Chapter 132

Nick, Vince, and Will sat on the house’s deck, watching the low moon reflect off the lapping ocean waters. Nick was nursing a beer while the other two sipped soda. Behind them the house gave off a dull roar of constant noise. The pre-gaming had led to its eventual outcome, a localized festival of intoxication. Thankfully, they’d been able to corral most people into eating dinner, even though it had been akin to herding mosquitoes as they darted from one target of interest to another. The three were not the only ones with some sobriety, the others of their ilk merely sought sanctuary in different locations.

“Good thing Alice doesn’t have neighbors,” Will pointed out as the music increased in volume. The farthest house from them was a good six-minute walk, visible but not so close that they could make out details. It seems that Charles Adair enjoyed his space when purchasing an abode.

“Much louder and I wouldn’t be shocked if the police are called anyway,” Vince said.

“Nah. Even if they were home, which they aren’t, it’s spring break. As long as nothing is on fire and no one is dying, a little noise is low on the cops’ priority list,” Nick countered. “Admittedly, we’ve got a good party going.”

“I’m surprised you’re out here with us,” Vince said. "You like this kind of thing."

“I do, but burning yourself out on day one is a rookie mistake. This is a marathon. If you go too hard too fast you’ll find yourself unable to function by day three. The trick is to ease your liver into it. Besides, it’s not even eight yet. I’ve got a lot of night left to burn.”

“The way they’re going, I’d be surprised if they made it past ten,” Will pointed out.

“Guess you didn’t see the pantry full of Red Bull then, did you?”

“No. No, I did not.”

“You know, I think this is really cool,” Vince said suddenly.

“Yes, Vince, an enormous beach house stocked with friends and alcohol definitely qualifies as at least pretty cool.”

“No, not that. I mean, that is great, but I was talking about how many of our classmates came to join us.”

“It was a hard offer to resist,” Will said.

“I know, but... I was just thinking about the beginning of the year. We were so worried about how everyone would react to us. We even got warned that some people would treat us like pariahs and hate us. Yet less than a year later, here we are. All drinking and vacationing together. No one really cares that we used to be Powereds. We’re all just students trying to get through this together. That’s what I think is great.”

Nick and Will exchanged glances. Despite specializing in different areas, they were easily the smartest members of their class, and as such they’d both seen what Vince couldn’t. Some of the camaraderie was based on genuine friendship: people like Will or Thomas or Violet had all gone out of their way to show they cared more about who the Melbrook residents were than what they had been. That was far from the case with everyone. Many of the others regarded them as a science fair experiment that had encroached into their everyday lives. The only thing that preserved civility was a simple lack of concern. Every HCP student had their own fears and challenges to deal with. Right now they were too preoccupied with their own advancement to start looking at each other as genuine competitors. As the slots grew fewer, that would change, and those undertones of hate would be sure to surface. They were living in an illusion of acceptance, and both boys knew it.

“It is pretty impressive,” Will agreed.

“True. Sort of gives you hope for the world,” Nick added.

Sooner or later people would show themselves for what they were. Still, if Vince was lucky enough to believe he was surrounded by friends, there was no need to shatter his delusion. For now, at least, he could be happy.

*    *    *

“So far, so good,” Mary said.

“No one is dead, we’ve hydrated them enough to avoid alcohol poisoning, and the tents are up without anything being lit on fire,” Chad recounted.

“So far,” Mary pointed out.

“So far,” Chad agreed.

The two were having a brief respite around one of the unattended fires that had earlier been used for roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. The drunken teens had lost interest once their stomachs were full, choosing instead to chase the twin pleasures of booze and members of the opposite sex in swimsuits. Chad had nonchalantly hung a trash bag filled with condoms from a mirror on the bus and both chaperones were making a point of being nowhere near it. The point wasn’t to embarrass anyone, it was just to make sure no one had to drop out of HCP due to pregnancy.

“I was expecting worse,” Mary said after a few minutes of listening to the fire crackle.

“We were a little worse,” Chad said. “Roy and Stella had already had a scuffle by now. Not to mention Gilbert finding it exceedingly funny to teleport off with girls’ tops.”

“I am just so very glad I wasn’t here for that.”

Chad showed a rare smile, the firelight almost reflecting off the gleaming veneer of his teeth. “It didn’t last long. After he snagged Britney and Tiffani’s tops, Angela got involved. Gilbert was the model of behavior for the rest of the trip.”

“That girl is something else. I’ve never even seen her fight, but I still feel like she’d mop the floor with me,” Mary said.

“It wouldn’t be that bad, but you would lose. Angela is quite an exceptional warrior.”

“Sounds like you admire her,” Mary said carefully.

“Very much so. I’m lucky she’s taken an interest in me and helped me improve my own skills. I doubt I would have managed so much growth over this year if not for her.”

“She’s quite pretty, too,” Mary pointed out.

“That she is,” Chad agreed. His voice sounded almost... wistful? It was hard to tell with him, he was almost always so detached in his mannerisms. “Anyway, is spite of our antics, she ran a tight ship during our time here. Good thing, too; I’m truly amazed no one managed to hurt themselves.”

“After today I can believe it. Weird that they don’t send a healer along on these trips,” Mary said.

“You think so?”

“Don’t you?”

“To be honest, I thought it was intentional. A way to remind us that in the outside world things can’t automatically be mended, be they bodies or property. It forces them to live with the consequences of their choices, even if only for a week.”

“Or the school’s healers demanded they be allowed this week off,” Mary suggested.

Chad looked back at her with another thin smile. “I suppose that makes sense, too.”