Chapter 128

Roy might have known how to ride a motorcycle, but Hershel was less certain of both his balance and his ability to shrug off a collision. Thankfully, Nick was carpooling with Alex to the beach house, so he’d offered up his car as a substitute. Hershel’s only concern as he cruised along the sun-ravaged highway was that this tiny automobile would offer scarcely more protection that a bike in a crash. Still, it wasn’t dependent on him managing not to tip over, so for that much he was thankful.

It hadn’t been a long trip from Lander campus to Colorado; despite waiting to say goodbye to Mary before departing, the afternoon sky was still bright as Hershel pulled into the gravel parking lot. It would be a few hours until the sizable building before him was open for business, but Hershel’s father would be here already. He was always a man early to rise and begin the day’s work. Hershel could have gotten here faster if he hadn’t stopped so often, but something in his stomach seemed to be twisted up. This resulted in more bathroom and antacid breaks than necessary. He was here, at last. All he had to do was get out of the car and walk in the door.

An hour later the sun was drifting downward and Hershel was still sitting in Nick’s car. There was no going back, not after making Roy miss class and keeping him confined for a week. His brother’s wrath would be tremendous; the only saving grace would be making this work. Still, how many years had it been since he’d seen his father? Since he’d looked at the gigantic man with his own eyes? His mother had done a tremendous job of hiding Titan’s Scandal from Hershel; it hadn’t been until after Roy went to see him that they found out what happened. Until then, he hadn’t understood why his father left. He’d only known how much he missed him.

It occurred to Hershel that if he didn’t move soon, other cars might start showing up. There were a few hours of daylight left, but that didn’t mean there couldn’t be early-birds. The idea of having his reunion with other people around was enough to finally force Hershel from the fabric seat he’d been stalling for time in. He shut the door and locked the doors with the fob on the keychain.

No going back. Hershel began the long walk toward the front door.

*    *    *

Nick let out a low whistle as he took in the layout of Alice’s beach house. The ground floor was enormous, with a spectacular kitchen and living room that looked like it could comfortably seat twenty people, all with a good view of the enormous plasma television. Through a door on the side was a game room, two pool tables, and what appeared to be an old-school arcade game already visible from Nick’s vantage point. Next to the restaurant-grade refrigerator was a single tap above a knob with twenty various beer logos on it. He’d seen a similar setup at some high-end bars, one tap able to pull from multiple routed kegs, but even in the decadence of Vegas Nick had never encountered such a system in a home.

“I’ll say this about your dad, he knows how to build a party pad,” Nick commented.

“My dad hates this kind of place,” Alice corrected him. “Like I said, it mainly exists so he can loan it out to clients or businesses he is wooing.”

“Consider me wooed.”

“Wow, this place is huge!” Vince exclaimed, dragging his bag in through the door. Alex was only a few steps behind, his amazement apparent in the way his eyes flitted about the surroundings. The quartet had left earlier than the rest of the students to make sure they were there to greet arrivals. It had taken them longer than expected to arrive, though that was chiefly because Alex’s car, while roomy, wasn’t quite built for speed. They’d received more than a few middle-finger salutes as they puttered along the highway at fifty miles an hour, but they’d still managed to arrive intact.

“I recommend you guys stake out rooms on the second floor,” Alice advised. “The third floor only has three bedrooms, and one of them is just a giant area filled with bunk beds. It dominates most of the floor, so the other rooms on three are pretty cozy.”

“Don’t you want to take first pick?” Alex asked politely.

“The one that’s locked is mine,” Alice replied. “I had the cleaning staff set it up for me. It’s the only single bed in the place, so you’ll forgive me for grabbing it.”

“I think that’s very fair, especially given how generous you are to let us all come here,” Vince said. “Are there any rooms on the second floor with three beds? If we bunk together, we leave more options for the other guests.”

“Up the stairs, third door to the right,” Alice informed him.

“Not so fast there, bucko,” Nick said, holding up a hand to stop Vince’s forward progress. “First things first: I brought party favors.” He reached into his pocket and produced a crumpled white envelope. A brief flurry of activity from his nimble fingers sifted through its contents and suddenly three laminated cards were gripped in his digits. Nick extended the first to Alice, then handed one each to Vince and Alex.

“Fake ID’s?” Alex’s voice sounded as confused as Vince’s face looked.

“This isn’t a college town,” Nick explained. “This is a tourist destination. There’s always places we can go back home where the drinking age is determined by whether or not you can pay your tab. Here it’s different. Lots of places will enforce not only a drinking age, but a minimum age to enter. Now, I’m not saying you have to use them to get served alcohol, I’m just saying these ensure we can avail ourselves of any club or venue we find enticing.”

“Why does it have our real names?” Vince asked. “I admit I don’t know much about this stuff, but I thought you were supposed to use fake names.”

“Only if you’re an amateur. These are top quality. They’ll pass any test up to being run through the system by an actual police officer.” Nick might have beamed a bit as he spoke; he had helped Cybil refine her process a few years back and couldn’t help being proud of the results.

“Thanks, Nick,” Alice said. “These could lead to some real fun. I’d feel bad for the others, but this place is stocked well enough to keep up everyone comfortably buzzed for a month, let alone a week.”

“No need to feel bad for them, anyway,” Nick said. “In case you didn’t notice, I’ve got way more than three cards in my envelope.”

“Giant house, fake IDs, tons of alcohol.” Alex shook his head. “I didn’t ever expect I’d be having a spring break this awesome when I came to Lander.”

“Well, let’s get it started!” Nick declared, scooping up his own bag from the floor and racing toward the stairs. Vince and Alex were close on his heels, while Alice took her sweet time making the ascent. There was a whole week ahead of them, and she was in no need to hurry.

This was a time to relax and savor.