Chapter 137

By the third day, several of the beach-dwelling students had grown weary of the amateur cooking that half-drunk college sophomores could produce, so a small excursion was mounted to a local bar and grill. Nick, Alice, Thomas, and Will managed to snare a table amidst the thick crowd of fellow college students, whether it was due to genuine luck or a bit of Nick’s interference was anyone’s guess. Regardless, the four huddled around the polished wooden tabletop and scrolled through menus coated in a sticky substance they all hoped was spilled liquor.

“Classy joint,” Nick commented, raising his voice slightly to be heard over the dull roar of intoxicated college students. He wondered if he’d put in too much effort on the fake IDs; some of the ones he’d seen walking in the door had been little better than cardboard with photos glued to them, yet they had all garnered entrance. Hell, the bouncer hadn’t even looked at Alice’s, but that probably had more to do with the tight tank-top half shirt and beach shorts she was dressed in.

“I offered to get us into a nice steakhouse,” Alice reminded him.

“You’ve already done more than enough,” Thomas said. “Besides, this is part of the spring break experience.”

“If only there were some other place we could have hung around a giant crowd of drunks. Perhaps some sort of well-stocked beach house,” Will conjectured.

“Oh, stop being a spoil-sport. It’s good to get out on occasion,” Alice said. “Tell you what, you guys find some appetizers we can share, I’ll go get us drinks. Beers all around?”

“Water for me,” Will corrected.

“Right. Beers all around.” Alice flashed her friend a daring smile, then began squeezing her way through the crowd toward the packed bar.

“I suppose I’ll be drinking after all.”

“Don’t mind her, she just wants everyone to have fun,” Nick said. “The girl thinks we’re all wound too tight and this is her chance to help us blow off some steam.”

“She isn’t entirely off the mark on that one,” Thomas concurred. “I don’t think I’ve seen everyone let their hair down this much since the river trip. Even then it might not have been as much, because we had to keep setting up camp and keeping together. This is just a week of pure fun and relaxation.”

“And who better to champion that spirit than our bubbly, glitter-eyed blonde,” Nick said.

“I can’t think of a soul. Well, maybe Violet,” Thomas conceded. “That girl does love her beer.”

“So much so that she is trying to train us all to down a hundred shots of it in the span of a hundred minutes,” Will pointed out. “Which, by the way, very well might give someone alcohol poisoning.”

“Good thing Camille will be there,” Thomas said with a shrug. He was more than accustomed to Violet’s antics by this point; the best strategy was to prep for damage control and hope things didn’t get too out of hand.

Nick started to respond, but he noticed Alice making her way back to the table. She was balancing two beers in each hand and walking carefully. Something was wrong; her eyes were downcast and her form seemed to be pulling in on itself. Alice usually walked with assertive confidence: a stunning figure and years of cultured upbringing will do that to a person. Right now, in contrast, she seemed embarrassed. It only took Nick a quick sweep of the room and a sorting of voices to discern the reason why.

Alice was being catcalled by some drunk guys at the bar.

“Hey, come on baby, don’t be like that. Come back and have a drink with us.”

“Fuck, you’ve got an ass, girl. I want to bounce my dick off of it.”

“I love the glitter! Are you a stripper, ’cause if so I’d like to buy a dance.”

Alice had reached the table by the last one and Nick felt something in his gut tighten. Her eyes, beneath the smear of pink sparkles she’d taken to applying on a regular basis, were beginning to grow moist. She set the beers down silently and angled herself away from the rest of the table.

Thomas and Will hadn’t noticed the boisterous voices; they were easy to miss amidst the chaos if you weren’t listening for them, so they didn’t know why Alice had returned in a significantly sadder mood. It was only a matter of time until they pieced things together; both of them were perceptive enough to figure it out. That situation was too dangerous to be allowed to manifest.

“Guys, why don’t you go find a waitress and get us some wings,” Nick said. “Right now, if you don’t mind.”

Thomas and Will looked at each other. Something was off with Nick. His affable, silly demeanor had all but evaporated. When he spoke that request, if it could be called one, it was with absolute authority, as if even the idea of being disobeyed was a foreign concept to him. It was strange, but Nick was right: they were both perceptive. It was obvious something was going on, and they would give their friend the space he needed. For now.

“Sure,” Thomas said. “We’ll be close by, just in case you decide you want anything else.”

“Much appreciated,” Nick said without looking at them. Thomas and Will peeled off and began wading away from their table, toward a small serving area near the back of the restaurant. Once they were gone, Nick leaned in toward Alice so he could lower his voice. “Alice, there’s something I’ve been wondering about.”

“What?” She still faced away from him, but he could tell her voice was thicker than normal. She was still fighting back tears.

“The glitter you wear: it’s because of your mother, isn’t it?”

Alice whipped her head around and stared at him with a surprised look.

“High attention to detail, and I got you that book of pictures of her for your last birthday, remember? You’ve never shown any interest in that kind of look - in fact, you usually stay away from it - and then after you get some as a gift it starts showing up on you all the time. Didn’t take a genius to figure out.”

Alice nodded slowly. “My dad told me she used to wear it all the time. Said she believed it was impossible to be unhappy when you were sparkly.”

“I see.” Nick took off his sunglasses and pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. He slid both across the table to table toward Alice. “When this is over, call speed dial number three on my phone. Tell the person on the other end my name, where we are, and let him know I need a Counter’s Exit.”

“What does that... what are you going to do?”