Vince made it to lunch without much more difficulty. His sense of a split world was reduced by the fact that his next class was geometry, and he was awful at math no matter which reality he was currently in. He met up with Nick at Hoffman, only to discover this was a ritual involving more than just Vince and his chauffeur. It seemed all the students from Melbrook Avenue grabbed food together when their schedule allowed. Roy and Hershel were the first to arrive after Vince and Nick, followed not long after by Alice. She dropped her purse and backpack next to Nick, then immediately picked up where they’d left off in their most recent fight. It had always struck Vince as strange that people who squabbled so constantly would also continually choose one another’s company. Mary was the last to arrive, grabbing a free seat to Vince’s left.
“How you feeling today?”
“A little tired of everyone asking me that, honestly,” Vince said. He began backpedaling as soon as the words were out of his mouth. “I’m sorry; I know you’re all concerned, I’ve just been having some slight concentration issues.”
“I know how it goes,” Mary assured him. “I’ve gotten my share of head bonks from messing up while climbing trees.”
Why hadn’t she just stopped herself telekinetically? Because that was the dream, duh. Besides, even dream Mary had trouble grabbing humans with her ability; she was so powerful it was too easy to crush them.
“So how long does this last?”
“In my experience, the head fuzziness usually goes away after a day or so. The part I had trouble shaking was the dreams.”
A ketchup-covered chicken tender froze halfway to Vince’s mouth, his hunger forgotten as a single word of Mary’s sentence stole precedence from all the others.
“Oh yeah. I don’t know if it was just me or what, but man, I had some doozies after a few of my falls. Complex, detailed, somehow almost as real as my own life. In fact, after some of the really intense ones I even had trouble sorting out what was real and what had been part of my unconscious theatre,” Mary explained, her own appetite unhindered by the conversation.
A warm sense of relief washed over Vince and the interrupted chicken tender finally met its inevitable fate. He wasn’t going crazy. This was all just part of dealing with a head injury.
“I see. I think I had one of those last night,” Vince eventually replied. “Did the sense of not quite keeping things straight go away with the general disorientation?”
“Actually, no,” Mary told him. “I had to be a bit more proactive with those.”
“By all means, please elaborate.”
“It’s hard to explain,” she said, setting down the veggie wrap that was already halfway consumed. “I guess I’d say that talking about it helped me a lot. For whatever reason, things were sticky in my brain, and talking to the people involved usually helped me sort things out. Especially in the cases where I couldn’t understand why I’d cast someone in seemingly strange roles. Like when I had one where I was a princess in a fairytale land, I got kidnapped by an evil dragon who talked and kind of looked a lot like Hershel. Not a usual role for the boy I secretly had a crush on.”
“Agreed, I have no idea what that means.”
“Me neither,” Mary said with a shrug. “But when I told him about it, we wound up talking for a long time, and in the course of that I was able to sort out which Hershel was the real one.” She paused to look over at her boyfriend, busily scribbling in a notebook while cramming a hamburger down his gullet. The two had been sitting apart so he could cram for his big Biology final this week. Herschel was the kind of guy who couldn’t focus if his girlfriend even sat down beside him. Mary thought it was endearing.
“Huh. I’ll keep that in mind,” Vince said.
“So what did you dream about?”
“Oh... um, well, we were all people with super powers, only we weren’t supposed to be, sort of, and we were going to college to try and become super heroes,” Vince explained, the tips of his ears turning red as he realized how crazy that sounded.
“Sounds a lot like our actual life, just if you blended it together with comic books,” Mary pointed out.
“There were a few key differences,” Vince said. “For one thing, I cast my dad as the villain.”
“Ohhhh. So that’s the part that’s bothering you.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Vince, you adore your father. No one here looks up to a parent more than you. I can see how your subconscious sticking him in a role like that would bother you a lot.”
Vince started to protest; he’d gotten over it this morning. Hadn’t he? The more he turned Mary’s words over in his head, the more he realized that the general sense of anxiety he was feeling seemed to be inevitably tethered back to those moments just before he woke up. Everyone watching as the father he’d thought he lost helped the man who’d kidnapped Mary escape from jail.
“What was my power?”
“I was trying to blatantly change the subject since you seemed uncomfortable. What was my power?” Mary repeated.
“You were telepathic and telekinetic,” Vince informed her. “Alice could fly, Nick had control over luck, Roy and Herschel were weirdly the same person, and I absorbed energy.”
“Wow, you did not half-ass this dream.”
“That’s barely even scratching the surface,” Vince told her. “Most of the people from the football team were there, along with a good portion of the cheerleaders, not to mention Will, Jill, Stella, and even that quiet girl who hangs around with Violet. Camille. That last mix-up got me in trouble earlier today.”
Mary’s look of gentle interest turned into one of puzzlement. “How so?”
“In the dream we were friends, but apparently in this world she really kind of hates me.”
“That’s... very peculiar,” Mary said; however, Vince’s attention had drifted rapidly away from her. Instead he was focused on the place in the dining hall where trays were returned and trash was thrown away. Or rather, what he saw there.
It was only a glimpse, but he knew his eyes hadn’t deceived him. He was up from the table in seconds, damn near sprinting across the room. It took all the self-control he had not to go vaulting over tables. Vince spun around the corner to find the area empty, save for a stack of red plastic trays. Slowly sanity restored itself and he realized he must have looked like an idiot dashing through the dining hall like that. He couldn’t help it. A girl with a familiar figure and a mane of tangled dark curls had gone in here, he was sure of it, and for whatever reason he’d needed to see her. To talk with her. To touch her. She was gone; maybe she hadn’t even been here to begin with. Just another phantom from his concussion.
Vince turned and headed back to do some explaining at his table. It seemed that was the theme of his day.