nick asked.

“Something like the second. Sorry, guys.”

“It’s okay,” Vince said. “We’d love to have you over break, but if you have something you need to do then we understand.”

“Thanks.” Hershel meant the gratitude, but internally his focus had shifted away from the room’s conversation. Roy was going to notice this memory; it centered around the beach and partying, two of his favorite things. He’d want to know why Hershel turned down the opportunity, which meant the jig was up as far as keeping Roy in the dark on what they were really doing. It had been a tenuous proposition in the first place, but he’d hoped to get at least a few more days along before this happened. At least it was in the afternoon. He could talk to the HCP staff tomorrow before class started. Hopefully they would see where Hershel was coming from. Hopefully.

“So, we three will hit up Alice’s house, along with whichever of our friends want to join. Unless you need to ask permission before we roll out invites?” Nick asked.

“No, I’ll just call the staff and tell them to prep and stock the place,” Alice replied. “My dad is in Indonesia on some trip right now, and even if he were here I doubt he’d care.” If anyone heard the slight touch of bitterness in her voice that came with the statement, they chose to keep it themselves.

“Okay then,” Nick said, quickly paving over Alice’s temporary vulnerability. “I think we’ve got ourselves the making of one hell of a party week.”