Chapter 19

Camille was happy to walk into her first class of the afternoon wearing regular clothes instead of her HCP uniform. As much as Lander underground was relaxing, in that everyone knew what she was and there was no pretense, it was also such an cloistered community that slipping into the background became nearly impossible. Camille had spent years steeling her nerves to be able to fight when the situation demanded it, but in her day-to-day life she was still much happier as the small girl who few people noticed. Not to mention that up here she was enrolled with the full Lander student populace, making her chances of running into Vince significantly lower.

It wasn’t that she didn’t like being around her silver-haired teammate; it was that she liked it far too much and was awful at hiding her feelings. Every time she flushed, every time she got all nervous and bumbly, she was sure it would be the time Vince would finally notice those things only happened around him. Mercifully, that hadn’t happened yet; however, Camille wasn’t one to push her luck. If she was going to help him, she needed to be near him, and there was surely no way to drive him off faster than revealing she cared for him as more than a friend.

Camille ascended the steps of the lecture hall, so absorbed in her thoughts that she nearly jumped a foot in the air when a well-manicured hand snaked out from an aisle and grabbed her arm.


“Whoa, relax,” Alice assured her. “I was calling your name, didn’t you hear me?”

“Oh, I, uh, I guess not,” Camille stammered out as her heart thundered in her chest.

“Sorry about that,” Alice apologized. “I just wanted to get your attention before you went past. There are plenty of seats by me.”

“Right, of course,” Camille said as the adrenaline exited her system. She entered the row Alice was perched in and took a seat to her left. It wasn’t exactly the anonymous background she’d craved, but at least it wasn’t Vince. “So, how was your first day? I haven’t seen you since our... since Professor Baker’s class.”

“It was okay,” Alice replied. “I think Professor Pendleton’s will be my worst. I mean, I’m not really good at any of them, but at least the others have outlined syllabi and stationary classrooms.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that is one of the tougher subjects to excel in,” Camille replied.

“No worries there. I’m pretty sure he expects most of us to fail out of it by year’s end, which is fine by me. The hard part will be deciding which of the other two I want to try and squeak by in.”

“I’m sure it isn’t that bad. I mean, you made it to year two, after all.”

Alice sighed. “I did, but I’m still not sure if I would have if I’d gone through the normal channels.” Alice paused for a moment and seemed to steady herself mentally. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be such a bummer. I guess all the stress of things is already getting to me.”

“It’s a problem I certainly understand,” Camille assured her.

“You know what the biggest issue is? It’s been all work since we got here. Even last weekend was a training exercise. I think we need to take a night off, just do activities that have nothing to do with... well, you know.” Alice had almost said ‘HCP’ out loud, a slip that easily would have ended all of her worries about it if she’d been overheard.

“That sounds nice,” Camille said, her tone as noncommittal as she could manage. She didn’t have the heart to tell Alice that any night spent around Vince wasn’t going to reduce her stress level, even if the activities were relaxing.

“Oh! I’ve got it,” Alice said, a spark of excitement lighting in her bright blue eyes. “Let’s do a girls’ night this Friday. Just me, you, Mary, and maybe some of the others. No training, no shop talk, we’ll even skip our afternoon classes and go do a mani/pedi treatment.”

“I’m not so sure that’s a good idea,” Camille objected.

“Oh, don’t worry, it’s the first week of classes, what’s the most we could miss? And I know a perfect little place near the ocean. I’ll make us reservations as soon as class is over.”

“I should really check my calendar,” Camille tried again.

“That’s a good idea; if you don’t have a class that runs too late in the morning we can get lunch, too. We can practically make a whole day of it!”

Camille took a deep breath and tried to think of another excuse to throw up. Unfortunately she was learning the hard lesson that Mary had been privy to last year. Alice may not have much in the way of special abilities, but once her mind was set on something, one would have better luck changing the course of a river.

“Sounds... fun,” Camille conceded. It wouldn’t be that bad. It was just the girls after all, and they were going to be teammates now so a little bonding was in order.

“It will be, just wait, by the time Saturday rolls around we won’t have a care left in the world.”

“Except for the coming week, and the one after that, and the one after that, et cetera,” Camille pointed out.

“Well, yes, but you can’t let all of that snow pile on you. Or, if you must, you have to at least put it aside for our days off,” Alice replied.

“Days? As in multiple?”

“Of course, we’ll need more than just this over the coming year. Don’t worry; they won’t all be girls only. I just don’t want Nick to hijack our relaxation plans into some sort of ridiculous shenanigans.”

“He does that often, huh?”

“Ugh, more than you would believe. You’ll see for yourself soon, the boy is absolutely insufferable.”

Camille didn’t have a chance to reply because the professor stepped up to address the class, but even if he hadn’t she wouldn’t have known what to say next. She certainly couldn’t say what she was thinking, which was that for a girl who slandered Nick so readily, Alice seemed to light up noticeably when she talked about him.

That would be inappropriate, not to mention that Camille was the last person who ought to call someone out over conflicting feelings.