Chapter 129

It didn’t take Mary long to figure out that telepathy wasn’t much help amidst college freshmen on spring break. This wasn’t a matter of her being unable to hear their thoughts, or them being too convoluted to make sense of. No, the reason telepathy held no benefit is that everyone’s mind centered chiefly around the same two subjects: alcohol and sex. Despite never having partaken in either, by the time her charges were gathering their individual coolers and heading toward the water, Mary was thoroughly sick of both topics.

“Cameron!” Chad barked to her right. “One cooler per person.”

The alcohol-ability-based freshman looked at his chaperone with utter dejection, then placed two of three coolers he’d been trying to haul off back on the ground. Candi scooped one of them up and patted him on the back. It seemed every class had a few sober kids to act as booze mules for the heavy drinkers. Walter and Gail weren’t far behind, the bespectacled boy trying and failing to swill down beer as though he drank it frequently. Those were the only freshmen Mary recognized; the remaining were a blur of faces she knew from below ground but couldn’t have put names to without referencing a student handbook. Chad, however, had no such issues.

“Kelly! Buddy system is not optional, pair with a group. Jim! Pull your trunks up. If you want to strip at least wait until everyone is too drunk to care.”

“How do you do that?”

“Perfect memory,” Chad said, his eyes still scanning the departing freshmen for infraction. “I always memorize the names of everyone in the HCP at the beginning of the year.”


Chad shrugged. “Just seemed like something that might come in useful.”

“Oh,” Mary said. “Has it?”

“Occasionally. Not as often as I’d expected,” Chad admitted. “Jim! I am not going to warn you again.”

A sullen-looking boy with dark hair pulled his swimsuit up then began moving with increasing speed toward the river.

“Were you guys this bad last year?”

“Probably, although Angela and Ben were somewhat less strict with us.”

“Should we let up a little then?”

“I was planning on it once we actually got on the river. I wanted to set a firm standard initially and then enforce it only as needed through the rest of the trip,” Chad explained. “As long as they know we’re here to keep them in line, we probably won’t have to.”

“You sound like you have practice at this.”

“None at all; Angela gave me some pointers.”

Mary tilted her head in surprise. “That doesn’t really seem like her management style.”

“It isn’t. This is the one she thought would work best for me.” Chad bent over and grabbed a cooler of his own. “I’ll take the point position if you want to follow at the rear in case of stragglers.”

“Sounds like a plan. You thinking of drinking?” Mary motioned to the cooler in his hand.

“No, but I might want a water. Besides, I’m sure some of the more daring students will loot my alcohol when they think I’m not looking.” Mary wasn’t quite sure, but she thought she saw the outline of a smile on Chad’s well-defined face. Not for the first time, she wished she could read the mind behind her inscrutable classmate. Wishing did no good, so instead she grabbed a tube and followed him down to where the freshmen were already splashing noisily into the gentle current.

*    *    *

Mr. Transport arrived at the doorstep with a bouquet of flowers freshly picked from a remote hill in Norway. It was the sort of thing that would have seemed overeager if he’d planned on telling his date where they were procured; however, without context they merely seemed like a lovely choice from the local florist.

His suit, always pressed and fitted, was complimented with an electric blue tie rather than his usual black one. It presented a jauntier image, or at least that’s what the salesman had convinced him. Mr. Transport was an expert on many things: geography, Australian wine, home-brewed beer, munitions, and the works of Isaac Asimov to name a few. Sadly, fashion and dating were two subjects lacking in his repertoire. He was quite fortunate, in as much as he was out of practice pitching woo, the woman he was romancing was out of practice in receiving it.

Ms. Daniels answered the door by the third knock, her hair carefully curled and a turquoise dress draped over her figure. It didn’t hide her body entirely, and while time and childbirth had certainly softened the once sleek frame of the Southern belle, she’d logged enough time on the treadmill to keep the ultimate ravages of age at bay.

“On time as always,” Ms. Daniels said as a greeting.

“You look lovely tonight, Sally,” Mr. Transport said, handing over his meager offering of flora.

“I suppose you look a bit dashing yourself. I like your tie.”

Mr. Transport felt a goofy smile dance across his face. It was embarrassing, but his life had been cut off from normality in his early twenties, so he’d never evolved past this phase of dating. He still got flustered and cheerful by simple compliments. Unbeknownst to him, it was one of the qualities Sally Daniels found endearing.

The two had been on three dates since Mr. Transport found the gumption to ask her out, his schedule rarely meshing along with her own. Spring break offered a rare opportunity; with his charges all off on various vacations, Mr. Transport only had his other company duties to attend to, ones which were infrequent and unpredictable. They had resolved to use this opportunity for a prolonged dating session, one to determine if they would grow sick on each other’s company or more enamored with it. It was a somewhat clinical approach to the idea of love, but both had tight schedules and little time to piss away on an endeavor that would ultimately culminate in failure.

“Come on in,” Sally said, stepping to the side. “I thought we could have a drink and catch up before dinner.”

Mr. Transport stepped inside happily, goofy grin still firmly plastered in place.